Note to all: I can't get this muse out of my head, it has been swirling around for months. It's probably because in my fantasy world, I want to marry Murdoch and be a mother to those two wonderful boys of his. I'm just too old to have a romantic link to the boys, so being their mother is the next best thing.

Disclaimers: Yada yada yada - you know, they aren't mine, I make no money from this, I'm just borrowing them for my own purposes and if you know a portal I can slip into and make this come true, let me know.

Background: Murdoch has met and married Liana. She is a 42 year old widower who is a bookkeeper by profession. He originally hired her to do the books for Lancer and fell in love with her. She has a 10 year old daughter named Danielle, christened Danni by Scott and Johnny. Liana is French and she is from New Orleans. She speaks more French than English. At this time she and Murdoch have been married 6 months, Johnny is 18 and Scott is 22.

IT COMES FROM THE HEART

The morning started out like any other morning. Liana and Murdoch were at the breakfast table drinking their coffee and enjoying the peace and quiet before their collective children descended upon the table. Scott was first to arrive at the table, like always.

"Morning Sir, Ma'am." he said nodding to his parents.

"Bonne matine, mon fils." said Liana smiling at her oldest step-son. She wished he wouldn't be so formal. She dearly wished he would just once come in and say, "Good morning maman or good morning mere." She sighed into her coffee.

"Morning, son." said Murdoch looking up from his coffee, just in time to catch the sigh from his wife. Murdoch wrinkled his brow. He wasn't sure what was bothering his wife, he didn't want to ask her in front of Scott, so he kept his silence.

"Scott?" asked Liana.

"Ma'am?"

"Sont vos frere et soeur eveille?" asked Liana. Liana was very lucky. Scott had extensive lessons in French and understood her completely. She often forgot to speak English She thought first in French and had to translate in English. She had asked Scott if his brother and sister were awake. The clock was about to strike 7:00 and her husband would be in a foul mood if the children were not at the table on time.

"Yes Ma'am," he replied smiling. "Danni was getting her books for school and Johnny, well Johnny was moving a little slower."

Liana smiled to herself. Basically Danielle was ready, but Johnny had just rolled out of bed. Most likely, due to Scott dragging his ornery hide out of bed. He was going to be a bear. She hoped the morning was going to go smoothly. She looked at Scott, he seemed unusually nervous. She couldn't imagine that the children coming down late for breakfast could be that much cause for concern.

Scott cleared his throat and looked at his father. How was he going to tell his father that Grandfather was coming for a visit. Murdoch and Harlan Garrett did not see eye to eye on anything. Every time Harlan Garrett game for a visit, he had some scheme up his sleeve to get Scott to go back to Boston. Scott had written him about Liana and Danni. It seems Garrett felt the need to assess Scott's living situation. Surely Scott would be better off in Boston than with a new step-mother and step-sister.

"Um…Pa," Scott started.

Liana knew immediately something was up. Scott hardly ever called his father, Pa. He usually used Sir or Father. However, when he really wanted something or thought his father was very angry, he used Pa. She snickered a little to herself. Scott maybe 22 and think he was such a grown up, but in some ways he was still a little boy trying to butter his father up.

Murdoch's eyebrows went up, 'Pa?" he thought, something was definitely up. "Yes son?"

Just then the clock started to strike 7:00. Murdoch turned an eye toward the stairs. Danielle came bounding down the stairs breathlessly and skated into her seat.

"Morning mama, papa, Scott." she said.

Murdoch raised his eyebrows. "Danielle Louise?"

Danielle knew that her step-father would not be happy at how she came in the dining room. He was a stickler for the house rules, which included no running down the stairs. She had a very good relationship with him. She had even started calling him Papa recently, much to his delight. But he disciplined her like his own.

She looked at her plate and took a breath, "Yes sir?"

"Go right back up those stairs, young lady and enter the dining room properly." he intoned.

Danielle sighed and pushed away from the table and looked at her mother for sympathy. "Yes, Papa."

Liana smiled at her daughter. However, there was no sympathy at all from her mother. "Go on, do as your Papa says." said Liana shaking her head.

Danielle scowled as she stood up.

Murdoch's temper was rising. "Danielle, did your mother just address you?"

Danielle was getting irritated, but she didn't want to get a swat from Murdoch. He was a giant and had the biggest hands on earth and when they swatted your behind, it hurt. It hurt a lot! She looked at him, "Yes sir." Then she turned to her mother, "Oui, maman, I'm going."

Murdoch smiled, "Much better."

Danielle trudged up the stairs. She ran into Johnny, who was about to run down the stairs, it was after 7:00. "Johnny," she whispered.

"Que, what?" Johnny asked.

Sometimes Danielle's head swirled. She spoke fluent French and English and was learning Spanish. Sometimes she didn't know what language to think in. "Don't run on the stairs. Papa just sent me back here to come in like a lady." she whispered disgustedly.

"Uh oh, that means he's ready to swat." Johnny whispered back.

"I know." she whispered.

Johnny grinned, he had an idea. He could escort his sister into the dining room on his arm and pull her chair out. He figured, his father would be so pleased at his manners that he would overlook Johnny's lateness. Johnny held out his arm to his sister. "Senorita?" he asked.

Danielle giggled. She took his arm as they descended the stairs. They looked quite the pair. The pale dark haired girl at five feet tall and the five foot ten dark haired olive skinned boy. They entered the dining room and Johnny escorted Danielle to her chair, pulled her chair out with a flourish and then sat down in his chair.

Liana smiled. She knew exactly what Johnny was up to. "Oh mon fils, what beautiful manners, such a gentleman."

Johnny flashed her his brilliant smile. "Gracias!"

Murdoch snorted. He knew his baby was pulling a con. However, his wife smiled so beautifully, the previous sigh gone from her lips, that he wasn't inclined ruin the pleasant atmosphere.

He glared a little at the two youngest, "Eat your breakfast." he said gruffly barely able to hide the smile as he looked around the table at his little family. He was thinking to himself, this is how it always should have been, children, a wife, a family. Murdoch had always wanted a little girl. Now he had Danielle and she even started calling him Papa. It was if she had been his all her life. Murdoch was truly content. However, that was about to be spoiled. As Murdoch glanced around the table, he noticed Scott was pushing his food around and hadn't eaten much.

"Son, is something wrong?" asked Murdoch concerned.

Scott was not paying attention.

Liana saw the frown play across her husband's face.

"Scott, your pere, he speaks to you." she said a little more loudly than she thought.

The two younger Lancers exchanged worried glances.

Scott snapped his head up at his step-mothers voice. "Ma'am?"

"Scott, your pere, he wishes to speak with you." she said gently.

"Oh sorry. Sir?" he asked turning towards his father.

"Son, what's bothering you. You haven't eaten your breakfast. You seem awfully distracted."

"Uh yes sir, well, uh Pa, you see…." Scott stuttered.

"Oh for heaven's sake son, it can't be that bad, just spit it out." said Murdoch clearly irritated.

It can be that bad thought Scott. He took a deep breath, "Pa, Grandfather's coming for a visit."

"WHAT?" bellowed Murdoch.

Scott shrank back just a bit. "I didn't know. Honest Pa. I just got the wire yesterday. I didn't invite him. He's just coming."

Murdoch took a deep breath. "I see and when will he be here?"

Scott steeled himself. "Tomorrow, sir."

"TOMORROW?" Murdoch echoed.

"Yes sir."

"And how long is he staying, pray tell?" asked Murdoch, his fingers drumming on the table.

"Through Christmas, Sir." Scott whispered.

Murdoch glared at his oldest. "Speak up boy, I can't hear you."

Scott straightened up. "Through Christmas, Sir."

Murdoch sighed. His first Christmas with his new family. His first Christmas with Liana and Danielle. The boys first Christmas with a mother and a new sister. After all, this was going to be the boys third Christmas with him. And now, Harlan Garrett was going to be here. Of all the worst possible things. Murdoch was counting to ten, in several languages.

He turned toward his oldest at the clock chimed the half hour. It was now 7:30. "Scott, take your sister to school and then head over to the northwest section. I think there are some cattle getting through part of the fence line." he then turned toward Johnny, "Johnny, I want you to straighten your room and then head out to meet your brother. I think it's going to be a two man job."

"Yes sir, may we be excused" asked Scott. Receiving a nod from his father, he turned to his sister, "Come on Danni, let's go." he said looking in Danielle's direction.

Danielle had been very silent during this whole thing. She couldn't figure out what the problem was. Her grand-pere was the most wonderful man. He told funny stories, took her to the zoo, took her to the park, played games with her, and he had even taught her to play chess. Why was everyone so upset about Scott's grandfather coming for a visit? She stood up and went to give her mother a kiss.

"Au revoir maman." she said.

"Au revoir mon filles. Have a good day." responded Liana.

Danielle walked over to Murdoch as he held his arm out to her. "Au revior Papa." she said leaning in for a hug and kiss.

"See you after school, honey." he said giving her a hug and kiss.

Johnny hadn't moved. He was still sitting in his chair. Murdoch turned toward him. "John, room, now…"

Startled out of his stupor, Johnny jumped up pushing back his chair.

Murdoch cleared his throat and gave his son a steely stare.

"Oops, may I be excused?" Johnny asked hastily.

Murdoch nodded his head, "Room, John, now."

