"Mr. Lancer, would you take this book to Scott?"
Murdoch Lancer, who had just mounted his horse ready to return to Lancer, glanced down at the small woman who held out a carefully wrapped volume.
"Uh, certainly Miss Lawson. Did he order a book?"
Anne Lawson shyly smiled. "Actually, no, we, I mean the last time he came into town, we had dinner together. We started discussing books we like and he just happened to mention that he'd left his copy of Drum Taps in Boston. I just thought he might enjoy reading my copy. There's no hurry about returning it. I have so many books I still haven't read of my own."
Murdoch smiled at her. "I'm sure he'll enjoy it and I'll make sure he returns it himself."
Her dark eyes opened wide. "Oh that's not necessary. He's. . .he's always so busy. In fact, I don't think I've seen him in town for weeks."
"Perhaps you're right. We have been busy at the ranch. I just came in today because of bank business, but I'm sure he can spare the time to take a pretty girl like you out to dinner."
Anne went pink. "We mostly talk about books and sometimes he mentions the war. You know my older brother died at Chickamauga."
"Yes, I did know that. I imagine it's been difficult for your father, having his only son, . . .
"Yes, we're just fortunate that Papa's nephew came to help out at the ranch. Well, I must be getting back now. I was in the general store and I saw you walk past."
"And you just happened to have Scott's book in hand?"
The girl flushed again. "I. . .I always bring it with me, just in case I would happen to see him."
"Well, I'm delighted to be your courier. Goodbye, Miss Lawson. Perhaps you and your father will come to dinner with us one day soon?"
"I. . .we'd be delighted. That way Scott wouldn't have to bother about riding all that way to return the book."
"Oh, I'm sure it wouldn't be a bother, but I'll see what I can do. Teresa runs the household with an iron hand."
"Now isn't that strange? The last time I saw her at church she said the very same thing about you."
Murdoch blinked and then noticed that the young woman was laughing. "Well, maybe she lets me think I do. Goodbye and give
your father my regards."
"I will, sir. Please tell Teresa, Johnny . . . and Scott hello for me."
Waving to the girl, the tall rancher headed back to his ranch.
As Murdoch rode up to the white hacienda, he heard laughter and shouts of delight coming from the corral. Climbing down, he walked over to find his younger son the center of attention as he frantically held on to the back of an extremely annoyed bucking horse. Just as the big man arrived at the fence, Johnny landed at his feet.
Peering through the fence, Murdoch inquired, "Are you okay?"
"Sure. Landed on the same spot I hit a couple minutes ago." Taking to his feet, Johnny dusted off his black pants. "This hay burner and I are locked in one of them battles Scott's always reading about. I've just about got him ready to give up."
Some of the nearby hands started to laugh so Johnny gave them a menacing scowl. That quieted them.
"Well, we do have other wranglers you know. Maybe you could give one of them a chance?"
"Nosirree, I'm gonna bust this bronc or bust my neck tryin'."
"Well, let's hope it's not the latter. We've got lots of work to do around here."
"Aw, not that much. 'Sides it's only two days to the dance. Gotta be in shape to do some fancy dancin'."
"Is Scott going too?"
Johnny adjusted his hand in preparation for trying to subdue the unruly mount once again. "Not sure. He hasn't said much to me lately-not since he got that letter from Boston."
"Boston? That reminds me, I picked up the mail while I was in town. There's another letter from Boston and there's one for you."
Johnny took the envelope and sniffed it. The grin lit up his face. "Juanita! She sure does smell good."
"Yes well, good luck with the horse. I'll see you inside when you're finished. Try to make it in one piece."
Johnny flung himself on the horse's back while Murdoch headed into the house carrying the mail and Scott's book.
To his surprise he found his elder son sitting at the big desk, going over the ledgers. "I did those yesterday," he informed the young man.
Scott looked up. "I know. I just wanted to check something."
For a moment Murdoch looked confused, but he didn't question the remark. "I saw Anne Lawson in town. She said to give you this. It's a book you mentioned that you had left in Boston."
"That was nice of her. I. . .well, I certainly couldn't bring all my books with me when I came out here."
"You could send for them."
"I'd rather not. Besides. . .never mind. Did you check the mail?"
"Yes, I did. There's a letter here for you from Boston."
Scott's face grew taut as he took the letter. "Thank you. If you'll excuse me, I think I'll go read it."
Murdoch remained silent as he watched the slender figure move across the room. Then he sat down and looked at his own mail-all business related. He remembered the days when he would sometimes receive a letter from Scotland, but his whole family there was gone now.
