Destiny's Bridge
By: Carrie Carr

Disclaimers: The characters in this story belong to me. Although they do tend to favor (in looks, anyway) a couple of ladies who may seem familiar, no copyright infringement is intended.

There may be violence in this story, but not for a while, and not real graphic…I’m the squeamish type. So if you are into that sort of thing, go get your jollies elsewhere (sorry!).

There's also maintext in this story <g>. No way it can be considered subtext. Nothing really graphic, probably PG-13 at the most, ‘cause I ain’t that talented. Two women meet and fall in love…if you can’t handle it, get over it. If it’s illegal where you live, I sympathize. If you’re too young, grow up!

Being my first attempt at writing, no claims are made as to the quality of this story. If you don’t like it, tell me why. If you do happen to like it, I’m glad I could amuse you for a while. Feedback is greatly appreciated. You can reach me at

Copyright March 1999


Chapter 1

Fighting the urge to cry, Amanda Cauble stomped angrily towards her car. The potholed asphalt had begun to resemble a lake, due to the constant rain that had fallen for the past several days. A few steps before she reached the Mustang, her left foot sank into a small hole soaking her foot all the way up over her ankle. The young woman staggered sideways, dropping her briefcase into another puddle before she was able to get her balance. Grimacing, Amanda gingerly shook her foot, relieved to be pain free. At least I didn’t sprain my ankle… that’s all I need, she thought to herself. Picking up the now mud- splattered briefcase, she shook the excess water away as she opened the car door. Sitting behind the steering wheel, she gently laid the briefcase in the passenger’s seat floorboard and then proceeded to dig through her purse for her car keys. Good thing about small towns, you never need to worry about locking your car! Amanda smiled, leaning back in the bucket seat in relief. Releasing a heavy sigh, the young woman gently closed the car door, happy to be out of the rain. The classic Mustang was a graduation present from her beloved grandfather over five years ago…

"Oooooh!!! Grandpa Jake… you’ve got to be kidding!" The young blonde girl squealed in delight when her blindfold was removed. Directly in front of Amanda sat her grandfather’s pride and joy… a 1967 powder blue mustang, fully restored, with a very large red ribbon and bow adorning it.

Jacob Cauble laughed. "What’s the matter, Peanut? Would you rather have one of those new fancier sports cars?" he asked with a grin. "Is this car too old for Neiman High’s valedictorian?"

Amanda turned suddenly serious. "No, Grandpa, that’s not it at all…it’s just that…" she stammered, trying to find the words to express what her heart was aching to say.

The older man put up a hand to forestall her argument. "Shhh… we worked together on this old clunker for almost three summers… and nothing would make me happier than for you to enjoy the end product." He smiled. "Besides, what’s an old coot like me going to do with a car like this?"

Amanda wrapped her arms around him in an exuberant hug. "You are not an old coot, Grandpa. I think you’re quite debonair!" this with a saucy wink.

Jacob Cauble was still a very handsome man, even in his early sixties. Tall, with thick salt and pepper hair, he still turned quite a few heads. Unfortunately for the ladies, he was completely devoted to his wife. He returned his granddaughter’s hug. "If you say so, Peanut." He handed her a set of keys. "I hope you have as much fun driving her as I had rebuilding her with you!"

Amanda gently took the keys from his hand. "Well, what are we waiting for?" she used her other hand to capture his. "Let’s go try this baby out! Ice cream’s on me, handsome!" She laughed as her grandfather followed in her footsteps.

Amanda wiped a tear from her eye, saddened at the turn her thoughts had suddenly taken. We almost lost him. Jacob Cauble had been severely injured in a horrible automobile accident six months ago. Amanda had immediately moved from her parent’s home in Los Angeles to her grandparent’s house here in Somerville, to keep her grandmother company while Jacob was in the hospital, and also to help take care of him once he was released. Now the only outward signs of the accident that had nearly taken his life were a jagged scar on his forehead near his hairline, and a pronounced limp that Jacob himself swore would not be permanent. Taking a deep breath, Amanda pulled the rear view mirror towards herself, checking her reflection. Drowned rat, she sighed to the vibrant green eyes looking back at her. Running her fingers through her strawberry blonde shoulder length hair, Amanda turned her attention to the task at hand. "Sitting here feeling sorry for yourself isn’t gonna get the job done, " she mumbled out loud. "Now get a move on and take care of business." She scolded herself, starting the car and backing out of the parking space.


In a large ranch house nestled in the foothills a few miles away, someone else was cursing the continuing rain. Lexington Walters’ long frame was sprawled comfortably on the porch swing; muddy boots propped up on the rail that outlined the large wraparound porch. While they always needed rain, she knew that storms such as this one tended to cause problems with the fence that surrounded the ranch.

At twenty-eight, Lexington Walters had been running the Rocking W ranch for ten years, since her father had left for a rodeo and never returned. They still received the occasional postcard and once in a great while he would actually use a telephone, usually asking for a "loan" until his next ride. Lex felt she owed the man something, since in her mind she was the reason he continued to travel. She knew Rawson Walters had trouble looking at his own daughter, since her face reminded him of what he had lost. Lexington was the spitting image of Rawson’s beloved late wife, Victoria – from her electric blue eyes to her long midnight-kissed hair. The only features she had of her father were his temper and his propensity to get into trouble. Every time Rawson looked at his only daughter, he saw the woman that he lost when Lex was only four. Victoria died while giving birth to their third child, Louis. It wasn’t noticeable when Lex was a youngster, but by the time she was a teenager, Rawson’s heart ached each time he looked at his daughter. On her eighteenth birthday, unable to stand the pain any longer, Rawson Walters did the only thing he could think of – he turned over control of the Rocking W to Lex, and left to re-join the rodeo circuit.

Releasing a heavy sigh, the dark haired woman stood up, stretched her arms over her head, and grasped one of the supports above her. Using her arms to straighten her body out, Lex was gratified to hear the gentle popping as her spine slid back into place. Twisting her head first one way and then the other, Lex released the support beam and stomped into the house. She grabbed her long brown duster from its hook in the hallway, and then snatched a bedraggled black cowboy hat from the hook beside it.

"Martha!" she yelled down the hallway, "I’m gonna go and check the fence down by the creek." She crammed the dusty hat onto her head, and was almost back to the door when a heavyset woman in her mid-fifties came scurrying out of the kitchen.

"Lexington Marie Walters! Don’t you be bellowing in this house… I raised you better than that!" she snapped, wiping her hands on a dishtowel.

Lex hastily removed her hat, looking properly chastised. "I’m sorry, Martha," she deferred to the housekeeper, "I just didn’t know exactly where you were, that’s why I yelled." She smiled charmingly. "It won’t happen again, I promise." She finished, placing the disreputable hat back on her head.

Martha just shook her head and smiled. She’d been the housekeeper here at the Rocking W for almost twenty-five years, hiring on when Mrs. Walters became pregnant with little Louis. She treated Lex as she would her own daughter, since Rawson had no idea how to raise a little girl. As the child grew up, he spent less and less time with her, letting the rowdy ranch hands becomes her surrogate family. Although Martha had tried to show little Lex ladylike ways, the older she got, the more like the hired hands she became. Martha’s heart had nearly broken in two when Rawson left behind the short note giving Lex complete control over the ranch, not even having the decency to ask the girl if that was what she wanted. Only Martha knew what young Lexington had wanted to do with her life – go to college and become a veterinarian. But, her father’s desertion had nipped that dream in the bud, the housekeeper remembered. Lex only ran the ranch out of some misplaced sense of duty. Now ten years had passed, and the ranch was thriving under her leadership. The men respected her, and her only problem seemed to be her obstinate older brother, Hubert, who questioned her at every turn.

Martha reached out and began buttoning the duster closed. "Try not to get too wet, Lex." She said, smiling at the consternation that crossed the younger woman’s face. "You know how long it took you to get over that last bout of the flu." She stepped back with a stern look. "And don’t you dare be late for dinner… I’m cooking a big batch of chili, and I’m even making your favorite cornbread to go with it." With this, Martha turned around and headed back towards the kitchen. "And don’t you be clompin’ back in here with muddy boots… you’re not too big for me to take my spoon to!" she bustled back through the kitchen doorway.

Lex looked after her with a fond smile. "Yes, ma’am," she muttered, then turned back around and headed through the front door.


Squinting hard against the heavy rain pounding her windshield, Amanda’s thoughts brought her back to the reason she was out in this horrible weather. "I don’t know why I continue to let that jerk get to me," she grumbled out loud, once again using her hand to wipe the condensation from the inside of the window. "And I can’t believe I’m actually out in this mess!" The jerk was her boss at Sunflower Realty, Rick Thompson. Rick had been the office manager since the owner of the business, Anna Leigh Cauble (Amanda’s grandmother), retired two years earlier. When Amanda moved in with her grandparents last year, the older woman had wanted her to take over the family business. The younger woman declined, stating that she really didn’t have enough experience yet to run the office. Now that decision is biting me on the butt, Amanda grimaced to herself.

Without taking her eyes off of the road, Amanda searched her purse for the directions that Rick had handed her. Having not actually lived in Somerville, Amanda was not real familiar with the area. She had spent a lot of summers at her grandparents’ house, but her time was spent with them, not running around with kids her own age. So, here she was, driving in the pouring rain on her way to an appointment that she herself didn’t make. The young woman was understandably nervous. Rick looked too smug when he handed her the appointment sheet.

"Look, it’s a huge ranch. Just go and meet with the owner," he glanced at the appointment sheet, as if to verify the name. "The ranch is owned by L. Walters. Guess they’re getting tired of the ranching business."

He smiled to himself. This was gonna be one sweet payback. Two for one, too!

He had been the captain of the football team, and considered the best catch by the girls at Somerville High School. It had been a dare by some of his buddies. "Ya think you’re such hot shit, Ricky,"Tom had said, elbowing him in the ribs as they watched another cute girl smile their way. "You’ve had nearly every girl in school."

"Yeah," Amos agreed, leaning back against the lockers, "But I bet there’s one girl who you couldn’t get to first base with."

Rick smirked. "There ain’t a girl in this school that I couldn’t have."

Amos smiled back. "Wanna make a small wager on it?" He got right up into the bigger boy’s face. "I’ll pick the girl, and all you have to do is get her to go out with you on a date."

Rick laughed. "No problem, only a date? What are the stakes?"

Amos looked thoughtful (not easy to do with his pug nose and thick face). "If you win, I’ll keep your car washed and waxed for the entire summer. If you lose, you do the same for me."

Rick put out his hand. "It’s a deal…shake." After they shook hands, Rick leaned back. "Okay, genius, who’s the lucky girl?"

Amos smiled an evil grin and waved his outstretched arm down the hallway. "Her." He said, his finger aimed at a tall, dark haired lanky girl in faded jeans and a denim shirt.

"Kentucky? She’s just a sophomore – she’d probably jump at the chance to go out with a senior." Rick laughed. "This is gonna be way too easy!"

Amos shrugged. "I dunno. Rumor is she doesn’t even like guys – spends all her time in the livestock barn with all the animals."

Rick ran his hands through his dark wavy hair. "Stand back, boys, and watch an expert show you the fine art of picking up girls." He said as he made his way towards his next ‘victim’.

Not only did the quiet girl turn him down, she humiliated him too. "No, thank you." She said to his offer of dinner and a movie, then she just turned around to walk away.

Rick was furious! "Now just wait one damn minute, Kentucky," he growled, grabbing her arm and spinning her back around to face him, "Nobody turns me down!"

She looked down coolly at the hand gripping her arm. "I suggest you remove that hand before it gets broken." She stated in a quiet, menacing voice.

Rick laughed. "By who? You, little girl?" he yanked hard on her captured arm. "I don’t think so." Rick snarled, his six foot four frame shaking with rage.

The girl grabbed the offending hand and twisted the wrist until he howled. "Hey! Cut it out!" he released his grip on her arm. The girl smiled, and quietly turned to walk away again. "Hold it, bitch!" he barked, reaching for the back of her hair. Before he could blink, the girl spun around and threw her elbow into his chin. As he started to fall, she slammed a well-aimed knee into his crotch. Rick fell to the ground whimpering.

"I said, NO!" she stated loudly as she looked down on his trembling form. "And my name is Lexington, you ass!" she finished, amid the catcalls and cheers from the large group that had gathered around them.

After that, no one bothered the quiet girl. Several of the girls who had previously been ‘conquests’ of Rick’s stopped her and thanked Lex for ‘putting that arrogant beast in his place’, but she never joined in any of the after school activities or clubs, and seemed content to study in the school library for hours instead. Even her brothers left her alone. Rick had been surprised when he ran into the Ice Bitch a few years later in the local supermarket and she had no recollection of humiliating him in high school. When he had walked up to her and asked, "Do you remember me?" She gave him a slight frown and replied, "No, should I?" He had been livid!

Well, what better way to get back at her than to send Miss Goody Two Shoes to try and place that dusty old ranch of hers on the market? The last time he tried that a few years ago, the menacing beauty nearly handed him his head on a platter. "Oh, yeah, this is gonna be great!!"

If this was such a great deal, why was he giving it to her? The office manager had been short to the point of rudeness since she’d turned down his last dinner offer. She couldn’t quite say why, but anytime Rick came near her Amanda’s skin began to crawl.

Okay, so I should be coming up to a small road on the left, anytime now, reading her directions. Seeing the road, she slowly steered the car towards it, grimacing at the mud that spattered along the side of the car. Up ahead, she could barely make out the shape of a large covered wooden bridge. "Oooh… how pretty," she exclaimed, "I’d love to see this when the sun is shining." as the car began inching across the bridge.


Lex began filling up the hole around a post; thankful this was the last one. As she had suspected, a portion of the fence had been knocked down when a tree near the now raging creek had toppled. After clearing away the tree with an axe (it was raining too hard to use a chainsaw) Lex had spent the past hour rebuilding this last section of fence. Now all she had to do was finish stringing the wire, and she could go back to the ranch house for a much-needed cup of coffee. As she attached the last strand of wire to the post, a bright flash of lightning illuminated the creek, followed far too closely by a huge clap of thunder. That’s it! Waaay too close that time! As she picked up the remaining tools, another flash of light caught her eye. "What the…" narrowing her eyes under her increasingly soggy hat. "Who in the hell would be fool enough to come out on a day like today?" she frowned. "I know we’re not expecting anyone." When the car got about halfway across the bridge, a huge tree that had made its way downstream crashed heavily into the structure. The old bridge began to split in half, and Lex watched in horror as the small car fell into the creek and was shoved downstream by the tree.

Cursing, Lex ran to the nearby jeep and tossed her hat and coat inside, trading them for a long length of rope. She ran toward the creek and saw that the car had already been pushed about twenty yards downstream. Without another thought, Lex tied one end of the rope around a nearby oak tree, and the other end around her waist. Taking a running start, the tall woman jumped feet first into the creek, letting the violent current take her to the half-submerged vehicle. The car was being held in place by the same tree that had knocked it into the raging creek, and Lex wasn’t certain how long it would stay in one place. The nose of the automobile was already under water, but she made her way up onto the trunk anyway, oblivious to any danger. Squinting through the rain and the debris littering the car, Lex peered through the rear window and saw a young woman slumped over the steering wheel, apparently unconscious. Thankful that she still had her boots on, Lex viciously kicked in the rear window, which popped inward in one piece.

As Lex slowly crawled through the open window, another tree, albeit smaller, slammed into the car, tossing the would-be rescuer over the back seat and into the floorboard face first. Grimacing, she pulled herself up slowly, hoping that the car would stay in place for just a few more minutes. Not feeling any more movement from the outside, Lex moved forward towards the still figure in the front seat. She reached over the seat and gently shook the woman’s shoulder. "Hey." No response. The car lurched sideways again. "HEY!" this time with more force. Still no response. Knowing that time was running out, Lex thought quickly. I know you shouldn’t move accident victims, but I don’t think there’s much of a choice here. Putting a hand on each shoulder, she gently pulled the woman back from the steering wheel. Checking for injuries, the only problem she could see was a small lump and gash on the young woman’s left temple, which was bleeding sluggishly. As Lex moved to unfasten the woman’s seat belt, she noticed the water level was rising inside the car, and was already up to the young lady’s knees. With the seat belt unbuckled, Lex gently placed her hands under the woman’s arms and pulled her between the seats. Sitting her upright in the backseat, Lex then backed out feet first through the rear window.

Trying to keep her balance on the slippery trunk, Lex reached back into the car and pulled the still form through the open window, setting her onto the trunk just as the nose of the vehicle began to slip more deeply into the water. Lex tried once again to awaken the young woman, to no avail. She quickly pulled off one leather glove and checked the girls’ pulse. Nice and strong, think she’ll be okay. She replaced her glove and wiped the wet hair out of her eyes. Untying the rope from around her waist, Lex pulled the slight form up onto her own back, draping the loose arms around her neck. Tying the rope back around them both, Lex positioned the girl’s head beside her own, and slowly dropped into the racing water. She used her gloved hands to pull them across the churning creek. They’d made it over halfway across before Lex felt her instincts rise sharply. Looking upstream, she saw a large object rumbling right towards them. With no time to think, Lex turned her body so that she was able to get between what appeared to be part of a barn and her unconscious cargo. Taking a direct hit to the chest, Lex nearly passed out from the pain. She managed somehow to hang onto the rope, only to feel frantic arms wrapping tightly around her neck. Loosening one hand from the rope that had become their lifeline, Lex gently tried to pry the convulsive limbs from her throat before she was choked to death. Apparently the young woman realized what she had almost done, and she quickly released her death grip on her savior.


Several minutes later, an exhausted Lex dragged herself and her passenger up the muddy creek bank as she untied the rope from around them with shaking fingers, her strength almost gone, the taller woman felt her erstwhile passenger slowly slide off, and with a groan Lex rolled over onto her back. She turned towards the young woman, who was on her knees trembling, rocking back and forth crying softly.

"Oh, God…..wha…. Who…"

Lex, trying to sit up, gasped in pain. "Damn…" she looked over at the smaller woman. "Hey—you okay?" grimacing, she struggled up to a sitting position. Ugh…it feels like someone pounded a spike in my chest…no time for that now. Turning her attention back towards the girl, "Shhh… everything’s okay now." She gently laid a muddy gloved hand upon the distraught woman’s shoulder. "C’mon. Let’s get out of this damn rain, okay?" Holding an arm across her chest, Lex slowly rose to her feet. She offered her other hand to the still seated girl.

Amanda glanced up and made eye contact with her rescuer. Wow…what an incredible blue. "Uhmm…sure," as her upraised hand was grasped, and she was being gently pulled to her feet, Amanda felt her head spin and she proceeded to fall forward dizzily.

Lex caught her automatically. "Hey, take it easy there." The movement caused another sharp pain to her chest. Not good, she thought, fighting back the pain, not good at all. She quickly wrapped an arm around the smaller woman, ostensibly to assist her, but more to keep her own balance. The two of them slowly trudged up the muddy creek bank, as Lex directed her young charge to the waiting jeep.


Once they had settled in the jeep, Lex handed her brown duster to the now trembling woman. "Here. This should help ward off the chill ‘til we get back to the house."

Amanda took the coat shyly. "Thanks. But what about you?" she asked, as she snuggled under the too-big coat, sighing in relief. "Aaah… much better."

"Don’t worry about me," Lex stated, impatiently wiping the wet hair out of her eyes again. "It’s not that far." She buried her hand in one of the pockets of the coat. Removing her hand, Lex pulled out a dark blue bandanna. "Here," she said, gently applying pressure with the bandanna to the still bleeding gash on the girls’ temple, "I promise it’s clean."

Amanda smiled, moving her left hand to replace the one the beautiful stranger- Whoa! Where did that come from? had pressed against the wound. "Uhmm… okay." Then she smiled a little bigger. "Well, anyway…Thank you for saving my life." Tears welled up in her deep green eyes. "I don’t…" she stammered with a frown, " I just…" she took a deep breath, " I’m sorry. Reaction, I guess." Another deep breath. "I don’t even know your name." Her smile returned. "My name’s Amanda."

The dark woman pinned her with a direct gaze. "Lex… and you’re welcome," she finished, with a smile of her own. Lex turned the key in the ignition, and the jeep thankfully sputtered to life. The continuing rain pounded a loud beat upon the hard top of the jeep, which combined with the grumbling of the engine, made normal conversation difficult at best. Reaching for the gearshift caused a sharp stabbing pain to the older woman’s chest, and Lex hastily bit off a groan.

This action did not go unnoticed by the smaller woman in the jeep. "What is it? What’s the matter?" she used her right hand to hold the bloody bandanna in place, and placed her left hand gently on Lex’s wrist, concern etching her lovely features. Amanda temporarily forgot her headache, as she studied the quiet form across from her.

"Nothing…just a little sore." Lex answered, throwing the jeep into gear and started towards what was left of the road.

Amanda turned slightly in her seat, so she could gaze fully at the quiet woman beside her. "Uh-huh… if you say so."

Lex gave her a raised eyebrow in response. Trying to get the subject away from herself, the older woman posed the question that had been bothering her since she’d first spotted Amanda’s car. "So…what in the hell were you doing driving around deserted country roads on a nasty day like this?" she grimaced as the jeep hit a particularly deep rut in the road. "And why were you driving across my bridge?" she finished, straining to see the road through the windshield.

"YOUR BRIDGE????" Amanda squeaked, incredulous. Then, she began to giggle.

"Whaat?" Lex asked, drawing out the word.

Amanda giggled harder. "Sorry…but I just got this picture in my head." She continued her mirth at the other woman’s expense.

Lex just glowered at her. "C’mon, let’s hear it."

"No, really, it’s not important."

Another glare from the driver of the jeep.

"Okay." The younger woman wiped errant tears from her eyes. "I just had this mental picture of you as a troll, waiting for the Three Billy Goats Gruff," she wheezed, trying unsuccessfully to contain her glee.

The dark haired woman couldn’t help it. She smiled. "Cute, real cute." But part of her was relieved. The head injury couldn’t be too bad if the girl was making jokes. Maybe everything would be all right, after all.


They continued along towards the ranch house in silence. Amanda had worn herself down with the giggling fit, and was now quietly curled up in the passenger’s seat, thankful for the warmth of the large coat. The thunderstorm was still raging, making it look more like late evening instead of late afternoon. The small blonde took the opportunity to study her erstwhile rescuer. The glow of the dash lights flickered across Lex’s still face, caressing her features with an eerie glow. Amanda could clearly see the pain and exhaustion on the face across from her. Her own head was still aching, and she was still feeling a little bit sick to her stomach. As she took a breath to speak, Lex turned the steering wheel sharply to the right.

"Hang on!!!!" she ordered, her voice strong and assured. The jeep slid sideways in the mud as she valiantly tried to avoid a falling tree in the middle of the road. The front left tire hit what used to be the top of the tree, causing the jeep to tilt dangerously to the right. THUNK!!! The muddy vehicle slammed to an unexpected stop. "Dammit!" Lex growled, grinding the jeep into a lower gear. A high pitched whine answered her, as the tires spun helplessly in the mixture of mud and leaves. Lex laid her head against the steering wheel and closed her eyes. "Some days it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed," she sighed. She turned her head and looked over at Amanda, who had one hand braced on the dash, and the other gripping a handle on the door. "Sorry… guess I’m not real good at this ‘rescue’ business, huh?" she gave a small smile. "Look… the house isn’t that much farther, maybe a mile or so at the most." She looked out the windshield at the continuing rain. "Hard to tell in this weather, though… feel up to a little walk?"

Amanda returned her smile with one of her own. "Sure…" she looked down at her feet. "Don’t think my shoes could get any wetter, anyway." Silently, Amanda thanked her grandmother.

"Why on earth are you wearing high heels and a dress on a nasty day like today?" Anna Leigh had asked her granddaughter as she came downstairs for breakfast. "All you are going to accomplish is catching a cold when your feet get soaked." She admonished. "Why don’t you go back upstairs and put on those new black jeans? They’ll go great with your black sneakers…don’t you agree, dear?" she asked her husband, who reached across the table and squeezed her hand.

"You’re absolutely right, my love." He looked at Amanda. "No sense in being miserable, Peanut." He winked at her. "Besides, young cuties like you look great in jeans!"

Anna Leigh removed her hand from his, and playfully slapped his arm. "You lecherous old goat!" but she smiled, and then looked over at her granddaughter. "Well?"

Amanda had laughed. "You’re right, as usual, Gramma. I really don’t feel like wearing a dress today, anyway." She hurried back up the stairs to change, her grandparent’s laughter right in behind her.

Lex blew out a tired breath. "We’ll cut through the woods… It’ll shave some distance off the trip. Besides," this with a self-deprecating grin, "this road is obviously too muddy." She cautiously reached into the back seat and grabbed a large flashlight and her battered cowboy hat. Cramming the hat on her head Lex reached for the door. "Hold on…let me go around and make sure your door is clear." Pocketing the keys, she opened the door and gingerly stepped out.

Thunder still rumbled ominously, punctuated by the occasional flash of lightning. Lex slipped in the mud several times on her way around the rear of the jeep. Every slip brought renewed agony to her chest. I hope nothing’s too badly broken in there. Reaching the passenger side of the jeep, Lex was gratified to see it relatively clear of debris. Opening the door she cautioned, " Careful. Kinda slippery out here." She offered her hand to the smaller woman.

Amanda accepted the proffered hand as she eased her way out of the jeep. "Thanks," she said quietly. Trying to hand the coat to Lex, "Here… You’re only wearing a tee shirt. At least I’ve got a long-sleeved shirt on."

The taller woman ignored the offer. "No, you wear it. I’m pretty hot blooded, anyway." She noticed that the head wound had stopped bleeding. "How’s your head?" she asked as she led the younger woman off the road and into a stand of trees. Amanda slipped the coat on, feeling like a small child wearing her daddy’s clothes.

She considered the question seriously. "Not too bad," she said, "aches a little." She peered through the rain and gloom. "Is this safe?" she asked, gripping Lex’s hand.

Lex looked down at her. "Safer than the road, actually. There’s probably too many washed out places there, and with all the mud it would be nearly impossible to walk on." Another flash of lightning and rumble of thunder interrupted her. She felt the grip on her hand tighten. "Hey, it’s okay. We should be back to the house before long. It’s just a little rain."

Amanda sheepishly loosened her deathgrip on the other woman’s hand. "Sorry." She apologized, but made no move to release the hand. "I’ve never really liked storms." She felt the hand holding hers tighten.

"No problem. I think the worst is over for now. That last blast sounded pretty far away." Lex tried to reassure her.

They reached the top of a slight rise, and Amanda could see the trees give way to open fields. "Is your home much farther?" she asked, looking up at the woman beside her.

Lex shook her head. "Not too much… ‘bout another hour or so and we’ll be in front of a nice warm fire." She met the slightly foggy green eyes looking at her. "Unless you’d rather sit for a few minutes and rest. You’re not looking too good." This with a worried frown.

Amanda thought about waving off her new friend’s concern, but then realized that the older woman was becoming increasingly pale and drawn herself. She looks worse than I feel she thought, and she’s been keeping that one arm really close to her chest. Amanda smiled inwardly. Maybe SHE needs a short rest. Out loud she said, "The thought of getting out of this rain is tempting, but I’m afraid if I don’t rest for a few minutes I’ll be falling flat on my face." She didn’t miss the fleeting look of relief that passed over the other woman’s features.

"Yeah, you’re probably right. Might as well take advantage of these trees for a short break. The rest of our walk will be out in the open, and the rain doesn’t look like it’ll be slowing down any time soon." Lex slowly dropped to the ground, then leaned up against an old oak tree.

Amanda released her hand and sank down beside her. "Ahhh…" she exhaled, "I never realized how wonderful sitting in the mud could be." She joked, leaning up against the same tree. "I know this stuff is supposed to be good for your complexion," she grinned, flicking a blob of mud off of her knee, "but I think I’ll just take my chances without it." She wrapped the huge overcoat tightly around herself. "Are you sure you’re warm enough? I feel really bad that I’m hogging your coat."

Lex waved off her concern. "No, really. I’m fine. I only had it with me because Martha threatened to spank me with a wooden spoon." She smiled. Besides, my chest hurts too much to try and put my arms in a coat.

Amanda was about to continue this line of questioning when she realized what Lex had said. "A spoon?!?" she grinned widely. "Who’s Martha?" she hazarded a guess, "Your mother?"

Lex chuckled. "Nah…more like my nanny." She looked pensive for a moment. "She’s actually our housekeeper… but she’s just about the only mother I’ve ever known." She smiled again. "And believe me, she can sure swing a mean spoon!!!"

Amanda laughed. "Remind me to be on my best behavior, then." She laid her hand on the older woman’s knee. "Maybe I should give you this coat back… I’d hate to get you in trouble."

The dark-haired woman smiled at her again. "Nah… I’d probably get into more trouble if I brought you home without it…’sides, I think she’ll be okay. Just be prepared to be clucked over, big time."

The younger girl took a deep breath and slowly released it. The longer they sat there, the worse Lex looked. "Hey…maybe we should get started again." She strained her eyes in the coming darkness. "I think the temperature is beginning to drop… it’s starting to feel colder, anyway." She had noticed the taller woman trying to repress a shudder. "I think I’m rested enough to go on."


The duo slogged through the mud in silence, each lost in her own thoughts. Lex was moving slower and slower in deference to the sharp stabbing pain in her chest, definitely something broken in there, as she found it harder and harder to breathe normally. She spared a glance at her companion. Amanda was moving fairly well, although she kept tripping over the heavy coat she had wrapped around her body.

The taller woman didn’t realize it, but Amanda was keeping a close eye on her as well. The young woman noticed her rescuer was finding it more difficult to breathe with every step she took, and that her pace continued to slow by the minute. This is ridiculous! We both know she’ll never make it much farther this way, but she’s too stubborn to ask for help. I gotta do something! Amanda purposely stumbled and then stopped.

Lex stopped as well, looking at her with concern. "What’s the matter? Is your head getting worse?" She managed to ask, drawing a shallow breath.

Amanda grinned inwardly. Gotcha! "Look. I hate to bother you, but do you think I could kinda hold onto you? It seems like I’m having a little bit of a balance problem." She looked up at the older woman innocently.

Lex frowned slightly. She had a feeling that the little blonde was not being completely honest but was too tired and hurting too badly to call her on it. "Sure," she agreed, gingerly raising one arm and draping it around Amanda’s shoulders.

The younger woman eased her way under Lex’s arm, wrapping one arm gently around the tall woman’s waist. Amanda giggled.

"What?" Lex asked, not seeing anything particularly funny about their situation.

Amanda peeked up from her position under Lex’s arm. "You are really tall," she laughed. "I feel like a little kid next to you."

Lex smiled down at her. "Well," she drawled, "In that coat, you kinda look like one, too." Without realizing it, Lex began to lean more on the smaller woman.

Amanda felt the pressure, and smiled inwardly. There’s more than one way to skin a cat. With her head so close to the older woman, she could hear Lex struggling for every breath. That doesn’t sound good at all… hope we have some way to get her to a doctor once we’re back to her house.

The open field was thankfully carpeted with some sort of grass, Amanda noticed. It was too dark for her to see much but it was still more pleasant than the nasty mud they had waded through on the main road. Amanda estimated that over two hours had passed since she had fallen into the raging creek, and if the sun had been shining it would be close to dusk by now. Her head still ached, although it was more like a dull throb now. She frequently cast her gaze at the tall woman whose weight she continued to support, amazed that Lex hadn’t completely collapsed by now. Through the infrequent flashes of lightning, she was able to see just how exhausted her companion had become. Something was nagging at the back of her mind, though. What was she doing out in this weather? And just how did she get hurt? Guess I could just ask. Amanda cleared her throat. "Lex?" she felt the older woman flinch slightly.

Damn. Almost dozed off there, Lex chastised herself. "Yeah?" she asked, bringing her attention back to the conversation at hand.

Amanda tightened her grip slightly, trying to comfort the dark woman. "You haven’t told me why you were out in this nasty weather – or do you usually hang around raging creeks waiting to rescue women who happen to float by?" She felt Lex stifle a laugh.

"No, not usually." Lex was thankful for the distraction. "I was repairing a break in the fence when I saw that tree smash into the bridge." She gave a slight shrug. "Then, when I saw your car fall in, I really didn’t even think…" She looked down at the young woman snuggled close. " Right place, right time I guess. "

Amanda looked up in surprise. "You jumped into a creek feeling the way you do?" her voice raised incredulously.

Lex shook her head. "No. I was okay, then. A little tired from chopping up a tree and digging a few post holes, but okay." She glanced away from the younger woman’s gaze.

"Okay, then…. what happened? And don’t try and tell me you’re okay…" she tightened her grip. "You’re about to fall over, I can tell." Amanda wasn’t real sure where this sudden protective streak for a virtual stranger came from, but at this point she really didn’t give a damn.

Lex looked down at the grass they were walking through. "Ah, well…" another squeeze from her companion. "When I was pulling us back across the creek, right before you came to, I kinda got hit by some sort of debris." She suddenly stopped because the arm that was wrapped around her pulled her back.

"Debris? What kind of debris? Where did it hit you?" Lightning flashed, giving Lex a clear view of the deep concern etched on the face across from her.

Trying to change the subject, Lex turned to start walking again. She must have twisted wrong, because she collapsed to her knees in pain. " Damn…" she exhaled, trying to get past the black spots swimming in her vision.

Amanda had followed her to the ground. "Lex!!" she exclaimed in a shaky voice. "What’s wrong?"

The older woman was leaning forward, her left arm wrapped tightly around her chest, her face hidden by the hat pulled low. "Just give me a minute," she gasped, trying to remain conscious.

Amanda gently eased Lex onto her back. "Here… just lie back for a few minutes and catch your breath." She pulled the battered hat off of the dark woman’s head.

Lex tried in vain to get back up. "No, I’m alright. We’re almost to the house." But she couldn’t seem to gather the energy needed to defy the small blonde.

Amanda tried another tactic. "Well, if we’re that close then a short break can’t hurt now, can it?" She looked up and tried to see the house in the distance. Unfortunately, between the oncoming darkness and the still driving rain, she could barely see a few feet in front of them. "Look, if you’ll just point me in the right direction, I’ll go and get some help." She glanced back down at Lex, whose eyes were now closed. "Lex?" She gently touched the older woman’s face. "Hey." Gratified to see the woman’s eyes slowly open.

"Sorry." Lex whispered. "Guess I musta moved the wrong way." She took a cautious breath.

"Please – let me go and get some help." Amanda pleaded.

"Can’t." Lex stated. "Only person at the house is Martha. My brother and the ranch hands are in town for the big rodeo and livestock show this weekend." She attempted a smile. "Thought I could handle things until they got back on Sunday."

Amanda smiled back at her. "I’m sure you could have, if you weren’t playing hero for me."

Lex choked back a laugh. "Yeah, right. I should have been paying closer attention." She reached up with her right hand. "Wanna give me a hand up? I’m really getting tired of this damn rain."


Twenty minutes later, the lights from the big ranch house came into view.

"Wow." Amanda breathed. "It’s huge!" Even in the rain and darkness, Amanda could tell that the home was impressive. Two story, with a lovely wraparound porch and a balcony on the second floor, the stucco structure would be equally at home in the high rent district of Somerville.

Lex pulled her around to a side entrance. "We’ll go in through the mud room," she said opening a plain looking door," No sense in tracking in half the ranch through the house." She motioned the small blonde inside. "Martha would probably break her best spoon on my rear end." She closed the door behind them and flipped a light switch.

The soft light was almost blinding after being in the rain and darkness, and it took Amanda a moment to adjust. Small, with a bench along one wall and hooks for hanging items by the door, the little room was plain, yet clean.

Lex sat wearily down on the bench, and Amanda followed right behind her. "Well, it sure feels great to finally be out of the rain." The young blonde brushed her dripping hair out of her eyes. Her companion was leaning back against the wall, eyes closed.

"Oh, yeah. Gimme a second and I’ll get you something dry to change into."

Now, with decent light, Amanda took the opportunity to study the quiet woman sitting next to her. Tall. Gotta be at least six foot. Long dark hair still gathered in a loose ponytail, broad shoulders and a very muscular build. That tee shirt can’t disguise a body like that. Then Amanda noticed something else – the light blue tee shirt had a dark stain that started just below her breasts, and spread down her right side.

"Lex!" she cried, placing her hand on the silent woman’s arm.

Lex slowly opened her incredible blue eyes and turned her head towards the other woman. "What’s the matter?" she mumbled, trying to focus her eyesight on the young woman.

"I…I… th..think you’re bleeding," Amanda stuttered, at a loss for words. "Why didn’t you tell me?" she asked, wanting to help but not quite sure how.

Lex groggily looked down at her chest. "Didn’t know," she said, trying to reassure the stammering woman. "C’mon. Let’s get our shoes off, and go find Martha. She’ll get you something dry to wear." She was about to reach down and remove her boots, when Amanda slid off the bench to squat on the floor below her.

"Here, let me." She gently tugged the muddy boots and socks from the taller woman’s feet, then pulled off her own mud encrusted shoes and drenched socks as well. "Yuck." She stood up and removed the heavy coat. "That thing must weigh fifty pounds!" she joked as she hung it up on a hook next to the door. "You were saying something about dry clothes?" She slowly pulled Lex to her feet. "Think I can sweet talk Martha into something to eat? All this exercise has made me hungry." This with an impish grin.

Lex allowed Amanda to help her to the door. "Oh, I think that can be arranged. She’ll probably stuff ya like a prize hog."

They walked through the door to find themselves standing in the kitchen. Amanda spotted a short heavyset woman talking on the phone, obviously very upset.

"No, Mr. Hubert, she’s not back yet, and I’m really beginning to get worried. It’s been almost four hours since she left…" she turned around and stifled a gasp. "Oh, my lord! Lexie, what have you done to yourself, child?" she hung up the phone without another word and rushed over to the two women, who were now dripping puddles in her kitchen.

"Hey, Martha… picked up a friend today… think you could find her some dry clothes?" Lex smirked, still leaning heavily against the smaller woman.

Amanda gave the heavy woman a large smile. "Hi, I’m Amanda. Lex rescued me out of the creek today when my car got tossed in."

Martha laughed. "My goodness, Lex always did have a habit of bringing in strays." She quickly closed the distance between them. "You both look like you could use a warm bath and a cup of hot cocoa." She gently placed her hand on the taller woman’s face. "Honey, think you could take your friend upstairs while I fix something warm to drink?"

Lex smiled. "Sure, Martha." She pulled the younger woman through the kitchen and into the hallway. "C’mon…. let’s go upstairs and I’ll find you something to change into after you’ve had a hot shower." She gently guided the younger woman through the hall and up the oak staircase.

Halfway up the stairwell, Lex stumbled. She would have fallen except for the tight grip Amanda was keeping on her waist.

"Okay, that’s it." The young blonde gently guided Lex to a sitting position on one of the steps. "Now you sit right here and don’t move! I’m going to go get Martha, so she can help me get you settled."

The older woman was about to protest, but was stopped by a soft hand covering her mouth.

"No." Amanda said, shaking her still damp head. "Please don’t try and argue with me." She removed her hand and patted the sitting woman on the head. "I’ll be right back." She quickly turned and hurried back down the stairs, disappearing into the kitchen.

Lex leaned back against the banister, her eyes following the lithe body. Quite a little spitfire, eh? She closed her eyes and sighed softly.

Amanda burst back into the kitchen, a little breathless. Martha spun around from where she was stirring something on the stove. "What’s the matter, dear? Did you get lost?" a twinkle in her smiling brown eyes.

The young woman shook her head. "No, nothing like that. I need your help." She reached for the older woman’s arm, and began pulling her out of the kitchen. "Lex is hurt, and I need some help getting her upstairs. She won’t tell me what’s wrong, but she just about collapsed on me!"

The two women reached the foot of the staircase and promptly looked up.

"Oh, my!" Martha exclaimed, practically running up the stairs. She stopped at the slumped form. "Lexie, honey? Can you hear me?" She gently turned the quiet face towards her.

Blue eyes slowly opened at her entreaty. "Hmm?" they blinked. "Sorry," Lex reached up with one hand and rubbed her eyes. "Guess I am a little tired." She tried to sit up, but the pain in her chest pushed her back down. "I suppose a little help would be good." She smiled up at Amanda, who had been standing there with a worried look on her face. "And I bet you could use some aspirin, right?"

The young woman returned her smile. "Yeah, for some reason I seem to have the darndest headache."

Lex chuckled, as Martha pulled her slowly to her feet. The housekeeper gently wrapped an arm around her charge, and Amanda moved to support her other side. The three of them moved slowly up the remaining stairs quietly.


Martha led them down the hallway and into the master bedroom. Amanda couldn’t help but glance around in awe. The room was huge – a large rock fireplace took up one entire corner, a cheerful fire already blazing with two comfortable stuffed chairs in front of it. On the side wall opposite the door stood a huge bay window, complete with padded windowseat. The front wall had beautiful french doors, which opened up to what looked like a balcony. But the thing that most caught Amanda’s attention was the enormous king-sized bed that almost took up a quarter of the room on its own. Four poster oak with a massive carved headboard, Amanda thought that an entire family could sleep on it.

Lex noticed where the younger woman’s attention was. "It was my mother’s." She explained softly. "Dad had it made for her as a wedding present." She bit back a groan when her two ‘nurses’ gently placed her on the object in question. The dark woman laid back and closed her eyes.

Martha noticed the stains on Lex’s shirt for the first time. "What happened here?" she asked Amanda, who had sat down on the edge of the bed by Lex’s feet.

"I’m not real sure," she started, her eyes taking in the exhausted woman. "I was driving across this beautiful wooden bridge, when all of a sudden something hit it, and sent my car crashing into the creek. I must have hit my head, because the next thing I remember is she’s got me tied to her back, and is using a rope to pull us both out." Her hand touched the damp denim leg next to her. "She told me she had gotten hit by ‘some debris’, but I never did find out exactly what that was."

The housekeeper rolled her eyes. "Some things never change." She looked down at the resting woman, who was obviously unconscious. "Let’s get you some dry clothes, and you can help me with her." She walked over to a large oak dresser, which by had been made by the same person who made the bed. Opening the bottom drawer, the older woman pulled out a pair of maroon sweat pants with matching sweatshirt, a Texas A & M logo on each. "Here… go hop in the shower and then put these on. Lexie hasn’t worn these since high school, but never could seem to get rid of them. Just leave your wet clothes on the floor by the shower, I’ll get ‘em washed up for you." Amanda was about to protest when the housekeeper shook her finger at her. "Now, don’t you be giving me any lip – that’s my job around here." She gently shoved the blonde towards the bathroom. "Hurry up… I’ll probably need all the help I can get with little Lexie. She hates when I fuss over her." This with a wink and a smile.

Amanda returned the smile as she walked into the bathroom. "I’ll be right back." She closed the door and then turned around. Good grief! It’s almost as big as my bedroom at home! The young woman walked past the large dressing area complete with a huge gray marble counter with two separate sinks, one at each end. Opening another door, she found the bathing area; a huge jacuzzi tub in one corner, and a very large free standing clear glass shower. Another door showed her a comfortably sized lavatory. She opened the shower door, noticing a built in bench and two different nozzles, one on either side of the shower. A whole team could shower in here, she mused. Turning on the water, Amanda quickly removed her still-dripping clothing and piled them as neatly as possible by the door.

Stepping into the steaming water, Amanda couldn’t help but moan. Aaah, bliss! Never thought standing under more water would feel so good! She quickly finished her shower, hoping to get another chance to use this wonderful contraption again. Having two sprays hitting from two directions was great! She dried off hurriedly then slipped into the sweats. Wow, she was pretty good sized even in high school! Amanda ran a comb through her hair, not bothering to dry it. Walking back into the bedroom Amanda spotted the housekeeper trying to pull Lex’s jeans off.

"Oh, honey. Am I ever glad to see you." The older woman wiped her brow with the back of her hand. "I’m having the darndest time with these blasted jeans. They normally fit like a second skin, and now that they’re wet, well…" she shook her graying head. "Lexie was trying to help, but it got to hurtin’ her so bad that she passed out."

Amanda stepped towards the bed. "Well, between the two of us, we should be able to handle it." She grabbed the bottom of the jeans. "I’ll pull from here, and you try to work them from her hips." Martha nodded.

It took the two of them over five minutes to rid the unconscious woman of her jeans. During that time Lex never stirred. Martha was brushing the drying hair off her forehead while she and Amanda caught their breath. "Well, that was fun." She muttered, taking another deep breath. "Now, I guess we go for what’s left of this shirt!" She gently began peeling the shirt up, and stopped. It was stuck to Lex’s skin – and she was afraid of the damage she would find. "Amanda, honey, could you go and bring me a few warm washcloths from the bathroom?" she noticed that the younger woman was looking frighteningly pale, and was worried that she was about to faint.

Amanda looked up gratefully. "Sure." She rushed out of the bedroom to do the older woman’s bidding.

A few moments later, Amanda returned to the bedroom with a couple of damp washcloths. What she saw made her gasp, and she nearly dropped her cargo. Martha had removed Lex’s shirt and was looking at the damage with a clinical air. She had draped a quilt over the unconscious woman’s legs, and kept the shirt draped across her breasts. She looked up as Amanda came over and handed her a washcloth.

"Thanks, honey. It looks a lot worse than it actually is, I believe." The large gash started just below her breasts, and edged down her ribcage as well. "Just scraped up a little, but I think she’s got a couple of busted ribs too." Martha reported while cleaning the injury. She pointed to the other washcloth that Amanda was still holding. "Why don’t you wash her face and arms while I go get something to put on this?" She stood up and left the room. "I’ll be right back." She called out as she went downstairs.

Amanda sat for a moment looking down at her rescuer. "Why do I feel such a strong connection to you? Have we ever met?" she smiled quietly. "No… I don’t think I’d forget meeting you, although I feel as if I’ve known you forever." She patiently wiped the older woman’s face, not realizing she was speaking aloud.

The housekeeper crept back into the room, smiling as she noticed the tender care the young woman was giving Lex. Ah, she’s a sweet one, that girl. I wonder what business she had that brought her to us. Out loud she said, "I told you I wouldn’t be long," she stepped over to the bed. Martha had a jar of something as well as some strips of cloth in her hands. "I didn’t have enough gauze, so I cut up an old sheet instead." She traded the stained shirt for a towel and began to gently dab the cream onto the still bleeding scrape. Once all the injury was covered to her satisfaction, she motioned Amanda forward. "Could you climb up on the bed on her other side, and help me sit her up?" She waited until the younger woman complied. "Now, let’s lift her forward, slowly now." The dark woman moaned softly, but didn’t waken. Amanda sat behind her and held her upright while the housekeeper wrapped the strips of sheet around her. "This should keep things in place a little better, anyway." She said, using safety pins to finish the job. They slowly laid Lex back against the pillows. Martha covered her completely with the quilt from her legs, making certain she wasn’t lying flat, in case of internal bleeding.

Amanda eased herself off the bed and walked over to the housekeeper. "You act like you’ve done this before." She commented, awed at how calm the woman stayed.

