Word Count 1,375
Scott Lancer stuffed his shaving gear into his saddle bag and closed the flap. After one last look around the bedroom to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything, he turned and gazed at his wife. Delia, bathed in the soft pink light of early morning, sat in a rocker by the window. She had just finished nursing their son and was rocking him back to sleep.
Only a few weeks old, the baby still amazed Scott just as his daughter had four years ago. This tiny, defenseless being was part of him – of them – tangible proof of the love he and Delia shared.
Reaching out a hand, he gently ran his finger along the petal soft cheek of the sleeping infant. William, already called Willie by most of the family, was an absolute miracle. Just as Sophie was.
Careful of the baby in her arms, Scott leaned down and kissed his wife deeply. When they finally parted, he gazed into her soft gray eyes and smiled. “I don’t know why you insisted on getting up this early.” He glanced at the clock on the dresser. It was only five thirty. “You should have stayed in bed.”
“This little guy was hungry and I didn’t want him to wake the whole house with his fussing,” Delia replied. “Besides, I wanted to make sure you got a proper send-off.”
“I got my send off last night.” He murmured as he leaned in once more to kiss the side of her neck. “Several times if I recall correctly.”
Blushing, she opened her mouth to retort but was interrupted when a small, dark haired whirlwind flung open the bedroom door with a bang.
“Sophie!” The little girl, who had been making a bee line for Scott, stopped at her mother’s voice and looked at her. “Don’t wake your brother, Honey.”
“Sorry, Mommy.” The nightgown clad girl whispered. With exaggerated care, she tip-toed the rest of the way across the room to her father who bent down and gathered her up in his arms, resting her on his hip.
“You need to remember to knock, Sweetheart,” he reprimanded the girl as he gently tweaked her nose.
“Yes, Daddy.” She threw her arms around her father’s neck and gave him a hug.
Delia smiled at the picture of her husband and daughter together. Scott was a wonderful father and it was obvious to anyone who saw them together how much he doted on Sophie.
“Are you ready for the trail drive, Daddy?”
“Yup,” Scott replied cheerfully. “I’ve got my saddle bags all packed and Uncle Johnny is waiting downstairs with Hannibal and Barranca.”
“Aren’t you going to eat breakfast first?” Sophie asked, blue eyes wide in her elfin face. “Grandpa says it’s the most important meal of the day.”
“I will, I promise,” Scott raised his free hand solemnly. “Uncle Johnny and I are going to ride out to where the hands are waiting with the herd. We’ll eat with them before we start the drive.”
“Can’t you stay and eat with us?”
“I wish I could, Sweetheart, but we need to get those cows moving. We have a long way to go,” her father replied as he put her down and prodded her towards the door with a gentle swat to her behind. “Go put on your robe and some slippers so you can come downstairs and see us off.”
After she had gone, Scott turned back to Delia who had put the sleeping baby back in his crib and donned a dress while he was talking with Sophie. Now she was piling her hair onto her head and securing it with pins and Scott couldn’t help but appreciate the way her upraised arms caused the fabric of her dress to pull tautly across her full breasts. Motherhood had only enhanced his wife’s body, giving her figure a certain lushness that he found all the more appealing. And remembering those abundant raven curls spread out on the pillows the night before, the young rancher was hard pressed not make his brother wait while he and Delia said their goodbyes for a fourth time.
Delia caught Scott’s appraising glance in the mirror. “Don’t even think about it, Mister.”
Scott, looking as though butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth, approached his wife from behind and slipped his arms around her waist, keeping eye contact in the mirror all the while. He nibbled on her earlobe and sighed regretfully. “No, I don’t suppose we have the time. With our luck, Johnny will get impatient and come up here to see what’s taking me so long.”
Delia’s reply was interrupted by a soft knock at the door and a dark head poking in. “Let’s go, Boston. Those cows won’t move themselves.”
Scott glanced down at his wife as though to say ‘See, I told you’ and then smiled at his brother. “We’re coming, Johnny.”
He reached down and caressed the downy soft fuzz on his son’s head one last time before grabbing up his saddlebag and slinging it over one shoulder. Hand in hand, Scott and Delia descended the stairs, preceded by Johnny who was giving a giggling Sophie a piggy back ride. Murdoch was waiting in the foyer, an anxious look on his weathered face. This would be the first time in almost three decades that the Lancer patriarch wouldn’t be leading the drive. His back had been bothering him more and more lately and, ruefully admitting that the drive was a job for younger men, had passed the torch on to his sons. He knew he could count on them to get the job done but, used to being the one to call the tune, he was having a hard time letting go.
“You boys all set?” he asked as everyone headed outside onto the colonnade.
“Yup,” Johnny replied confidently. “We’ll have those beeves to Sacramento by the twenty-fifth.”
“I know you will, Son,” Murdoch said, laying a hand on his younger son’s shoulder. “I have every confidence in you. Make sure to give Hollis Wilkerson my regards and tell him I’ll see him at the next Cattlemen’s meeting.”
Delia moved in and gave her brother-in-law a hug and a peck on the cheek. “Have a safe trip. Watch out for him,” she whispered in his ear.
“Always,” came his soft reply.
Sophie threw her arms around her father and hugged him tightly. “You be careful, Daddy.”
“I will, Honey,” Scott replied as he bent to return his daughter’s embrace. “You be a good girl and mind your mother. And help her take care of Willie, okay?”
With a very serious expression, the little girl nodded. “I will, Daddy.”
“Good.” Rising, he drew his wife to him and kissed her. “And you, don’t overdo it. Let Teresa and Maria help you.”
“I will. Don’t worry. You just take care of yourself.” Delia patted his chest and buttoned his jacket. Scott reached out to her, his fingertips brushing her lips. She enclosed his hand in hers and kissed his palm. Reluctantly, he withdrew his arm and mounted Hannibal.
Sophie clung to her uncle’s leg and stared up at him. “Watch out for Daddy, Uncle Johnny,” she commanded imperiously. “Don’t let him get into any trouble.”
“I’ll do my best, Chiquita,” he smiled down at the little girl as he patted her head. “But your daddy, well, he can be a real magnet for trouble.”
“Said the pot to the kettle,” Murdoch chuckled.
Laughter rang out in the early morning light as the as the two men rode off. Their family continued to watch from the veranda until they reached the crest of the hill at which point they turned, waved and then disappeared.
The little group continued to stand there quietly for a few seconds, staring at the empty spot where the brothers had gone over the hill, and then Murdoch shook himself.
“So,” he asked, bringing his hands together with a clap and rubbing them vigorously. “Who wants flapjacks for breakfast?”
“Me!” Sophie cried, raising her hand and bouncing up and down. “I do, Grandpa!”
“Excellent,” the Lancer Patriarch replied as he reached for his granddaughter’s hand. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, you know…”
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