For disclaimers, see part one.



Destiny's Bridge

Part IV

By Carrie Carr


Chapter 7

Martha spent the remainder of the morning busying herself with housework, smiling from time to time over her parting shot when leaving the master bedroom. She had just finished dusting the sitting room, and was making her way back towards the kitchen, chuckling to herself. Oh, the look on Amanda's face...absolutely priceless! I really should be ashamed of myself! She was almost back to the kitchen when there was a knock on the back door. Now who could that be? The housekeeper grabbed the nearest weapon, in this case a mop out of the utility room, and went to the back door, peeking through the curtains that covered the small glass windows in the door. Ah. "Charlie! Get yourself in here before you catch your death!" she swung open the door, pulling the tall man inside.

"Thanks, Martha...I just wanted to stop by and give you a report..." he removed his drenched hat, shaking it outside before closing the door, then followed the heavyset woman into the kitchen.

She placed the mop in a corner, daring him to say anything. "Let me fix you something to eat," as she bustled towards the stove.

Charlie Bristol had been coming out to the ranch long enough to know when to keep his mouth shut. "That would be great, Martha.Thanks." He took off his coat, sat his hat in a nearby chair, and then dropped down into a seat. "'s been a long night. Did Lex make it back okay?"

Martha began cooking, turning ever so often to talk. "I guess you could say that. She got shot, but it just grazed her side...She's upstairs now sleeping." She tried to sound nonchalant, but the lawman could hear the tremble in her voice.

Charlie got up from his seat and walked over to the stove, gently wrapping his arms around the trembling woman. "'s okay, sweetheart. Let it out..." he whispered in her ear.

Martha spun around, tucking her head into the tall man's chest, sobbing quietly. "Damn it, Charlie...I could have lost her!" she felt his arms wrap tightly around her, as she let days of stress break free.

The quiet lawman just stood there, loaning his strength to a woman who rarely needed any. She's the strongest woman I know...yet she lets only me see this side of her. God, I want to take care of her for the rest of our lives. He bent his head down, placing a tender kiss on her graying head. "I know, honey...she'll be fine. Our Lex can handle just about anything." Oops...that kinda slipped out. He always thought of the young rancher as his adopted daughter, and he knew she was the child Martha never had. Oh well... not like she doesn't know how I feel, right?

Martha enjoyed the embrace for a few more moments then stepped back, wiping her eyes with the edge of her apron. "Thanks Charlie...I guess I musta needed that." She gave him a light kiss on the chin, then turned back to her cooking. "So...any luck in finding those thieves? We had to practically sit on Lexie to keep her home last night."

Charlie moved back to the table and sat down. "Not really. Seems they broke up into two different groups, and went in opposite directions. Joseph went after one group, and I'm looking for the other." He waited until Martha turned around to face him. "One group may be coming this way...that's why I'm here." Spoken quietly, not wanting to upset the woman he loved.

"I was a little afraid of something like that. Amanda told me what Lexie had done to them...they'd have to be totally stupid not to figure out who did it." She carried a plate of food over to the table and sat it down in front of the sheriff. "Do you think they'd really come after her?" She grabbed the carafe of coffee and brought it to the table, along with two mugs.

"I'm not sure...part of me thinks they'll just try to get transportation out of here...but I don't think they know that the bridge is out." He began dutifully spearing the food, speaking in between bites. "What bothers me most is the fact that they are so good at hiding...they could be right outside and I may never find them." He was one of the best trackers in the area. As a teenager, Charlie would hire himself out to out-of-town hunters, making his spare money helping them find game, instead of working at the local Dairy Queen or lumber yard, like some of his friends. And for these thieves to have the skill to elude him, it made him justifiably nervous.

Martha sat down, looking into her coffee mug. "I'm afraid." She whispered.

"Honey, I'm not gonna rest until I catch these bastards! And you can take that to the bank!" he reached over and grasped her hand. "No matter how long it takes...I will not let them hurt you!"

The housekeeper looked at him with sad eyes. "I'm not afraid for me, but for Lexie. She's so stubborn...I don't want anything to happen to her. This week has nearly killed me!" There...I finally got it out... I don't know how much more I can take.

"This week? What else has happened, Martha?" he asked, forgetting his food and scooting his chair closer to hers.

