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 cbzeer@attbi.com 

Copyright March 1999



Destiny's Bridge

Part I

By Carrie Carr


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."


To be continued in part 2

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