The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Winj

 

Beth

 

 

 

She watched him staring off in the distance and walked up beside him, taking his hand in her own. He looked down at her and smiled. It was a happy smile but there was a sadness there too and she wondered why.

"What's wrong, Johnny?"

He looked at her with more love in his heart than he thought was ever possible. He was terrified but he knew he had to tell her the truth before they could go any further.

"Sit down, sweetheart. I want to tell you something," he said softly as he helped her to the blanket they had spread out for their picnic.

They had been seeing each other for a month now and he was awestruck at how quickly she had captured his heart. Now he had to tell her and nothing had ever scared him like this. He might lose her now. Now that he couldn't bear the thought of such a thing.

She looked into those incredibly blue eyes that showed so much pain so deep inside and she wanted more than anything to take it all away. She knew he wanted to tell her something and she knew it couldn't be good but she also knew that, whatever it was, nothing could change how she felt. It was amazing to her how fast he had won her heart. She could think of little else but those eyes, that soft sweet voice and that body....that body that kept her awake at night with longing. That body that haunted her dreams when she did sleep and the dreams that should have shamed her but only lent to heighten her desire for him.

"Beth, I have to tell you something and it's not very pretty," he was saying and she had to make herself stop daydreaming and listen.

"Just say it, honey," she said.

"Well, I didn't always live here with Murdoch. My mother took me away when I was a baby. We lived in Mexico and she died when I was twelve. I was on my own after that. To make a long story as short as possible, I became a gunfighter. I went by the name Johnny Madrid. Two years ago the Pinkerton's found me and told me my father wanted to see me. I've pretty much been here ever since. But, there are still people who think of me as Johnny Madrid and sometimes that causes trouble. I've changed my life but I guess some people won't let it lie."

He finished spilling this out as quickly as he could. He wanted to tell her more, all of it, but he was still so afraid this little bit would scare her off. He looked at her trying to gauge her reaction but she only smiled at him. That smile that could turn him into jelly.

"I know," she said simply. He stared at her in amazement. She laughed and said, "Johnny, do you think I live in a cave? I've heard all about the legendary Johnny Madrid. Honestly, I have a hard time seeing you as a cold-blooded killer. In fact, I'm quite sure you have never been ruthless in your life. I don't care about your past. All I care about is the present and the future."

He shook his head and sighed. "I don't think you understand, Beth. I mean, that's a perfect example of what I'm talking about. You've already heard. People just won't forget."

"I do understand, Johnny. I still don't care," she said, serious now. She leaned over and kissed him lightly on the lips and brushed her cheek against his.

He took her in his arms and kissed her deeply. The kiss lingered and he slid his hand down over her breast, feeling the passion almost overwhelm him. Then he stopped abruptly.

She looked at him puzzled and, breathing hard, asked, "Why did you stop?"

"We can't," he said softly.

"Can't we?" she said smiling.

He looked at her for a long moment, desire clouding his vision. "No, I respect you too much. I can wait," he said, his voice low and husky.

"Wait for what?" she asked.

"For our wedding night," he said matter-of-factly.

"Oh really? I don't recall having been asked anything, Mr. Lancer," she teased.

He smiled at her and took her hand then, turning very serious, he asked the question.

"Beth, I have never felt this way about any woman before. You make me feel whole. You're the part of me that has been missing all my life. You make everything so clear. I can't live without you. I want to share my life with you. I want you to be the mother of my children. I want to grow old with you. Will you marry me?"

Her eyes filled with tears and they spilled down her cheeks. She looked at him and the love in her eyes was almost more than he could bear.

"Oh, Johnny. That's the most beautiful thing I've ever heard. I feel the same way about you. I love you so much. I would be so honored to be your wife," she said through her tears and laughter.

They held each other and he talked to her about their life together on the ranch. He talked about his love for the land and for her. He told her his hopes and his fears. He had never spoken to anyone like this before, never opened his heart so fully to another living soul. Finally, they packed their picnic up and he took her home. They sat on her porch for a while longer talking and holding hands behind the protection of the rosebush so no one could see. At dusk, her mother came out and shooed him home.

************************

"Mary, where's Beth?" Martin Harris asked his wife.

"She's upstairs dear, getting ready for her date."

"Date? What date?"

"Martin, I told you she's been seeing the Lancer boy," she answered with some exasperation.

If it didn't have to do with the new bank he had opened, Martin Harris' memory was quite lacking.

"Oh, yes. I'm glad she's found someone to spend time with. Scott Lancer is a very nice young man, educated at Harvard you know," he said.

"No, Martin. She's not seeing Scott, she's seeing Johnny Lancer," his wife corrected him.

"What?! Over my dead body! Beth, get down here young lady!" he bellowed.

"Martin, what in the world?" she started.

"No daughter of mine is going to be seen in the company of a gunfighter!" he declared.

"Martin Harris! I cannot believe what just came out of your mouth! Why Murdoch Lancer is your best client and BOTH his sons are very nice young men. What a slanderous thing to say!" she said, glaring at him.

"Slanderous? It's nothing but the truth!"

"What is it, dad?" Beth asked as she came in the room. She had heard the loud voices but was unable to hear what was said through the closed door.

"Young lady, I forbid you to see that Johnny Lancer!" he demanded.

She stared at him in horror and looked to her mother for support. "Why daddy?" she whispered.

"I should think that is quite obvious. He's a gunfighter!" he huffed indignantly.

"He is not a gunfighter anymore, he's changed!" she said just as indignant.

"How dare you speak to me in that tone, young lady. You will do as I say!"

"I will not! I am old enough to see whom I want when I want. For your information, Johnny has asked me to marry him and I've agreed." she said with more conviction than she felt at the moment.

She had never had a disagreement with her father about anything before and now she was defending the man she loved.

"I won't allow it!" he spat.

"You have nothing to say about it!" she shot back and turned to storm off, slamming the door behind her.

"Mary, did you hear that? Did you hear how she spoke to me?" he asked redundantly.

"Martin, I'm telling you right now you had better come to terms with this. Beth is in love for the first time and it is the last. I know what I'm talking about. If you force this, you will lose her. She will choose Johnny over you. She loves him very much and he loves her just as much," Mary Harris said.

"How long have you known about this?" he asked suspiciously.

"About the engagement? I heard about it just now with you. But I've known for a while now how she feels about him and I can tell he feels the same. A woman knows these things, dear," she said in the voice she had used when talking to Beth when she was child.

**********************

She paced back and forth on the porch trying to calm down. When Johnny arrived in the surrey, she walked out and jumped in before he had a chance to help her.

"Let's go!" she clipped.

He stared at her bewildered. "What happened?"

"Just go, please," she said, trying to hold back the tears.

He drove to 'their' spot and helped her down from the surrey. She collapsed into his arms and cried.

"What's wrong, honey?" he asked but she could only cry. "Beth, please. You're scaring me."

She pulled herself together and wiped her eyes and her nose. "I'm sorry, Johnny. I just had a terrible argument with my father."

"About what?" he asked. She avoided his gaze and he knew immediately. "It was about me wasn't it? I take it he doesn't approve?"

"I don't know what's wrong with him. He's never acted like this before," she said.

"He's never had his daughter dating anyone like me before," he said simply.

She glared at him and felt sudden anger. "Someone like you? What is that supposed to mean?"

"Whoa, killer! I'm on your side remember?" he said with some humor at her lashing out at him.

She laughed at him and hugged him tightly. "I love you, Johnny. My father's just going to have to accept that. Oh, and I told him we were engaged," she said sheepishly.

Johnny grimaced and she looked hurt. "I was hoping we could tell your parents together, honey."

"I know but he made me so mad it just came out. Funny though, my mother wasn't a bit surprised," she said, considering this new thought.

"She already knew how we felt. I could tell from the way she's been looking at me," Johnny explained.

"How has she been looking at you?"

"Oh the, 'touch my daughter before you make an honest woman of her and you'll have me to answer to', look," he said with a chuckle.

"You make me forget anything bad or unpleasant," she said and kissed him softly.