Martha laughed. "Oh, goodness, yes. That little mite was always coming home with some sort of scrape or bruise." She eyed the small blonde carefully, and then grasped her arm. "Now, you come on in the bathroom, and I’ll check out that bump on your head." She began to lead the younger woman out of the bedroom.

"Oh," Amanda reached up to touch the spot. "I’d forgotten all about it." She followed dutifully. "It hardly hurts at all, now." She said, as Martha motioned for her to sit on the dressing table. Amanda complied, feeling like a small child.

Martha looked her in the eye and smiled. "Don’t worry, honey," she assured her, "This won’t hurt."

Amanda smiled back. "I know, I trust you."

The housekeeper gently used a cleanser on the small gash, put some of the same cream on it that she had used for Lex, and then covered it with a large Band-Aid. "That should keep it from getting infected." Martha reached behind her and grabbed a bottle and glass. She poured out two white tablets from the bottle and filled the glass up with water. "Here." She handed the young woman the tablets and water. "These should help with your headache."

Amanda snickered but took the offered pills and glass. After she drank the water, she jumped down from the counter and laughed. "I feel like a little kid playing dress up in her clothes." She pulled the material away from herself, showing how baggy they were.

Martha chuckled. "Don’t feel too bad, dear. You look just fine." She went into the bathing area and returned with the wet clothes. "Now I’ll just go take care of these and Lexie’s wet things."

Amanda put out a hand. "No, really. I can take care of those. Just point me towards the laundry room."

Martha moved around her. "No, honey. I’ll take care of this. You just go lie down and rest." When the young woman began to argue again, Martha placed a hand on her shoulder. "You could help me by keeping an eye on Lexie. Watch to see if she develops a fever. I’ll just get these started and bring you both something to eat."

Amanda acquiesced. "Okay, I’ll do that. But shouldn’t we get her to a doctor?"

Martha shook her head. "That bridge that you came over on is the only way on or off this ranch. And until this weather lets up, they can’t even bring a helicopter in."

Amanda froze. "You mean, we’re trapped here? What if she’s hurt worse than you think? What can we do? What…" her babbling was stopped by a gentle hand on her shoulder.

"It’s going to be okay. Yes, it’s true it’s just the three of us here for now, but we’ve got more than enough supplies, and we do have a telephone. So we can always call a doctor for advice if we need it. So don’t you worry." Martha gathered up the rest of the wet clothes and headed for the door. "It would be easier to keep an eye on her if you laid down beside her. It’s a big bed." She walked out the door, with a confused Amanda staring after her.

She watched the housekeeper leave, then switched her attention to the bed. She’s right, that thing’s huge. And I am worn out – maybe I’ll just lie down for a few minutes. She walked over to the other side of the bed and lay down. Oooh… I could be in serious trouble here – this is waay too comfortable. Amanda rolled over onto her side and gazed at the still form next to her. She seems to be looking better already, she mused, noticing the returning color to the sleeping woman’s face. Moments later, Amanda joined Lex in sleep.


Chapter 2

Lex was somewhat disoriented when she first opened her eyes. Glancing up, she realized that she was at home and in her own bed. Yeah, now I remember. The stairs… her mind was still a little fuzzy after that. She heard soft breathing next to her so she slowly turned her head towards the sound – Amanda was sound asleep on the pillow next to hers. Her right hand was tucked under her cheek and her left hand was… holding my arm? The small blonde had a gentle grip on Lex’s forearm as if she were afraid Lex would leave. Before the older woman could disengage her arm, Martha walked in carrying a large silver tray laden with food.

"Well, hello there!" she said brightly, "How are you feeling, honey?" She sat the tray on a nearby table and walked over to the bed. Sitting gently next to her ‘patient’ Martha casually used her hand to brush the hair off of Lex’s forehead, also using the motion to check for fever.

"I’m fine, Martha. Don’t worry so much." The younger woman said, slowly pulling herself into a sitting position.

"Oh, sure. You were so ‘fine’ that we had to undress you, and you probably don’t even remember it!" The housekeeper exclaimed with a frown.

Lex sighed. "I think I was more tired than actually hurt." She smiled. "Honestly, I feel much better now." She tried to peek around the heavier woman. "Is that food I smell?"

Martha laughed. "Oh, Lexie… you’re gonna be the death of me yet."

Amanda was awakened by the sound of voices. She opened her eyes and what she saw made her smile. "Hey…" she sat up and rubbed her eyes. "Didn’t mean to drop off like that." A timid smile to the housekeeper. "How long was I asleep?" She looked outside, but it was still dark and raining.

The short heavyset woman got up and then sat the tray on the middle of the bed. "Only a couple of hours."

"A COUPLE OF HOURS?? Oh, no!" Amanda moved to get off the bed, but Lex grabbed her arm.

"What’s the matter?" she asked, as the younger woman looked horrified.

"My grandparents – I really need to let them know I’m okay." She was almost in tears. "They’ll be worried sick…" Especially with this weather…We’re all a little paranoid about car accidents, now…

Martha halted her babbling with a wave of her hand. "Now hold on there, honey." She picked up the cordless phone that was stationed on Lex’s bedside table. "Here… last time I checked, the lines were just fine."

Amanda took the phone with a grateful smile. "Thanks – I’m sorry, I don’t usually fall apart this easily." She dialed her grandparent’s number, and after three rings it picked up.

"Hello?" An older woman’s voice, though strong, answered.

Amanda smiled into the phone. Just hearing her grandmother’s voice was soothing. "Gramma? It’s me, Amanda."

"Mandy, sweetheart, are you okay? We were getting a little worried. You’re usually home before now." The older woman asked, concern coloring her voice. In the background she could hear her grandfather’s deep voice. Anna Leigh covered the mouthpiece with her hand and spoke to him. "Yes, Jacob, it’s Mandy. I will, sweetheart." Then to Amanda, "Where are you, dear?"

The little blonde grimaced. What to tell her without lying, or causing her needless worry. "Well, it’s like this. I went out for an appointment today."

Anna Leigh interrupted her. "You went out in this awful weather?"

"Yes, Gramma. Rick gave me the appointment sheet…"

The older woman was livid. "That pompous ass! I’d fire him if I could find a replacement for his worthless hide," she hinted. "So where are you now? You’re not still out somewhere in the rain, are you dear?"

Amanda laughed. "Gramma! I’ve told you I’m not qualified to be an office manager just yet. And no, I’m not out in the rain. I’m…uh… kinda stuck at a friend’s house." She looked over at Lex and Martha with an apologetic grin.

"Where? Are you okay? You didn’t get the car stuck, did you?" her grandmother questioned.

Amanda blanched. She had been so worried about Lex, and so disoriented after bumping her head, she had forgotten completely about the car. "Oh… um… Well, yes, Gramma, the car is stuck," in a creek, she mused to herself.

Anna Leigh sighed in relief. "Well, dear, don’t you worry. Jacob will be the first to say that you’re much more important than some old car. Besides, we’ll just wait until it dries up some and have Randy down at the garage take care of it." She said calmly, hearing the upset in her granddaughter’s voice.

Tears began to fill Amanda’s eyes. It’ll probably take a lot of drying out, "I know, Gramma. I guess I’m just a little tired."

"That’s perfectly okay, sweetheart. When will you be home? Do we need to send a cab for you?" Since his leg cast had just been recently removed, Jacob still had not been cleared to drive. This frustrated him to no end and his wife refused to leave him at home alone, afraid that he would need something and try to drive anyway. And she certainly didn’t want to get him out in this weather. Anna Leigh could tell that the young woman wasn’t telling the entire truth; she sounded far too upset for the car just to be stuck in the mud.

"Well, Gramma, that’s kinda hard to say…I guess you could say I’m stranded." Her voice began to tremble.

"Stranded? What exactly do you mean by that? Are you sure you’re okay?" Anna Leigh was beginning to get upset as well.

"Uh, well…" Amanda looked frantic. She covered the mouthpiece with her hand and whispered to the women looking on. "’Help! I don’t know what to say, and I don’t want them to worry!" her hands began to shake.

Lex pulled the phone out of her nerveless fingers. "Hello? This is Lexington Walters." She paused, listening to the woman on the other end of the line. "Yes ma’am, that’s right, Mrs. Cauble. I’ve been on the Historical Committee with you."

Here Amanda’s jaw dropped. Lexington? Historical Committee? MY Grandmother? She knows MY Grandmother?

Lex smiled as she let Anna Leigh speak. "Yes ma’am. Amanda is here at the ranch with me, but I’m afraid she’ll be stuck here for a while…. Excuse me?" She chuckled, "No, nothing like that. Seems our old bridge was washed out and your lovely granddaughter got stuck on this side of the creek." She mischievously raised an eyebrow at Amanda.

She thinks I’m lovely? Oh, this is getting more bizarre by the moment. Amanda closed her eyes shyly when Lex smirked at her.

"No, ma’am, it’ll be just fine. It’s just Martha and me out here right now, so she’ll be good company. The boys are staying at our house in town, so if ya’ll need anything, just give them a call. You still have both numbers, right?" Lex saw the incredulous look cross Amanda’s face. "Yes ma’am, I will. Oh, I think Amanda has calmed down now… yes ma’am. Nice to talk to you again, too. Goodbye." She handed the phone over to a very curious Amanda, who gave her a look that said, You’d better tell me later about all of this!

"Hi, again, Gramma. I’m sorry I fell apart like that. Guess being stuck out in the rain today wore me out."

Anna Leigh laughed. "Don’t apologize – I’d probably be the same way." Now she became serious. "At least we won’t worry about you any… Lexington is one of the sweetest people I have ever met. She helped me get the old Taylor house declared a historical landmark last year. She’s a good person, no matter what others might say." Fearing that she’d said too much, Anna Leigh stopped. Rumors abounded about the Walters girl – some said she was unnatural; running the ranch when she had an older brother perfectly capable of it. And the fact that she never dated in high school and wasn’t married now spoke volumes as far as the town’s gossips were concerned. Not to mention that unfortunate wild streak she had a few years ago.

Amanda paused. What others might say? Well, if her grandmother said she was a good person, that’s all that mattered to her. "I know, Gramma… she practically took me in today." This with a smile towards the dark haired woman, who smiled back. "I’ll give you a call in the morning to see how you’re both doing, okay?"

"Why don’t you make it tomorrow evening? Your grandfather and I have a few errands to run tomorrow – he has his physical therapy, then we thought we’d take in an early movie." Anna Leigh didn’t want her granddaughter to think she had to be with them every minute of every day. The girl was so sweet, but she really needed to get out more and meet people her own age. Maybe this was the perfect opportunity. "And you try and get some rest… you sound tired, sweetie."

Amanda grinned. "I will. Don’t go out if it’s still raining too hard, please?" She paused. "I love you, Gramma. Please give Grandpa Jake a big hug and kiss from me."

Anna Leigh chuckled. She treats me more like a child than a capable woman. She’s too sweet. "I promise we’ll stay home if it’s too bad…we love you too, dearest." She hung up the phone and sighed. I hope you and Lexington get along well…she is so much like her mother – so lonely but refusing to admit it. She stood up and walked over to Jacob and embraced him tightly. "Let’s go to bed, love." Arm in arm, they retired upstairs.

Amanda turned off the phone and handed it back to Lex. "Thanks. I feel much better now." She gently slapped the older woman’s arm.

"Ow! What was that for?" Lex questioned as Martha looked on and laughed.

"You didn’t tell me you knew my grandmother!" Amanda accused indignantly.

Lex smiled. "I didn’t know either, until I recognized her voice on the telephone." She looked at the small blonde. "You didn’t tell me you were Jacob and Anna Leigh Cauble’s granddaughter."

Amanda laughed. "Okay, you got me there. It’s soo weird that you know my grandparents, and yet we’ve never met." she reached for the tray and grabbed a bowl of chili. "Mmm…" she mumbled with a mouthful," Dis is fantastic!"

Lex grabbed her own bowl and nodded. "Oh, yeah. Martha makes the best chili I’ve ever eaten." She looked over at the housekeeper who was bringing over a large, button down cotton nightshirt.

"Put that down and put this on – I don’t want you to catch cold." She grumbled, somewhat embarrassed by the high praise.

"Why? Isn’t quilt wearing fashionable this year?" Lex teased, putting down her bowl and allowing the older woman to help her dress. "Well, I must say this will be easier to eat in, that’s for sure." She picked up her bowl and began to eat again, ignoring the snort of laughter from the small woman on the bed beside her.

Martha shook her head. "Sometimes…" she sighed. "I’ll remember that when you say you have nothing to wear… I’ll just drag out your quilt." She turned to leave. "After you girls finish that tray, give me a buzz, and I’ll come back to clean it up. I’ve got some laundry to finish in the meantime." She walked out, still shaking her head and smiling.

Amanda looked over at Lex. "Do you think she would be too awfully mad if I took the tray downstairs? I don’t want her to be waiting on me hand and foot. I’m not an invalid." This said between mouthfuls of chili and still-warm bread. "Although if I stay here too long, I’ll weigh too much to get down the stairs."

Lex laughed, then stopped and wrapped one arm around her chest. "Ouch! Don’t make me laugh too much…" she smiled at the young girl. "Nah. She’ll fuss about it, but she never gets mad." She finished her bowl and sat it down. "I’ve been trying for years to stop her from fussing about me, and nothing has worked yet. I even offered her the chance to retire, and travel." A mock horrified look. "I thought she was gonna break every spoon she had on my backside." A shake of her head. "I’ve never heard so much yelling in my life. So now, I let her fuss. It seems to make her happy…"

Amanda finished up her bowl and placed it on the tray as well. "Let me take this downstairs before she makes another trip." She got up off the bed and reached for the tray. A loud snort of laughter stopped her. "What?" she asked, perplexed by the older woman’s mirth.

"Heh… sorry… " Lex was trying, without much success, to control her laughter. "It’s just you…you…" she wrapped both arms gingerly around her aching chest.

"Me, me…What?" Amanda was beginning to get a little angry.

"You look so cute in my old sweats!" she laid back on the bed, tears beginning to run from her eyes. "Ow!"

Amanda rolled her eyes. "Serves you right, making fun of me…I don’t look that bad, do I?" she sat the tray down and walked into the bathroom where a full-length mirror stood.

"Oh, jeez!" Amanda exclaimed, looking into the mirror. The clothes had to be at least three sizes too big. She grinned. Then she giggled. As she walked back out into the bedroom, Lex had finally calmed down, but when Amanda walked in giggling, she couldn’t help it.

"Bwahahahaha!! Ouch!" she laughed out loud, holding her chest in pain. "Ow!" she continued to laugh.

Amanda was laughing as well, and she staggered over to the bed and sat down next to Lex. "Hahahahaha… shhhhhh… you’re just gonna hurt yourself worse." She placed her hand on the older woman’s shoulder, trying to calm her down. "Shhhh…" she finally stopped laughing and Lex wore down as well.

Gasping for breath, Lex closed her eyes. "Damn…that hurt, but felt really good." She took a semi-deep breath and opened her eyes. "Thanks."

"For what?" The blonde asked in confusion.

"For being such a good sport and not smacking me when I started laughing… I wasn’t really making fun of you, you know."

Amanda smiled. "I know. And besides, I do look like a little kid in these things. But they’re really comfortable." She walked around to the other side of the bed and grabbed the tray. "Now I’m going to try and take this tray downstairs, again." She started to walk away, then turned back towards Lex. "You didn’t hurt yourself laughing, did you? Should I ask Martha to come up and check your bandage?"

Lex waved her hand. "Nah, just a little sore, really. I’m fine."

Amanda was skeptical, but kept quiet. "Okay, then I’ll run this downstairs. Why don’t you try and get some more rest? I’ll be back in a little bit." She picked up the tray and started out the door before Lex could say another word.


Amanda had made it to the bottom of the stairs when Martha’s voice boomed, "All right, young lady, just what do you think you’re doing?" The housekeeper had stepped out of a doorway at the end of the hall. She walked over to meet the young blonde, who had kept walking until she was at the kitchen door. Martha had a neat stack of clothes in one hand. "Well?"

Amanda motioned with the tray. "Umm…I thought I’d save you a trip upstairs?" she said, an innocent look on her face.

The big woman laughed and motioned her towards the sink. "Okay dear, I’ll let it slide this time." She placed the stack of clothes on a nearby stool, and took over removing the dishes from the tray. "How are you feeling, hon?" She asked as she put the dirty dishes in the sink and wiped down the tray with a dishcloth.

The younger woman sat down on the other stool, grabbing her now clean socks and putting them on her feet. "I’m feeling much better and my head is barely hurting. How did you find my socks?" She looked up and smiled. "Thank you for washing my things…you didn’t have to, but I do appreciate it."

Martha turned to face her, wiping her soapy hands on a dry dishtowel. "You’re welcome. I found your socks when I was cleaning up the mud room, and I was washing Lexie’s things anyway and thought you might need something clean to wear." She smiled at the small woman. "Although, you look like you’re mighty comfortable right now."

Amanda blushed. "Well actually, I am. These," she plucked at the shirt, "may be big, but I think I’m addicted to them already."

The housekeeper patted her on the leg. "Well, I don’t think Lexie will mind…she hasn’t worn them herself in years."

The blonde looked at her curiously. "She doesn’t seem like the type to keep things that aren’t useful. Why would she keep these?" She looked down at the Texas A&M logo on the shirt. "Did she go to school there or something?"

Martha looked as if she were weighing a heavy decision. Well, better she ask me than Lexie. She picked up the clothes on the spare stool and sat down opposite of Amanda. "No dear, she didn’t go to college. Oh sure, she certainly planned to, even got a full scholarship. But the spring before her high school graduation changed all of that." She sighed, pain from long ago still showing in her eyes.

"About two months before graduation, Lexie’s dad decided he wanted to go back on the rodeo circuit, so he had papers drawn up that gave her complete control of the ranch, and he took the next bus out of town." She shook her graying head. "And Lexie, being the responsible type that she is, did just that." The housekeeper released a heavy sigh. "So, she gave up her dream for college and ran this ranch full time. And never spoke one word of complaint."

Amanda was stunned. "She said she has a brother…why didn’t she let him run the ranch while she went to school?"

Martha lowered her voice, anger in her tone. "Now this is my opinion, mind you, but that man would have run this ranch right into the ground within a year… he’s a smart enough pencil pusher, but Hubert doesn’t know enough about ranching to fill a thimble." She cleared her throat. "Besides, Lexie is a natural. I don’t think there’s anything that girl can’t do." Martha took a deep cleansing breath, "Anyway, I wanted to tell you, ‘cause I think it still hurts Lexie that she wasn’t able to go to college."

Amanda had tears in her eyes. "Don’t worry, Martha. I would never intentionally hurt her." She means too much to me, and I don’t even know her that well…strange. "Do you know what she was planning on studying?"

The housekeeper smiled a sad little smile. "Oh yes…she told me right at the beginning of her senior year…she was so excited when she got the letter that told her of the scholarship." She paused, lost in her memories. "Oh, sorry dear. She wanted to be a veterinarian. That girl has always had a way with animals. I think that if she didn’t feel so responsible for all the hired hands and me, she would have sold this ranch years ago and gone onto school anyway." She shook her head again. "But no, Lexie will stick with this place until the end of time." She looked over at Amanda, who had a strange look on her face. "What’s the matter, dear?"

"That sorry…" Amanda trailed off, anger beginning to flair in her bright green eyes. "He probably knew she’d never sell, and just wanted me to make a fool out of myself."

Martha grasped the angry woman’s hand. "Honey, what’s the matter?" concern etched her weathered features.

Amanda shook her head and smiled apologetically. "I’m sorry, Martha. I just realized that someone was trying to make me look like an idiot, and probably trying to hurt Lex as well." Rick probably knew all of this, and realized how it would make Lex feel to talk about selling the ranch. "You see, I work for my grandmother’s real estate agency."

Martha placed a hand over her mouth in dismay. "Oh, no…"

Amanda nodded. "Oh, yes. The manager, Rick, gave me an appointment sheet and a map to find my way out here earlier today –"

The shocked housekeeper interrupted her. "Rick? That wouldn’t be Ricky Thompson, would it?" Small towns had their bad points too…everybody knew everyone else, and there were few secrets.

Amanda exhaled. "Yeah…he’s had it out for me ever since I turned him down for a date." She shivered. "I can’t help it, the man makes my skin crawl!" she stopped, thinking. "Why? Do you know him too?" Probably…

Martha laughed. "I guess you could say that you and Lexie have something in common with him. When they were in high school together, Rick was a senior when Lexie was a sophomore…she turned him down for a date. Well, he wouldn’t take no for an answer, so she basically flattened him in the main hall." She smiled. "I probably would have never known anything about it, but she got suspended from school for three days – her father just laughed." She paused, trying to gather her thoughts. "I was pretty upset at first, until the school counselor called me and explained. They had to suspend her for fighting, since that was the rule, but they made sure that she didn’t miss anything important in class. I think they appreciated that someone had finally stood up to Ricky...he was such a bully in those days." She closed her eyes for a moment. "Poor Lexie…he’s always looked for an excuse to get back at her. Without being caught, anyway."

Amanda nodded. "That would explain why he sent me out here today. I was supposed to meet with ‘L. Walters’ to discuss putting the ranch up for sale – he said that they were tired of ranching." She clenched her fists. "That rat…I ought to…"

Martha stood up next to the angry young woman. "Now, now dear." She rubbed her hand lightly on the girl’s back. "Everything turned out okay, didn’t it?" Other than the poor child nearly dying in a flooded creek.

Amanda took a deep steadying breath. "You’re right. I would have probably never met you or Lex otherwise, so maybe I should call him up and thank him." She smiled an almost evil grin. "Wouldn’t that just twist his shorts?"

The housekeeper hugged her. "Oh, it certainly would! I’d love to see his face!" She sobered. "Unfortunately, we’re all three stuck here until the weather clears up enough to start rebuilding that bridge, or the creek goes down enough to walk across."

The young woman returned Martha’s embrace. "Well, at least we’re dry and safe." She stood up and took the folded clothes. "I’ll just go put these away for now." She smirked. "I’m pretty comfortable in my present outfit." She started towards the doorway. "But please, let me know if there is anything I can do to help around here. I feel bad that you’re doing all the work."

Martha walked back over to the sink. "If you can keep Lexie occupied without her driving me crazy, I’ll consider it a fair trade." She put her hands back in the water, then turned and looked over her shoulder. "Try to keep her still for as long as possible – I’d really like those ribs to get at least a little time to mend properly."

Amanda sighed, and rolled her mist-green eyes. "I’ll try. But she seems like the type that doesn’t like to stay still."

The housekeeper laughed. "Mercy! Have you got her number! Now shoo! Go get some rest yourself, okay?"

The blonde nodded. "I will. See you later," and headed for the staircase.


Amanda tiptoed towards the bedroom in case Lex was still sleeping. She decided to check on the injured woman and then ask Martha if there was a guestroom or couch she could use. She peeked around the door and looked towards the empty bed. Empty bed?!? She stepped the rest of the way inside. Now where could she be?

The bathroom door opened, and a slightly damp Lex walked slowly into the bedroom.

"What do you think you are doing?" Amanda asked, striding over to the tall woman. Lex had a towel around her neck, and was wearing boxer shorts with a faded blue nightshirt; similar to the one she had been wearing earlier.

"Huh?" She eased her way over to one of the chairs in front of the fire and sat down gingerly. "Oh…well, I felt kinda grimy after that swim in the creek and the mud bath, so I thought I’d take a real bath." Seeing the spark in Amanda’s vibrant green eyes, she hurried to explain. "Don’t worry – I was real careful…didn’t even get my bandage wet." Whoa, those eyes sure sparkle when she’s angry. Lex blinked, Wait a minute! Don’t you be going there, Lex ol’ girl.

Amanda sat in the chair opposite of Lex. "I’m sorry…but Martha asked me to keep an eye on you, and I didn’t want anything to happen on ‘my watch’." She smiled. "You do look a lot better than you did." Oh, yeah…does she! Whoa, where did that thought come from?

Lex leaned back in the chair with a quiet sigh. "Yeah, amazing what warm water and soap can do for a person." She looked at the clock on the mantle. "It’s getting kinda late. And you’re looking a little tired yourself." She stood up slowly and took a deep breath. "C’mon. Let’s go get you tucked in." She smiled and offered her hand to the young blonde, who blushed at her choice of words.

Stop that Amanda – she doesn’t mean anything by it! She didn’t take Lex’s hand, but she stood up next to her and smiled. "Okay, point me to the couch." Amanda followed the tall woman out of the bedroom and to the room across the hallway.

Lex smiled and flipped the light switch. "Here’s the guestroom. We just finished remodeling it, so you’re our first…" she smirked, "guest."

Amanda absently walked behind her into the room with awe. Almost matching Lex’s room in size, about the only thing missing was the fireplace. A large brass bed sat against one wall. The side walls had two large picture windows with colorful windowseats, the pillows matching the brightly flowered bedspread. One corner had a sitting area complete with a small bookshelf covered with books.

Lex laughed at Amanda’s expression. "What? It’s not that bad, is it?"

The younger woman slapped her on the arm. "Not that bad? Are you kidding? It’s incredible!" she shook her head. "Did you do the decorating?"

This got another laugh from the tall woman. "Oh yeah, right. Not." She led Amanda to a door on the other side of the bed. "You’ve seen my room. This was all Martha’s doing." She opened the door to a more modest bathroom, but one with the same type of shower as hers had. "There should be everything you might need here…Martha’s always real thorough."

Amanda turned around and looked up into Lex’s clear blue eyes. "Thank you… I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say it enough. You saved my life, took me into your home, and have taken care of me. I don’t know how I’ll ever repay you." She grasped Lex’s hands and squeezed them gently.

Lex looked down and got lost in that verdant gaze. "You don’t owe me anything. I’m just glad I was there." She bent down and placed a gentle kiss on the young woman’s forehead. "Now try to get some sleep. I’ll see you in the morning." She turned and walked out of the room, closing the door quietly behind her.

Amanda opened her eyes. Wow! She drew a shaky hand through her hair. And I’m supposed to be able to sleep after that? She sighed, and then walked into the bathroom. She brushed her teeth with the new toothbrush found in the cabinet, then came back into the bedroom. Walking over to the door, Amanda opened it and looked across the hall. Light’s already out. Guess one of us will get some sleep tonight. She walked back over to the bed and crawled under the clean sheets. Moments later, Amanda fell deeply asleep.


It was dark and very cold. She could hear a roaring sound coming nearer, but for some reason her legs would not move. Closer and closer, now she could feel something holding her down...Noooo!!! Water was beginning to lap at her feet, the roaring getting louder and louder. Help!! Can’t break free!! The strap holding her in place seemed to get tighter…the water now up over her thighs and still rising. Please help me!! The cold, dirty water up to her chin now… the band tightening around her chest…Can’t breathe….NOOOOO!!!

Amanda jerked upright, screaming, and found herself wrapped in strong arms. "Shhh…you’re okay." A low voice murmured in her ear. Warm hands rubbed her back soothingly.

"Wha…?" She blinked her eyes open, startled to see Lex sitting on her bed.

"S’okay… you were crying out." The older woman pulled back. "Must have been one doozy of a nightmare." Her dark hair was in disarray, and she had a gentle smile on her lips.

Amanda took a shaky breath. "S..s…sorry." Quiet tears began to fall from her misty-green eyes. "It was dark…I couldn’t get loose…the water…" she began to sob.

"Hey, it’s alright." Lex gathered her back in her arms, and began to rock her slowly. "Shhh… you’re safe now."

The young woman clung to Lex as if she were a lifeline, strangled sobs now racking her body. The tall woman was beginning to feel the pain in her ribs, but refused to let the distraught woman go. This feels so right… She began to softly hum, still gently rocking Amanda.

Shortly, Amanda’s sobs quieted. She was halfway asleep, enjoying the gentle touch of the older woman. Suddenly she realized how tightly she was attached, and slowly loosened her stranglehold. "Thanks." She sniffed, taking a deep breath. "I…I don’t know what came over me. I haven’t had a nightmare since I was a little kid." She pulled away from Lex, feeling an extreme sense of loss from the act. To compensate, she grasped both of the dark woman’s hands and held them loosely.

Blue eyes locked with hers, almost startling in their intensity. "You had a pretty rough experience today – any normal person would have nightmares. Add to that the knot on your head, you’re sleeping in a strange bed – it can’t be easy for you." She gently squeezed the small hands that she held in her own.

Amanda managed a smile at that. "Hearing it put that way, I don’t feel so bad now." Taking comfort in the strength of the callused hands that she held. "I’m sorry that I woke you." She could see a flicker of pain in those incredible eyes. "Are you okay?"

Lex smiled. "Fine…are you doing better now?" She couldn’t seem to look away from those trusting eyes. I could look at her forever. She blinked. Huh?

Amanda noticed the glazed look to the older woman’s face. "Hey." Blue focused back on her. "Let me help you back to bed." She stood up and pulled Lex up with her. "Besides," she touched the Band-Aid on her temple, "I could use a couple more aspirin." On impulse, she pulled the tall woman into a soft hug. "Thank you, again. You seem to always be pulling me out of scary places."

Lex returned the hug. Oh, I could get addicted to this real easy. She pulled out of the embrace slowly. "Glad I could be of service, ma’am." She tipped an imaginary hat and winked.

The small blonde laughed. "You nut." She wrapped an arm around Lex’s waist and started towards the door. "Let’s get you tucked in…"

They maneuvered their way through the doorway and across the hall easily. Amanda led her companion to the bed and placed her hands on the broad shoulders. "Down you go." She gently pushed and the tall woman sat back on the bed.

"This isn’t really necessary, you know." But even as she said this, Lex allowed Amanda to lift her legs and then cover her body with the sheet and comforter. "You gonna tell me a story, too?" a grin crept across her face.

Amanda slapped her arm. "Only if you want me to." She sat down on the edge of the bed next to Lex. "Any requests?"

Several requests ran through the dark-haired woman’s mind, none of which could be voiced without embarrassing her ‘nurse’. She cleared her throat. "Yeah…go get your aspirin."

Amanda laughed then stood up. "Good idea." She patted a nearby leg. "Be right back." She stepped into the bathroom and Lex could hear the sound of water filling a glass. A short pause, then more water running. Amanda stepped out of the bathroom with a glass of water in one hand. "I’ve had mine," she opened the other hand and gave Lex two white tablets, "and here’s yours."

Lex raised an eyebrow, but took the offering without complaint. She patted the bed on the other side of her. "If you’re gonna tell me a story, might as well get comfortable." She had a feeling the younger woman was still shaky from her nightmare, and she was determined to help her.

Amanda blushed, but walked around and crawled up on to the other side of the bed. She rolled over onto her side, and propped her head up on an upraised hand. "Okay, what story do you want me to tell?"

Lex turned her head and looked at the amused face across from her. "Oh, I dunno…" she appeared to be thinking hard. "How about a happy childhood memory? You know, something to take your mind off of what happened today?"

The blonde smiled, touched that her new friend was trying to help her get over her bad dreams. She turned back over onto her back. "I can do that. Close your eyes, now… what good’s a bedtime story if your eyes aren’t closed?"

The other woman chuckled, then reached up and turned off the bedside light. "Okay, I’m ready." She closed her eyes and smiled.

Amanda took a deep breath, then slowly released it.

The summer before Amanda turned sixteen was one of the best she could ever remember. It started like every other summer - with her parents traveling to Europe, her older sister Jeannie going on a church camp retreat, and she went to Somerville to stay with her father’s parents. She was always given the choice of traveling with her parents or even going to camp, but she really enjoyed the summers spent with Jacob and Anna Leigh.

The day after she arrived, the three of them packed up a picnic lunch and loaded into Jacob’s suburban. Although Amanda and Anna Leigh begged, he good-naturedly refused to give out their destination. Curiosity was about to kill both of them, especially since they were pulling a large flatbed trailer behind the suburban. Two hours later, they pulled off of the main road and ten minutes after that they pulled up to a rusty looking gate.

"Peanut, would you mind getting out and opening the gate, please?" Jacob smiled at his granddaughter.

Amanda quickly jumped from the vehicle to do his bidding. "Sure thing, Grandpa!"

She swung the gate open, and he motioned for her to climb back into the vehicle.

"C’mon! We’ll close it up when we leave."

She ran back to the truck and hopped in. Buckling up, "Ready to go, captain!" she saluted.

Jacob laughed and drove on through the gate. The road wove through a small thicket of trees, which soon opened up to an old abandoned farmhouse.

Weeds and wild bushes had grown up around the old house, which looked as if it had been deserted for ages. Two and a half story, most of the shutters were lying on the ground and all the windows had been boarded up some time ago. Amanda loved it.

"Oooh, Grandpa Jake…whose house is this?" she cried, face pressed against her window for a better view.

Anna Leigh spoke up. "Yes, darling. Please. Why are we here?" She reached over and clasped his hand.

Jacob pulled his wife’s delicate hand to his lips, and kissed it softly. "Soon, my love." He waggled his eyebrows at her teasingly.

She smiled and returned his look with one of her own, filled with love. "Okay, you rascal. You know I could never resist that look." She leaned over and kissed him on the lips. "But you’d better spill the beans soon!"

He grinned and turned to Amanda in the back seat. "Well, whatta ya say, Peanut? Want to go exploring?"

The young girl giggled with excitement. "Can we really, Grandpa?" she reached for the door handle. "Do you think the owners would mind?" she was out of the truck before he could answer.

Jacob got out of the truck and walked over to the passenger’s side, opening the door for his wife. He extended a hand to the gentle woman, and lovingly pulled her from the truck. "I don’t know. Do you want to ask them?" He held his wife’s hand on the left, and extended his right hand to his granddaughter, who immediately grasped it tight.

Amanda looked up at him seriously. "I think we should, don’t you, Gramma?" She looked over at Anna Leigh who smiled.

Her gray-streaked auburn hair shined in the summer sunshine. Jacob looked at his wife, and felt a lump in his throat. Medium height and shining pale green eyes; she looked the same as when he married her forty years ago. And I’ve never loved her more. Then he turned his mind back to the conversation.

"That would be the responsible thing to do, Mandy." Anna Leigh looked at Jacob, who was looking at her with undisguised love written all over his strong face. The years had been good to her husband. His tall frame was still lean, and his wavy hair was only lightly sprinkled with gray. His hands, those of a carpenter, were rough with calluses and strong, but oh so gentle with her. And his smile can still melt my heart.

Jacob looked over at Amanda, and noticed how much she resembled her grandmother. She’s gonna break some hearts soon. He sighed to himself. "Okay, then. Why don’t you ask permission?"

Amanda studied him with a confused frown. "Sure, Grandpa. Where’s the owner?"

Jacob stopped walking and turned to Amanda, releasing Anna Leigh’s hand. He bowed deeply to the young girl. "At your service, Milady."

Amanda giggled, and his wife gasped. "You own this, Jacob?" Anna Leigh shook her head. "Since when?"

Jacob captured her hand again and pulled them both towards the dilapidated house. "Oh, ‘bout a month ago. Do you remember Alistair Tucker?" he asked as they walked on.

Anna Leigh thought for a moment. "Wasn’t he the gentleman you made those cabinets and matching desk for years ago? I remember that he never could stop raving about your work – didn’t he pass away recently?"

Her husband nodded. "Yes, he did. Anyway, when I made those cabinets, he didn’t have enough money for them at the time, but he needed them for his business. I told him not to worry about it, he could pay when he was able."

Anna Leigh stopped him. "But he paid that off some time ago, didn’t he?"

Jacob squeezed her hand. "Yes, beloved, he did. But since he had no surviving family, his lawyer said he wanted to leave everything to someone he knew, rather than having it go to the state. So," he led them up the steps to the old porch, " You’re looking at the proud owner of ‘Tucker Estates’."

Amanda, who had been silently absorbing these facts, finally spoke up. "That is so cool, Grandpa!" She looked around the porch as Jacob released his grip on both their hands and pulled a key out of his pocket. "I bet this place was really beautiful at one time," she said, her imagination restoring the old house to its former glory.

"I’m sure it was, Peanut." He agreed, unlocking the door and opening it wide. Jacob leaned inside the door and pulled out three battery-operated lanterns. "Well, well… now how do you suppose these got here?" He turned all three lanterns on and gave both Anna Leigh and Amanda one. "Can’t explore very well in the dark now, can we?" he laughed at the twin looks of surprise on his companion’s faces.

"You are such a sneak, Jacob Wilson Cauble!" Anna Leigh playfully slapped his arm.

Amanda poked his other arm. "I gotta agree with Gramma on this one," she laughed. "Do you think it’s safe to look around upstairs?" she asked him.

"Sure, Peanut. I’ve already walked through this whole house, and there’s nothing here that could hurt you. Have fun!" he ruffled her hair. She took off up the stairs, laughing.

After the three of them had explored the old house top to bottom, Anna Leigh grabbed the picnic basket and a large blanket out of the suburban, and they all sat under a huge oak tree in the back yard.

Amanda finished with her lunch was lying on her stomach, her hands holding up her head and her legs kicking gently back and forth. She was absently gazing off into the distance when something caught her eye. "Hey, Grandpa Jake, what’s that building over there?"

Jacob looked in the direction her finger was pointing. "I’m not sure, Peanut…looks like some sort of barn."

The young girl jumped up excitedly. "You mean you haven’t ‘explored’ it yet?"

Her grandfather laughed, and stood up. "Nope…it’s undiscovered territory." He offered a hand to his still seated wife. "Care to join us on our search of the uncharted waters, Milady?"

Anna Leigh graciously accepted his offer with a curtsy. "But of course, Milord. Lead on, Lady Amanda!" They all three laughed and walked towards the structure, hands linked.

The key that unlocked the house also worked for the barn, so Jacob had no problem opening the huge double doors. Amanda stood behind him, her hands resting softly on his back. "What’s the matter, Peanut? Are you scared?" he chuckled.

She patted his back. "Hey, I may be adventurous, but I’m not stupid!" she proclaimed, looking over at her grandmother for support.

The gentle beauty’s smile widened. "That’s telling him, Mandy!"

"Great! Now I’m outnumbered." Her husband grumbled good-naturedly. He pulled open the heavy doors slowly. The inside consisted of one massive room with a dirt floor – shelves covered in junk lined the three walls, and more paraphernalia hung from the ceiling. In the center of the room was a large object covered with a dusty tarp. The three ‘adventurers’ crept in slowly, each staring at the huge lump.

Amanda tiptoed up to the tarp as if it were a large creature merely sleeping,

that she was afraid to disturb. As she was reaching over to lift the edge of the tarp and peek under it, Jacob snuck up behind her and poked her in the ribs.

"Watch out!!" he yelled, as she jumped backwards and screamed.

"Aaaaaaahhh!!!!" She nearly leapt into his arms, as he and Anna Leigh nearly collapsed with laughter. "Ooooh, I’m gonna get you for that!" Amanda growled, then began laughing herself.

"I’m sorry, Peanut…you just looked so intense while you were sneaking up on that thing." Jacob had to wipe the tears from his eyes.

"That really wasn’t nice, Jacob," Anna Leigh chastised, "But it was quite funny!" she was holding her stomach from laughing so hard.

He wrapped Amanda up in a big hug. "C’mon, sweetheart, let’s unwrap this ‘monster’."

His granddaughter returned his hug, and then moved to the other side, grabbing the front corner of the tarp. They slowly pulled the covering back, and once the dust settled, the ‘beast’ was unveiled.

Jacob whistled. It was a 1967 Mustang hard top, in a partial state of restoration. The body looked to be free of rust and dents, and he could see where someone had begun sanding and smoothing the surface to paint. It was sitting up on blocks, and the tires were placed on top of the car to keep them from rotting.

Amanda looked through the driver’s window. "Hey, Grandpa Jake…there’s no seats in here!" she carefully opened the door, halfway afraid it would fall off in her hands. "Look! The key is still in the ignition!"

Jacob opened the passenger door so he and Anna Leigh could look inside. "Well…" he smiled at the excited face of his granddaughter, "I was going to use the trailer to haul some of the old furniture to my shop and refurbish it." He gently patted the top of the car. "But why don’t we put the tires on this baby and cart her home? Maybe we could work on her together this summer. What do you say, Peanut?"

Amanda rushed around the car and nearly tackled him with her hug. "Do you mean it, Grandpa? Could we work on it together?"

He ruffled her hair and laughed. "Of course, sweetheart. I think it would be a fun project for the next couple of summers." He turned to his wife. "Well? You get a vote in this too… we’d be using your garage!" he winked at her.

Amanda looked at her with soulful eyes. "Can we, Gramma? Use your garage, I mean? I promise to keep it clean, honest!" she chewed on her bottom lip, waiting for the verdict.

Anna Leigh appeared to give the matter great thought. "Hmmm…does this mean you don’t want to help me at my office this summer, Mandy?" She couldn’t help it. She had to tease the child a little bit.

Amanda cocked her head thoughtfully. "No, not at all. I could still help you during the week, and then maybe Grandpa and I could work on the car on the weekend?" she peered hopefully at her grandfather.

Both adults burst out laughing. "Oh, honey…" Anna Leigh gasped, "You are so precious! Of course we’ll take the car home!" She barely got the words out when Jacob picked her up and spun her around the room. "Jacob! Stop that this instant! You’re going to hurt yourself!" But she was laughing all the while.

Amanda looked on with a huge smile. Her grandparents were the greatest. They were always acting like this… And it made her heart ache with sadness, that her own parents didn’t have this kind of love. Oh, they cared for each other, in a way; they just weren’t as demonstrative as the wonderful couple in front of her. This was the definition of love. Maybe someday I’ll find someone who’ll make me feel like that….I hope….

Amanda looked over at Lex, who had just drifted off to sleep at the end of her story. Yeah, maybe I will find that person…. Then she closed her own eyes and dreamed of her grandparents, dusty old cars, and cool summer days.


Lex woke up at her usual time. Just once, I wish my internal alarm would go on snooze. It was still dark outside, the thunderstorm of last night had settled down to a more peaceful rain this morning. She cautiously took a deep breath, pleased when she only felt an ache, and not the sharp stabbing pains of last night. Turning her head, Lex saw Amanda still peacefully asleep beside her. Glad she got over the nightmares and was able to get a good nights sleep. She took the opportunity to study this sweet young woman. Amanda’s face was even more youthful in sleep – She barely looks old enough to drive. She smiled. Once again the small blonde had reached over during the night and grasped Lex’s arm. She gently pried the hand loose, and then got out of bed. Lex padded quietly into the bathroom and shut the door. Might as well let her sleep as long as possible. She washed her face and brushed her teeth, then snuck downstairs.

Martha was already up as well, puttering around the large kitchen.

Lex waited until she was directly behind the older woman. "Morning, Martha."

"Blast it Lexie!" she whirled around, one hand covering her heart. "You’re gonna be the death of me one of these days!" But she was smiling, and she raised her hand and cupped the cheek of the tall woman. "How are you feeling this morning, sweetheart?" Truth be known, she had been a little worried last night. The way Lex had looked, she was half-afraid of internal bleeding. But the young rancher looked fine this morning. In fact, she looks better than she has in a long time, she mused.

Lex covered the hand on her face with one of her own. The older woman was so dear to her. I wonder if she realizes that? Maybe I should tell her…

Martha Rollins had been the only maternal figure that Lex could really remember. She did have a brief memory of a beautiful dark haired woman sitting at the piano in the drawing room, singing to her as she sat next to her on the piano bench. But this woman… this woman raised her. Cleaned her scraped knees, spanked her with a wooden spoon when she misbehaved, and listened to her hopes and dreams as a kid growing up.

She remembered when she was about eight or nine, and the housekeeper had just held her as she cried over the cruel teasing that she had gotten in school. Martha had gently wiped the tears away when Lex innocently asked, "Why don’t I have a momma like the other kids? Am I too bad?"

The plump woman nearly cried herself. "Oh no, sweet child, you had nothing to do with your dear momma passing on. God just needed her, that’s all."

Those big blue eyes looked into hers and asked, "Why can’t you be my momma?"

Martha hugged the child tight. "Baby, I wish I was." She kissed the child on her dark head. "I love you as if you were my own, and I always will…that’s a promise!"

This seemed to make the girl happy, and she leaned up and kissed an ample cheek. "I love you too, Martha." Then she climbed off the teary housekeeper’s lap and scampered back outside to play.

Lex snaked her long arms around the shocked housekeeper. "You know, Martha, I don’t think I’ve told you lately that I love you…" she felt the older woman take a deep breath, and then return the hug. "Thanks for being here for me. I do love you, you know." She leaned down and kissed the graying head. Lex pulled back, seeing tears springing up in Martha’s deep brown eyes. "So… is that fresh coffee I smell?"

The older woman patted her gently on the stomach. "Of course, help yourself sweetie." And then bustled over to the stove to begin breakfast.

Amanda woke a short time later, feeling completely rested. Oh wow…I can’t believe I fell asleep in here last night. I hope Lex didn’t mind. She looked around the room, and the older woman was conspicuously absent. Now where has she wandered off to? Then the aroma of coffee and sausage assailed her senses. Ah-ha! I think I know where she might be! She climbed out of bed and wandered across the hall, going straight to the bathroom to wash her face, brush her teeth, and comb her hair.

Feeling more human now, Amanda jogged down the staircase, following the enticing smells of breakfast. In the kitchen, Lex was sitting at a small round table, talking with Martha who was busy at the stove. "Good morning!" Amanda warbled, walking over to the counter where the coffeepot sat.

Martha turned around and smiled. "Good morning to you, dear. Cups are in the cabinet above the coffeepot." Correctly guessing the young blonde’s quest. "Are you ready for breakfast? Hope you like scrambled eggs, sausage, biscuits and gravy." She smiled at the girl’s surprised look. "I was just about to send Lexie up to fetch you." She turned around and resumed her cooking.

Amanda filled her cup and leaned over it with a sigh. "Mmmm… that smells great. Is there anything I can do to help?"

Lex raised an eyebrow, waiting for the older woman to attack. Uh-oh…should have warned her about how territorial Martha is in her kitchen.

But to her complete amazement, the housekeeper smiled. "Well, you can get the plates and silverware that are on the counter and take them to the table for me, if you want." She turned back towards the stove, purposely ignoring the sputtering noises coming from the table.

"Whaaat??? You never let me help you!" Lex cried, her tone indignant.

Amanda carried the requested items to the table, casually setting three places. "Maybe you just never asked the right way, " she teased, an innocent look on her face.

Martha laughed, and started placing containers of food on the table. "Now calm down, Lexie…you’ve got enough to do around here without helping me out in the kitchen." A mischievous grin split her face. "Besides, don’t you remember what happened the last time you tried to cook?" Lex blushed, and looked down silently at the plate in front of her.

Amanda looked on, charmed by this new facet to a woman she was quickly becoming attached to. "Oh?"

Lex mumbled something, but didn’t look up.

Martha patted her shoulder, then sat down in the chair next to her. "Oh my… that had to be what? Twelve or thirteen years ago?" she looked at the rancher for confirmation.

Lex nodded, wanting to be anywhere except in this kitchen, at this time.