"Yes Pa." Johnny said as he headed toward his room. Normally he would have put up a fight. He would have complained that it was his room and he should be able to keep it the way he wanted. It really wasn't that messy anyway. But, he wasn't about to make his father mad, not with the bomb Scott just dropped on him.

Liana looked at her husband, "Murdoch, what is it?"

Murdoch gave a long suffering sigh. "It's a long story, my dear."

Liana cocked her head in question. "Really? Why don't we go into your study. Let me clear the table and ask Maria if she minds doing to dishes without me." Liana quickly rose and cleared the table. She corned Maria in the kitchen. "Maria, por favor, do you mind, would you do the dishes without me this morning?"

Maria laughed, "Of course, it is my job." She smiled. She really liked this new wife of the patron. She was kind and gentle. She did not take over the house. She only offered help and asked Maria to teach her how to make some of the wonderful dishes that she made. Most of all she loved the boys like her own. Maria knew Liana was desperate to have the boys love her like a mother, not a step-mother. Ah, maybe that will come with time.

Liana hastily went into the study with a fresh pot of coffee. "Ok, mon amour, tell me about this man."

Murdoch sighed again. He told her from the start about Catherine's death and how Harlan Garrett took Scott back to Boston. He told her of all the times he had tried to get Scott back and how Garrett had just threatened him with legal action. He told her of the two times that Garrett had come to visit in the last two years and how he had tried to trick Scott into going back to Boston. "So, you see dear, every time Garrett comes, he creates havoc for Scott, Johnny and the whole estancia. I really wanted to enjoy Christmas with you and Danielle and the boys. Our first Christmas. The boys first Christmas with a new mother and sister."

Liana smiled at her husband. He was standing near the fire place leaning on the mantel. She arose and went to hug him. Her arms circled his waist. She only came mid chest as he was at least a foot taller than she. "Murdoch, we will have a lovely Christmas. I promise we will make it so. He will not spoil it. We will, how you say this, hmmmmm….. Kill him with kindness, No?"

Murdoch laughed as he leaned down to give his wife a deep kiss. If it were only that simple. He drew her back and looked into her eyes. "Thank you."

Liana looked surprised, "For what?"

"For being you. For wanting to make this Christmas wonderful. For wanting to support Scott. By the way, you haven't told me what you want for Christmas." Murdoch said looking into her eyes.

Liana snorted, "Ah, I want nothing. I have everything a woman could want."

Murdoch smiled, "Surely, there is something I can give you."

"You have already given it me, you love me, you love my daughter, you have given me two fine sons, a lovely home. I could not ask for more." she said.

"Are you sure, darling, nothing?" he asked.

"Murdoch, what I want is not something anyone can give me. My heart's desire must come from the heart." she said wistfully.

Murdoch looked at her curiously. "I don't understand darling, you are speaking in riddles."

Liana took a breath and looked away. She turned from Murdoch and looked into the glowing embers in the fire place. "Murdoch, my heart's desire is for Scott and Johnny to love me like a mother, not a step-mother, to call me mama, you know to think of me as their mother. I know it's a lot to ask. It's just not something they can do, it has to come from their heart."

Murdoch stood their quietly. How had he been blessed to find this woman. All she really wanted was to be loved and needed. He drew her back to him, "It will come in time, it will come in time."

"I hope so, I hope so," she whispered.

Little did Murdoch and Liana know, Johnny had been standing outside his father's study and he had heard the entire conversation about Christmas between Liana and his father. He was kind of shocked. He didn't realize something like calling Liana "Mama" was so important to her. He wasn't sure he could do it. He thought it would be disloyal to his own mama. He'd talk to Scott. He back up and made noise as he approached the study.

"Ah, our youngest son approaches," chuckled Murdoch as he heard the noise.

Johnny stopped in the door way, "Pa, I'm headed out to help Scott."

"Your room cleaned son?"

"Sure it is Pa."

"Johnny, if I go up there and your room is a mess, you're going to be in trouble."

"No Pa, honest, it's clean." said Johnny running his hand through his hair.

"Ok son, go on." said Murdoch waiving him toward the door.

Johnny was about to take off like a shot.

"Johnny?" asked Liana.

Johnny stopped short, "Ma'am?"

"Maria packed lunch for you and Scott. Don't forget, ok?" she said seriously. She thought the boys were too thin and needed meat on their bones. She was determined to feed them at every opportunity.

Johnny grinned. He really loved his new step-mother. She was always trying to get him to eat and he was always hungry. "Yes, ma'am." He said as he bolted.

Liana smiled at Murdoch as she watched to fleeting figure of her step-son, "Ah, to be so young. Ok, my dear, I must get to work on the books, I will need to time to prepare for Scott's grand-pere, No?"

Murdoch sighed. "Yes. I have some cattle contracts to review. I'll leave to your work and I'll get to mine." He said as he gave her a kiss on the cheek.

Meanwhile during all this time, Scott was taking Danielle to school. "Scott?" asked Danielle.

Scott was staring off into space. He didn't hear Danielle.

"SCOTT?" she shouted.

Scott was so startled, he about fell off Charlemagne. "What?" he growled.

Danielle was crestfallen. In all the time that she had known Scott, he had never yelled at her or been cross with her. "Excuse-moi, sorry," she said.

Scott saw the look on her face and immediately felt bad. "I'm sorry honey, I didn't mean to shout. I was just pre-occupied."

"Oh."

"Did you want something?" he asked her.

She nodded her head, "I just wondered why your grandfather's visit is a bad thing. Papa seemed very upset. You've never talked about him much."

Scott sighed. Oh what to say, what to say. He wanted to protect this little girl from all the nasty bad things about his grandfather. He didn't want her to be nervous or upset when his grandfather arrived. She had become very close to Scott and Johnny in the year that she had known them. She truly looked up to them as big brothers and were as protective of them as they were of her. He was day dreaming again.

Danielle sighed. Scott was surely distracted. She had a very uneasy feeling.

Scott opened his mouth to start explaining, however, he realized they were at school. "Well, here we are." he said dismounting.

"But Scott, what about your grandfather?" Danielle persisted.

Scott reached up and took her by the waist. He pulled her off her horse, Jake. "I'll tell you all about it tonight. Ok? Don't worry about it, everything is going to be fine."

Danielle shook her head. She looked very uncertain.

Scott smiled at his little sister, he took her chin in his hand. "Danni, really, everything is fine. Have a good day at school. Cip is probably going to pick you up or maybe Frank, ok. Johnny and I will be working on that fence." He said as he gave her a hug goodbye.

Danielle looked very uncertain, "Ok, Scott, see you later." she said as she turned toward the school house. Danielle was very distracted during school. Much to Danielle's relief, they were finally let out for recess.

"Danni, what's the matter?" asked Kristen, her best friend.

"Oh Scott's grandfather is coming for a visit. He comes tomorrow. When Scott told us this morning, my Papa went a little crazy." Danni said shrugging her shoulders.

"Why?" asked Kristen.

"I don't know." Danni said truthfully.

"Well, maybe you can spend the weekend at my house, then you won't have to deal with it." said Kristen.

Danni brightened, "Hey, that's a great idea. I'll have to ask Mama and she will make me ask Papa. Hopefully, he'll say "yes"." Just then the bell rang and the girls returned to the school house.

Scott headed toward the northwest section of Lancer thinking of how he was going to explain what a bigoted, pompous controlling man his grandfather was to Danni. He didn't know how to explain to her that despite all his grandfather's faults, he still loved him. Scott was deep in thought as he approached the fence. Johnny was also headed toward the northwest section to meet Scott. He was trying to figure out how to tell Scott what Liana really wanted for Christmas. He wasn't really sure he could do it. He knew that she wanted it to come from the heart, he wasn't totally sure he understood that, but he wanted to talk to Scott.

As luck would have it, the boys arrived at almost the same time. It was uncanny that no matter where they were or where they were suppose to meet, they almost always showed up at the same time. After three years, it still made them laugh.

"Heh Scott," Johnny shouted as he waved.

"Heh brother," Scott grinned waving back.

"Scott, Johnny?" they both said at the same time.

They both laughed.

They both started talking again at the same time. Scott held up his hand laughing. "Ok, brother, you go first."

"Scott, I overheard Murdoch and Liana this morning."

"Tsk, tsk little brother. Murdoch going to tan your hide if he thinks you were eavesdropping." Scott chuckled.

"Oh shut up, will ya. This is important." Johnny harrumphed.

Scott straightened up a bit. "I'm sorry Johnny." Scott said contritely. 'What were our father and step-mother discussing."

"Christmas." said Johnny running his hand through his hair.

Scott groaned. They would never get this fence done. Getting information out of Johnny was like pulling teeth. 'Grandfather?" he asked.

"Well, yes, no, I mean they did, but that's wasn't all." Johnny sputtered.

"Johnny, get to the point, please, we don't have all day." Scott sighed.

"Well, Murdoch asked Liana what she wanted for Christmas…" Johnny started.

Scott rolled his eyes. "Yes,…."

"Well she wants something from us." Johnny paused.

"Really?" asked Scott, "What?"

Johnny took a deep breath, "She wants us to think of her like a mother not a step-mother, you know to call her mama or mother."

Scott raised his eyebrows, "Well, that's simple enough."

"No it ain't. You don't understand." Johnny said shaking his head.