He smiled tenderly at her. "I think I need to have a talk with your father," he said.

************************

Before he talked to Beth's father, Johnny thought he had better talk to his. He asked Murdoch out to the veranda after supper that night. For some reason, he felt nervous. He had never talked to Murdoch about women or love before.

"What's on your mind, son?"

"Well, Murdoch I have something to tell you and I hope it makes you happy."

"Oh? Let's hear it. I could use some good news."

"I guess I should just say it. I'm in love...with Beth and I, uh, well I've asked her to marry me and she agreed."

"Johnny, that's wonderful!" Murdoch exclaimed and hugged his son.

Johnny was taken aback by the show of affection but still it made him feel pretty damn good.  

"Let's not keep this a secret. I'll get your brother."

"No, wait a minute. I wanted to talk to you about something else," Johnny said.

"Alright, go ahead," Murdoch said feeling a bit uneasy.

"It's about Beth's father. Apparently, he's not thrilled about this. She was in tears today because they had a fight about me. I can guess why and I don't know what to say to the man. I mean, he has a pretty good argument about my past and all."

"Johnny, that's just what it is. The past. Surely he can't hold that against you."

"What if it were Teresa," Johnny pointed out.

Murdoch tensed, he would argue that his son was good enough for any woman, but the thought of Teresa being put in the same position gave him pause. Still, he knew how hard Johnny had worked to change his life and he deserved to be happy.

"Do you want me to talk to him?" Murdoch asked.

Johnny smiled at his father. "No, I was just hoping you could give me some good arguments to convince him."

"My best advice is to speak from your heart, son. Tell him how much she means to you and what you're prepared to do to make her happy."

Johnny nodded, it sounded good to him.

"Now, can we share this happy news with the rest of the family?"   Murdoch asked with a grin.

Johnny wasn't smiling, he was frowning. "Maybe we should wait until I talk to Mr. Harris," he suggested.

"Let me ask you something, son. Is anything going to stop you from marrying this girl?"

"No."

"Is anything going to stop her from marrying you?"

"No," he answered with a grin.

"Then let's celebrate! Scott, Teresa, Jelly!" Murdoch yelled.

Johnny shook his head and grinned at his father's enthusiasm. Scott, Jelly and Teresa came outside in a dead run.

"What's wrong?" Scott asked.

"Nothing's wrong. Your brother has something to tell you," Murdoch grinned.

"Are you sure you don't want to tell them, Murdoch?" Johnny asked, barely able to control his laughter.

"Alright, Johnny's getting married," Murdoch announced.

Teresa jumped into Johnny's arms and hugged the breath out of him. Jelly shook his hand until he thought it would fall off. Scott stood stunned with a silly grin on his face.

"Wait a minute. This can't happen. I'm the older brother. I'm supposed to go first," he teased.

"Well, you better get busy then, older brother. Cause I'm not waiting!"

Scott grabbed his brother and gave him a bear hug. "Congratulations, brother. I'm really happy for you."

"Johnny, have Beth come and see me. We have a lot of plans to make," Teresa said.  

"Hold on now. We haven't even talked about when this is going to happen. Besides, there's something I have to take care of before any plans can be made," Johnny said.

*********************

Johnny rode into Green River early the next day and headed straight for the bank. It wasn't open yet, but he knew that. He also knew Mr. Harris would be there preparing for the day's business. He had a passing thought that he had never had so many anxious moments in his entire life. Even when he would face down some gunfighter, he never felt like this. Now one petite girl had turned his insides out and he wouldn't have it any other way.

He knocked on the bank door and saw the banker peep out through the closed curtain. He thought he heard the man swear and he braced himself.

"We're not open yet," he said shortly when he opened the door.

"I know. I was hoping I could talk to you, Mr. Harris," Johnny said.

"If this is about Beth, I don't think this is an appropriate time," he answered.

"You know it's about Beth and I get the feeling there is no good time for you, but it can't wait," Johnny said, determined to get through the door.

The banker acquiesced and opened the door wider for Johnny to enter.

"In my office," he clipped.

Johnny decided he would not allow this man to intimidate him anymore than he had ever allowed any man to. He pulled no punches either.

"Mr. Harris, I'm in love with your daughter but I guess you already know that. I wanted to let you know something else. I will do whatever it takes to keep her happy and healthy. I know you're worried about my past and I don't blame you. All I can tell you about that is that I've changed. I've turned my life around. Now it wasn't easy and it still isn't, but I promise you, it will never touch her."

"Johnny, I know how you feel about my daughter and I know how she thinks she feels about you. But Beth is ... very fragile."

"Fragile? I've never met a stronger woman. I love her and I know I can make her happy. I'd like your blessing Mr. Harris, but I don't need it," Johnny said with conviction.

"I don't agree with this engagement, Johnny. I won't lie to you. But, I also know my daughter and I won't fight you. But if she changes her mind, I expect you to honor that. Just know this, if you hurt her, or she gets hurt because of you, you will answer to me," he warned.

Johnny nodded his head. "That's how it should be," he said and left the office to find Beth.

**********************

She worked in the dress boutique for the widow McClean. That's how they had met, when Teresa had dragged him with her one day to buy a new dress for a dance. Johnny was headed to the boutique but decided to stop by and see his friend Val Crawford first.

He entered the sheriff's office quiet as a mouse and saw his friend leaned back in his chair with a newspaper over his face. Johnny could hear him snoring and almost burst out laughing. He snuck up and grabbed the paper and the lawman's gun from his holster at the same time.

"You're dead!" he said with a laugh.

Val grabbed the paper out if his hand and hit him with it. "Doggone you, Johnny. Are you tryin to give me a heart attack?" he yelled.

Johnny rolled with laughter. "Are you busy, sheriff?" he asked, grinning.

"Oh, hush up. Ya want some coffee?"

"Sure, I got something to tell you, too," Johnny replied.

"Oh? What kind of mess have ya got yourself into this time?" Val asked sarcastically.

"The biggest kind, Val. I'm gettin married!" he announced.

The sheriff nearly dropped his coffee pot and stared at the young man in front of him, a grin spread across his face. "Well, it's about time some gal roped you in, congratulations!" he said as he took Johnny's hand and shook it vigorously.

*******************

The man came out of the hotel with a bouquet of flowers in his hand. He was dressed to the nines in his fancy gray suit and polished boots. He looked every bit the genteel southern gentleman. He tipped his hat at a passing woman and smiled charmingly at her. Then, he headed for the boutique, strolling casually down the boardwalk. He stopped at the window of the little store and peered in. He could see no one. 'No customers, perfect', he thought as he eased into the shop.

"I'll be right with you," Beth called when she heard the bell ring on the top of the door.

He smiled at the sound of her voice.

When she came out of the back room she stopped dead in her tracks, the blood draining from her face. She thought she might faint but she fought it back.

"What are you doing here?" she whispered.

"Beth, you're as lovely as ever my darling. I've missed you so," he replied gracefully.

He moved toward her and she backed away, finding herself up against the wall.

"Get out!" she said, her voice a little stronger now.

"But darling, I've come such a long way. All the way from St. Louis, in fact. I had a hard time finding you, my love," he said smoothly.

"Don't call me that!" she hissed at him.

"I know it is a shock, my showing up here so suddenly, but I've brought you flowers. Here," he said as he moved closer to her.

She wanted to scream but she couldn't find her voice. She was turning paler by the second and she was terrified.

********************

The bell rang on the door and she looked past him to see her savior. Johnny stopped cold as he saw the scene in front of him. His eyes narrowed as he took in the stranger and Beth's face.

"What's going on here?" he asked softly.

"Johnny, make him leave, please!" she begged.

Johnny strode toward the man and stopped an inch from his face. "You heard the lady, get out," he whispered, ice in his voice.

"This is none of your concern, Sir. I'm simply visiting an old and dear friend. Now why don't you just mind your own business," the man said.

"It is my business, mister. You've got two seconds to head for that door or I'm gonna bust your face open," he hissed.

The man looked in his eyes and felt the heat permeating from them. Then he looked at Beth and smiled.