Amanda looked at Martha with a curious gaze. "Oh please…share." She smiled at Lex, who rolled her eyes in disbelief.

They all began filling their plates as Martha began her story. "I guess little Lexie was fifteen or sixteen, then." Lex nodded in resigned agreement. "She wanted to do something special for me…I believe it was Mother’s Day, wasn’t it honey?"

Lex took a deep breath and sighed. "Yeah…"

Martha smiled, and continued. "Why she decided on cooking, when she hated working in the kitchen, was beyond me…"

The object of the story quietly interrupted. "I just thought since you had to cook for everyone else all the time, someone should cook for you for a change."

The housekeeper nodded. "Ah, so that’s it… anyway, she must have spent half the night in here, trying to make pancakes." Here, she chuckled. "The little imp couldn’t find a recipe, so she used a cake recipe instead."

Amanda covered her mouth to keep from laughing, her eyes twinkling. "Oh, no…"

Martha nodded, smiling. "Oh yes… she must have used ten different pans, and flour was everywhere."

Here Lex tried to help. "They never said how hard it was to mix all those different things together…" she shrugged. "I thought you had to use an egg per pancake."

Martha laughed out loud. "By the time I got up to fix breakfast, Hurricane Lexie had completely demolished the kitchen. I opened the door and sitting on the countertop trying to wipe dough off of the cabinets, was this powdered apparition… she looked so sad…"

"I was trying to get the mess cleaned up before you got up…" Lex smiled, remembering. "But it took me most of the morning – I just knew Dad was gonna whip me for sure over that mess." She looked to Martha for confirmation. "You talked him out of it, didn’t you?"

Martha smiled fondly, her eyes misty. "Yes, I did. Rawson never did understand why you did it…It was just about the nicest thing anyone ever did for me."

A pained look crossed the rancher’s face. Oh yeah, he did. She remembered the conversation with her father the week before Mother’s Day.

"I want to do something special for Martha for Mother’s Day, Dad." An eager Lex told her father as they were cleaning out stalls.

"What?" he dropped the shovel he was using and walked over to her. "Why?"

"Because I want to." She answered, confused. "What’s wrong with that?"

He grabbed her shoulders. "She’s not your mother!" he yelled, getting right up in her face.

"She is as far as I’m concerned." The defiant teenager growled back.

Rawson looked at his daughter closely. He himself was not a tall man, about five foot nine, and his girl was already taller than he was. ‘Must have gotten that from Victoria’s side of the family.’ The tall, dark good looks and magnetic blue eyes all came from Victoria. ‘Pity she got my temperament.’ "She’s the damn housekeeper!" he shook her.

Lex angrily brushed off his hands. "Don’t talk about her that way!"

He pulled his arm back and slapped her face, hard. "Don’t take that tone with me, girl."

They both froze. Rawson had never raised a hand to his daughter. Sure, when she was younger, a spanking once in a blue moon, but he never struck any of his children in anger.

She held her hand on her cheek, a bruise already forming. "Don’t you ever do that again." She whispered, her cobalt eyes flashing. "And," she stood in his face, "Never speak about Martha that way again, or so help me…" she paused, her entire body trembling, "I will make you regret it!" she spun around and walked out of the barn.

After that, Rawson avoided his daughter, although she never knew if it was out of shame for his actions, or out of fear of what he headstrong daughter may do. All she knew was a little over a year later; Rawson Walters left the Rocking W, and never looked back.

Lex felt a warm hand on her wrist. "Hey…what’s wrong?" Amanda could see a flash of pain in those azure eyes, which blinked, and it was gone.

"Huh?" Snap out of it…that’s old history… "Sorry…guess I’m just not completely awake yet." She gave the young woman a small smile.

Amanda didn’t believe her, but let it go. "Hmmm…maybe you should go back to bed, then."

Lex shook her head and stood up. "Can’t. Gotta go down to the barn and feed the horses, take some hay to the cattle in the far field, then do a quick fence check." She carried her plate over to the sink, daring Martha to say something.

Martha let her carry her plate to the sink, knowing the woman was trying to get a rise out of her. Brat! I should take my spoon to her… Then she noticed Amanda’s face. Hmmm… or maybe I’ll just let this little one take care of her. Heh.

"Whaat?" The small blonde leapt out of her chair. "You should be resting, not out gallivanting around in the rain!" She picked up her plate and deposited it in the sink.

Lex looked at her with a fond smile. "I’m fine this morning. Besides, I’m the only person here that can do all that. You don’t want the stock to go hungry, do you?"

Amanda chewed on her lower lip. "Well…" then she shook her head. "Of course not. But I’ll go with you to help…no arguments, okay?"

The tall woman laughed. "Okay…but I think we’d both better get dressed first. It’s kinda cool out this morning." She looked Amanda over critically. "I think I can find some clothes to fit you, if you don’t mind wearing boys clothes."

"Hey, if they’re warm, I don’t care." The younger woman put her hands on her hips. "Just as long as you don’t laugh at me anymore…I don’t think your ribs could handle it!"

Lex shook her head. "Nah, I won’t laugh…think I was just overtired last night." She headed towards the doorway and stopped. "You coming?"

Amanda looked over at Martha, who was still seated at the table. "Thanks for breakfast. Are you sure I can’t help with the dishes, or something?"

The older woman made a shooing motion with her hands. "No, get out of here. Try to make Lexie behave herself this morning. I’ve got this all under control."

Once upstairs, Lex steered Amanda to a door down at the end of the hall. She paused, took a deep breath, and then opened the door. Flipping on the lightswitch, she moved into the room, Amanda right behind her.

It looked like a young boy’s room. There was a twin bed against one wall, a bookcase with model cars and airplanes decorating it and a small desk with a reading lamp sitting on top. The walls were adorned with posters of airplanes and horses, and a ragged baseball cap sat silently on a hook by the bed. Amanda looked at Lex. She was staring at the cap, a far away look in her eyes. Then she shook her head slightly, and walked over to the closet door. Pulling out some faded jeans and a flannel shirt, she turned to Amanda and smiled slightly.

"These should fit you just fine. You’re about the same size." She took a deep breath. "Don’t think I can find you any shoes, though…You’ll probably have to make due with yours."

Amanda ached at the pain lurking in those blue eyes. "These will be fine. Are you sure it’s okay? My wearing these?" she had to stop herself from reaching out and giving the tall woman a hug. She looks so sad…I wonder why? "Whose clothes are these?"

Lex grabbed a couple more pairs of jeans out of the closet, along with several shirts. She walked over to a small dresser and opened the top drawer. Pulling out several pairs of socks, she closed the drawer and walked over to the bed and sat down heavily. "This was my younger brother Louis’ room." She took in a shaky breath. "He…he died nine years ago."

Amanda rushed over to the bed and sat down next to Lex, gently grasping her hand. "I’m sorry…"

The older woman shook her head. "Martha still cleans his room…I know I should pack this stuff up, but…" she closed her eyes. "I’ve completely remodeled the entire second floor of this house, but I can’t bring myself to destroy…" her voice faded to a whisper, "the only thing I have left of Lou…" silent tears tracked down her face.

They both sat quietly for a few minutes, Amanda just lending her silent support to Lex, who wiped at her face with her hand. "Sorry…must still be tired from yesterday. I don’t normally…"

Amanda squeezed her hand, placing her other arm around Lex and giving her a small hug. "Don’t apologize…are you sure you want me to wear these clothes? Martha has cleaned my shirt and jeans…"

Lex shook her head. "No. You’d be more comfortable in these…Besides, I think he would have loved to have shared with you." She stood up, pulling Amanda up with their still-linked hands. "C’mon… I’m gonna show you how to run a ranch."

Chapter 3

"So…" Amanda asked, trying to keep up with Lex’s long legs, "Just how big is your ranch, anyway?" She adjusted the hood on the raincoat she was wearing, another ‘hand-me down’, this time from Lex.

The rancher adjusted the black hat on her head. "It’s a little over a thousand acres. I’ve been slowly building it up over the past few years." She turned to talk to the other woman, then stopped when she realized Amanda was quite a few steps behind, puffing to catch up. "Why didn’t you ask me to slow down?" She asked, as the younger woman finally caught up to her.

The little blonde smiled sheepishly. "I didn’t want to bother you. I just kinda forced myself on you this morning." She tried to look down at her shoes, but a strong hand gently tilted her chin up.

"You are not a bother, and with my ribs like this, will most definitely be a big help to me." She wrapped a companionable arm around Amanda. "C’mon. I’ll introduce you to my friends." She led them into a large barn with stalls on each side, and a clean concrete walkway running down the middle. There were ten stalls on each side, but only about half of them were occupied.

Lex noticed the unspoken question in Amanda’s eyes. "I’ve been slowly trying to phase out the cattle, and I’m working on making this a horse-only ranch." She opened another door, where the feed was kept.

Amanda followed her in, fascinated by all the sights and sounds around her. "Are these all the horses you have?" she asked, as the other woman opened a large barrel and pulled out a full bucket.

"Well, these are the working horses." She handed the bucket to Amanda and grabbed an empty one and dipped it into the barrel. "The rest of the horses are in one of the far pastures. We bring in a few at a time, break them, then take them to the auction to sell." She led the small blonde back into the main part of the barn, and dumped her bucket into a trough in front of one of the stalls. Amanda pointed to the next occupied one, received a nod, and followed suit. They repeated this procedure until all ten horses were fed.

"Okay, boss…" Amanda brushed her hands off, "What’s next on the agenda?"

Lex laughed, and pulled her gloves out of the pocket of the duster. She began walking to the back of the barn, then opened a door, which led outside. "Next," she held the door open for her companion, "We go to the hay barn and take the cattle and the other horses their breakfast." She pointed to another building about twenty yards away.

The rain had slowed down to a slight drizzle by the time they reached the large structure. Lex opened the large double doors and waited for Amanda to proceed her.

"Wow! This place is huge!" There were stacks of hay bales that almost reached the ceiling in some places, and a large battered blue pickup truck sat alone in the middle of the room. Amanda flipped the hood off of her head and looked towards the tall woman. "Now what?" she followed the rancher to the side of the truck.

Lex got in on the driver’s side. "Just let me back this up to the hay, and we’ll get started loading." The truck rumbled to life, and she quickly put it in reverse and slowly rolled it back towards the hay. Once the old vehicle was in position, she grabbed another pair of gloves, slipped out from behind the wheel and moved towards the rear. Dropping the tailgate down, Lex climbed into the back and grinned. "Well? You gonna stand there all morning, or are you gonna help?" she tossed the extra gloves to the smiling blonde.

Amanda slipped on the gloves and jumped up into the rear of the truck beside her. "I’m here…what do you want me to do?"

Lex pulled off the duster and laid it over the side of the truck, leaving her in a dark blue tee shirt. Amanda couldn’t help but notice the play of muscles along her back before she straightened up and turned around. "We need to load up the truck with bales of hay, then take it over to the next pasture."

She was about to grab one of the bales when a gentle hand grasped her arm. "Do you think it’s wise for you to be hefting these things around?"

Lex shrugged. "Not much choice, Amanda. With all this rain, we gotta make sure that the cattle have enough to eat. Otherwise, they have a tendency to knock down the fence looking for something to munch on." She quirked an eyebrow at the young woman. "And I’ve already had my quota of fence building this week."

Amanda smiled and removed her hand. "At least let me help you." She grabbed the other side of the bale Lex had her hands on, and together they pulled it into the truck. "See? That wasn’t so hard, was it?"

Lex shook her head and grinned. She hated to admit it, but the young woman really was a big help. I don’t think my ribs would appreciate me tossing these around like I usually do, anyway. "No, but you may be singing a different song by the time we get finished today."

Amanda gave a slight frown. "I’m a lot stronger than I look, you know." She reached for another bundle of hay.

Lex stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. "I’m sorry, I really didn’t mean anything by it…I just don’t want you to hurt yourself." She looked a little lost. "I really do appreciate all the help…don’t think I could do it by myself today."

Amanda reached up and wrapped her hand around Lex’s arm. "I’m sorry, too. I guess I’ve spent so long trying to prove myself, that getting defensive about my size is second nature now. You’re the only person besides my grandparents who has actually believed in me." She reached for the bale. "So…are we going to stand here chatting all day, or are we going to get those animals fed?"

Lex smiled and helped her drag the bale down to the bed of the truck

The rain started up again in earnest after they unloaded the last of the hay. Both hurried back into the truck, heaving a great sigh of relief to finally be out of the weather. Lex leaned back in the seat and closed her eyes. "How much longer is this damn rain gonna last?" she sighed, taking a moment to catch her breath. She wasn’t going to tell Amanda, but her ribs were really beginning to bother her again.

Amanda pushed the hood off her head. "I know what you mean. I keep expecting to see the animals begin pairing up."

The dark woman stifled a small laugh. ""Yeah…and at this rate, we may want to book passage for ourselves, as well." She turned her head and opened her eyes. "Thanks again for all the help. I’d probably still be piling hay in the truck if you weren’t here."

The blonde blushed. "Well, I thought I’d better begin to earn my keep somehow." She smiled. "What’s next on the program?" Hopefully lunch figures in pretty soon…I’m starving! Her stomach must have agreed, because it took the opportunity to announce itself.

Lex raised an eyebrow at her. "Well…" she drawled, enjoying the blush on her companion, "I was going to suggest lunch, but I didn’t know if you were hungry or not." She smirked, as Amanda’s blush deepened. "Besides, Martha gets kinda upset if I’m late – and I don’t want her to break any more spoons." She sat up and started the truck.


Lex and Amanda came in through the mudroom again, hanging up their soggy coats and the taller woman hanging her drenched black hat up as well. They had rinsed their feet off outside, trying to keep on Martha’s good side. As they stepped into the kitchen, the housekeeper turned around and sighed, hands on her hips. "I’m so glad you’re back, Lexie…your brother called, and he’s in some sort of tizzy…wants you to give him a call as soon as possible." She shook her head. "Didn’t even ask how you were, just demanded that you call."

Lex’s jaw clenched. "Was he rude to you again, Martha?" she remembered the last time she saw Hubert here at the house.

He had come out to the ranch about some minor thing – sat down in Lex’s office, and demanded that the housekeeper ‘fetch’ him some coffee. When she brought it, he took a sip and yelled, "Where’s the cream and sugar? Can’t you do anything right, old woman?" Unfortunately for him, Lex happened to walk in at just that moment. She stalked to the desk and pulled him over it by his neck. "You sonofabitch! Apologize before I snap your worthless head off!!" Martha had to forcibly pull her away, or she would have surely done just that.

Martha shook her graying head. "No honey, he wasn’t. I think you scared him out of all good sense the last time." She looked over at Amanda, who seemed a little confused. "C’mon, dear. Help me set the table for lunch."

Amanda gave her a grateful smile. "Sure. Just let me go upstairs and clean up a little." She looked back at Lex, who smiled and nodded.

"Go on. I’ll go into the office and get that phone call out of the way." She watched the small blonde leave, and shook her head. "Did Hubert give you any clue as to why he called?"

The older woman sat down on a nearby stool. "Yes. I just didn’t want to get into it while Amanda was here…she’s such a sweet thing." She paused, gathering her thoughts. "He said his old friend Rick called him," here she wrinkled her brow in distaste, "and told him Amanda would be staying out here for a while." She paused, seeing the rancher suddenly go pale. "Apparently, Mrs. Cauble had called him to let him know she wouldn’t be at work for a week or so." She could see Lex visibly trembling now, fighting her anger.

"Amanda works for Rick?" barely spoken.

Martha nodded. "Yes. Didn’t she…" here she paused. "Oh, that’s right. You were asleep when we talked about that last night. Seems like Ricky thought it would be fun to send Amanda out here on a wild goose chase."

That explains a lot of things. "Okay, that makes sense. I’ll deal with him later." She could have been killed because of his pettiness --- Bastard! "So, what’s Hubert’s problem?" She took a deep breath to calm down.

Martha was almost afraid to say what Hubert had ‘related’ to her. But she had never lied to Lex, and wasn’t about to begin now. "He said he didn’t want a repeat of the ‘Linda fiasco.’ " She held her breath, waiting for the eruption. But it didn’t happen. When Martha looked into Lex’s eyes, she saw quiet defeat there. Oh, no…please don’t give up, Lexie…that’s what he wants.

Lex sighed. "Okay. Thanks Martha. I’ll just go give him a call and get it over with." She left the room without another word.

Amanda met her in the hallway. "Hey, ‘bout ready for some lunch?"

The older woman stopped and turned. She looked pale and drawn. "I’m really not all that hungry right now. You and Martha go ahead, I’ve got to call my brother back." She turned and continued down the hall.

The small blonde looked after her quizzically. "Okay." She continued into the kitchen, where Martha was busy at the stove. "Martha? Is Lex all right?" she walked over to the counter and picked up three plates and some silverware. "I just met her in the hall, and she wasn’t looking very good."

Martha shook her head. "No dear, she’s not. That older brother of hers has always been a thorn in her side…he’s always resented the fact that Rawson put her in charge of the ranch instead of him – after all, he’s seven years older than she is. And he always guilts her into whatever he wants."


Lex closed the office door behind her and let out a deep breath. Might as well get this over with. She sat behind the heavy oak desk and dialed the number for the house in town.

She had signed the house in town over to Hubert several years ago making him move out of the ranch completely. He really didn’t mind, since all he really liked about the ranch was the money it gave him. He was much happier in town, with all his ‘friends – guys that usually spent the majority of their time harassing women and jumping into one ‘get-rich’ scheme after another. And using her trust fund money that had been left to her by her mother, she began remodeling, almost gutting the second floor entirely, turning her old bedroom and Hubert’s into a large guestroom, and combining the spare upstairs room with the master bedroom. She had also built a nice cottage just off from the main house for Martha, since the older woman had absolutely refused to move into the guest room (she felt it wasn’t her place), and deeded it along with twenty acres to the surprised woman (the housekeeper adamantly refused any more than that). Hubert had been furious – he had never liked the woman, since in his mind she was a replacement for his mother – whom he remembered fondly.

Hubert had been eleven when Martha came to work for them, taking over the household duties for Victoria, who had become bedridden five months into her pregnancy. He resented the heavyset woman, mainly because young Lex adored her so. And after his mother’s death, she stayed on – and Lex attached herself onto her apron strings like glue. She treated the older woman like a mother, which aggravated him and his father to no end. Little Louis had worshipped the woman – calling her ‘Mada’ and she treated both the younger children as if they were her own.

Lex sighed as she waited for Hubert to pick up the phone. On the fourth ring, he finally answered.

"Hubert Walters…" a somewhat nasal voice intoned.

"Yeah, Hubert…this is Lex. You wanted to talk to me?" She picked up the letter opener on the desk and began to casually clean her fingernails.

"’Bout damn time you called…" he complained. "Or did your ‘maid’ forget to give you my message?" he asked, trying to anger her.

"Yeah, Martha gave me the message some time ago," she lied, "but I was busy." Two can play this game, Hube ol’ boy.

"Busy? Doing what? Playing with your new little ‘friend’?" he sneered. "That’s what I was calling about…I don’t want you dragging our family name through the mud again…"

Lex clutched the phone with an iron grip – she swore she could almost hear it moan under the pressure. "You bastard…" she growled.

Hubert laughed humorlessly. "What was the little trollop’s name? Lulu?…no…Loretta?… nah… oh, yeah, Linda! That was her name, wasn’t it?"

"You know what her name was, Hubert…she dumped you, didn’t she?" Lex couldn’t help it.

"Oh, yeah…but that’s okay, ‘cause she played for the other team. Was she good in the sack, Lex?"

Creak. Lex looked at the stainless steel letter opener she had just bent in half with one hand. "I never heard her complain, but you wouldn’t know anything about that, would you Hube?"

The older man realized that he had pushed his sister just about as far as he dared. "Okay, okay. Look… I just don’t want your libido to get you into trouble again."

"What the hell are you talking about, Hubert?" Lex stood up, looking for something to throw.

"Aw, c’mon, Lex. Rick told me she’s a cutie. She must be ‘one’ like you, ‘cause she wouldn’t even go out with him."

Lex laughed. "All that proves is she has good taste! Why is it if a woman isn’t interested, men automatically think she has to be gay?"

Her brother wasn’t so easily dissuaded. "C’mon, Lex – the little tart won’t socialize with anyone from the office…just spends all her time with those two old farts."

Lex saw red. "Now you listen to me, Hubert – you will not speak of her or the Cauble’s that way…they’re good folks. A lot better than that riff-raff you run around with." She paused, to let her words sink in. "And," in a very low voice, "If I hear of you even thinking badly of any of them, I will make you regret the day you were born…Ya got that? " she slammed down the phone before he could reply. The walls began to close in on her. Gotta get out of here for a while… she silently strode down the hallway and out the door.


They sat together at the table in silence and ate their lunch. Lex was conspicuously

absent, although they could hear her raised voice boom through the house from time to time. They heard bootsteps down the hallway, and then a door slam. Both jumped up from the table and hurried over to the window, just in time to see a tall figure walking quickly through the yard. Lex went into the barn, and a few moments later left again – this time astride a beautiful bay stallion. Horse and rider quickly disappeared into the falling rain.

"Oh dear. He must have really upset her. She never rides Thunder unless she’s going to ride really hard." Martha shook her head and stepped away from the window. "C’mon honey. Let’s get these dishes cleaned up, and then we’ll sit and visit for a spell. She’s probably gone to check the fence by the creek again."

Amanda allowed the older woman to lead her away from the window. Please be careful…


Lex and Thunder rode hard for about thirty minutes, until she could feel the great beast begin to tire. Old boy, I’m gonna have to get you out more often. She also felt the need to slow down due to the complaints she was getting from her own body as well. Not the smartest thing you could have done, Lexington. They had ridden through the winter rye fields, and then through the stand of trees she and Amanda had walked through last night. She pulled the horse to a stop before they got to the road, not wanting to risk injuring either one of them in the mud.

Looking at the felled tree and halfway flipped jeep, Lex was surprised that they weren’t both seriously injured. The jeep itself was leaning precariously on three wheels, the top of the tree sitting almost on top of it. Whoa…that was a close one! She reined the horse back towards the creek – Might as well see that in the daylight, too.

The old bridge was not in as bad of shape as Lex as previously feared. Only the middle section was gone, so it probably would not take that long to repair. She looked downstream, and saw the tail of the little Mustang sticking up out of the water. Hmm… an idea began to form in her mind… She turned Thunder around and headed back towards the house. Got some planning to do…


"….and then she hands me this piece of paper and says, ‘Happy Birthday, Martha.’ I tell you, I was never so surprised in my life. She even had me pick out everything to decorate it with. It sure was a big change from that little room in the back." The older woman wiped her eyes. She had just told Amanda how Lex had surprised her with the deed to her little cottage, where they were now sitting drinking coffee. Martha thought it was the best place to wait for the rancher, since they could sit in her living room and look out the huge picture window and see the main house and barn.

Amanda and Martha had spent the afternoon getting to know each other better. She had told the older woman about her grandparents, and some of her more favorite stories from her childhood, including the summer they found her car. Which sparked a small burst of tears when she realized that it was probably miles downstream by now. Martha had related several humorous stories about Lex, and how hard it was to raise a girl on a ranch full of men. She also told of the sad young girl who never fit in at home or at school, and how she slowly closed herself off from the pain of being different, and the loneliness of running a ranch.

"My grandmother said that Lex was about the sweetest person she had ever met. How did she get involved in the historical society?" Amanda had been wondering about this since her talk with Anna Leigh last night.

Martha laughed. "Actually, Lex did it mostly out of spite, at least at first." At Amanda’s confused look, she continued. "Hubert had been really nasty towards all of us here at the ranch, and he decided he was going to become a big real estate developer. So, he had picked out the old Taylor house, and he was going to buy it and level it to the ground…wanted to turn it into a shopping center or some such nonsense. Anyway, Lex had gone into town to get the cast taken off her arm,"

"What??" Amanda gasped.

" Oh, she broke it instead of one of the horses…" she pushed her hair out of her eyes. "Where was I? Yes. She was coming out of the doctor’s office and nearly tripped over your grandmother, who was hanging up a sign in the window. She was chairing a meeting of the historical society that evening to discuss the historical significance of Loren Taylor’s old house. Lex read the sign, and asked Mrs. Cauble about the meeting. Then after she had gone to the meeting, she decided that it was important from a historical standpoint, not just an excuse to get back at her brother. And now she tries to help out whenever they need her. I think Mrs. Cauble uses her as ‘muscle’ to keep some of the more vindictive dissenters from harassing the ladies of the society, but I think Lex actually enjoys it." She smiled. "You should see her in her boots and jeans at one of their little tea parties. I don’t know who has more fun, Lexie or the ladies. It’s really a sight to behold. She’s even hosted a couple out here, trying to get me interested."

Amanda giggled at the mental picture of Lex’s dark good looks in a dainty tea party setting. She could just see the ladies with their fancy dresses and pearls, and Lex with her denim jeans and flannel shirt. "Oh, I bet that’s a riot!" she laughed. "My grandmother has invited me to their meetings before, but I was afraid I’d be the only one there under sixty!" she laughed again. "Wish I would have taken her up on the invite… maybe I would have met you and Lex sooner."

The older woman smiled. "I don’t know. Sometimes things are just meant to happen a certain way." She looked through the window. "And I think we should get back to the main house. Lexie just took Thunder back into the barn…she’ll be a while brushing him down." She stood and took her coffee cup into the kitchen, Amanda hot on her heels.


Lex walked out of the barn and looked at the house. I’ve got a load of explaining to do when I walk through that door… It had been over two hours since she stormed out of the house, and now the tall rancher was…nervous. What do I say to her? She continued walking, berating herself for her childish actions. Running out of the house like my tail was on fire… real adult, Lexington. Martha would probably swat her with a spoon, and Amanda….Oh, boy… I can’t believe I just took off like that…She slowly opened the back door and stepped inside. Hearing voices coming from the kitchen, Lex took a deep breath and slunk in.

Martha and Amanda were sitting at the table drinking coffee, and looked up when they heard bootsteps in the hall. "Did you have a good ride, dear?" Martha asked, standing up and going over to the stove. "I kept your plate warm, just in case." She turned and looked at Lex, who had the most confused look on her face. I do so love keeping her off balance. "Now you go upstairs and get some dry clothes on, and I’ll have your lunch ready." When the younger woman opened her mouth to argue, Martha put her foot down. "Don’t argue with me, Lexington Marie…you’ve spent way too much time out in the elements the past couple of days, and I don’t want you adding pneumonia to your other ills." She shook a chubby finger in her direction. "Now git!"

Lex looked over at Amanda, who had her hand over her mouth, stifling a giggle. She quirked a sardonic brow the young woman’s way, then turned and left the kitchen.

"Oh, Martha…you are absolutely vicious!" the small blonde laughed, unable to hold back her mirth. "The look on her face…"

Martha smiled and resumed her seat at the table. "She really is like an overgrown child, sometimes. I know she was expecting to get yelled at, so…" she shook her head. "She’s already whipped herself about storming off, and I know her brother can be such an ass…" she picked the carafe from the center of the table and refills their mugs. " She was always tougher on herself than I ever had to be."

Minutes later they heard Lex’s footsteps on the stairs. Martha stood up, walked over to the stove, and pulled out a plate piled high with food. She sat it at the empty space at the table just as the tall woman walked in. "Sit down and eat…don’t let your lunch get cold." As the rancher silently took her place, Martha stopped and placed a gentle kiss on the top of her head. "Now I expect you to eat every bite of that, young lady!" she patted her shoulder and moved towards the doorway. "I’ve got some chores to do, so I’ll see the two of you later." She walked out the doorway, humming to herself.

Lex pushed the food around on her plate. "I’m sorry for running out like that earlier." She glanced up at the young woman beside her. "I just needed to get out for a while, and I wanted to check the fence down by the creek to see if my patch job held up."

Amanda smiled. Martha was right. She is like an overgrown kid – cute. "That’s okay. Martha and I really had a good chat…she really is a wonderful person." She looked at Lex’s plate. "But she might come back and throw a fit if you don’t eat your lunch…" she smiled. "So how’s the fence?"

Lex took a bite of food and nodded. "The fence is fine. And the bridge looks like only the middle is gone, so it shouldn’t be too hard to fix. ‘Course I’ll have to check the supports and make sure they weren’t knocked loose." She continued to eat. I hope she doesn’t ask about her car. I’ve got to get Martha to help keep her occupied while…

"How are your ribs? All that riding couldn’t have made them feel any better." Amanda questioned, knowing that the rancher had probably pushed herself to the limit today.

"Hmm?" Lex was knocked out of her musings when the young blonde laid a gentle hand on her arm. "Ribs?" she swallowed another bite. "Oh. Ribs. Right." She smiled. "A little sore, but not too bad."

A light squeeze on her arm. "So, what do you have planned for the rest of the afternoon?" Amanda took a sip of her coffee. "Is there something I can help with?"

Lex finished her lunch, not even realizing she had been hungry until she had begun to eat. "Well," she leaned back in her chair, "I thought we’d take it easy for the rest of the day." She interlocked her hands and laid them on her stomach. "It’s too muddy to do anything outside, and there’s not much else to do. Besides, we’ve got a large collection of movies in the den…and I just recently finished wiring the surround sound system. Been wanting to try it out." She stood up and carried her dishes to the sink.

"Sounds like a plan to me." Amanda took her cup and sat it in the sink as well.

Lex looked around, then ran hot water in the sink. She looked to the younger woman and grinned. "Shhh…" she placed a finger to her lips, "I just gotta tweak Martha somehow." She stuck her hands in the now soapy water.

Amanda bumped her with a hip. "Scoot over…I’ll rinse and dry. No sense in you having all the fun!"

They made quick work of the dishes, and had just put them away when Martha came into the room. "What are you two up to?" she asked, as both younger women spun around and looked extremely guilty.

Amanda hid the dishtowel on the counter behind her back. "Who? Us?"

Lex smirked. "Nothing, Martha. We were going to go into the den and watch movies…you interested?" She walked towards the housekeeper, trying to keep her away from the sink.

Martha reached up and checked her forehead. "What’s the matter? Are you not feeling well?" She never takes the day off. I wonder why?

The tall woman grabbed her hand and held it in her own. "I’m fine. It’s just too nasty to do any work outside, and I thought Amanda would enjoy the break." She pulled the older woman into a surprise hug. "You care to join us?"

Martha returned the hug. She sure is touchy-feely lately… Not that I’m complaining. "No thank you, honey. If you’re going to relax today, I think I’ll go over to my place and get some things done, if it’s alright with you?"

Lex stepped back. "Martha, you don’t have to ask me if you want to do something – you know that."

The heavier woman smiled. "I know you say that, dear…but you run this ranch, and I respect that."

Lex thought about that. "Not exactly."

The graying head snapped up. "What do you mean by that?"

Lex motioned for Amanda to follow her out of the kitchen. "You’re the one that runs this house, Martha…I just work the ranch." She stepped out behind the small blonde before Martha could say another word. Just as they reached the entry to the den they heard, "Lexington Marie Walters!!! I’m gonna take my spoon to your backside!!!"

They looked at each other and smiled. Lex led Amanda into the den. One corner had a massive fireplace. What is it with these folks and fireplaces? A huge entertainment center with a big screen TV took up an entire wall. There was a large comfortable looking leather sofa, with a heavy oak coffee table in front of it, and leather plush chairs on either side of the sofa. Lex pointed Amanda to another wall, where a bookcase full of videotapes and CD’s awaited her perusal. "Go on…pick us out something to watch. I’ll go beg Martha’s forgiveness, and nab some sodas and popcorn."

Amanda wandered to the bookcase, in awe at the selection of videos. Comedy or drama? She smiled when she saw that the movies were grouped alphabetically, except some that were grouped by series. Mel Brooks? She has the entire collection of Mel Brooks?? She laughed. Indiana Jones, Die Hard, Star Trek…someone’s an action junkie… She continued to browse through the titles, looking for something lighthearted. Sleepless in Seattle? While You Were Sleeping? Hmmm….. Ah! A Fish Called Wanda… I love that movie!! She pulled the tape from it’s allocated spot, and sat it on the coffee table.

Lex walked into the room with a tray loaded with goodies. "Hope you like butter on your popcorn." She sat the tray on the coffee table. "Did you find something to your liking?" She noticed the tape on the table and picked it up. "Ah…that’s one of my favorites." She took the tape and crossed the room to the entertainment center, placing the tape in the VCR. She grabbed the remote control from atop the TV and sat down on the sofa next to Amanda. "I figure we could just set the bowl between us and share," she looked at the younger woman uncertainly. "I brought some extra bowls if you’d rather…"

Amanda scooted closer to her and grinned. "Nah…why dirty up more dishes? Unless you think we can get away with washing these too?"

Lex shook her head. "Uh-uh…I’m lucky to have escaped the kitchen with my rear intact as it is!" she mock shivered.

Amanda barely bit back a giggle. "Was she really angry?"

The older woman leaned back and propped her sock feet on the coffee table. "Nah…but she did threaten." Using the remote, she turned on the TV and surround speakers. She looked over at Amanda. "Might as well take your shoes off and get comfortable."

The smaller woman grinned and complied. She put her feet up next to Lex’s, and then settled back to enjoy the movie.


A couple of hours later, Martha went in search of the two. There was no sound coming from the den, and the only light was that of the fireplace. Peeking inside the door, she saw Lex slumped back against the sofa sound asleep, her feet propped on the coffee table. Well, at least she wasn’t wearing boots this time. But the biggest surprise was her companion. Amanda was curled up against the rancher asleep, her head pillowed on a broad shoulder, and her arm wrapped tightly around the dark woman’s waist. Lex had her arm gently over Amanda’s shoulders, her head leaning up against the blonde’s. Martha smiled, and tiptoed back to the kitchen to begin dinner.

Amanda woke a little time later, somewhat disoriented. She was warm and quite comfortable, at least until she realized where she was. Amanda thought about getting up, but when she glanced at the still sleeping woman next to her, she didn’t have the heart to disturb her. She looks so tired. The young woman was still studying her companion when she felt the arm around her tighten.

Blue eyes blinked open, looking for the moment as confused as she herself had been upon wakening. Lex quickly removed her arm. "Ummm…I’m sorry about that…" she struggled to sit up. "I didn’t mean…" she looked a little panicky.

Amanda smiled, and gently patted her stomach. "Don’t worry about it – I kinda climbed all over you like you were my own personal mattress." She sat up and stretched. "That was a good nap, though."

Lex cautiously stretched as well. "Yeah, it was. Guess I was still pretty tired from last night."

Amanda looked at the clock on the wall. "Me too. It’s early evening, don’tcha think?"

Lex looked at her, puzzled. "Yeah, I guess so. Why?"

"Well, if it’s okay with you, I’d like to call my grandparents and see how they’re doing."

The older woman stood up and smiled. "You don’t have to ask permission to use the phone." She held out a hand. "C’mon. I’ll let you use the phone in the office so you’ll have some privacy."

Amanda accepted the hand and allowed herself to be pulled up. "Thanks."

Lex escorted the younger woman into the office and around the desk. "Siddown. Just push a button for an outgoing line. We have three lines coming in, but the computer is hooked up to the third." She turned to leave. "Take all the time you need. I’ll be in the kitchen harassing Martha." She winked and walked out the door.

Amanda’s eyes followed the dark woman out the door as she picked up the phone to call out.

The phone rang twice, and her grandfather answered. "Hello?"

"Grandpa Jake? How are you feeling?"

A deep chuckle. "Just great, Peanut. We just got back from the movies about twenty minutes ago." He noticed the happy lilt in her voice. "How are you doing, sweetheart?"

Amanda let out a happy breath. "I’m doing much better today, Grandpa. I helped Lex feed the horses, and then we took hay to the cattle." She paused, thinking about earlier today. "After lunch we sat down and watched a movie."

He laughed. "Sounds like you’ve had a busy day."

"Well, not really. I’m trying to keep Lex from overdoing it because of her broken ribs." Oops! Now how do I explain that?

Jacob cursed. "Broken ribs?" Anna Leigh came into the room. "What’s the matter, sweetheart? Is that Mandy?" she grabbed another phone. "Mandy? Is everything okay?"

Amanda hid her face in her hand. Tim to bite the bullet, I guess. "I’m fine. Lex broke a couple of ribs yesterday."

Anna Leigh sighed. "Is she all right?"

"She’s sore today, but I think she’ll be okay."

"Peanut, how did her ribs get broken? Was she in an accident?" her grandfather asked.

Amanda rubbed her eyes. "Okay, I’ll tell you, but you’ve got to promise to stay calm, okay?"

Both Jacob and Anna Leigh complied. "Okay, sweetheart, go ahead and tell us." Anna Leigh said, taking the cordless phone and perching on the arm of the chair Jacob was sitting in, grasping his hand.

"You remember when I told you I was on my way to Lex’s yesterday, because of an appointment sheet Rick gave me?" she asked them.

"Yes… And I’m still pretty hacked off at the little turd." Anna Leigh grumbled.

"Okay… well, anyway, I followed his directions, and finally found the road to Lex’s place. I was crossing the old wooden bridge, when a tree came out of nowhere and crashed right into the bridge!" she paused here, unsure if she wanted to go on.

"Go ahead, Peanut… I know it’s hard.." her grandfather encouraged.

"Umm… the bridge broke in half, and my car fell into the creek." Silence. "I must have hit my head, because the next thing I remember is being tied on Lex’s back, and she’s pulling us across the creek." She only heard breathing from the other end of the phone, so she continued on. " From what I understand, once we were about halfway across the creek, Lex was hit by some debris, which slammed into her chest, and gave her a nasty gash."

Jacob finally spoke up. "Are you okay? Why didn’t you tell us this last night, Peanut?"

"I’m fine…I didn’t want you to worry….and I have to admit, I was kinda woozy last night."

Anna Leigh sighed. "Mandy, please don’t feel that you have to cushion us from things…I’m just very glad you’re alright." She paused. "And Lexington really means a lot to me as well…I’m glad she’ll be alright."

"Thanks, Gramma…she means a lot to me too…" Amanda feels tears tickling her eyes. "She’s very special to me…" She had to tell someone how she was feeling…her grandparents knew she was gay, and had always been very supportive of her. "I only met her yesterday, yet I feel like we’ve been together forever…Is something wrong with me?"

Jacob chuckled. "Honey, I felt the same way the first time I saw your grandmother. She became my whole world the first time our eyes met…" he kissed the hand he was holding.

Anna Leigh joined in. "That’s true, sweetheart. I felt as if we were destined to meet. My mother once said, ‘Two old souls meeting again for the first time…’ Is this what you felt when you met Lexington?"

Amanda had to tell the truth. "I feel more complete around her, Gramma."

Anna Leigh laughed. "I understand completely, dear. Does she know how you feel?"

"Oh, good Lord, no! I’d probably scare her out of ten years!" Amanda gasped.

"I don’t think so, sweetheart." Anna Leigh answered.

Amanda was at a loss. "What do you mean by that?"

Jacob, who had been silent so far, chuckled. "Oh, Peanut… I keep forgetting you haven’t lived here…Lexington certainly shook up the town gossips a couple of years ago… But I think you should ask her about it." He gave her a minute to think about that. "Let me put it this way…I don’t think anything you could say would shock her."

Anna Leigh took over. "True…the poor girl has been through a lot in the past couple of years…Do you care for her, honey?"

Amanda choked back a sob. "More than I thought possible, Gramma. She’s become such a deep part of me in such a short amount of time…"

Her grandmother clucked. "Now you listen to me…I think she’s a wonderful person, but she has a tendency not to think that way…"

Jacob spoke up. "Is there anything we can bring to you, Peanut? I’m sure we could find a way to get it across that damn creek."

Amanda laughed out loud. "No, Grandpa Jake…Lex and Martha have made sure I have everything I need. But thanks for asking. I guess I’ll let you go now…"

Both grandparents laughed. "Okay, sweetheart, but let us know if you need anything, okay?" Anna Leigh asked. "Give us a call again tomorrow. We’ll just be goofing off around the house."

Amanda smiled. "Okay… I love you both… I’ll talk to you tomorrow…Goodnight." She hung up the phone, somewhat relieved that she had told them the truth about her accident. They took that well. Guess since I’m still alive and kicking it doesn’t sound so bad.


Lex wandered back into the kitchen, a smile still gracing her dark features.

Martha turned from the pantry, her eyes twinkling. "Did you enjoy your movie dear?" She began to carry an armful of items across the kitchen, only to have the tall woman cross the room and take them out of your hands.

"What do you mean by that?" Lex followed the housekeeper like a lost puppy. "Where do you want this stuff?" She was continually amazed at how Martha could take such an array of foodstuffs and turn them into wonderful meals. I would have starved to death a long time ago, if it wasn’t for her.

"Just sit it on the counter there." She patted Lex on the back. "And I didn’t mean anything by what I said – just asked a simple question. Why are you getting so defensive, honey?" She turned and studied the young woman.

"I’m not defensive!" Lex snapped, then sighed. "Yeah, I guess I am. Sorry Martha. You didn’t deserve that." She leaned on the sink and stared out the window, vaguely noticing the rain had finally stopped. "This can’t be happening…"

Martha walked up and wrapped an arm around her. "What’s that, sweetheart?"

Lex turned and looked down at the slightly wrinkled features. "I’m not sure…but this feels so…so different."

The housekeeper nodded knowingly. "And you’re scared?"

The rancher blinked, then swallowed hard. "Terrified," she whispered, "I don’t think I could go through that again." She paused, "I don’t know if I want to go though that again." Lex shook her head. "Mute point, anyway." She took a deep breath and audibly blew it out. "Anyway, I came to ask a favor of you. I need you to keep Amanda occupied for a couple of hours tomorrow – I’m working on a little surprise for her."

Martha accepted the change in topics, for now. "Okay, I’m sure I can come up with something, but you have to tell me what you’re up to first." She stood back and placed her hands on her ample hips, trying to assume a threatening manner.

Lex almost laughed at the older woman’s attempt at toughness. She cleared her throat. "Did she tell you about the car she was driving yesterday?"

Martha nodded. "My heart nearly broke in two when she realized that it was probably gone forever." She noticed the gleam in the rancher’s eyes. "What?"

Lex smiled. "I don’t know how, but her car is still in the same place it was when I pulled her out of it last night. By tomorrow the creek should be down enough for me to tie it to the jeep and pull it back to the house."

Martha smiled. "You’re not…"

The dark-headed woman nodded. "Yep. Figure I can hide it in the maintenance shed until I get it cleaned up enough to run – then we can take it into town and have the seats and carpets cleaned."

The housekeeper smiled. "You are devious, aren’t you? She’ll be thrilled. But how long do you think you can keep this a secret? That little girl is pretty darn sharp."

"I know. That’s why I’m going to need your help – she really wants to help you out around the house, maybe…"

Martha waved her arm. "Okay, I’ll try to keep her busy. But are you sure it’s a good idea to try and pull that car out alone? Broken ribs do not heal overnight, even for you." She had always been amazed at the girl’s recuperative powers. Must be a high metabolism. "And that reminds me, you are going to go upstairs right now and let me re-bandage those ribs and put some more salve on that scrape, aren’t you?"

She knew when she’d been beaten. Lex sighed. "Yes ma’am. Right behind you, ma’am. Whatever you say, ma’am."

Martha lightly backhanded her in the stomach. "Enough of your lip, young lady! You’re not too big for me to use my spoon on, you know." They both laughed as they went upstairs.


Amanda hung the phone and stared at it. Both her grandparents seemed quite fond of the young rancher, and it appeared that they had known her for some time. She turned her attention to the desk – uncluttered, the only object that looked out of place was a u-shaped piece of metal. Amanda picked up the item and studied it. Looks like…a letter opener? She tried to straighten it out, but even with both hands the steel would not budge. I have a pretty good idea when this happened. The thought of that kind of strength mixed with anger should have frightened her, but for some reason Amanda felt strangely comforted. She heard footsteps above her and smiled. I wonder what those two are up to now. Then she heard a scream. What the… The small blonde was out of the office and running up the stairs in a flash. She skidded to a halt at the master bathroom door.

Lex was standing in the bathroom shirtless, her back against the wall. "Damnit, Martha! Have you been storing that mess in the freezer or something? That stuff is ice cold!" she whined, trying to fend off the determined housekeeper, who continued to spread the salve on her injured chest.

"Stop your complaining Lexie…I’m almost finished."

They both turned to see a breathless Amanda standing at the door. "I heard a scream," she puffed, "Is everything all right?" she leaned against the doorframe, trying to catch her breath.

Martha laughed. "Lexie was just being a big baby."

"Hey, you’d scream too if she was trying to turn you into a human popsicle!" the tall woman complained.

Amanda laughed and shook her head. "I thought something horrible had happened." She couldn’t help but notice the strong body still leaning against the wall. Down, Mandy…you’d just give her another reason to scream. But then something her grandparents had hinted about drifted into her mind. Hmmm…Maybe…? She realized belatedly that someone was speaking to her. "Sorry, what?" Amanda turned her attention back to Martha, who had directed a question to her.

"I was just wondering if you were still interested in helping me around the house. I’ve been wanting to re-arrange the cabinets and pantry, and I was going to draft Lexie into helping me, but I don’t want her putting any strain on those ribs."

The person in question snorted, then gasped as Martha pulled the bandage tightly against her chest. "Ouch! You trying to kill me?" she grumbled.

The housekeeper gently slapped her on her good side. "Hush! I’d be finished a lot faster if you didn’t squirm so darn much." She pulled the material tight again, getting a groan. "There. Amanda, could you hand me the safety pins on the counter, please?" she held out a hand.

The young blonde stepped further into the room to pick up the requested items. She handed them to the heavyset woman, and then picked up the flannel shirt that had been lying next to them.

"Stay still, or I’ll end up poking you, Lexie." Martha admonished her patient. "I swear, you’re worse now than when you were a child!" she finally completed pinning the bandage and stepped back.

Amanda moved forward and held out the shirt to Lex. She was trying very hard not to smile, but by the look on the tall woman’s face, she had failed miserably. "Here, put this back on, it’ll help warm you up." Although it feels pretty warm in here right now, to me anyway.

"Thanks." Lex took the shirt with trembling hands. I gotta grip a grip, here… She slowly pulled the shirt on, but her hands were shaking so bad she couldn’t seem to get it buttoned. What’s going on with me? This is ridiculous!

Amanda noticed the difficulty Lex was having, but assumed it was due to pain or the aftereffects of the cold salve. "Here," she stepped closer, "Let me give you a hand." She took over the buttoning duties, finishing the job quickly.

Martha smiled to herself and left. Mute point, eh Lexie? I don’t think so. Neither woman noticed as she slipped quietly out the door.

Lex looked down into Amanda’s face. Being this close, she could see golden flecks sparkling in those bright green eyes. She almost stopped breathing when the young woman edged closer.


Both women jumped. Amanda stepped back, startled by what she had almost done. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Where’s your head, Mandy?

