See Part 1 for disclaimers.


Destiny's Bridge

Part III

By Carrie Carr


Chapter 5

"Oh, Martha...these were priceless!" Amanda was seated in the den, several photo albums strewn about. They had spent the last hour or so talking about each other's families, and just enjoying the companionship of each other.

Martha looked at the clock on the mantle. Been almost two hours since Lexie called...guess we should get back to the main house and get dinner finished up. "Amanda? Do you want to help me with dinner tonight? Lexie should be back any time now."

The young blonde jumped to her feet, scooping several of the albums up. "I'd love to...what do you need me to do?" She practically beat the older woman to the door. "Oh...where do you want me to put these?" She indicated the books in her hands.

The older woman laughed and took the albums. "I'll take those, dear." She put the items on a nearby desk. "C'mon...I put a roast on earlier today - let's go see what we can find to put with it, shall we?"


Lex put the Mustang in the shed, telling herself she'd be back after Amanda went to bed to begin working on it. She was amazed at the lack of damage it had sustained; a medium-sized dent in the rear left panel, and of course the water damage as well as the kicked in back window. But at least the window is still in one piece - shouldn't be too hard to put back in place. She had even found Amanda's purse, and laid it on the workbench to dry out. Can't give it to her yet...she'd be too suspicious.

Now the dark haired woman was busily brushing down Thunder, who was munching contently on the hay she had given him. Reward for beating me back to the barn, she mused. She had actually finished his grooming some time ago, but had allowed the time to slip away form her as she daydreamed. C'mon, Lexington...get your damn head on straight! She patted the horse on his broad shoulder. "Enjoy your snack, boy," then left the stable and walked up towards the house.

Stepping up onto the porch, the tired and dirty rancher stopped and removed her boots. Let's just see if I can sneak upstairs before Martha gets a good look at me.

Slowly opening the door Lex peeked inside, hearing voices in the kitchen. Great...well, maybe I can get by the door without them seeing me. No longer dripping creek water, her jeans and tee shirt were still damp and heavily stained with mud. She could also feel small bits of mud and debris in her hair, but thankfully her hat covered most of her head. Her socks, which had been white this morning were now a reddish brown, and squished on the hardwood floor, making Lex wince with each step. She eased her head slowly around the kitchen door, hoping to get past the housekeeper. Good! They're both busy. She continued down the hallway, walking quickly.

"LEXINGTON MARIE!! What on earth have you done?!?" A very familiar voice boomed.

Uh-oh. Lex spun around in mid-stride, causing her wet feet to slip out from under her, and landing on her rear end with a sodden thump. "OW!" The muck-covered rancher slowly stood up, rubbing her backside with her hands. "Hi, Martha. Did you get your cabinets all straightened out?" she asked, backing up towards the staircase. That's it, Lex...act casual.

"Don't you 'Hi Martha' me, Lexington! You're soaking wet! And I know for a fact that it hasn't rained at all today." The heavyset woman stomped up to Lex, placing her hands on her hips and cocking her head to one side.

" see, the jeep was really buried in the mud, and I, umm..." she trailed off, seeing the look in the older woman's eyes that said she meant business.

"Yes?" the word was drawn out, and Martha was impatiently tapping her foot.

How does she do it? One look and I feel ten years old again! "Aw hell, Martha...I was covered in mud, and thought I'd better rinse off before I came into the house." She looked down at her soggy socks.

Martha relented. "I appreciate that, honey...but why all the sneaking around?"

The tall woman looked up, her eyes barely visible under her hat brim. "I wasn't actually 'sneaking'...just didn't want to disturb you while you were cooking dinner." She gave a small smile.

Amanda witnessed the entire scene from the kitchen doorway. She covered her mouth with her hand, not wanting to interrupt. The poor rancher looked so...cute, standing there with Martha chewing her out like a recalcitrant child.

The housekeeper yanked the black hat off of the damp woman's head. "Good lord, child...what is all of that stuff in your hair?"

Lex closed her eyes and sighed. "I told you I got really muddy...can I please go take a shower now?" She grabbed her hat from the older woman and made her way up the stairs.

"Dinner should be ready in about thirty minutes." Martha called after her.

"Thanks." Lex smiled, then squished her way up to her bedroom.

Martha turned back towards Amanda, who was barely containing her giggles.

"I swear, that girl can get into trouble just climbing out of bed in the mornings!" she sighed, leading Amanda back into the kitchen.

The young blonde finally lost it. She had to sit down on a nearby stool to remain at least somewhat upright. "She looked so pitiful...does she do that often?" she wheezed in between her giggles. She looked like a drowned cat that had been drug through too many mud puddles.

"Unfortunately, yes. Mud must be one of her favorite accessories, because she's forever covered in it." The housekeeper stirred a pot of something on the stove. "I swear she could find mud in a drought!"

Amanda laughed. "She was rather grimy. But did you really have to fuss at her like that?"

Martha turned away from the stove, meeting the younger woman's eyes. "No...but if I don't throw at least a token fit, she'll think I don't love her anymore. I think she secretly enjoys the attention."

"Well, I don't think it's hurt her any...she speaks of you with the utmost respect and love." Amanda sobered, wanting this sweet woman to realize just how devoted the young rancher was to her. "She told me the night I met her how much she cared for you - said you were the only mother she'd ever had."

The older woman wiped an errant tear from her eye. "That goes double for me...she's one of the main reasons I never married - I had the only family I ever needed right here." Martha smiled. "I've had several offers over the years, but I never could bring myself to leave her. And I couldn't see me ever having a child I would love half as much."

Amanda walked over and gave Martha a hug. "Well, for what it's worth, I think you've done a fine job of raising her. Lex is a wonderful person."

"Thank you...I'm very proud of the woman she has become, although I think she had more to do with it than I did." She took a deep breath. "Now...let's get dinner on the table - she should be straggling down anytime."

"Martha." Lex admonished, leaning in the doorway, "You talking 'bout me again?" her hair was wet, and she was wearing jeans and the ever present tee shirt, which for once actually had a design on it.

Jake's John Deere? Amanda smirked. Bet ol' Jake would sell more tractors if his billboards looked like that! She helped Martha move the food to the table. "So, how did the fence by the creek look? Did you have to make any repairs?"

Lex reached for a bowl on the cabinet, only to have her hand slapped by Martha. "Hey! I was just trying to help!" she yanked her hand away quickly.

The housekeeper shooed her away. "We have it all under control. Now go sit down." The rancher affected a hurt expression, and Martha turned her around and slapped her gently on the rear. "Don't give me that look. You've been out working all day, and you need to sit down."

Lex raised an eyebrow, but did as she was told. "You two have been working all day too. What's the difference?"

Amanda looked at the housekeeper, who had a perplexed look on her face, trying to think of a good comeback. "Because we actually sat down once in a while and took a break." The blonde replied, "And we know you didn't."

The dark woman frowned. "What makes you think I didn't?"

Martha butted in. "Two reasons: never take a break when you work in the field. look like you can barely stand up."

Lex opened her mouth, but promptly shut it at the housekeeper's upraised hand. "No...don't you argue with me - I've known you far too long." She smiled triumphantly. "So just sit there quietly while we get dinner on the table."

She knew when she'd been beaten. Lex smiled. "Yes ma'am."


After dinner, Martha once again refused any help with the dishes, chasing the two younger women out of the kitchen, popping her dishtowel at them with glee.

Lex grabbed Amanda's hand and laughingly drug her from the mock battle, threatening to return similarly armed. She pulled the blonde down the long hallway, until they came to the den door. "Want to watch a movie?" she asked, turning to her companion with a gentle smile.

Amanda squeezed the hand that held hers. "I think I'd like that very much...but I need to call my grandmother first, if that's okay with you."

" know you can use the phone anytime." She gave a courtly bow, pulling the young woman's hand to her lips. "My castle is yours to do with as you wish." She gave Amanda a slight nudge towards the office. "G'wan. Take all the time you need." She sat down on the sofa and propped her barefeet on the coffee table. "I'll save ya a spot." She grinned.

Amanda looked towards the office, and then back at the lazily sprawled rancher. "You know, it is getting late..." she started towards the sofa, "And I'd hate to disturb them - my grandfather really needs his rest." She sat down next to the older woman and snuggled up close. "Besides, I called them from Martha's house today. I'm sure they're okay."

"How's your grandfather doing? I haven't seen him since he's gotten out of the hospital." Lex asked, putting her arm around the blonde, who gave her a puzzled look.

"You saw him at the hospital? Why didn't I ever see you?" she edged just a little bit closer.

Lex looked down at her with a fond smile. "Well, I'd only visit once or twice a week, mainly to make sure Mrs. Cauble was doing okay, and it was always first thing in the morning."

"Oh, well that explains it. I normally wouldn't get to the hospital until nine or ten, since I would stay so late the night before." She stopped and thought for a moment. "Waitaminute! It was you, wasn't it?"

Lex met her gaze. "What?" she asked quietly.

"Monday and Thursday mornings there were always fresh flowers by Grandpa Jake's bed." The young woman smiled. "You were the one who brought them, right?"

Lex looked somewhat embarrassed. "Uh, yeah...well...the florist was on my way in." She felt small arms slightly constrict around her. "And Mr. Cauble has always been really nice to me." She motioned to the entertainment center. "He made that, you know." Trying to change the subject a little, she asked her original question again. "How's his leg? Has he gotten his cast off yet?"

"Yep...he's almost back to his old self, but he's got a pretty heavy limp. Although he's told us that it's only temporary." Amanda leaned up close to Lex's ear. "But he's doing much..." she kissed the tender skin, "much..." a slight nibble on the nearby lobe, "better."

Lex moaned, and turned her head, meeting Amanda's teasing mouth passionately. They took their time, both enjoying the gentle contact. Lex pulled the smaller woman into her lap, and the blonde reciprocated by tangling her hands in Lex's dark locks, gently kneading the strong neck.

The rancher was the first one to break away, a slightly glazed look in her eyes. "Wow..." she cleared her throat. "That was..."

Amanda placed a soft kiss on her chin. "Oh most certainly was." She smiled. "But you know, that may have been a fluke." She nibbled on the dark woman's lower lip. "Shall we try again just to be sure?"

Lex answered her with a quiet growl, and began a fierce exploration of the blonde's pale throat. She worked her way up to a small ear, and gave it a gentle tug. "Sounds like a plan to me." She whispered, enjoying the little shiver she could feel running through the young woman.

They continued almost hesitantly, neither in any hurry to push the other too far. Feels so good...Amanda thought, using her small hands to map out the strong muscles in the older woman's back. She was feeling almost overwhelmed by the incredible sensations coursing through her body. I've never felt anything like this before. She thought that what she had found with Judith was special, at least until now. No, that was friendship, or maybe even infatuation...this is...a low moan escaped her as Lex found a particularly tender spot on her neck. This is incredible!

Lex couldn't seem to get enough of the tender throat under her lips. She bit down gently on the pulse point, eliciting a low moan from the woman sprawled in her lap. Even though her heart was pounding in her ears, the dark woman had never felt such a complete feeling of peace before. When Amanda began running her hands up and down the rancher's broad back, Lex knew deep in her soul that she'd come home at last.

By unspoken agreement, neither woman took the activities any farther, both wanting to savor the moment. Lex regretfully pulled back. "It's getting pretty late...why don't we continue this 'conversation' tomorrow?"

Amanda ran a trembling finger down the rancher's flushed face. "Probably a good idea..." she could feel the older woman's chest heaving with effort. "Why don't we go upstairs and get some sleep?" she climbed off of Lex's lap, grabbing one of the large hands and pulling the still seated woman to her feet. "C'mon...I'll tuck you in." A wicked smile was her answer. Amanda blushed. "Lex!" she slapped her arm, "You know what I mean!"

The tall woman smiled and pulled the red-faced Amanda into a strong hug. "'s just you're so cute when you blush." She kissed the blonde head under her chin, "But you're right...It's been a pretty long day." She allowed the younger woman to step back, but caught her small hand. "Can I walk you home?" a smirk.

Amanda chuckled. "Hmmm...I dunno...what would my parent's say?"