A half hour later Scott walked slowly out to stand in front of the desk. "Murdoch, could I talk to you for a minute?"
"Certainly, I'm just going over these bills. I hope cattle prices go up soon or things are going to be tight next year. It's a good thing that Lancer has excellent credit."
"Yes, sir. That's one thing I wanted to talk to you about."
"No, sir. I'm not sure if you're aware of it or not, but in December of last year, I became eligible to receive the trust fund that my grandmother's family set up for me. My grandfather has been handling it because I really haven't needed the money. I just wanted you to know that if. . .if there was a need for it, I'd be glad to use some of it for the ranch. After all, it would be an investment that would benefit me as well."
"I had no idea. Well, of course I know your grandfather is well-to-do."
"He is now, but he didn't start out that way. My grandmother's family was always wealthy and she was the only child. Fortunately, with my grandfather being such a fine accountant, he managed to advise my great-grandfather so their wealth increased. Of course, the Preston money would eventually have gone to my mother, but being good businessmen, they made a proviso for her heirs-me as a matter of fact. The trust fund is quite large."
"Well, I appreciate your offer. Right now I think we'll be fine, but I'll keep it in mind. I certainly don't want this ranch to be in financial difficulties when the time comes for you and Johnny to take over."
"That's why I made the offer. You work so hard and I don't want you to worry over money too."
Murdoch smiled at the blond. "Ranching is hard work. It's not for the weak or timid, but I can't imagine living any other way. It was always my dream to build a ranch like Lancer. I just wish your mother had lived to be with me."
"I. . .I'm sure that's true or that Johnny's mother had stayed. It must have been lonely at times."
Murdoch nodded. "Yes, of course I did have friends like Paul O'Brien, but there's nothing like having a family around. That's why I'm glad you and Johnny decided to stay and I hope you don't mind me saying it, but I will be very happy when both of you marry and start your families here. I want to see some grandchildren before I'm too old to enjoy them."
Scott's blue eyes flickered. "I'm sure Johnny will be glad to oblige one of these days."
"What about you? Anne Lawson is a mighty pretty girl."
"She is indeed," he assured his father, "and we get along well, but I'm not ready to settle down yet." Scott hesitated. "There's something else you should know. After my grandfather visited here, he sent me a letter announcing that he was changing his will."
"What? In what way?"
"Most of his fortune, his business, and his house will become the property of my sons when he dies."
"Sons? But you don't have any!"
Scott tried to hide his grin. "He's like you. I think he's trying to encourage me to marry and give him great-grandchildren."
"Well. . . ."
"Also, I think he wants to insure that there will always be some tie to Boston. He suggested that perhaps either my oldest son or one of his brothers might like to live there, even take over the business."
"That's ridiculous! You'll be living at Lancer and so will your children! That man will try anything to. . . ."
"Murdoch, would you please just listen and stop thinking of my grandfather as my enemy. He is not and never will be. He loves me and I love him. Whatever he did when he was here hasn't changed that!"
Murdoch grumbled but gestured for the younger man to continue.
"You see, in his letter my grandfather admitted that it wasn't likely that I would ever return to Boston on a permanent basis, but he hoped that maybe one of my sons might prefer living in the East. I told him that I would never stand in the way of whatever my children wanted. None of them have to live at Lancer as far as I'm concerned."
"But it's their heritage! Why wouldn't you want them to live here?"
"Of course, I'd want any sons or daughters of mine to live here with me while they were growing up, but I don't expect them to live my life. I want them to live theirs. They may prefer Boston or San Francisco or Europe and with the money from my grandfather, they'll be able to choose what makes them happy."
Murdoch just sat there, his face a mask.
"Besides, I don't think you should be too upset. The little tykes aren't running around yet."
Still the rancher just sat there. It was almost impossible for him to imagine anyone of his blood not wanting to live at Lancer.
"Please, sir, I know Lancer is your dream, but don't my children-if I ever have any-deserve the right to build their own dreams? I am happy to share yours and God willing, one day I'll share in theirs."
"I. . .I suppose you're right. I remember when I left Scotland, my father said I was going off on a fool's journey. Every man or woman has to find what makes them happy. I'm just fortunate that you and your brother have found some happiness here."
"Thank you for understanding. I'll remind you of that when you hold my first son."
Murdoch's face reddened. "Speaking of that, why don't you take Anne Lawson to that dance on Saturday?"
"Murdoch, you are one devious man."
"Well, if you don't get married and have sons and daughters, how can I bribe one of them to stay here at Lancer and play checkers with me?"
Murdoch Lancer and his first son smiled at each.