The tall woman was berating herself as well. Great! Probably scared her to death, just look at her face! She moved past the little blonde, heading towards the bedside table. "Excuse me…I’d better see who that is." The phone had only rung once, and she was reasonably certain that Martha had picked it up. Saved by the bell – if I’d stayed in there much longer, I would have scooped her up and tossed her on the bed. She ran a shaky hand through her hair as she picked up the phone.

Martha was speaking calmly to…Hubert…figures. He’s always had impeccable timing. "Hello, Hubert. What do you want now?" Lex could hear the housekeeper release a soft sigh. "It’s okay Martha, I’ve got it." The other phone clicked quietly. "Well? Did you call for a reason, or are you just trying to piss me off?" She growled, her nerves on edge.

"Nice to talk to you too, sis. Do I have to have a reason to call?" his nasal tones oozed insincerity.

"You always have. Now what have you called to complain about today?" She could feel her body clench up, causing her newly wrapped ribs to ache.

Her brother laughed. "You are such a hardass, dear little sister. Okay, as a matter of fact, I do have a reason for calling."

"Are you going to tell me sometime tonight?" her teeth ground together.

"Chill, sweetie…I just came across some property on the county books, and I think we could pick it up for a song. I just need a little extra capital to get the ball rolling."

Lex was about to let him have it, when she felt a gentle hand on her arm. She took a steadying breath. "Why would I give you money for another one of your real estate schemes? I told you months ago I wasn’t going to lend you any more – what makes you think I’d change my mind now?"

Amanda led her gently to the bed and sat her down. She slide her hand down the tense arm gently prying Lex’s fisted hand open placing her own hand in it.

"I just thought you would help me out, since I was willing to help you out." He wheedled.

Lex’s voice trembled with suppressed rage. "And just how are you supposedly helping me out?"

"Well, since you’ve got a ‘houseguest’ out there, I’m offering to try to keep it quiet for you. No sense in your little ‘friend’s’ reputation getting damaged, right?"

Lex shot off the bed. "You sonofabitch!!!" she exploded, "If you cause any trouble for Amanda or her family, I will personally take care of any aspirations you may have about fatherhood, brother or not!" she paced back and forth across the room, her face flushed with anger. "So don’t you dare try to blackmail me for your idiotic little schemes, you little shit!" She turned off the phone and slammed it onto its base, then turned and looked over at Amanda. "Sorry about that."

The small woman was sitting on the bed, eyes wide. "What was that all about?" She was about halfway afraid of the answer.

Lex walked over and sat down in one of the chairs by the fireplace, defeat in her posture. "Why don’t you come over here and sit down – it’s kind of a long story."


Chapter 4

There was a cheerful fire burning in the fireplace. Martha must be some sort of magical sprite…When does she find the time to do stuff like this? Amanda shook off her musings and sat down in the chair opposite Lex. Whatever it is she has to say, it can’t be good – she looks like she’s expecting to be hit.

Weary and resigned, Lex wiped a hand over her face. "I’m not sure where to start." She muttered, looking into the flames of the fire, studiously avoiding the sweet face across from her. Well, it was fun while it lasted.

Amanda cleared her throat. "You really don’t have to tell me anything, if you don’t want to. I mean, it’s really none of my business."

The older woman took a deep breath and finally met the intense green gaze directed at her. "Yes, I do. It does pertain to you in a roundabout way."

Amanda’s fair brow wrinkled. "But I just met you yesterday. And I don’t even know your brother. What could he do that would have an effect on me or my family?"

Lex looked down at her own hands, clenched together in her lap. "He threatened to spread the word around town that you were staying out here with me."

"So?!? What’s the big deal? For god’s sake, Lex…you saved my life!!!" Amanda was beginning to realize where this conversation was heading, and she could almost feel the fear and pain radiating from the older woman.

"He would probably ‘forget’ to mention that you are stranded out here…" Lex paused for a moment, thinking. "I’ve got the supplies. I can start first thing in the morning, and probably get at least a walkway built across the bridge by the late afternoon. You can call your grandmother to come and pick you up."

Amanda slipped out of her chair and knelt at Lex’s feet. "Tired of me already?" she gave the rancher a timid smile.

Lex looked down, and became lost in those twin pools of green. "No, of course not!" the denial came out sharply. "I just don’t want your name dragged through the mud – my brother is quite good at that." This last statement was said much softer. Without her conscious permission, Lex’s hand found it’s way to Amanda’s cheek.

The young blonde placed her hands on Lex’s thigh. "I really don’t think you should start to work on the bridge until your ribs have had more time to heal. I’m perfectly happy here."

Lex removed her hand. "Your reputation might be tarnished. Hell, if my brother has anything to do with it, it would be ruined!" She looked away, unwilling to show the young blonde too much.


"It’s kind of a long story."

"So? I don’t see us in any hurry to go anywhere. Unless you don’t want to talk about it."

The older woman sighed. "A couple of years ago, when Hubert was still living here at the ranch, he had gone to Las Vegas on an alleged ‘business trip.’ A week later, he came home with a young woman he had met at the blackjack tables, who had given him some hard luck story about being dumped by her fiancé." A small smile crossed her lips. "They hit it off immediately, and Hubert invited her to come home with him to ‘his’ ranch." Here she laughed. "He must have really played it up – the ranch was only about half the size it is now, and we hadn’t begun remodeling yet. Needless to say, it was a little…rustic." Lex slipped out of the chair and onto the floor next to Amanda. "I guess Linda felt a little betrayed by Hubert’s exaggerations, because she started coming on to me." She looked over at Amanda, expecting shock or disgust, not the gentle smile she was receiving.

"Hmmm…go on."

"Well, she told me that she and Hubert had decided to break off their relationship, and were going to be just friends. I was young, I believed her. Shame she forgot to tell Hubert." A sad smile. "So, she stayed here at the ranch with me for about six months." Mentally bracing herself, Lex quietly added, "As my lover."

Total silence. Lex thought she could hear her heart pounding throughout the room.

"So, what happened? Why isn’t she still here?" Amanda gave the strong leg under her hand a slight squeeze.

Lex blew out a breath. "Hubert had moved to the house in town, and Linda began asking me to take her on trips. I tried explaining to her that this was a working ranch, but she always cried about being bored, and tired of living out in the middle of nowhere." She shook her head sadly. "Later on, I realized that she was just a little gold-digger, and the luster wore off when she found out I really didn’t have the kind of money that Hubert had hinted at." She ran her hand through her hair. "I came in from tagging the cattle one evening and found all of her stuff gone." She laughed bitterly. "The note said, ‘Been a great ride, going to Atlantic City for a change of pace.’ " It still hurt, all these years later. I thought it was love…what a joke I must have been to her. "Hubert was pretty vocal in town about what ‘went on’ here at the ranch. And now he’s telling me that if you stay here, people may think the same of you." She felt her hand grasped, and looked into Amanda’s eyes. "I don’t want your grandparents to hear nasty rumors about you…I’m sure they’ve already heard all the stories about me."

Green eyes sparkled with unshed tears. "I am so sorry you had to go through something like that." She squeezed Lex’s hand. "I really don’t care what anyone says about me. And my grandparents have never cared much for gossip." She longed to take Lex in her arms and hug the hurt away. "So, if you don’t mind, I think I’d like to hang around here for a while…you need help with the chores, don’t you?" she paused, letting her words sink in. "And I don’t walk out on my friends just because someone ‘may’ say something derogatory about me."

Lex returned the squeeze. "Are you sure? My brother can get pretty nasty."

"Puleez! He’s the very least of my worries." Her stomach growled. "See?"

Lex laughed and stood up, pulling the younger woman up with her. "So I hear. Let’s go invade the kitchen…Martha probably has dinner cooked by now."

Amanda allowed Lex to help her to her feet. On impulse, she wrapped her arms around the tall woman and squeezed. She felt warm arms surround her as Lex returned the action.

"Thanks…friend." A whisper so quiet, Amanda thought she might have imagined it. Then she was released and led towards the door.

"C’mon. Let’s go get underfoot…Martha just loves when I do that!!!"


Dinner was quite an animated affair. Amanda and Martha traded humorous stories back and forth, while Lex sat back and absorbed it all quietly. I can’t believe she’s still here. Lex had been about half-afraid that the younger woman was going to run off screaming into the night after hearing her story. She watched as the two women interacted. Should have known. Martha adores her…she was always a good judge of character. The heavyset housekeeper had disliked Linda immensely, although she always made sure to be sickeningly polite to Martha whenever Lex was around.

"Lexie?" the housekeeper tapped her arm. "You with us, honey?"

The rancher smiled. "Uh, yeah. Just thinking." She turned her attention to Amanda. "You gonna help Martha here in the kitchen tomorrow?"

"Uh-huh…after we feed in the morning, why? Do you have something planned that you need my help with?"

"No, not really…" Lex hedged, "I was going to ride one of the horses down and get the jeep."

Martha, knowing what else she was going to do, piped up. "You’re not going to overdo it, are you? Those ribs aren’t healed, you know."

Lex raised a dark eyebrow. "Of course not. I’m just going to take a leisurely ride down the road, attach the jeep’s wench to a tree and then let it do all the work. If it hadn’t been raining so damn hard last night, I would have done it then." She smiled at the housekeeper. "The road should be in good enough shape by tomorrow to bring it back to the house."

Martha looked less than convinced. "Promise me you will not put any undo stress on yourself, sweetheart. I have no desire to try and find a way to get you to the hospital."

Amanda spoke up. "Are you sure you don’t need my help?"

"Nah…I was going to check part of the fence first…won’t be back until late afternoon, at the least. You’d be bored to tears." Lex tried to appear nonchalant.

The housekeeper stepped in. "She’s right, honey. When Lexie goes out on her horse, time has a tendency to slip away from her." To Lex, "Take your cell phone, just in case you happen to get into trouble, please?" When Lex rolled her eyes, Martha slapped her arm. "Watch it! Or we’ll both go with you!"

The dark woman put up her hands in surrender. "Okay, you win…I remember the last time I got you up on a horse."

The gray-haired woman chuckled. "That wasn’t a horse, it was a four-legged messenger from Hades!! I like transportation that doesn’t bite, thank you very much!"

Lex started laughing. "She didn’t bite you, she nuzzled your pocket looking for treats!"

Martha joined in. "If you didn’t spoil those horses so bad, that would have never happened!" she got up and began clearing the table.

Amanda giggled. "Don’t feel bad, Martha…I don’t ride much either…horses are way too tall! It’s a long way to the ground!"

Lex continued to laugh. "Maybe I’ll find you a pony with a seatbelt!" Tears of mirth streaked down her cheeks. She could just imagine the small blonde on a shaggy Shetland pony, buckled into a saddle resembling a child’s car seat. She clutched her ribs. "Ow…"

"Serves you right, making fun of me!" but Amanda was smiling also.

"I wasn’t making fun of you…I was…uh…simply making a helpful suggestion!" Lex snorted, trying to curb her laughter.

"Oh, you!" Amanda threw her napkin into the laughing woman’s face.

Lex stood up and carried her dishes to the sink, Amanda following right behind her. The taller woman gently bumped Martha with her hip. "Since we’ve goofed off all day, let us at least do the dishes." Seeing the housekeeper’s resolve weakening, she added, "Please?" putting on her best pleading look.

Martha sighed, but backed away from the sink. "Okay, you win. You know I can’t resist that look…"

Amanda took up her position next to the triumphantly grinning rancher. "Yeah…we’ll take care of everything. Why don’t you go relax?"

The housekeeper gave in gracefully. "Not a bad idea – I think I’ll go home and take a long soak in a hot bubble bath." She pulled off her apron, slung it over her shoulder, and sashayed out of the room, swinging her hips with an exaggerated motion.

Lex and Amanda looked at each other and burst out laughing. They made quick work of the dishes, Lex washing while Amanda rinsed and dried.

The smaller woman placed her hands on her back and leaned into the counter with a groan. "I think Martha may have had the right idea. I think I’ve found some muscles that didn’t exist before today."

Lex finished putting the dishes away. "No problem. You can use my tub. It even has jacuzzi jets in it." She draped a casual arm around the small shoulders. "I’ve got some bookwork that will keep me busy for an hour or so." She led Amanda up the stairs. Once inside the master bedroom, Lex released the younger woman and made her way to the large oak dresser. She pulled several sleep shirts and tee shirts from one of the drawers. "These should be more comfortable than those sweats." She handed the items to Amanda.

"Thanks. But I have no complaints with my other wardrobe." She took the clothes with a smile.

Lex raised an eyebrow at her, then turned her attention to digging through the massive walk-in closet. "Ah-ha! I knew it was in here somewhere." She pulled out a bright flowery terrycloth robe, which looked about two sizes too small for her, and handed it to Amanda with a flourish. "My great Aunt Loretta sent this to me for Christmas last year," a sheepish smile," and I couldn’t throw it out." She eyed the smaller woman, "Now I’m glad I didn’t…it looks more like you, anyway."

That much was certainly true. Amanda looked at Lex, and then at the robe. "Mmm…I don’t know…" she giggled. "Thanks. I appreciate the loan."

Lex shook her head. "No problem…you keep it. That way when I write to Aunt Loretta telling her it’s useful, I won’t be lying." She smirked. "As it was, I told her on the phone after Christmas that I was enjoying it." She steered Amanda towards the bathroom. "And I was…everytime I pictured myself in it, I had a good laugh." Pulling a towel from a cabinet, Lex tossed it to the young woman then headed for the door. "there should be some bubble stuff by the tub." A shrug of her broad shoulders when the blonde looked at her questioningly. "I enjoy a good soak every now and then myself." She smiled and closed the door behind her.


Steam quickly filled the bathroom as Amanda lounged gratefully in the huge tub. She leaned back and closed her eyes, letting the water cover her aching body up to her neck. Poor Lex…how could anyone treat her that way? At least that explained what my grandparents were trying to tell me. Amanda vowed to bring that exact subject up the next time she spoke to them on the phone. Letting her mind wander, she thought back to when she was in high school, and finally figured out she wasn’t ‘like the other girls’.

Amanda was sitting in the back row of the science lab, listening to her friends giggle and carry on about the Junior Class dance. It was going to be patterned after an old-fashioned sock-hop, and the girls had been actively planning their wardrobes, and placing bets on who would go with whom.

"I’ll just die if Charlie doesn’t ask me!" Francine whispered melodramatically. She had a crush on the lanky basketball player, and had been shamelessly flirting with him for months.

Karen, the sturdily built brunette sitting next to her grinned. "Bobby already asked me." She poked Francine in the ribs. "And I didn’t have to practically fall on top of him in study hall to get his attention, like some people I could name, but won’t."

Francine returned the poke. "I couldn’t help it…my books were falling out of my hands, and I lost my balance." She whined, flipping her dark blonde hair over her shoulder. She was taller than Karen and Amanda, and her coordination was still trying to catch up with her body. Francine looked over at Amanda, who was just staring at the front of the class with a slightly dazed look on her face. "What about you, Mandy? Have you gotten anyone lined up for the dance?" She waved her hand in front of the smaller blonde’s face. "Hellllooo? Earth to Amanda Cauble…."

Amanda jumped. "Sorry, guys…. What were you talking about?" She loved her friends, but sometimes they could be so… immature.

Karen nudged her with an elbow. "WE were talking about the dance…you know, that thing where everyone gets together and then moves around to music? Where were you just now?" She leaned in closer. "Who are you going with? Has Ronnie talked to you yet?"

Amanda sighed. "No, he hasn’t. But I don’t know if I even want to go…"she caught herself staring back at the front of the class, where Judith Patterson was sitting. She was fairly new to the school, and Amanda had taken it upon herself to show the new girl around. They were fast becoming friends, although Judith didn’t care much for Karen and Francine, so they usually would just meet after school to study, or go to the local mall. Last night, Judith had held Amanda’s hand, and told her she was gay, and that she’d understand if Amanda wanted to break off their friendship.

That had certainly opened Amanda’s eyes. It made her sit back and think about her own feelings. She’d never really been interested in boys like her friends. Amanda thought that maybe she just wasn’t as mature as they were, and that she’d grow into it after a while. She thought about asking her mother, but a discussion like that would probably send Elizabeth Cauble straight to the emergency room. Her mother had a problem discussing sensitive matters – and if her younger daughter were to ask about sexuality, she’d most certainly have a stroke.

"Mandy! You have to go…everyone’s going to be there!" Francine saw where Amanda’s eyes were pointed. "Is it because Judith can’t get a date?" she lowered her voice, "She’s weird, Mandy…I don’t know why you’re friends with someone like her."

"Don’t say that!" Amanda snapped, turning her head and glaring at her. "She’s not weird, she just doesn’t like to sit around all day and giggle about guys." The bell rang, and the girls picked up their books and followed a large group into the hallway. "Look. I’ll call you later, okay?" she quickly made her way through the crowd and caught up with Judith.

"Hey, Judith!" she pulled on the back of the girl’s sweater. "Want to come over tonight and help me study for the chemistry exam? Mom and Dad have a banquet to go to, so the house will be quiet."

The redhead stopped and turned around. "Are you sure you want to be alone with me, Amanda?" She had a sad look on her face. "I don’t want you to be uncomfortable."

The little blonde smiled. "How can I be uncomfortable around you? We’re friends, aren’t we?" she leaned in closer and whispered, "And you’d be surprised at how much I think we may have in common." Amanda stepped back again. "So…you coming over, or what?"

Judith smiled. "I’d love to. Somebody’s got to get you past this semester of chemistry."

After that, the two girls developed a deep friendship. But it wasn’t until the end of their junior year that they got more serious about their relationship. Hours were spent in each other’s rooms, snuggling and kissing. But they had both agreed early on that they didn’t want to just jump into bed.

"Just because we’re girls, doesn’t mean it won’t count." Judith said, when Amanda asked her why they had never taken that final step. "You may find someone later on that you want to share that special moment with, and I care too much for you to ruin that."

"But Judith, I really care about you!" Amanda looked into the dark hazel eyes below her. She was sitting on Judith’s lap in her bedroom, where they had just finished Judith’s term paper. "Have you ever…umm…been with someone?" She was embarrassed to ask, but was curious as well.

"Yes, I have. Last year, at my other school." Judith traced a light pattern over Amanda’s face with her finger.

"Did," she faltered, "did you love them?"

Judith wrapped her arms tightly around the smaller girl. "I thought I did. But now, I don’t think so. I really cared for her, and she cared for me…but there were no ‘fireworks’, if you know what I mean."

Amanda snuggled into Judith’s neck. "Yeah." Then she sat up, alarmed. "Summer’s almost here!" she looked panicked.

"So? What’s the big deal about the summer? We’ll have more time to spend together." Judith was confused at the look on the blonde’s face. "What’s the matter?"

Large tears welled up in mist-green eyes. "I spend every summer with my grandparents in Texas." Several tears fell. "We’ll be separated all summer…"

Judith gently brushed the tears from Amanda’s face. "Okay…we’ll just have to write back and forth like crazy, and maybe call each other once a week." She hated to see Amanda in pain. "It’ll be okay, really."

Amanda wrapped her arms tightly around Judith, not wanting to let go. "We only have about a month before I leave…" she kissed the other girl’s neck. "Please Jude, make love to me tonight. I want to be loved by you as much as possible before I have to leave."

Judith hesitated. "Amanda, there’s nothing in the world I would rather do, but do you think it’s wise?" She brushed the fair hair away from the bright green eyes. "I do care about you a lot, but this is a major step."

Amanda could only nod. "Yes…please." She kissed Judith tenderly. "Let’s go to bed. I’ve already told Mom and Dad you were spending the night – they think we’re watching movies." She stood up and pulled the other girl to her feet. "C’mon…I’ve got some serious studying to do." Amanda led Judith to the bed, then pulled her into an embrace. "And I intend to work at it all night."

Amanda smiled to herself. That was one heck of a study session. Looking back at that time in her life, she was so glad she had met someone like Judith, who had given her what she had so desperately been missing. They never called it love – but it sure was fun! Her grandparents were so cool about it, too.

Amanda had been at their house for over a week, and every day she seemed sadder and sadder. Anna Leigh figured it had to do with someone back in Los Angeles, because the young woman would spend hours a night writing letters, then mailing them off the next morning.

Anna Leigh took Jacob aside one morning, before Amanda had come downstairs. "Sweetheart, I’m terribly worried about Mandy. Something is definitely bothering her. Has she said anything to you?"

Her handsome husband scooped her into a hug. "No love, she hasn’t. I think she’s missing someone back home." He knew the signs of lovesickness. He himself was nearly incapacitated with it when Anna Leigh had gone overseas with her parents, back when they were just dating. He leaned down and gave his wife a sweet kiss. "Do you want me to talk to her?"

Anna Leigh returned his kiss, wrapping her arms around his neck. "No. I think this should be one of those ‘woman-to-woman’ chats…I’m sure that it would be easier." She pulled his head down for one more kiss. "And if we keep this up, she’ll get quite a show…I hear her coming down the stairs." But she didn’t release him, just turned around in his arms. "Good morning, sweetheart." She directed her greeting towards the staircase, where a sleepy-eyed young woman appeared.

Amanda rubbed her eyes and smiled. "Good morning." Seeing her grandparents all snuggled together reminded her of Judith, and she felt a wave of sadness wash over her.

Jacob noticed the change and squeezed Anna Leigh a little tighter. "Well, ladies…I’m off to the shop. Got to finish that table for Mrs. Wilcox." He released his wife, and kissed his granddaughter on the head, as he walked through the kitchen.

Anna Leigh opened her arms, and Amanda stumbled into her embrace. "What’s the matter, Mandy? You seem so sad. Is there something Jacob or I can do?" She kissed the blonde head.

"Oh, Gramma…"she cried, her head tucked under her grandmother’s chin. "There’s nothing you can do…it’s something I have to handle myself." She backed up and wiped her face.

"Oh, honey…we love you. If there’s something we can do to help, even if it’s just to listen, we’re here for you." She gently guided the sniffling young woman to the kitchen table. "Would you like some breakfast? We had donuts…Jacob had a yen for Apple Fritters."

"No thank you, Gramma. I’m really not very hungry." She sat down at the table and sighed.

Now Anna Leigh KNEW something was wrong. Her granddaughter could out-eat the football team on a good day… "Okay, that’s it." She sat down at the table next to the young woman, taking one of her hands and squeezing it. "You can’t go on like this any longer…please talk to me…"

Amanda began crying again. "I really don’t think you want to hear this."

Anna Leigh lifted Amanda’s chin with her hand. "Honey, there is nothing you can say that I don’t want to hear. Nothing will change the fact that we both love you dearly."

Amanda looked into her grandmother’s eyes, and saw nothing but truth and love. Maybe it was time to tell someone. "I’ve met someone, Gramma." She felt the older woman squeeze her hand. "And I care for them very much… we’ve only been together for a little more than a month…and I miss her so…" Not exactly the best way to tell someone, but she already felt like a huge weight had been lifted from her chest.

Anna Leigh was not too surprised. She knew that love had no boundaries… Look at her and Jacob. He was from poor, but loving home. She was raised by nannies in mansions all over the world. ‘Poor child…I know she could never speak of this with her own parents.’ She and Jacob raised their son Michael with all the love and support they could, but somehow it wasn’t enough. He was so unlike the both of them, business came first, family second. His wife, lovely woman that she was, would rather be shopping in Paris than raising a family. ‘How this dear girl turned out so well, I’ll never know.’ But part of her did know… she and Jacob practically raised Amanda… they tried with her older sister Jeannie, but she was more her mother’s child. "Would you like to tell me about her, sweetheart? If she has your heart, then I’m sure she’s a wonderful person."

Amanda took a deep cleansing breath and smiled. "She is wonderful, Gramma… and I know she would love both of you. They had continued their letter writing throughout the summer… during that time, they had become much better friends, and decided that while the affection they had for each other was deep, it certainly wasn’t love. When school started again in the fall, they still spent most of their free time together. Judith met a girl at the local college, and fell deeply in love, but she still remained her close tie with Amanda. They still went places together, determined to keep their friendship.

Wasn’t that long ago that I got her last letter, either…Judith and Emily had two children, with one on the way…and Amanda had been present at each christening. She looked back on her first love fondly, and with a great deal of appreciation.


Lex stared at the computer screen and then rubbed her reddened eyes. I’ve got to be missing something somewhere. She had been searching her accounting program for over an hour, trying to find missing funds – almost ten thousand dollars worth of missing funds. She flipped over to her Internet account and sent an email to her bank, requesting that they send her the bank statements for the last several months, since Hubert usually handled the paperwork end of the ranch. She also vowed to do a personal head count of the stock, since it appeared they were losing more than normal. And she was not about to confront her older sibling until she had something to go on. Maybe I’m just tired – She looked at the clock and blinked. "Amanda’s probably upstairs bored to death by now…" she mumbled, as she shut down the computer and left the office.

After navigating the stairs, Lex stopped at Amanda’s room. Empty. She shrugged her shoulders and went into her own room. Strange…she’s not in here either. Confused, Lex knocked gently on the bathroom door. "Amanda?" No answer. Now getting concerned, Lex slowly opened the door. Total silence. She walked towards the tub area, where she spied a damp blonde head poking out of the bubbles. She could see that the young woman was sound asleep, the only sound in the room was the gurgling of the jacuzzi. "Amanda?" quietly spoken, she tried not to scare the poor woman to death.

No response. "Amanda."

The young blonde’s eyes popped open, as she sank under the water, startled. She whooshed up out of the water immediately, gasping and sputtering. "Wha…???"

Lex hurried over to the tub and knelt down. "Hey, careful there." She grasped Amanda’s shoulders without a second thought. "Didn’t mean to startle you like that." The dark woman eased Amanda into a sitting position.

Amanda coughed a couple of more times, then stilled. "Sorry about that. Didn’t realize I had dozed off." She enjoyed the closeness of the other woman. "How long have I been in here?"

Suddenly realizing where her hands were, Lex pulled back and stood up. "Umm…almost two hours." She put her hands in her back pockets, trying to calm her pounding heart. "I’ll just let you get dried off then…you’re probably feeling pretty waterlogged." She began backing up towards the door.

Amanda smiled and brushed bubbles off of her own forehead. "Thanks…I’ll be out in a minute." She watched with some amusement as the usually sure-footed and composed rancher backed directly into the doorframe, a slight flush to her dark features.

"Yeah…" she beat a hasty retreat into the bedroom, slamming the door behind her.

Amanda giggled slightly as she let the water run out of the tub. So…I guess I’m not the only one who can feel this…electricity…between us. She quickly dried off and then looked at her sleepwear options. Hmmm…do I go modest, or do I tease her a little more? She picked an oversized nightshirt that would hang a little past her knees. Modest. She’s looking a little too shook up…maybe tomorrow night. With a smile, she pulled the shirt over her head.

Stepping out into the bedroom, the small blonde saw Lex sitting in the light of the fireplace, slouched down in one of the overstuffed chairs.

"All yours." She moved to the other chair and sat down, toweling her hair dry. "Thanks for the loan of the tub…I’m most definitely relaxed now."

"I’m glad. You’re welcome to use it anytime you want." Lex shifted slightly in her chair. "I’m sorry I barged in like that, but when you didn’t answer me, I got a little concerned." A little concerned? Try scared to death!

Amanda looked over at the older woman. Her face was bathed in shadow, and the firelight turned her usually bright eyes almost black. "You look pretty worn out yourself."

Lex sighed, and ran a hand through her hair. "Yeah. Been a long day." She twisted her head to one side, and her neck popped. "Think I’ll take a quick shower and then jump into bed." She stood up slowly.

Amanda stood up with her. "Do you need any help?" At Lex’s raised eyebrow, she blushed. "Ummm… I mean, with taking off your bandage?" Lex’s other eyebrow shot up into her bangs. "Oh, damn! You know what I mean!" the young woman didn’t think she could get any more embarrassed.

Lex took pity on her. "Nah…I can get if off okay, and I’ll probably just leave it off for the night."

"I don’t think that’s a very good idea. What if you roll around in your sleep?" Martha’s horror stories about punctured lungs and internal bleeding had scared her. Being concerned for her hostess while she had been out riding, Amanda had quizzed the housekeeper about Lex’s health. "I really don’t think you should go to bed unprotected."

Lex chuckled. "I don’t think I am in any danger that I would need ‘protection’ in bed, am I?"

Amanda covered her face with her hands. "Ah, probably not…" she looked at her bare wrist. "Would you look at the time?" Fake yawn and stretch. "Mmmm….guess I’ll let you get your shower… I’ll be across the hall if you need me to help you wrap your ribs." She started for the door. "Goodnight." And she hurried out of the room, still red as a beet.

Lex watched her go with an amused look on her face. I really should be ashamed of myself, teasing the poor woman like that. But somehow, the camaraderie they shared seemed right, like they had done it for years. Strange. She shook her head and walked into the bathroom, shedding clothes as she went.

Amanda had just finished brushing her teeth, and was brushing her hair when she heard a knock on the door. "Come in," she yelled, sticking her head out of the bathroom.

A sheepish Lex walked in, wearing a robe and carrying a large elastic bandage. "Hey. Your offer still open?" she smiled slightly, looking like a lost child. "I can’t seem to get this damn thing on straight."

Amanda sat the hairbrush down and moved into the bedroom. "What’s the matter? A torn sheet not good enough for you?" she teased, trying to get the older woman to relax.

"No, it’s not that. I just remembered that I had this from the last time I broke a rib. But don’t tell Martha. I’ve kinda kept that little accident a secret from her."

"Really?" Amanda quizzed. "I’ll help you, but you’ve got to tell me what happened." She hitched an eyebrow at the dark woman.

Lex shrugged. "Nothing, much. It happened last year. She told me not to try and ride a certain horse, but I didn’t listen. He threw me into the fence, and I broke a rib. No big deal." She looked a little worried. "Promise not to tell?"

Amanda laughed at the look on the rancher’s face. "Oh, Lex. You look like a little kid who got caught stealing from the cookie jar." She moved towards the tall woman and took the bandage from her hands. "Okay, I promise. Now get over here and I’ll get you fixed up."

Lex turned her back slowly to the younger woman, then silently removed her robe and laid it on the bed, leaving her in just a pair of flannel pajama bottoms. She took a deep breath and then released it slowly.

She’s beautiful…Amanda heard her mind whisper. She willed her shaking hands to steady, as she began to wrap the bandage around Lex’s body. Such broad shoulders, and her skin is so soft. She had to lean into the strong back to wind the bandage around Lex’s ribs. The younger woman bit her lower lip, trying to control her feelings. Once she finished the wrapping, she gently draped the robe back over Lex’s shoulders. "All done." She said, hoping her voice didn’t betray her.

Lex was having control problems of her own. She could almost feel the heat coming off of the smaller woman, she was standing so close. "Thanks." She turned around, barely missing the longing in Amanda’s eyes. "Guess I’ll let you get to bed now." As she made her way to the door, Lex turned to look at her guest. "See you in the morning." She walked out and closed the door behind her.

Amanda stood at the bed and stared at the closed door. Oh, boy…Lex, my friend, I think we’re gonna have to have a little talk, real soon.


The next morning, Lex and Amanda finished feeding the horses, and made their way into the hay barn. After Lex had backed the truck up to a tall stack of baled hay, she climbed out and looked around for Amanda. There was no sign of the small blonde anywhere. Now where in the hell did she go? She was about to put the tailgate down on the truck when she felt something dropping on her hat and shoulders. "Hey!" Lex looked up and brushed the straw from her body.

A slight giggle was the response. "Yep! It’s hay," Amanda cheerfully admitted, readying herself for another throw. She had climbed up to the top bale, mainly because she had always wanted to, and couldn’t resist.

"I thought you didn’t like heights." Lex took off her hat and shook the hay free. "Now climb down from there before you get hurt." She put her hands on her hips and mock glowered at the young woman.

"No, I don’t like moving heights. I get motion sickness." Amanda plopped down on the bale, her legs swinging back and forth. "Besides, this isn’t that high – maybe twelve to fifteen feet, at the most." She was about to make her way down, when the bale suddenly shifted, and the young woman began to fall.

Lex saw the movement, and dropping her hat, rushed to position herself under the falling woman. "Ooof! " she grunted, catching Amanda in her arms, cradling her as if she were a child. "Are you okay?"

Amanda looked up into frightened eyes, and felt the woman holding her tremble. "Yeah." Then realized where she was, and how she got there. "Oh, god…are you okay??"

Lex looked into Amanda’s eyes, barely breathing. "Uh-huh." She couldn’t seem to take her gaze away from the younger woman’s face. Words failed her, as she felt Amanda’s arms wrap around her neck.

Amanda didn’t think. She gave into her gut feelings, wrapped her arms around the taller woman’s neck, and pulled Lex’s head down to meet hers. When their lips met, the blonde was amazed at how soft the rancher’s lips were. As she deepened the kiss, Amanda felt a strong feeling of belonging, and her heart raced.

Lex was having some strong feelings of her own. When their lips met, she felt a gentle tickle in the pit of her stomach, and when the smaller woman deepened the kiss, a jolt of electricity shot throughout her body, causing her legs to give out. Lex collapsed back into a soft pile of hay, never releasing the woman in her arms.

They spent a few moments just enjoying the kiss, until Lex pulled away slightly to breathe. "Wow." She gasped, still trying to catch her breath.

Amanda laid her head on Lex’s chest and took a deep breath. "Sorry…I’m not sure what came over me." She looked into sparkling blue eyes. "I can’t believe I did that."

"Are you sorry that you did?" Lex held her breath, afraid of the answer.

"God, no!!" Amanda reached up to caress a tan cheek, trying to calm the erratic beating of the older woman’s heart. "It’s just that I don’t usually make it a habit to throw myself, this time quite literally, at someone I’ve only know a couple of days." She could feel the rancher struggling to pull air into her lungs. "Are you sure you’re alright? What about your ribs?"

A relieved Lex turned her head slightly and kissed the small palm cupping her face. "Never been better." Seeing several things crossing Amanda’s face, Lex kissed her forehead and gave her a gentle hug. "If that’s how you’re going to react after falling from a stack of hay, remind me to bring you in here more often."

"Works for me…I’ve always wanted to roll around in the hay." Amanda gave her an embarrassed smile. "Ummm…I mean…"

Lex understood. "Relax. Let’s just take things slow and easy, okay? No need to rush."

Amanda’s answering smile lit up her entire face. "Yeah…I guess we’d better finish up the chores, huh?" She felt Lex’s breathing return to normal. "And Martha is expecting me pretty soon."

She’s right…got to be responsible. "True. But first…" Lex leaned down and captured Amanda’s lips again, feeling small hands tangle themselves into her hair. This feels waaay too good…better stop now while I still can. She ended the kiss slowly, trying without much success to back off. "Whew…I, ummm…."

Amanda brushed the dark hair out of Lex’s eyes. "Yeah, that goes for me, double." She climbed off the rancher’s lap, and offered her hand to the still seated woman. "Here, since I got you down there, might as well be the one to help you back up."

Lex smiled, but accepted the hand and allowed the younger woman to pull her to her feet.

Not releasing the large hand that swallowed hers, Amanda pulled the older woman into a very gentle hug. "Thanks." She stood on her tiptoes and kissed the strong chin.

"For what?" Lex returned the hug, enjoying the feeling of the smaller woman in her arms.

Amanda pulled back a little, so she could see the rancher’s face, partially bathed in shadow. "For working on your fence in a thunderstorm….for pulling a complete stranger out of a raging creek, and for catching me when I fall."

Lex kissed the top of her head. "Anytime." Her voice broke on the word. She released the younger woman, but kept one arm draped casually over her shoulders. "C’mon. I imagine the cows are about to mutiny."

Sometime later, Amanda was standing in the stable, watching as Lex saddled up the powerfully built Thunder. "Are you sure you don’t need any help? I mean, Martha would probably understand if I was a little late today." She reached up and rubbed the large horse’s head, as he butted her gently in the chest.

"Nah. Not that I wouldn’t enjoy the company, but I really don’t want Martha to try and reach some of those higher cabinets by herself." She tightened the cinch and looked over at the younger woman. "Her and stepladders don’t always get along." She finished with the saddle and patted the horse on his flank. "Last time she fell and twisted her ankle…I thought she had broken it, and it scared the hell out of me." She smiled. "And she’s a worse patient than I am." Lex led the huge horse out of the stall. "I’d really appreciate it if you could kinda keep an eye on her, if you don’t mind." She turned and reached for the saddlehorn, but a hand on her arm stopped her.

"I don’t mind at all…but you have to do me a favor in return." Amanda grasped her coat with both hands, pulling the taller woman close.


"Try to stay out of trouble, and please be careful." She saw Lex open her mouth to argue, and covered it with her hand. "Please? Don’t hurt yourself trying to get that old jeep out of the mud – it’s not like we can go very far anyway."

Lex pulled her into a quick hug. "You’re starting to sound a lot like Martha," she stepped back and gently chucked the blonde under the chin. "I promise, I’ll behave." She climbed into the saddle, causing Thunder to dance sideways. "I’ll also be checking some of the fence line by the creek, so I may not be back until dark." It all depends on how easy it is to get her car out of the creek and into the maintenance shed.

Amanda patted her leg. "Okay. Just give us a call on your cell phone if you have any problems." She walked beside the huge horse as Lex moved him out of the stable.

"Yes ma’am." Lex tipped her hat with a smirk. "Do you want a ride to the house?"

Amanda looked up at Lex and then to the house, which was only about twenty yards away. An unexpected thrill raced down her spine, as Lex held an arm out to her. "Sure." She allowed the dark woman to pull her up behind her, in an eerily familiar manner. Wrapping her arms around the tapered waist, Amanda leaned into the strong back with a small sigh. "Now this is the way to ride horses."

Lex chuckled, and kneed the stallion forward. "Really? Are you sure you don’t want a seatbelt?" She felt the small arms around her waist tighten slightly.

"Nope…this is perfect."

They rode the rest of the way to the house in companionable silence – the only sounds being Thunder’s heavy hooves falling to the ground.

Lex pulled the massive horse to a stop by the back porch, and gently gave Amanda a hand down. "There ya go, ma’am. Door to door service, as promised." She joked, feeling a light slap against her leg.

"Thanks," Amanda curtsied, "that terribly long walk would have worn me out!"

Lex laughed as she backed Thunder away from the porch. "Anytime," tipping her hat again, this time giving the younger woman a wink before turning the big horse away.

"Be careful!" Amanda called after her, wincing as Lex sent Thunder into a strong gallop.


Lex charged Thunder through the fields, leaning over his neck with a smile. Feeling only a slight ache in her ribs due to the activity, she laughed out loud to the wind blowing into her face. "It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it boy?" The racing horse snorted in disagreement. Low dark clouds had begun to cover the sky, threatening to erupt at any moment, and the cool breeze blowing through the surrounding trees brought a damp chill to the air. To Lex, the day had never been more beautiful. I must be doing something right…’cause someone up there has certainly dropped a wonderful gift right into my lap. "Yaaaaa!!!" She urged the horse on, both of them absorbing the brisk air around them with joy.

Coming within sight of the jeep, Lex reigned in the large horse, walking him around to cool him off. "Doesn’t look like we’ll have much trouble here, huh big fella?" she aimed him towards the still running creek. "Let’s take a walk down to the creek before get started, okay?" she patted his neck and they walked slowly towards the loud roar.


Amanda walked into the kitchen, her cheeks slightly flushed and a big smile on her face. Martha turned around from the pantry and grinned. "Well, well…you must have had a good time feeding the stock. That’s an interesting look on your face, honey." She watched at the younger woman blushed.

"Oh, yeah…I had a great time." Amanda realized what she said too late, and lowered her head trying to control her heated face.

Martha walked over to her and pulled a few errant stalks of hay from her hair. "Mmm…looks like it."

Amanda covered her face with her hands. "Oh, god…"

The housekeeper felt pity for her and relented. "Sweetheart, calm down. There’s nothing to be ashamed of…I’m glad you two have hit it off so well." She wrapped her hand around Amanda’s arm and pulled her towards the table. "Sit down while I get you some coffee." She grabbed a couple of mugs from the cabinet, filled the carafe and then sat down at the table beside Amanda. "Did Lexie get off to the creek okay?" she asked, pouring them each a cup.

"Umm…yeah, she did. She told me that she would be checking the fence also, and not to expect her back before it got dark." The young blonde took a small sip of her coffee.

Martha appeared surprised. "She told you she’d be late?" she gave a slight shake of her graying head. "She never actually tells anyone when she’ll be back. I usually just fix her a big breakfast, and plan dinner for dusk on days when I know she’ll be riding fence patrol."

Amanda just stared into her mug. "Well, maybe she just said that because she we’d be worried, since she’s still hurt."

"Honey, that’s never bothered her before." The housekeeper patted her hand, "Not that she’s unfeeling, it’s just that she normally doesn’t think about little things like that." She took a deep breath. "Not like she can, having to run this place all alone."

Amanda looked up. "But I thought her brother helped her." Her brows furrowed in confusion.

The heavyset woman scoffed. "Hubert? Help? Not in this lifetime, sweetheart. Sometimes I think his sole purpose in life is to aggravate poor Lexie, and of course to mooch money off of her." She took a sip of coffee and sighed. "He’s seven years older than her, and never done an honest days work in his life. Oh sure, Lexie lets him keep the ranch’s books, and he has that accounting office he runs in town, but he’s no good." A quirk of her lips. "He’s hated Lexie ever since her daddy signed the ranch over to her, not to mention he’s just plain mean." She took another sip of coffee. "I normally wouldn’t be telling anyone this, but I trust you, and I want you to be aware of just how nasty that man can be." She paused, studying the young woman across from her.

Amanda had a pretty good idea where Martha was heading with this conversation. She met the wise brown eyes across from her. "Lex told me about Linda." She saw the housekeeper’s posture relax somewhat. "Hubert threatened Lex last night – about my staying here. So she decided to tell me why he was so…hostile." A sad look crossed her face. "Did Linda actually dump Hubert for Lex?"

Martha took a deep breath. "Oh yes. You see, Hubert is quite handsome – tall, dark, with blue eyes like Lexie’s…only his are crueler. Women just seem to throw themselves at his feet, until they get to know him – then the smart ones run like all get out." She finished her coffee and began wiping the table with a damp dishcloth. "He’s also got Lexie’s temper – they both got that from their daddy, but he never learned to control it like she did." Took her until she was almost twenty-five, but she finally got it under control. "I think Linda finally got tired of Hubert taking his mad out on her, and so to get back at him she latched onto Lexie."

Amanda frowned. "She didn’t love Lex, did she Martha?"

"Oh, I think she did, in her own little way…she just wanted a little fancier lifestyle than what Lexie could give her." Martha remembered grimly the month long bender that Linda’s desertion had wrought with the impressionable young woman.

Lex would get up before dawn - feeding the livestock and handling the general ranch business before the rest of the hands even stirred. Martha could sometimes coax the sullen woman to eat breakfast, but not often. Then Lex would lock herself in the office, drinking until late afternoon, when usually a carload of ‘friends’ would pick her up and take her into town. They’d spend the rest of the afternoon and all of the evening, bouncing from bar to bar, generally raising hell, and even once or twice having the law called on them. After the bars would close, these so-called friends would bring Lex home, and Martha would usually find her passed out on the porch swing the next morning.

After this had gone on for nearly a month, Martha quit pleading for Lex to come to her senses, and took direct action. One morning after finding Lex once again sprawled unconscious on the front porch, the angry housekeeper mixed up a large bucket of extremely muddy water, and dumped it on the unsuspecting rancher.

"Whoa!" Lex sputtered, "What the hell did you do that for?" her head was spinning, and she imagined she was about to toss the contents of her stomach all over the porch.

"If you plan on letting this ranch run itself into the ground and sit out here smelling worse than a pig farm, I thought that maybe you’d want some mud to wallow around in." She dusted off her hands and walked towards the door, turning around, continuing her tirade. "So either clean yourself up, or find a new babysitter – ‘cause I’m not gonna tolerate one more minute of your self-pitying garbage, you hear me?!" She shook a finger at Lex.

"Yes ma’am." A chagrined Lex mumbled to the housekeeper, mud dripping down her face.

Martha almost laughed out loud at the figure before her. Blue, bloodshot eyes stood out starkly in the mud-covered face, which was puffy from the alcohol abuse. The tall frame, which had lost too much weight, stood quietly on trembling legs.

"I’m sorry, Martha." Lex took a couple of steps forward, until she was standing less than a foot away. "Please don’t leave me." She whispered, her eyes filling with tears. "I’ll get my act together, I promise."

She looked like a beaten child, so Martha wrapped her arms around the younger woman and pulled her into her ample bosom. "Oh sweetheart…I was just so angry, watching you throw your life away like that." She rocked the now sobbing woman gently, then pulled back and used her ever-present dishtowel to wipe her charge’s face. "Now get this porch cleaned up, go upstairs and take a long hot shower, and come into the kitchen for a big breakfast. I’ll tell the boys to handle the chores for the next couple of days, ‘cause you’re gonna eat and then go straight to bed." She wiped a spot clean on Lex’s forehead, and gave her a gentle kiss. "Now go on, and be quick about it." She turned and moved back into the house, grumbling under her breath about crazy kids and how she had to go and change into a clean apron.

After that, Lex rarely drank, except for the occasional beer or two with the hands on poker night. But she never touched hard alcohol again. Martha knew the young woman had scared herself, and she herself was glad that Lex had promised her to stay clean. Hubert had teased her, saying she was too weak, not being able to handle her alcohol. He constantly belittled her, trying to knock Lex off the wagon. But Lex just put up with his taunts, saying she had given her word, and that he wouldn’t know anything about keeping a pledge to someone.

"Martha?" Amanda became concerned at the look on the older woman’s face. "Are you alright?" she grasped the hand that had been absently wiping the table.

The housekeeper shook her head and gave Amanda a small smile. "Sorry ‘bout that, dear…I got a little lost in my memories." She placed her other hand on Amanda’s. "C’mon. Let’s get to work on those cabinets."


Lex stood at the edge of the creek, mesmerized by the still rapidly flowing water. She shifted her gaze slightly downstream, happy to note the little Mustang was still in the same place, It’s rear bumper just barely visible above the water line. Lex looked behind her, mentally calculating the path she would use to pull the car from the water. How to get it from there to here… that’s the sticking point. One of the chains from the jeep should be long enough, but how in the hell do I get the chain on the car? She looked at the water, and then down at herself. Well, I could just tell them I fell into the creek. She smirked, imagining the looks on their faces. Ah…no… not a good thing to do…Martha would use a spoon on me then! She relegated that problem to the back of her mind, deciding to worry more about it when she got the jeep out of it’s muddy nest. Turning away from the churning waters, Lex walked back over to the patiently waiting Thunder, and rode back towards priority number one.

An hour later, an angry and mud-covered Lex finally drove the jeep towards the creek. Even with using the wench attached to the front of the vehicle, Lex still had to dig and push to extricate the buried jeep. She had removed her ever-present black cowboy hat and duster to save them, but she was almost solid mud from the tip of her head to the sole of her boots – and she was mad enough to spit nails.