Martha sighed. "Friday night, she was down by the creek checking the fence, when she saw a car get washed from the bridge...damn fool child could have drowned, jumping in like she did." She smiled. "But she did bring us a blessing in disguise..." Not expected, but certainly welcome.

"Good God! I thought you raised her with more brains than that! I knew that the bridge was washed out, but..." Charlie squeezed the hand in his. "What kind of blessing are you talking about? Who did she pull from the creek?"

"You know Jacob and Anna Leigh Cauble, right? Well, their grand-daughter Amanda was in the car that was knocked into the creek...she's such a sweet girl, too."

Charlie knew that look. Uh-oh...she's got that Martha Matchmaker face on again... "Really? I've never met her, but old Jacob talks about her all the time, and she sounds like a wonderful person." Tread lightly, Charles...don't want to encourage her too much...she was so disappointed after that 'Linda' thing a few years back. "Is she still here?"

"Oh yes...she's upstairs right now, taking care of Lexie." She smiled fondly.

The sheriff's eyebrows rose at that statement. "Taking care of Lex? You've got to be kidding me! We are talking about the same person, right? Tall, dark, and brooding? The Lex I know wouldn't allow that!" he laughed.

Martha squeezed his hand again. "You'd be surprised what Lexie has allowed that young thing to do... she even lets her win arguments! I never thought I'd see the day when that would happen!" she laughed, then got serious again. "I just hope Lexie will stay in bed for a day or so, to get her strength back...she's been so tired lately, and this last little adventure has about worn her out."

"I don't know if that will be possible, Martha. If my suspicions are right, half of that group of thieves could be on their way to the house as we speak...and they could be looking for trouble." He said, looking her directly in the eye.

"They're headed here? Are you going to leave us some protection?" A voice from the kitchen door asked.

Both people at the table looked up. A young blonde woman was standing in the doorway, looking somewhat disheveled in the maroon oversized sweats she was wearing, with a very concerned look on her face. She walked into the room and sat down at the table next to Martha.

"Amanda honey, what are you doing downstairs?" Martha asked, getting up to grab another coffee cup from the cabinet.

The young woman smiled. "I can't stay long, I just came downstairs to get Lex something to eat." She gave the housekeeper a sneaky grin. "I made her promise to stay in bed today." She blushed slightly, remembering what the rancher had told her. 'Only if you keep me company...I tend to get bored, otherwise.' This had been said with a diabolical smile, which had sent shivers of excitement up and down Amanda's spine.

Charlie had looked at the young woman with a tired smile. "Miss Cauble, I really wish I could stay here and personally guarantee your safety, but the truth is I can't even justify keeping a man on this case."

"Please, call me Amanda." She looked at him closely. "And who says you can't stay on the case?" she looked somewhat confused.

The sheriff shook his head sadly. "City politics, Miss..." he saw her frown and amended, "Amanda. The county commissioners don't much care for Lex...she really hacked them off a few years ago, and the bast...err...excuse me, old coots haven't gotten over it yet."

Amanda was shocked. "And, because of their hurt feelings, they won't allow you to help? That's absolutely ridiculous!" she slapped her hand down hard on the table.

Martha stopped working on the tray for Lex and walked over to stand behind the upset young woman. "Yes, it is, sweetheart." She looked at the lawman. "Charlie, don't lose your job over this...I'm sure Lexie can handle things just fine."

He smiled. "It just so happens my vacation starts today. And Joseph just happened to get 'sick' last night. He said he owed Lex a favor, and he'll keep looking for as long as he needs to." He stood up, picking his hat off of the extra chair. "Martha, if you wouldn't mind, we'll keep in touch with you on the radio - channel six."

The housekeeper handed the sheriff two thermos's full of coffee. "I'll carry the portable with me. Now you be careful out there...we've got a date next Saturday night, and I hate to be stood up!" she gave him a gentle kiss on the cheek.

Charlie blushed, but smiled. "You know I'd never stand you up, sweetheart." He gestured with a thermos. "Thanks for the coffee...I'll keep in touch." The lawman stepped out of the kitchen with a happy grin on his face.

Martha looked over at Amanda, who was smiling knowingly. "Now don't you look at me like that - we've been friends for years!" she shook a pudgy finger at the now giggling blonde.

Amanda covered her mouth with her hand. "I didn't say a word." She shook her head solemnly. The housekeeper walked over and swatted her on the arm, then turned around and moved back towards the counter. "Hey! It's not my fault your boyfriend is so cute." She giggled again when Martha actually blushed. Heh. Paybacks!