"Very well, another time my dear," he said.

"No, there won't be another time. You stay away from her. If you don't, you'll answer to me," Johnny warned.

He tipped his hat to Beth and strolled out. Johnny came to her and she fainted in his arms. He picked her up and took her out the back door and down the alley to her parent's home. Banging on the door with his boot, he got her mother's attention pretty quickly.

"What happened to her?" she gasped.

"Just let me get her to bed and send for the Doc," Johnny instructed.

Mrs. Harris did just that, then she got a cool cloth for her daughter's face.

"Johnny?" she asked, terror in her voice.

"I'm not sure what happened. I went to the shop to see her and there was a man there. He had flowers and said he was an old friend. The look on her face, Mrs. Harris ... she begged me to make him leave and I did. Then she fainted, so I brought her home. I don't know who he was but he scared her to death," Johnny explained.

Mrs. Harris was staring at him in horror. "Describe him to me," she said, her voice barely squeaking out sound.

Johnny told her what the man looked like and he thought she just might faint too.

"What's going on here? Who is this man?" he asked.

"Johnny, please send for my husband," was all she would answer.

*************************

Mr. Harris ran through the front door and bounded up the stairs to his daughter's room. Doc Jenkins was there examining her and Johnny and Mrs. Harris stood at the foot of the bed.

"What happened to her?" he asked, glaring at Johnny.

His wife took his arm and guided him to the corner of the room. Once she had told him what happened, he too looked as though he might faint.

Johnny had had enough. "Alright, let's go outside," he said as he ushered them to the hallway. "Someone tell me what's happening here. Who was that man and why is Beth so afraid of him?" he demanded.

The Harris' looked at each other then back at Johnny.

"I think Beth should be the one to tell you about it, Johnny," Mrs. Harris said.

Johnny shook his head in exasperation but agreed to wait.   Doc Jenkins came out of the room just then and they all looked at him questioningly.

"Well, she fainted. She's alright physically, but something sure got her upset. I've given her a sedative to help her sleep but she's asking for you, Johnny," he said.

Johnny darted to the room and approached her bedside.

************************

Sitting on the edge of the bed gently, he took her hand. "Hey there. You gave me quite a scare," he said smiling lovingly at her.

She forced a small smile and squeezed his hand.

"Are you ready to tell me about it?" he asked.

Her eyes filled with tears that fell down her cheeks unabashed. She raised up and hugged him so tight, he thought she might break a rib or two but he didn't pull away. She needed him and he knew it and nothing would take him away from her now or ever. She leaned back against the pillows that Doc had propped up for her and rested her head. Johnny stroked her cheek softly and waited.

"His name in Benjamin Dubois. He's from St. Louis," she said.

"You knew him there?" Johnny asked.

She nodded her head. "He tried to court me but I never liked him. He always seemed so .... I don't know .... creepy. He made my skin crawl. He pursued me for weeks but I wanted nothing to do with him and I told him that every time, as nicely as possible. It was getting to be very frustrating. Then, one night while my parent's were at a party, he came by again. When I answered the door I started to tell him to go away but he pushed his way inside."

Her lower lip started trembling and she was getting pale again. Johnny didn't like where this was going but he had to hear it all. After a moment, she continued.

"He grabbed me and dragged me into the living room. He was so vicious, so angry. He said I had rebuked him for the last time. That I belonged to him and .... he was going to ... have me," she sobbed and fell into his arms again.

Johnny held her tight, trying to comfort her.

"Beth, did he rape you?" he asked in a whisper.

She nodded her head and continued to sob.

He felt the pure raw rage surge up inside him, a rage he had never felt before. It was more intense than anything he had ever experienced in his life. All the things that had been done to him in his past, all the pain and anguish he had endured was nothing compared to this feeling. He forced himself to stay still, to stay with her because she needed him. She finally drifted to sleep with the help of Doc's medicine and he slipped out of the room quietly. He found her parent's in the living room, worry lining their faces. His face was stone, cold eyes glared at them both. Johnny Madrid had just walked into their living room and they didn't even know it.

**************************

"Tell me everything. Why isn't he in jail?" he hissed through clenched teeth.

They both dropped their heads and shook them.

Mr. Harris spoke first. "I don't know, Johnny. That's where he's supposed to be. He got ten years in the Missouri prison. I don't understand how he could have gotten out after only two years," he said.

"What happened!?"

"She told you about the .... attack?" he asked.

"Yes, she told me he raped her. I want the details!" he insisted.

"Sit down, please. I wanted to tell you today. I almost did. God, I never thought she'd ever have to see him again! We were out to a party when he forced his way into the house and .... hurt my little girl. When we found her on the living room floor she had been beaten severely. The doctor said she put up one hell of a fight. She wouldn't speak, wouldn't look at anyone, for months she stayed that way.

"Finally the doctor told us we had to get her some professional help. A psychiatrist. Well, that's just what we did and he helped her a great deal. She was finally able to cope with it but he advised us it would be best for her if we left St. Louis and the memories in that house. That's when we moved here to Green River. She was doing so well. Now, that bastard!" he fumed.

Johnny sat still throughout the explanation. "Tell me about the trial," he said.

"There wasn't one. He admitted to what he had done. He even seemed proud of it! The judge was as sickened as we and he sentenced him to ten years. That's what I don't understand. How did he get out?"

"Maybe he broke out," Johnny offered.

"Well, his family was quite wealthy and renowned. They might have bought his freedom," Mr. Harris said.

"I'll find out how he got out. In the meantime, I'm sending a couple of hands from the ranch to watch this house and I want one of you with her at all times. I'm going to see the sheriff and find out what's going on here," he instructed.

They nodded their approval and gratitude. Johnny walked to the door and Mrs. Harris stopped him.

"Johnny, she does love you," she said, her voice was unsure, questioning.

"I love her too. This changes nothing between us," he said and gave her a small smile.

********************

Johnny headed for the saloon first and found one of his hands there. He sent him for reinforcements then headed to Val. Once he explained the situation, the sheriff's jugular vein was standing on end. He didn't cotton to hurting women, no sir! He sent an urgent telegram to the St. Louis police and all they could do was wait for the reply.

When the hand reached the ranch and told the older two Lancers about Johnny's

request, Murdoch sent two men without question. He also sent Scott to find out what was going on.

Scott walked into the sheriff's office to find Johnny and Val pacing the floor.

"Johnny, I have two top men on the Harris place. What's going on here?" he asked.

He felt very scared when he saw his brother's face. Misery settled on him. Make that, when he saw Johnny Madrid standing in front of him. Johnny walked over and put his hands on his brother's shoulders and stared at him.

Finally he spoke. "There's a man in town. Two years ago in St. Louis, he raped Beth. We're waiting to hear from the law there why he's out of prison."

Scott stared in wide-eyed disbelief at his brother, he could see the rage in Johnny and he couldn't, would not dare, dispute what he knew his brother was thinking. Scott was ready to defend any action Johnny took against this cretin and stand beside him through it all. He didn't know what to say.

Finally, a bit ashamed of his thoughtlessness, he asked. "How's Beth?"

"Doc gave her something to make her sleep but she's pretty torn up as you can imagine," Johnny said.

"Torn up! Yep, that's what he's gonna be. Torn up!" Val Crawford mumbled.

************************

The telegram finally arrived three hours later as the two Lancer sons and the sheriff were just about to chew the walls off the jail. Val ripped open the envelope and read the contents. He dropped his shoulders, shook his head and handed it to Johnny.

Johnny read it and crumpled it in his fist, throwing it to the floor. "He got paroled. He got paroled!" he yelled, his anger reaching new heights. "Val, I think you might want to take a little trip," he said.

"Johnny, whatever you got in mind to do, you're either gonna have to do it legal or outside of town."

Johnny stared at him.

"I'm sorry. I can't let you just kill him. He's out of jail legally and there ain't nothin

I can do about it," Val explained.

Scott took his brother's arm. "Johnny, listen to me. Val's right. I hate it, but he's right. If your going to do anything, you have to calm down first. You can't go after him like this. You know that. You know what you have to do."