The tall rancher backed the equally mud-coated jeep to a large tree ten yards from the bank of the creek, until it was almost touching the heavy oak. Lex wound a length of chain around the trunk of the tree, and the other end around the back axle. She then pulled a longer stretch of chain from the jeep, and attached it to the steel cable that she unwound from the wench. Lex then tied one end of rope to the chain, and the other around her waist. That’s it…I’ve got to be certifiable – jumping into this damn creek not once, but twice in one week. Martha is gonna have me committed. She looked down at her clothes, barely distinguishable under the mud. At least I can use the excuse that I needed to get the mud off of me, so I rinsed off my clothes – don’t have to tell them it was in the creek.

Lex slowly waded into the creek, noticing how much the current had slowed down since Friday. "Damn, but that’s cold!" she grumbled, as the water slowly made it’s way to her shoulders. Once again, she let the current do most of the work, moving her downstream. When she got near the partially submerged car, she took over, her strong stroke cutting through the water easily. Gently bumping the car, she grimaced. Easy, Lex…don’t put anymore dents in than it already has. She pulled herself up on the trunk, and began dragging the rope across the creek, finally getting the chain into her hands. Great…now I get to play Jacques Cousteau, and try to find the damn axle. Taking a deep breath, Lex slid off the rear of the car and slipped under water. Being

familiar with cars, it only took her a minute to wrap the chain around her target and return to the surface. All right…now to get back to the jeep. The rancher pulled herself back across the creek, a strange sense of déjà vu invading her senses.

It took Lex over two hours to pull the small car from the creek. At times she feared the old oak would fall and crush both vehicles, as well as her. And although the huge tree creaked and complained, in the end it stood strong. Her jeep didn’t fare much better, and once the little Mustang was safely ashore, she patted the bedraggled jeep on the hood and promised it a nice cleaning. The old vehicle was Lex’s pride and joy, having rebuilt it herself while in high school.

After securing the waterlogged Mustang to the jeep, Lex walked over to the patiently waiting Thunder, and removed his saddle and bridle. "Okay, old buddy, I’ll race ya home!" He snorted and started towards the trees, content to take the shortcut back to the barn. The rancher returned to the jeep and fished her cell phone out of the pocket of her coat. She dialed the number for the ranch hoping Martha, and not Amanda would answer.

On the third ring, her wish was answered. "Walters residence."

"Martha, it’s me." Lex smiled into the phone, imagining the shock on the older woman’s face. She rarely used the cell phone, saying she’d rather speak to someone face to face.

"Lexie? Honey, is everything okay?" the housekeeper sounded a little nervous.

"Everything’s wonderful, Martha. I got the jeep, and I’ll be making a stop at the maintenance shed before I get back to the house." A not so subtle hint.

"Good lord, sweetheart. Don’t scare me like that – I thought for sure something was wrong when you called." Martha sighed heavily.

"Sorry – wasn’t trying to scare you. It’s just that I sent Thunder on ahead, and I didn’t want you to worry when you saw him and not me. The road’s still pretty muddy, and I thought it would be too dangerous for him to be led behind the jeep." Lex tossed the saddle, blanket, and bridle in the back of the jeep. "I should be in sight of the house in about an hour or so." She hinted, hoping Martha could keep a certain blonde away from the windows.

"That sounds great, Lexie. I thought Amanda and I would go over to my place for a while…I’ve got some pictures she might be interested in seeing." She laughed, knowing that Lex knew exactly what pictures she had in mind. Also knowing that the road to the maintenance shed was not viewable from her house. "We’ll be back in a couple of hours, that should give you time to take care of your horse and get yourself cleaned up too."

Lex laughed too. "Uh…well, I was pretty muddy, but it’s mostly cleaned off now." She climbed into the jeep. "I’ll see you at the house later, then. Bye, Martha." She disconnected the call before the older woman figured out what she had said. I’m gonna be in so much trouble for that. She grinned to herself. It was one of her favorite past times, teasing the housekeeper to keep her on her toes. But she gives as good as she gets, that’s for damn sure.

Chapter 5

"Oh, Martha…these were priceless!" Amanda was seated in the den, several photo albums strewn about. They had spent the last hour or so talking about each other’s families, and just enjoying the companionship of each other.

Martha looked at the clock on the mantle. Been almost two hours since Lexie called…guess we should get back to the main house and get dinner finished up. "Amanda? Do you want to help me with dinner tonight? Lexie should be back any time now."

The young blonde jumped to her feet, scooping several of the albums up. "I’d love to…what do you need me to do?" She practically beat the older woman to the door. "Oh…where do you want me to put these?" She indicated the books in her hands.

The older woman laughed and took the albums. "I’ll take those, dear." She put the items on a nearby desk. "C’mon…I put a roast on earlier today – let’s go see what we can find to put with it, shall we?"


Lex put the Mustang in the shed, telling herself she’d be back after Amanda went to bed to begin working on it. She was amazed at the lack of damage it had sustained; a medium-sized dent in the rear left panel, and of course the water damage as well as the kicked in back window. But at least the window is still in one piece – shouldn’t be too hard to put back in place. She had even found Amanda’s purse, and laid it on the workbench to dry out. Can’t give it to her yet…she’d be too suspicious.

Now the dark haired woman was busily brushing down Thunder, who was munching contently on the hay she had given him. Reward for beating me back to the barn, she mused. She had actually finished his grooming some time ago, but had allowed the time to slip away form her as she daydreamed. C’mon, Lexington…get your damn head on straight! She patted the horse on his broad shoulder. "Enjoy your snack, boy," then left the stable and walked up towards the house.

Stepping up onto the porch, the tired and dirty rancher stopped and removed her boots. Let’s just see if I can sneak upstairs before Martha gets a good look at me.

Slowly opening the door Lex peeked inside, hearing voices in the kitchen. Great…well, maybe I can get by the door without them seeing me. No longer dripping creek water, her jeans and tee shirt were still damp and heavily stained with mud. She could also feel small bits of mud and debris in her hair, but thankfully her hat covered most of her head. Her socks, which had been white this morning were now a reddish brown, and squished on the hardwood floor, making Lex wince with each step. She eased her head slowly around the kitchen door, hoping to get past the housekeeper. Good! They’re both busy. She continued down the hallway, walking quickly.

"LEXINGTON MARIE!! What on earth have you done?!?" A very familiar voice boomed.

Uh-oh. Lex spun around in mid-stride, causing her wet feet to slip out from under her, and landing on her rear end with a sodden thump. "OW!" The muck-covered rancher slowly stood up, rubbing her backside with her hands. "Hi, Martha. Did you get your cabinets all straightened out?" she asked, backing up towards the staircase. That’s it, Lex…act casual.

"Don’t you ‘Hi Martha’ me, Lexington! You’re soaking wet! And I know for a fact that it hasn’t rained at all today." The heavyset woman stomped up to Lex, placing her hands on her hips and cocking her head to one side.

"Ummm…well…you see, the jeep was really buried in the mud, and I, umm…" she trailed off, seeing the look in the older woman’s eyes that said she meant business.

"Yes?" the word was drawn out, and Martha was impatiently tapping her foot.

How does she do it? One look and I feel ten years old again! "Aw hell, Martha…I was covered in mud, and thought I’d better rinse off before I came into the house." She looked down at her soggy socks.

Martha relented. "I appreciate that, honey…but why all the sneaking around?"

The tall woman looked up, her eyes barely visible under her hat brim. "I wasn’t actually ‘sneaking’…just didn’t want to disturb you while you were cooking dinner." She gave a small smile.

Amanda witnessed the entire scene from the kitchen doorway. She covered her mouth with her hand, not wanting to interrupt. The poor rancher looked so…cute, standing there with Martha chewing her out like a recalcitrant child.

The housekeeper yanked the black hat off of the damp woman’s head. "Good lord, child…what is all of that stuff in your hair?"

Lex closed her eyes and sighed. "I told you I got really muddy…can I please go take a shower now?" She grabbed her hat from the older woman and made her way up the stairs.

"Dinner should be ready in about thirty minutes." Martha called after her.

"Thanks." Lex smiled, then squished her way up to her bedroom.

Martha turned back towards Amanda, who was barely containing her giggles.

"I swear, that girl can get into trouble just climbing out of bed in the mornings!" she sighed, leading Amanda back into the kitchen.

The young blonde finally lost it. She had to sit down on a nearby stool to remain at least somewhat upright. "She looked so pitiful…does she do that often?" she wheezed in between her giggles. She looked like a drowned cat that had been drug through too many mud puddles.

"Unfortunately, yes. Mud must be one of her favorite accessories, because she’s forever covered in it." The housekeeper stirred a pot of something on the stove. "I swear she could find mud in a drought!"

Amanda laughed. "She was rather grimy. But did you really have to fuss at her like that?"

Martha turned away from the stove, meeting the younger woman’s eyes. "No…but if I don’t throw at least a token fit, she’ll think I don’t love her anymore. I think she secretly enjoys the attention."

"Well, I don’t think it’s hurt her any…she speaks of you with the utmost respect and love." Amanda sobered, wanting this sweet woman to realize just how devoted the young rancher was to her. "She told me the night I met her how much she cared for you – said you were the only mother she’d ever had."

The older woman wiped an errant tear from her eye. "That goes double for me…she’s one of the main reasons I never married – I had the only family I ever needed right here." Martha smiled. "I’ve had several offers over the years, but I never could bring myself to leave her. And I couldn’t see me ever having a child I would love half as much."

Amanda walked over and gave Martha a hug. "Well, for what it’s worth, I think you’ve done a fine job of raising her. Lex is a wonderful person."

"Thank you…I’m very proud of the woman she has become, although I think she had more to do with it than I did." She took a deep breath. "Now…let’s get dinner on the table – she should be straggling down anytime."

"Martha." Lex admonished, leaning in the doorway, "You talking ‘bout me again?" her hair was wet, and she was wearing jeans and the ever present tee shirt, which for once actually had a design on it.

Jake’s John Deere? Amanda smirked. Bet ol’ Jake would sell more tractors if his billboards looked like that! She helped Martha move the food to the table. "So, how did the fence by the creek look? Did you have to make any repairs?"

Lex reached for a bowl on the cabinet, only to have her hand slapped by Martha. "Hey! I was just trying to help!" she yanked her hand away quickly.

The housekeeper shooed her away. "We have it all under control. Now go sit down." The rancher affected a hurt expression, and Martha turned her around and slapped her gently on the rear. "Don’t give me that look. You’ve been out working all day, and you need to sit down."

Lex raised an eyebrow, but did as she was told. "You two have been working all day too. What’s the difference?"

Amanda looked at the housekeeper, who had a perplexed look on her face, trying to think of a good comeback. "Because we actually sat down once in a while and took a break." The blonde replied, "And we know you didn’t."

The dark woman frowned. "What makes you think I didn’t?"

Martha butted in. "Two reasons: One…you never take a break when you work in the field. Two…you look like you can barely stand up."

Lex opened her mouth, but promptly shut it at the housekeeper’s upraised hand. "No…don’t you argue with me – I’ve known you far too long." She smiled triumphantly. "So just sit there quietly while we get dinner on the table."

She knew when she’d been beaten. Lex smiled. "Yes ma’am."


After dinner, Martha once again refused any help with the dishes, chasing the two younger women out of the kitchen, popping her dishtowel at them with glee.

Lex grabbed Amanda’s hand and laughingly drug her from the mock battle, threatening to return similarly armed. She pulled the blonde down the long hallway, until they came to the den door. "Want to watch a movie?" she asked, turning to her companion with a gentle smile.

Amanda squeezed the hand that held hers. "I think I’d like that very much…but I need to call my grandmother first, if that’s okay with you."

"Sure…you know you can use the phone anytime." She gave a courtly bow, pulling the young woman’s hand to her lips. "My castle is yours to do with as you wish." She gave Amanda a slight nudge towards the office. "G’wan. Take all the time you need." She sat down on the sofa and propped her barefeet on the coffee table. "I’ll save ya a spot." She grinned.

Amanda looked towards the office, and then back at the lazily sprawled rancher. "You know, it is getting late…" she started towards the sofa, "And I’d hate to disturb them – my grandfather really needs his rest." She sat down next to the older woman and snuggled up close. "Besides, I called them from Martha’s house today. I’m sure they’re okay."

"How’s your grandfather doing? I haven’t seen him since he’s gotten out of the hospital." Lex asked, putting her arm around the blonde, who gave her a puzzled look.

"You saw him at the hospital? Why didn’t I ever see you?" she edged just a little bit closer.

Lex looked down at her with a fond smile. "Well, I’d only visit once or twice a week, mainly to make sure Mrs. Cauble was doing okay, and it was always first thing in the morning."

"Oh, well that explains it. I normally wouldn’t get to the hospital until nine or ten, since I would stay so late the night before." She stopped and thought for a moment. "Waitaminute! It was you, wasn’t it?"

Lex met her gaze. "What?" she asked quietly.

"Monday and Thursday mornings there were always fresh flowers by Grandpa Jake’s bed." The young woman smiled. "You were the one who brought them, right?"

Lex looked somewhat embarrassed. "Uh, yeah…well…the florist was on my way in." She felt small arms slightly constrict around her. "And Mr. Cauble has always been really nice to me." She motioned to the entertainment center. "He made that, you know." Trying to change the subject a little, she asked her original question again. "How’s his leg? Has he gotten his cast off yet?"

"Yep…he’s almost back to his old self, but he’s got a pretty heavy limp. Although he’s told us that it’s only temporary." Amanda leaned up close to Lex’s ear. "But he’s doing much…" she kissed the tender skin, "much…" a slight nibble on the nearby lobe, "better."

Lex moaned, and turned her head, meeting Amanda’s teasing mouth passionately. They took their time, both enjoying the gentle contact. Lex pulled the smaller woman into her lap, and the blonde reciprocated by tangling her hands in Lex’s dark locks, gently kneading the strong neck.

The rancher was the first one to break away, a slightly glazed look in her eyes. "Wow…" she cleared her throat. "That was…"

Amanda placed a soft kiss on her chin. "Oh yeah…it most certainly was." She smiled. "But you know, that may have been a fluke." She nibbled on the dark woman’s lower lip. "Shall we try again just to be sure?"

Lex answered her with a quiet growl, and began a fierce exploration of the blonde’s pale throat. She worked her way up to a small ear, and gave it a gentle tug. "Sounds like a plan to me." She whispered, enjoying the little shiver she could feel running through the young woman.

They continued almost hesitantly, neither in any hurry to push the other too far. Feels so good…Amanda thought, using her small hands to map out the strong muscles in the older woman’s back. She was feeling almost overwhelmed by the incredible sensations coursing through her body. I’ve never felt anything like this before. She thought that what she had found with Judith was special, at least until now. No, that was friendship, or maybe even infatuation…this is…a low moan escaped her as Lex found a particularly tender spot on her neck. This is incredible!

Lex couldn’t seem to get enough of the tender throat under her lips. She bit down gently on the pulse point, eliciting a low moan from the woman sprawled in her lap. Even though her heart was pounding in her ears, the dark woman had never felt such a complete feeling of peace before. When Amanda began running her hands up and down the rancher’s broad back, Lex knew deep in her soul that she’d come home at last.

By unspoken agreement, neither woman took the activities any farther, both wanting to savor the moment. Lex regretfully pulled back. "It’s getting pretty late…why don’t we continue this ‘conversation’ tomorrow?"

Amanda ran a trembling finger down the rancher’s flushed face. "Probably a good idea…" she could feel the older woman’s chest heaving with effort. "Why don’t we go upstairs and get some sleep?" she climbed off of Lex’s lap, grabbing one of the large hands and pulling the still seated woman to her feet. "C’mon…I’ll tuck you in." A wicked smile was her answer. Amanda blushed. "Lex!" she slapped her arm, "You know what I mean!"

The tall woman smiled and pulled the red-faced Amanda into a strong hug. "Sorry…it’s just you’re so cute when you blush." She kissed the blonde head under her chin, "But you’re right…It’s been a pretty long day." She allowed the younger woman to step back, but caught her small hand. "Can I walk you home?" a smirk.

Amanda chuckled. "Hmmm…I dunno…what would my parent’s say?"

Lex grinned. "They’d say I was incredibly lucky." She pulled the blonde to the door. "Let’s go…I don’t want you turning into a pumpkin, or some other such nonsense."

Navigating the stairs had been an experience, to say the least. Lex took the opportunity to stop at almost every step, citing some unknown house rule about a kiss per step. Amanda didn’t want to jinx the house, so of course she obliged. Fifteen minutes later, they found themselves at Amanda’s bedroom door. Lex pulled a small hand to her lips and kissed it gently. "Goodnight…" she whispered, her blue eyes locked with Amanda’s.

The smaller woman released the hand in hers, and put her arms around Lex’s neck. She stood up on her tiptoes and zeroed in on a pair of slightly bruised lips. "Goodnight." She kissed Lex with abandon, wanting to send the older woman to bed with something to remember her by. "Sleep well." Amanda placed a final peck on Lex’s lower lip, then released her and turned towards her door. "See you in the morning." She smiled, and closed the door behind her, leaving a stunned but grinning rancher staring after her.

"Oh, boy…" Lex turned and headed across the hall, "Maybe I need a cold shower." She laughed to herself, as she crossed the room towards the dresser. "Nah…I’ll just put on my boots, and go check out the car." That should calm me down. Yeah, right!


Lex crept down the dark stairway feeling somewhat like a teenager sneaking out from her parents. She carried her boots in her hand, not wanting to make any noise that could awaken Amanda. Once outside, she slipped the boots on, suppressing a shiver as a cold wind ruffled her hair. Looking off to the right of the house, Lex was thankful that Martha’s little cottage was completely dark. Good. Maybe she’ll get a little rest. Growing up, Lex wondered if the ever-present housekeeper slept at all. Any time of the day or night the young girl could always count on seeing Martha about, usually in the kitchen.

Lex smiled to herself as she looked up at the cloudless late-night sky, the full moon illuminating the path in front of her. Maybe, with Amanda’s help, I can try and get Martha to take it easier. Upon reaching the shed, the dark woman opened the door and slipped inside. Turning on the light, she pulled a pair of worn coveralls from their hook and quickly stepped into them. At least they’ll keep me warm, she sighed, and moved towards the still dripping little car.

Three hours later, a dirty and exhausted Lex snuck back through the silent house. She had spent most of the night taking the Mustang apart, finding out that the water damage was not as severe as she had imagined. Once it dries out completely, it shouldn’t take too much work to get it running again. She undressed in the dark, padding silently into the bathroom and starting the shower. Not even bothering with turning on the lights, Lex pulled open the glass door and stepped inside, moaning with relief when the hot spray hit her exhausted body. Almost falling asleep standing up in the shower, she quickly rinsed off and climbed out, wrapping a large towel around her body. Sliding between the sheets, Lex was asleep before she realized that she did not put on any pajamas, and that she was not alone in the large bed.


Amanda had been awakened by another bad dream, and no matter how hard she tried, she could not go back to sleep. She tiptoed to the bedroom across the hall, needing the presence of the dark rancher to sooth her frazzled nerves.

Standing in the doorway, Amanda peered towards the bed, trying to see if the older woman was asleep. "Lex?" she whispered, not hearing any sounds from the bed. "Are you asleep?"

Total silence. "She crept towards the bed, finding it empty. Now where on earth could she be? She looked in the bathroom, and found it deserted as well. Maybe she went downstairs for a snack or something. The young blonde made her way to the far side if the bed and sat down. I’ll just wait here for her. A few minutes later, completely worn out, Amanda curled up on her side and fell asleep.


Lex awoke to gentle sunlight streaming through the windows, a heavy weight on her chest. She opened her eyes and saw light blonde hair spread across her chest. Wha…? Sometime during the night, Amanda had not only found her way into Lex’s bed, but had snuggled up against the naked woman under the sheets. Her left arm was casually slung across the older woman’s chest, and her left leg was tangled with the rancher’s own long limbs. Oh boy…. This could get….Interesting…Damn, what time is it, anyway? She glanced at the clock on the nightstand, surprised to see it was a little after seven in the morning. With a small sigh, Lex slipped out from under the smaller woman, making her way to the dresser to find some clothes for the day.

Amanda felt her mattress move. Move? What gives? She slid one sleepy eye open, and spotted Lex moving towards the dresser. Mmmm…nice body. She mused, then jerked awake when she realized what she was seeing. Naked?!?! What is she doing in my bedroom naked? The young woman blinked, and realized with a start she was in Lex’s bedroom. Peeking under the sheet, she was somewhat relieved to note that she had on an oversized tee shirt. Whew! Don’t know if I am more relieved, or disappointed….Hmmm…definitely disappointed.

Amanda saw the tall woman open a drawer and remove a handful of clothes, so she quickly slammed her eyes shut before Lex turned around. The rancher silently spun on her heel, then made her way to the bathroom and quietly closed the door behind her. Okay…let’s just think about this for a minute. Amanda racked her brain, Ah, that’s right. I was waiting for her to come back to her room, and I must have fallen to sleep. She frowned to herself. But why would she get into bed with me if she were naked? She bit her lower lip. Maybe she didn’t realize I was here…but that still doesn’t explain the fact that she had NO clothes on!!

The bathroom door opened and Lex stepped out. "I’m awake." Amanda said quietly.

The tall woman sat gently on the edge of the bed. "Good morning…I hope I didn’t wake you." She smiled.

"No, not at all…" the small blonde would not meet her eyes. "Sorry…I didn’t mean to fall asleep here. I had another bad dream, and couldn’t sleep – so I came in here, but you were gone." She gave Lex a questioning glance. "Where were you?"

"I couldn’t sleep, so I went down to the barn." Lex told her quietly. Not a complete lie, anyway.

"Oh…anyway, I guess I fell asleep waiting for you. Didn’t mean to take over your bed like this."

Lex patted the young woman on the leg. "Hey, no problem. I was so tired when I came in, I just took a quick shower and fell into bed."

Amanda covered the hand on her leg with one of her own. "What time did you get to sleep? I know it was pretty late when I wandered in here."

Lex stood up. "It wasn’t that late…probably right after you came in." She gently pulled Amanda up on the bed. "C’mon. Why don’t you get up and get dressed, and I’ll meet you downstairs for breakfast."

Amanda stood up on her knees on the edge of the bed. She linked her hands behind the tall woman’s neck and pulled her close. "I’ve got a better idea."

Lex quirked an eyebrow, but didn’t complain as the young woman took her time exploring her mouth. She found her hands drifting to Amanda’s hips, unconsciously pulling her closer.


They broke apart quickly, each shooting an embarrassed look towards the door. Lex found her voice first. "Good morning, Martha." She directed a grin at the housekeeper, who was standing in the doorway with her arms crossed.

"Obviously." The heavyset woman snorted, causing Amanda’s blush to deepen.

"It’s…ummm…not what it looks like, exactly." The young blonde stammered to explain.

"Right…" Martha turned to leave. "Just wanted to let you both know that breakfast is ready." She winked. "I’m sure you’ve both worked up an appetite." She shook her head, leaving the room and closing the door behind her.

Amanda fell back on the bed laughing. "Oh, god…she’s not going to let us live this down, is she?"

Lex put her hands on her hips and grinned. "Nope…" she offered the now giggling woman a hand. "C’mon…let’s go face the music." Pulling Amanda up. "Does that bother you?"

The younger woman stood up, wrapping an arm around Lex’s waist. "Nope. And I hope it doesn’t bother Martha too much either…’cause I’m not gonna stop anytime soon."

Lex laughed as they made their way out of the bedroom.


The only sounds at the table were when silverware would touch a plate. Amanda was too embarrassed to speak, and Lex was still tired from being up most of the night. Martha had a knowing smile on her face, somewhat enjoying the younger women’s discomfort. They are so cute…"Okay, would you two please relax?" She laughed. "I’m sorry I teased you, but I just couldn’t resist." She looked over at Amanda, who smiled at her shyly. "I know not much was going on, because Lexie was completely dressed."

"Huh?" Lex blinked, coming back to the conversation with a start. "What did I do?"

"What’s the matter, honey? Are you not feeling well?" the housekeeper touched her wrist.

"No…I’m fine." Lex took a deep drink of coffee. I hope the caffeine kicks in soon, or this is gonna be one helluva long day!

Amanda finished swallowing a mouthful of food. "Actually, I think someone’s just tired. She told me she was having trouble getting to sleep last night."

Trouble sleeping, huh? Martha had a pretty good idea why the rancher looked so worn out. Probably spent all night messing with that car! She glared at the exhausted woman, who gave her an answering shrug. "Uh-huh…so does that mean that you’re going to take it easy today?"

Lex shook her dark head. "Nope…gonna start working on the bridge. We’re going to start running out of supplies pretty soon."

"WHAT?!?" Two surprised voices chimed in at once.

"Lexie…we have enough things to get by on for at least another week, maybe two." Martha exclaimed. "I really don’t think you should be messing around with that old bridge – it may not be very stable."

Amanda agreed. "She’s right…there’s no telling what kind of shape it’s actually in. Can’t you wait until the creek slows down some more?" she smiled brightly at the rancher. "I’m certainly not in any big hurry to leave."

Lex returned her smile. "I’m not trying to get rid of you either…but I would like to have that bridge usable by the end of the week…and I don’t know what the extent of the damage is."

Amanda nodded. "Okay…but I’ll go with you."

Lex started to argue, but couldn’t seem to get past those bright green eyes. "Sure…I’d appreciate the company."

Martha’s jaw nearly hit the table. Ooh…she’s got it bad – never seen Lexie give up without a serious fight. She just sat there and grinned.

The rancher noticed the silly smile on the housekeeper’s face. "What?" she asked, feeling a little irritable. "Something wrong?"

"Nope…just peachy, dear."

Amanda laughed, nearly inhaling her juice.

Lex glared at her. "You too? Do I have food on my face or something?" Anger colored her tone. What the hell is their problem?

Martha laughed, then covered her mouth with a small hand. "Sorry…" she stifled a giggle. "I can’t help it!" she burst out laughing again, watching the rancher’s face darken.

The young blonde placed a hand on Lex’s arm. "Hey." She snorted. "Sorry…I’m not sure why I’m laughing… I guess Martha’s good humor is contagious!" she smiled brightly.

Martha was busy wiping the tears from her eyes. "Oh Lexie…you’re just so cute when you get a little flustered. It reminds me of when you were about twelve, and your daddy wouldn’t let you go out of town with all the hands to the auction."

This little memory made Lex smile. "Yeah…I didn’t realize little girls didn’t stay overnight with a group of grown men… I was so angry." She laughed. "Sorry about losing my temper." Lex rubbed her eyes. "Must not be quite awake yet."

Martha stood up and stepped behind the rancher, rubbing her strong back. "Honey, don’t worry about it." She began carrying plates to the sink. "Are you going to get started on the bridge right away?"

Lex nodded, standing up and bringing her dishes to the sink as well. "Uh-huh…thought I load up the truck with lumber right after feeding the stock, so I…" she paused when Amanda cleared her throat with a frown, "I mean we, probably won’t be back until dinner."

The housekeeper turned away from the sink. "After you get finished feeding, come back to the house first…I’ll have a nice lunch packed for you both." Daring the tall woman to argue with her.

Lex thought about brushing her off, but considered the young woman with her. Even if I don’t usually eat lunch, there’s no point in making Amanda suffer. She grinned to herself. Besides, it’s always a good idea to keep Martha just a little bit off stride. "That would be great, Martha…I’d really appreciate it." Nearly laughing out loud at the expression on the older woman’s face. Gotcha! Teach her to tease me!

Amanda snickered. Poor Martha…she doesn’t have a snappy comeback for that one. "So would I…do you need any help putting lunch together?"

The older woman scoffed. "No dear…you would be more help if you could keep an eye on Grumpy over there." She ignored Lex’s outraged look. "Try and keep her out of trouble, if you can."

Lex threw up her hands in disgust. "Okay…I can take a hint." To Amanda, "C’mon. Let’s go take care of the stock." She stomped out of the kitchen without another word.

The young blonde exchanged amused glances with Martha, then followed the angry rancher out of the kitchen.


Driving the old truck back to the barn, with a contrite look on her dark features, Lex glanced at Amanda. The younger woman had picked up on her moodiness, and had been uncharacteristically silent for the entire morning. "Hey."

Amanda pulled her glance from the window, where she had been studying the passing terrain. "Hmm?"

"I’m sorry I’ve been such an ass this morning." Lex was floundering on unfamiliar ground. She was completely out of her element, and wasn’t really sure how to make things right.

The blonde woman studied the shadowed features across from her, and opened her mouth to reply, when Lex’s upraised hand halted her.

"No…I’m tired and cranky, and I shouldn’t have taken it out on you." She gave the other woman a small smile. "And to top it all off, I have got to go back to the house and beg Martha’s forgiveness…she’s gonna make me pay, let me tell you."

Amanda smiled back. "Yeah, well…I don’t think you’ll have to work too hard…She’s pretty sweet." She reached over and latched onto Lex’s spare hand, tangling their fingers. "And you really don’t owe me an apology. I can see how tired you are."

Lex shook her head. "That doesn’t excuse my behavior…Martha would be the first one to tell you that she raised me better than that." She shook her head. "I would probably be in jail or dead if she hadn’t straightened me out years ago." She pulled the truck up behind the hay barn, where a large stack of boards lay. "You want to help me load some stuff up?"

"Wouldn’t miss it." Amanda pulled her gloves back onto her hands and hopped out of the truck. Waiting until Lex stepped out from the other side, she walked to the back of the vehicle to meet the rancher. "Is there any special size or type of these things you want us to load?"

Lex had removed her coat and stepped over to the neat waist-high stack of lumber. "I figure we could take a little bit of everything, so we don’t have to make extra trips." She opened a small door that led into the back of the barn. "Let me get some tools, and then we’ll begin piling some of this stuff into the truck, okay?"

Amanda opened the tailgate and sat down. "Works for me. I’ll just keep Ol’ Rusty Blue here company." She swung her legs back and forth, giving the taller woman a cute smile.

"What did you call my truck?" Lex asked, mock outrage in her tone. She turned away from the door with her hands on her hips.

"Ummm…Ol’ Rusty Blue?" an innocent look.

Lex stalked back over to the truck, stepping neatly in between the younger woman’s legs. Placing her hands on the slim hips, she pulled the small body closer. "Rusty Blue, huh?"

The blonde leaned back on her hands with an evil grin. "Don’t forget OLD…" She was about to continue when she felt soft lips nibble on her own. Amanda took the initiative and deepened the kiss, wrapping her legs tightly around Lex’s back, pulling the older woman into her with a strong need.

Minutes later the rancher broke off the kiss reluctantly, clearing her throat. "Great name for the truck…" She stepped back, gently untangling herself from the beautiful woman below her. "I’ll just go get the…umm…tools now." She stumbled into the barn on shaky legs.


Lex pulled the truck to a stop several yards from the bridge, afraid of getting too close in case the structure wasn’t stable or the edge of the creek crumbled. She stepped out of the vehicle, watching as Amanda did the same. The young woman had a strange look on her face as she followed suit. The rancher moved to the passenger’s side of the truck, reaching out to Amanda. "Are you…" before she could finish her question, she found her arms full of a crying woman.

"Oh, god…" Amanda latched onto the tall woman, sobbing.

"Shhh…" Lex gently rubbed her back, "You’re okay…" She gently rocked Amanda, not knowing what to do or say.

The small blonde buried her face in Lex’s chest, sniffling. "S..sorry…I guess seeing all this in the daylight kinda brought it all back." She looked up into concerned blue eyes. "I could have been killed…"

"Yeah, but you weren’t…everything turned out okay." Lex brought a gentle hand to the tear-stained face, wiping under Amanda’s brimming eyes. "Do you want to go back to the house?"

Amanda took a deep breath and sighed. "No. I’m all right…just had one heck of a wicked flashback, that’s all…" She hugged the tall frame. "Thanks…" she released a shaky breath. "Let’s get started, shall we?" stepping back and wiping her face with her hands.

"Are you sure? I can always come back later if you’re uncomfortable." Lex took a step forward and captured a small shaking hand. Bringing it to her lips, she kissed it tenderly. "I don’t like to see you hurting like this."

Bringing their linked hands to her face, Amanda rubbed the large palm against her cheek. "I think it was just shock, I’m okay now." She kissed the inside of Lex’s wrist. "Thanks." She released the hand and stepped back again. "Let’s go see what the bridge looks like. It’s not going to repair itself." She looked downstream. No sign of my car. Probably miles away by now. Oh, well…

Lex shook her head in wonder. "You are an amazing woman, Amanda Cauble." She gave the small woman a smile. "C’mon…"

They stood at the road where it met the bridge, looking at the still rapidly moving water. Lex took a few more steps forward, until she was directly on the edge of the old wooden structure, peering down at the shattered boards. She sat down on the edge, swinging her booted feet below her.

"Lex? Do you really think you should be that close? What if the edge breaks off?" Amanda took a few tentative steps forward, not quite reaching the rancher. One of us falling in is enough – I’m not about to tempt fate that way!

The older woman looked over her shoulder and grinned. "Then I guess I’d be going for a swim, huh?" She cocked her head and swung her long body down, disappearing from sight.

"LEX!!!" Amanda screamed, running towards the bridge. Before she could get to the edge, however, a pair of hands appeared, followed by a dark hat-covered head.

"What?" The rancher pulled herself back up on the bridge. She saw the panic in the younger woman’s eyes and cursed herself. Idiot! She just got calmed down, and you go and scare the hell out of her. What are you using for brains? Lex stood up and crossed over to Amanda, pulling the shaking woman into her arms. "I’m sorry…I wasn’t thinking." She kissed the blonde head.

Amanda accepted the hug, then stepped back and slapped the taller woman on the arm. "You could have warned me before you went diving off the end…I thought you fell!" She grabbed a handful of the rancher’s jacket and pulled, hard. "Don’t you ever do anything like that again, do you hear me?"

"I hear you…I didn’t mean to scare you." Lex looked into Amanda’s eyes, almost losing herself completely. "Forgive me?" Her voice trembling with uncertainty. Would serve me right if she wouldn’t…

Amanda raised a gentle hand and caressed the dark cheek. "Oh, Lex. You don’t have to ask for my forgiveness…you just scared me, that’s all." She stood on her tiptoes and placed a tender kiss on Lex’s chin.

Lex took a relieved breath and smiled. "I’m sorry…it won’t happen again, promise." She led the smaller woman away from the bridge and back towards the truck. "If you don’t mind helping me dig out some of this lumber, we’ll get started, okay?"


The next few hours were spent reinforcing the remaining patch of bridge on their side of the creek – Lex was pleased to find very little structural damage, other than the eight missing feet from the center of the bridge. She decided it would be easier to build a walkway across to the other side of the creek first, and then worry about driving across later.

It was late afternoon before Lex agreed to quit for the day. She had been tirelessly sawing and hammering for several hours, having stopped only when Amanda insisted they have lunch. Her green tee shirt was darkened with perspiration, though the slight breeze stirring was quite cool. The tall woman stood up from where she had just hammered in yet another board and pulled her battered black hat from her head. Looking up at the sky, she took a deep breath and wiped her sweaty forehead on her shoulder. Might was well start cleaning up – not much daylight left. She turned to Amanda, who was picking up the leftover pieces of lumber and tossing them into the truck, as she had been doing most of the day. "You about ready to go back to the house?" Lex asked the younger woman, walking over to stand beside her.

Amanda leaned back against the battered truck. "Oh, yeah…I think my aches have aches, now." She gestured around the area. "I’ve kept things pretty well picked up, so you just say the word, and I’ll be ready to leave."

Lex laughed, and tossed the hammer into the back of the truck. "Consider the word given." She stepped back over to where she had been working, and picked up the odd assortment of tools. Carrying them back over to where Amanda still stood, she tossed them after the hammer, then opened the passenger side door of the vehicle. "Shall we?" she gave a mock bow to the young blonde.

Amanda gave her a somewhat stiff curtsy. "Why, thank you ever so much! And here I thought chivalry was dead!" She slid into the seat, giggling.

Lex tipped her hat as she closed the door. "Nope. Just dead tired!" she crossed to the driver’s side and tumbled in. "Let’s go home."


Trudging up the rear steps to the house, Amanda couldn’t remember the last time she was so tired. And Lex did most of the hard work…I just cleaned up behind her and brought the lumber. She spared a quick glance to the tall woman beside her. She looks worse than I feel. Maybe I can talk her into a quick shower, and then going straight to bed. A slight blush stained her cheeks after that thought. Uh, no. Don’t think I’ll say it quite that way.

Lex was about to open the door when she noticed the younger woman’s face. Don’t tell me she got sunburned today…"Amanda? You okay?" she asked, opening the door and motioning for the blonde to precede her. "You didn’t get too much sun today, did you?"

Oh, crap! Now what do I say to avoid further embarrassment? "Maybe, I’m not sure. I guess I’m just tired." Taking a deep breath, Amanda almost moaned with pleasure at the smells emanating from the kitchen. "And hungry."

Lex laughed at that statement. "Newsflash!" Blocking the expected slap, she poked her head through the kitchen door. "Martha, we’re back!"

The housekeeper ambled out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on the ever-present dishtowel. "Yes, I can see that dear." She wrinkled her nose. "You are planning on taking a shower before dinner, aren’t you?" she reached up and pulled the dusty hat from the rancher’s head. "How many times have I told you to take your hat off when you come into the house?" She swatted the tall woman with the hat. "Now go on upstairs and get cleaned up. Dinner should be ready in about thirty minutes." She turned quickly and moved back into the kitchen, not giving Lex a chance to argue.

"I can never get the last word in with her." Lex mumbled, walking towards the stairs. She turned and looked at Amanda, who giggled. "Well, I don’t think you’re exactly smelling like daisies yourself." Lex grinned, and then darted up the stairs with a very aggravated blonde on her heels.

After dinner, Lex and Amanda were sitting in front of a roaring fire after being chased out of the kitchen by Martha. The housekeeper refused their help with the dishes, citing her inability to find anything after they put stuff away yesterday.

"Amanda?" Lex broke the comfortable silence. "I’ve got to ride to one of the back pastures tomorrow, and check out a few things. Would you like to come along?" The young blonde was sitting in the floor at the rancher’s feet, one arm wrapped possessively around a strong leg. Lex was unconsciously playing with the golden hair tangled in her fingertips. "I know you said you didn’t like to ride, but…"

The smaller woman craned her head at an angle, so she could see the rancher’s face. "It’s not that I don’t like to ride, I’m just afraid of falling off. " Her eyes met Lex’s and she smiled. "Could we go double?"

Lex returned her smile. "I was just about to suggest the same thing." She slipped out of the chair she was sitting in and landed beside Amanda. "So is that a yes?" Lex pulled the young woman into her lap. "Or should I try and convince you?"

"Well…" Amanda wrapped her arms around the older woman’s neck. "Your horse is pretty tall…" she leaned in for a kiss. "I think you’d better start trying to sway my vote." She whispered, as Lex captured her lips.

After Amanda was thoroughly ‘convinced’, she led a tired Lex upstairs, stopping at the guestroom door. "Goodnight." She whispered, giving the large hand she held a gentle squeeze.

Lex pulled the smaller woman into her arms, kissing her with a tender intensity. When both of them became breathless, she slowly broke away. "Yeah." She cleared her throat. "See you in the morning." She turned and crossed to her own room, trying to calm her own pounding heart. Stepping inside, she closed the door and then moved over to the dresser. Better get changed, so as soon as she’s asleep, I can go check out the car.

Half an hour later, the tall woman was once again sneaking out of the house. She stopped at Amanda’s door and listened for a moment. Good. Then rubbing her eyes, Lex began tiptoeing down the stairway, boots in hand.

It took the weary rancher almost three hours to put the small car back together, but she was more than certain that she could have it running within the next night or two. Can’t wait to see her face when I pull this little baby around to the front of the house. Lex grinned to herself. I’ll do the engine work tomorrow night – maybe a long ride will wear her out, so I can get started earlier.

The mantle clock in her bedroom chimed twice when Lex had finally drug herself back into the room. At least I’m getting to bed at a decent hour tonight, she mused, stripping off her clothes as she made her way into the bathroom. After a quick shower, the dark woman snuck back into her bedroom, leery of finding small women in her bed. Can’t be too careful. Seeing that she was indeed alone, the exhausted woman pulled a sleepshirt over her head and collapsed under the sheets.


Lex had just finished saddling up Thunder when Amanda strolled into the barn, a small backpack tossed over one shoulder. The younger woman leaned up against the stall door, smiling. "Are you about ready?" she asked, looking quite smug.

The rancher turned and looked at her. Faded jeans, worn denim shirt and Lex’s old leather jacket from her high school days made the small blonde look like a teenager. She certainly fills out those clothes better than Louis ever did. "Are you propositioning me?" she quirked an eyebrow at the now blushing woman.

"Maybe." Amanda retorted, "Are you accepting?"

Lex laughed and led the large stallion out of the stall. "Maybe." She tossed the word playfully back to her companion. "Whatcha got there?" the older woman asked, pointing to the backpack. "Homework?" she grinned.

"Nope." Amanda walked towards her, swinging her hips. "Lunch." She winked. "And maybe I’ll share if you’re real nice to me."

"Maybe you’ll share?" Lex asked, dropping the reins and pulling the younger woman close. "Just how nice do I have to be?" She leaned down and gently nipped a nearby ear. "And exactly what will you be sharing?" she whispered into the same ear.

Amanda felt her legs go weak beneath her, and she stumbled forward slightly. "Ah…" she couldn’t seem to form a complete thought, since Lex decided to forsake her ear and work directly on her throat. Letting the backpack slide gently to the floor, Amanda groaned softly as Lex finally captured her lips. She was on the verge of an all out collapse when the rancher finally relented and gave her a chance to breathe. "God, Lex…are you trying to kill me?" she whispered, fighting to regain her equilibrium.

"Hmm?" Lex mumbled, burying her face in the sweet smelling blonde hair. "Oh…sorry…I guess we should be getting on our way, huh?" She stepped back regretfully.

"Yeah…just give me a minute to get my legs back…" Amanda joked. "Although I would like to continue this little chat later." She ran a shaky hand through her hair and picked up the discarded backpack.

The older woman smiled. "I’d like that too." She grabbed the reins once again and started for the door. "C’mon, boy…let’s take Amanda for a little tour."

Once outside, Lex easily mounted the prancing horse, then reached down for Amanda. "Up ya go." She pulled the small woman up in front of her. "Thought you’d like to be able to see where we’re going. Just hang on to the saddle horn, and I’ll hang on to you."

"Now that’s the best offer I’ve had in a long time." Amanda leaned back into the warm body behind her. One strong arm circled her waist, as Lex gripped the reins loosely in her right hand.

"Don’t worry. I won’t let you fall." Lex whispered in the small woman’s ear, enjoying the little tremble she felt run through Amanda’s body. C’mon, Lexington…try and control yourself, or it’s gonna be one helluva long day. She chided herself, giving the body in front of her a gentle squeeze.

They rode slowly for a couple of hours, Lex taking the scenic route towards their destination, wanting to prolong the pleasant ride as long as possible. They slowly made their way into heavy woods, following a slightly worn path that the rancher explained was her favorite. "I usually ride up here to get away from everything," she told Amanda, "Been known to take a sleeping bag and supplies and just spend the weekend relaxing."

The terrain had become steadily steeper, until Amanda realized they were actually in the foothills just north of the ranch. "You have stock that stay in this? What are they, mountain goats?" She felt the body behind her chuckle.

"No…there’s a small pass just ahead that opens up into a valley…that’s where we keep a small herd of wild horses and cattle." Lex explained. "We normally take the road from the north, but we would have to drive through the creek, and that’s kinda impossible to do right now." She felt the stomach under her hand rumble. "I guess you are trying to tell me that you’re hungry?"

Amanda laughed. "Uh…yeah. I guess so." She reached back and patted the muscular leg behind hers. "Does that mean we’re stopping for lunch soon?"

Lex pulled her close again. "Yep. And I know of just the right place." She led Thunder off of the beaten path, working their way through dense trees.

Amanda’s breath caught in her throat. The clearing Lex had led them to was absolutely beautiful. Silence prevailed, and the sun fought it’s way through the tree tops, shedding it’s light on a small pond. Lex dropped down from the powerful horse, pulling Amanda gently from the saddle. "I hope this is okay…it’s one of my favorite spots." She led the smaller woman to a fallen tree and dropped the backpack beside it, then continued on towards the small body of water. A small pit ringed with rocks nearby was the only sign that anyone had ever been there.

"Lex, it’s beautiful…this is your hideaway?" Amanda looked around them, absorbing the beauty and solitude.

The dark woman turned back away from the pond. "Yeah. I come up here to clear my mind…it’s not too far from the ranch in case they need me, but it’s far enough away that they don’t know where it is."

Amanda sat down in front of the log and patted the ground beside her. "Why don’t you come over here, and we’ll see what Martha packed us for lunch?" She opened the backpack, pulling out a couple of foil wrapped packages.

"Sure." Lex ambled back over to where Amanda was sprawled, and dropped down casually beside her. She accepted the package that the smaller woman handed her, and began to open it. "Mmm…smells like a roast sandwich – she knows it’s my favorite."

"Oh, yum…this is wonderful." Amanda agreed, taking a bite of hers. "I can see why it’s your favorite." She reached into the backpack with her free hand and pulled out a bottle of water, then handed it to Lex. "Here…she doesn’t forget anything, does she?" She sat her sandwich on her leg and grabbed another bottle from the bag, opening it.

Lex, who was happily munching away, nodded her head. She swallowed. "Nope…she probably thought I’d forget the canteen, which I didn’t." she smiled.

"So…why are we checking the stock? Are you afraid the heavy rains may have done something to them?" Amanda asked, after they finished their lunch. "Could the creek have flooded them out?" She was lightly running her hand up and down the rancher’s denim-clad leg, as they looked out over the water.

Lex took a deep breath and sighed. "No, nothing like that." She looked into the younger woman’s eyes. "The other night, while I was checking the books, it looked like we were missing an unusually high amount of animals."

"Okay, but isn’t that somewhat normal on a ranch this size?" Amanda asked, a little confused.

"Usually, yes. But not only are we beginning to lose cattle, but sometime recently we’ve begun to lose money, as well." Lex felt a small hand grasp hers. "I don’t normally do the books, that’s Hubert’s job…but I just had this strange feeling that something was wrong, and it appears I was right."

Amanda leaned over until her head was on the rancher’s broad shoulder. "So what are we going to do about it?"

We. I think I like the sound of that, Lex smiled inwardly. "We," she paused, smiling into the other woman’s eyes, "are going to do a quick headcount in the back pasture. I can compare what we find with what had been reported at the beginning of the summer. That should give us an idea of what’s going on." She stood up, pulling Amanda up through their linked hands. "C’mon. It’s only about another twenty minutes from here."


Lex maneuvered Thunder through the narrow pass, which was only wide enough for perhaps two horses at a time to go through comfortably. Amanda shivered, and the arm around her waist tightened.

"You okay?" A gentle whisper in her ear.

She leaned back, enjoying the protective grasp. "Yeah…it’s just kinda spooky – I guess because it’s so quiet." The only sound was the sodden clump of the horse’s hooves, which echoed eerily along the jagged walls. She squeezed the strong leg behind her, feeling the muscle jump.