Lex grinned. "They'd say I was incredibly lucky." She pulled the blonde to the door. "Let's go...I don't want you turning into a pumpkin, or some other such nonsense."

Navigating the stairs had been an experience, to say the least. Lex took the opportunity to stop at almost every step, citing some unknown house rule about a kiss per step. Amanda didn't want to jinx the house, so of course she obliged. Fifteen minutes later, they found themselves at Amanda's bedroom door. Lex pulled a small hand to her lips and kissed it gently. "Goodnight..." she whispered, her blue eyes locked with Amanda's.

The smaller woman released the hand in hers, and put her arms around Lex's neck. She stood up on her tiptoes and zeroed in on a pair of slightly bruised lips. "Goodnight." She kissed Lex with abandon, wanting to send the older woman to bed with something to remember her by. "Sleep well." Amanda placed a final peck on Lex's lower lip, then released her and turned towards her door. "See you in the morning." She smiled, and closed the door behind her, leaving a stunned but grinning rancher staring after her.

"Oh, boy..." Lex turned and headed across the hall, "Maybe I need a cold shower." She laughed to herself, as she crossed the room towards the dresser. "Nah...I'll just put on my boots, and go check out the car." That should calm me down. Yeah, right!


Lex crept down the dark stairway feeling somewhat like a teenager sneaking out from her parents. She carried her boots in her hand, not wanting to make any noise that could awaken Amanda. Once outside, she slipped the boots on, suppressing a shiver as a cold wind ruffled her hair. Looking off to the right of the house, Lex was thankful that Martha's little cottage was completely dark. Good. Maybe she'll get a little rest. Growing up, Lex wondered if the ever-present housekeeper slept at all. Any time of the day or night the young girl could always count on seeing Martha about, usually in the kitchen.

Lex smiled to herself as she looked up at the cloudless late-night sky, the full moon illuminating the path in front of her. Maybe, with Amanda's help, I can try and get Martha to take it easier. Upon reaching the shed, the dark woman opened the door and slipped inside. Turning on the light, she pulled a pair of worn coveralls from their hook and quickly stepped into them. At least they'll keep me warm, she sighed, and moved towards the still dripping little car.

Three hours later, a dirty and exhausted Lex snuck back through the silent house. She had spent most of the night taking the Mustang apart, finding out that the water damage was not as severe as she had imagined. Once it dries out completely, it shouldn't take too much work to get it running again. She undressed in the dark, padding silently into the bathroom and starting the shower. Not even bothering with turning on the lights, Lex pulled open the glass door and stepped inside, moaning with relief when the hot spray hit her exhausted body. Almost falling asleep standing up in the shower, she quickly rinsed off and climbed out, wrapping a large towel around her body. Sliding between the sheets, Lex was asleep before she realized that she did not put on any pajamas, and that she was not alone in the large bed.


Amanda had been awakened by another bad dream, and no matter how hard she tried, she could not go back to sleep. She tiptoed to the bedroom across the hall, needing the presence of the dark rancher to sooth her frazzled nerves.

Standing in the doorway, Amanda peered towards the bed, trying to see if the older woman was asleep. "Lex?" she whispered, not hearing any sounds from the bed. "Are you asleep?"

Total silence. "She crept towards the bed, finding it empty. Now where on earth could she be? She looked in the bathroom, and found it deserted as well. Maybe she went downstairs for a snack or something. The young blonde made her way to the far side if the bed and sat down. I'll just wait here for her. A few minutes later, completely worn out, Amanda curled up on her side and fell asleep.


Lex awoke to gentle sunlight streaming through the windows, a heavy weight on her chest. She opened her eyes and saw light blonde hair spread across her chest. Wha...? Sometime during the night, Amanda had not only found her way into Lex's bed, but had snuggled up against the naked woman under the sheets. Her left arm was casually slung across the older woman's chest, and her left leg was tangled with the rancher's own long limbs. Oh boy.... This could get....Interesting...Damn, what time is it, anyway? She glanced at the clock on the nightstand, surprised to see it was a little after seven in the morning. With a small sigh, Lex slipped out from under the smaller woman, making her way to the dresser to find some clothes for the day.

Amanda felt her mattress move. Move? What gives? She slid one sleepy eye open, and spotted Lex moving towards the dresser. Mmmm...nice body. She mused, then jerked awake when she realized what she was seeing. Naked?!?! What is she doing in my bedroom naked? The young woman blinked, and realized with a start she was in Lex's bedroom. Peeking under the sheet, she was somewhat relieved to note that she had on an oversized tee shirt. Whew! Don't know if I am more relieved, or disappointed....Hmmm...definitely disappointed.

Amanda saw the tall woman open a drawer and remove a handful of clothes, so she quickly slammed her eyes shut before Lex turned around. The rancher silently spun on her heel, then made her way to the bathroom and quietly closed the door behind her. Okay...let's just think about this for a minute. Amanda racked her brain, Ah, that's right. I was waiting for her to come back to her room, and I must have fallen to sleep. She frowned to herself. But why would she get into bed with me if she were naked? She bit her lower lip. Maybe she didn't realize I was here...but that still doesn't explain the fact that she had NO clothes on!!

The bathroom door opened and Lex stepped out. "I'm awake." Amanda said quietly.

The tall woman sat gently on the edge of the bed. "Good morning...I hope I didn't wake you." She smiled.

"No, not at all..." the small blonde would not meet her eyes. "Sorry...I didn't mean to fall asleep here. I had another bad dream, and couldn't sleep - so I came in here, but you were gone." She gave Lex a questioning glance. "Where were you?"

"I couldn't sleep, so I went down to the barn." Lex told her quietly. Not a complete lie, anyway.

"Oh...anyway, I guess I fell asleep waiting for you. Didn't mean to take over your bed like this."

Lex patted the young woman on the leg. "Hey, no problem. I was so tired when I came in, I just took a quick shower and fell into bed."

Amanda covered the hand on her leg with one of her own. "What time did you get to sleep? I know it was pretty late when I wandered in here."

Lex stood up. "It wasn't that late...probably right after you came in." She gently pulled Amanda up on the bed. "C'mon. Why don't you get up and get dressed, and I'll meet you downstairs for breakfast."

Amanda stood up on her knees on the edge of the bed. She linked her hands behind the tall woman's neck and pulled her close. "I've got a better idea."

Lex quirked an eyebrow, but didn't complain as the young woman took her time exploring her mouth. She found her hands drifting to Amanda's hips, unconsciously pulling her closer.


They broke apart quickly, each shooting an embarrassed look towards the door. Lex found her voice first. "Good morning, Martha." She directed a grin at the housekeeper, who was standing in the doorway with her arms crossed.

"Obviously." The heavyset woman snorted, causing Amanda's blush to deepen.

"It's...ummm...not what it looks like, exactly." The young blonde stammered to explain.

"Right..." Martha turned to leave. "Just wanted to let you both know that breakfast is ready." She winked. "I'm sure you've both worked up an appetite." She shook her head, leaving the room and closing the door behind her.

Amanda fell back on the bed laughing. "Oh, god...she's not going to let us live this down, is she?"

Lex put her hands on her hips and grinned. "Nope..." she offered the now giggling woman a hand. "C'mon...let's go face the music." Pulling Amanda up. "Does that bother you?"

The younger woman stood up, wrapping an arm around Lex's waist. "Nope. And I hope it doesn't bother Martha too much either...'cause I'm not gonna stop anytime soon."

Lex laughed as they made their way out of the bedroom.


The only sounds at the table were when silverware would touch a plate. Amanda was too embarrassed to speak, and Lex was still tired from being up most of the night. Martha had a knowing smile on her face, somewhat enjoying the younger women's discomfort. They are so cute..."Okay, would you two please relax?" She laughed. "I'm sorry I teased you, but I just couldn't resist." She looked over at Amanda, who smiled at her shyly. "I know not much was going on, because Lexie was completely dressed."

"Huh?" Lex blinked, coming back to the conversation with a start. "What did I do?"

"What's the matter, honey? Are you not feeling well?" the housekeeper touched her wrist.

"No...I'm fine." Lex took a deep drink of coffee. I hope the caffeine kicks in soon, or this is gonna be one helluva long day!

Amanda finished swallowing a mouthful of food. "Actually, I think someone's just tired. She told me she was having trouble getting to sleep last night."

Trouble sleeping, huh? Martha had a pretty good idea why the rancher looked so worn out. Probably spent all night messing with that car! She glared at the exhausted woman, who gave her an answering shrug. " does that mean that you're going to take it easy today?"

Lex shook her dark head. "Nope...gonna start working on the bridge. We're going to start running out of supplies pretty soon."

"WHAT?!?" Two surprised voices chimed in at once.

"Lexie...we have enough things to get by on for at least another week, maybe two." Martha exclaimed. "I really don't think you should be messing around with that old bridge - it may not be very stable."

Amanda agreed. "She's right...there's no telling what kind of shape it's actually in. Can't you wait until the creek slows down some more?" she smiled brightly at the rancher. "I'm certainly not in any big hurry to leave."

Lex returned her smile. "I'm not trying to get rid of you either...but I would like to have that bridge usable by the end of the week...and I don't know what the extent of the damage is."

Amanda nodded. "Okay...but I'll go with you."

Lex started to argue, but couldn't seem to get past those bright green eyes. "Sure...I'd appreciate the company."

Martha's jaw nearly hit the table. Ooh...she's got it bad - never seen Lexie give up without a serious fight. She just sat there and grinned.

The rancher noticed the silly smile on the housekeeper's face. "What?" she asked, feeling a little irritable. "Something wrong?"

"Nope...just peachy, dear."

Amanda laughed, nearly inhaling her juice.

Lex glared at her. "You too? Do I have food on my face or something?" Anger colored her tone. What the hell is their problem?

Martha laughed, then covered her mouth with a small hand. "Sorry..." she stifled a giggle. "I can't help it!" she burst out laughing again, watching the rancher's face darken.

The young blonde placed a hand on Lex's arm. "Hey." She snorted. "Sorry...I'm not sure why I'm laughing... I guess Martha's good humor is contagious!" she smiled brightly.

Martha was busy wiping the tears from her eyes. "Oh're just so cute when you get a little flustered. It reminds me of when you were about twelve, and your daddy wouldn't let you go out of town with all the hands to the auction."

This little memory made Lex smile. "Yeah...I didn't realize little girls didn't stay overnight with a group of grown men... I was so angry." She laughed. "Sorry about losing my temper." Lex rubbed her eyes. "Must not be quite awake yet."

Martha stood up and stepped behind the rancher, rubbing her strong back. "Honey, don't worry about it." She began carrying plates to the sink. "Are you going to get started on the bridge right away?"

Lex nodded, standing up and bringing her dishes to the sink as well. "Uh-huh...thought I load up the truck with lumber right after feeding the stock, so I..." she paused when Amanda cleared her throat with a frown, "I mean we, probably won't be back until dinner."

The housekeeper turned away from the sink. "After you get finished feeding, come back to the house first...I'll have a nice lunch packed for you both." Daring the tall woman to argue with her.

Lex thought about brushing her off, but considered the young woman with her. Even if I don't usually eat lunch, there's no point in making Amanda suffer. She grinned to herself. Besides, it's always a good idea to keep Martha just a little bit off stride. "That would be great, Martha...I'd really appreciate it." Nearly laughing out loud at the expression on the older woman's face. Gotcha! Teach her to tease me!

Amanda snickered. Poor Martha...she doesn't have a snappy comeback for that one. "So would you need any help putting lunch together?"

The older woman scoffed. "No would be more help if you could keep an eye on Grumpy over there." She ignored Lex's outraged look. "Try and keep her out of trouble, if you can."

Lex threw up her hands in disgust. "Okay...I can take a hint." To Amanda, "C'mon. Let's go take care of the stock." She stomped out of the kitchen without another word.

The young blonde exchanged amused glances with Martha, then followed the angry rancher out of the kitchen.


Driving the old truck back to the barn, with a contrite look on her dark features, Lex glanced at Amanda. The younger woman had picked up on her moodiness, and had been uncharacteristically silent for the entire morning. "Hey."