He jerked his brother's arm until Johnny looked at him. "You know how you have to handle this, Johnny. You have to pull yourself together," he said quietly.

Johnny did know what his brother was telling him. He was surprised that Scott would suggest it, but he knew it was right. It was the only thing he could do.

************************

He walked out of the office and headed for the saloon, Scott hot on his heels. Val wanted to go with them, but he knew it would be better if he wasn't around. He wanted more than anything to help his friend, but there was nothing he could do.

Johnny and Scott sat in the saloon for hours. Johnny had never had to work this hard to rein in his feelings. He knew he couldn't do this. Only one person could and it took him a long time to find that person fully again. It had to be a total and complete transformation. Anything less might get him killed or hung for murder. He pushed Beth out of his mind. He pushed Murdoch, Scott, Teresa, Jelly out of his mind. He focused on some distant memory and held onto it, digging in to find that person who didn't care. The person who was beyond redemption, beyond saving, beyond caring if he lived or died. Finally, slowly, he found him. He stood up and, without a word, walked out of the saloon.

Scott didn't say anything, he didn't try to stop him. He had been watching for hours, watching his brother disappear. Watching a rebirth before his very eyes, watching Johnny Madrid come back to life and Johnny Lancer die. Scott prayed it was temporary, that he hadn't lost his brother forever. But he knew this is how it had to be, for Beth's sake and for their life together. If they had a life together after this.

********************

Johnny Madrid sauntered into the hotel and up to the desk. He asked for DuBois' room number and got it without hesitation. The hotel clerk knew Johnny but not this Johnny. He sent a message up to the room, then he walked out onto the porch of the hotel. He sat in a rocking chair and started rocking slowly.

His hat pulled down low, he reached in his back pocket and pulled out a single black glove. He donned it on his left hand, working the stiffness out of the leather. He checked his gun and placed it back in it's holster. He waited.   A few minutes later, Dubois walked out of the hotel and started down the steps.

"Lookin for me?" Johnny said softly.

Dubois whipped around to find the gunfighter watching him from under the brim of his hat. He could barely make out the eyes, but what he saw chilled him to the core.

"What's this about, Mr?" he asked.

"Madrid. Johnny Madrid," he answered simply, no emotion in his voice.

This was not the same man he had encountered earlier Dubois thought. "What do you want?" he asked, his voice quivering slightly.

Johnny looked up a bit more. "You're a man of the world, Dubois. Ever heard of me?" he asked, a slight grin curling up the left side if his mouth.

"Yes," he said.

"Good. Now as to what I want.. you. Now."

Johnny stood up slowly and squared off. The slight smile still on his face, he walked past the man and out into the street.

"I'm callin you out, Dubois. Are you a man or a coward?" he drawled.

"I'm not a gunfighter, Madrid. What's this all about?" he said, the tremor in his voice more substantial now.

"You know what this is about and I don't care if you're a gunfighter. Matter of fact, I don't really care if you even have a gun, but I know you do," Johnny said, still in that easy soft drawl.

"I...I won't fight you," Dubois stated with some arrogance.

"Then you'll die like the mangy dog you are with a bullet in your back," Johnny replied.

"Look, Madrid I don't have a chance against you," he said, panic heightening in him with every passing minute.

"Nope, you don't. Now draw."

************************

DuBois stood facing him in the street. His face was twitching and his hand shook. "Isn't there any law in this town?" he asked.

"Not for you, DuBois. Sheriff's gone fishin. It's just you and me."

"But.."

"Shut up! I'm tired of waiting. Guess I'll just have to start this dance," Johnny said as he drew his gun slower than he had ever drawn in his life.

DuBois jerked his gun from the holster, it took him a couple of seconds to wrench it free and Johnny waited patiently. He wanted DuBois to have half a chance, it might be the only way he could redeem himself to his family.

DuBois leveled his gun at Johnny and Johnny squeezed the trigger. DuBois hit the ground with a thud and grabbed his gut.

Johnny strolled over to him and kicked the pistol away from his hand. He bent down on one knee over the man who was crying.

"Please, help me. It hurts so bad!" he begged through the tears.

Johnny smiled at him. "I know it hurts. Ain't nothin hurts worse than bein gut shot. You'll start pukin blood here in a minute. Burns don't it?"

"I need a doctor," he gasped.

"Well, now that is a problem. See, the Doc went fishin with the sheriff. Guess it just ain't your day, is it?" he said with a smirk on his face.

"Why?" DuBois begged.

Johnny looked at him in disbelief. "Why? Why? Beth, that's why. You low-life snake-bellied cowardly bastard! You don't get away with hurtin a woman. After what you did, you better be glad all I did was kill your sorry hide!" he hissed.

DuBois stared at him with understanding crossing his face. "You're in love with her," he stated.

"That's right, bastard. And we're getting married. And she won't ever be hurt again. Especially by you, you sick son of a bitch!"

Blood choked up in his throat and he coughed it out. Johnny watched as he slowly, painfully died. He watched until the life left his eyes and his head lolled to one side. He wasn't sorry, he felt no remorse. He stood up just as Doc Jenkins came running up to them and bent over the man.

"Don't bother, Doc. He's in hell where he belongs," Johnny said and walked away.

*********************

Scott had watched the entire episode from the corner of the hotel. It sickened him to see this side of Johnny. He knew it was necessary but he was desperate to follow his brother and see if Madrid was going to leave. He walked after Johnny, who went to Val's office.

"He's dead Val. I gave him every chance. You want to ask, there were witnesses. The hotel clerk was peeping out the window and Mr. Gardner at the livery saw the whole thing. Oh, and him," Johnny said as he tossed his thumb back at his brother who was coming in the door.

"You knew I was there?" Scott asked stunned.

"Yeah, I knew," Johnny said softly.

Scott walked over and took his brother's arm, turning him to look in his eyes. He felt relief wash over him as he saw his brother standing in front of him again.

"Johnny, I'm so sorry this had to happen," he said.

"You do know then? It did have to happen," Johnny beseeched his brother for some redemption.

"Yes, I know. If you hadn't done it, I would have," he said and put his arm around his brother. "Why don't you go check on Beth. I'll take care of this," he suggested.

Johnny nodded his head and looked at Val who tossed his head telling Johnny to go.

"Well?" Val asked after Johnny left.

"Val, he waited until the man was aiming his gun at him before he pulled the trigger."

"That's good enough for me," Val said.

**********************

Johnny tapped on the front door of the Harris home and Mrs. Harris let him in. She searched his face, wanting and not wanting to know.

"He's dead," was all he said and he headed up the stairs to his Beth.

She was still asleep and he watched her as her chest slowly rose and fell in rhythm. He got down on his knees at her bedside and, for the first time since he was a little boy, he prayed. He prayed for forgiveness and that she would understand. A single tear tracked down his cheek as he knelt there and he felt her soft hand stroking his hair. He looked up at her and she was surprised to see him crying.

"Johnny?"

"It's alright, sweetheart. Everything is all right now," he whispered.

"What did you do?" she asked.

Johnny dropped his head, suddenly ashamed of his actions but he couldn't lie to her. "I killed him," he mumbled.

She raise up on one arm and put her hand under his chin, raising his head to meet his eyes. She smiled at him. "For me?" He nodded his head. "I'm sorry, Johnny."

"Sorry? For what?" he asked surprised.

"I'm sorry you had to do that. I'm sorry I caused you pain," she said, tears welling in her eyes again.

"You didn't do anything to cause me pain, miel. The cause of the pain is gone now. Can you get past it again?" he asked.

She looked deep into his eyes and knew the answer. "I can get past anything as long as I have you," she whispered and bent down to kiss his cheek.

"You have me, forever," he said as he kissed her lightly on the lips.

She took his face in her hands and kissed him long and deep and their love blossomed more deeply than either thought possible.

*********************

Two weeks later, Beth was back to her old self. Johnny was grateful but ever watchful of his bride to be. He worried about her constantly and hovered whenever he could.