"Don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe – I ride through here all the time." Lex buried her nose in the fragrant blonde hair. "We’re almost through."

The path suddenly opened up, making way for the more dense foliage. The rode through the thick forest in silence until Lex suddenly pulled Thunder to a stop.

Amanda, who had been daydreaming, came back to herself with a start. "What?" she looked around. "Why are we stopping?"

Lex pointed off to their right. "Smoke." They were on a slight rise, and could see over the treetops easily.

The younger woman strained her eyes. "Where?" she squinted. "Are you sure?" She still couldn’t see anything.

"Yeah…it looks like it’s not too far away, either. We’d better go check it out." She gently kneed the black horse into a faster pace. "Hang on, this may be a little bumpy!"

The closer they got to the smoke, the more uncomfortable Lex was becoming. I don’t like the look of this…it appears to be manmade. She slowed Thunder down to a walk.

Amanda felt Lex continue to tense up the closer they got to the mysterious smoke. She turned around in the saddle to look up at the rancher’s face. "Lex?" she gave the hand on her stomach a soft squeeze. "What’s the matter?" She looked at where the smoke was coming from. "It doesn’t look like a very big fire."

Lex frowned, then looked down at the younger woman. "It looks like a campfire – only no one should be out here." She swung down from the horse, then reached up to help Amanda dismount. "We’re gonna walk the rest of the way." She tied the horse’s reins to a nearby tree. "Stay here, boy. We’ll be right back." She rubbed his nose, then reached over and captured Amanda’s hand. "Let’s go check this out."

They walked through the heavy trees for almost half an hour before Lex stopped. When Amanda opened her mouth to speak, the older woman placed a gentle finger on her lips. At the young blonde’s questioning glance, Lex pointed through a gap in the trees towards a clearing.

There was a truck with a large trailer in the middle of the clearing, with several figures milling around. It looked like they had been there for several days by the condition of the area, and of the men themselves.

Sonofabitch! So here’s what’s been happening to our stock! Apparently they had driven the truck through the creek, and had become stranded after the heavy rains. She looked around carefully. I count six men – that seems about right. She looked over at Amanda, and motioned for her to follow.

They made their way back to Thunder quickly, with Lex going over and digging through the saddlebags. Pulling out the little-used cell phone, she turned it on, then swore.

"Damn!! I was afraid of this!" She crammed the phone back into the bag, buckling the cover angrily.

Amanda placed a gentle hand on the agitated rancher’s arm. "What’s wrong?"

Lex bit back an angry reply, taking a deep breath instead. "Those guys are stealing my stock, and I can’t get a signal with the damn cell phone." She looked Amanda in the eye. "I need you to ride back to the ranch and call the Sheriff."

"Uh, okay…but what are you going to do?" the younger woman asked, somewhat confused.

Lex gave her a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. "Teach them it’s not nice to steal."

Amanda took a firm grip on her arm. "What?!" she pulled the tall woman closer, getting right up into her face. "You can’t be serious! There are at least six men, possibly more…" she tangled her hands in Lex’s coat. "It’s too dangerous." Her green eyes sparkled with unshed tears.

Lex framed the young woman’s face with her large hands. "I have to do something…they look like they’re getting ready to move out soon." She caressed a soft cheek. "I’m just going to slow them down until help gets here." She bent down, briefly capturing Amanda’s lips with her own. "You need to hurry." She lifted the small woman into the saddle, and took a moment to adjust the stirrups. Handing the reins to the blonde, she patted the small leg. "Be careful."

Amanda stretched out her hand, waiting for Lex to grasp it. "I will." She kissed the larger hand that was in hers. "You too. Please don’t take any unnecessary risks." A watery smile. "We still have a ‘conversation’ to finish."

The rancher squeezed her hand. "Don’t worry, I won’t." She released the hand and stepped back away from the huge horse. "Tell the Sheriff they are at the back clearing, he’ll understand."

Amanda nodded, and turned the big horse around. She led him back up the path, turning back in the saddle before they got to the main stand of trees. She felt an irrational urge to race back to Lex. I have this horrible feeling something is going to go terribly wrong. Wiping her eyes, she gave a gentle wave and then turned Thunder towards the trail.

The big stallion must have picked up on Amanda’s distress, because he moved quickly through the trees once they had made their way through the pass. Oak and cedar trees flew by the small woman too quickly for her to distinguish, as she hung onto the saddlehorn for dear life. Breaking through the dense forest at last, Amanda heaved a huge sigh of relief as the barns came into view. They charged past the isolated buildings, heading straight for the ranch house itself.

Practically jumping out of the saddle, Amanda fell to her knees as her legs gave out near the back porch. Thunder snorted, slung his head, and pounded the ground with his front foot. "Thanks, boy…I appreciate you getting me here so fast." She patted his neck before she attempted to climb the steps with shaky legs. She almost screamed when the back door swung open before she could reach it.

"Good lord, child…" Martha pulled the young woman into the house. "What on earth happened? And where is Lexie?" she asked, guiding Amanda into the kitchen and assisting her into a nearby chair.

"Lex," Amanda wheezed, "is okay." She took a deep breath, "stealing," a wheeze, "cattle," another breath, "call…the sheriff." She coughed and took another breath.

Martha sat down next to her and held the small hands, trying to warm them up. "Okay. You say someone is stealing our stock?" the young woman nodded, still trying to catch her breath. "And we need to call the sheriff?" another nod. "Where is Lexie?"

"She’s still out there, keeping her eye on them." Amanda got out, her breathing almost under control. "She said to tell the Sheriff they were in the back clearing," she paused, "And she was afraid they were getting ready to leave." Tears formed in her eyes," She said she was going to teach them not to steal." A pleading look at the housekeeper. "You don’t think she’d do anything rash, do you?"

Martha released her hands and moved over to the phone. Dialing, she looked back over at Amanda. "That’s exactly what I’m afraid of." She paused, listening to the phone. "Yes, I need to speak to Sheriff Bristol…this is Martha Rollins." She listened again. "Yes, I’ll hold."


Chapter 6

Lex watched Amanda ride away until she disappeared into the dense foliage. Now let’s go have some fun. She jogged back to the clearing, her mind running through several different scenarios.

Sitting in some tangled underbrush, the hidden rancher had a very good view of the entire clearing. A dark shadow passed over her, making the watching woman jump slightly. She looked up sheepishly. Just a damn cloud. A slight grin quirked her lips. Cloud? Hmm…looks like rain again. If I can just keep these fools busy for a while, hopefully they’ll be stuck here until Amanda can get the sheriff out here.

Charlie Bristol had been the sheriff for longer than Lex could remember. He had a knack of always being around when she needed him, especially after her father Rawson left. The sheriff would show up for breakfast at least once a week for several years, ostensibly to make sure everything was okay. But only Charlie and Lex knew the main reason – Martha Rollins.

The tall and lanky man was several years older than the heavyset housekeeper, but he followed her around like a little boy with his first crush. He’d bring her flowers, ask her out to the movies on Saturday night, and plead with the sweet woman to marry him at least once a month. Every time she gently turned him down, with the excuse that she could never leave her "little Lexie" to work the massive ranch alone. Charlie respected that, and in truth it made the gentle woman even greater in his eyes.

It took a couple of years, but poor Charlie finally got the hint. Martha cared for him, but she just couldn’t bring herself to leave the ranch and settle down. Charlie understood, and he stayed close friends with Martha, taking her to various dances and picnics, but he never gave up the hope that someday she’d tire of the ranch life and agree to become his wife. But until that day arrived, he was more than happy to have Martha has a good friend. And the lovestruck lawman never stopped dreaming about settling down with the sweet housekeeper that ran the Rocking W Ranch.

Lex circled around the clearing until she was behind the large truck and trailer. Looking around, she noticed that several of the men were arguing. She pulled out her pocketknife, then began crawling towards the parked vehicles, which were apparently empty. Making her way under the trailer, she positioned herself near the wheels on the farthest side. Oh yeah…face down in the mud is so much fun. She grimaced, then slowly poked a small hole on the inside of the tire, which began to loudly hiss. Damn! She quickly wiped a small amount of mud on the neat slice, quieting it, and also slowed the speed that the air was leaking out. Lex proceeded to take care of the remaining tires in the same manner, then stealthily made her way back to her hiding place.

The clouds quickly took over the late afternoon sky, thunder rumbling ominously in the distance. Lex smiled. She could see the trailer slowly sinking to the ground. Only a matter of time before these morons notice. She decided to take care of the attached truck next. I wonder how Amanda’s doing. I hope she made it to the ranch all right.


Martha hung up the phone with a grim smile. "Charlie’s on his way…he said he’d take the back way in." She crossed back over to where Amanda sat, nervously tearing a paper napkin into tiny bits. "Honey?" she touched the younger woman’s shoulder.

Amanda jumped, startled. "What?" she looked down at the mess on the table. "Sorry…" then she raised her eyes to the older woman. "Did you say the sheriff is on his way?" The small blonde stood up, pushing her chair back up against the table. "I’ve got to get back…Thunder should be rested enough by now." She had begun to walk towards the kitchen door when Martha grabbed her arm.

"Now you wait just a darn minute! If you think I’m going to let you go back to…" she was interrupted by the anxious blonde.

"I’ve got to." A gentle pleading look. "She may need me." Then, with a more determined air. "I can’t leave her out there all alone, Martha. Don’t ask me to."

The housekeeper released the young woman’s arm with a heavy sigh. "All right…" she motioned with her hand, "But you’re not going anywhere without a radio." She led Amanda down the hall and through the den, making her way into the office. She pulled a handheld radio out of its charging base, handing it to the younger woman. "I’ll sit here by the base radio, and you can call me if you need anything, okay?" she was about to say more when a rumble of thunder interrupted her.

They both looked up, as if to see something through the ceiling. "Great. Now Lexie will have an excuse to play in the mud again." Martha shook a finger in Amanda’s direction. "And you’re gonna put on a raincoat before you take off again, right?"

Amanda ducked her head and smiled quietly. "Yes ma’am." Suddenly she was enveloped in a strong hug, which she happily returned.

"Honey, I want you to be extra special careful – don’t take any crazy chances." Martha rubbed the younger woman’s back. "I have enough to worry about with Lexie always going off half-cocked." She turned around and led Amanda out of the room. "C’mon…let’s get you bundled up and ready to go."


Lex had just returned to her hiding spot after sabotaging the truck when the first raindrops began to fall. Great. I knew I should have brought my coat. The flannel shirt she had on felt great earlier in the day, but now that the sun was hidden by the sudden cloudcover, the wind was decidedly cooler. She rubbed her hands up and down her arms briskly, trying to keep warm, almost laughing out loud at the scene unfolding in front of her.

The rain started coming down in earnest, causing the would-be thieves to rush around picking up their belongings. One of them, a short and stocky dark-haired man, had almost made it back to the truck when he noticed that something was wrong. "Hey, Matt!" he yelled, looking back at the tall lanky man near the campfire, "Looks like we got a couple of flat tires!"

Lex nearly gave herself away laughing. Oh, we’ve got a regular Einstein among us. She shook her head. Wonder what his first clue was? She blinked away an errant raindrop, thankful for the dark cowboy hat that kept most of the rain out of her face.

Another man checked the other side of the trailer. "This side’s flat too!" The man they called Matt walked over to the truck and pulled a rifle from inside. "You guys keep a close watch. I don’t like the looks of this."

The rancher crept slowly back from her vantage point. Uh-oh…I think he means business. She slunk back farther into the brush.

Matt tossed the rifle over to the short, stocky man. "Darrell…take this and do a perimeter check. If anything moves, SHOOT IT!" He turned to face the older man who had checked the far side of the trailer. "Randall, get the other rifle out of the truck and check the other side of the clearing." The gray headed man nodded and complied.

Lex looked around. Where did the other three go? Suddenly, the bushes to the left of her began to rustle. Shit! She ducked down lower, practically lying face down in the rapidly building mud. Man number four stepped out of the shrubbery almost on top of her.

"Hey, Matt! What the hell’s goin’ on?" he asked, zipping up his mud-covered pants.

The rancher slowly lifted her head. Two left…She decided not to move until she knew where the other men were. Looking around, Lex noticed a slight movement in the trailer. I thought that thing was empty. As she watched, a younger man, probably still a teenager, climbed out of the trailer and over to the leader.

"Aw, Matt. It’s starting to rain again. Are we gonna get out of here pretty soon?" he ran a hand through his shoulder-length brown hair. "I really want to go home."

Matt put his hand on the smaller man’s shoulder. "Yeah…we’ll just leave the trailer for now…why don’t you go on and get into the truck? We’ll be there in a little bit." The young man nodded and started towards the vehicle.

Lex looked at her watch. The sheriff should be here before too much longer…and knowing Amanda, she’s probably on her way back by now. She moved slowly backwards. Better get back to the pass and wait for her. The rancher started making her way slowly around the clearing, trying to stay out of sight.

She was more than halfway there when she nearly ran into man number six, who was making good use of the nearby thick bushes. He had long blonde hair that was partially tied into a ponytail, and did not look at all happy to be squatting in the rain.

Lex edge around until she was directly behind him, waiting patiently. Hurry up, buddy…she thought to herself, I really don’t want to be watching this. He grunted, then began pulling up his pants. Ew…I’d hate to have to do your laundry! She mused to herself.

The man stood up and turned, coming face to face with a tall drenched woman in a black cowboy hat, who had a very ‘not nice’ expression on her face. "Wha…?" he started.

"Say nighty-night!" she punched him hard in the face, getting an intense amount of pleasure watching the man crumble to the ground. Lex pulled off the man’s shirt, tearing it into two strips. One she used for a gag, and the other to tie his feet together. She used his belt to tie his hands, smiling down at her handiwork. Flexing her right hand she grimaced, Damn hard-headed thief. Then she continued her journey towards the pass. Suddenly, she heard one of the men in the camp shout.

"Hey, Matt! I think I see something!!" he took careful aim and fired.


Amanda was almost back to the pass when she heard the first gunshots. Oh my God! LEX! She pressed her heels to Thunder’s sides, urging him to move even faster. She knew that the rancher was unarmed, and she was terrified of what she may find. Hang on, I’m on my way!

Tearing through the pass, Amanda had to pull the huge horse up quickly, almost colliding with the solitary figure on the path.

"Hey! Slow down!" Lex said, reaching up to grasp the heaving animal’s reins.

Amanda slid off of the exhausted horse, stumbling over her feet and almost tackling the older woman.

"Amanda? What’s wrong? Are you okay?" Lex wrapped her arms around the younger woman, who buried her face in the damp material of the rancher’s chest.

The smaller woman choked back a sob. "Am I okay?" she squeezed tighter. "I heard gunshots." She pulled back away from the taller woman, using her hands to search the muscular form. "Are you okay?"

Lex grinned. "Oh, yeah…I’m just fine…" she took her hat off and shook the excess water from it, even though the rain still fell heavily. "A little damp, but fine."

The younger woman was not completely convinced. "Are you sure? You’re not hiding anything from me, are you?" She continued to search the tall woman for any signs of injury.

Lex grasped her hands and smiled. "No…they weren’t shooting at me…" she laughed. "But I’m not sure if that rabbit will ever be the same again."

Amanda smiled through her tears. "God…I heard the shots, and I thought…" she sniffed, trying to regain some composure.

The older woman pulled Amanda into her strong arms, then bent down to place a gentle kiss on the blonde forehead, which was partially hidden by her hood. "Were you able to contact the sheriff?" she asked, pulling back slightly. "I don’t think those guys will be going too far right now."

"Yeah…Martha talked to him – he said that he’d come in the back way." She paused. "What do you mean, they won’t be going very far? What have you done?"

Lex gave her a devious little grin. "Seems the tires on their trailer went flat…" she pulled a piece of wire out of her back pocket, "and this accidentally fell off of their truck." She laughed.

Amanda shook her head. "Never mind…I don’t think I want to know." She walked back over to Thunder, untying something from behind the saddle. "Here…you look half-frozen." Handing the rancher her duster. She then grabbed the saddlebag and began to dig through it. "Oh, and Martha sent this." She pulled out the handheld radio and tossed it to Lex.

"Great. Now I don’t feel so damn isolated." Lex stuffed the radio into an inner pocket of the large coat. Holding out her hand, she silently requested that Amanda move closer to her.

The small woman quickly complied, tucking herself comfortably up against the rancher’s ribs. "Now what are we going to do?" she asked, gratefully absorbing the taller woman’s warmth.

Lex looked down at her with a gentle smile. "I don’t suppose I could talk you into going back to the house?"

"I don’t think so." Amanda said seriously.

"That’s what I thought." She gave the younger woman a gentle smile. "We," she hugged her close, "are going to find a good spot to watch the fun." She sobered. "But we have to be very careful, since these idiots have guns." She held up a warning hand. "And," no smile now, "You have to do exactly as I say, no questions asked, okay?"

Amanda gave her an equally serious nod. "Okay…as long as you realize that I’m not completely helpless, right?" she countered.

"Gotcha." Lex agreed, and led her down the trail back towards the clearing.

It took them almost an hour to walk back to the clearing, their progress hampered by the heavy rain. Lex placed Amanda in the dense shrubbery, then settled down behind her, wrapping her long arms around the small waist. They watched in amusement as the man Lex identified as Matt looked under the hood of the truck, apparently having no success in getting it to start.

Lex leaned into Amanda and placed her mouth next to a small ear. "I wonder what his problem is?" she whispered, an evil chuckle coloring her tone.

The younger woman giggled, and squeezed the hands that were wrapped securely around her stomach.

Another man walked up to the truck saying something to Matt, who looked around the clearing. He pointed in the opposite direction from where Lex and Amanda were sitting, and Darrell walked in that direction, carrying his rifle.

Lex whispered, "Uh-oh…they must have finally figured out that one of them is missing."

Amanda turned slightly in the older woman’s arms so that she could speak. "Missing?"

The rancher nodded. "Yeah, he’s tied up over in those trees to the right." She pointed.

Amanda frowned at her. "You?"

Lex gave her a sheepish shrug. "Yeah…I practically tripped over him on my way back to meet you." She grinned. "He was, uh…somewhat indisposed."

Amanda’s brow creased in a thoughtful manner, then suddenly cleared. "Oh…eww…"

"Yeah…" Lex agreed. "But now that they’ve figured out he’s missing, things could start to get a little hairy." She gave the smaller woman a concerned look. "We may have to get out of here in a hurry, so be ready."

Amanda nodded, then reached a hand up to cup Lex’s cheek. "As long as we leave together." She pulled the rancher’s face down for a gentle kiss. "No heroics, right?" she managed to ask after they finally broke apart.

Lex placed a quick kiss on the tip of her nose. "Right." Then she became instantly alert. "Get ready to move…looks like they’re beginning to search for their missing buddy." She released Amanda’s waist and captured her hand. "C’mon. We’ll be safer back by the pass." Lex crawled back through the bushes, pulling Amanda behind her.

They decided to circle around to the left of the clearing, hoping that the longer path would be free of the searching men. Lex suddenly came to a halt, causing Amanda to slam into her back.

"What…?" the smaller woman whispered, fearing detection.

The rancher turned halfway around, placing a gentle hand over Amanda’s mouth. "Shh…" She motioned with her other hand to the right of where they were standing.

Darrell was searching the underbrush, using the barrel of his rifle to move the heavy shrubbery out of the way. In his other hand he carried a flashlight, to help cut the gloom of the heavy rain and early evening stormy sky. He was swinging the light in a wide arc, coming dangerously close to the two women.

Lex pulled Amanda to stand directly behind her, hoping that the dark duster she wore would camouflage them. "If we happen to get separated, take Thunder and meet me back at the pond. They’ll never find us there." She whispered. A strong squeeze of her hand and an emphatic shake of Amanda’s head were her only answer. Lex spun around to face the young woman. "I’m not planning on it happening, but we need to be prepared just in case!"

The small woman sighed, then nodded. Lex turned back around to watch the man search, slowly backing the two of them away from him. She froze as the light panned across her body, feeling small hands clinch tightly on the back of her coat. The light kept going, and Lex released a breath she didn’t even realize she had been holding. The tall woman started slowly backing up again, gently pushing Amanda back as well.

The light suddenly hit her in the face, and the man let out a yell of surprise. "Hey!" he lifted the nose of his rifle, trying to aim it and the flashlight at the dark apparition in front of him.

Lex spun around quickly, still using her body to block his view of her companion. "RUN!!!" she hissed, pushing Amanda forward roughly.

The small woman stumbled, but regained her footing and began to move quickly through the heavy trees, with Lex right in behind her.


Bark exploded off of a tree near Amanda’s head. Oh, God! She willed her body to move faster. Through the pouring rain she could hear men shouting. Great! Now he’s got help! She risked a glance behind her, seeing Lex a few steps back.



More shots rang out, and Amanda could hear several bodies crashing through the brush right after them.

"To the right!" Lex hissed, pulling the small woman’s arm in that direction, as they veered off of the slight path they were on, pushing through even denser foliage.



Those shots sounded further away this time, Amanda thought to herself, as Lex pulled her down into some heavy bushes. Panting hard, the young woman looked around, squinting in the dim light. They seemed to be inside a small burrow, so thickly concealed that the falling rain could hardly break through. It was so dark that Amanda could barely make out the large form in front of her, but she knew in her heart who it was.

They sat silently for what seemed like hours, just waiting and listening, trying to hear any noise over the rumbling thunder. Each of them was too tired and afraid to utter a sound. After half an hour had passed, Lex finally broke the silence.

"Stay put. I’m going to take a quick look around." She whispered.

Amanda grabbed her arm. "Please, don’t!" she begged, fear evident in her tone.

Lex leaned into the young woman’s ear. "We can’t stay here all night." She reached into her pocket and pulled out the radio. "Call Martha and find out where the sheriff is." She placed a soft kiss on Amanda’s cold lips. "If I’m not back in thirty minutes, make your way back to the house."

Amanda wrapped her arms around Lex’s neck, pulling her close. She gave the rancher a searing kiss, finally breaking off to catch her breath. "No…you will come back to me!" Her voice trembled. "This is non-negotiable, got it?"

Lex cleared her throat. "Yeah, I got it." She leaned forward and kissed the smaller woman’s damp forehead. "I’ll be right back." She turned and crawled out of their hideaway.

The young blonde wiped her eyes and turned on the radio. Holding the button down, she whispered, "Martha, can you hear me?" she released the button, hearing a small burst of static.

"Amanda? Child, is that you? I can barely hear you." Martha’s voice broke through the static loudly, making the young woman wince and hurry to turn down the volume.

She placed her mouth as close as possible to the microphone. "Yes, it’s me. I have to be quiet, though. Have you heard from the sheriff?"

"Yes, I have, honey. He should be at the site any time now – he’s got three deputies with him."

Amanda breathed a sigh of relief. "Martha, you have to warn him that they have guns…"

She mentally added up what she had seen. "Two rifles that we’re aware of. And there’s…"

She was abruptly cut off by the sounds of gunfire, although it sounded like it was quite some distance away. NO!!! She almost sprang out of her hiding place, her heart pounding.

"Amanda? Honey, are you still there?" Martha’s concerned voice broke through her racing thoughts.

"Uh, yeah…I’m here." She took a deep breath. "Look, I’ve got to go, Martha. I’ll talk to you later, okay?" She turned off the radio then sat in the dark, straining to hear anything over the thunder and pounding rain that punctured the stillness.

The thirty-minute time limit was almost up, and the young blonde was a nervous wreck. I can’t believe I let her talk me into staying here…where could she be? Is she okay? Oh, God… She almost screamed when a dark form broke through the dense brush, almost tumbling in on top of her. "Lex?" she reached out blindly.

"Yeah, it’s me." The form wheezed, trying to catch her breath. "I led them back towards the clearing…those fools will be chasing each other in a big circle for hours."

Amanda let out a deep breath. "Good…Martha said the sheriff should be there with his deputies any time now." She placed her hand on the rancher’s shoulder. "Is it safe for us to get out of here?" She was more than a little concerned about her friend. Lex was still breathing hard. "Are you okay? I heard more gunshots while you were gone."

The older woman was silent for a few moments, trying to get her breathing under control. "Yeah, fine…it’s just real hard to run in the driving rain wearing boots and a heavy duster." She chuckled. "Guess I’m a little out of shape."

Amanda crawled closer, almost sitting in the dark woman’s lap. "Yeah, right. You’re still recovering from broken ribs, remember?" She snuggled into the welcoming arms. "Ooh…this feels really good. I’m a little chilled." She looked up, barely able to make out the outline of Lex’s face. "I imagine you’re freezing, since you’ve been out in this cold rain longer than I have."

"I’ve been warmer, that’s for sure." Lex whispered, nuzzling the sweet neck below her. "But to tell you the truth, I’m pretty warm right now." She chuckled, then fought back a small cough.

The small woman lifted a hand and placed it on the shadowed face above her. "You’re feeling a bit warm…we need to get you back to the house, and into bed."

Lex gave the hand a small kiss. "I’m fine…just out of breath from all that damn running." She cocked her head, listening. "But you’re right…I think it’s safe for us to try and leave now." Climbing to her feet, Lex offered the younger woman a hand up.

The walk back was slow, with Lex cautiously keeping them off of any real paths. The rain also hampered their progress, even though the heavy tree cover blocked out most of the downpour.

How on earth does she know where we are going? Amanda wondered, keeping her eyes locked on the tall figure a bare step ahead of her. Lex doggedly made her way through the thick foliage, not hesitating in which direction to take. She must have some kind of built-in radar, the blonde mused. The object of her thoughts must have felt her scrutiny, because Lex turned her head, giving the younger woman a weary smile. Amanda returned it with a smile of her own. I’m really worried about her. She seems so…washed out.

They had been traveling for nearly an hour when Amanda reached forward and captured a muscular arm. "I hate to sound like an annoying kid on a trip, but how much further?" she asked quietly.

"Do you need to stop and rest?" Lex questioned. "I’m sorry it’s taking so long, but I thought it would be a good idea to take the roundabout way, in case those guys are still trying to find us. Let’s take a quick breather," she sank to the ground gracelessly, propping her back up against the nearest tree. "We’ve still got about thirty minutes of walking to do."

Amanda dropped down beside her, linking her hand with one of Lex’s larger ones. "Sounds good to me." Leaning her head on the nearby broad shoulder, she sighed. "Is your life always this…interesting?"

The older woman chuckled. "No. Well, at least not until recently." She glanced down and could just barely make out the young woman’s features, between quick flashes of lightning. "I’ve had more things happen in the last week than in the past couple of years." Lex squeezed the small hand in hers. "Guess you brought the excitement with you."

"Oh, yeah…I love driving my car off into flooded creeks then run around in the cold rain getting shot at." Amanda laughed. "All part of my big plan to bring some thrills into my otherwise boring existence."

"Got more than you bargained for, huh?" Lex released the small hand, then wrapped her arm around Amanda’s shoulder, pulling the smaller woman close. "Me too." She gave the damp head a gentle kiss.

They sat there quietly, listening to the sounds around them. Thunder rumbled intermittently, punctuating the bright flashes of lightning. Lex felt her body relax, and her eyes slowly drifted shut.

Amanda felt the body next to hers relax, and she looked up in alarm. The older woman’s head was tipped forward, her chin resting lightly on her chest. Reaching up with her free hand, the young woman lightly touched the still face, which appeared unnaturally wan in the flashes of light.

Pale eyes popped open, tracking to Amanda’s face instantly. "What?" Lex blinked, opening her eyes wide in an effort to become more alert. "Sorry…all this exercise must have worn me out." She wiped a hand over her face.

"Uh-huh." The small blonde pulled Lex’s face towards her with her hand. "Are you getting sick?" she asked, peering intently into the somewhat glazed eyes.

The older woman blinked again, shaking her head slightly. "No…really, I’m okay. Just a little tired." And I think my ribs decided to shift apart again…but she doesn’t need to know that just yet. Lex tried to take a deep breath, feeling a sharp pain along her side. Oh, yeah…I’m not gonna hear the end of this for quite a while. Martha’s going to kick my butt. She glanced over at her companion, seeing the exhaustion on the fair features. Lex gathered up what little stamina she had left and stood up, pulling Amanda up with her. "C’mon. We’re almost back to the pass, and then we can ride the rest of the way home."

Amanda allowed herself to be hoisted to her feet, not missing the slight tremor in the hand pulling her up. "Now that’s the best idea I’ve heard all day." She brushed herself off and resumed her place behind Lex, as the dark woman began blazing a trail through the thick trees.

They found Thunder standing under a canopy of leaves, happily munching shoots of tender grass. The big stallion looked up as the two weary women approached, nickering a greeting.

Amanda expelled a huge sigh. "I never thought I would be so happy to see a humongous horse." She walked over to the still animal, patting his neck in relief.

Lex followed her, checking Thunder’s saddle. "Hey, boy…you about ready to go home?" She leaned against him heavily.

The small blonde wrapped an arm around the weary rancher. "C’mon, honey…let’s get you home too." The endearment had slipped out before Amanda could take it back. Lex didn’t say anything, but the happy smile on her face said it all.

"Sounds like a plan." Lex climbed up on the tall horse and pulled the smaller woman up behind her. "Thought I’d drive, this time."

Amanda wrapped her arms carefully around the rancher. "Sure…I’ve always been told what a great back-seat driver I am, anyway." She felt a chuckle rumble through the tall woman, and gave the flat stomach her hands rested on a gentle tickle. "Home, James." She commanded regally. Snuggling up to the strong back, Amanda placed her cheek against Lex’s shoulderblade.

The exhausted woman unconsciously leaned back against Amanda. "Yes ma’am." She gently kneed the big horse, guiding him back up the path to the pass, letting the large animal find his way cautiously through the dark.


The ride back to the ranch house was uneventful, and even the rain finally took pity on the two damp and tired women, slowing down to a light drizzle. The moon was trying to break out of the clouds as Lex pulled Thunder up to the stables.

Swinging her leg over his massive neck, the rancher slowly dismounted, then turned and pulled Amanda down to the ground. "C’mon, buddy…let’s get you cleaned up and fed." Lex led Thunder into the building, walking him to his stall while the young blonde went to get a bucket of feed.

When Amanda returned with the oats, she noticed that the older woman had already pulled the saddle and blanket from the animal, and was in the process of brushing him down. She poured the contents of the bucket into his trough, and then stepped into the stall. "Here," she said, taking the brush from Lex’s hands, "let me finish this. Why don’t you go on up to the house, and I’ll meet you there?"

Lex looked down into earnest green eyes. "I’ll make you a deal. You can finish with the grooming, and I'll clean up the tack. Fair enough?" when the smaller woman opened her mouth to argue, Lex continued, "That way we can walk back up to the house together. Deal?" she placed a grubby hand on the small shoulder. Let’s try a different tact. "Besides," she hesitated, looking down at the ground, "I could kind of use a little help with the walk up there…I’m so tired I’m about to fall down." She finished, in a near whisper.

Amanda placed a concerned hand on the rancher’s arm. "What’s wrong?"

Lex shook her head. "Nothing much, I’m just real tired…" she leaned heavily against the side of the stall.

"If you’re admitting to that, it’s time to take you up to the house." Amanda wrapped a small hand around Lex’s arm, and began pulling her out of the stall. "I’ll come back after while and finish up with the tack."

Lex meekly let the small blonde drag her from the stable, a tiny grin on the edge of her mouth. She is certainly something else, I can’t believe I let her get away with this sort of thing.

Amanda slung open the back door, practically dragging the exhausted rancher behind her. "Martha! Where are you?" she yelled, pulling the tall form towards the kitchen. "Here," she pushed Lex into the nearest chair, "sit down before you fall down." She gave the sitting woman’s shoulder a gentle squeeze. "I’m going to go find…"

"What on earth happened to you two?" Martha bellowed, standing in the kitchen doorway. "I swear Lexie…I can’t leave you alone for a minute!" she stomped over to wear Lex was sitting, slumped in her chair. Pulling the battered black hat from her head, the housekeeper scowled. "Good Lord! You’re as white as a sheet!" she exclaimed, running a pudgy hand across the mud-spattered brow. Turning her attention to the young blonde woman, she asked, "Are you okay, sweetheart?"

Amanda sighed, and dropped into a nearby chair. "I’m fine…just tired, and a little damp." She pushed the wet hood off of her head with a grim smile.

Martha, who had begun helping the rancher take off her coat, gasped. "Is this blood?" she gently touched Lex’s side.

"Ow!" Lex flinched. "Probably just mud." She tried to bat away the housekeeper’s hands, which were pulling at the damp shirt. "Ow! Hey, Martha! Cut that out!"

Amanda stood up, then walked over and squatted down beside the beleaguered woman. "Blood?" she put a small hand on the dirty denim-covered thigh to balance herself. "Lex?" The young blonde forced the rancher to look her in the eye. "What happened?"

"I dunno…I think it’s just mud." She scowled.

Martha shook her head and gave a derisive snort. "Honey, if that’s mud, I’m a size 6!" She pulled the coat off the rest of the way, then began unbuttoning the filthy shirt. "Let’s just take a look, okay?" She turned to Amanda. "Sweetheart, could you go upstairs and get the salve and some clean towels out of the master bathroom?"

Amanda nodded, a worried look on her face. "Sure." She hopped up and patted Lex on the shoulder. "Be right back." She kissed the dark-haired woman on the top of her head, then hurried from the room.

The housekeeper turned her attention back to the rancher, who was fighting to keep her eyes open. "Lexie?" she tapped her leg, "Now would you care to tell me what happened out there? I didn’t want to upset Amanda, but the sheriff radioed about twenty minutes ago, said that by the time he got there, all he could find was an abandoned trailer, and a stolen truck." She pulled the shirt open, and away from the rancher’s side. "What happened to you?" The older woman used a corner of the wet fabric to wipe at the blood on Lex’s side. "This looks like a mighty wicked gash on your side here, honey."

Lex tried to shift away from what Martha was doing. "Ouch! Would you please stop that!" she found her hands captured by smaller, older ones. "Okay, okay." She cleared her throat. "I think it’s a bullet wound." She looked into the concerned brown eyes of the woman who was like a mother to her. "Musta happened when they were chasing me." A questioning look at Martha. "Wait. Are you trying to tell me that Charlie didn’t catch those idiots out there?" She tried to stand up, but was quickly pushed back down. "Damn! How could he let those fools get away? They could barely take a crap by themselves…"

"Now you listen to me, young lady! Last I heard he was still looking for them, so you just calm down." She began pulling the shirt off of Lex, who began fighting her again. "Would you please let me take a look at that?"

Lex held the shirt closed stubbornly. "Wait." She took a deep breath, "Can we compromise?" she gave the older woman a pout. "I really want to take a shower…it feels like I’m wearing at least half of the back pasture."

Martha shook her head. "I dunno what I’m going to do with you, Lexie." Then she nodded. "Okay. Compromise it is. But," she held up a warning hand, "it will be a quick shower, and then you’re going to bed. You’ve spent too many nights staying up late."

Amanda was standing in the doorway, requested items in hand, with a cute grin on her face. "I bet it was almost impossible to get her to take medicine as a child, wasn’t it?"

Lex scowled, while Martha burst out laughing. "As a child?" Another chuckle. "Sweetheart, I’d rather pull my own teeth than try to get this one to do something that may actually be good for her." She held out a hand to the rancher, who had a grumpy look on her face. "Alright, let’s get upstairs and get you cleaned up."

"I can do it myself, you know." She complained, but accepted the help up anyway. "You’re not gonna bathe me too, are you?" Hearing a giggle from the doorway, she glared at Amanda. "Aw, not you too!"

Shaking her head, the young blonde smiled. "Sorry. You’re just too cute when you act like an overgrown child." Seeing the outraged look on Lex’s face, she backed up. "Umm…I’ll just go upstairs and get the shower ready for you." Amanda turned and took off down the hallway, laughing.

"You’d better run, blondie!" Lex called after her. "I’ll get you back for that little remark!"


It took a while, but Lex finally got finished up in the shower, walking into the master bedroom wearing her flannel pajama bottoms and a large towel draped over her shoulders. Wow, even after the day she’s been through, she’s still absolutely beautiful. Amanda had returned from her own clean up effort, and was sitting on the bed with Martha when Lex made her entrance.

Martha stood up. "Lexie! Where’s your nightshirt? Are you trying to catch pneumonia, or just drive me insane?" she grabbed the dark woman’s arm and pulled her over to the bed.

"I didn’t see any sense in putting it on until you were finished clucking over me." Lex sat down slowly. "It’s right here on the bed…would have bitten you on the butt if it had been a snake." She teased the older woman.

"Hrumpph. We’ll just see about that, won’t we, Little Miss Smarty Pants." Martha gently pushed her onto her back. Addressing the young woman now standing beside her, "Amanda, don’t let this one here get away with anything – she really is impossible sometimes."

"Hey!" Lex pouted, trying to regain some dignity as the housekeeper began spreading salve over the long gash across her ribs. "Ow! Careful there, I’d like to keep myself in one piece, if you don’t mind." She slapped at Martha’s hands.

Amanda sat down next to the rancher’s legs. "What on earth happened there?" she looked carefully at the wound. "If I didn’t know any better…" her face took on an angry edge. "You were shot?!?" she stood up and paced the length of the room. "I don’t believe you! You got shot, and didn’t tell me?!" The young woman stomped back over to the opposite side of the bed. "How could you not tell me something like this?" She sat on the edge, glaring at the dark haired woman.

"No! It’s not like that…really." Lex stretched her arm across the bed, beckoning for Amanda’s hand. "I didn’t know." Seeing the storm clouds gathering on the fair brow, she continued, "Honestly…I didn’t. I though my ribs were just acting up again. And it’s really just a slight scrape…" giving her best pitiful look.

Martha listened quietly to the young women argue. Poor Lexie…looks like she’s finally found someone who’s not afraid to stand up to her. Good! She smiled to herself.

Amanda took a calming breath and grasped Lex’s hand. She looked the rancher in the eyes, and saw nothing but the truth. "Okay, I believe you." She pulled the hand to her lips and gave it a small kiss. "But," she squeezed it a little tighter, "Next time tell me when you’re hurting, okay?"

The rancher nodded. "Promise." Then she flinched. "Damn it, Martha…I think you’re enjoying this a little too much!" She gasped as the housekeeper taped a large square of gauze on the wound. "Easy, there…Hey!" she squirmed as the older woman tickled her good side.

"Hush up, you! Now sit up, and I’ll wrap these ribs again." She smiled as Amanda crawled over to help her patient into a sitting position. "If you would keep these wrapped for more than a day, they’d heal a heck of a lot faster, you know." She pulled the large elastic bandage from behind her back.

"Where did you…?" Lex asked, her face flushing slightly.

Martha laughed. "Honey, I do the laundry around here, you know?" she began wrapping the wide bandage around Lex. "And I know about the last time you broke your ribs." She laughed at the look of surprise and embarrassment on Lex’s face. "Teach you to try and keep anything from me." She snickered.

Lex rolled her eyes, but stayed silent. Figures…damn woman has eyes in the back of her head, and can read minds, too! She glanced over at Amanda, who was covering her mouth with one hand. "What?"

The younger woman shook her head, but the sparkle in her eyes gave her away. She sputtered, then finally laughed out loud. "Sorry, Lex…but she is right. You shouldn’t try to hide things like that."

"There. All done." Martha tied off the bandage with safety pins. She picked up the nightshirt and started slipping it on the injured woman’s body. "By the way, Roy called while you were out. He said that he and the boys are bringing out a truck tomorrow, and they’re going to finish the work on the bridge. He said that they had to wait until all the supplies came in, that’s why it’s taken them so long." She began buttoning the shirt, much to the rancher’s dismay.

"I can dress myself, Martha." She argued, but let the older woman finish. "I’m glad they’re coming out tomorrow…the six of them can have it finished in no time." She sat back, exhausted.

Amanda brushed the hair out of those blue eyes. "I was wondering, where do the hands stay? I’ve seen Martha’s house, the stables, and the hay barn, but…" she stopped when Lex squeezed her hand.

"The hands stay at the bunkhouse, which is just up the road from here. It’s closer to the main cattle pens." She took a pained breath and closed her eyes. "It can hold up to fifteen, but there’s only six of them right now. We hire extra help when we start tagging in the spring."

Martha chuckled. "Actually, there’s only five real hands. Lester is mainly the cook, right, Lexie?" She looked up when there was no answer, seeing that Lex had fallen asleep. Shaking her head, the housekeeper smiled at Amanda. "C’mon honey, let’s go get you something to eat. I still have some roast and potatoes left." She stood up and covered the sleeping woman with a blanket.

Amanda regretfully let go of Lex’s hand, and climbed off of the bed. "Okay, then I’ll come back and sit with her for a while." She followed the older woman from the room, glancing back at the doorway at the woman asleep on the bed. She looks so fragile, when she’s asleep. "I’ll be right back," she whispered.

Amanda had eaten a quick dinner then raced back up the stairs, after being chased out of the kitchen by Martha. "Just see that she stays in bed tonight…don’t let her take any more trips out to the stables, alright?" the housekeeper commanded, then sent the young woman on her way.

Stopping at the doorway to the master bedroom, Amanda leaned against the doorframe and sighed. The rancher was still sleeping peacefully, although she had kicked off the blanket and was now curled up on her good side, facing away from the door. The small blonde tiptoed into the room, making her way quietly to the bed. She picked up the blanket from the floor, and was about to cover the older woman with it when Lex rolled over and sat straight up in bed, sweat dripping from her body.

"Damn!" she muttered, visibly trembling. "Amanda?" She looked at the smaller woman in dazed surprise.

Amanda placed the blanket around her shoulders, and then felt of her forehead. "You’re burning up, Lex. I’d better go…"

Lex grabbed her hand. "Don’t leave me." She asked in a hoarse whisper. "I’ll be okay." She trembled again. "Could you just stay with me for a while, please?"

Amanda smiled. "Of course I can. Just let me get you some aspirin for that fever, okay?" seeing the older woman nod, she quickly stepped into the bathroom. Bringing a glass of water and several white tablets, she sat down next to the rancher. "Here…take these, then I’ll get you tucked in." She gave a teasing smile. "I seem to be doing that a lot, huh?"

Taking the aspirin, the older woman finished the water and sat the glass on the side table. "Yeah…" she leaned back into her pillow, "does that bother you?"

"No…in fact, it makes me feel really good that you let me." Amanda pulled the covers over the still trembling woman. She ran her hand gently through the dark hair.

Lex partially closed her eyes and smiled softly. "Thanks." The feel of Amanda’s fingers combing through her hair was very relaxing. "Mmm…" she closed her eyes the rest of the way and drifted off to sleep.

Amanda sat by her side for a long while, running her fingers through Lex’s thick hair. Guess I should go to bed myself, now…she thought, but really had no interest in leaving the sleeping woman’s side. She lay a gentle hand along the strong jawline, noticing with relief that the fever seemed to be easing. Standing up, Amanda was about to walk towards the door when she heard Lex moan slightly in her sleep. I really don’t want to leave her, though. She compromised with herself, crossing to the other side of the bed and crawling under the covers. Oh yeah…this feels great! Lex moaned again, and the younger woman turned on her side and took a large hand in hers. "Shh…it’s okay. I’m here." She whispered, which calmed the rancher down immediately. Pulling the large hand up to her face, Amanda tucked it carefully under her own cheek as she lay there, just watching the older woman sleep.


Martha walked into the master bedroom with a tray in her hand, humming softly to herself. It’s going to be a beautiful day! She thought, then stopped dead in her tracks. Looking towards the bed, a big grin broke out over her round features. That’s just too cute! She chuckled to herself.

Lex was still sound asleep, even though it was almost eight o’clock in the morning. She was lying flat on her back, with Amanda curled up beside her, blonde head tucked neatly under her chin. The younger woman had one arm outside the covers, wrapped protectively around Lex’s shoulder. The rancher’s left arm was uncovered as well, wrapped securely across the young woman’s back.

The housekeeper walked over to the bed and sat the tray down on the side table. Seeing that both women were still deeply asleep, she reached over and placed her hand gently on Lex’s forehead. Thank the good Lord that she’s not running any fever this morning. I was a little concerned about that bullet wound, but I guess I cleaned it up okay. Not wanting the sleeping women disturbed, she reached over to the telephone on the table and turned off the ringer. Heh. There’s more than one way to skin a cat! She quietly snuck from the room, closing the door behind her.


She was lying on her back in a field of wildflowers, the sun soaking into her body. Filled with a contented peace, she was enjoying the gentle fragrance of the flowers around her as a warm breeze passed through her hair. Knowing she should get up, her body rebelled, embracing the warmth of the quiet spring day with decadent pleasure.

Lex took a deep breath, inhaling another lungful of the sweet smell of flowers. Opening her eyes, she was somewhat surprised that she was indoors, and even more surprised to find herself in bed. But I could swear that I smelt flowers. Her brow creased in confusion, and then she noticed the source of the delightful smell. A tousled blonde head was tucked comfortably against her shoulder, directly under her chin. Gotta compliment Martha on her choice of shampoo for the guest room, Lex smirked. That dream was nice, but reality is so much better. She didn’t want to disturb Amanda, but her body demanded that she get up. The rancher carefully rolled the smaller woman off of her, which got her a small sigh in return. She was finally able to maneuver herself into a sitting position, and was charmed when Amanda rolled back over and snuggled into her pillow. Lex eased herself off of the bed, biting her lower lip to stifle a groan. Getting too old to play all day in the rain, Lexington, she admonished herself, making her way slowly into the bathroom.

Mmm…something smells tasty. Amanda woke up, concerned to see that she was lying in the big bed alone, and hugging Lex’s pillow? She turned her eyes towards the bedside table, which had a large tray sitting on it. "So that’s where that wonderful smell is coming from," she mumbled, taking another deep breath, closing her eyes in bliss.

"Gee…thanks." Lex drawled, stepping out of the bathroom.

Amanda blushed, and pulled the pillow over her head. "Oh, lord…" she giggled. "I can’t believe you heard that."

The tall woman walked over to the bed and sat down. "Good morning to you, too." She grinned.

One green eye peeked out from under the pillow. "Morning." Amanda grumbled, the sat up. "How are you feeling?" She reached towards the older woman. "You look a lot better this morning."

Lex accepted the small hand, pulling it to her lips for a little kiss. "Must be the company I’m keeping."

Amanda blushed to the roots of her hair. "Umm…" she pointed to the tray, "isn’t that breakfast?" trying desperately to change the subject.

Lex raised an eyebrow, but relented. "Yeah…Martha must have just brought it up a few minutes ago…the food is still steaming." She grinned when the younger woman blushed again.

"Oh, God…she was in here when we were asleep?" Amanda stuttered.

The older woman winked at her. "Yep. And now she probably realizes that I didn’t need any extra blankets last night." Ooh…bad, Lexington, very bad. But she’s just so damn cute when she blushes!

To her surprise, the blonde grinned. "That’s funny…neither did I." She crawled over to Lex, wrapping her arms around the older woman’s neck. "Good morning." Amanda whispered, leaning in and planting a sensuous kiss on Lex’s mouth.