Amanda pulled her glance from the window, where she had been studying the passing terrain. "Hmm?"

"I'm sorry I've been such an ass this morning." Lex was floundering on unfamiliar ground. She was completely out of her element, and wasn't really sure how to make things right.

The blonde woman studied the shadowed features across from her, and opened her mouth to reply, when Lex's upraised hand halted her.

"No...I'm tired and cranky, and I shouldn't have taken it out on you." She gave the other woman a small smile. "And to top it all off, I have got to go back to the house and beg Martha's forgiveness...she's gonna make me pay, let me tell you."

Amanda smiled back. "Yeah, well...I don't think you'll have to work too hard...She's pretty sweet." She reached over and latched onto Lex's spare hand, tangling their fingers. "And you really don't owe me an apology. I can see how tired you are."

Lex shook her head. "That doesn't excuse my behavior...Martha would be the first one to tell you that she raised me better than that." She shook her head. "I would probably be in jail or dead if she hadn't straightened me out years ago." She pulled the truck up behind the hay barn, where a large stack of boards lay. "You want to help me load some stuff up?"

"Wouldn't miss it." Amanda pulled her gloves back onto her hands and hopped out of the truck. Waiting until Lex stepped out from the other side, she walked to the back of the vehicle to meet the rancher. "Is there any special size or type of these things you want us to load?"

Lex had removed her coat and stepped over to the neat waist-high stack of lumber. "I figure we could take a little bit of everything, so we don't have to make extra trips." She opened a small door that led into the back of the barn. "Let me get some tools, and then we'll begin piling some of this stuff into the truck, okay?"

Amanda opened the tailgate and sat down. "Works for me. I'll just keep Ol' Rusty Blue here company." She swung her legs back and forth, giving the taller woman a cute smile.

"What did you call my truck?" Lex asked, mock outrage in her tone. She turned away from the door with her hands on her hips.

"Ummm...Ol' Rusty Blue?" an innocent look.

Lex stalked back over to the truck, stepping neatly in between the younger woman's legs. Placing her hands on the slim hips, she pulled the small body closer. "Rusty Blue, huh?"

The blonde leaned back on her hands with an evil grin. "Don't forget OLD..." She was about to continue when she felt soft lips nibble on her own. Amanda took the initiative and deepened the kiss, wrapping her legs tightly around Lex's back, pulling the older woman into her with a strong need.

Minutes later the rancher broke off the kiss reluctantly, clearing her throat. "Great name for the truck..." She stepped back, gently untangling herself from the beautiful woman below her. "I'll just go get now." She stumbled into the barn on shaky legs.


Lex pulled the truck to a stop several yards from the bridge, afraid of getting too close in case the structure wasn't stable or the edge of the creek crumbled. She stepped out of the vehicle, watching as Amanda did the same. The young woman had a strange look on her face as she followed suit. The rancher moved to the passenger's side of the truck, reaching out to Amanda. "Are you..." before she could finish her question, she found her arms full of a crying woman.

"Oh, god..." Amanda latched onto the tall woman, sobbing.

"Shhh..." Lex gently rubbed her back, "You're okay..." She gently rocked Amanda, not knowing what to do or say.

The small blonde buried her face in Lex's chest, sniffling. "S..sorry...I guess seeing all this in the daylight kinda brought it all back." She looked up into concerned blue eyes. "I could have been killed..."

"Yeah, but you weren't...everything turned out okay." Lex brought a gentle hand to the tear-stained face, wiping under Amanda's brimming eyes. "Do you want to go back to the house?"

Amanda took a deep breath and sighed. "No. I'm all right...just had one heck of a wicked flashback, that's all..." She hugged the tall frame. "Thanks..." she released a shaky breath. "Let's get started, shall we?" stepping back and wiping her face with her hands.

"Are you sure? I can always come back later if you're uncomfortable." Lex took a step forward and captured a small shaking hand. Bringing it to her lips, she kissed it tenderly. "I don't like to see you hurting like this."

Bringing their linked hands to her face, Amanda rubbed the large palm against her cheek. "I think it was just shock, I'm okay now." She kissed the inside of Lex's wrist. "Thanks." She released the hand and stepped back again. "Let's go see what the bridge looks like. It's not going to repair itself." She looked downstream. No sign of my car. Probably miles away by now. Oh, well...

Lex shook her head in wonder. "You are an amazing woman, Amanda Cauble." She gave the small woman a smile. "C'mon..."

They stood at the road where it met the bridge, looking at the still rapidly moving water. Lex took a few more steps forward, until she was directly on the edge of the old wooden structure, peering down at the shattered boards. She sat down on the edge, swinging her booted feet below her.

"Lex? Do you really think you should be that close? What if the edge breaks off?" Amanda took a few tentative steps forward, not quite reaching the rancher. One of us falling in is enough - I'm not about to tempt fate that way!

The older woman looked over her shoulder and grinned. "Then I guess I'd be going for a swim, huh?" She cocked her head and swung her long body down, disappearing from sight.

"LEX!!!" Amanda screamed, running towards the bridge. Before she could get to the edge, however, a pair of hands appeared, followed by a dark hat-covered head.

"What?" The rancher pulled herself back up on the bridge. She saw the panic in the younger woman's eyes and cursed herself. Idiot! She just got calmed down, and you go and scare the hell out of her. What are you using for brains? Lex stood up and crossed over to Amanda, pulling the shaking woman into her arms. "I'm sorry...I wasn't thinking." She kissed the blonde head.

Amanda accepted the hug, then stepped back and slapped the taller woman on the arm. "You could have warned me before you went diving off the end...I thought you fell!" She grabbed a handful of the rancher's jacket and pulled, hard. "Don't you ever do anything like that again, do you hear me?"

"I hear you...I didn't mean to scare you." Lex looked into Amanda's eyes, almost losing herself completely. "Forgive me?" Her voice trembling with uncertainty. Would serve me right if she wouldn't...

Amanda raised a gentle hand and caressed the dark cheek. "Oh, Lex. You don't have to ask for my just scared me, that's all." She stood on her tiptoes and placed a tender kiss on Lex's chin.

Lex took a relieved breath and smiled. "I'm won't happen again, promise." She led the smaller woman away from the bridge and back towards the truck. "If you don't mind helping me dig out some of this lumber, we'll get started, okay?"


The next few hours were spent reinforcing the remaining patch of bridge on their side of the creek - Lex was pleased to find very little structural damage, other than the eight missing feet from the center of the bridge. She decided it would be easier to build a walkway across to the other side of the creek first, and then worry about driving across later.

It was late afternoon before Lex agreed to quit for the day. She had been tirelessly sawing and hammering for several hours, having stopped only when Amanda insisted they have lunch. Her green tee shirt was darkened with perspiration, though the slight breeze stirring was quite cool. The tall woman stood up from where she had just hammered in yet another board and pulled her battered black hat from her head. Looking up at the sky, she took a deep breath and wiped her sweaty forehead on her shoulder. Might was well start cleaning up - not much daylight left. She turned to Amanda, who was picking up the leftover pieces of lumber and tossing them into the truck, as she had been doing most of the day. "You about ready to go back to the house?" Lex asked the younger woman, walking over to stand beside her.

Amanda leaned back against the battered truck. "Oh, yeah...I think my aches have aches, now." She gestured around the area. "I've kept things pretty well picked up, so you just say the word, and I'll be ready to leave."

Lex laughed, and tossed the hammer into the back of the truck. "Consider the word given." She stepped back over to where she had been working, and picked up the odd assortment of tools. Carrying them back over to where Amanda still stood, she tossed them after the hammer, then opened the passenger side door of the vehicle. "Shall we?" she gave a mock bow to the young blonde.

Amanda gave her a somewhat stiff curtsy. "Why, thank you ever so much! And here I thought chivalry was dead!" She slid into the seat, giggling.

Lex tipped her hat as she closed the door. "Nope. Just dead tired!" she crossed to the driver's side and tumbled in. "Let's go home."


Trudging up the rear steps to the house, Amanda couldn't remember the last time she was so tired. And Lex did most of the hard work...I just cleaned up behind her and brought the lumber. She spared a quick glance to the tall woman beside her. She looks worse than I feel. Maybe I can talk her into a quick shower, and then going straight to bed. A slight blush stained her cheeks after that thought. Uh, no. Don't think I'll say it quite that way.

Lex was about to open the door when she noticed the younger woman's face. Don't tell me she got sunburned today..."Amanda? You okay?" she asked, opening the door and motioning for the blonde to precede her. "You didn't get too much sun today, did you?"

Oh, crap! Now what do I say to avoid further embarrassment? "Maybe, I'm not sure. I guess I'm just tired." Taking a deep breath, Amanda almost moaned with pleasure at the smells emanating from the kitchen. "And hungry."

Lex laughed at that statement. "Newsflash!" Blocking the expected slap, she poked her head through the kitchen door. "Martha, we're back!"

The housekeeper ambled out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on the ever-present dishtowel. "Yes, I can see that dear." She wrinkled her nose. "You are planning on taking a shower before dinner, aren't you?" she reached up and pulled the dusty hat from the rancher's head. "How many times have I told you to take your hat off when you come into the house?" She swatted the tall woman with the hat. "Now go on upstairs and get cleaned up. Dinner should be ready in about thirty minutes." She turned quickly and moved back into the kitchen, not giving Lex a chance to argue.

"I can never get the last word in with her." Lex mumbled, walking towards the stairs. She turned and looked at Amanda, who giggled. "Well, I don't think you're exactly smelling like daisies yourself." Lex grinned, and then darted up the stairs with a very aggravated blonde on her heels.

After dinner, Lex and Amanda were sitting in front of a roaring fire after being chased out of the kitchen by Martha. The housekeeper refused their help with the dishes, citing her inability to find anything after they put stuff away yesterday.

"Amanda?" Lex broke the comfortable silence. "I've got to ride to one of the back pastures tomorrow, and check out a few things. Would you like to come along?" The young blonde was sitting in the floor at the rancher's feet, one arm wrapped possessively around a strong leg. Lex was unconsciously playing with the golden hair tangled in her fingertips. "I know you said you didn't like to ride, but..."

The smaller woman craned her head at an angle, so she could see the rancher's face. "It's not that I don't like to ride, I'm just afraid of falling off. " Her eyes met Lex's and she smiled. "Could we go double?"

Lex returned her smile. "I was just about to suggest the same thing." She slipped out of the chair she was sitting in and landed beside Amanda. "So is that a yes?" Lex pulled the young woman into her lap. "Or should I try and convince you?"

"Well..." Amanda wrapped her arms around the older woman's neck. "Your horse is pretty tall..." she leaned in for a kiss. "I think you'd better start trying to sway my vote." She whispered, as Lex captured her lips.



After Amanda was thoroughly 'convinced', she led a tired Lex upstairs, stopping at the guestroom door. "Goodnight." She whispered, giving the large hand she held a gentle squeeze.

Lex pulled the smaller woman into her arms, kissing her with a tender intensity. When both of them became breathless, she slowly broke away. "Yeah." She cleared her throat. "See you in the morning." She turned and crossed to her own room, trying to calm her own pounding heart. Stepping inside, she closed the door and then moved over to the dresser. Better get changed, so as soon as she's asleep, I can go check out the car.

Half an hour later, the tall woman was once again sneaking out of the house. She stopped at Amanda's door and listened for a moment. Good. Then rubbing her eyes, Lex began tiptoeing down the stairway, boots in hand.

It took the weary rancher almost three hours to put the small car back together, but she was more than certain that she could have it running within the next night or two. Can't wait to see her face when I pull this little baby around to the front of the house. Lex grinned to herself. I'll do the engine work tomorrow night - maybe a long ride will wear her out, so I can get started earlier.

The mantle clock in her bedroom chimed twice when Lex had finally drug herself back into the room. At least I'm getting to bed at a decent hour tonight, she mused, stripping off her clothes as she made her way into the bathroom. After a quick shower, the dark woman snuck back into her bedroom, leery of finding small women in her bed. Can't be too careful. Seeing that she was indeed alone, the exhausted woman pulled a sleepshirt over her head and collapsed under the sheets.