She knew what he was doing and why and she loved him for it. She didn't have the heart to tell him to stop, she didn't really want him to anyway.

He worried still about her state of mind and if she was really ready to marry him. He decided to talk to her about it and hopefully clear the air. They rode out to their favorite place on the ranch on Sunday and he was more quiet than usual.

"What's wrong, Johnny? You're not here with me," she asked, concern written all over her face.

He smiled at her. "I'm here. I'm always here. I'm worried about you though, Beth. Are you sure you're ready to get married? After everything that's happened, I would understand if you wanted to wait a while longer."

She touched his cheek and smiled tenderly at him. "I'm ready, Johnny. I've never been more ready for anything in my life. I can't wait to start my life as your wife."

She had reassured him, but something in the back of his mind was bothering him and he just couldn't name it.

*******************

That evening, Johnny found his father alone in the living room. "Murdoch, can I talk to you?"

"Of course, son, sit down. What's on your mind?" Murdoch asked.

"It's Beth. She says she's fine and she wants to go through with our plans but .... I don't know. Something is bothering me but I just don't know what. You ever feel like that?"

Murdoch laughed softly. "Oh yes. Many times. It can just about drive you crazy. But I think I.. uh..I might know what's bothering you," he said as he searched his son's face.

"Well?" Johnny asked.

"Son, Beth has been through a terrible ordeal. She got past it then it was thrown in her face again. For a woman, being attacked like that is very traumatic. You know that and I think you might be worried about the .... well .... the wedding night. She might not be ready for that kind of uh .... intimacy," Murdoch blushed a little.

Talking to his son about sex was not easy, especially when he was a grown man, an experienced man.  

Not much made Johnny Lancer blush, but he felt his cheeks getting a little warm too. Murdoch was right, he had hit the nail on the head.

"I don't want to make her uncomfortable. I don't want her to think she has to do anything she's not ready for," he said.

"Just make sure she knows that, son. Make it very clear to her and I think everything will work out fine," Murdoch advised.

*************************

The next three weeks seemed to fly by for Johnny. He was getting more nervous by the minute. He was jumpy and short with everyone. Everyone except Beth. It was getting to the point that Murdoch was worried he might not make it another week. He corralled Johnny one night as he was sitting outside. He seemed to be doing that every night now.

"Johnny, are you alright?" he asked and Johnny nearly jumped out of his skin.

"God, Murdoch. Don't sneak up on me like that!" he snapped.

Murdoch smiled. "A couple of months ago I wouldn't have been able to sneak up on you at all."

"I know. See what this is doing to me? I wish it was all over. I don't need all this fancy stuff. I just want to marry Beth," he blurted out.

"I know, son. Weddings are definitely for the ladies. Just one more week, Johnny. You can make it," he said with a smile.

"I hope so. I've never felt like this before. I have to tell you, I don't like it," he said with a sigh.

Later that evening, Scott knocked on his brother's door and walked in. "I guess I'd better stop doing that," he said with a smile.

"Stop doing what?" Johnny asked.

"Walking into your room without waiting for an answer," Scott explained with a mischievous grin.

Johnny didn't return the smile.

"Johnny, you've been as jumpy as a kitten. I know you hate all this pomp and circumstance but just stay focused on the end result," Scott advised.

"I know, I just feel so.... so anxious I guess. I keep waiting for something to happen to ruin everything," Johnny confessed.

Scott frowned at him. "Why?" he asked.

"Because, Scott, nothing this good has ever happened to me and I just feel like I'm going to lose it. That I don't deserve it in the first place," Johnny said softly.

Scott was dumbstruck by his brother's words. He thought Johnny had gotten past all those feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness.

"I can't believe you still feel that you don't deserve to be happy. If anybody deserves this, it's you Johnny. Why can't you see that?" Scott asked.

"You have no idea the things I've done in my life, Scott. If you did, you wouldn't be asking me that question. You saw it in fact, and that was only a small part of it."

"I know you, brother. You may have turned your life around, but you can't change who you are inside. You care about people, you feel their pain. You're compassionate and giving."

"Ok, ok, enough already! You're makin me sick!" Johnny said with a laugh.

"All I'm trying to say, Johnny is that you deserve to be happy," Scott said and put his arm around Johnny's shoulder.

*************************

The next week was pure havoc at the Lancer ranch. Teresa spent every day ordering ranch hands to put up decorations, making flower arrangements and supervising the food preparation for the big day. She just about drove Jelly to his grave.

Mrs. Harris and Beth were there helping every day, plus making plans for the wedding itself. Where everyone should sit or stand, etc. Beth took the opportunity one day to get Johnny alone, taking him out to the garden. She had quite a time getting him to stop kissing her, partly because she didn't want him to stop.

"Johnny, please. I want to ask you something," she finally managed to say.

"Whatever it is, yes," he said huskily.

She pushed him away and laughed. "This is serious," she said trying to give him a frown.

He studied her face and knew she wanted to say something important so he stopped his advances and gave her his full attention.

"I want to know why you didn't want a priest or to get married in a church," she said bluntly.

He looked away from her then and turned his back.

"Johnny?"

He sighed heavily and turned back to her, guiding her to a nearby bench. "I've had some bad experiences with priests, Beth. They never gave me the time of day unless they were telling me how worthless I was. I just have no use for them," he said, hoping that would placate her.

"Tell me about it, Johnny. Something had to have happened," she pressed.

"My mother went to mass every Sunday, no matter what else was going on, she never missed a week. The priest would always look down on her. I can remember her crying after church because the priest ignored her. None of them ever gave her any comfort. I can't understand why she kept going there. I just can't forget that. I have no use for the church Beth, any church. I hope you don't expect that to change," he said.

"That's horrible! I can't believe men of the cloth would treat anyone so badly. I'm sorry your mother had so much pain," she said as she took his hand.

He smiled at her and squeezed her hand. "Can we forget about all that now? I don't want to think about sad things."

**********************

By Friday evening the hacienda was adorned with crepe paper, lanterns, flowers and all manner of festive decor. The living room furniture was gone, replaced by chairs for the guests and an alter. Teresa had converted her bedroom into the bride's dressing room and all the gowns were hanging all over. She had warned Johnny to stay out, but he had no intention of going into her bedroom anyway. He thought she was more nervous than he at that moment.

Saturday morning it was evident that Teresa might just have a nervous breakdown before the wedding ever got started. She ran around the house inside and out, making final checks on every aspect of her work. Johnny was oddly calm, in fact, he was surprised at how good he felt. Scott knocked on his door, then he knocked again.

"Come in," Johnny called. "Why did you knock twice?" he asked.

"I'm practicing," Scott replied with a grin. "So, how are you feeling, brother?" he asked.

"Believe it or not, I feel great!" Johnny proclaimed.

Suddenly Scott's face dropped and he almost turned pale.

"What's wrong?" Johnny asked with dread.

"Johnny, where are you going on your honeymoon?" he asked in a hushed tone.

Johnny's expression matched his brother's and he thought he might just pass out. "I haven't even thought about it. What am I gonna do?" he asked, near panic.

"What are you going to do about what?" Murdoch asked as he came in the room.

"Murdoch, I forgot about the honeymoon!" Johnny said with anguish.

Murdoch looked at him very seriously and seemed to be considering his dilemma. "Well, I guess you could use the north ridge line shack," he suggested.

"The line shack! I can't take Beth to a shack!" Johnny cried.

Murdoch grinned knowingly and said, "Sure you can. Especially since I've spent the last three weeks getting it completely refurbished, inside and out."

Johnny stared at him suspiciously. "What exactly do you mean by refurbished?" he asked.

"Well, new furniture, lacy curtains, plenty of supplies, a flower garden and of course it's already a secluded area. I figure you can stay there for a month easy without worrying about running out of anything," Murdoch announced, quite proud of himself.

Johnny looked at his father in utter disbelief, then he did something totally out of character. He hugged his father. Scott hugged him too.

"How did you ever think of this?" Scott asked with envy.