The housekeeper rolled her eyes. "I guess I deserved that." She finished her work on the breakfast tray. "How is Lexie feeling?" Martha opened the refrigerator and poured a glass of orange juice.

"Much better, I think. She's only running a slight fever this afternoon, and her coloring is almost back to normal." Amanda stood up and checked out the tray. "Fruit wedges? Can you actually get her to eat something that's good for her?"

Martha shook her head. "Not usually, but you tell her she had better finish every bite, or I'll come upstairs and feed it to her personally!" she handed the tray to the younger woman and turned her towards the doorway. "Good luck, honey. You're gonna need it!" she laughed, as Amanda left the kitchen.


Lex was standing in the bathroom, her nightshirt unbuttoned and opened. She was turned to one side, her right side an easy view in the bathroom mirror. The dark woman had removed the elastic bandage from her body, and was now gingerly trying to peel the tape covering the wound. "Ah...damn! When will someone invent tape that can be taken off without ripping all your hide off in the process?" grumbling, she continued to slowly pull the tape from her skin, wincing with every tug.


Lex jumped, spinning her head towards the open doorway. "Oh. Hi." She smiled guiltily at the small blonde standing in the doorway, hands on hips with one foot tapping impatiently.

"What do you think you're doing?" Amanda frowned at Lex, pursing her lips.

"Um...well, I had to go to the bathroom." As if that explained what she was doing.

The younger woman scowled, stepping into the room. "And you had to unwrap your ribs to do that?" she stood directly in front of the rancher, looking up into somewhat embarrassed blue eyes.

"No." A sarcastic rolling of those same eyes. "But my side was aching a little bit, so I thought I'd change the bandage."

Amanda pulled the shirt aside and glanced at the gauze taped over the wound. ""Okay...but the bandage is still on. Do you need some help reaching it?" she ran a light hand over the area in question, then looked back up at the rancher.

"Uh, sure." Lex gave her a sheepish grin. "I was having some trouble removing the tape."

The smaller woman knelt down, so that she was at eye level to Lex's waist. "Hold this." She pulled the shirt back, handing the edge to the older woman. Placing one hand on the rancher's hip for balance, she began to gently pull the tape back. "Hold still." She admonished the flinching woman.

"Ow!" Lex jumped again. "I'm not gonna have any skin left at this rate!" she hissed.

The young woman looked up at her and laughed. "Broken ribs don't bother you... gunshot wounds don't slow you down..." she shook her blonde head. "But putting medicine or bandages on..." she patted the flat stomach softly, "You are such a big baby." Pausing, she placed a gentle kiss on the bare abdomen. "I really like that." She stood up, the tape forgotten. "I really like you." She wrapped her arms around Lex's neck, slowly pulling her head down. She gave the rancher a sweet gentle kiss, trying to show what her heart desperately wanted to say.

Lex accepted the kiss, and the feelings that went along with it. She pulled back slightly, noticing the sparkle of emotion on Amanda's face - emotions that were reflecting how she was feeling too. "Yeah?" barely spoken. "I really like you, too." She leaned down and captured soft lips again, prolonging the contact until they both broke away, breathless.

Amanda leaned into the strong chest, taking a deep breath. "Whew...okay. Let's get you taken care of, and then I'll serve you lunch in bed." She dropped back to her knees, reaching for the tape again. "And if you're a really good girl, I'll tuck you in." She started pulling on the tape, feeling Lex tense up. "'ll be over soon, I promise." She removed the tape, and slowly tried to pull the gauze away from the wound. "Ouch." She whispered, noticing that the gauze was stuck to the wound. "Oh, Lex...looks like it bled quite a lot." Amanda looked up, and saw the pain in the tall woman's eyes. "I don't think I can get this off without hurting you more."

Taking a deep breath, the older woman closed her eyes. "Yeah, I know." She leaned up against the counter. "I need to clean up anyway...let me just get into the shower."

The younger woman stood up and placed a hand on her arm. "I've got a better idea. Why don't you let me run you a nice warm bath? Kinda soak for a while and rest?"

Lex opened her eyes slowly. "That sounds like a great idea." She rubbed her eyes. "I'm still pretty beat."

Amanda ran her hand across the strong jaw gently. "I can tell. Why don't you go sit down for a minute, and I'll start the water." She pulled Lex slowly into the bedroom, guiding her to the edge of the bed. "Be right back." Amanda kissed the dark head, and disappeared into the bathroom again.