Lex had just finished saddling up Thunder when Amanda strolled into the barn, a small backpack tossed over one shoulder. The younger woman leaned up against the stall door, smiling. "Are you about ready?" she asked, looking quite smug.

The rancher turned and looked at her. Faded jeans, worn denim shirt and Lex's old leather jacket from her high school days made the small blonde look like a teenager. She certainly fills out those clothes better than Louis ever did. "Are you propositioning me?" she quirked an eyebrow at the now blushing woman.

"Maybe." Amanda retorted, "Are you accepting?"

Lex laughed and led the large stallion out of the stall. "Maybe." She tossed the word playfully back to her companion. "Whatcha got there?" the older woman asked, pointing to the backpack. "Homework?" she grinned.

"Nope." Amanda walked towards her, swinging her hips. "Lunch." She winked. "And maybe I'll share if you're real nice to me."

"Maybe you'll share?" Lex asked, dropping the reins and pulling the younger woman close. "Just how nice do I have to be?" She leaned down and gently nipped a nearby ear. "And exactly what will you be sharing?" she whispered into the same ear.

Amanda felt her legs go weak beneath her, and she stumbled forward slightly. "Ah..." she couldn't seem to form a complete thought, since Lex decided to forsake her ear and work directly on her throat. Letting the backpack slide gently to the floor, Amanda groaned softly as Lex finally captured her lips. She was on the verge of an all out collapse when the rancher finally relented and gave her a chance to breathe. "God, Lex...are you trying to kill me?" she whispered, fighting to regain her equilibrium.

"Hmm?" Lex mumbled, burying her face in the sweet smelling blonde hair. "Oh...sorry...I guess we should be getting on our way, huh?" She stepped back regretfully.

"Yeah...just give me a minute to get my legs back..." Amanda joked. "Although I would like to continue this little chat later." She ran a shaky hand through her hair and picked up the discarded backpack.

The older woman smiled. "I'd like that too." She grabbed the reins once again and started for the door. "C'mon, boy...let's take Amanda for a little tour."

Once outside, Lex easily mounted the prancing horse, then reached down for Amanda. "Up ya go." She pulled the small woman up in front of her. "Thought you'd like to be able to see where we're going. Just hang on to the saddle horn, and I'll hang on to you."

"Now that's the best offer I've had in a long time." Amanda leaned back into the warm body behind her. One strong arm circled her waist, as Lex gripped the reins loosely in her right hand.

"Don't worry. I won't let you fall." Lex whispered in the small woman's ear, enjoying the little tremble she felt run through Amanda's body. C'mon, Lexington...try and control yourself, or it's gonna be one helluva long day. She chided herself, giving the body in front of her a gentle squeeze.

They rode slowly for a couple of hours, Lex taking the scenic route towards their destination, wanting to prolong the pleasant ride as long as possible. They slowly made their way into heavy woods, following a slightly worn path that the rancher explained was her favorite. "I usually ride up here to get away from everything," she told Amanda, "Been known to take a sleeping bag and supplies and just spend the weekend relaxing."

The terrain had become steadily steeper, until Amanda realized they were actually in the foothills just north of the ranch. "You have stock that stay in this? What are they, mountain goats?" She felt the body behind her chuckle.

"No...there's a small pass just ahead that opens up into a valley...that's where we keep a small herd of wild horses and cattle." Lex explained. "We normally take the road from the north, but we would have to drive through the creek, and that's kinda impossible to do right now." She felt the stomach under her hand rumble. "I guess you are trying to tell me that you're hungry?"

Amanda laughed. "Uh...yeah. I guess so." She reached back and patted the muscular leg behind hers. "Does that mean we're stopping for lunch soon?"

Lex pulled her close again. "Yep. And I know of just the right place." She led Thunder off of the beaten path, working their way through dense trees.

Amanda's breath caught in her throat. The clearing Lex had led them to was absolutely beautiful. Silence prevailed, and the sun fought it's way through the tree tops, shedding it's light on a small pond. Lex dropped down from the powerful horse, pulling Amanda gently from the saddle. "I hope this is's one of my favorite spots." She led the smaller woman to a fallen tree and dropped the backpack beside it, then continued on towards the small body of water. A small pit ringed with rocks nearby was the only sign that anyone had ever been there.

"Lex, it's beautiful...this is your hideaway?" Amanda looked around them, absorbing the beauty and solitude.

The dark woman turned back away from the pond. "Yeah. I come up here to clear my's not too far from the ranch in case they need me, but it's far enough away that they don't know where it is."

Amanda sat down in front of the log and patted the ground beside her. "Why don't you come over here, and we'll see what Martha packed us for lunch?" She opened the backpack, pulling out a couple of foil wrapped packages.

"Sure." Lex ambled back over to where Amanda was sprawled, and dropped down casually beside her. She accepted the package that the smaller woman handed her, and began to open it. "Mmm...smells like a roast sandwich - she knows it's my favorite."

"Oh, yum...this is wonderful." Amanda agreed, taking a bite of hers. "I can see why it's your favorite." She reached into the backpack with her free hand and pulled out a bottle of water, then handed it to Lex. "Here...she doesn't forget anything, does she?" She sat her sandwich on her leg and grabbed another bottle from the bag, opening it.

Lex, who was happily munching away, nodded her head. She swallowed. "Nope...she probably thought I'd forget the canteen, which I didn't." she smiled.

"So...why are we checking the stock? Are you afraid the heavy rains may have done something to them?" Amanda asked, after they finished their lunch. "Could the creek have flooded them out?" She was lightly running her hand up and down the rancher's denim-clad leg, as they looked out over the water.

Lex took a deep breath and sighed. "No, nothing like that." She looked into the younger woman's eyes. "The other night, while I was checking the books, it looked like we were missing an unusually high amount of animals."

"Okay, but isn't that somewhat normal on a ranch this size?" Amanda asked, a little confused.

"Usually, yes. But not only are we beginning to lose cattle, but sometime recently we've begun to lose money, as well." Lex felt a small hand grasp hers. "I don't normally do the books, that's Hubert's job...but I just had this strange feeling that something was wrong, and it appears I was right."

Amanda leaned over until her head was on the rancher's broad shoulder. "So what are we going to do about it?"

We. I think I like the sound of that, Lex smiled inwardly. "We," she paused, smiling into the other woman's eyes, "are going to do a quick headcount in the back pasture. I can compare what we find with what had been reported at the beginning of the summer. That should give us an idea of what's going on." She stood up, pulling Amanda up through their linked hands. "C'mon. It's only about another twenty minutes from here."


Lex maneuvered Thunder through the narrow pass, which was only wide enough for perhaps two horses at a time to go through comfortably. Amanda shivered, and the arm around her waist tightened.

"You okay?" A gentle whisper in her ear.

She leaned back, enjoying the protective grasp. "'s just kinda spooky - I guess because it's so quiet." The only sound was the sodden clump of the horse's hooves, which echoed eerily along the jagged walls. She squeezed the strong leg behind her, feeling the muscle jump.

"Don't worry, it's perfectly safe - I ride through here all the time." Lex buried her nose in the fragrant blonde hair. "We're almost through."

The path suddenly opened up, making way for the more dense foliage. The rode through the thick forest in silence until Lex suddenly pulled Thunder to a stop.

Amanda, who had been daydreaming, came back to herself with a start. "What?" she looked around. "Why are we stopping?"

Lex pointed off to their right. "Smoke." They were on a slight rise, and could see over the treetops easily.

The younger woman strained her eyes. "Where?" she squinted. "Are you sure?" She still couldn't see anything.

" looks like it's not too far away, either. We'd better go check it out." She gently kneed the black horse into a faster pace. "Hang on, this may be a little bumpy!"

The closer they got to the smoke, the more uncomfortable Lex was becoming. I don't like the look of appears to be manmade. She slowed Thunder down to a walk.

Amanda felt Lex continue to tense up the closer they got to the mysterious smoke. She turned around in the saddle to look up at the rancher's face. "Lex?" she gave the hand on her stomach a soft squeeze. "What's the matter?" She looked at where the smoke was coming from. "It doesn't look like a very big fire."

Lex frowned, then looked down at the younger woman. "It looks like a campfire - only no one should be out here." She swung down from the horse, then reached up to help Amanda dismount. "We're gonna walk the rest of the way." She tied the horse's reins to a nearby tree. "Stay here, boy. We'll be right back." She rubbed his nose, then reached over and captured Amanda's hand. "Let's go check this out."

They walked through the heavy trees for almost half an hour before Lex stopped. When Amanda opened her mouth to speak, the older woman placed a gentle finger on her lips. At the young blonde's questioning glance, Lex pointed through a gap in the trees towards a clearing.

There was a truck with a large trailer in the middle of the clearing, with several figures milling around. It looked like they had been there for several days by the condition of the area, and of the men themselves.

Sonofabitch! So here's what's been happening to our stock! Apparently they had driven the truck through the creek, and had become stranded after the heavy rains. She looked around carefully. I count six men - that seems about right. She looked over at Amanda, and motioned for her to follow.

They made their way back to Thunder quickly, with Lex going over and digging through the saddlebags. Pulling out the little-used cell phone, she turned it on, then swore.

"Damn!! I was afraid of this!" She crammed the phone back into the bag, buckling the cover angrily.

Amanda placed a gentle hand on the agitated rancher's arm. "What's wrong?"

Lex bit back an angry reply, taking a deep breath instead. "Those guys are stealing my stock, and I can't get a signal with the damn cell phone." She looked Amanda in the eye. "I need you to ride back to the ranch and call the Sheriff."

"Uh, okay...but what are you going to do?" the younger woman asked, somewhat confused.

Lex gave her a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. "Teach them it's not nice to steal."

Amanda took a firm grip on her arm. "What?!" she pulled the tall woman closer, getting right up into her face. "You can't be serious! There are at least six men, possibly more..." she tangled her hands in Lex's coat. "It's too dangerous." Her green eyes sparkled with unshed tears.

Lex framed the young woman's face with her large hands. "I have to do something...they look like they're getting ready to move out soon." She caressed a soft cheek. "I'm just going to slow them down until help gets here." She bent down, briefly capturing Amanda's lips with her own. "You need to hurry." She lifted the small woman into the saddle, and took a moment to adjust the stirrups. Handing the reins to the blonde, she patted the small leg. "Be careful."

Amanda stretched out her hand, waiting for Lex to grasp it. "I will." She kissed the larger hand that was in hers. "You too. Please don't take any unnecessary risks." A watery smile. "We still have a 'conversation' to finish."

The rancher squeezed her hand. "Don't worry, I won't." She released the hand and stepped back away from the huge horse. "Tell the Sheriff they are at the back clearing, he'll understand."

Amanda nodded, and turned the big horse around. She led him back up the path, turning back in the saddle before they got to the main stand of trees. She felt an irrational urge to race back to Lex. I have this horrible feeling something is going to go terribly wrong. Wiping her eyes, she gave a gentle wave and then turned Thunder towards the trail.

The big stallion must have picked up on Amanda's distress, because he moved quickly through the trees once they had made their way through the pass. Oak and cedar trees flew by the small woman too quickly for her to distinguish, as she hung onto the saddlehorn for dear life. Breaking through the dense forest at last, Amanda heaved a huge sigh of relief as the barns came into view. They charged past the isolated buildings, heading straight for the ranch house itself.

Practically jumping out of the saddle, Amanda fell to her knees as her legs gave out near the back porch. Thunder snorted, slung his head, and pounded the ground with his front foot. "Thanks, boy...I appreciate you getting me here so fast." She patted his neck before she attempted to climb the steps with shaky legs. She almost screamed when the back door swung open before she could reach it.

"Good lord, child..." Martha pulled the young woman into the house. "What on earth happened? And where is Lexie?" she asked, guiding Amanda into the kitchen and assisting her into a nearby chair.

"Lex," Amanda wheezed, "is okay." She took a deep breath, "stealing," a wheeze, "cattle," another breath, "call...the sheriff." She coughed and took another breath.

Martha sat down next to her and held the small hands, trying to warm them up. "Okay. You say someone is stealing our stock?" the young woman nodded, still trying to catch her breath. "And we need to call the sheriff?" another nod. "Where is Lexie?"