Scott asked perplexed, "What do you mean?"

"She said it ain't something we can just do, it has to come from the heart. I'm not sure I get what she means." Johnny said.

"What she means little brother is that she really wants us to think of her as our mother to the point where we don't even think of calling her anything but mother. You know, like you don't think twice. It's natural, rolls off the tongue."

Johnny just stared at Scott.

"Johnny, it's like you used to call Murdoch, Pa when you want something or you're in trouble. But now, you call him Pa more often, you don't even think about it. It's just natural."

"You do it too." Johnny said defensively.

"I know brother, I'm not criticizing you. I'm just saying calling Murdoch, Pa is more natural to us now. Liana wants us calling her mama or mother to be like that, natural."

"I don't know, Scott. I already have a mama. She may be dead now, but how can I call someone else mama?" Johnny said shaking his head.

Scott looked at Johnny hard. "Maybe it can come in time. Come on, we better get to this fence or Murdoch's going to have our hides."

Scott and Johnny found the supplies had been delivered already and dismounted as they started the fence repair. Johnny eyed Scott. "Heh Scott, you wanted to talk to me about something when we started out."

"Oh yeah, I almost forgot." said Scott as he grabbed some fence wire.

"Forgot what?" asked Johnny grabbing the wire and stringing it between the fence posts.

"I'm trying to figure how much to tell Danni about Grandfather. She wanted to know why Murdoch was so upset when he found out about Grandfather's visit."

"I don't know Scott. She's just a little girl. You think she'll understand?" asked Johnny.

"I know, he can be hard to take. You know, she's only been our sister for six months. But, I feel so protective of her. I just don't want her to get hurt. I know how Grandfather can be." Scott said as he moved onto the next section of fence.

Johnny grinned, "Yeah, that little girl has us all wrapped around her finger. Don't she?"

Scott laughed. "Yep, especially Murdoch. If Grandfather does anything to upset Liana or Danni, I can't imagine the reaction. He is so protective of them. I guess, we all are." Scott took a hard look at his brother, "And no, you are not allowed to shoot him."

Johnny laughed, "Aw Scott, you take all the fun out of it."

"Please Johnny, be on your best behavior. Please?" begged Scott.

Johnny snorted. "I'll do what I can, brother. I'll do what I can." Johnny thought that he would ask Murdoch about restocking the line shacks on the perimeter of the ranch. He would be gone for at least a week. Then again, the line shacks were stocked and Murdoch wouldn't let him go by himself anyway. It's funny, he was 18 and fully capable, but Murdoch still treated him like a little boy that he wouldn't let out of his sight. Then again, he didn't want to be gone because every time he left Scott with his grandfather, Scott was on his way back to Boston. Johnny and Scott continued to work on the fence, each lost in his own thoughts.

As the sun rose in the sky, Johnny's stomach started to rumble. Scott pulled off his hat and gloves. "Ready to break for lunch?" he asked.

"I'm always ready to eat." grinned Johnny.

"Please tell me you brought our lunch." said Scott seriously looking over at the bags on Barranca.

"Oh yeah, I did. Liana wouldn't let me leave the house with out it." Johnny said walking over to Barranca. He pulled the sack down and handed his brother a roast beef sandwich and an apple. Scott took the sandwich and the apple.

"Dessert?"

Johnny laughed, Scott had a sweet tooth almost as big as his. "Yep, cherry pie." he said pulling the pie out of the bag.

The brothers sat down on the ground to eat their lunch. Johnny looked over at Scott, "So, have you figured out what you're going to tell Danni about your grandfather?"

Scott almost choked. He coughed and sputtered. "No, not yet. I'll think of something. Better yet, maybe I'll let "Papa" explain it to her."

The boys finished their lunch and went back to work.

Liana was desperately trying to get the book work done so she could help Maria clean the house and ready the guest rooms. She wanted to give Harlan Garrett no room to criticize. She and Maria spent the afternoon cleaning and baking. Well she did most of cleaning and Maria did most of the baking. She was on her hands and knees scrubbing the tile in the entry way, when the door opened and Danielle stepped onto the clean floor.

"Ah, Danielle, get off my clean floor, at once." Liana shouted in French.

"But maman, where am I suppose to go. Stop shouting at me. I didn't know you were cleaning the floor. You're so mean!" Danielle shouted back.

Murdoch heard the commotion and stood on the threshold of his office. "Danielle Louise did you just shout at your mother?" he said harshly.

Danielle took a breath, the last time she had shouted at her mother, Murdoch had laid a few swats across her backside. Danielle just stood there in stony silence.

"Danielle, you have exactly one minute to go around to the great room and enter through the French doors and go directly to my study." Murdoch growled.

Danielle looked from her mother to her step-father. Both of them looked very angry. She knew there was no way they would let her go to Kristen's for the weekend.

Danielle turned and walked around to the French doors. Liana looked at Murdoch, "Sil vous plait mon dieu, it was my fault. I shouted at her when she came in. She is just reacting." Liana pleaded.

Murdoch shook his head, "I will not tolerate such disrespect regardless of the reason."

Liana sighed.

Murdoch walked back to his study and sat down waiting for Danielle. Danielle scooted around the house and walked through the French doors. She stepped across the threshold and went to stand in the door of her step-father's study. Murdoch looked up to see a very nervous little girl standing in the door way.

"Come in and close the door behind you." he said severely.

Danielle stepped inside the doorway.

"I will not tolerate that disrespect, young lady."

"No sir," she whispered.

"You will apologize to your mother."

"Yes sir."

Come over here," he motioned her.

Danielle was scared. She knew he was going to pop her behind. She knew there was no avoiding it. She moved slowly until she was standing right in front of him. "I'm sorry Papa, it won't happen again." she pleaded.

"No, I'm sure it won't." he said grimly as he pulled her over his knee and delivered five very hard swats to her behind. He stood her up and looked at her eyes. The silent tears were rolling down her face. "You will go apologize to your mother and then go to your room." he said.

Danielle looked at him through her tears, "Yes sir."

"And Danielle?"

"Sir?"

"I love you, but I won't tolerate any disrespect to adults from any child."

"Yes Sir, I love you too Papa." she whispered as she left the room. She went and found her mother and apologized and then went to her room.

After giving her daughter a reassuring hug, Liana went to Murdoch. He was sitting in his study. "Murdoch? Are you ok, mon dieu?"

"Yes. I spanked her Liana."

"I know, my love."

"I'm not sorry. I won't tolerate that behavior in her or the boys."

"I know, my love."

Murdoch sighed. "I still feel bad, when I spank her or one of the boys."

Liana raised her eyebrows. "You still spank the boys at their ages? Well, I can see Johnny, but Scott?"

"Well, it's been awhile for Scott. But, he's had a few pops now and again. He thinks he such a grown up, but he still acts like a little boy sometimes. He knows full well that he will never be too old in my book." Murdoch smirked.

Liana continued to stare at him.

Murdoch chuckled, "It's just a pop Liana, nothing serious. It bruises his pride, not his bottom. Not too long ago the boys were fighting in the yard, it had gotten down to fists flying. Neither one of them would listen to reason. Cip was out there with me. Cip grabbed Johnny and popped his behind and I grabbed Scott and popped his."

"Really, what happened?" asked Liana opened mouth.

"I don't know what the fight was about. I just told the boys that they better figure it out before dinner or their backsides would be come acquainted with my belt in the barn."

"Then?" prompted Liana.

"I don't know. They just said 'Yes sir" and I never heard another word." grinned Murdoch.

Liana went and circled her husband's waist with her arms and leaned her head on his chest. "I think you are a very good father, my dear." She hugged her husband and turned toward the floor she was still scrubbing, "And you my dear, will stay off my floor lest you fall to the same fate as the children."

Murdoch chuckled as he turned to go back to his desk. "I wouldn't dream of stepping on your clean floor, darling."

Liana finished her cleaning, while Maria was making dinner. She glanced at the clock. She was hoping the boys would be back in time for dinner. As she finished the floors, the clock struck 5:30. Only 30 minutes before dinner. She heard the handle turn on the front door. She quickly opened the door to find Johnny and Scott. "Bonsoir mon fils."

"Heh, Good evening ma'am," she heard.

She put a small hand on each chest. "No, no you will mess up my floor. You will take off your boots and go straight to the bath house, I will bring you clothes."

The boys started to protest. "No, no," Liana said firmly, "the floors are clean, for Scott's grand-pere's visit. You will not make them dirty."

The boys looked at each other and shrugged. The turned and headed for the bath house. As they turned, Liana said "Quickly boys, dinner is almost ready, you have 30 minutes."

"Jeez," Johnny groused. "She's almost as bad a Murdoch giving orders." Johnny complained as he entered the bath house and started shucking clothes.

Scott grinned, "Diminutive, but powerful."

"Dimi…what?" asked Johnny.

"Diminutive brother, it means small. However, small, she has a great force behind her."

"What?' asked Johnny confused.

"Great force, she may be small, but she has our father behind her, which is a force to be reckoned with." Scott said laughing as he stripped down and got in the other tub. "I wouldn't be telling her "No" too often."

"Oh," said Johnny agreeing.

Just then they heard a rap on the door. Then the door opened. Their father walked in with two armfuls of clothes. "Ten minutes boys, I expect you to be on time to dinner."