Amanda stood on the balcony, leaning on the railing and enjoying the break in the rainfall. Heavy clouds still filled the late-afternoon sky, but the lightning had stopped, and there was only an occasional rumble of thunder shattering the still silence.

Lex had been sleeping for several hours after Amanda had managed to wake her and get the still-tired woman out of the tub.

Amanda had stepped into the bathroom over an hour after the older woman had begun soaking in the tub. She had become concerned when Lex had been in there so long, without so much as a peep from her. When she saw the rancher sound asleep among the bubbles, she couldn't help but smile. Just like Sleeping Beauty...she marveled, as she stepped to the side of the tub. Well, it worked for Prince Charming. The small blonde leaned over and placed a gentle kiss on the lips of the sleeping woman, who almost slipped under the water in surprise.


They had a brief argument over the re-bandaging of Lex's wound (which Amanda had won), and then the young blonde had forced the rancher to take some medication that Martha had brought upstairs to combat infection. The housekeeper and the smaller woman had made a good team, practically browbeating poor Lex into submission. They got the injured woman settled, and Martha left soon after Lex fell back asleep - admonishing the young blonde to get some rest as well.

But Amanda was too full of energy to sleep, so she called her grandmother to assure the older woman that she was doing fine.

"Hello." Anna Leigh's soft but strong voice answered the phone.

"Gramma? How are you? How's Grandpa?" Amanda felt tears burn her eyes for no reason.

The older woman chuckled. "We're fine, are you? I was a little concerned when we didn't hear from you last night, but Jacob said that you were probably worn out from your horseback ride."

Amanda choked back a sob. "It was a long day, that's for sure." She sniffed, trying to get her emotions under control.

Anna Leigh heard the soft sound, and became instantly alert. "What happened? You and Lexington didn't have a fight, did you? I know she can be a little abrupt sometimes, but she really is a dear girl."

"No, no...nothing like that. We just ran into some trouble when we were out riding yesterday. We stumbled onto some thieves, and..." Here, she lost it. Amanda began crying uncontrollably, scaring the older woman half to death.

"Mandy honey...calm down." She paused, gathering her thoughts. "That does it. We're driving out there right now, I don't care if I have to swim across that damnable creek!" Anna Leigh raised her voice, something that Amanda had not ever heard before.

"NO!" Amanda said sharply, then softened her tone. "No, Gramma, I'm okay. It's just been a bad week, that's all. And with Lex getting hurt like that, I guess I'm just a little on edge."

"Hurt? Was she thrown from her horse or something?" Anna Leigh guessed.

"" Amanda hedged, knowing her grandmother would probably lose it for sure if she knew what had happened. But she had never lied to the older woman, and was not about to start now. "She was shot." Then she added, "But it only grazed her - it's just that her ribs are acting up, and..." she didn't get any farther.

"SHOT?!?" Anna Leigh practically yelled through the phone, "Are you okay, sweetheart? Dear God, is she okay? Do we need to send a doctor out there?" She stopped her questions when the phone was taken away from her.

"Peanut? What's going on? Your grandmother is white as a sheet. Are you okay? Did I hear her correctly, was someone shot?" Jacob Cauble's deep voice took over the phone, causing a wave of relief to wash over the young woman.

"Grandpa?" Amanda felt her anxiety drop away immediately. "I'm fine. Lex got a little hurt, but she's okay now."

Jacob sighed. "A little hurt? If she was shot, that's more than a little hurt, Peanut. Do you want to talk about it?"

Amanda ran her hand through her hair. "Yeah, actually I would. Got a few minutes? Maybe get Gramma on the other phone?" she had to talk to someone about this...her emotions were too strong.

"Sweetheart, we have all the time in the world for you..." Anna Leigh spoke from the other phone. "Talk to us."

Amanda wiped the tears from her eyes, and told her grandparents everything. The wonderful ride, finding the thieves, the frightening ride back to the clearing after she had alerted Martha and the sheriff, the hiding in the thick bushes waiting for Lex to return. And finally, she told them of her feelings when she found that the older woman had been shot, and of the fear she had of losing something that was quickly becoming quite special.