"Well, it was pretty obvious that Johnny couldn't add two and two the past month and get it right. I figured he wouldn't think about planning a honeymoon," Murdoch explained.

"You just saved my life, thank you," Johnny said.

**********************

Beth and her mother arrived hours early to get her ready. Mr. Harris had announced he didn't need to hang around a bunch of nervous women to do his part and would arrive closer to time for the ceremony.

Mary Harris shooed the bridesmaids and the maid of honor out of the room an hour before the wedding.

"Haven't we already had this talk?" Beth teased.

Mrs. Harris smiled at her daughter. "I love you so much, honey. I just wanted to ask you if there's anything you need or want before the wedding. Sweetheart, I don't want to bring back horrible memories for you today of all days. But I want you to understand one thing. I know you love him and I know he loves you. But, tonight, if you feel you're not ready, if you're too uncomfortable, tell him. Don't do anything you're not ready to do. If he really loves you, he won't pressure you," she advised.

"Mom, it's going to be alright. I'm going to be alright," Beth said and smiled at her reassuringly.

A knock at the door broke their moment together and Mrs. Harris went to answer. Her husband was standing there dressed in his best suit.

"Well, is she ready?" he said a bit grumpily.

"See for yourself," his wife replied as she opened the door wider.

His eyes widened and he smiled despite himself. "Baby, you look beautiful," he whispered.

"Thank you, daddy. Oh please be happy for me. I love him so much," she cried as she hugged him tight.

"Alright dear, alright. Don't cry now, you'll ruin your face. It's gong to be just fine, I promise," he said.

He had never been able to refuse her anything, he was putty in her hands. "Are we ready then?" he asked.

Beth took a deep breath and blew it out slowly, then nodded her head.

********************

Johnny and Scott stood in front of the guests waiting. Johnny turned his head to whisper to his brother.

"Who invited Cathy Johnson?" he asked.

"Teresa, you told her to take care of the guest list," Scott replied in a whisper.

"Well , I didn't think she would invite Cathy!" he said.

"She had to, Murdoch is friends with her father, remember?" Scott said.

Johnny sighed and shook his head.

"Listen, little brother, you're lucky she didn't invite all your old girlfriends. We wouldn't have any room left for the rest of the guests," Scott teased.

"Oh that's real funny, Scott. Thanks for making me feel better on my wedding day."

"Is everything all right, Johnny?" the minister asked.

Johnny nodded his head and looked a little annoyed with the man. The music started and he felt his heart drop to his stomach as he turned to face toward the aisle.

The bridesmaids were dressed in a deep blue. Beth had chosen this particular color because it was as close as she could come to finding a matching color to Johnny's eyes. Teresa came in next as the maid of honor, her dress was a shade darker than the others and she looked beautiful.

Murdoch felt a lump in his throat watching her walk past. Everyone stood as the music changed to the wedding march and Johnny unconsciously straightened himself. Beth came down the stairs on her father's arm. Her gown was white, of course, with a ten foot train. Her veil and headdress were fine Irish lace. The gown was lowcut across the bodice with lace entwined roses designed throughout the dress and long sleeves that ended just at the tips of her fingers.

She was the most breathtaking thing he had ever seen in his life and, though he didn't think it possible, he loved her more at that moment than he ever had. Suddenly, there was no one else in the room, all he could see was his Beth smiling at him.

Her father gave her hand to him and backed away to his seat as the rest of the guests sat back down. They faced the minister and he began the ceremony. Johnny felt like he was in a dream and he had to work hard to concentrate on the minister's words. When he came to the part asking if anyone knew of any reason why they should not be married, Johnny tensed and just knew her father would say something. But he didn't, no one said a word and he sighed almost audibly.

Scott handed him the ring and they exchanged their vows, staring deeply into each others eyes. Murdoch and Scott worked hard to hold back the tears but Teresa wasn't trying to hold back anything as she let the tears of joy stream down her face.

Suddenly, it was over and the minister was telling him he could kiss his bride. He happily complied and as they turned to face their guests, the minister introduced Mr. and Mrs. John Lancer.

*********************

The reception was a festive affair. More food was laid out than anyone could have imagined. Teresa had made sure the menu included a variety of American and Mexican dishes to accommodate all their guests.

The first dance is always for the bride and groom and Johnny had been dreading it. Dancing was not his favorite thing but he obliged and stunned everyone with his grace and expertise. With Beth in his arms, he felt more like he was floating.

He accepted the good wishes with a smile, all the while wishing it would end soon. Finally, Murdoch pulled him aside and suggested he take his bride and get out of there.

Before they could leave, there was the customary toast by the best man and the tossing of the bride's bouquet. Scott called for everyone's attention and brought Johnny and Beth to his side.

"It is my job and my honor as best man to toast the happy couple. I've been working on this for some time. I've been trying to come up with something wonderful to say. It was easy with Beth but I must admit I've been having some trouble with Johnny," he said and everyone laughed.

"Seriously though, Johnny, we've only known each other a short time, two years now, but I feel like I've known you all my life. It came very naturally to me to step into the role of older brother, even if you did make it the hardest job in the world. I've never seen you so happy and I know I have Beth to thank for that. I wish you love, happiness, friendship and at least a dozen nieces and nephews for me. Cheers!" he finished and raised his glass.

Everyone cheered and toasted the newlyweds.

"Alright, it's time for all you young ladies to line up," Murdoch announced and the single women nearly stampeded each other.

Beth turned her back to them and tossed the bouquet right into Teresa's hands.

Murdoch laughed then groaned and Johnny slapped him on the back.

"Don't take all those decorations down too quick, Murdoch," he laughed.

Murdoch just grimaced at him.

Finally, they climbed into the surrey that would take them to their hideaway, driven by Jelly, and were off with yells and cheers from the crowd echoing behind them.

********************

When they arrived at the honeymoon cabin, their luggage was already there. Everything had been unpacked and candles were glowing from the windows. Jelly started to drive off.

"Whoa, wait a minute! Uh, just what are we supposed to do for transportation?" Johnny asked.

"Didn't think you'd be needin any right off, but Barranca's in the barn and so is a nice little pony for the missus. Jest in case you two want to go ridin sometime," Jelly explained with a wistful roll of the eyes.

Johnny smiled at him and shook his hand.

"Well, Mrs. Lancer, shall we?" he asked as he bowed and swept his hand toward the door.

She laughed at him and headed to the threshold.

"Wait!" he yelled as he swept her up in his arms and carried her into the cabin. They stood there slack-jawed. Roses were everywhere and candles illuminated the cabin interior with a soft glow. The bed was new and dressed in a satin comforter. Lace curtains adorned the windows and a bottle of champagne waited in a bucket of cool spring water with glasses beside it. There was an armoire in the corner with the doors open to show their clothes hung neatly inside. A platter of cheese and bread lay out on the table.

"You can put me down now," Beth whispered.

Johnny looked at her totally confused and shook his senses back to himself.

"I can't believe Murdoch did all this," he said in awe.

"Oh, Johnny it's beautiful! Your father is a romantic!" she exclaimed.

"I didn't think the old man had it in him," Johnny said with a wry smile. "Well, this champagne's not gonna stay cold forever. Want some?" he asked.

She nodded her head. They drank the champagne and sat in quiet bliss for a while. Johnny was starting to get a little worried. He stood behind her chair and put his arms around his bride.

"Beth, if you're not ready for this, just tell me honey. I'll understand," he whispered in her ear.

She stood up and turned to face him, her eyes glowing, her cheeks hot.

"Johnny, I've been ready for this since the day I met you. I want you so much. Now, make love to me," she whispered and kissed him passionately.

He took her in his arms and picked her up, laying her gently on the bed.

*******************

Johnny Madrid Lancer paced nervously in the great room of the hacienda. He chewed his thumb and sighed every other minute. He heard her scream and started toward the room only to be stopped by his father's strong arms.

"Johnny, they don't need you in there. You'll only be in the way."

"Murdoch, she's in so much pain. I feel so damned helpless," he said morosely.

"I know son, but it'll be over soon," Murdoch promised.