"She's still out there, keeping her eye on them." Amanda got out, her breathing almost under control. "She said to tell the Sheriff they were in the back clearing," she paused, "And she was afraid they were getting ready to leave." Tears formed in her eyes," She said she was going to teach them not to steal." A pleading look at the housekeeper. "You don't think she'd do anything rash, do you?"

Martha released her hands and moved over to the phone. Dialing, she looked back over at Amanda. "That's exactly what I'm afraid of." She paused, listening to the phone. "Yes, I need to speak to Sheriff Bristol...this is Martha Rollins." She listened again. "Yes, I'll hold."


Chapter 6

Lex watched Amanda ride away until she disappeared into the dense foliage. Now let's go have some fun. She jogged back to the clearing, her mind running through several different scenarios.

Sitting in some tangled underbrush, the hidden rancher had a very good view of the entire clearing. A dark shadow passed over her, making the watching woman jump slightly. She looked up sheepishly. Just a damn cloud. A slight grin quirked her lips. Cloud? Hmm...looks like rain again. If I can just keep these fools busy for a while, hopefully they'll be stuck here until Amanda can get the sheriff out here.

Charlie Bristol had been the sheriff for longer than Lex could remember. He had a knack of always being around when she needed him, especially after her father Rawson left. The sheriff would show up for breakfast at least once a week for several years, ostensibly to make sure everything was okay. But only Charlie and Lex knew the main reason - Martha Rollins.

The tall and lanky man was several years older than the heavyset housekeeper, but he followed her around like a little boy with his first crush. He'd bring her flowers, ask her out to the movies on Saturday night, and plead with the sweet woman to marry him at least once a month. Every time she gently turned him down, with the excuse that she could never leave her "little Lexie" to work the massive ranch alone. Charlie respected that, and in truth it made the gentle woman even greater in his eyes.

It took a couple of years, but poor Charlie finally got the hint. Martha cared for him, but she just couldn't bring herself to leave the ranch and settle down. Charlie understood, and he stayed close friends with Martha, taking her to various dances and picnics, but he never gave up the hope that someday she'd tire of the ranch life and agree to become his wife. But until that day arrived, he was more than happy to have Martha has a good friend. And the lovestruck lawman never stopped dreaming about settling down with the sweet housekeeper that ran the Rocking W Ranch.

Lex circled around the clearing until she was behind the large truck and trailer. Looking around, she noticed that several of the men were arguing. She pulled out her pocketknife, then began crawling towards the parked vehicles, which were apparently empty. Making her way under the trailer, she positioned herself near the wheels on the farthest side. Oh yeah...face down in the mud is so much fun. She grimaced, then slowly poked a small hole on the inside of the tire, which began to loudly hiss. Damn! She quickly wiped a small amount of mud on the neat slice, quieting it, and also slowed the speed that the air was leaking out. Lex proceeded to take care of the remaining tires in the same manner, then stealthily made her way back to her hiding place.

The clouds quickly took over the late afternoon sky, thunder rumbling ominously in the distance. Lex smiled. She could see the trailer slowly sinking to the ground. Only a matter of time before these morons notice. She decided to take care of the attached truck next. I wonder how Amanda's doing. I hope she made it to the ranch all right.


Martha hung up the phone with a grim smile. "Charlie's on his way...he said he'd take the back way in." She crossed back over to where Amanda sat, nervously tearing a paper napkin into tiny bits. "Honey?" she touched the younger woman's shoulder.

Amanda jumped, startled. "What?" she looked down at the mess on the table. "Sorry..." then she raised her eyes to the older woman. "Did you say the sheriff is on his way?" The small blonde stood up, pushing her chair back up against the table. "I've got to get back...Thunder should be rested enough by now." She had begun to walk towards the kitchen door when Martha grabbed her arm.

"Now you wait just a darn minute! If you think I'm going to let you go back to..." she was interrupted by the anxious blonde.

"I've got to." A gentle pleading look. "She may need me." Then, with a more determined air. "I can't leave her out there all alone, Martha. Don't ask me to."

The housekeeper released the young woman's arm with a heavy sigh. "All right..." she motioned with her hand, "But you're not going anywhere without a radio." She led Amanda down the hall and through the den, making her way into the office. She pulled a handheld radio out of its charging base, handing it to the younger woman. "I'll sit here by the base radio, and you can call me if you need anything, okay?" she was about to say more when a rumble of thunder interrupted her.

They both looked up, as if to see something through the ceiling. "Great. Now Lexie will have an excuse to play in the mud again." Martha shook a finger in Amanda's direction. "And you're gonna put on a raincoat before you take off again, right?"

Amanda ducked her head and smiled quietly. "Yes ma'am." Suddenly she was enveloped in a strong hug, which she happily returned.

"Honey, I want you to be extra special careful - don't take any crazy chances." Martha rubbed the younger woman's back. "I have enough to worry about with Lexie always going off half-cocked." She turned around and led Amanda out of the room. "C'mon...let's get you bundled up and ready to go."


Lex had just returned to her hiding spot after sabotaging the truck when the first raindrops began to fall. Great. I knew I should have brought my coat. The flannel shirt she had on felt great earlier in the day, but now that the sun was hidden by the sudden cloudcover, the wind was decidedly cooler. She rubbed her hands up and down her arms briskly, trying to keep warm, almost laughing out loud at the scene unfolding in front of her.

The rain started coming down in earnest, causing the would-be thieves to rush around picking up their belongings. One of them, a short and stocky dark-haired man, had almost made it back to the truck when he noticed that something was wrong. "Hey, Matt!" he yelled, looking back at the tall lanky man near the campfire, "Looks like we got a couple of flat tires!"

Lex nearly gave herself away laughing. Oh, we've got a regular Einstein among us. She shook her head. Wonder what his first clue was? She blinked away an errant raindrop, thankful for the dark cowboy hat that kept most of the rain out of her face.

Another man checked the other side of the trailer. "This side's flat too!" The man they called Matt walked over to the truck and pulled a rifle from inside. "You guys keep a close watch. I don't like the looks of this."

The rancher crept slowly back from her vantage point. Uh-oh...I think he means business. She slunk back farther into the brush.

Matt tossed the rifle over to the short, stocky man. "Darrell...take this and do a perimeter check. If anything moves, SHOOT IT!" He turned to face the older man who had checked the far side of the trailer. "Randall, get the other rifle out of the truck and check the other side of the clearing." The gray headed man nodded and complied.

Lex looked around. Where did the other three go? Suddenly, the bushes to the left of her began to rustle. Shit! She ducked down lower, practically lying face down in the rapidly building mud. Man number four stepped out of the shrubbery almost on top of her.

"Hey, Matt! What the hell's goin' on?" he asked, zipping up his mud-covered pants.

The rancher slowly lifted her head. Two left...She decided not to move until she knew where the other men were. Looking around, Lex noticed a slight movement in the trailer. I thought that thing was empty. As she watched, a younger man, probably still a teenager, climbed out of the trailer and over to the leader.

"Aw, Matt. It's starting to rain again. Are we gonna get out of here pretty soon?" he ran a hand through his shoulder-length brown hair. "I really want to go home."

Matt put his hand on the smaller man's shoulder. "Yeah...we'll just leave the trailer for now...why don't you go on and get into the truck? We'll be there in a little bit." The young man nodded and started towards the vehicle.

Lex looked at her watch. The sheriff should be here before too much longer...and knowing Amanda, she's probably on her way back by now. She moved slowly backwards. Better get back to the pass and wait for her. The rancher started making her way slowly around the clearing, trying to stay out of sight.

She was more than halfway there when she nearly ran into man number six, who was making good use of the nearby thick bushes. He had long blonde hair that was partially tied into a ponytail, and did not look at all happy to be squatting in the rain.

Lex edge around until she was directly behind him, waiting patiently. Hurry up, buddy...she thought to herself, I really don't want to be watching this. He grunted, then began pulling up his pants. Ew...I'd hate to have to do your laundry! She mused to herself.

The man stood up and turned, coming face to face with a tall drenched woman in a black cowboy hat, who had a very 'not nice' expression on her face. "Wha...?" he started.

"Say nighty-night!" she punched him hard in the face, getting an intense amount of pleasure watching the man crumble to the ground. Lex pulled off the man's shirt, tearing it into two strips. One she used for a gag, and the other to tie his feet together. She used his belt to tie his hands, smiling down at her handiwork. Flexing her right hand she grimaced, Damn hard-headed thief. Then she continued her journey towards the pass. Suddenly, she heard one of the men in the camp shout.

"Hey, Matt! I think I see something!!" he took careful aim and fired.


Amanda was almost back to the pass when she heard the first gunshots. Oh my God! LEX! She pressed her heels to Thunder's sides, urging him to move even faster. She knew that the rancher was unarmed, and she was terrified of what she may find. Hang on, I'm on my way!

Tearing through the pass, Amanda had to pull the huge horse up quickly, almost colliding with the solitary figure on the path.

"Hey! Slow down!" Lex said, reaching up to grasp the heaving animal's reins.

Amanda slid off of the exhausted horse, stumbling over her feet and almost tackling the older woman.

"Amanda? What's wrong? Are you okay?" Lex wrapped her arms around the younger woman, who buried her face in the damp material of the rancher's chest.

The smaller woman choked back a sob. "Am I okay?" she squeezed tighter. "I heard gunshots." She pulled back away from the taller woman, using her hands to search the muscular form. "Are you okay?"

Lex grinned. "Oh, yeah...I'm just fine..." she took her hat off and shook the excess water from it, even though the rain still fell heavily. "A little damp, but fine."

The younger woman was not completely convinced. "Are you sure? You're not hiding anything from me, are you?" She continued to search the tall woman for any signs of injury.

Lex grasped her hands and smiled. "No...they weren't shooting at me..." she laughed. "But I'm not sure if that rabbit will ever be the same again."

Amanda smiled through her tears. "God...I heard the shots, and I thought..." she sniffed, trying to regain some composure.

The older woman pulled Amanda into her strong arms, then bent down to place a gentle kiss on the blonde forehead, which was partially hidden by her hood. "Were you able to contact the sheriff?" she asked, pulling back slightly. "I don't think those guys will be going too far right now."

"Yeah...Martha talked to him - he said that he'd come in the back way." She paused. "What do you mean, they won't be going very far? What have you done?"

Lex gave her a devious little grin. "Seems the tires on their trailer went flat..." she pulled a piece of wire out of her back pocket, "and this accidentally fell off of their truck." She laughed.

Amanda shook her head. "Never mind...I don't think I want to know." She walked back over to Thunder, untying something from behind the saddle. " look half-frozen." Handing the rancher her duster. She then grabbed the saddlebag and began to dig through it. "Oh, and Martha sent this." She pulled out the handheld radio and tossed it to Lex.

"Great. Now I don't feel so damn isolated." Lex stuffed the radio into an inner pocket of the large coat. Holding out her hand, she silently requested that Amanda move closer to her.

The small woman quickly complied, tucking herself comfortably up against the rancher's ribs. "Now what are we going to do?" she asked, gratefully absorbing the taller woman's warmth.

Lex looked down at her with a gentle smile. "I don't suppose I could talk you into going back to the house?"

"I don't think so." Amanda said seriously.

"That's what I thought." She gave the younger woman a gentle smile. "We," she hugged her close, "are going to find a good spot to watch the fun." She sobered. "But we have to be very careful, since these idiots have guns." She held up a warning hand. "And," no smile now, "You have to do exactly as I say, no questions asked, okay?"

Amanda gave her an equally serious nod. " long as you realize that I'm not completely helpless, right?" she countered.

"Gotcha." Lex agreed, and led her down the trail back towards the clearing.

It took them almost an hour to walk back to the clearing, their progress hampered by the heavy rain. Lex placed Amanda in the dense shrubbery, then settled down behind her, wrapping her long arms around the small waist. They watched in amusement as the man Lex identified as Matt looked under the hood of the truck, apparently having no success in getting it to start.

Lex leaned into Amanda and placed her mouth next to a small ear. "I wonder what his problem is?" she whispered, an evil chuckle coloring her tone.