Jacob and Anna Leigh had been very supportive, talking the young woman through her bouts of tears and laughter. She told of meeting Sheriff Bristol, and of her finally being able to catch the unflappable Martha off guard. And she told them how deep her feelings were becoming for the dark rancher, and of her hopes for a long-term relationship with the tall woman.

Amanda was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she didn't hear when another person joined her on the balcony. Strong arms wrapped themselves around her waist as large hands rested lightly on her stomach.

"Penny for your thoughts." A deep voice whispered in her ear, with gentle lips nipping at the soft lobe.

"Mmmm..." she leaned back into the warm body behind her, covering the hands on her abdomen with her own. "Just daydreaming."

"About anything in particular?" Lex whispered, nibbling a path down the smooth neck.

Amanda leaned her head to one side, giving the dark woman better access. "Uh..." her knees were beginning to weaken. "Hmmm?" she turned around, wrapping her arms around the tall woman's neck.

Lex took this opportunity to blaze a fiery trail down the younger woman's throat, feeling small hands clench in her hair. The body that she was holding trembled. "Cold?" she murmured, a slight smile on her face as she continued her assault.

"" Amanda breathed. "It just...ahhh..." she released a deep breath. "C...can we take this inside? I seem to be having trouble standing."

Lex halted her exploration of the soft throat under her lips, leaning back just enough to look into slightly glazed green eyes. "Really?" she gave the young woman a sexy smile. "Think you're coming down with something?"

"Could be." Amanda unlocked her hands from the silky dark hair and grasped the large hands that were settled on her waist. "Maybe you should tuck me into bed." She pulled the older woman back inside.

Lex followed, her legs feeling suddenly weak. Must be contagious. "Sounds serious." She whispered, trying the keep the playful banter alive, allowing the young blonde to seat her on the edge of the bed.

Amanda slowly unbuttoned Lex's nightshirt, pushing the rancher gently onto her back. "Oh, yeah...I'm going to need lots of special attention..." she pulled her own shirt off. "Think you can handle it?" She watched as the blue eyes darkened. "Let me demonstrate." Amanda leaned down, covering the mouth under hers with a searing kiss.

When they finally broke apart, Lex pulled in a shuddering breath. "Let me see what I can do." She murmured, letting her hands explore the supple young body with tender caresses. Taking special care, she slid her callused hands across the dips and curves, mapping out her intentions with gentle desire.

Amanda felt a burning fire course through her veins as the older woman memorized her body by touch, stopping at different points to leave a heated kiss, or a gentle nip. was never like this before, which was her last conscious thought before she rode out a wave of ecstasy, as bright lights assaulted her closed eyelids.


Much later, Amanda awoke with a strong body wrapped around hers. A dark head was pillowed on her stomach, and two long arms were stretched protectively across her body. She unconsciously ran a hand though the disheveled dark hair, while her other hand was softly clasped around a tan arm. I don't know what got into me...but I don't think Lex is going to complain. She smiled in remembrance. So intense...but I don't think I've ever felt so...loved before. She sighed. That's what this is, I think...Looking down fondly at the sleeping woman in her arms. No...I know that's what this is...She felt a strong surge of emotion hit her deeply. I wonder how Lex feels about it?

The object of her affection stirred, tightening her hold slightly. Lex nuzzled the smooth skin under her cheek, opening one blue eye and focusing on the shining green eyes above her. She reached up with one hand to wipe the single tear that trickled down Amanda's cheek. "What's wrong?" she asked, attempting to sit up.

The young woman held her down gently with an arm. "Nothing...I'm just being stupid." She sniffed, trying to get her roiling emotions under control.

Lex kissed the flat abdomen. "Are you regretting..." her voice broke.

"Oh God, no!!" Amanda guided the rancher's face upward until they were inches apart. Placing a trembling kiss on Lex's lips, she whispered, "No regrets - I'm just a little overwhelmed." Another gentle kiss. "Okay, a lot overwhelmed. I've never felt anything like this before." She touched her forehead to Lex's.

The older woman smiled, tears forming in her eyes as well. "I never thought I'd feel anything like this...ever." She swallowed hard, bringing a large hand to cup Amanda's cheek, wiping away another stray tear with her thumb. "I..." she paused, trying to find words to express the incredible feelings coursing through her body. Unable to find any, Lex gave Amanda a soft kiss, who promptly deepened it,understanding the unspoken words and adding her own.