"Johnny, the night Beth was born I was sure I wouldn't make it through," Mr. Harris said with a proud grin.

"Why is it that baby's always come at night?" Jelly pondered.

"Oh not always, Jelly. It just seems that way. Of course, Johnny didn't decide to make his appearance until 3 am," he teased.

"Well, I always was a night owl," Johnny grinned.

She screamed again only this time, it was his name she yelled. He burst past his father and into the room and, in two seconds flat, he was by her side.

"Johnny, get out of here!" Doc Jenkins yelled.

"No! She needs me," he answered as he held her hand. "Do you want me to go?" he asked his wife.

She shook her head as another contraction hit her and she screamed out. Johnny felt miserable, he had done this to her. He'd caused her all this pain. It was too much to bear. He couldn't stand seeing her like this.

After the contraction passed, she looked at him and smiled.

"It's alright, honey. It's all part of the process," she whispered.

"Beth, I'm so sorry," he said.

"Sorry? You better not be sorry, Johnny Lancer!" she admonished as another contraction hit her.

Doc told her to push and her mother held her other hand, giving her support and strength.

"There's the head, now one more really good push, Beth. You can do it!" he said.

She pushed with everything in her and the baby slid out into the doctor's waiting hands. He cleaned out the mouth and gave it a pat on the bottom. They heard the weak little cry as it grew stronger and stronger and they looked at each other in total adulation. Teresa took the baby and cleaned it up, wrapping it tightly in a blanket.

"Well, what is it?" Johnny asked.

"Johnny, you have a daughter," Doc announced.

Johnny literally beamed with pride and he kissed his wife. "A daughter. How bout that! Not bad for a cowboy, huh?" he said grinning ear to ear.

"Oh I guess I had nothing to do with it," Beth teased.

Johnny looked at her very seriously. "I love you so much, honey," he said as he kissed her gently again.

Teresa laid the baby in her mother's waiting arms and Johnny saw his daughter for the first time. He fell in love instantly.

"She's beautiful," he whispered.

"She looks like you," Beth said.

"You think?" he asked.

"Do I think? Look at that black hair, those long lashes. She's a Lancer through and through," Beth proclaimed.

He thought his heart would burst out of his chest with pride and love for his family. His family!

Suddenly he remembered his father-in-law and the rest of his family were all waiting for the news.

"I'll be back, I have to tell everybody about our daughter," he said as he kissed her cheek, then kissed his baby on the forehead.

He walked out into the living room with a grin that would break anyone's heart.

"It's a girl!" he announced.

They all gathered around him, hugging him, shaking his hand, congratulating him. They had been married for ten months, it hadn't taken them long to start their family and when Beth had told him she was pregnant, he had nearly fainted dead away.

"Well, can I see my granddaughter?"

"And mine."

"And my niece?"

They walked in the room quietly and gawked at the newborn. Murdoch couldn't stop the tears flowing down his face and he didn't care.

"Do you have a name yet?" Scott asked.

Johnny looked at his bride and smiled and she nodded her head. He put his arm around his brother and walked him out into the hall.

"We were thinking of naming her Catherine if you don't mind," he said.

Scott stared at him and started getting choked up. "But Johnny, why don't you name her after your mother?"

"We are. Catherine Isabella Lancer. My mother's middle name," he explained. "Is it ok?"

"I don't know what to say, brother. I'm honored."

Johnny hugged his brother and went back to his family.

"It's settled then," he said to Beth.

"What's settled? What were you two talking about out there?" Murdoch asked suspiciously.

"Well, Murdoch. I had to ask for Scott's permission. We want to name her Catherine. What do you think?" Johnny asked.

Murdoch Lancer felt his heart leap in his chest as he looked at his youngest son. The love in his eyes was almost more than Johnny could bear.

"I think it's a fine idea," he choked out.

"Johnny, come hold your daughter," Beth said, tiredly.

Johnny took the baby from her mother's arms gingerly. He held her close to him, afraid of dropping her.

She reached up her tiny hand and put it on his face and he knew at that moment that she had stolen his heart.

"Well, miel? Are you ready to meet your family?" he whispered to her.

"This is my daughter. Catherine Isabella Lancer," he announced.

They gathered around the baby, not too close, and admired her. Johnny suddenly put her out toward Murdoch and he backed off a little.

"What's the matter?" Johnny asked.

"It's been a long time, Johnny," Murdoch said.

Johnny smiled at his father. "Take her," he said softly.

Murdoch took the child, she almost fit in one hand, and cuddled her to him.

Johnny went to Beth's side.

"Is she ok, Doc?" he asked.

"She's exhausted, but she'll be fine," Doc smiled.

"Time for you to get some sleep, mom," he whispered.

"I am tired. But I want my baby," she pouted.

He laughed softly at her. "Our baby, woman. I'll take care of her while you rest. Please, I don't want you to get sick," he said and the look in his eyes persuaded her.

She nodded her agreement and closed her eyes. He stayed with her until he was sure she was asleep. Then he went to find out where they'd gone with his little girl.

********************

Everyone was sitting in the living room, admiring and cooing over little Catherine. Scott was holding her now and he could not have been more proud.

"Johnny, thank you," he said.

Johnny sat beside him and gave him a half hug so he wouldn't squish the baby.

"How's Beth?" Murdoch asked.

"She's sleeping. She sure is tired," he answered.

"She will be for a few days, son. Expect that," Murdoch warned.

"I know. I intend to take very good care of this little angel while mom gets her rest," he said as he smiled at the baby. "I'll take her now, Scott," he said and Scott pulled away gently.

"I've got her," he said.

"Scott, give me my kid," Johnny said.

"Oh, alright!" Scott huffed.

"Geez, is this how it's gonna be? Am I gonna have to fight you all for her?" Johnny said with a hint of a grin.

"fraid so, brother," Scott replied with a laugh.

He held his daughter and stroked her hair, her cheeks, her little chin. "Hey there. I'm your daddy," he cooed.

Johnny let the tears fall as he admired this creation of love. He knew there would be many more but this first one was special to him. Not that he would ever show favoritism. He had already told himself that was out of the question. However many children they ended up with, and he hoped it was a lot, they would all be special to him and he would love them all the same.

Mrs. Harris had gone to check on Beth and no one really noticed she was gone, until she screamed.

********************

Johnny put his baby in his brother's arms and ran to the room. He knew before he ever got there that it was over. His dream was gone. He went to her and held her in his arms.

Doc Jenkins came running in and saw the enormous amount of blood on the bed sheet. He knew she was gone but he had to check. Except he couldn't get her away from Johnny.

"Murdoch, help me," Doc said.

Murdoch pulled Johnny away from her with much effort, but he wouldn't leave her side.

Doc checked her pulse and found none. "I'm so sorry, Johnny," he said.

He went back to her, holding her close, crying unashamedly. It was his fault, he had wanted too much, had started expecting to be happy. It was all taken away, just like always. No one could make him leave her. No words of comfort, not even reminding him of his daughter's need for him could tear him away from his beloved Beth.

He stayed with her all night, holding her, kissing her gently, telling her how sorry he was and that he loved her. Over and over he said these words to her, knowing she couldn't hear him.

By dawn he was exhausted, but still he wouldn't leave her. Murdoch had sent for a wetnurse for the baby and the whole family had been up all night. Beth's parents wanted to be with their daughter, but Johnny would not give up his place beside her.

Mrs. Harris understood and so did Mr. Harris, albeit begrudgingly. He knew he would have been the same if it were his wife. He wanted to blame someone but that was useless, no one was to blame. The doctor had told them it sometimes happened in childbirth.

Scott felt some fault, having her named after his mother who had died in childbirth as well. He knew it was foolish, still he couldn't help it. His heart was breaking and his brother had been destroyed. He didn't know what to do, how to help Johnny.

Murdoch was beside himself, he was having to relive the loss of his own beloved Catherine. They had left Johnny alone after several attempts to pull him away from her side. Partly for themselves as they couldn't bear to see him suffer so much pain...again, partly because they knew it was futile.