The rancher moaned and deepened the kiss almost instantly. Lex put her hands on the small of Amanda’s back, pulling her closer, melding their bodies together.

Amanda leaned into the taller woman, burying her hands in the thick dark hair. She gasped when Lex finally broke away, her heart pounding so hard she just knew the dark woman could hear it.

"Goo…" Lex had to clear her throat before she could continue. "Good morning." She pulled back a small bit. "Certainly makes waking up worthwhile."

Amanda giggled, then leaned forward until her forehead was on Lex’s chest. "Oh yeah…I think I’ve just become a morning person."

Lex chuckled, and pulled the smaller woman close. Nibbling the nearest ear, she whispered suggestively, "I’m more of a night person, myself." She felt Amanda tremble. "You cold?" she teased, squeezing the small body a little tighter.

"Umm…" the blonde stammered,"….as a matter of fact, I’m pretty darn warm right now." She tilted her head back, as the older woman worked her way down the slim neck. "Ahh…oh…" she couldn’t seem to put together a coherent thought, with Lex taking tender bites of her throat. "Oh, God…" she whispered, running her hands down the strong back. Amanda found that she couldn’t sit up any longer, so she fell back gracelessly to the bed.

Lex followed her, never giving up on her quest to know every inch of the young blonde’s throat. "So sweet…" she mumbled, then turned on her side to get more comfortable. The tall woman’s ribs complained, and she let out a pained gasp.

Amanda pushed her back to get a look at her companion’s face. "Lex? What’s the matter?" she could see the pain in those blue depths, and she grasped the paled face with gentle hands.

Lex felt herself guided onto her back against the bed. "Sorry…guess I turned wrong or something." She mumbled, "Just give me a minute to catch my breath." Closing her eyes, she concentrated on trying to will the pain away.

Brushing her hands slowly across the strained face, Amanda leaned down and kissed Lex on the forehead. "Shh…just lie still for a little while. Let me go get Martha." She started to get off of the bed, but found her arm grasped.

"No." The barely heard plea slipped through Lex’s lips before she could stop it. "Stay." She muttered. "Please." So faint, the younger woman sensed it more than heard it.

"Okay, I’ll stay." Amanda positioned herself with Lex’s head in her lap, gently stroking the older woman’s face and running her hands through the dark hair. "Shh…" she continued her soothing motions, trying to keep the rancher calm.

A quiet knock at the door made Amanda look up. "Come in." she offered quietly. Lex’s eyes were closed, and she finally had a peaceful look on her face.

Martha came into the room slowly, apprehensive as to what she would find. Hope I’m not interrupting anything. "What’s going on, sweetheart?" She saw the look on the young blonde’s face, and Lex apparently asleep in her lap. "How’s Lexie this morning?" She looks pale… The housekeeper walked over to the bed, and could now see tears forming in the young woman’s eyes.

"Umm…she was doing pretty good earlier." She flushed at the double meaning. "I mean, she was feeling better than she was last night." Amanda looked down at the still face in her lap.

Martha sat gently on the edge of the bed, placing a light hand under Amanda’s chin, forcing the younger woman to look at her. "And…?"

Amanda looked into those caring brown eyes, her own tears threatening to spill. "We were…uh…just…"she bit her lower lip, "she turned wrong, and I think her ribs moved, or something." Her hands kept up their gentle tracing, although they were shaking somewhat.

"Oh honey…" the older woman wiped a stray tear from Amanda’s cheek. "Everything’s going to be just fine." She looked down at Lex, who now looked completely relaxed in sleep. "Darn fool kid…" Martha smiled. "Why don’t you come downstairs with me, and we’ll let Lexie get some rest?"

"No, I can’t." Amanda shook her head. "I promised her I would stay with her, and I don’t want Lex to wake up alone."

Martha was about to argue with her, when she heard the phone downstairs ringing. She reached over to the bedside table and plucked the cordless phone off of the base. "Walter’s residence, Martha speaking." She listened for a moment, and her face lost some of its color.

Amanda reached a hand over and touched her lightly on the arm. "Martha?"

The housekeeper shook her head, still listening. "Are you sure, Charlie?" her voice was strong, but she sounded a little nervous. "No, I appreciate you calling. I’ll let Lexie know." She listened for a minute or so more, and took a deep breath. "Yes, we’ll be just fine. The boys should be back by late this evening, hopefully." Martha looked down at the sleeping rancher’s peaceful face. "Yes, we will, Charlie. Thank you." She hung up the phone with a shaky hand.

"What was that all about, Martha?" Amanda noticed the slight tremble to the older woman’s actions. "Was that the sheriff?" she gave the chubby arm a gentle squeeze.

"Yes sweetheart, that was Sheriff Bristol. He wanted us to know that they haven’t been able to find those thieves yet…they lost their trail earlier this morning." She looked down again at Lex.

Amanda’s brows knit in confusion. "Well, that’s rotten luck and all, but why do you look so upset? I mean, he’s going to keep looking, isn’t he? And they weren’t able to get away with anything, right?"

Martha swallowed hard. "The last trail they found was headed in the direction of the ranch house." Her voice shook a little bit. "And, unfortunately, there’s been a big ruckus in town, and Charlie had to send some of his men back…so he and one deputy are the only ones still searching."

"But…" Amanda shook her head, "These men have guns, and they’re running around loose!" She stopped a moment, when a thought suddenly occurred to her. "What if they realized that Lex was the one who sabotaged their truck? Do you think they would be stupid enough to come up here?"

"I don’t know, honey. That’s why Charlie wanted me to tell Lexie…he said she’s more capable of defending this house than most of his deputies are." Martha gave her a rueful grin. "He tried for several years to get Lexie to join his department…said she was stronger, smarter, and a heck of a lot better shot than those college boys that work for him." She reached down and brushed the tangled bangs from the sleeping woman’s face. "Let’s let her get some rest, and I’ll tell her about Charlie’s phone call when she wakes up." She was about to stand up when the ominous rumble of thunder caught her attention. "That’s just dandy. Just what we need, more rain!" Martha stood up and then spotted the untouched tray. "Ahem." She mock glared at Amanda. "Honey, next time you two get involved in something, eat your breakfast first."

The younger woman closed her eyes in embarrassment. "Oh, God…."

Martha walked to the doorway, then turned back. "Might as well get started on it…breakfast, I mean. You can feed Lexie when she wakes up." She grinned, and sauntered out the door.

Amanda scowled down at the sleeping rancher. "You are in so much trouble when you wake up!" she kissed Lex softly on the lips, then eased out from under her. "She’s not going to let us live this one down, and you made me face her alone." She whispered in Lex’s ear, as she covered the injured woman with a blanket. "And I think we’re about to run into some more trouble, so you had better get to feeling better, pronto!"

Another deep chord of thunder rattled the windows, punctuating her observation.

Chapter 7

Martha spent the remainder of the morning busying herself with housework, smiling from time to time over her parting shot when leaving the master bedroom. She had just finished dusting the sitting room, and was making her way back towards the kitchen, chuckling to herself. Oh, the look on Amanda’s face…absolutely priceless! I really should be ashamed of myself! She was almost back to the kitchen when there was a knock on the back door. Now who could that be? The housekeeper grabbed the nearest weapon, in this case a mop out of the utility room, and went to the back door, peeking through the curtains that covered the small glass windows in the door. Ah. "Charlie! Get yourself in here before you catch your death!" she swung open the door, pulling the tall man inside.

"Thanks, Martha…I just wanted to stop by and give you a report…" he removed his drenched hat, shaking it outside before closing the door, then followed the heavyset woman into the kitchen.

She placed the mop in a corner, daring him to say anything. "Let me fix you something to eat," as she bustled towards the stove.

Charlie Bristol had been coming out to the ranch long enough to know when to keep his mouth shut. "That would be great, Martha. Thanks." He took off his coat, sat his hat in a nearby chair, and then dropped down into a seat. "Damn…it’s been a long night. Did Lex make it back okay?"

Martha began cooking, turning ever so often to talk. "I guess you could say that. She got shot, but it just grazed her side…She’s upstairs now sleeping." She tried to sound nonchalant, but the lawman could hear the tremble in her voice.

Charlie got up from his seat and walked over to the stove, gently wrapping his arms around the trembling woman. "Shh…it’s okay, sweetheart. Let it out…" he whispered in her ear.

Martha spun around, tucking her head into the tall man’s chest, sobbing quietly. "Damn it, Charlie…I could have lost her!" she felt his arms wrap tightly around her, as she let days of stress break free.

The quiet lawman just stood there, loaning his strength to a woman who rarely needed any. She’s the strongest woman I know…yet she lets only me see this side of her. God, I want to take care of her for the rest of our lives. He bent his head down, placing a tender kiss on her graying head. "I know, honey…she’ll be fine. Our Lex can handle just about anything." Oops…that kinda slipped out. He always thought of the young rancher as his adopted daughter, and he knew she was the child Martha never had. Oh well… not like she doesn’t know how I feel, right?

Martha enjoyed the embrace for a few more moments then stepped back, wiping her eyes with the edge of her apron. "Thanks Charlie…I guess I musta needed that." She gave him a light kiss on the chin, then turned back to her cooking. "So…any luck in finding those thieves? We had to practically sit on Lexie to keep her home last night."

Charlie moved back to the table and sat down. "Not really. Seems they broke up into two different groups, and went in opposite directions. Joseph went after one group, and I’m looking for the other." He waited until Martha turned around to face him. "One group may be coming this way…that’s why I’m here." Spoken quietly, not wanting to upset the woman he loved.

"I was a little afraid of something like that. Amanda told me what Lexie had done to them…they’d have to be totally stupid not to figure out who did it." She carried a plate of food over to the table and sat it down in front of the sheriff. "Do you think they’d really come after her?" She grabbed the carafe of coffee and brought it to the table, along with two mugs.

"I’m not sure…part of me thinks they’ll just try to get transportation out of here…but I don’t think they know that the bridge is out." He began dutifully spearing the food, speaking in between bites. "What bothers me most is the fact that they are so good at hiding…they could be right outside and I may never find them." He was one of the best trackers in the area. As a teenager, Charlie would hire himself out to out-of-town hunters, making his spare money helping them find game, instead of working at the local Dairy Queen or lumber yard, like some of his friends. And for these thieves to have the skill to elude him, it made him justifiably nervous.

Martha sat down, looking into her coffee mug. "I’m afraid." She whispered.

"Honey, I’m not gonna rest until I catch these bastards! And you can take that to the bank!" he reached over and grasped her hand. "No matter how long it takes…I will not let them hurt you!"

The housekeeper looked at him with sad eyes. "I’m not afraid for me, but for Lexie. She’s so stubborn…I don’t want anything to happen to her. This week has nearly killed me!" There…I finally got it out… I don’t know how much more I can take.

"This week? What else has happened, Martha?" he asked, forgetting his food and scooting his chair closer to hers.

Martha sighed. "Friday night, she was down by the creek checking the fence, when she saw a car get washed from the bridge…damn fool child could have drowned, jumping in like she did." She smiled. "But she did bring us a blessing in disguise…" Not expected, but certainly welcome.

"Good God! I thought you raised her with more brains than that! I knew that the bridge was washed out, but…" Charlie squeezed the hand in his. "What kind of blessing are you talking about? Who did she pull from the creek?"

"You know Jacob and Anna Leigh Cauble, right? Well, their grand-daughter Amanda was in the car that was knocked into the creek…she’s such a sweet girl, too."

Charlie knew that look. Uh-oh…she’s got that Martha Matchmaker face on again… "Really? I’ve never met her, but old Jacob talks about her all the time, and she sounds like a wonderful person." Tread lightly, Charles…don’t want to encourage her too much…she was so disappointed after that ‘Linda’ thing a few years back. "Is she still here?"

"Oh yes…she’s upstairs right now, taking care of Lexie." She smiled fondly.

The sheriff’s eyebrows rose at that statement. "Taking care of Lex? You’ve got to be kidding me! We are talking about the same person, right? Tall, dark, and brooding? The Lex I know wouldn’t allow that!" he laughed.

Martha squeezed his hand again. "You’d be surprised what Lexie has allowed that young thing to do… she even lets her win arguments! I never thought I’d see the day when that would happen!" she laughed, then got serious again. "I just hope Lexie will stay in bed for a day or so, to get her strength back…she’s been so tired lately, and this last little adventure has about worn her out."

"I don’t know if that will be possible, Martha. If my suspicions are right, half of that group of thieves could be on their way to the house as we speak…and they could be looking for trouble." He said, looking her directly in the eye.

"They’re headed here? Are you going to leave us some protection?" A voice from the kitchen door asked.

Both people at the table looked up. A young blonde woman was standing in the doorway, looking somewhat disheveled in the maroon oversized sweats she was wearing, with a very concerned look on her face. She walked into the room and sat down at the table next to Martha.

"Amanda honey, what are you doing downstairs?" Martha asked, getting up to grab another coffee cup from the cabinet.

The young woman smiled. "I can’t stay long, I just came downstairs to get Lex something to eat." She gave the housekeeper a sneaky grin. "I made her promise to stay in bed today." She blushed slightly, remembering what the rancher had told her. ‘Only if you keep me company…I tend to get bored, otherwise.’ This had been said with a diabolical smile, which had sent shivers of excitement up and down Amanda’s spine.

Charlie had looked at the young woman with a tired smile. "Miss Cauble, I really wish I could stay here and personally guarantee your safety, but the truth is I can’t even justify keeping a man on this case."

"Please, call me Amanda." She looked at him closely. "And who says you can’t stay on the case?" she looked somewhat confused.

The sheriff shook his head sadly. "City politics, Miss…" he saw her frown and amended, "Amanda. The county commissioners don’t much care for Lex…she really hacked them off a few years ago, and the bast…err…excuse me, old coots haven’t gotten over it yet."

Amanda was shocked. "And, because of their hurt feelings, they won’t allow you to help? That’s absolutely ridiculous!" she slapped her hand down hard on the table.

Martha stopped working on the tray for Lex and walked over to stand behind the upset young woman. "Yes, it is, sweetheart." She looked at the lawman. "Charlie, don’t lose your job over this…I’m sure Lexie can handle things just fine."

He smiled. "It just so happens my vacation starts today. And Joseph just happened to get ‘sick’ last night. He said he owed Lex a favor, and he’ll keep looking for as long as he needs to." He stood up, picking his hat off of the extra chair. "Martha, if you wouldn’t mind, we’ll keep in touch with you on the radio – channel six."

The housekeeper handed the sheriff two thermos’s full of coffee. "I’ll carry the portable with me. Now you be careful out there…we’ve got a date next Saturday night, and I hate to be stood up!" she gave him a gentle kiss on the cheek.

Charlie blushed, but smiled. "You know I’d never stand you up, sweetheart." He gestured with a thermos. "Thanks for the coffee…I’ll keep in touch." The lawman stepped out of the kitchen with a happy grin on his face.

Martha looked over at Amanda, who was smiling knowingly. "Now don’t you look at me like that – we’ve been friends for years!" she shook a pudgy finger at the now giggling blonde.

Amanda covered her mouth with her hand. "I didn’t say a word." She shook her head solemnly. The housekeeper walked over and swatted her on the arm, then turned around and moved back towards the counter. "Hey! It’s not my fault your boyfriend is so cute." She giggled again when Martha actually blushed. Heh. Paybacks!

The housekeeper rolled her eyes. "I guess I deserved that." She finished her work on the breakfast tray. "How is Lexie feeling?" Martha opened the refrigerator and poured a glass of orange juice.

"Much better, I think. She’s only running a slight fever this afternoon, and her coloring is almost back to normal." Amanda stood up and checked out the tray. "Fruit wedges? Can you actually get her to eat something that’s good for her?"

Martha shook her head. "Not usually, but you tell her she had better finish every bite, or I’ll come upstairs and feed it to her personally!" she handed the tray to the younger woman and turned her towards the doorway. "Good luck, honey. You’re gonna need it!" she laughed, as Amanda left the kitchen.


Lex was standing in the bathroom, her nightshirt unbuttoned and opened. She was turned to one side, her right side an easy view in the bathroom mirror. The dark woman had removed the elastic bandage from her body, and was now gingerly trying to peel the tape covering the wound. "Ah…damn! When will someone invent tape that can be taken off without ripping all your hide off in the process?" grumbling, she continued to slowly pull the tape from her skin, wincing with every tug.


Lex jumped, spinning her head towards the open doorway. "Oh. Hi." She smiled guiltily at the small blonde standing in the doorway, hands on hips with one foot tapping impatiently.

"What do you think you’re doing?" Amanda frowned at Lex, pursing her lips.

"Um…well, I had to go to the bathroom." As if that explained what she was doing.

The younger woman scowled, stepping into the room. "And you had to unwrap your ribs to do that?" she stood directly in front of the rancher, looking up into somewhat embarrassed blue eyes.

"No." A sarcastic rolling of those same eyes. "But my side was aching a little bit, so I thought I’d change the bandage."

Amanda pulled the shirt aside and glanced at the gauze taped over the wound. ""Okay…but the bandage is still on. Do you need some help reaching it?" she ran a light hand over the area in question, then looked back up at the rancher.

"Uh, sure." Lex gave her a sheepish grin. "I was having some trouble removing the tape."

The smaller woman knelt down, so that she was at eye level to Lex’s waist. "Hold this." She pulled the shirt back, handing the edge to the older woman. Placing one hand on the rancher’s hip for balance, she began to gently pull the tape back. "Hold still." She admonished the flinching woman.

"Ow!" Lex jumped again. "I’m not gonna have any skin left at this rate!" she hissed.

The young woman looked up at her and laughed. "Broken ribs don’t bother you… gunshot wounds don’t slow you down…" she shook her blonde head. "But putting medicine or bandages on…" she patted the flat stomach softly, "You are such a big baby." Pausing, she placed a gentle kiss on the bare abdomen. "I really like that." She stood up, the tape forgotten. "I really like you." She wrapped her arms around Lex’s neck, slowly pulling her head down. She gave the rancher a sweet gentle kiss, trying to show what her heart desperately wanted to say.

Lex accepted the kiss, and the feelings that went along with it. She pulled back slightly, noticing the sparkle of emotion on Amanda’s face – emotions that were reflecting how she was feeling too. "Yeah?" barely spoken. "I really like you, too." She leaned down and captured soft lips again, prolonging the contact until they both broke away, breathless.

Amanda leaned into the strong chest, taking a deep breath. "Whew…okay. Let’s get you taken care of, and then I’ll serve you lunch in bed." She dropped back to her knees, reaching for the tape again. "And if you’re a really good girl, I’ll tuck you in." She started pulling on the tape, feeling Lex tense up. "Easy…it’ll be over soon, I promise." She removed the tape, and slowly tried to pull the gauze away from the wound. "Ouch." She whispered, noticing that the gauze was stuck to the wound. "Oh, Lex…looks like it bled quite a lot." Amanda looked up, and saw the pain in the tall woman’s eyes. "I don’t think I can get this off without hurting you more."

Taking a deep breath, the older woman closed her eyes. "Yeah, I know." She leaned up against the counter. "I need to clean up anyway…let me just get into the shower."

The younger woman stood up and placed a hand on her arm. "I’ve got a better idea. Why don’t you let me run you a nice warm bath? Kinda soak for a while and rest?"

Lex opened her eyes slowly. "That sounds like a great idea." She rubbed her eyes. "I’m still pretty beat."

Amanda ran her hand across the strong jaw gently. "I can tell. Why don’t you go sit down for a minute, and I’ll start the water." She pulled Lex slowly into the bedroom, guiding her to the edge of the bed. "Be right back." Amanda kissed the dark head, and disappeared into the bathroom again.


Amanda stood on the balcony, leaning on the railing and enjoying the break in the rainfall. Heavy clouds still filled the late-afternoon sky, but the lightning had stopped, and there was only an occasional rumble of thunder shattering the still silence.

Lex had been sleeping for several hours after Amanda had managed to wake her and get the still-tired woman out of the tub.

Amanda had stepped into the bathroom over an hour after the older woman had begun soaking in the tub. She had become concerned when Lex had been in there so long, without so much as a peep from her. When she saw the rancher sound asleep among the bubbles, she couldn’t help but smile. Just like Sleeping Beauty…she marveled, as she stepped to the side of the tub. Well, it worked for Prince Charming. The small blonde leaned over and placed a gentle kiss on the lips of the sleeping woman, who almost slipped under the water in surprise.

They had a brief argument over the re-bandaging of Lex’s wound (which Amanda had won), and then the young blonde had forced the rancher to take some medication that Martha had brought upstairs to combat infection. The housekeeper and the smaller woman had made a good team, practically browbeating poor Lex into submission. They got the injured woman settled, and Martha left soon after Lex fell back asleep – admonishing the young blonde to get some rest as well.

But Amanda was too full of energy to sleep, so she called her grandmother to assure the older woman that she was doing fine.

"Hello." Anna Leigh’s soft but strong voice answered the phone.

"Gramma? How are you? How’s Grandpa?" Amanda felt tears burn her eyes for no reason.

The older woman chuckled. "We’re fine, Mandy…how are you? I was a little concerned when we didn’t hear from you last night, but Jacob said that you were probably worn out from your horseback ride."

Amanda choked back a sob. "It was a long day, that’s for sure." She sniffed, trying to get her emotions under control.

Anna Leigh heard the soft sound, and became instantly alert. "What happened? You and Lexington didn’t have a fight, did you? I know she can be a little abrupt sometimes, but she really is a dear girl."

"No, no…nothing like that. We just ran into some trouble when we were out riding yesterday. We stumbled onto some thieves, and…" Here, she lost it. Amanda began crying uncontrollably, scaring the older woman half to death.

"Mandy honey…calm down." She paused, gathering her thoughts. "That does it. We’re driving out there right now, I don’t care if I have to swim across that damnable creek!" Anna Leigh raised her voice, something that Amanda had not ever heard before.

"NO!" Amanda said sharply, then softened her tone. "No, Gramma, I’m okay. It’s just been a bad week, that’s all. And with Lex getting hurt like that, I guess I’m just a little on edge."

"Hurt? Was she thrown from her horse or something?" Anna Leigh guessed.

"Ummm…no." Amanda hedged, knowing her grandmother would probably lose it for sure if she knew what had happened. But she had never lied to the older woman, and was not about to start now. "She was shot." Then she added, "But it only grazed her – it’s just that her ribs are acting up, and…" she didn’t get any farther.

"SHOT?!?" Anna Leigh practically yelled through the phone, "Are you okay, sweetheart? Dear God, is she okay? Do we need to send a doctor out there?" She stopped her questions when the phone was taken away from her.

"Peanut? What’s going on? Your grandmother is white as a sheet. Are you okay? Did I hear her correctly, was someone shot?" Jacob Cauble’s deep voice took over the phone, causing a wave of relief to wash over the young woman.

"Grandpa?" Amanda felt her anxiety drop away immediately. "I’m fine. Lex got a little hurt, but she’s okay now."

Jacob sighed. "A little hurt? If she was shot, that’s more than a little hurt, Peanut. Do you want to talk about it?"

Amanda ran her hand through her hair. "Yeah, actually I would. Got a few minutes? Maybe get Gramma on the other phone?" she had to talk to someone about this…her emotions were too strong.

"Sweetheart, we have all the time in the world for you…" Anna Leigh spoke from the other phone. "Talk to us."

Amanda wiped the tears from her eyes, and told her grandparents everything. The wonderful ride, finding the thieves, the frightening ride back to the clearing after she had alerted Martha and the sheriff, the hiding in the thick bushes waiting for Lex to return. And finally, she told them of her feelings when she found that the older woman had been shot, and of the fear she had of losing something that was quickly becoming quite special.

Jacob and Anna Leigh had been very supportive, talking the young woman through her bouts of tears and laughter. She told of meeting Sheriff Bristol, and of her finally being able to catch the unflappable Martha off guard. And she told them how deep her feelings were becoming for the dark rancher, and of her hopes for a long-term relationship with the tall woman.

Amanda was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she didn’t hear when another person joined her on the balcony. Strong arms wrapped themselves around her waist as large hands rested lightly on her stomach.

"Penny for your thoughts." A deep voice whispered in her ear, with gentle lips nipping at the soft lobe.

"Mmmm…" she leaned back into the warm body behind her, covering the hands on her abdomen with her own. "Just daydreaming."

"About anything in particular?" Lex whispered, nibbling a path down the smooth neck.

Amanda leaned her head to one side, giving the dark woman better access. "Uh…" her knees were beginning to weaken. "Hmmm?" she turned around, wrapping her arms around the tall woman’s neck.

Lex took this opportunity to blaze a fiery trail down the younger woman’s throat, feeling small hands clench in her hair. The body that she was holding trembled. "Cold?" she murmured, a slight smile on her face as she continued her assault.

"N…n…no." Amanda breathed. "It just…ahhh…" she released a deep breath. "C…can we take this inside? I seem to be having trouble standing."

Lex halted her exploration of the soft throat under her lips, leaning back just enough to look into slightly glazed green eyes. "Really?" she gave the young woman a sexy smile. "Think you’re coming down with something?"

"Could be." Amanda unlocked her hands from the silky dark hair and grasped the large hands that were settled on her waist. "Maybe you should tuck me into bed." She pulled the older woman back inside.

Lex followed, her legs feeling suddenly weak. Must be contagious. "Sounds serious." She whispered, trying the keep the playful banter alive, allowing the young blonde to seat her on the edge of the bed.

Amanda slowly unbuttoned Lex’s nightshirt, pushing the rancher gently onto her back. "Oh, yeah…I’m going to need lots of special attention…" she pulled her own shirt off. "Think you can handle it?" She watched as the blue eyes darkened. "Let me demonstrate." Amanda leaned down, covering the mouth under hers with a searing kiss.

When they finally broke apart, Lex pulled in a shuddering breath. "Let me see what I can do." She murmured, letting her hands explore the supple young body with tender caresses. Taking special care, she slid her callused hands across the dips and curves, mapping out her intentions with gentle desire.

Amanda felt a burning fire course through her veins as the older woman memorized her body by touch, stopping at different points to leave a heated kiss, or a gentle nip. was never like this before, which was her last conscious thought before she rode out a wave of ecstasy, as bright lights assaulted her closed eyelids.


Much later, Amanda awoke with a strong body wrapped around hers. A dark head was pillowed on her stomach, and two long arms were stretched protectively across her body. She unconsciously ran a hand though the disheveled dark hair, while her other hand was softly clasped around a tan arm. I don’t know what got into me…but I don’t think Lex is going to complain. She smiled in remembrance. So intense…but I don’t think I’ve ever felt so…loved before. She sighed. That’s what this is, I think…Looking down fondly at the sleeping woman in her arms. No…I know that’s what this is…She felt a strong surge of emotion hit her deeply. I wonder how Lex feels about it?

The object of her affection stirred, tightening her hold slightly. Lex nuzzled the smooth skin under her cheek, opening one blue eye and focusing on the shining green eyes above her. She reached up with one hand to wipe the single tear that trickled down Amanda’s cheek. "What’s wrong?" she asked, attempting to sit up.

The young woman held her down gently with an arm. "Nothing…I’m just being stupid." She sniffed, trying to get her roiling emotions under control.

Lex kissed the flat abdomen. "Are you regretting…" her voice broke.

"Oh God, no!!" Amanda guided the rancher’s face upward until they were inches apart. Placing a trembling kiss on Lex’s lips, she whispered, "No regrets – I’m just a little overwhelmed." Another gentle kiss. "Okay, a lot overwhelmed. I’ve never felt anything like this before." She touched her forehead to Lex’s.

The older woman smiled, tears forming in her eyes as well. "I never thought I’d feel anything like this…ever." She swallowed hard, bringing a large hand to cup Amanda’s cheek, wiping away another stray tear with her thumb. "I…" she paused, trying to find words to express the incredible feelings coursing through her body. Unable to find any, Lex gave Amanda a soft kiss, who promptly deepened it, understanding the unspoken words and adding her own.

Their bodies were able to articulate what their voices couldn’t. Amanda pulled back far enough to gaze into blue eyes, which had deepened almost to indigo. Swearing that she could see directly into the other woman’s soul, Amanda matched her intensity, eyes sparkling with unshed tears. "I love you." Three words, spoken so softly, she barely heard them leave her mouth.

But Lex heard them. Her eyes widened and she stopped breathing. Then those blue eyes closed, silent tears tracking over her chiseled features. She opened her mouth to speak, but was unable to utter a sound. Finally taking a large gulp of air, Lex opened her eyes again.

Amanda placed concerned hands on the older woman’s face, searching her eyes intently. "Lex?" she whispered, her heart aching. "Honey, what’s the matter?" the young woman used her thumbs to brush the tears from Lex’s face. "Please, talk to me." She could feel the rancher beginning to tremble, still not able to speak.

Lex pulled Amanda tightly to her, burying her face in the tangled blonde hair. "No one has ever said that to me before." She rasped, her throat thick with emotion. "And," she pulled back until she could look the smaller woman directly in the eyes, "Just so there’s not confusion…" she placed a soft kiss on Amanda’s lips, "I love you, too." She pulled the smaller woman into her arms, and then rolled over to lean back against the headboard.

Amanda snuggled happily into the strong arms, content to just sit and absorb the warm feeling that was bubbling up between the two of them. Even the now loud rumbling of thunder couldn’t ruin the euphoria that she was feeling. She felt a soft kiss on the top of her head, and the arms holding her tightened.

"I hate to disturb you," the familiar deep voice rumbled in her ear, "But if we don’t get downstairs pretty soon, Martha’s gonna come looking for us."

The small blonde took a small bite out of the conveniently located nearby shoulder. "And this would be a bad thing?" She nibbled her way over to the tan throat. "Would it bother you – her seeing us like this?"

Lex laughed, "Hell, no! I just didn’t want you to get embarrassed, that’s all."

"Well, I don’t think she’s going to pick on me much, at least for a little while anyway. We sorta called a truce this morning." Amanda smiled under the dark woman’s chin.

Lex pulled the young woman’s chin up, so she could see her eyes. "Truce? Did you two have an argument?" she asked, concerned. Please, no…I thought they liked each other.

"No…nothing like that." An impish grin, "I caught her in the kitchen with her boyfriend."

Lex laughed. "Charlie was here?"

"Yeah, early this morning." Amanda went on to explain everything that he had told Martha and her, and how he refused to stop looking until the thieves were caught.

The rancher released a heavy sigh. "Damn, I was afraid of something like that." She kissed the top of Amanda’s head. "C’mon…let’s get cleaned up and go downstairs. I’m starving."

Amanda climbed off of Lex with a regretful sigh. "And I thought that noise was thunder – I didn’t know it was your stomach growling." She smirked at the older woman, "Wanna conserve some water?" she held her hand out to Lex, who took it immediately.

"Sure." Lex allowed the smaller woman to pull her off of the bed and lead her into the bathroom. "Although I don’t know how much we’ll conserve. This could take a while." She laughed, following the cute blonde.


Martha was standing at the kitchen window, staring silently out at the darkened sky. Amanda was about to call out a greeting when Lex covered her mouth with a large hand. Giving the younger woman a devilish grin, the rancher snuck up behind the housekeeper, wrapping her arms around the ample waist.

"Evenin’ Martha!" she boomed, squeezing her quarry tight.

"Aaaarrgghh!" the older woman screamed, then spun around quickly. "Blast it!" she slapped the taller woman on the arm, "I swear I’m going to keel over dead one of these days!"

Amanda stood a few steps behind Lex, bent over laughing. "Good one, Lex!" she finally stopped long enough to catch her breath.

The housekeeper glared at the young blonde. "You know," she said, hands on her hips, "I can get my spoon after you too!" She swatted Lex on the rear. "And you…" she pushed the tall woman towards the table, "sit down and I’ll get you something to eat." Noticing that they both had damp hair, she let a wicked smile cross her face. "You too, Amanda…" then making sure she could see their faces added, "I’m sure you both worked up quite an appetite." She enjoyed the very dark blush that graced both younger women’s faces. Heh – teach them to mess with me.

Lex looked up and smiled, her blush fading. "As a matter of fact…" she raised an eyebrow at Martha, "better give me double helpings…" she winked at Amanda, who just covered her face with her hands. "Right, Amanda?"

The young blonde uncovered her face and stuck her tongue out at the rancher. "I’ll get you for that!"

"I certainly hope so!" Lex gave her a sexy smile. "I’ll be looking forward to it."

Martha walked up to the table and lightly slapped the dark head. "Behave yourself, Lexie." She then gently ran her hand through the damp hair. "You look like you’re feeling better, sweetheart."

"I am, Martha. Guess all that sleep did the trick. I feel almost as good as new." She leaned back into the caress, guiltily enjoying the attention. "And I had a really good nurse." She smiled tenderly at Amanda.

The housekeeper softly touched Lex’s forehead, relieved to find it cool. "How’s your side? Do you want me to change the bandage?"

Shaking her head, Lex captured the small hand and squeezed it. "It’s great. Amanda took care of it earlier."

The older woman looked over at Amanda, who nodded. "Yep. It had bled quite a bit during the night, but other than that it looked pretty good." She gave an impish smile. "I just rebandaged it a few minutes ago…seems to be healing just fine."

Lex reached across the table and grabbed a small hand. "Must be all the good care I’ve been getting."

"How’s your ribs?" Martha asked, setting the platters of food on the table, then sitting down to join the younger women.

"Good as new." Lex said, then looked up when a loud crash of thunder rumbled outside.

Martha laughed. "Teach you to try and fib to me!"

Lex moaned. "Yeah, right." Then she turned serious. "Not to try and change the subject, but have you heard anything else from Charlie?"

The housekeeper gave her a grim look. "He radioed in a couple of hours ago – no luck so far, but a couple of deputies rode in by horseback, and they were going to take over while he and Joseph went up to the bunkhouse for a rest."

"Good. I didn’t want him to stay out there indefinitely – he’s begging for pneumonia as it is." Lex frowned. "Any word on how the work on the bridge is coming along? Have you heard from the boys?" She started eating, not realizing just how hungry she was until the first bite.

Martha shook her head. "They called right after lunch, and said that the bridge should be finished by sometime tomorrow." She looked at Amanda. "I’m sure Lexie will give you a ride back into town."

Amanda looked up from her plate, a surprised look on her face. She saw the mischievous grin on the housekeeper’s face and smiled. "Well, I really do need to check on my grandparents." She saw Lex’s face fall. "But, I’d like to just go and pick up some clothes and things, and come back here to help out – at least until someone is completely healed." She smiled at Lex, who gave her a relieved look.

The rancher picked up her glass of ice tea, trying to look nonchalant. God, that scared me… I was afraid that she was going to leave me as soon as she was able to. She lifted the glass to her lips. "You don’t have to work here…you know you’re welcome to stay as long as you want."

"I know, it’s just that…" Amanda paused, seeing the glass shake slightly in the dark-haired woman’s hand. Why is her hand trembling like that? She looked into Lex’s eyes, seeing a thinly veiled fear in those deep blue depths. She thought I’d leave? After today? The blonde felt a sharp jab of pain in her chest with this realization. We’re going to have a nice long chat later, my friend.

"Amanda?" Lex called her out of her reverie. "You with us?"

Amanda blinked, then shook her head. "Uh, yeah…sorry about that." She stood up, taking her now empty plate to the sink. "I need to go call my grandmother, if that’s okay with you." She looked at Lex, whose face was impassive.

"Sure, go ahead. I was going to go down and check on the horses." Lex stood up as well, placing her hand on the empty chair back.

The blonde woman crossed the kitchen, placing her hand on Lex’s. "Martha and I fed them this morning, so they should be okay." She pulled the large hand to her lips, kissing it softly. "Don’t be gone too long, alright?"

Lex finally allowed a smile to cross her face. "Right. Give your grandparents my best." She gave the small hand a gentle squeeze, then made her way to the door. "Martha, lock the door behind me just in case, okay?"

The housekeeper was running water into the sink. "Amanda, honey, could you do that for me? I’ve already gotten my hands stuck in this dishwater." She gave them both an innocent look.

Amanda walked over and placed a light kiss on the round cheek. "Okay… but I think you should work on your subtlety." She laughed, and followed Lex out of the kitchen.

They walked silently down the hallway hand in hand, until they reached the back door. "Do you need any help? I could wait to call my grandmother." Amanda watched as Lex put on her heavy duster and placed the battered black cowboy hat on her head. "Do you ever leave the house without that hat?" She reached up and pushed it back off of the dark woman’s head, getting a smile in response.

"Well, actually no – I don’t. Guess it’s like my security blanket. My dad gave it to me right before he left." Lex paused, thinking. "Makes me feel like he’s here with me, watching."

Amanda began to button the coat closed. "How long has it been since you’ve spoken to him?" she looked up and saw a fleeting sadness in Lex’s eyes.

The rancher took a deep breath, then released it slowly. "’Bout a year, I guess. He called asking for some money, said the circuit was pretty tough." She let her gaze turn inward for a long moment. "Haven’t heard from him since, so I guess things are going better for him." She shook her head. "Anyway, guess I’d better go check on the horses." She pulled the younger woman into her arms. "See you in a little bit." Leaning down, Lex slowly captured Amanda’s lips, feeling small arms wrap tightly around her neck.

"Hurry back." Amanda whispered when they finally broke apart. Thunder interrupted her, followed by a nearby flash of lightning. "Be careful." She ran a loving hand across a strong jaw.

Lex leaned into the caress, closing her eyes. She took a shuddering breath then looked down into green pools of light that were Amanda’s eyes. "I love you." Saw those eyes sparkle, and a smile covered the blonde’s face.

"I love you too." Amanda stood up on her tiptoes and placed a very soft kiss on the tall woman’s lips. She deepened the kiss, pouring her heart and soul into the connection.

Lex opened the door, and stepped out. Turning she said, "I’ve got a key, so go ahead and lock the door." She started down the steps. "I’ll be back in about an hour or so…just want to look around."

Amanda stood at the open doorway, a sweet smile on her face. "Don’t be too long, or I’ll come out after you." She winked at the older woman. "I know of several better activities than messing around with a bunch of horses."

Lex bit her bottom lip. "Hmmm…hold that thought. I may have a surprise for you later." She grinned, and started towards the barn.


Lex had made a short check of the horses, then moved quickly into the maintenance barn. The little Mustang was still sitting there, waiting patiently. She slipped off her coat and hat, and stepped into the greasy coveralls that she had left hanging by the door.

An hour later, Lex was certain the little car suffered no serious damage due to the flood. She put a couple of gallons of gas in the tank, and then sat down in the drivers’ seat to turn the key. The engine grumbled, then finally sputtered to life. "YES!!!" she yelled out loud, pumping a hand into the air in triumph. Leaving the engine running, Lex walked over to the telephone that was hanging on the wall.

Two rings later, Martha answered. "Walters’ residence, Martha speaking."

Feeling mischievous, Lex lowered her voice to a rumbling growl. "Hey, baby…you sound hot. Whatcha wearing?" she covered up the mouthpiece, trying to control her laughter.

"Oooh…you sound absolutely marvelous. What are you wearing?" the housekeeper countered, recognizing the voice immediately.

Lex lost it. Laughing hard, she replied, "Greasy overalls, sweetie…"

Martha laughed as well. "Hmm…a little too kinky for me, I think…but let me ask my friend in the other room – I think she’s into nutcases like you!"

"Wait!" Lex yelled. "Don’t get Amanda, just yet. I need you to do me a favor." She used her best pleading voice on the phone. "Ask her to stand at the window in the sitting room, looking out the front. I want to show her something."

Martha chuckled. "Got it running, did you?" She knew how much the young blonde treasured the classic car. "She’s going to fall to pieces, you realize that, right?"

Lex smiled. "That’s okay…I’ll pick them up." She began stripping the coveralls off, using one hand. "I should be up there in about 5 minutes, okay?"

"Okay, sweetheart…I’ll make sure she’s ready." Martha hung up the phone, then went in search of the young woman in question.


While Lex was busy getting the Mustang in running condition, Amanda had gone into the office to call her grandparents.

"Hello, Grandpa Jake." She greeted the deep voice that answered the phone.

"Hey there, Peanut! How’s everything going?" Jacob chortled, thrilled to be speaking to his favorite granddaughter.

"Great! How are you feeling? Is your leg still bothering you?" she asked, remembering how badly Jacob would limp, barely able to walk on his newly healed leg.

"Not bad at all now, sweetheart. I’ll be back on the jogging track in no time!" he chuckled, then another voice broke in on the conversation.

"I’ll second that, Mandy…your grandpa has been chasing me all over the house!" Anna Leigh laughed. "How’s Lexington feeling?"

Amanda laughed as well. "Much better, Gramma…she’s gone out to check the horses right now." She took a deep breath. "Once everything gets back to normal, I’d like to invite her home for dinner, if that’s okay with both of you."

Anna Leigh crossed the living room, sitting next to Jacob on the sofa. "Does this mean what I hope it means?" she asked, feeling her husband grasp her hand gently.

"Yes, I think it does, Gramma. I’ve never felt like this with anyone else before…" she paused, "She completes me."

Jacob chuckled. "Wonderful! I’ve always liked her…especially after the way she took care of my Anna Leigh during that whole escapade with the Taylor house…"

"Oh really? Guess I’ll have to get her to tell me all about that, huh?" Amanda laughed. "Anyway, I just wanted to call and let y’all know that the bridge work should be finished sometime tomorrow…so I’ll probably be home in the next day or so." Cutting off any other questions, the young woman continued, "I told Lex I wanted to stay out here for another week or so, just until she’s healed up from this past week’s activities. I just want to pick up a few things, and see both of you."

They spent the next half-hour or so talking about inconsequential things, with Amanda promising to bring "her" rancher to dinner in the next couple of days. They sound almost as thrilled about all of this as I am…I wonder if that’s possible? I wonder what my own parents will think? Uh, don’t think I want to know right now… Her grandparents had always been very supportive in her life’s choices, even when her parents couldn’t seem to comprehend what she tried very hard to tell them. She always felt more loved and happy during the summers of her childhood, spending them with the two most important people in her life. Jacob and Anna Leigh had treated her as their own child, with all the love and support she had been missing at home.

Amanda hung up the phone, a bittersweet pang in her chest. Her grandfather’s recent accident had reminded her of their mortality, and she always became a little sad after these types of thoughts. Stop it! Don’t dwell on the bad things, just think about all the good things! She repeated her grandmother’s mantra, which kept her sane during those long nights at the hospital.

Amanda was still drifting in her thoughts when the phone rang. Martha must have picked it up immediately, because it only rang one time. A few minutes later, the housekeeper bustled into the room, a big smile on her face.

"Amanda! I’m sure glad I found you! Lexie wants you to look out the front window – she has a surprise for you." The older woman grasped her arm, and led the blonde into the sitting room.

The room was…delicate, Amanda mused. Queen Anne furniture, and a beautiful baby grand piano stood proudly in one of the only rooms she had not been into. The large bay window had delicate lace curtains, and soft watercolor paintings graced the room.

"Martha, it’s beautiful!" she whispered, looking around the room in awe.

The housekeeper sighed, a sad look on her face. "This was Mrs. Walters favorite room… I remember when she used to sit at the piano and play for little Lexie…" she wiped an errant tear from her cheek. "Lexie used to sit in here for hours, practicing…she was really good at it, too – until her father told her it was useless to play the piano when she should spend her time learning how to run a ranch." Taking a deep breath the housekeeper continued, " She still comes in here, every once in a while and plays… I think it relaxes her."

"Lex plays the piano?" Amanda was somewhat surprised – the rancher didn’t seem like the type to spend time with something that had to be done indoors.

"Oh, yes…she even used to write compositions when she was in school…" Martha’s face took on an angry tint. "But that no-good father of hers teased her until she quit." She was about to comment further when a honk in the front interrupted her.

Amanda rushed to the window, then gasped. "Oh my God!" she rushed out of the room and through the front door before the housekeeper could say a word.

Martha peeked through the window, seeing a light blue Mustang sitting in the front circular drive. "I’ll be damn…" she muttered, then laughed and headed towards the kitchen.

Amanda stood on the front porch, tears streaming down her face. Lex had stepped out of the vehicle, and was standing on the driver’s side, door still open. The young blonde walked slowly down the steps, unable to say a word.

The rancher smiled. Oh, this was definitely worth a few sleepless nights… she barely had time to brace herself before Amanda wrapped her small body around the taller woman.

"I can’t believe this! I though it was lost forever!" Amanda murmured, her faced tucked securely in Lex’s shoulder. "Was this what you were doing all those nights?"

Lex buried her face in the soft blonde locks. "Yeah…surprised?" she smiled when the younger woman squeezed tighter. "It’s got a small dent on the left rear panel, and the upholstery needs to be cleaned, but other than that it’s okay." She pulled away from the small blonde momentarily, reaching into the back seat. "I found this in the front floorboard." She handed over a purse and briefcase, dotted with dirt, but reasonably intact. "I didn’t look at anything, but I laid everything out on a workbench to dry."

Amanda looked at the items, then back at Lex. She grabbed the tall woman around the neck, kissing her soundly. "Thank you!" she couldn’t begin to explain the emotions thrumming through her. "You have no idea what this means to me!" she began to cry.

Lex held her close, kissing the top of the blonde head. "I have a pretty good idea…I know that you and your grandfather found this car and rebuilt it together – yet you never complained when you thought it was gone."

The younger woman stepped back, looking her directly in the eyes. "The car is very important to me, that’s true…but as long as I was alive, I knew that things always have a way of working themselves out. My grandparents taught me that." She framed the strong face with her hands. "And as long as I have you, nothing else matters." Amanda leaned up and placed a soft kiss on Lex’s chin.

Lex closed the car door, and led the young woman back towards the house. "I’m just glad you dropped into my life." She opened the front door, then handed Amanda the keys to the car. "Here…we’ll take your car into town tomorrow." Lex locked the door behind them.


The two young women were sitting in front of a roaring fire in the den; Lex comfortably ensconced in a chair, with Amanda relaxing in her lap. "Are you sure I’m not hurting you?" Amanda asked the older woman. Lex had a very tight hold on her, and they had been snuggling for well over an hour.

"Are you kidding me?" the rancher nibbled on a convenient ear. "I’ve never felt better." She was about to get a little more serious about it when Martha walked into the room.

"Excuse me, Lexie…but I’ve gotten dinner ready, if you can tear yourself away from what you are doing." The housekeeper worked hard to keep the grin off of her face. "If not, I guess I can just throw it out."

Amanda practically jumped out of the dark woman’s lap. "Wait! You wouldn’t throw out perfectly good food, would you?" she seemed horrified by the thought.

Lex laughed, and stood up as well. "Please…this is the same woman who would save my plate and make me finish it later when I was growing up." She shook her head. "She never throws food away!"

Martha slapped at her as she walked through the door. "That’s only because you would barely stand still long enough to eat…then come back an hour later whining about being hungry."

The trio laughed their way into the kitchen. Martha pushed the younger women gently into chairs and joined them as they passed platters of food back and forth.

"I’ve been meaning to ask you Martha, when do you find time to cook all these wonderful meals?" Amanda asked, enjoying her food with gusto.