Their bodies were able to articulate what their voices couldn't. Amanda pulled back far enough to gaze into blue eyes, which had deepened almost to indigo. Swearing that she could see directly into the other woman's soul, Amanda matched her intensity, eyes sparkling with unshed tears. "I love you." Three words, spoken so softly, she barely heard them leave her mouth.

But Lex heard them. Her eyes widened and she stopped breathing. Then those blue eyes closed, silent tears tracking over her chiseled features. She opened her mouth to speak, but was unable to utter a sound. Finally taking a large gulp of air, Lex opened her eyes again.

Amanda placed concerned hands on the older woman's face, searching her eyes intently. "Lex?" she whispered, her heart aching. "Honey, what's the matter?" the young woman used her thumbs to brush the tears from Lex's face. "Please, talk to me." She could feel the rancher beginning to tremble, still not able to speak.

Lex pulled Amanda tightly to her, burying her face in the tangled blonde hair. "No one has ever said that to me before." She rasped, her throat thick with emotion. "And," she pulled back until she could look the smaller woman directly in the eyes, "Just so there's not confusion..." she placed a soft kiss on Amanda's lips, "I love you, too." She pulled the smaller woman into her arms, and then rolled over to lean back against the headboard.

Amanda snuggled happily into the strong arms, content to just sit and absorb the warm feeling that was bubbling up between the two of them. Even the now loud rumbling of thunder couldn't ruin the euphoria that she was feeling. She felt a soft kiss on the top of her head, and the arms holding her tightened.

"I hate to disturb you," the familiar deep voice rumbled in her ear, "But if we don't get downstairs pretty soon, Martha's gonna come looking for us."

The small blonde took a small bite out of the conveniently located nearby shoulder. "And this would be a bad thing?" She nibbled her way over to the tan throat. "Would it bother you - her seeing us like this?"

Lex laughed, "Hell, no! I just didn't want you to get embarrassed, that's all."

"Well, I don't think she's going to pick on me much, at least for a little while anyway. We sorta called a truce this morning." Amanda smiled under the dark woman's chin.

Lex pulled the young woman's chin up, so she could see her eyes. "Truce? Did you two have an argument?" she asked, concerned. Please, no...I thought they liked each other.

"No...nothing like that." An impish grin, "I caught her in the kitchen with her boyfriend."

Lex laughed. "Charlie was here?"

"Yeah, early this morning." Amanda went on to explain everything that he had told Martha and her, and how he refused to stop looking until the thieves were caught.

The rancher released a heavy sigh. "Damn, I was afraid of something like that." She kissed the top of Amanda's head. "C'mon...let's get cleaned up and go downstairs. I'm starving."

Amanda climbed off of Lex with a regretful sigh. "And I thought that noise was thunder - I didn't know it was your stomach growling." She smirked at the older woman, "Wanna conserve some water?" she held her hand out to Lex, who took it immediately.

"Sure." Lex allowed the smaller woman to pull her off of the bed and lead her into the bathroom. "Although I don't know how much we'll conserve. This could take a while." She laughed, following the cute blonde.


Martha was standing at the kitchen window, staring silently out at the darkened sky. Amanda was about to call out a greeting when Lex covered her mouth with a large hand. Giving the younger woman a devilish grin, the rancher snuck up behind the housekeeper, wrapping her arms around the ample waist.

"Evenin' Martha!" she boomed, squeezing her quarry tight.

"Aaaarrgghh!" the older woman screamed, then spun around quickly. "Blast it!" she slapped the taller woman on the arm, "I swear I'm going to keel over dead one of these days!"

Amanda stood a few steps behind Lex, bent over laughing. "Good one, Lex!" she finally stopped long enough to catch her breath.

The housekeeper glared at the young blonde. "You know," she said, hands on her hips, "I can get my spoon after you too!" She swatted Lex on the rear. "And you..." she pushed the tall woman towards the table, "sit down and I'll get you something to eat." Noticing that they both had damp hair, she let a wicked smile cross her face. "You too, Amanda..." then making sure she could see their faces added, "I'm sure you both worked up quite an appetite." She enjoyed the very dark blush that graced both younger women's faces. Heh - teach them to mess with me.

Lex looked up and smiled, her blush fading. "As a matter of fact..." she raised an eyebrow at Martha, "better give me double helpings..." she winked at Amanda, who just covered her face with her hands. "Right, Amanda?"

The young blonde uncovered her face and stuck her tongue out at the rancher. "I'll get you for that!"