"Coming," said Scott and Johnny simultaneously.

"And boys?"

"Sir?" asked Scott.

"You're right, you best not be telling her "No", she's a powerhouse in her own right." Murdoch smirked as he took his leave.

"Phtt!" sputtered Johnny, "that little bitty thing?"

Scott laughed, "Johnny, don't go down that road. I don't think I would want to be on the receiving end of her temper."

"She ain't got no temper, Scott. She wouldn't hurt a fly." Johnny snorted.

"I wouldn't be too sure, brother," said Scott.

They heard a knock at the door. "Scott, Johnny, maman, says to hurry." Danni yelled through the door.

"Coming," they said in unison.

The boys quickly washed and dressed. They entered the dining room just as the clock struck 6. The boys arrived at the table. Danielle seemed to be squirming a bit and their parents seemed to be quiet. Murdoch said grace and dinner started. Danielle just pushed her food around on her plate. Murdoch glanced at his step-daughter. "Danielle, it's over, don't dwell on it, eat your dinner."

The boys just exchanged glances. They guessed that Danielle got a few swats for something. However, they just couldn't imagine what. Murdoch rarely disciplined her.

Danielle still didn't eat anything. Murdoch was getting frustrated. "Danielle Louise?" he warned.

Danielle looked at her mother and Murdoch. "Maman, Papa, may I spend the weekend at Kristen's?"

Murdoch raised his eyebrows. Danielle had never spent the night away from Lancer. She would go to her friend's house for the day, but she always wanted to be in her own bed at night. Murdoch wasn't sure if she was just growing up on him or whether something was bothering her. His eyes rose to meet his wife's. Something in her glance told him that she wanted to discuss it first. He cleared his throat, "Your mother and I need to discuss it. But, I'm telling you right now the answer will be "No" if you don't finish your dinner."

"Oui, Papa," she said as she started to eat her dinner.

Dinner finished with an uncharacteristic silence. Murdoch excused the children as Liana rose to clear the table. 'Danielle, aider moi s'il vous plait." Liana asked.

The men retired to the great room, as Danielle turned to help her mother clear the table. Liana eyed her daughter, she seemed very quiet. She didn't know if Danielle was quiet because she got a spanking or because something else was going on. "Danielle?"

"Oui, maman?"

"Ce qui ne va? What's wrong?"

"Rien, maman."

Liana put the plates down that she had in her hand. She went to her daughter and put her arms around her, "Please tell me, I know it is not nothing." she said to her daughter in a mixture of French and English. "You are not still upset, Papa giving you a spanking, Non?"

"Non, maman, I know I was wrong." Danielle said leaning into her mother.

"Then what, mon filles?"

"I don't want to be here when Scott's grand-pere arrives. No one wants to tell me why they do not wish him to come. I asked Scott and he did not give me an answer. Papa was so upset this morning. I'm scared." Danielle blurted out.

Liana was surprised. "Scared? What ever for?"

"I don't know, it makes my stomach hurt." said Danielle tearing.

Liana smiled a little. Her daughter could be so sensitive. Then again, 10 year old girls could be very emotional. "Danielle, you will have to meet him sooner or later. He will be here for 3 weeks."

"I know," she whispered.

"You have never spent the night away from Lancer." her mother said.

"I know maman, I know. I can do it. I'm almost grown up. I can. I can do it." she pleaded.

Liana sighed. Although Danielle was 10, she still acted like a very little girl sometimes. After the crazy life that she had led until they came to Lancer, she could not stand to be away from her mother. All those years of Liana and Danielle fleeing for their lives from Danielle's father. Even though he was dead now, Danielle still didn't feel safe enough to leave her mother for any length of time. "Ok, I will speak to your Papa. Come let us finish the dishes, so you can have some time before bed."

"Merci maman." Danielle said as she followed her mother into the kitchen. Danielle and Liana cleared the table and headed into the great room. Murdoch looked at the clock as they entered the room. It was 7:30, Danielle had to go to bed at 8:30.

"Danielle, you have an hour." he reminded her.

"Oui, papa," she said.

Johnny noted his sister's demeanor. She looked very sad, frustrated, or something. He wasn't sure. He turned toward his father. "Pa, I didn't finish cleaning up Barranca. I need to go finish."

"Go on son," said Murdoch nodding at his son.

Scott's eyebrows went up. Johnny had brushed Barranca until you could almost see him shining.

Johnny started to take his leave. "Heh, Danni, want to help?" he asked his sister.

Danni jumped up, "Oh yeah, I'd love to."

Murdoch cleared his throat.

Danielle immediately turned, "With your permission?" she asked looking at her step-father.

He chuckled slightly, "Go on, but I want you in bed at 8:30."

"Oui, Papa," she said enthusiastically.

Danni ran to the barn past Johnny. She loved helping with the horses in any way, shape or form that she was allowed. Johnny watched his sister run past him, he grinned. Nothing like being with the horses to lift her spirits. She got to the brushes first and grabbed a brush. She started to brush Barranca and realized he was clean as a whistle.

"Johnny, Barranca's clean as a whistle." she said confused.

"I know, I just thought you'd want to get out of the house. You seem really upset about something. Pa give you a whipping?" he asked.

Danni sighed, "Not a real whipping, he popped me five times. It sure hurt."

Johnny laughed, "Well you're lucky is wasn't a real whipping, I'd much rather get popped."

"Yeah, I guess."

"So, what happened?" he prompted.

"I yelled at maman. He was very angry."

Johnny nodded. "Something else bothering you?"

Danni hesitated, "Well, yeah. Johnny, why is everyone acting so strange just because Scott's grand-pere is coming for a visit?"

"Oh boy," thought Johnny. How to answer this one.

"You know Johnny, when my grand-pere was alive, he was wonderful. I had so many good times with him when I was a little girl. He took me everywhere, zoos, parks, the library in New Orleans…" she sighed wistfully.

Johnny smiled, she was still a little girl to all of them. "Miel, it's not that simple with Scott's grandfather."

"Why not?" she asked.

"Well," Johnny started. "He's real serious. He doesn't like people who are different. He misses Scott so much that he would do anything to get him to come back to Boston."

Danni looked confused. "What do you mean? Scott's not leaving is he?"

Johnny hesitated, "No, no. Scott wants to stay and live here with us. He isn't going any where. But, let's just say that Scott's grandfather can be awfully mean sometimes."

Danni fingered the brush, she brushed Barranca anyway. "I don't think I'm going to like him very much."

"Listen queirda, just take my advice and stay away from him. Stay out of his way." Johnny said seriously. He was very worried about how Harlan Garrett would treat his sister and her mother. He looked sideways at his sister, "We better get back in the house and you better get to bed or Pa's gonna be popping your behind again."

Danielle looked at her brother. "I'm going, I don't want him to pop me anymore. He's got the biggest hands in California and they hurt."

Johnny just laughed. "I know little sister, I know."

While Johnny and Danielle were out in the barn, the three older Lancers sat in the great room. Liana sighed contentedly at her oldest son and her husband. Such a lovely family. Such a heartache to have Scott's grand-pere come to visit. She was determined to make this visit a good one and ease everyone around her. "Murdoch?" she asked.

'Hmmm?" he asked.

"What about Danielle spending the weekend with Kristen?" she asked.

"I don't know darling. I'm not sure she's old enough to spend the night away from home." he said, his parental over protectiveness kicking in. If he had his way, he would keep her his little girl forever and she would never leave home, not even for an overnight.

Liana laughed. "Murdoch, she's 10. She's getting to be such a big girl now. Almost a teenager. You let the boys spend the night out. Did you let them when they came to you three years ago?"

"That was different," Murdoch said gruffly. "Johnny was 15 and Scott was 19. Besides they're boys, not girls."

Liana hid her smile behind her cup of coffee. "The Potter family, a good family, Non? Her parents, they seem to be very good. Same rules we have at our house."

Murdoch sighed. "Yes, yes, they are a good family." he agreed.

"If I may, Sir?" asked Scott.

"Scott, this really isn't your concern." said Murdoch giving his son a steely stare.

"No sir, not normally. However, with grandfather arriving tomorrow…."

"Go on," growled Murdoch.

"Well, knowing how grandfather is, maybe having Danni be away for a couple of days would allow grandfather to settle before he's going to have to deal with having a child around. If you remember, Sir, he still considers Johnny a child and a nuisance. Danni is even younger than Johnny."

Murdoch sighed. Garrett was turning his world upside down , yet again.

"Murdoch, Danielle she is a little nervous, Scott's grand-pere coming. Maybe this is good for everyone. Just the weekend, mon dieu, no longer."

"Well, it's against my better judgment, but alright." he conceded.

Just then, Johnny and Danni entered the house. Murdoch looked at the clock, it was 8:15, where had the time gone? "Danielle, it's almost bed time, come say your goodnights and go get ready for bed."

Danielle was irritated. She had 15 more minutes and she wanted every one of them. "But Papa, I …"

"Danielle, are you arguing with me?" questioned Murdoch with his eyebrows raised.

"No, No Papa." she said quickly. She went and said her good nights to her brothers and her mother. She went to kiss Murdoch good night.

He held his arm out to her. He brought her in for a strong hug and held her for a moment so she ended up sitting on his knee. "You have your mother's and my permission to spend the weekend at Kristen's."