The younger woman giggled, and squeezed the hands that were wrapped securely around her stomach.

Another man walked up to the truck saying something to Matt, who looked around the clearing. He pointed in the opposite direction from where Lex and Amanda were sitting, and Darrell walked in that direction, carrying his rifle.

Lex whispered, "Uh-oh...they must have finally figured out that one of them is missing."

Amanda turned slightly in the older woman's arms so that she could speak. "Missing?"

The rancher nodded. "Yeah, he's tied up over in those trees to the right." She pointed.

Amanda frowned at her. "You?"

Lex gave her a sheepish shrug. "Yeah...I practically tripped over him on my way back to meet you." She grinned. "He was, uh...somewhat indisposed."

Amanda's brow creased in a thoughtful manner, then suddenly cleared. "Oh...eww..."

"Yeah..." Lex agreed. "But now that they've figured out he's missing, things could start to get a little hairy." She gave the smaller woman a concerned look. "We may have to get out of here in a hurry, so be ready."

Amanda nodded, then reached a hand up to cup Lex's cheek. "As long as we leave together." She pulled the rancher's face down for a gentle kiss. "No heroics, right?" she managed to ask after they finally broke apart.

Lex placed a quick kiss on the tip of her nose. "Right." Then she became instantly alert. "Get ready to move...looks like they're beginning to search for their missing buddy." She released Amanda's waist and captured her hand. "C'mon. We'll be safer back by the pass." Lex crawled back through the bushes, pulling Amanda behind her.

They decided to circle around to the left of the clearing, hoping that the longer path would be free of the searching men. Lex suddenly came to a halt, causing Amanda to slam into her back.

"What...?" the smaller woman whispered, fearing detection.

The rancher turned halfway around, placing a gentle hand over Amanda's mouth. "Shh..." She motioned with her other hand to the right of where they were standing.

Darrell was searching the underbrush, using the barrel of his rifle to move the heavy shrubbery out of the way. In his other hand he carried a flashlight, to help cut the gloom of the heavy rain and early evening stormy sky. He was swinging the light in a wide arc, coming dangerously close to the two women.

Lex pulled Amanda to stand directly behind her, hoping that the dark duster she wore would camouflage them. "If we happen to get separated, take Thunder and meet me back at the pond. They'll never find us there." She whispered. A strong squeeze of her hand and an emphatic shake of Amanda's head were her only answer. Lex spun around to face the young woman. "I'm not planning on it happening, but we need to be prepared just in case!"

The small woman sighed, then nodded. Lex turned back around to watch the man search, slowly backing the two of them away from him. She froze as the light panned across her body, feeling small hands clinch tightly on the back of her coat. The light kept going, and Lex released a breath she didn't even realize she had been holding. The tall woman started slowly backing up again, gently pushing Amanda back as well.

The light suddenly hit her in the face, and the man let out a yell of surprise. "Hey!" he lifted the nose of his rifle, trying to aim it and the flashlight at the dark apparition in front of him.

Lex spun around quickly, still using her body to block his view of her companion. "RUN!!!" she hissed, pushing Amanda forward roughly.

The small woman stumbled, but regained her footing and began to move quickly through the heavy trees, with Lex right in behind her.


Bark exploded off of a tree near Amanda's head. Oh, God! She willed her body to move faster. Through the pouring rain she could hear men shouting. Great! Now he's got help! She risked a glance behind her, seeing Lex a few steps back.



More shots rang out, and Amanda could hear several bodies crashing through the brush right after them.

"To the right!" Lex hissed, pulling the small woman's arm in that direction, as they veered off of the slight path they were on, pushing through even denser foliage.



Those shots sounded further away this time, Amanda thought to herself, as Lex pulled her down into some heavy bushes. Panting hard, the young woman looked around, squinting in the dim light. They seemed to be inside a small burrow, so thickly concealed that the falling rain could hardly break through. It was so dark that Amanda could barely make out the large form in front of her, but she knew in her heart who it was.

They sat silently for what seemed like hours, just waiting and listening, trying to hear any noise over the rumbling thunder. Each of them was too tired and afraid to utter a sound. After half an hour had passed, Lex finally broke the silence.

"Stay put. I'm going to take a quick look around." She whispered.

Amanda grabbed her arm. "Please, don't!" she begged, fear evident in her tone.

Lex leaned into the young woman's ear. "We can't stay here all night." She reached into her pocket and pulled out the radio. "Call Martha and find out where the sheriff is." She placed a soft kiss on Amanda's cold lips. "If I'm not back in thirty minutes, make your way back to the house."

Amanda wrapped her arms around Lex's neck, pulling her close. She gave the rancher a searing kiss, finally breaking off to catch her breath. " will come back to me!" Her voice trembled. "This is non-negotiable, got it?"

Lex cleared her throat. "Yeah, I got it." She leaned forward and kissed the smaller woman's damp forehead. "I'll be right back." She turned and crawled out of their hideaway.

The young blonde wiped her eyes and turned on the radio. Holding the button down, she whispered, "Martha, can you hear me?" she released the button, hearing a small burst of static.

"Amanda? Child, is that you? I can barely hear you." Martha's voice broke through the static loudly, making the young woman wince and hurry to turn down the volume.

She placed her mouth as close as possible to the microphone. "Yes, it's me. I have to be quiet, though. Have you heard from the sheriff?"

"Yes, I have, honey. He should be at the site any time now - he's got three deputies with him."

Amanda breathed a sigh of relief. "Martha, you have to warn him that they have guns..."

She mentally added up what she had seen. "Two rifles that we're aware of. And there's..."

She was abruptly cut off by the sounds of gunfire, although it sounded like it was quite some distance away. NO!!! She almost sprang out of her hiding place, her heart pounding.

"Amanda? Honey, are you still there?" Martha's concerned voice broke through her racing thoughts.

"Uh, yeah...I'm here." She took a deep breath. "Look, I've got to go, Martha. I'll talk to you later, okay?" She turned off the radio then sat in the dark, straining to hear anything over the thunder and pounding rain that punctured the stillness.

The thirty-minute time limit was almost up, and the young blonde was a nervous wreck. I can't believe I let her talk me into staying here...where could she be? Is she okay? Oh, God... She almost screamed when a dark form broke through the dense brush, almost tumbling in on top of her. "Lex?" she reached out blindly.

"Yeah, it's me." The form wheezed, trying to catch her breath. "I led them back towards the clearing...those fools will be chasing each other in a big circle for hours."

Amanda let out a deep breath. "Good...Martha said the sheriff should be there with his deputies any time now." She placed her hand on the rancher's shoulder. "Is it safe for us to get out of here?" She was more than a little concerned about her friend. Lex was still breathing hard. "Are you okay? I heard more gunshots while you were gone."

The older woman was silent for a few moments, trying to get her breathing under control. "Yeah,'s just real hard to run in the driving rain wearing boots and a heavy duster." She chuckled. "Guess I'm a little out of shape."

Amanda crawled closer, almost sitting in the dark woman's lap. "Yeah, right. You're still recovering from broken ribs, remember?" She snuggled into the welcoming arms. "Ooh...this feels really good. I'm a little chilled." She looked up, barely able to make out the outline of Lex's face. "I imagine you're freezing, since you've been out in this cold rain longer than I have."

"I've been warmer, that's for sure." Lex whispered, nuzzling the sweet neck below her. "But to tell you the truth, I'm pretty warm right now." She chuckled, then fought back a small cough.

The small woman lifted a hand and placed it on the shadowed face above her. "You're feeling a bit warm...we need to get you back to the house, and into bed."

Lex gave the hand a small kiss. "I'm fine...just out of breath from all that damn running." She cocked her head, listening. "But you're right...I think it's safe for us to try and leave now." Climbing to her feet, Lex offered the younger woman a hand up.

The walk back was slow, with Lex cautiously keeping them off of any real paths. The rain also hampered their progress, even though the heavy tree cover blocked out most of the downpour.

How on earth does she know where we are going? Amanda wondered, keeping her eyes locked on the tall figure a bare step ahead of her. Lex doggedly made her way through the thick foliage, not hesitating in which direction to take. She must have some kind of built-in radar, the blonde mused. The object of her thoughts must have felt her scrutiny, because Lex turned her head, giving the younger woman a weary smile. Amanda returned it with a smile of her own. I'm really worried about her. She seems so...washed out.

They had been traveling for nearly an hour when Amanda reached forward and captured a muscular arm. "I hate to sound like an annoying kid on a trip, but how much further?" she asked quietly.

"Do you need to stop and rest?" Lex questioned. "I'm sorry it's taking so long, but I thought it would be a good idea to take the roundabout way, in case those guys are still trying to find us. Let's take a quick breather," she sank to the ground gracelessly, propping her back up against the nearest tree. "We've still got about thirty minutes of walking to do."

Amanda dropped down beside her, linking her hand with one of Lex's larger ones. "Sounds good to me." Leaning her head on the nearby broad shoulder, she sighed. "Is your life always this...interesting?"

The older woman chuckled. "No. Well, at least not until recently." She glanced down and could just barely make out the young woman's features, between quick flashes of lightning. "I've had more things happen in the last week than in the past couple of years." Lex squeezed the small hand in hers. "Guess you brought the excitement with you."

"Oh, yeah...I love driving my car off into flooded creeks then run around in the cold rain getting shot at." Amanda laughed. "All part of my big plan to bring some thrills into my otherwise boring existence."

"Got more than you bargained for, huh?" Lex released the small hand, then wrapped her arm around Amanda's shoulder, pulling the smaller woman close. "Me too." She gave the damp head a gentle kiss.

They sat there quietly, listening to the sounds around them. Thunder rumbled intermittently, punctuating the bright flashes of lightning. Lex felt her body relax, and her eyes slowly drifted shut.

Amanda felt the body next to hers relax, and she looked up in alarm. The older woman's head was tipped forward, her chin resting lightly on her chest. Reaching up with her free hand, the young woman lightly touched the still face, which appeared unnaturally wan in the flashes of light.

Pale eyes popped open, tracking to Amanda's face instantly. "What?" Lex blinked, opening her eyes wide in an effort to become more alert. "Sorry...all this exercise must have worn me out." She wiped a hand over her face.

"Uh-huh." The small blonde pulled Lex's face towards her with her hand. "Are you getting sick?" she asked, peering intently into the somewhat glazed eyes.

The older woman blinked again, shaking her head slightly. "No...really, I'm okay. Just a little tired." And I think my ribs decided to shift apart again...but she doesn't need to know that just yet. Lex tried to take a deep breath, feeling a sharp pain along her side. Oh, yeah...I'm not gonna hear the end of this for quite a while. Martha's going to kick my butt. She glanced over at her companion, seeing the exhaustion on the fair features. Lex gathered up what little stamina she had left and stood up, pulling Amanda up with her. "C'mon. We're almost back to the pass, and then we can ride the rest of the way home."

Amanda allowed herself to be hoisted to her feet, not missing the slight tremor in the hand pulling her up. "Now that's the best idea I've heard all day." She brushed herself off and resumed her place behind Lex, as the dark woman began blazing a trail through the thick trees.

They found Thunder standing under a canopy of leaves, happily munching shoots of tender grass. The big stallion looked up as the two weary women approached, nickering a greeting.

Amanda expelled a huge sigh. "I never thought I would be so happy to see a humongous horse." She walked over to the still animal, patting his neck in relief.

Lex followed her, checking Thunder's saddle. "Hey, about ready to go home?" She leaned against him heavily.

The small blonde wrapped an arm around the weary rancher. "C'mon, honey...let's get you home too." The endearment had slipped out before Amanda could take it back. Lex didn't say anything, but the happy smile on her face said it all.

"Sounds like a plan." Lex climbed up on the tall horse and pulled the smaller woman up behind her. "Thought I'd drive, this time."

Amanda wrapped her arms carefully around the rancher. "Sure...I've always been told what a great back-seat driver I am, anyway." She felt a chuckle rumble through the tall woman, and gave the flat stomach her hands rested on a gentle tickle. "Home, James." She commanded regally. Snuggling up to the strong back, Amanda placed her cheek against Lex's shoulderblade.