*****************

Johnny stood at the graveside as the minister said the words he would not remember over his wife.

He stood there while they tossed roses onto her coffin. He almost made it through the entire thing.

As the minister threw the first fistful of dirt on his Beth, he collapsed between his father and brother, sinking to his knees. Murdoch and Scott tried to get him up but he waved them off. They left him alone with her, one last time. He sat there for hours, not allowing the gravediggers to cover her with dirt.

They complained to Murdoch that it was getting late and they had families of their own to tend to.

Murdoch told them to leave and he would take care of Johnny and Beth. He was the only one left, waiting for his son to make some movement, give him some indication he was ready to go.

Johnny didn't move though. He couldn't, he felt paralyzed. Finally, Murdoch came over and knelt beside him. He placed a gentle hand on his boy's shoulder.

"Johnny, it's time to go now," he said softly.

Johnny didn't move or acknowledge his father's presence for a while and Murdoch waited patiently.

"How did you do it?" he whispered.

"As best I could, son. As best I could."

Johnny collapsed onto his father and Murdoch picked him up and carried him to the waiting surrey.

*************************

One week later Johnny was spending more and more time with his daughter. He felt a deep connection to Beth through her and he knew, as much as he wanted to die, that she would want him to raise their little girl.

Her parents came to visit often and Johnny couldn't help but wish they wouldn't. Mrs. Harris reminded him too much of Beth. At the end of that horrible week, Johnny was sitting on the veranda with Catherine in his arms, when the Harris' rode in. He tried to smile but he failed miserably. The only time he ever smiled now was at his daughter.

"Johnny, how is she?" Mrs. Harris asked as she approached.

"She's fine," he said.

"We'd like to talk to you, Johnny. Could we go inside?" Mr. Harris asked.

Johnny stood up and took them inside.

"Maybe someone could take the baby while we talk?" Mr. Harris suggested.

"Sure. Teresa," Johnny called not too loudly.

Teresa came in and took the baby from him with a smile for her 'brother'.

As they all sat down, Mr. Harris started right in.

"Johnny, my wife and I have been thinking this over very carefully. We've come to a decision and it was a difficult one but we feel it's the right thing."

"What decision is that?" Johnny said, he didn't like this already.

"We feel that Catherine would be better off living with us. She needs a woman in her life," he said bluntly.

"No!" Johnny replied just as bluntly.

"Johnny, we'll take you to court if we have to and with your past ... I don't think we'll have any trouble."

Johnny stood up and glared at them both. "You do whatever you think you have to Mr. Harris but NO ONE is taking my daughter from me! I don't care what a court says, do you understand me?!" he yelled.

"What's all the shouting about?" Murdoch asked as he came into the room.

"Murdoch, they want to take Catherine from me!" Johnny said.

"What? That won't happen. I think you folks better leave," Murdoch demanded.

"Well, I'm sorry it has to be this way, Murdoch. But like I told Johnny, we will take him to court. No judge would leave a child in the hands of a gunfighter to raise!" Mr. Harris huffed indignantly.

"Mary, please don't try this," Johnny pleaded.

"I'm sorry, Johnny, but it's best," she said.

"Best for who? You know Beth wants her with me."

She couldn't look into his eyes and she walked out with her husband.

Johnny sank down on the sofa and buried his face in his hands.

"What is wrong with people? Why do they think they can just take a child from its father?" he moaned.

"Johnny, it won't happen. We won't let it happen, son. I promise."

"But Murdoch, their right. About my past I mean. What if.."

"No, Johnny. They are wrong and I won't let them take her from you. I swear it!" Murdoch Lancer would not let what had happened to him happen to one of his sons.

"Martin, I'm not so sure we're doing the right thing. Johnny was right, Beth would want their daughter with him," Mary Harris said.

"Mary, you know he can't raise that child alone. Why there's nothing but a bunch of men and one girl on that ranch, and she's not even grown yet herself."

"She looked so happy in his arms when we rode up," she said.

"She's a week old, she looks happy anywhere."

*******************

Murdoch Lancer rode into Green River the following morning and headed to his attorney's office. He explained the situation thinking it would be no problem to keep the Harris' away from his granddaughter.

The look on the attorney's face told him differently.

"Why, Jim? He's her father, he has rights!" Murdoch exclaimed.

"Yes, Murdoch he does. However, well.. it's Johnny's past that's the problem," the attorney replied.

Murdoch shook his head. "But that's just what it is, the past. The judge will see that surely."

"Murdoch, less than a year ago Johnny killed a man. Now, it was ruled self-defense but..." he let the sentence trail off.

Murdoch dropped his head. "We all know what that was about," he whispered.

"Yes, but it won't make any difference to a judge. I'm not saying he doesn't have a chance but if the Harrises start bringing in people from his past, it's going to be very difficult. You need to prepare him for that."

Murdoch left the lawyer's office and stood on the boardwalk feeling defeated. He blamed himself for this whole mess, if only he had found his son years ago. He turned to leave and ran straight into Mary Harris. She tried to get around him but he held her arm.

"Don't you think we should at least talk about this, Mary?" Murdoch asked gently.

She sighed and nodded her head. "Come to the house with me, Murdoch."

She served the coffee and sat down opposite him on the sofa.

"Mary, I get the feeling you're not completely sure of what you and your husband are doing. Am I right?" he asked.

"I don't know what's right anymore, Murdoch. My baby is dead," she said the tears welling up once more.

"Martin thinks the ranch isn't an appropriate place to raise a little girl."

"But if Beth were alive, he wouldn't object. Mary, Johnny loves that child. He's always been good with children. You have no idea how much Catherine means to him. If he loses her, it will destroy him completely. She's the only thing that's getting him through losing Beth," Murdoch said, pleading with his eyes.

She knew he was right, she knew from the beginning they had no right to try and take that child. She had allowed her grief to take control along with her husband. Mary Harris squared her shoulders and took a deep breath.

"You're right, Murdoch. You know I love Johnny. This will not go any further. I'll speak to Martin and make him understand," she said with a newfound resolve.

"What if he won't listen?" Murdoch asked.

"I'll make him listen. Tell Johnny not to worry. He won't lose Catherine. I won't allow it."

Murdoch stood up and she joined him. He grabbed her and hugged her.

"Thank you, Mary," he said, his emotions coming very near the surface.

**********************

Murdoch rode home as fast as his horse could get him there and burst into the hacienda.

"Johnny!" he yelled.

"Murdoch, hush! Catherine's asleep," Johnny admonished as he came from the kitchen.

"Oh, I'm sorry, son but I have something to tell you," he said grinning. "Johnny, I spoke with Mary Harris and she promised me they wouldn't try to take Catherine. She wanted me to tell you she was sorry and she loves you."

Johnny stood slack-jawed in the middle of the room and stared at his father.

"You're sure," he whispered.

Murdoch nodded his head still grinning. Johnny walked over and hugged his father.

"Thank you, Murdoch," he said as the tears welled in his eyes. The first tears of happiness he had felt in over a week.

********************

"Where are you going?" Scott asked his brother as Johnny hitched up the surrey.

"I am taking my daughter for a ride, Boston. I want her to see her home," he smiled.

Scott's heart warmed, he hadn't received a smile from his brother in two weeks.

"Can I come along? I can drive while you hold her," Scott asked almost childlike.

Johnny considered this for a moment and looked long ways at his brother. He laughed softly.

"Sure, Boston. Sounds like a plan."

Scott finished hitching the surrey and Johnny went to retrieve his precious bundle. They rode to the top of the south mesa and Johnny stood on the hillside holding his daughter.

"This is it, miel. As far as the eye can see. Your home. Your mother loved it so much, chica. And so will you," he whispered.

He stared off at the valley below him and the mountains beyond and sighed.

'Oh Beth, I miss you so much, honey. I promise you she will never want for anything and she will be loved'.

She wiggled in his arms and cooed and he laughed. His heart felt less empty and he knew he was healing, but he also knew he would never be completely whole again...not without his Beth.

 

 

~end~

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