"Really, maman? Really, Papa? Merci, merci." she said flinging her arms around Murdoch's neck. She kissed him soundly on the cheek. Murdoch kissed her back.

"Bed, young lady. Go to bed." he said as he stood her up and popped her lightly on the behind. A love pat. She turned toward the stairs, a lightness in her step. She couldn't wait to tell Kristen. She was a little nervous being away from her parents, her sanctuary, where she felt safe. She just told herself that 10 years old was old enough to be away from home for the weekend.

The next morning was a flurry of activity as the estancia prepared for Scott's grandfather's visit. Everyone seemed to be on edge. Liana observed the family at breakfast. No one was eating much. She was worried about Danielle. Danielle seemed to be quiet. She was not eating.

"Danielle?" her mother asked.

"Oui, maman?"

"Are you sure you want to spend the weekend with Kristen?"

"Oui, maman. I can do it. I'm old enough."

Murdoch broke in, "Now at any time if you feel you want to come home for any reason, just tell Mr. Potter and I'm sure he will bring you right home."

"Oui Papa. I'm fine. Really Papa, I'm not a little girl any more."

"Well you're my little girl, no matter how old you are." he said gruffly. "I just want you to know that it's ok to come home early if you want to."

Liana smiled. She was very glad that her husband had taken to her daughter. Danielle needed that reassurance of how important she was and how much she was loved. Scott broke Liana's thought.

"Come on Danni, I'll take you to school. That way I'll be in town for Grandfather's stage." he looked toward his father for approval.

Murdoch nodded his head.

"If you'll excuse me, sir?" Scott asked.

Murdoch nodded, "You're both excused."

Danielle got up and gave a hug and kiss to her mother and step-father. "Au revoir, maman, papa." she said as she gathered her things to leave.

Murdoch grunted and Liana smiled as they said good bye. "Murdoch, she's just going to be gone two nights. She'll be fine."

Murdoch grunted again, "She's the baby and a girl, I can't help it. I feel like she's been mine all her life and I'm not ready to let her grow up yet."

Liana laughed, "It can't be helped my dear."

"Hmph!" said Murdoch. He then turned to Johnny. "Johnny, I want you to ride over to the Potter's and speak to Kristen's father. Let him know that if she wants to come home that he should let her come home right away. I don't want her to be there if she gets homesick."

"Aww, Pa, you're going to embarrass her." said Johnny.

"No I'm not. She doesn't need to know and ask Mr. Potter to be discreet."

Johnny sighed, "Ok, Pa. Pa, can I go with Mateo to check the herd over on the Cripple Creek side?"

Murdoch raised his eyebrows. "You'll be gone for two days, son."

"Yeah Pa, I know, but with ole Harlan coming….."

Murdoch understood completely. Harlan treated Johnny like dirt, something to stamp out with his boot.

"Pa, I'll be here for most of his visit. I figured at least the beginning would be smooth if I was gone."

Murdoch was becoming incensed. Garrett's visit was causing his family to flee. Well, by God, this was his house and his family and he would be damned if he was going to let Garrett alienate everyone.

"Please Pa, I promise I'll be back on Sunday." Johnny pleaded.

Murdoch relented. "Alright son, you must be back on Sunday."

Johnny looked relieved. "Yes sir, I'll be back." Johnny jumped up to leave only to be pinned in place by a glare from his father. "Uh, may I be excused?"

Murdoch nodded.

"Johnny?" Liana asked.

"Ma'am?" Johnny turned around.

"Be careful my son. I'll have Maria pack some food for you, so before you leave, stop by the kitchen."

Johnny grinned. There she was trying to feed him again. "Yes ma'am." he said as he walked by her and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

Liana kissed him back. "Be a good boy, oui?" she said patting him on the cheek.

"Always ma'am, always ma'am." he said cheekily.

Liana laughed and Murdoch snorted. "Go on with you boy," Murdoch said shooing him off.

Scott and Danni were on their way to school. As they approached the school, Danni appeared to be nervous.

"Danni, honey, what's wrong?" asked Scott.

Danni fidgeted in her seat. "Umm, nothing Scott." she said nervously.

"Are you worried about Grandfather coming."

"Some," Dannie admitted.

"Danni, are you worried about spending the night away from Lancer?" asked Scott.

Danni didn't look at him. She didn't want to appear to act like a baby. She was 10 after all, certainly able to spend 2 nights away from home. She got down from the buggy and started heading toward the school.

Scott jumped out of the buggy. "Danni," he said as he caught her arm. He turned her around to see tears in her eyes.

"Oh baby, it's ok. Don't spend the night. I'll come pick you up after school." Scott said catching her chin in his hand, forcing her to look at him.

"No Scott, I need to." she said shaking her head.

Scott shook his head, "You need to?" he echoed.

"Yeah, don't you see. I'll always be scared if I don't." she pleaded.

"Scared of what baby? Your father is dead. He can't hurt you any more. No one is going to try and take you from the Potters." Scott told her.

"I know that Scott. But, I can't explain it. It still scares me. I feel safe at Lancer. I know Papa, you and Johnny will take care of me." she said wistfully.

Scott was floored. He had no idea that she still felt scared. He just thought she didn't have any overnights because Murdoch was being overly protective. His grandfather's visit was causing her to face a fear she wasn't ready for. His anger over his grandfather's visit was increasing. This visit was causing everyone he loved to be angry or scared or run off. "Danni, I don't think you're ready. I'll come pick you up after school."

Danni looked into her brother's eyes. "No, Scott. I really need to. Please promise me you won't tell Papa."

"Danni, I can't promise you that." Scott said shaking his head no.

"Please, Scott. If you tell Papa, he'll never let me do anything. He treats me like such a baby." Danni begged.

Scott sighed. "Okay, but I want you to promise me that if you feel scared and can't handle it, you'll ask Mr. Potter to bring you right home."

"Sure Scott," Danni promised.

Scott eyed his little sister. She didn't sound all that convincing. "I mean it Danielle Louise." he said in his Murdoch voice.

Danni looked at Scott startled. "Johnny's right." she said in awe.

Scott looked confused, "About what?"

"You sound just like Papa when you're mad."

"I'm not mad." Scott said exasperated.

"Scott, last time you said my whole name, you gave me a spanking. You sound mad to me."

"Promise me," Scott said emphatically.

"Ok, ok, I promise." Danni capitulated.

Scott gave her a hug and a kiss. "Ok, honey, one of us will come get you on Sunday."

She gave her big brother a hard hug, "Love you, Scott."

He smiled, "Love you too. Now, you better get to school before you're late." He watched her walk into the school room. He couldn't believe how that little girl was so much a part of his life, of how protective he felt over her and Johnny. She had only known her a year and only been her brother for 6 months. He felt the big brother responsibility weighing down on him. He would do whatever it took to make sure his grandfather didn't scare her or make her uncomfortable. That little girl had had enough trauma in her life and he was determined to make sure his grandfather didn't cause any more. He turned away from the school to complete his errands before his grandfather arrived.

While Scott took Danni to school, Johnny was headed over to the Potter's. He was going to tell Mr. Potter what Murdoch said about taking Danni home the minute she felt nervous. Johnny knew that Danni would be mortified if he told Mr. Potter what Murdoch had said. He thought surely there is another way. As he approached the Potter's, he ran into Kristen's older brother, Noah. Noah was a year older than Johnny. Johnny had become good friends with Noah and spent plenty of time over at the Potters.

"Heh Noah." hailed Johnny.

"Heh Johnny, que paso amigo?" greeted Noah.

"Just headed over to talk to your Pa about Danni." said Johnny.

Noah gave him a questioning stare, "What for?" he asked.

"Well, you know how Danni's real Pa would follow her and her mother around before they came to Lancer. You know he used to take Danni away until her mother could figure out a way to get her back. He must have taken her five or six times. She would be with him sometimes for days, sometimes for weeks." Johnny explained.

"Yeah, but that's all over now." said Noah. "He's dead, ain't he?"

"Yeah, yeah, but Danni hasn't spent the night away from Lancer since she's been here. I thought it was because Pa wouldn't let her, I think it's because she's scared."

"Well, what made her want to spend the night now. I know Kristen's asked before, she always said 'no'. Noah responded.

"I think it's because Scott's grandfather is coming. I think she's more afraid of him than she is being away from Liana and Murdoch." Johnny said.

"Yeah, with what you've told me about him, I cain't say I blame her." chuckled Noah.

"Yeah, so I come to tell your Pa, if she get's scared or whatever that he should bring her right back."

Noah eyed him. "You think my Pa'd not bring her home if she wanted to come home?" he asked.

"No, no, don't take it like that. Pa's just worried about her that's all. He just wants your Ma and Pa to kinda watch her to see if she might feel scared, but don't want to tell anybody."

"Oh, I see. Heh, why don't you stay the weekend. The church is having a big Christmas party for the kids and we can take the kids and then you can just stay over. That way you'd know if she needed to go home. She'd probably feel better if you was there. Plus my Ma and Pa would probably be grateful if they didn't have to haul the kids to the party this year."

Johnny laughed. The Potter's had five children. Noah was the oldest at 19. Then there was Jeremy 17, Amelia 15, Kristen 10, and Brian 8. "That sounds good, I'll have to ride back home and tell my Pa. If he don't know where I am, he'll skin me alive and nail my hide to the barn door. I told him I was going to ride herd on the Cripple Creek side of the ranch."