The exhausted woman unconsciously leaned back against Amanda. "Yes ma'am." She gently kneed the big horse, guiding him back up the path to the pass, letting the large animal find his way cautiously through the dark.


The ride back to the ranch house was uneventful, and even the rain finally took pity on the two damp and tired women, slowing down to a light drizzle. The moon was trying to break out of the clouds as Lex pulled Thunder up to the stables.

Swinging her leg over his massive neck, the rancher slowly dismounted, then turned and pulled Amanda down to the ground. "C'mon, buddy...let's get you cleaned up and fed." Lex led Thunder into the building, walking him to his stall while the young blonde went to get a bucket of feed.

When Amanda returned with the oats, she noticed that the older woman had already pulled the saddle and blanket from the animal, and was in the process of brushing him down. She poured the contents of the bucket into his trough, and then stepped into the stall. "Here," she said, taking the brush from Lex's hands, "let me finish this. Why don't you go on up to the house, and I'll meet you there?"

Lex looked down into earnest green eyes. "I'll make you a deal. You can finish with the grooming, and I'll clean up the tack. Fair enough?" when the smaller woman opened her mouth to argue, Lex continued, "That way we can walk back up to the house together. Deal?" she placed a grubby hand on the small shoulder. Let's try a different tact. "Besides," she hesitated, looking down at the ground, "I could kind of use a little help with the walk up there...I'm so tired I'm about to fall down." She finished, in a near whisper.

Amanda placed a concerned hand on the rancher's arm. "What's wrong?"

Lex shook her head. "Nothing much, I'm just real tired..." she leaned heavily against the side of the stall.

"If you're admitting to that, it's time to take you up to the house." Amanda wrapped a small hand around Lex's arm, and began pulling her out of the stall. "I'll come back after while and finish up with the tack."

Lex meekly let the small blonde drag her from the stable, a tiny grin on the edge of her mouth. She is certainly something else, I can't believe I let her get away with this sort of thing.

Amanda slung open the back door, practically dragging the exhausted rancher behind her. "Martha! Where are you?" she yelled, pulling the tall form towards the kitchen. "Here," she pushed Lex into the nearest chair, "sit down before you fall down." She gave the sitting woman's shoulder a gentle squeeze. "I'm going to go find..."

"What on earth happened to you two?" Martha bellowed, standing in the kitchen doorway. "I swear Lexie...I can't leave you alone for a minute!" she stomped over to wear Lex was sitting, slumped in her chair. Pulling the battered black hat from her head, the housekeeper scowled. "Good Lord! You're as white as a sheet!" she exclaimed, running a pudgy hand across the mud-spattered brow. Turning her attention to the young blonde woman, she asked, "Are you okay, sweetheart?"

Amanda sighed, and dropped into a nearby chair. "I'm fine...just tired, and a little damp." She pushed the wet hood off of her head with a grim smile.

Martha, who had begun helping the rancher take off her coat, gasped. "Is this blood?" she gently touched Lex's side.

"Ow!" Lex flinched. "Probably just mud." She tried to bat away the housekeeper's hands, which were pulling at the damp shirt. "Ow! Hey, Martha! Cut that out!"

Amanda stood up, then walked over and squatted down beside the beleaguered woman. "Blood?" she put a small hand on the dirty denim-covered thigh to balance herself. "Lex?" The young blonde forced the rancher to look her in the eye. "What happened?"

"I dunno...I think it's just mud." She scowled.

Martha shook her head and gave a derisive snort. "Honey, if that's mud, I'm a size 6!" She pulled the coat off the rest of the way, then began unbuttoning the filthy shirt. "Let's just take a look, okay?" She turned to Amanda. "Sweetheart, could you go upstairs and get the salve and some clean towels out of the master bathroom?"

Amanda nodded, a worried look on her face. "Sure." She hopped up and patted Lex on the shoulder. "Be right back." She kissed the dark-haired woman on the top of her head, then hurried from the room.

The housekeeper turned her attention back to the rancher, who was fighting to keep her eyes open. "Lexie?" she tapped her leg, "Now would you care to tell me what happened out there? I didn't want to upset Amanda, but the sheriff radioed about twenty minutes ago, said that by the time he got there, all he could find was an abandoned trailer, and a stolen truck." She pulled the shirt open, and away from the rancher's side. "What happened to you?" The older woman used a corner of the wet fabric to wipe at the blood on Lex's side. "This looks like a mighty wicked gash on your side here, honey."

Lex tried to shift away from what Martha was doing. "Ouch! Would you please stop that!" she found her hands captured by smaller, older ones. "Okay, okay." She cleared her throat. "I think it's a bullet wound." She looked into the concerned brown eyes of the woman who was like a mother to her. "Musta happened when they were chasing me." A questioning look at Martha. "Wait. Are you trying to tell me that Charlie didn't catch those idiots out there?" She tried to stand up, but was quickly pushed back down. "Damn! How could he let those fools get away? They could barely take a crap by themselves..."

"Now you listen to me, young lady! Last I heard he was still looking for them, so you just calm down." She began pulling the shirt off of Lex, who began fighting her again. "Would you please let me take a look at that?"

Lex held the shirt closed stubbornly. "Wait." She took a deep breath, "Can we compromise?" she gave the older woman a pout. "I really want to take a feels like I'm wearing at least half of the back pasture."

Martha shook her head. "I dunno what I'm going to do with you, Lexie." Then she nodded. "Okay. Compromise it is. But," she held up a warning hand, "it will be a quick shower, and then you're going to bed. You've spent too many nights staying up late."

Amanda was standing in the doorway, requested items in hand, with a cute grin on her face. "I bet it was almost impossible to get her to take medicine as a child, wasn't it?"

Lex scowled, while Martha burst out laughing. "As a child?" Another chuckle. "Sweetheart, I'd rather pull my own teeth than try to get this one to do something that may actually be good for her." She held out a hand to the rancher, who had a grumpy look on her face. "Alright, let's get upstairs and get you cleaned up."

"I can do it myself, you know." She complained, but accepted the help up anyway. "You're not gonna bathe me too, are you?" Hearing a giggle from the doorway, she glared at Amanda. "Aw, not you too!"

Shaking her head, the young blonde smiled. "Sorry. You're just too cute when you act like an overgrown child." Seeing the outraged look on Lex's face, she backed up. "Umm...I'll just go upstairs and get the shower ready for you." Amanda turned and took off down the hallway, laughing.

"You'd better run, blondie!" Lex called after her. "I'll get you back for that little remark!"


It took a while, but Lex finally got finished up in the shower, walking into the master bedroom wearing her flannel pajama bottoms and a large towel draped over her shoulders. Wow, even after the day she's been through, she's still absolutely beautiful. Amanda had returned from her own clean up effort, and was sitting on the bed with Martha when Lex made her entrance.

Martha stood up. "Lexie! Where's your nightshirt? Are you trying to catch pneumonia, or just drive me insane?" she grabbed the dark woman's arm and pulled her over to the bed.

"I didn't see any sense in putting it on until you were finished clucking over me." Lex sat down slowly. "It's right here on the bed...would have bitten you on the butt if it had been a snake." She teased the older woman.

"Hrumpph. We'll just see about that, won't we, Little Miss Smarty Pants." Martha gently pushed her onto her back. Addressing the young woman now standing beside her, "Amanda, don't let this one here get away with anything - she really is impossible sometimes."

"Hey!" Lex pouted, trying to regain some dignity as the housekeeper began spreading salve over the long gash across her ribs. "Ow! Careful there, I'd like to keep myself in one piece, if you don't mind." She slapped at Martha's hands.

Amanda sat down next to the rancher's legs. "What on earth happened there?" she looked carefully at the wound. "If I didn't know any better..." her face took on an angry edge. "You were shot?!?" she stood up and paced the length of the room. "I don't believe you! You got shot, and didn't tell me?!" The young woman stomped back over to the opposite side of the bed. "How could you not tell me something like this?" She sat on the edge, glaring at the dark haired woman.

"No! It's not like that...really." Lex stretched her arm across the bed, beckoning for Amanda's hand. "I didn't know." Seeing the storm clouds gathering on the fair brow, she continued, "Honestly...I didn't. I though my ribs were just acting up again. And it's really just a slight scrape..." giving her best pitiful look.

Martha listened quietly to the young women argue. Poor Lexie...looks like she's finally found someone who's not afraid to stand up to her. Good! She smiled to herself.

Amanda took a calming breath and grasped Lex's hand. She looked the rancher in the eyes, and saw nothing but the truth. "Okay, I believe you." She pulled the hand to her lips and gave it a small kiss. "But," she squeezed it a little tighter, "Next time tell me when you're hurting, okay?"

The rancher nodded. "Promise." Then she flinched. "Damn it, Martha...I think you're enjoying this a little too much!" She gasped as the housekeeper taped a large square of gauze on the wound. "Easy, there...Hey!" she squirmed as the older woman tickled her good side.

"Hush up, you! Now sit up, and I'll wrap these ribs again." She smiled as Amanda crawled over to help her patient into a sitting position. "If you would keep these wrapped for more than a day, they'd heal a heck of a lot faster, you know." She pulled the large elastic bandage from behind her back.

"Where did you...?" Lex asked, her face flushing slightly.

Martha laughed. "Honey, I do the laundry around here, you know?" she began wrapping the wide bandage around Lex. "And I know about the last time you broke your ribs." She laughed at the look of surprise and embarrassment on Lex's face. "Teach you to try and keep anything from me." She snickered.

Lex rolled her eyes, but stayed silent. Figures...damn woman has eyes in the back of her head, and can read minds, too! She glanced over at Amanda, who was covering her mouth with one hand. "What?"

The younger woman shook her head, but the sparkle in her eyes gave her away. She sputtered, then finally laughed out loud. "Sorry, Lex...but she is right. You shouldn't try to hide things like that."

"There. All done." Martha tied off the bandage with safety pins. She picked up the nightshirt and started slipping it on the injured woman's body. "By the way, Roy called while you were out. He said that he and the boys are bringing out a truck tomorrow, and they're going to finish the work on the bridge. He said that they had to wait until all the supplies came in, that's why it's taken them so long." She began buttoning the shirt, much to the rancher's dismay.

"I can dress myself, Martha." She argued, but let the older woman finish. "I'm glad they're coming out tomorrow...the six of them can have it finished in no time." She sat back, exhausted.

Amanda brushed the hair out of those blue eyes. "I was wondering, where do the hands stay? I've seen Martha's house, the stables, and the hay barn, but..." she stopped when Lex squeezed her hand.

"The hands stay at the bunkhouse, which is just up the road from here. It's closer to the main cattle pens." She took a pained breath and closed her eyes. "It can hold up to fifteen, but there's only six of them right now. We hire extra help when we start tagging in the spring."

Martha chuckled. "Actually, there's only five real hands. Lester is mainly the cook, right, Lexie?" She looked up when there was no answer, seeing that Lex had fallen asleep. Shaking her head, the housekeeper smiled at Amanda. "C'mon honey, let's go get you something to eat. I still have some roast and potatoes left." She stood up and covered the sleeping woman with a blanket.

Amanda regretfully let go of Lex's hand, and climbed off of the bed. "Okay, then I'll come back and sit with her for a while." She followed the older woman from the room, glancing back at the doorway at the woman asleep on the bed. She looks so fragile, when she's asleep. "I'll be right back," she whispered.


Amanda had eaten a quick dinner then raced back up the stairs, after being chased out of the kitchen by Martha. "Just see that she stays in bed tonight...don't let her take any more trips out to the stables, alright?" the housekeeper commanded, then sent the young woman on her way.

Stopping at the doorway to the master bedroom, Amanda leaned against the doorframe and sighed. The rancher was still sleeping peacefully, although she had kicked off the blanket and was now curled up on her good side, facing away from the door. The small blonde tiptoed into the room, making her way quietly to the bed. She picked up the blanket from the floor, and was about to cover the older woman with it when Lex rolled over and sat straight up in bed, sweat dripping from her body.

"Damn!" she muttered, visibly trembling. "Amanda?" She looked at the smaller woman in dazed surprise.