"It’s not really that big of a deal, honey…and it doesn’t take that long at all." The housekeeper answered, jumping when thunder rumbled a little too close by.

Lex looked up at the ceiling and shook her head. "I swear, I’d almost welcome a drought after this past week." Another crack of thunder shook the house.

"Sounds like it’s getting closer." Amanda stated, unconsciously scooting closer to the rancher.

"It’s only weather…nothing to be worried about." Lex wrapped her arm around Amanda’s shoulders, pulling her close. Then she quieted, and listened carefully. "Did you hear something?"

Martha looked at her quizzically. "I hear another storm approaching, why?" she listened as well, but couldn’t hear anything out of the ordinary.

"Shhh.." Lex warned, getting up and walking to the kitchen window. "Something isn’t right out there."

Suddenly, another crash of thunder, and the lights went off in the house.

"Damn!" the rancher cursed, groping around in the darkness. She reached into a nearby drawer and pulled out a flashlight. "Amanda? Martha? You two okay?" she aimed the beam of light towards the table, highlighting two pale faces. Walking over to the frightened women, Lex squatted down between them. "I don’t like the feel of this." She saw the small blonde tremble slightly. Grasping a nearby hand, Lex squeezed it gently. "Hey…it’s okay…probably just the storm."

Amanda knew that Lex was only saying that to make her feel better. I think we’re in some serious trouble here, she mused, then looked into concerned blue eyes. "Yeah, sure…" she looked over at Martha, who had a concerned look on her face as well. Amanda was about to reassure the housekeeper when the sound of breaking glass assaulted their ears.

Lex jumped up, looking at Martha. "You two get into the storm cellar, I’ll go check it out." She started towards the door, when two hands caught her from behind.

"Are you crazy? C’mon down into the cellar with us. I’ve got the portable radio here in my apron, we’ll call Charlie." Martha begged, suddenly afraid of the unknown.

Amanda waited patiently for the older woman to finish. "She’s right. If it’s those thieves, they have guns, and you don’t. Please don’t do this." She pleaded quietly, knowing in her heart that Lex couldn’t and wouldn’t do as she asked.

Lex kissed the small blonde gently on the lips. "Go with Martha. I’ve got to check this out." She turned to look at the housekeeper. "Go to the cellar…please." She stared at the older woman for a very long moment. "Call Charlie – tell him to come in the back way." She walked over and grabbed a nearby skillet. "You always said I was dangerous in the kitchen." She smiled.

Martha smiled grimly and grabbed the younger woman. "C’mon, honey. The cellar is very well hidden…we’ll be safer there." She looked up at the rancher, tears floating in her dark eyes. "Join us soon, okay sweetheart?" She began to lead the small woman towards the table, squatting down and moving the small rug underneath.

Lex followed, scooting the table off to one side so that the housekeeper could open a trap door. "You two go on in, I’ll cover your tracks." She bent down next to the older woman and gave her a strong hug. "I’ll see you in a little bit."

Martha smiled, then stepped down into the dark passage. "You’d better." She continued down until she reached the bottom, then picked up a lantern, lighting it with a nearby book of matches. "Thank the good Lord I clean this place up on a weekly basis."

Amanda looked at Lex, tears running down her face. "I’d rather stay with you." She leaned into the strong hand that caressed her face. "I don’t think I can stay anywhere without you."

Lex pulled her close for a deep kiss. "I need you to take care of Martha for me." She jumped as the back door was forcibly opened. "Hurry. I’ll see you soon." Another quick kiss. "I love you." She whispered, then sent the small woman down the stairs, closing the trap door behind her.

The rancher rearranged the rug and placed the table back over it before she started towards the doorway, armed with only a flashlight and a cast iron frying pan. She could hear voices in the hall, as she raised her makeshift weapon and stood against the wall.

"Shut up, damn it!" a deep voice barked low, just inside the house. "They know we’re here now."

Another voice broke though the silence. "Why do we have to do this, Matt? Wouldn’t it be easier to just steal a car or something?" a young voice whined.

"Because I don’t like being made a fool of, and that damn woman did just that!" the deeper voice intoned, walking carefully down the hall. "You still with us, Darrell?" he whispered.

"Yeah…I’m here. Why, I don’t know." Another voice commented, barely heard. He cocked the rifle, making sure a round was in the chamber.

Lex leaned closer against the wall, hearing the three men move nearer and nearer to the kitchen doorway.


Chapter 8

Amanda watched with a growing sense of dread as the trapdoor closed, then turned to look around the small room. The lantern’s flickering light painted the walls, which were covered with open shelves that were filled with canned goods and other items. Martha had sat down on a wooden bench that ran down the middle of the room with a heavy sigh.

"C’mere, honey." The housekeeper patted a spot on the bench. She pulled the small radio from her apron pocket as Amanda sat down beside her. "Charlie? Do you read me?" The older woman spoke into the small radio quietly.

A small burst of static answered as a faint voice replied, "Martha? Read you loud and clear…what’s up?"

The housekeeper glanced at the young woman, a relieved smile on both of their faces. "You need to get to the house, pronto. We’ve got some unexpected visitors."

"Roger that…" a short pause, "where are you, hon? Are you okay?"

Martha exchanged a worried glance with Amanda. Better not give too much away, just in case. She thought a moment before replying. "Amanda and I are weathering it out just fine." She paused again, giving that time to sink in. "Lexie said for you to come in the back way. The electricity is off, so be careful."

There was a short pause, then the sheriff spoke. "Gotcha. I’m at the previously discussed location – on my way now." He understood the need for caution – the thieves could listen in on their conversation far too easily. "Sit tight, sweetheart." He signed off.

Light thumping from above caught the two women’s attention. Martha looked at the ceiling, biting her bottom lip. "Sounds like they’re in the hallway now." She glanced over at Amanda, whose shadowed face held a look of alarm.

"I hate just sitting here!" the young woman exclaimed, standing up and pacing the length of the small room. "There’s got to be something we can do!"

The housekeeper stood up, getting a firm grasp on the surprisingly strong shoulders. "I don’t like it much either, but we are helping in a way." Seeing Amanda take a breath to argue, she continued, "With us down here safe, Lexie can concentrate on those men and not have to worry about us." She pulled the young woman back over to the bench to sit down. "The best thing we can do is stay calm, in case she needs our help." She held Amanda’s hand, squeezing it firmly.

Amanda took a deep breath, wiping an errant tear from her cheek. "I know that what you’re saying makes sense, but I can’t help but feel that I should be doing more." Another loud thump from above made her look up at the ceiling. She was about to say more when a sharp bang came from above. Oh, God, no! "LEX!!!" she screamed.


Leaning up against the wall next to the doorway, Lex listened as the three men continued to argue.

"Okay, listen…if we split up, it won’t take as long to search."

"Matt," a younger voice interrupted, "I don’t wanna do this…it ain’t right."

"Shut up, Ronnie." The older man growled, then sighed. "Fine. You stick with me, and we’ll check upstairs. Darrell, you look around down here. Shoot anything that moves, got it?"

A resigned sigh was his answer. "Yeah, yeah….I got it." He watched as the other two moved towards the stairs, flashes of lightning through the windows and opened door the only illumination in the silent house.

Lex hugged the wall tighter – she heard two of the men move past the door and towards the darkened stairway, as the third stood in the hallway, grumbling to himself.

"Check the downstairs," he mumbled, "shoot anything," he peeked into the kitchen.

The rancher raised the frying pan over her head, preparing to swing downwards as soon as the thief stepped into the room.

Darrell stood in the doorway, holding his breath and listening carefully. A close lightning strike lit up the entire room, and he could see that it was empty. Shaking his head, the thief continued down the hallway towards the front of the house.

Lex let out the breath she had been holding, a little angry that the man didn’t walk into the kitchen. Guess I’ll just have to follow him. She stepped up to, and into the doorway, slowing looking out with one eye. The rancher could barely make out the dark form which was stepping into the den. Time to play hide-and-seek, she smiled to herself, as she snuck down the long hallway.

Darrell stepped into the den, waving the rifle back and forth, peeking around the heavy furniture. As he made his way to the office, Lex slowly crept up behind him, raising the frying pan over her head. Sensing another presence in the room, the nervous man started to turn around when another flash of lightning lit up the room, highlighting a tall form barely two feet away from him. He raised his rifle to fire at the apparition, which suddenly appeared to be swinging something towards his head.


The gunshot echoed throughout the silent house, leaving a dead quiet behind it.


Amanda jumped to her feet, prepared to race up the stairs when a strong hand on her arm stopped her. "Let go of me!!" she cried, struggling to break free.

Martha held the squirming young woman tightly. "No, sweetheart. We’ve got to stay here." She wrapped Amanda in a firm hug. "We don’t know what’s going on up there."

Amanda tried to twist out of the strong grasp, then finally relented. "But she may need me!" she sniffled, burying her face into a strong shoulder. "She could be hurt…" a shudder ran through her body, "or…" she couldn’t even finish such a horrible thought.

The housekeeper held onto the younger woman tightly. "Honey, you can’t think like that." She placed a gentle kiss on the blonde head. "Our Lexie is one of the strongest people I’ve ever known." She led the smaller woman over to the bench to sit down.

Amanda calmed down, thinking about what the older woman had said. She is very capable – I’m not giving Lex enough credit. Looking at Martha, Amanda could read the fear in her eyes as well. I never thought about what this is doing to her…Lex is practically her daughter. I’ve been pretty selfish here. She linked her hands with the older woman’s and squeezed gently. "You’re right, as usual. I guess I’m just a little on edge…it’s been a pretty wild week."

Martha was about to reply when the radio crackled.

"Martha? You there?"

She hurriedly pulled the device once again from her apron. "We’re here, Charlie."

"I’m right outside…did I hear a gunshot just now?" nervousness was quite evident in the sheriff’s tone. "Are y’all okay?"

Martha took a trembling breath then looked over at Amanda, who was chewing on her lower lip. "Amanda and I are fine…we’re still hidden." Her voice broke, "I’m not sure about Lexie, though." She felt a small arm wrap around her shoulder in support.

"She’s fine, I’m sure of it." Charlie assured her. "I’ve got reinforcements on the way…we caught one group of those damn thieves, hiding near the stolen vehicles. Damn fools."

Amanda pulled the older woman close with relief. "That means there’s only three left…" she gave a forced little laugh. "No contest."


The silence hung heavily in the air upstairs; a crumpled body lay sprawled in the center of the office floor. The tall figure stood over the still form for a moment, then squatted down beside it to check for a pulse. Still breathing. Guess that’s a good sign. Lex tossed the frying pan off to one side, then removed the laces from the unconscious man’s work boots, tying up his hands and feet. Picking up the rifle, she was about to leave the room when she heard heavy footsteps on the stairs. Goody…one down, and two to go. The rancher crossed stealthily across the den, ending up next to the doorway. Peeking around the corner, she could barely see two forms; one at the foot of the stairs, and the other standing in the kitchen doorway.

"Matt, I’m scared!" the younger man whined softly, as the older man stepped into the kitchen. A moment later he returned, then walked towards the back door, which was still partially open.

"Shut up! I swear to God, if you don’t quit whining, I’ll shoot you myself!" he growled, opening up the door to the utility room and quickly looking inside.

The smaller man sat down on the bottom step, wrapping his arms around his knees, rocking back and forth. A large clap of thunder startled him and he began to cry. "Matt…I wanna go home!"

Lex watched as the taller form moved quickly back towards the stairs.


"Sssshhhh! Quit being such a damn baby! You’re fifteen years old – grow up!" he shook the younger man’s shoulder. "Now c’mon! Stay behind me and keep your mouth shut!" he started walking down the hallway, heading straight for the den where Lex stood waiting.

C’mon, you bastard…just a little closer… She silently urged him on. Dragging a poor kid into this mess…I’m gonna enjoy this! She turned the rifle around in her hands, holding it like a club.

Another rumble of thunder, then the back door swung open as lightning lit up the sky once again.

"Hold it!!" a man’s voice yelled, flashing a beam of light down the hallway. "Sheriff’s department!"

Matt whirled, keeping the young man between him and the deputy, who had raised his gun.

"NO!!!" Lex screamed, not wanting to see the boy shot. She jumped out of the den brandishing her rifle like a club. "Hold your fire!!" she yelled at the deputy, swinging the gun downward towards the thief’s head.



The lights came on just as the shots rang out.


"Okay, I’ve got men at all of the doors, and I’ve found where they threw the outdoor electrical switch. As soon as my men are in position, I’ll turn the lights back on, and we’ll go in."

Amanda quickly pulled the radio from Martha’s now shaking hands. "Do you really think that’s wise? We don’t know where Lex is, or what the situation is up there."

"Normally I’d agree with you – but I don’t want my men to be shooting at shadows. Someone could get hurt." He paused, trying to get his point across with upsetting either woman unduly. "And, if Lex is hurt, it’ll be easier to find her if the lights are on."

Before Amanda could reply to that dark thought, two more gunshots rang out upstairs, just as the electricity came on. "Charlie? What’s going on?" she practically screamed into the radio. "Charlie?!?!" Amanda handed the radio to Martha, and started towards the stairs. "That’s it! I’m not spending a single second longer down here!!"

Before she could reach the stairs, the trapdoor opened, blinding the two women with a bright light. Amanda had to shade her eyes from the glare, since there was only one weak bulb in the storm cellar. "Lex?" she whispered, begging in her heart for it to be true. She charged up the stairway, Martha quickly at her heels.

Lex was practically bowled over by the overexcited women, finding herself almost flat on the floor. "Hey, hey! Take it easy!" she chuckled.

Charlie stood in the doorway, a big grin on his face. "Damn, Lex…I’ve been meaning to ask you how you’re able to attract the most beautiful women!"

Martha got off of her knees, and took a near-leap at the lawman. "Oh, Charlie! You’ve always been such a sweet-talker!" She gave him a passionate kiss.

Lex looked up at Amanda, who was leaning over her prone body. "I guess this means you missed me?" she asked, a devilish smile on her face.

The younger woman bent down and gave her a sweet kiss. "Yeah, I guess you could say that." Amanda sat up, looking Lex’s body over carefully. "Are you okay? We heard several gunshots." She ran her shaking hands across the beautiful body beneath her.

The rancher sat up, wrapping her arms around the lovely blonde. "Not a scratch…how are you holding up?"

Amanda enjoyed the sensation of strong arms holding her close. "Just great…now." She placed a gentle kiss on the strong neck. "But I guess I should get you out of the kitchen floor." She stood up, hauling the rancher with her. Amanda pulled Lex close, then wrapped her arms around the taller woman, squeezing tightly. "I really don’t want to go through anything like that again." She tucked her head under the strong chin, exhaling with a great sigh of relief.

Lex kissed the blonde head as she brought her arms protectively around the smaller woman. "C’mon…let’s see if they need any help with the clean up." She began to lead Amanda towards the hallway.

Charlie and Martha were already there, the housekeeper not releasing the strong grasp she had on the sheriff’s hand. He stood there with a tired smile on his weathered face, watching as his men finished up their business.

Amanda’s eyes popped open wide – there were deputies everywhere! One was checking the back door, another was speaking to a young teenager who was seated on the stairway, and several more were leading away two men in handcuffs. One of the men was bleeding from a head injury, and he glared at Lex as he was led out the front door; the other man was complaining about a gunshot wound to his leg, and a ‘excruciating’ headache – he too glared at the rancher, and questioned her parentage under his breath as he was led outside.

One deputy stepped up to Lex, carrying his hat in his hands. "Uh…" he looked down at his feet, "Lex, I want to apologize again for shooting at you." The big man looked like he was about to cry.

Amanda stiffened, and would have probably attacked the poor man had the taller woman not tightened her hold on the blonde’s shoulders. "Jeremy, I don’t blame you – all you could see was a person with a gun." She gave him a devilish grin. "I’m just glad you can’t shoot worth a damn!"

He shook his head and smiled. "Yeah. Me too." They all looked towards the front door as a loud rumble assaulted their ears. Jeremy grinned at the rancher. "That would probably be your men – it took two of our guys with riot gear to keep them away after they finished the bridge." He was about to say more when the six muddy men stomped into the house.

The man in the lead was older, with a scraggly dark beard that was liberally sprinkled with gray. The evident leader of the group, he limped up to Lex with worry in his eyes. "Miz Lexington." He looked her over carefully, seemingly not even noticing the beautiful young woman tucked up against her side. "You look like you’re still in one piece…we’d heard on the radio there’d been some shooting." Finishing his careful perusal, he blushed slightly when he noticed the young blonde standing next to the rancher. Yanking his hat off of his head, the older man mumbled, "’Scuse me…I…umm…"

Lex took pity on the grizzled man and smiled. "Lester, I’d like you to meet Amanda Cauble…Amanda, this is Lester – he takes care of the boys down at the bunkhouse."

The smaller woman held out a hand, giving the older man a strong handshake. "Nice to meet you, Lester. Martha has spoken highly of you." She smiled brightly, ignoring the mud liberally covering his bent form.

This caused his blush to darken. "Ah, now I know you’re pullin’ my leg." He gave the housekeeper a wry grin. "I’m just glad y’all are alright. Me and the boys are gonna go on up to the bunkhouse and get cleaned up." He smiled at Lex, put his hat on, and shuffled towards the door. Turning, he tipped his hat at Amanda, "Real pleasure to meet you, miss. Hope we’ll be seeing more of you around." He started back towards the door again, ushering the other men outside. "C’mon, ya damn fools, let’s get out of these folks’ way."

Amanda waited until he closed the door, then burst out laughing. "He’s cute." She looked up at Lex, who gave her a tired smile. She looks exhausted. Hmm…what should I do? Subtle? Yeah, why not? Turning her attention to the sheriff, she smiled. "Do you think anyone would mind if we went upstairs?" She gave the rancher a pleading look. "I really need to go sit down…my legs won’t stop shaking." True… and she knew that this was the only way to get her tall friend to take a break. "Could you give me a hand up the stairs?"

Lex scanned the young woman’s face worriedly. "Are you okay? Should I call a doctor?" she felt a small hand pat her stomach gently.

"No…I’m just tired, and more than a little shook up, I guess. I’m not used to so much excitement." Amanda looked at Charlie and Martha, who both grinned knowingly. "Well?"

"Uh, yeah. You go ahead and get some rest, we’ll get this all straightened up down here." He felt Martha’s hand tighten around his, and the smile on the lawman’s face grew.

The small blonde began pulling Lex up the stairs. "Thanks, Charlie. We’ll see you both in the morning." She gave a little wave, then smiled as she felt the rancher lean against her slightly. "C’mon, honey," she whispered, "Let’s get you into bed."

The tall woman pulled her closer. "Now that’s the best offer I’ve had all day." She leaned down and gave Amanda’s ear a light nip. "Or at least all evening."

They made their way up to the master bedroom, Lex going straight to the bed and sitting down. "Damn…I feel like I could sleep for days." She ran a hand through her tangled dark hair.

Amanda knelt at her feet, gently pulling off Lex’s boots. "Sounds like a plan to me." She stood up, unbuttoning the rancher’s shirt, then pulling it off and touching the bandage wrapped around her ribs. "Let me go get something to…" she didn’t finish, as she found herself sprawled across the tall woman’s body.

"I thought you were tired." A raspy whisper in her ear, then a soft nibble started across her throat.

The smaller woman sat up, moving back slightly. "Well, I…umm…" she lost her train of thought as electric blue eyes captured hers.

Lex ran a hand down the younger woman’s cheek. "Sorry. I really shouldn’t tease you like that, but you’re so cute when you get flustered."

Amanda leaned into the touch, turning and placing a soft kiss on the callused palm. "Yeah well, normally I don’t like it when people tease me…" she gave Lex a sweet look, "but with you, it’s different, somehow." She smiled, then reached down and began to unbutton the older woman’s jeans. Seeing Lex raise an eyebrow, she blushed. "Now don’t be getting any ideas… I just want you to be comfortable before we go to sleep."

The dark woman gave her another look, but didn’t argue as Amanda gently pulled the jeans off, then pulled the sheet and comforter over her prone form. Lex, fighting to keep her eyes open, watched as Amanda removed her own clothes then crawled into bed. "Damn, but you’re beautiful." She mumbled, eyes closing against her will.

Amanda blushed, then rolled over on her side, propping her head up with one hand. "Obviously you are so tired that your eyesight has been effected…" she brushed dark bangs off of the resting woman’s forehead. "Lex?" No answer. Amanda sighed. "Sleep well, my friend." She edged over and snuggled up against the rancher, kissed the tan cheek, then joined her in sleep.


Lex opened her eyes slowly, unsure of why she was awake. It was still dark outside, and a glance at the bedside alarm clock showed that it was just a little after five o’clock in the morning. She started to get up, and then realized that she had been effectively pinned to the bed by a small muscular body. And my left arm is numb, she grimaced, realizing the lack of feeling must be the reason she was awake. A devilish smile crossed her face. Oh, I could really have some fun here. Using her free hand, Lex slowly pulled the covers back, exposing their upper bodies to the cool air in the room. Amanda moaned slightly, snuggling up even closer, which allowed the older woman to free her arm. Lex was quite proud of herself until the extremity began to tingle painfully.

Amanda woke up, feeling a definite cool draft. Opening her eyes, she saw that somehow the comforter and sheet had been pushed down around her waist, leaving her upper body bare to the room. Glancing up at her companion, the young woman saw that Lex was awake as well, biting her lower lip with a pained expression on her face. Shivering slightly, Amanda pulled the covers up over them both, and then ran her hand along the clenched jaw. "Lex? What’s the matter? Is it your side?" she sat up slightly.

The older woman shook her head and tried to relax. She flexed her left hand with a small grimace. "No…my arm has fallen asleep," she gave Amanda a small grin, "and now I’m trying to wake it up."

The young woman sat up to lean comfortably against the headboard and reached under the covers for Lex’s arm. She began to gently massage the muscles, enjoying the feel of Lex’s smooth skin. Finishing up, she leaned over and gave the dark woman a tender kiss. "How’s that?"

Lex pulled the smaller woman over until she was lying on top. "Mmm…seems to be working just fine." She mumbled, wrapping both arms securely around Amanda and squeezing. "But it may need extensive physical therapy," she continued, rolling over until the young woman was under her. Lex began placing tender bites on Amanda’s neck. "Better safe than sorry," she whispered in a nearby ear, leaving a soft kiss behind.

"Ooohh…yeah." Amanda gasped, threading her fingers in the thick hair above her. "I’ll be glad to…oh, boy…" she trembled as the older woman began tracing a fiery path down her body with small bites and gentle kisses.


Lex and Amanda strolled into the kitchen hours later, both looking quite happy and rested. Charlie was sitting at the table talking with Martha, who was at the stove cooking the morning meal.

"Well, well…look who finally decided to get up." She teased the young women, who both had the decency to blush.

Lex recovered first, sitting down next to Amanda. "Well, we woke up earlier, and just decided to take it easy for awhile."

Charlie snickered into his coffee cup, while the young blonde next to Lex blushed again. "Roy stopped by earlier, said he and the boys were going to take care of the horses for you for the next week or so…" he smiled at the housekeeper, who had a smug look on her face. "They felt bad that you had to do all the chores lately, and they want to make it up to you."

Lex looked at Martha. "Sounds like a certain someone has been busy this morning."

The housekeeper turned away from the stove, hands on her hips. "Now you just listen to me, Lexie." She stalked over to the table, putting one hand under the rancher’s chin and tilting her face upwards. "You are going to take it easy for a few days – at least until these dark circles disappear from under your eyes." Seeing a stormy look appear on Lex’s face, she leaned over and placed a gentle kiss on the young woman’s forehead. "Please? For me?"

Lex’s face lightened immediately. "Aw, Martha…don’t look at me that way." She looked over at her blonde companion, who was trying to control herself. "What’s so funny?"

Amanda was sitting next to the tall woman, one hand covering her mouth. "Nothing!" But her eyes were sparkling.

Lex leaned over until she was inches away from Amanda’s face. She waited until the younger woman’s eyes were locked with her own, then in a quiet voice said, "I have ways of making you talk, my dear."

The younger woman’s eyes widened, then glinted with something other than humor. "I’m looking forward to seeing you try." She leaned over and placed a quick kiss on the surprised rancher’s nose.

"She gotcha there, Lexie!" Martha chortled as she went back to the stove. "I’m sure you girls are hungry, right?" She started piling two plates with food.

Charlie looked at them, then at his watch. "Wow…it’s almost ten o’clock! Getting closer to lunch, isn’t it?"

Lex glared at him. "You really don’t want to go there." She looked down at the plate the housekeeper had placed in front of her. "Good Lord, Martha…do you actually expect me to eat all of this?"

The older woman sat back down at the table after placing a similarly laden plate in front of the young blonde. "As a matter of fact, I do." She gave the rancher a long stare. "You haven’t been eating enough to keep a bird alive…and I’m putting a stop to it!"

Amanda giggled. "I was wondering how she could run a ranch on what she ate…now I know…" she ignored the nasty look the tall woman was giving her.

Lex rolled her eyes. "Fine. But don’t blame me for the mess in the kitchen when I explode from eating all of this." She grumbled as she started on her breakfast.

"Poor baby…you’ll probably be bedridden for days." Amanda patted her leg in mock sympathy.

"Hrumpph." Another grumble from the rancher, but she couldn’t disguise the affection in her eyes. "And this would be a bad thing?" she winked.

Ducking her head, the younger woman prudently didn’t answer, but continued to eat her breakfast with a large smile on her face.

Charlie looked at Martha, who was smiling happily. Time to change the subject, I think. Clearing his throat, the lawman looked over at Lex. "Since you don’t have any chores to do, what are your plans for what’s left of today?" his eyes twinkled.

Placing her coffee mug back on the table, Lex glanced over at the young blonde. "Well, I thought that if Amanda felt up to it, we’d make a trip to town." Seeing the younger woman’s answering smile, she continued, "I need to pick up my other truck, and I thought that we could put her car in the shop to get the interior cleaned up."

"That would be great!" The young woman enthused, "My grandparents will be so excited!" Amanda took the rancher’s larger hand in hers. "Think I could talk you into staying there for a few days?" Looking into Lex’s eyes, she felt the room recede until it seemed that only the two of them were there. "I realize that you know Gramma and Grandpa Jake, but I’d really like to introduce you to them, if you know what I mean."

Lex was so absorbed in the green eyes across from hers, she didn’t hear when Martha and Charlie made their silent exit. She swallowed hard, trying to put her thoughts into words. "Are you sure about that?" She saw the shock, and then sadness cross Amanda’s expressive face.

"What?" She looked into sad blue eyes. "Why wouldn’t I want to show you off?" Amanda used shaky hands to cradle the older woman’s face. Leaning forward, she placed a gentle kiss on Lex’s trembling lips. "I love you," she whispered, "and I want the entire world to know it."

Lex felt the sadness squeeze her heart painfully. "I love you too," she spoke quietly, "but I don’t want to see you get hurt." Taking a deep breath, she continued, "People in town have very long memories, and I’ve got a pretty checkered past." Her voice broke as she felt the soft touch of Amanda’s fingertips brushing the tears that had fallen from her eyes.

Amanda stood up, then sat down again, this time in the older woman’s lap. She wrapped one arm around Lex’s shoulders, and used her free hand to capture the rancher’s callused hand. Bringing the large hand to her lips, she placed a tender kiss on the knuckles, then pulled their linked hands to rest between their bodies. "I’ve already told my grandparents about us," she whispered, making eye contact with Lex, "and they couldn’t be happier." She kissed the older woman’s forehead. "And I really don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks – so get used to it."

Lex started to speak. "Are…" She cleared her throat and tried again. "Are you sure about this? You’re going to hear a lot of nasty stuff, and most of it’s probably true." Seeing the fierce determination in those very green eyes, she relented. "I just want you to know what you are getting into." She was about to add more, but was interrupted when Amanda’s lips found her own.

Amanda poured everything she had into that kiss – transferring all her hopes, dreams, and love to the dark rancher. When she pulled back, the young woman could see the love shining in Lex’s eyes, and she felt her own begin to fill with tears of happiness. "So you’d better get used to the fact that you’re stuck with me….'cause I’m not going anywhere." She murmured, leaning up until their foreheads touched.

Taking a shuddering breath, Lex closed her eyes and pulled the young woman against her with all the strength left in her shaking arms. She buried her face in the soft golden hair, trying to come up with something, anything, to express the feeling in her heart. "Oh God, Amanda," she whispered hoarsely, "I love you with all that I am." She felt the return squeeze.


They had sat in the kitchen tangled together silently for what seemed like hours, neither speaking, yet not quite ready to let the other go. Finally, Amanda pulled back slightly, running her hand down the tan cheek of the taller woman. "Well, now that we’ve gotten that settled, are you ready to drive into town, so I can show you off?"

Lex blushed. "Not much to show, but yeah, I guess so…let me go get a bag together, since we’ll be there for a few days." She waited until the smaller woman climbed off of her lap with a reluctant sigh. "I’ve also got a few errands to run while we’re there, if you don’t mind." She stood, wrapping a long arm around Amanda’s shoulder.

The young blonde grinned. "Sure…I’ve got some things to take care of too." Like requesting some more vacation time, and of course thanking that slimeball Rick for sending me out here, she mused. I can’t wait to see his face! A small giggle escaped from her.

"What’s so funny?" Lex asked, as the headed towards the stairs.

"I was just thinking about Rick." Amanda couldn’t help herself, she chuckled again.


"I’m just picturing the look on his face when I stand up in front of the entire office and thank him for sending me on a wild goose chase." She shook her blonde head ruefully.

Lex stopped in the middle of the stairway and looked at her, as if she had completely lost her mind. "Thank him?!?"

"Yep." Amanda nodded, prodding the rancher forward once again. "I’m gonna say, ‘Rick, if it weren’t for you, I may have never met the love of my life – so thank you!’ and then watch him pass out from the shock." She laughed.

Lex finally laughed as well. "That would certainly do it." She allowed Amanda to enter the master bedroom ahead of her. "But when he gets up, he’s mine." This was said in a low growl. "The bastard nearly got you killed – and I have a few choice words of my own for him." She was walking towards the closet when the light touch on her back stopped her. Turning around, she saw a quiet look on the younger woman’s face.

"No…please don’t." Seeing the confusion on Lex’s face, Amanda continued, "I would gladly go through all of that again for what I have gained this past week." She enjoyed the look of comprehension, then pure joy that suddenly covered the older woman’s face.

Lex grinned and scooped the small woman up into her arms. "Funny…I feel the same way." She spun Amanda around, enjoying the startled laughter that began to float through the air around them.

"Lex! You nut! Put me down before you hurt yourself!" Amanda chortled, arms wrapped around the taller woman’s neck. Realizing she was in the unique position of finally being able to physically see eye-to-eye with the rancher, Amanda took advantage of the opportunity presented to her and captured the older woman’s lips with a vengeance.

Lex happily returned her offering, accepting the deepening of the contact wholeheartedly. She loosened her grip on the smaller woman slightly, as she felt her own legs begin to weaken. "God, Amanda," she whispered huskily, "it’s amazing what you make me feel with just one kiss."

The younger woman smiled against her mouth. "It’s only fair…considering what you can do to me with just one look." She murmured. "You in much of a hurry to get into town?" She slid down the long form slowly. "I thought we could leave sometime after lunch." She stepped away carefully, capturing the large hands and backing up towards the bed.

Lex smiled, her eyes slightly glazed with desire. "You’re the boss." She allowed the younger woman to pull her forward onto the bed, laughing.


Amanda drove the little Mustang towards the bridge, with a growing sense of unease. The closer they got, the more she began to shake. Oh, God…I don’t know if I can do this. She was starting to feel physically ill, until a strong hand covered hers.

"Stop the car for a minute, Amanda." Lex spoke quietly, but with authority, and the younger woman was unable to deny the request. "Please?"

"No…it’s okay," she managed to get out, even as she stopped the car.

Lex stepped out of the car as it rolled to a stop, only a few yards from the edge of the newly constructed bridge. She walked over to the driver’s side and opened the door, offering Amanda her hand. "C’mere…" she beckoned, feeling the cold clammy hand of her companion grasp hers. "We’re gonna take this slow and easy, okay? Just let me know when it gets to be too much." She began to slowly lead the younger woman towards the bridge, pulling her tightly against her as they walked forward.

Amanda took a deep breath, and walked with Lex up to the edge of the bridge. Before she could feel any panic, however, the strong arm around her shoulder tightened slightly, and she felt the fear melt away. Placing one foot on the wooden surface, she trembled. Stop it! Lex is here, and she won’t let anything happen – just get over it!! Amanda berated herself, angry that an inanimate object could instill such fear into her.

"Shhh…easy, sweetheart." Lex spoke quietly into her ear, as she would a spooked horse. "Everything’s going to be okay, I promise." They walked halfway across the bridge before she felt the smaller woman begin to relax.

Feeling her heartbeat begin to calm, Amanda sneaked a peek up at her protector. Just like a security blanket, right Mandy? She stopped in the middle of the bridge, returning the taller woman’s embrace. "Thank you." She placed a soft kiss on the chest her face was buried in. "I’m going to be okay now." Looking up at the shadowed face above her, Amanda finally smiled. "Let’s go get the car and get out of here."


The rest of the drive into town was uneventful, the two women sharing humorous antidotes from their childhood.

"And then he said, ‘How in the hell did that calf end up wearing my boots?’ Lex finished, watching the younger woman wipe her eyes from too much laughter.

The young blonde shook her head. "Stop it, please! I’ll never get that picture out of my head...poor Charlie!" she chuckled, turning the car onto a beautifully landscaped street, trees draping overhead. She looked over at the rancher, who was beginning to look a little spooked. "We’re almost there…you okay?"

Lex had been looking out of the window, remembering the last time she had driven down this street. Been at least eight months, she thought, not much has changed. "Yeah, I’m fine…just feel a little bit intimidated, I guess…" she glanced back over at her companion.

"Really? So you’ve been over here before?" Amanda remembered her grandmother saying that Lex was on the Historical Committee, but hadn’t realized that the rancher had been to their house.

"Yeah, a couple of months before you moved back here, there was a meeting of the Committee at Mrs. Cauble’s home…and I happened to attend." She took a deep breath to gain the courage to tell her story. "Anyway, the ladies were chatting about some old barn north of town, when a couple of the alarms on their cars went off. We all went outside to look, and there were a couple of kids trying to break into the vehicles." She looked down at her lap, unable to meet the startling green gaze across from her. "I wasn’t really thinking…just ran outside while Mrs. Cauble called the police. I caught them, but they tried to get away, and I…" she stopped, unable to continue.

Amanda had pulled the car over when Lex started her story, realizing that the older woman was having more trouble than she cared to admit telling her tale. "You don’t have to…"

Lex finally looked at her, ashamed. "Yes, I do. You really need to know what kind of person I can be." She took another deep breath. "They were just a couple of punks, trying to get a little extra money from stuff they could steal…" she rubbed her eyes. "I lost it…Here they were, two dirty teenagers, stealing from ladies I considered friends…" Here she closed her eyes. "I beat the hell out of them…it took five deputies to pull me off of them, and they both spent weeks in the hospital." She slumped down farther into her seat. "I’ve been ashamed to show my face in town ever since…"

"Oh, Lex…" Amanda felt sympathetic tears welling up in her eyes. "You have nothing to be ashamed of…you protected people you care about." She reached a hand over and clasped the rancher’s arm.

The older woman opened her eyes and looked at Amanda. "I’m not sure I can agree with you…If you could have just seen the looks on those ladies faces." A single tear fell down her angular face. "I see them almost every night in my dreams. They were horrified, and for good reason." She ran a hand through her hair nervously. "I guess I’m just afraid of seeing that look on your grandmother’s face when you show up with me on her doorstep…I don’t think I could handle that."

Amanda unbuckled her seat belt and crawled into Lex’s lap. "NO! My grandmother thinks the world of you…we’ve spoken on the phone quite a few times since I’ve been staying with you, and she has said nothing but wonderful things about you." She gave the older woman a light kiss. "And if she felt any different, you know she would have told me!" Daring the rancher to contradict her.

Lex sat for a minute, just absorbing what the younger woman was saying. She’s right. Mrs. Cauble is certainly no wilting flower…she would have told Amanda about any misgivings she had about me already. Time to quit feeling so sorry for myself. "Yeah, you’re right." She gave the smaller woman a sweet kiss. "You wanna take me home, now? Think I want to tell Mr. and Mrs. Cauble my true intentions towards you."

Amanda gave her a puzzled look. "Intentions? Why do I have this sudden vision of you standing under my window serenading me?" She laughed, then became somewhat alarmed when Lex gave her a grin.

"Damn! You figured me out!" she chuckled, seeing the shock on her companion’s face. "Don’t worry…I’ll cancel the Mariachi Band…"

Slipping back into the driver’s seat, Amanda laughed again. "You wouldn’t…" she looked at Lex’s semi-innocent face, "You would! Don’t you dare!" She buckled back up, then pulled the small car back onto the street, laughing all the while.


Amanda pulled into the tree-lined drive, parking behind the shining Suburban. "Looks like they’re home." She got out of the car then strolled to the passenger’s side, waiting for the tall woman to climb out. "C’mon…let’s go give ‘em a big surprise." She took Lex’s hand, practically running up the walkway to the door.

Before the young woman could open the door it swung wide open, her grandmother standing in the doorway smiling. "Mandy! You’re home!" She rushed outside, wrapping her arms around Amanda in breathless abandon.

"Errk! Gramma, calm down!" Amanda gasped, as the older woman squeezed the breath out of her.

Jacob Cauble stood just inside the doorway, watching with an amused air. "Well, Peanut, we can never accuse you of not making an entrance!" he laughed, until the young woman released her grandmother and came at him full force. "Ugh! Okay, I’m happy to see you too."

Anna Leigh looked at Lex, who was standing back with a bemused look on her face. "Lexington? Are you just going to stand there, or are you going to say hello?" She stepped towards the tall woman.

Lex gave her a gentle smile. "Hello, Mrs. Cauble. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?"

"You scamp! Get over here!" Anna Leigh pulled the young woman into a strong embrace. Whispering into her ear, "I could never thank you enough for what you have given us…and I’m glad you’re here."

Amanda and Jacob stood arm in arm, watching the scene on the front porch with glee. "I’m glad you got her to come back with you, Peanut. Your grandmother has been very worried about her since your last talk." He leaned down and placed a gentle kiss on the blonde head.

"Is the guest room still available? I actually got her to agree to stay in town for a few days, and I want to get her to visit Dr. Anderson while she’s here." She smiled at the rancher when Anna Leigh brought her to the doorway.

Jacob let go of his granddaughter and reached for the tall woman standing next to his wife. Pulling her into a powerful hug, he kissed the top of her head. "Welcome back, Lexington. I hope you will stay with us a few days, so we can get caught up." He led her into the house, with Amanda and Anna Leigh close behind.

The dark woman followed him into the living room, sitting in the loveseat he pointed her towards. "Well, if you don’t mind me hanging around, I’d like that. I have some business to attend to here in town that will take a couple of days, if that’s okay with you."

Amanda plopped down next to her, almost sitting in the rancher’s lap. Grabbing the older woman’s hand, she laughed. "Like I would let you out of my sight for any amount of time."

Jacob sat in the large recliner, with Anna Leigh perched on the arm. "Looks like our little Amanda has gotten her hooks into you, Lexington." He laughed at the blush that colored both young women’s faces. "Not that I’m complaining, mind you…as long as Mandy is happy, we’re happy. Right, Anna?" he grasped his wife’s hand, then pulled it to his lips for a kiss.

Anna Leigh looked at her granddaughter, then at the woman seated next to her. "I couldn’t agree more, Jacob."

"That’s good, because I’ve fallen completely, totally, and irreversibly in love with Lex, and I couldn’t be happier." Amanda snuggled closer to the completely embarrassed rancher.

Jacob and Anna Leigh exchanged amused glances. "So, Lexington…" he drawled, trying to keep a straight face, "What are your intentions towards our granddaughter?" seeing the shocked look on Amanda’s face he nearly lost his composure. And watching the tall rancher struggle with her thoughts, he nearly laughed out loud. "Well?"

Lex looked at Amanda, then at Jacob and Anna Leigh, standing up to address the two older people. "Mr. Cauble, Mrs. Cauble, my intentions are purely honorable. I love Amanda with my entire being, and if I were able, I would ask you for her hand." She looked back at the young blonde, who had tears floating in her eyes. "But since I can’t, I want to stand here right now and give you my word that I will treat Amanda with the greatest respect, and honor her for as long as she will have me." She felt a small hand grasp hers. "We’ve only know each other less than a week, yet it feels like a lifetime. She brings out the best in me, and I will do everything in my power to make her happy." God, that was hard!

Anna Leigh stood up, followed by Jacob. "Lexington…" she began sternly, watching the emotions flicker across the dark features, "Welcome to our family." She walked over and pulled the dark-haired woman into a strong hug. "And call me Anna Leigh…Mrs. Cauble sounds so, impersonal, don’t you think?" She felt the body she was holding shake with silent sobs. "Shhh… it’s okay, sweetheart." She rubbed Lex’s back comfortingly.

Lex drew a deep breath and slowly pulled away. "Thanks, Anna Leigh. You have no idea what it means to me to hear that." Embarrassed, she ran a hand over her eyes.

Amanda stepped up beside her and gave the tall woman a hug. "That was beautiful, Lex. I didn’t know you were quite that eloquent." She leaned on the nearby shoulder.

"Well, Lexington, seems like you’re stuck with us." Jacob walked over and embraced the young woman. "And if you call me Mr. Cauble again, I’ll have to get tough! You can call me Jacob, Grandpa, or old fart…I’ll answer to just about anything." He chuckled at her look of surprise. "Although I usually reserve ‘old fart’ for my Anna Leigh to call me…" he flinched as the older woman slapped his arm lightly. "See what these Cauble women are capable of? Are you sure you want to be subjected to this?"

Lex laughed, and looked down at Amanda. "Yeah, I know…she’s already popped me a couple of times… guess it’s in the genes." She winced as the expected slap came her way. "See what I mean?" Her comment broke the seriousness of the conversation, for which she was glad. Damn…this was harder than breaking a wild horse. Glad I’ll never have to go through this again. Then her thoughts sobered. Oh, shit! I’ve still got to meet her parents!


It was late evening, with Lex and Amanda snuggled up on the sofa in front of a roaring fire. "You know," Lex chuckled, "I always knew your grandparents were special…I just never really realized just how special they were until today." She felt a light kiss on her collarbone, where Amanda’s face was comfortably tucked.

"Yeah…It may sound strange, but they’re closer to me than my own parents…" Amanda agreed, snuggling closer in the dark woman’s lap. "I love my mom and dad, but we were never as close…I’ve always felt like I could tell Gramma and Grandpa Jake anything."

Lex kissed the top of her head. "I know what you mean. I feel the same way about Martha. She’s always been there for me."

They sat there for a while longer, staring as the flames burned down, just enjoying the quiet company of each other. Amanda had dozed off, and Lex was contemplating her visit to the bank tomorrow, as well as going to the county jail to sign the complaint against the five thieves. She had refused to press charges against the teenager, especially when Charlie told her he was an orphan under the care of his older brother, Matt. When she asked him what they were going to do with the boy, the sheriff said they would probably have to put him in juvenile hall. Lex was going to see the boy tomorrow, and ask him if he’d like to work on the ranch. I hope I’m making the right decision here, she wondered, but I can’t let a boy go to jail for following his brother.

Anna Leigh glided quietly into the room, in case the two younger women were asleep. She noticed her granddaughter was sound asleep on the rancher’s lap, and the dark-haired woman was staring pensively into the dying fireplace. She edged over to the arm of the sofa and perched atop it. "Lexington? Is everything alright, honey?"

Lex looked up at the older woman, seeing where Amanda got her beauty. "Yeah, just fine. I was just going over in my head the things I have to do tomorrow." She uttered quietly, loathe to wake the sleeping bundle in her arms.

"From what I hear, that means a trip to the doctor as well, doesn’t it?" Anna Leigh didn’t know how else to bring such a subject up. "Amanda said over the phone that you have broken ribs, and had been shot?"

Sighing, Lex ran her free hand through her hair. "Yeah…she’ll badger me ‘til I go, I guess." She looked up at the older woman. "It’s really not that bad…I’m sure she made it sound worse than it actually was."

Anna Leigh grinned, then gave the dark head a gentle pat. "Uh-huh…your forget how well I know you." Then her face took on a pensive look. "Why haven’t you been by recently? I’ve missed our conversations we used to have on the patio Saturday evenings." The two women would sit outside, drinking iced tea and discussing everything from politics to the price of cattle after the Historical Committee meetings, but that had stopped after the incident eight months ago.

"I…" Lex stammered, looking one of her worse fears in the face, "I just figured you didn’t need me around your little gatherings…I’m not exactly tea party material." She couldn’t look the older woman in the eye.

"Lexington…I was never so proud of you as I was that day you stopped those horrible thieves! What if one of the ladies had decided to leave early? Do you think they would have just ran away?" She forced the younger woman to look her in the eye. "I don’t think so. I believe that they would have seriously hurt someone…and yet you jumped to our defense immediately." She gave the dark rancher a gentle smile. "Don’t be ashamed of the fact that you protected us from an unknown danger…yes, they were just boys. But you know as well as I do how vicious young men can be…don’t underestimate what you did that day. The ladies still talk about how very proud of you they are."

Lex was caught speechless. I never realized… "Mrs., ummm… Anna Leigh," she smiled at the look the older woman gave her. "Thank you. I’ve been worried all this time about what happened then. I’ll still worry about it, but you’ve helped me put it more in perspective."

Anna Leigh leaned over and kissed the dark head. "Honey, there’s nothing in this world I wouldn’t do for you… now why don’t you get yourselves upstairs and into bed?" she gave the young woman a sneaky grin. "Unfortunately, the guest room is under repairs, so you’ll have to share with Amanda. I do hope that’s alright." She patted the nearby arm. "Get some rest, we’ll see you in the morning." She got up and left the room, a chuckle escaping her lips.

Lex looked after the older woman with a fond smile. Oh yeah…she’s subtle. She glanced down at the sleeping woman in her arms. Wonder if I can get her awake long enough to make it upstairs? "Amanda?" she asked quietly, gently shaking the small body.

"Mmmm?" The blonde head tucked itself tighter into her chest.

The rancher shook her head in defeat. Can’t say I didn’t try. She stood up, cradling the sleeping form gently. Okay, now where the hell is her bedroom? Lex started walking up the stairs, remembering from a previous tour of the house that all the bedrooms were on the back area of the second floor. Just as she reached the top, Amanda woke up slightly.

"Lex?" She looked up into the blue eyes, then realized where they were. "You didn’t carry me up the stairs, did you?" Amanda used one hand to push the dark bangs from the rancher’s eyes.

"Yep." The tall woman smiled. "And your grandmother told me the guestroom was being repaired, so we’ll have to share…" she shifted her grip on the small form in her arms. "So where should I take you?"

Amanda grinned. "Anywhere you want to."