"Ok, you go home. I'll tell my Pa. Why don't you meet me at the school to pick up the kids. I'm bringing the buck board."

"Good idea, see ya this afternoon, amigo. Adios." said Johnny as he turned Barranca toward home.

Murdoch was sitting at his desk reviewing a timber contract, when he heard Johnny ride into the yard. Surprised he stood up and went into the hallway, where he met Johnny. "Son, what are you doing home. I thought you were going to ride the herd with Mateo."

"Change of plans, Pa. I'm going over to the Potters and spend the weekend. I'm going to help Noah take all the kids to the Methodist Church Christmas party and then stay the weekend and that way I'll be there in case Danni wants to come home."

"You asking me or telling me, son. Because I sure don't hear any asking."

Johnny looked surprised and then realized his tactical error. He realized he wasn't asking permission, he was just telling his father what he was going to do. He had learned early on when he had come to Lancer at 15 years old, that you never told Murdoch what you were doing, you only asked permission. A few trips to the barn had cured him of telling his father what he was going to do.

"Uh Pa, sorry. I meant to ask for permission to go to the Potters for the weekend. Can I go Pa? It will be better for Danni."

Murdoch eyed his son, "Yes, of course, it's a very good idea. However, next time you will ask permission."

"Yes, sir." Johnny said bowing his head.

"You have some barn chores you can attend to for now, don't you?" Murdoch asked his youngest boy.

"Yes sir." said Johnny relieved that Murdoch was going to let him go to the Potters. Johnny turned to go to the barn, when he felt a stinging pop to his behind. He whirled around. "Pa?"

"That's my reminder, young man, that you will ask permission next time. Do I make myself clear, son?" Murdoch said sternly.

"Yes sir. Crystal clear, sir." said Johnny backing out of the front door.

Murdoch chuckled. That boy was getting too big for his britches, sometimes. Murdoch was glad the age of majority was 21. He wasn't going to let up on Johnny one minute before.

Scott finished up his errands and headed for the stage coach stop. The stage was suppose to arrive at noon. He checked his pocket watch, it was 11:30, he had 30 minutes to wait, assuming the stage was going to be on time. He decided to go pick out a new book at the mercantile, if they had any that he hadn't read. He found Jules Verne's The Mysterious Island. He looked around, maybe he would find something for Danni. She was really getting interested in reading. He was excited, he found Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. He had the store keeper wrap up the books, he headed for the stage coach stop to wait for his grandfather. Finally, the stage arrived. Scott waited patiently as his grandfather disembarked from the stage.

"Grandfather," Scott approached the older man holding out his hand. Scott would have never dreamed of hugging his grandfather in public or private. He had shaken his hand as long as he could remember. He remembered not too long ago when his father and mother had arrived home from a trip to San Francisco, Murdoch had wrapped him in a bear hug and patted him on the cheek. Liana had pulled him down for a kiss. Just like parents were suppose to. He'd certainly missed that affection growing up, even though he knew his grandfather loved him. Scott startled himself, that was the first time he'd thought of Liana as mother instead of Murdoch's wife or his step-mother.

"Scott?" his grandfather inquired, startling Scott out of his wool gathering. "Are you wool gathering, boy? Have some one get my luggage."

"I'll get it sir. I didn't bring anyone to help me." Scott said reaching up for the luggage.

'Disgraceful," thundered Garrett.

"Grandfather, please." implored Scott.

Finally Scott got his grandfather and his excessive luggage loaded into the buggy. They started out for Lancer, when his grandfather started in on Liana and Danielle. "So, tell me about this woman and her daughter. A gold digger no doubt. Probably married Murdoch for his money. You say she has a daughter, probably a disrespectful brat."

Scott sighed. "Grandfather, please. You must treat Liana with respect. After all she is Murdoch's wife and my step-mother. Her daughter is only ten. Danielle is an exceedingly well mannered child. However, she is still a child. Children are not perfect."

"Well, I can't imagine what Murdoch was thinking. Marrying a servant girl and one with a daughter. I'm sure the woman could barely support herself and saw a jackpot in Murdoch. After marrying such a refined woman as your mother, disgraceful." Garrett puffed.

"Grandfather, please don't cause problems. Murdoch is very happy with Liana. He loves Danielle like his own daughter. We all love her. Grandfather, I must warn you, Murdoch is very protective of Liana and Danielle. He won't allow anyone or anything to hurt them. Nor will I." Scott said seriously.

"I just can't see why you want to stay out in this wilderness. Living with a half-breed, a servant woman and her brat. Seriously Scotty, what are you thinking?"

Scott sighed. Gratefully, they were just riding under the Lancer arch. As they approached the house, Murdoch heard the buggy.

"Liana," called Murdoch from his study.

"Oui, mon dieu." answered Liana from the great room. She was working on the accounting.

"They're here, let's go greet them," Murdoch said to her as she met them in the hall. He reached for her and drew her in for a hug. "I love you and don't you forget it."

Liana hugged him back, "I love you too."

They opened the door to find Scott assisting his grandfather out of the buggy. As they turned to face his parents, Scott made a decision regarding how important Liana really was to him and his family. He was determined to show his grandfather how important she really was. "Mother, I'd like to introduce you to my grandfather, Harlan Garrett."

"Mother?" thought Liana and Murdoch simultaneously. Liana didn't miss a beat. It took Murdoch a moment to recover. Garrett's face was turning red, how dare Scott call that servant woman, "Mother."

"Oh my pleasure to meet you Mr. Garrett. I'm so glad that you've chosen to spend the holidays in our home." Liana said extending her hand in greeting.

Murdoch almost busted out laughing. Garrett's face was red and his wife was the perfect hostess. Garrett ignored the extended hand and blustered a bit. "I'm quite tired from my journey." said Garrett.

"Of course. Scott, please take your grandfather's things to the guest room downstairs." she said as she walked up to Garrett, took his arm in hers and guided him into toward the guest room. "May I offer you tea or coffee, sir?"

Murdoch was still chuckling to himself. Garrett was still hung up on Scott calling Liana "mother" and her kindness was unnerving him. Well, he thought at least this will be an interesting visit.

"Um, no thank you madam." Garrett said as he was left standing in the doorway of his room.

As Garrett closed his door, he heard Scott say, "Father, may I be excused, I need to put the buggy up and I promised I would help Jelly."

Surprised at his son's request, Murdoch said, "Of course son. I expect you to be to dinner on time, young man." Murdoch was certain that Scott phrased his request in such a way that Garrett would hear him and that Scott was trying to make the point that Murdoch was the head of the house and Scott deferred to him.

"Yes sir." said Scott as he turned and headed out the door. Scott smiled to himself. Unnerving his grandfather had been fun. He should do it more often. Thankfully Liana hadn't seemed the least bit surprised, nor Murdoch for that matter. Yes this visit, his grandfather was going to understand that Lancer was in his blood, he loved his parents and his brother and sister and he was not leaving.

Murdoch returned to his study. As he sat down, he noticed the clock was about to chime 3:00. Danielle would be getting out of school soon and would be headed to the Potter's house. He filled his pipe thoughtfully. He hoped she would be ok. Maybe he should ride over to the Potters. He knew Johnny would go, but the overprotective father was kicking in once again. As his thoughts turned to Johnny, he wondered where he was. He should have finished his barn chores hours ago. He should be home getting cleaned up right now. Just then, he heard the front door open. He chuckled as he heard his wife.

"John Thomas Lancer, don't you track mud on my floor. Take your boots off. Maintenant!" she stormed.

Johnny started to laugh. Her mixture of English and French was funny. "But mama, I have to hurry to get Danni from school." He hadn't even realized that he called her mama. But Liana hadn't missed it as she smiled a bit to herself. Maybe her heart's desire would come faster than she thought.

Murdoch walked out into the hall seeing his 5'5" wife shaking her finger up at her 5" 10" step-son. He started to grin. "John, do as your mother says. You need to leave in 30 minutes to get Danni."

"Aw, Pa…" Johnny started.

"Now, son."

"Ok, ok," Johnny grumbled as he slipped his boots off and headed toward the stairs.

"I didn't hear you, son, what was that?"

Johnny cleared his throat, "Uh, Yes sir."

"I thought that's what you said." Murdoch smiled at his son. Johnny flashed him a quick grin and bolted up the stairs.

Johnny was dressed and ready to go. So far so good, he had avoided Scott's grandfather. He packed his saddle bags with an extra change of clothes. He entered the great room to find his father and step-mother enjoying the fire. "Pa, Liana, I'm headed out." Liana sighed, the "mama" had come and gone quickly. But maybe it would come more naturally, now.

"Ok, son have a good time. Keep an eye on your sister. If she gets the least bit nervous, bring her home." Murdoch said.

"Au revoir mon fils, be a good boy for me, Non?" Liana said as she rose to give Johnny a kiss goodbye.

"Always," said Johnny grinning. It was getting to be a joke with them, her telling him to be a good boy and him telling her always.

Murdoch snorted, "Always my foot…." he grouched, "Go on with you."

"Bye, see you Sunday." Johnny said as he turned and headed out.

Liana smiled and sighed, "He's a good boy, Murdoch. I'm so proud of all of our children."