Amanda placed the blanket around her shoulders, and then felt of her forehead. "You're burning up, Lex. I'd better go..."

Lex grabbed her hand. "Don't leave me." She asked in a hoarse whisper. "I'll be okay." She trembled again. "Could you just stay with me for a while, please?"

Amanda smiled. "Of course I can. Just let me get you some aspirin for that fever, okay?" seeing the older woman nod, she quickly stepped into the bathroom. Bringing a glass of water and several white tablets, she sat down next to the rancher. "Here...take these, then I'll get you tucked in." She gave a teasing smile. "I seem to be doing that a lot, huh?"

Taking the aspirin, the older woman finished the water and sat the glass on the side table. "Yeah..." she leaned back into her pillow, "does that bother you?"

" fact, it makes me feel really good that you let me." Amanda pulled the covers over the still trembling woman. She ran her hand gently through the dark hair.

Lex partially closed her eyes and smiled softly. "Thanks." The feel of Amanda's fingers combing through her hair was very relaxing. "Mmm..." she closed her eyes the rest of the way and drifted off to sleep.

Amanda sat by her side for a long while, running her fingers through Lex's thick hair. Guess I should go to bed myself, now...she thought, but really had no interest in leaving the sleeping woman's side. She lay a gentle hand along the strong jawline, noticing with relief that the fever seemed to be easing. Standing up, Amanda was about to walk towards the door when she heard Lex moan slightly in her sleep. I really don't want to leave her, though. She compromised with herself, crossing to the other side of the bed and crawling under the covers. Oh yeah...this feels great! Lex moaned again, and the younger woman turned on her side and took a large hand in hers. "'s okay. I'm here." She whispered, which calmed the rancher down immediately. Pulling the large hand up to her face, Amanda tucked it carefully under her own cheek as she lay there, just watching the older woman sleep.


Martha walked into the master bedroom with a tray in her hand, humming softly to herself. It's going to be a beautiful day! She thought, then stopped dead in her tracks. Looking towards the bed, a big grin broke out over her round features. That's just too cute! She chuckled to herself.

Lex was still sound asleep, even though it was almost eight o'clock in the morning. She was lying flat on her back, with Amanda curled up beside her, blonde head tucked neatly under her chin. The younger woman had one arm outside the covers, wrapped protectively around Lex's shoulder. The rancher's left arm was uncovered as well, wrapped securely across the young woman's back.

The housekeeper walked over to the bed and sat the tray down on the side table. Seeing that both women were still deeply asleep, she reached over and placed her hand gently on Lex's forehead. Thank the good Lord that she's not running any fever this morning. I was a little concerned about that bullet wound, but I guess I cleaned it up okay. Not wanting the sleeping women disturbed, she reached over to the telephone on the table and turned off the ringer. Heh. There's more than one way to skin a cat! She quietly snuck from the room, closing the door behind her.


She was lying on her back in a field of wildflowers, the sun soaking into her body. Filled with a contented peace, she was enjoying the gentle fragrance of the flowers around her as a warm breeze passed through her hair. Knowing she should get up, her body rebelled, embracing the warmth of the quiet spring day with decadent pleasure.

Lex took a deep breath, inhaling another lungful of the sweet smell of flowers. Opening her eyes, she was somewhat surprised that she was indoors, and even more surprised to find herself in bed. But I could swear that I smelt flowers. Her brow creased in confusion, and then she noticed the source of the delightful smell. A tousled blonde head was tucked comfortably against her shoulder, directly under her chin. Gotta compliment Martha on her choice of shampoo for the guest room, Lex smirked. That dream was nice, but reality is so much better. She didn't want to disturb Amanda, but her body demanded that she get up. The rancher carefully rolled the smaller woman off of her, which got her a small sigh in return. She was finally able to maneuver herself into a sitting position, and was charmed when Amanda rolled back over and snuggled into her pillow. Lex eased herself off of the bed, biting her lower lip to stifle a groan. Getting too old to play all day in the rain, Lexington, she admonished herself, making her way slowly into the bathroom.

Mmm...something smells tasty. Amanda woke up, concerned to see that she was lying in the big bed alone, and hugging Lex's pillow? She turned her eyes towards the bedside table, which had a large tray sitting on it. "So that's where that wonderful smell is coming from," she mumbled, taking another deep breath, closing her eyes in bliss.

"Gee...thanks." Lex drawled, stepping out of the bathroom.

Amanda blushed, and pulled the pillow over her head. "Oh, lord..." she giggled. "I can't believe you heard that."

The tall woman walked over to the bed and sat down. "Good morning to you, too." She grinned.

One green eye peeked out from under the pillow. "Morning." Amanda grumbled, the sat up. "How are you feeling?" She reached towards the older woman. "You look a lot better this morning."

Lex accepted the small hand, pulling it to her lips for a little kiss. "Must be the company I'm keeping."

Amanda blushed to the roots of her hair. "Umm..." she pointed to the tray, "isn't that breakfast?" trying desperately to change the subject.

Lex raised an eyebrow, but relented. "Yeah...Martha must have just brought it up a few minutes ago...the food is still steaming." She grinned when the younger woman blushed again.

"Oh, God...she was in here when we were asleep?" Amanda stuttered.

The older woman winked at her. "Yep. And now she probably realizes that I didn't need any extra blankets last night." Ooh...bad, Lexington, very bad. But she's just so damn cute when she blushes!

To her surprise, the blonde grinned. "That's funny...neither did I." She crawled over to Lex, wrapping her arms around the older woman's neck. "Good morning." Amanda whispered, leaning in and planting a sensuous kiss on Lex's mouth.

The rancher moaned and deepened the kiss almost instantly. Lex put her hands on the small of Amanda's back, pulling her closer, melding their bodies together.

Amanda leaned into the taller woman, burying her hands in the thick dark hair. She gasped when Lex finally broke away, her heart pounding so hard she just knew the dark woman could hear it.

"Goo..." Lex had to clear her throat before she could continue. "Good morning." She pulled back a small bit. "Certainly makes waking up worthwhile."

Amanda giggled, then leaned forward until her forehead was on Lex's chest. "Oh yeah...I think I've just become a morning person."

Lex chuckled, and pulled the smaller woman close. Nibbling the nearest ear, she whispered suggestively, "I'm more of a night person, myself." She felt Amanda tremble. "You cold?" she teased, squeezing the small body a little tighter.

"Umm..." the blonde stammered," a matter of fact, I'm pretty darn warm right now." She tilted her head back, as the older woman worked her way down the slim neck. "Ahh...oh..." she couldn't seem to put together a coherent thought, with Lex taking tender bites of her throat. "Oh, God..." she whispered, running her hands down the strong back. Amanda found that she couldn't sit up any longer, so she fell back gracelessly to the bed.

Lex followed her, never giving up on her quest to know every inch of the young blonde's throat. "So sweet..." she mumbled, then turned on her side to get more comfortable. The tall woman's ribs complained, and she let out a pained gasp.

Amanda pushed her back to get a look at her companion's face. "Lex? What's the matter?" she could see the pain in those blue depths, and she grasped the paled face with gentle hands.

Lex felt herself guided onto her back against the bed. "Sorry...guess I turned wrong or something." She mumbled, "Just give me a minute to catch my breath." Closing her eyes, she concentrated on trying to will the pain away.

Brushing her hands slowly across the strained face, Amanda leaned down and kissed Lex on the forehead. "Shh...just lie still for a little while. Let me go get Martha." She started to get off of the bed, but found her arm grasped.

"No." The barely heard plea slipped through Lex's lips before she could stop it. "Stay." She muttered. "Please." So faint, the younger woman sensed it more than heard it.

"Okay, I'll stay." Amanda positioned herself with Lex's head in her lap, gently stroking the older woman's face and running her hands through the dark hair. "Shh..." she continued her soothing motions, trying to keep the rancher calm.

A quiet knock at the door made Amanda look up. "Come in." she offered quietly. Lex's eyes were closed, and she finally had a peaceful look on her face.

Martha came into the room slowly, apprehensive as to what she would find. Hope I'm not interrupting anything. "What's going on, sweetheart?" She saw the look on the young blonde's face, and Lex apparently asleep in her lap. "How's Lexie this morning?" She looks pale... The housekeeper walked over to the bed, and could now see tears forming in the young woman's eyes.

"Umm...she was doing pretty good earlier." She flushed at the double meaning. "I mean, she was feeling better than she was last night." Amanda looked down at the still face in her lap.

Martha sat gently on the edge of the bed, placing a light hand under Amanda's chin, forcing the younger woman to look at her. "And...?"

Amanda looked into those caring brown eyes, her own tears threatening to spill. "We were...uh...just..."she bit her lower lip, "she turned wrong, and I think her ribs moved, or something." Her hands kept up their gentle tracing, although they were shaking somewhat.

"Oh honey..." the older woman wiped a stray tear from Amanda's cheek. "Everything's going to be just fine." She looked down at Lex, who now looked completely relaxed in sleep. "Darn fool kid..." Martha smiled. "Why don't you come downstairs with me, and we'll let Lexie get some rest?"

"No, I can't." Amanda shook her head. "I promised her I would stay with her, and I don't want Lex to wake up alone."

Martha was about to argue with her, when she heard the phone downstairs ringing. She reached over to the bedside table and plucked the cordless phone off of the base. "Walter's residence, Martha speaking." She listened for a moment, and her face lost some of its color.

Amanda reached a hand over and touched her lightly on the arm. "Martha?"

The housekeeper shook her head, still listening. "Are you sure, Charlie?" her voice was strong, but she sounded a little nervous. "No, I appreciate you calling. I'll let Lexie know." She listened for a minute or so more, and took a deep breath. "Yes, we'll be just fine. The boys should be back by late this evening, hopefully." Martha looked down at the sleeping rancher's peaceful face. "Yes, we will, Charlie. Thank you." She hung up the phone with a shaky hand.

"What was that all about, Martha?" Amanda noticed the slight tremble to the older woman's actions. "Was that the sheriff?" she gave the chubby arm a gentle squeeze.

"Yes sweetheart, that was Sheriff Bristol. He wanted us to know that they haven't been able to find those thieves yet...they lost their trail earlier this morning." She looked down again at Lex.

Amanda's brows knit in confusion. "Well, that's rotten luck and all, but why do you look so upset? I mean, he's going to keep looking, isn't he? And they weren't able to get away with anything, right?"

Martha swallowed hard. "The last trail they found was headed in the direction of the ranch house." Her voice shook a little bit. "And, unfortunately, there's been a big ruckus in town, and Charlie had to send some of his men he and one deputy are the only ones still searching."

"But..." Amanda shook her head, "These men have guns, and they're running around loose!" She stopped a moment, when a thought suddenly occurred to her. "What if they realized that Lex was the one who sabotaged their truck? Do you think they would be stupid enough to come up here?"

"I don't know, honey. That's why Charlie wanted me to tell Lexie...he said she's more capable of defending this house than most of his deputies are." Martha gave her a rueful grin. "He tried for several years to get Lexie to join his department...said she was stronger, smarter, and a heck of a lot better shot than those college boys that work for him." She reached down and brushed the tangled bangs from the sleeping woman's face. "Let's let her get some rest, and I'll tell her about Charlie's phone call when she wakes up." She was about to stand up when the ominous rumble of thunder caught her attention. "That's just dandy. Just what we need, more rain!" Martha stood up and then spotted the untouched tray. "Ahem." She mock glared at Amanda. "Honey, next time you two get involved in something, eat your breakfast first."

The younger woman closed her eyes in embarrassment. "Oh, God...."

Martha walked to the doorway, then turned back. "Might as well get started on it...breakfast, I mean. You can feed Lexie when she wakes up." She grinned, and sauntered out the door.

Amanda scowled down at the sleeping rancher. "You are in so much trouble when you wake up!" she kissed Lex softly on the lips, then eased out from under her. "She's not going to let us live this one down, and you made me face her alone." She whispered in Lex's ear, as she covered the injured woman with a blanket. "And I think we're about to run into some more trouble, so you had better get to feeling better, pronto!"

Another deep chord of thunder rattled the windows, punctuating her observation.

To be continued in part 4


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