Murdoch smiled, "Me too. I'm glad Johnny will be there for Danielle. Still, maybe I should go over tomorrow and check on her."

Liana laughed, "Oh, Papa, you worry too much. Johnny can take care of her. Now, if you'll excuse me, I want to help Maria with dinner." she said as she leaned into him, kissing him deeply. She stood, but Murdoch pulled her down onto his lap for another kiss.

As she was standing to go, they heard a throat being cleared. Garrett stood in the door way. Embarrassed, Liana looked at her husband and then to Garrett. "If you'll excuse me Murdoch, Monsieur Garrett, I must attend to dinner." Liana said as she hurried from the room.

Garrett approached Murdoch. Murdoch poured Garrett a drink. "Honestly Murdoch, what do you think you are doing having Scott subjected to that servant girl and her daughter. My God, you treat her like a saloon girl, having her sit on your lap, right here in broad daylight."

"Listen Harlan, she is not a servant or a saloon girl. She's a very adept accountant. She's done a remarkable job. She comes from an affluent family in New Orleans and just happens to be very intelligent. Her circumstances forced her to find employment. As for her sitting on my lap, she is my wife and kissing my wife in private or in front of my children is perfectly natural. I want my children to know that their parents love each other."

"Parents?" snorted Harlan. "That woman is not Scott's mother. Are you insisting that he call her 'Mother'? The only mother that boy had is dead no thanks to you."

"No, Harlan, Scott calls Liana 'Mother' because that is his choosing. And I refuse to discuss Catherine's death with you. Catherine has been dead for 22 years and nothing we can do will bring her back. I believe Catherine would approve of Liana. Liana loves Scott like her own son."

"You mean she loves your money and your ranch, she's just trying to get to you through Scott and provide a free ride for her brat."

"HARLAN! That is quite enough. I will not have you disparage her or my children. Yes, I consider Danielle to be my daughter. She is as much my daughter as Scott and Johnny are my sons. And I'll thank you to remember that." Murdoch ground out.

Feeling the need for a change of subject, Garrett switched gears. "So where are your children?" he asked.

"Scott is doing chores and Johnny and Danielle are spending the weekend with some friends." Murdoch answered.

"Chores?" humphed Garrett. "He obviously is kowtowing to you. You certainly have him under your thumb."

"Harlan, Scott's just being an obedient respectful son. Exactly how you taught him to behave."

"My God man, he's asking your permission to leave the room? He's 22 for God's sake. He's past the age of majority."

"Exactly Harlan, he's 22, well able to make up his mind about where he wants to live and how he wants to live his life. Didn't you teach him to ask permission before leaving the room? I demanded that same respect when he first came here three years ago. He was only 19, then. It's just a habit, besides he wants to set a good example for his brother and sister."

As Garrett was about to open his mouth with a retort, Scott walked into the great room. "Father, Grandfather," he acknowledged the older men.

Scott walked over to the drink cart and poured himself a drink. He could feel the tension in the room from his father and grandfather. "If you'll excuse me sir, I'll go get cleaned up for dinner." Scott said placing his glass down.

Murdoch nodded and Garrett said, "Of course, Scott." Each man eyed the other. Each man was sure Scott was speaking only to him.

Scott snickered to himself. This was really getting to be fun. Messing with his grandfather in the most polite way he knew how. He was just being respectful of the older gentleman, exactly has Harlan Garrett had beat into his head.

While Garrett was wreaking havoc at the estancia, Johnny headed over to the school house to meet Noah and pick up Danielle. As he approached the school house, Johnny saw Noah. "Heh, Noah," he greeted.

"Heh, Johnny."

"Your Pa must've said ok." said Noah.

"Yeah, he did, but I thought he was going to beat my butt first."

Noah laughed. "Why this time?"

"I told, didn't ask." Johnny said morosely.

"Got popped, huh?" grinned Noah. "When are ya gonna learn, Johnny?"

Johnny nodded, "I don't know."

"Well you better learn quick, you know my Pa'll pop your butt at our house, if he thinks you ain't acting right." Noah grinned.

Johnny had a few pops from Noah's Pa, but they didn't hurt anywhere near as much as the ones he got from his own Pa. Johnny laughed, "Yeah, I know. I think my Pa reminded me this afternoon about asking."

Noah just laughed. The boys heard the school bell ring. Out came flying all the Potter kids and Danielle. Danielle stopped short.

"Heh, Johnny. What'd ya doing here?" she asked curiously as she stepped into his embrace.

"Well, gee, good to see you too, little sister." grinned Johnny pulling her into a hug and patting her on the back.

"Oh Johnny, I didn't mean it like that. Did maman or papa change their mind? Do I have to come home?" Danielle was secretly wishing this was the case because she was really getting nervous. Maybe Scott's grandfather wasn't really that bad.

"No, no miel, I ran into Noah today and he asked me to stay the weekend and help take all you wild Indians to the Christmas party tonight."

"So, you're going to be with me the whole weekend?" she asked.

"Yep, you don't mind do you, cuz I could just go home." he teased her.

Danielle got a wild look in her eye, a frightened look like a caged animal. Her lip started to quiver a bit. Johnny noticed.

He cupped her chin. "Miel, I'm sorry. I was just teasing." Johnny said seriously.

Danielle sighed. "No, no, I'm fine."

The boys loaded the kids into the buck board and tied Barranca to the back. The troops headed off for the Potter place. They arrived at the Potter's and commenced to have a very enjoyable weekend. Danni was relaxed now that Johnny was there and she didn't have the least desire to head for home.

Dinner at Lancer was a relaxed affair. Harlan Garrett behaved himself much to Scott's delight. In fact Scott was very surprised that his grandfather seemed to be on his best behavior. Scott was a little worried, there was usually reason to worry if his grandfather was being well behaved. It usually meant that he had something up his sleeve. Scott figured he better enjoy it while he can.

The weekend progressed with Scott taking his grandfather on various trips around the ranch to show him his father's vast holdings. Sunday morning came and Scott entered the dining room for breakfast, he came in dressed for church. He knew his parents would expect him to attend church regardless of the fact his grandfather was visiting.

"Good Morning." Scott greeted his parents.

"Good Morning." Murdoch and Liana greeted him.

"Scott?" asked Liana.

"Ma'am?" he answered as he shook his napkin out.

"Your grand-pere, he will attend church, Non?" Liana asked.

"Yes ma'am. He should be coming any minute."

As Scott finished speaking, his grandfather entered the room.

"Good Morning, Sir." said Scott.

"Good Morning Monsieur Garrett."

"Good Morning." Garrett said gruffly.

Scott glanced at his father. He wanted to go pick up Johnny and Danni from the Potters after church. However, that would leave his parents with his grandfather and he didn't know if that was such a good idea. Scott cleared his throat, "Father, I'll go pick up Johnny and Danni after church."

Murdoch glanced at his son. Was he asking or telling. This was getting to be a bad habit with the boys, one he intended on breaking. "Are you asking me or telling me young man, because I sure don't hear any asking."

Scott looked a bit shocked. He had intended it as a question. He knew better than to just tell his father he was going to do something. Even at his age, Scott knew better, he knew that he should ask out of respect. "No sir. I was asking permission. I'm sorry sir, no disrespect intended."

"Hmph, well yes, you have my permission." Murdoch said eyeing his son.

"Thank you, sir." said Scott relieved.

"And Scott?" his father asked.

"Sir?"

"I don't want to have to give you another reminder about asking, you can check with your brother about reminders."

Scott swallowed, he didn't think his father was serious about popping him. But, he couldn't be too sure. "No sir, I'll remember."

Harlan Garrett eyed his grandson. He was getting tired of Scott seeking out his father's permission for everything. He intended to talk to Scott this afternoon. Apparently, that wasn't going to happen. "Scott, I'm sure someone else can pick up the children."

"Yes, Grandfather someone else could. However, I miss my brother and sister." Scott said turning toward his grandfather.

Murdoch raised his eyebrows. "You know on second thought, I think I'll go with you son. I want to talk to the Potters about Danielle and see how she held up."

"See there Scott, you don't have to go, Murdoch will go." Garrett implored.

"I know Grandfather, but I will be going. I'll only be gone a short while."

"Absurd, young man. You should be attending to me."

Scott sighed, "Honestly, Grandfather, you can come home with Mother after church and have lunch. I know you like to rest after lunch and by the time you finish your rest, I should be home."

Garrett snorted at Scott's use of the word "mother". But Liana smiled, "mother" was actually becoming natural, not just a ploy to irritate Scott's grandfather.

Before this could escalate any further, Murdoch chose to intervene. "Scott?"

"Sir?"

"Please go get the surrey ready."

"Yes sir, may I be excused."

Murdoch nodded and Scott quickly took his leave to do his father's bidding. He also saddled his and Murdoch's horses. Once his tasks completed, he opened the front door of the house. "Mother, Father, Grandfather, it's ready." he shouted.

Liana was the first too appear, "Scott, Scott, no shouting." she scolded shaking her head.

Scott looked at her sheepishly, "Sorry, mama", he said softly.

Liana smiled again, he said "mama" and no one else was around. Her Christmas wish was well on it's way to coming true. The family took off for church. Scott was very anxious for the service to be over. He really missed Johnny and Danni. He also couldn't wait to get away from his grandfather for a few hours. Finally, the family stood to sing the last hymn.

As the hymn finished, Scott turned toward his mother and father, "I'll get the horses, sir." Scott said to his father. "Excuse me, Mother." he said as he turned toward Liana.

Murdoch turned toward Liana. He pulled her in for a quick kiss. We will be back later this afternoon. He nodded to Harlan Garrett. "Have a good afternoon Harlan, Scott and I will see you later this afternoon."

Scott arrived with the horses as Murdoch was helping Liana into the buggy. "You sure you're ok to drive the team?" asked Murdoch.

"Yes dear," said Liana, "I'm perfectly capable of driving a team. You be careful and I will see you this afternoon." The she turned to look at Scott, "Scott?"

"Yes, ma'am?"

"Thank you for going to get the children, hurry home and watch for your Papa, heh?"

Scott just grinned at his mother, "Yes ma'am." he said emphatically. Murdoch just snorted as he mounted his horse.

Scott and Murdoch took off for the Potter's place and Liana and took off for Lancer. Scott and Murdoch rode silently for awhile. "You know Pa, it's seems to be going ok with grandfather." Scott ventured.

"I know son, that's what scares me." said Murdoch.

Scott looked questioningly at his father. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, what does he have up his sleeve to get you back to Boston this time?"

Scott laughed, "Pa, I'm not going back to Boston with Grandfather no matter what he says."

Murdoch looked at his son, "I want you solemn vow that you will come to me with anything he says, no matter how crazy, if he tries to trick you, blackmail you or just plain beg you to go back."

"Sure Pa." said Scott grinning.

"Scott Garrett Lancer, I'm dead serious. Do I make myself perfectly clear?" Murdoch intoned.

A little surprised by his father's vehemence, "Yes sir, crystal clear." Scott said chuckling.

Annoyed at his son's cavalier response, Murdoch said, "You know son, you better not be getting too big for your britches because you will never be too old for me to tan your hide."

Scott straightened up. He didn't believe for one minute that his father wouldn't tan him right there and then on the road if he got mad enough. "Yes sir, really Pa, I promise if Grandfather tries anything, I'll come to you right away."

"Good," said Murdoch gruffly, "now let's go get your brother and sister."

Shortly there after, Scott and Murdoch arrived at the Potter's ranch. When they arrived, the Potters were just about to sit down for Sunday lunch.

Mrs. Potter looked out from the door and saw Scott and Murdoch ride up. "Won't you join us for lunch, we're just about to sit down."

"Yes ma'am," Scott said enthusiastically. Mrs. Potter was one of the finest cooks around.

Murdoch shook his head. Are these children ever going to learn to ask permission. He cleared his throat and looked pointedly at his oldest.

Scott blushed, "Um, Mrs. Potter, that's if Pa gives permission. Pa, can we stay for lunch?"

"Thank you Laurie, we would love to stay for lunch. Now, where are my children?" said Murdoch.

Just then the back door slammed open and all seven children, two Lancers and five Potters came running in. Danielle was the first through the door. "Papa, Papa", she yelled running to his outstretched arms.

Murdoch picked her up and hugged her tight. He had been so worried and so concerned. "How's my girl?" he asked setting her on her feet.

"Fine Papa. I had such a very good time." she said breathlessly as she clung to Murdoch, she wasn't ready to let go. "I missed you Papa."

"I missed you too, honey." said Murdoch giving her another squeeze.

"Heh, what about me?" said Scott holding his arms out.

Danielle about lost her footing trying to step by Murdoch to get to Scott. She flung herself into his arms. "I missed you mon frere." she said.

Scott kissed the top of her head and said, "I missed you too, mon petite seour."

Murdoch looked up to see Johnny standing in front of him. He started to hug Johnny. Johnny shrunk back a little, not wanting to be embarrassed. His father laughed. "Come here son." Johnny stepped forward and Murdoch wrapped him in a bear hug.

"Did he behave, Walter?" Murdoch asked Mr. Potter as he caressed the back of Johnny's head.

"Good as gold." said Walter chuckling.

Murdoch took Johnny's chin. "You behave yourself, boy?" he asked.

Johnny blushed a little and looked down, "Aww, Pa…"

Laurie interrupted. "Time's awasting. Ya'll sit down and eat."

The Lancers and the Potter's sat down for a wonderful meal. At the end of the meal, Murdoch thanked the Potters profusely for having Johnny and Danielle out for the weekend.

"They are welcomed anytime." said Mrs. Potter.

As they mounted their horses, Murdoch put Danielle up on his horse. "Papa, why didn't you bring Jake?" Danielle asked.

"Because we came from church, you can just ride back with me." Murdoch said gruffly. He hadn't brought Jake on purpose. He wanted to be close to his baby and hear all about her weekend. He also knew within a few minutes of leaning against him, she would fall asleep and snuggle into his chest. That's when he most felt like a father. When she allowed him to hold her and protect her. He regretted those years that he missed with the boys.

Danielle chatted excitedly for the first few minutes. Murdoch gave an approving "Oh really." or "Oh, that's wonderful, honey" every so often. Soon the chatter got few and far between and there was a great deal of yawning on the part of one little girl. Murdoch tightened his arms around Danielle and she snuggled into his chest and fell asleep. Murdoch chuckled, he so missed this stage with the boys. He still snuggled a bit with Johnny, when Johnny fell asleep with his head on Murdoch's lap on occasion. Murdoch relished those close times. He relished the times, the boys would let him hold them. It didn't happen too often, not with Scott being 22 and Johnny being 18.

While Murdoch and Scott went to pick up the children, Liana and Harlan headed for Lancer. The ride was fairly silent. Harlan was building up a great deal of resentment for Liana and the close relationship that she had with his grandson. Of all things, he thought, he actually calls that woman, "Mother". Disgraceful!

As they arrived at Lancer, Liana moved to step down and Harlan didn't even offer his hand. In her mind, his was a rude, over bearing, odious man who put her whole family into a state of nerves. Fortunately Cip greeted the surrey.

"Senora?" Cip asked offering her his hand.

"Gracias Cip." said Liana has he grabbed her waist and lifted her down.

He smiled at her, "Your Spanish, it is good."

She laughed, "Gracias, Maria is helping me."

"Senora, Maria has lunch waiting for you and Senor Garrett."

Liana turned to Harlan, "Monsieur?"

Harlan followed Liana into the house and into the dining room. Lunch at first was very silent. Liana could not abide the silence. This is ridiculous she thought. Surely, Scott's grandfather must stop acting like being at Lancer was an imposition on his time. He did not even acknowledge her the majority of the time.

"Monsieur Garrett, Harlan, we need to speak." said Liana.

Garrett looked up from his meal, "We have nothing to discuss madam."

"Yes we do. I want to speak with you about Scott." she said evenly.

"What could you possibly know about my grandson. I raised him until he was 19. He came out west on a lark. He has no more business being out here, than you would in Boston."

"Oh please Monsieur. Scott is very happy here. If you would just open your eyes and watch him. He is very happy with his family and his life here."

"Family," snorted Garrett. "A father that hasn't seen him since he was five. A half-breed brother that could get him killed. A servant woman and her brat for a mother. I'm his family."

Liana could take it no more. Her normal calm manner had been shattered. She started shouting. "How dare you? How dare you call my son a half-breed? How dare you presume about me? You are going to be a bitter old man without your grandson."

As Liana shouted, Murdoch and the children rode up to the hacienda. Johnny turned toward Murdoch. "Uh oh Pa, I think mama's losing it."

Murdoch looked and Johnny and smiled. He heard Johnny say mama without even thinking. "I think your mother is quite capable of handling Garrett."

Scott looked worried. Liana's voice was escalating as was Harlan Garrett's. Scott dismounted quickly and Johnny jumped off Barranca. The both hurried toward the shouting. Both boys burst into the dining room. "Mama," they shouted.

Liana stopped in the middle of her tirade. She turned around and looked at her sons, the word "Mama" had come unbidden. "Ach, this man, odious, mean-spirited, I speak to him no more." she shouted in French as she walked outside.

Scott laughed. Johnny looked at him. 'What did she say?" asked Johnny.

"Well, she basically said that she didn't want to talk to grandfather any more." said Scott looking toward his grandfather. "Honestly, Grandfather, what did you say to her?"

"Nothing that isn't true." Garrett defended himself.

Liana had flown out the door right into Murdoch and Danielle. Danielle had missed the shouting. She was still a little groggy. Murdoch still was holding her. He placed Danielle on her feet. "Go on," he said, "go finish your nap."

"Ah, Papa, I'm too big for naps." she said yawning.

"March!" he said sternly pointing to the front door.

Liana caught her in a hug. "S'il vous plait,mon filles, do as Papa says. Just rest for a little while."

"Oui, maman." Danielle yawned again.

Murdoch chuckled. He caught Liana up in a hug. "Everything all right?" he asked as he kissed her.

She kissed him back. "Oui, mon dieu, the boys called me "mama", I think they really mean it."

Murdoch chuckled again. "I meant with Garrett, darling."

"Ach, him", she started another tirade in French.

Murdoch laughed. Liana finally finished her tirade in French. "It does not matter, non? The boys love me like their mama, my heart's desire has come true. Garrett, we deal with later, non?"

Murdoch smiled as he kissed his wife soundly.