"I certainly hope so!" Lex gave her a sexy smile. "I'll be looking forward to it."

Martha walked up to the table and lightly slapped the dark head. "Behave yourself, Lexie." She then gently ran her hand through the damp hair. "You look like you're feeling better, sweetheart."

"I am, Martha. Guess all that sleep did the trick. I feel almost as good as new." She leaned back into the caress, guiltily enjoying the attention. "And I had a really good nurse." She smiled tenderly at Amanda.

The housekeeper softly touched Lex's forehead, relieved to find it cool. "How's your side? Do you want me to change the bandage?"

Shaking her head, Lex captured the small hand and squeezed it. "It's great. Amanda took care of it earlier."

The older woman looked over at Amanda, who nodded. "Yep. It had bled quite a bit during the night, but other than that it looked pretty good." She gave an impish smile. "I just rebandaged it a few minutes ago...seems to be healing just fine."

Lex reached across the table and grabbed a small hand. "Must be all the good care I've been getting."

"How's your ribs?" Martha asked, setting the platters of food on the table, then sitting down to join the younger women.

"Good as new." Lex said, then looked up when a loud crash of thunder rumbled outside.

Martha laughed. "Teach you to try and fib to me!"

Lex moaned. "Yeah, right." Then she turned serious. "Not to try and change the subject, but have you heard anything else from Charlie?"

The housekeeper gave her a grim look. "He radioed in a couple of hours ago - no luck so far, but a couple of deputies rode in by horseback, and they were going to take over while he and Joseph went up to the bunkhouse for a rest."

"Good. I didn't want him to stay out there indefinitely - he's begging for pneumonia as it is." Lex frowned. "Any word on how the work on the bridge is coming along? Have you heard from the boys?" She started eating, not realizing just how hungry she was until the first bite.

Martha shook her head. "They called right after lunch, and said that the bridge should be finished by sometime tomorrow." She looked at Amanda. "I'm sure Lexie will give you a ride back into town."

Amanda looked up from her plate, a surprised look on her face. She saw the mischievous grin on the housekeeper's face and smiled. "Well, I really do need to check on my grandparents." She saw Lex's face fall. "But, I'd like to just go and pick up some clothes and things, and come back here to help out - at least until someone is completely healed." She smiled at Lex, who gave her a relieved look.

The rancher picked up her glass of ice tea, trying to look nonchalant. God, that scared me... I was afraid that she was going to leave me as soon as she was able to. She lifted the glass to her lips. "You don't have to work know you're welcome to stay as long as you want."

"I know, it's just that..." Amanda paused, seeing the glass shake slightly in the dark-haired woman's hand. Why is her hand trembling like that? She looked into Lex's eyes, seeing a thinly veiled fear in those deep blue depths. She thought I'd leave? After today? The blonde felt a sharp jab of pain in her chest with this realization. We're going to have a nice long chat later, my friend.

"Amanda?" Lex called her out of her reverie. "You with us?"

Amanda blinked, then shook her head. "Uh, yeah...sorry about that." She stood up, taking her now empty plate to the sink. "I need to go call my grandmother, if that's okay with you." She looked at Lex, whose face was impassive.

"Sure, go ahead. I was going to go down and check on the horses." Lex stood up as well, placing her hand on the empty chair back.

The blonde woman crossed the kitchen, placing her hand on Lex's. "Martha and I fed them this morning, so they should be okay." She pulled the large hand to her lips, kissing it softly. "Don't be gone too long, alright?"

Lex finally allowed a smile to cross her face. "Right. Give your grandparents my best." She gave the small hand a gentle squeeze, then made her way to the door. "Martha, lock the door behind me just in case, okay?"

The housekeeper was running water into the sink. "Amanda, honey, could you do that for me? I've already gotten my hands stuck in this dishwater." She gave them both an innocent look.

Amanda walked over and placed a light kiss on the round cheek. "Okay... but I think you should work on your subtlety." She laughed, and followed Lex out of the kitchen.

They walked silently down the hallway hand in hand, until they reached the back door. "Do you need any help? I could wait to call my grandmother." Amanda watched as Lex put on her heavy duster and placed the battered black cowboy hat on her head. "Do you ever leave the house without that hat?" She reached up and pushed it back off of the dark woman's head, getting a smile in response.

"Well, actually no - I don't. Guess it's like my security blanket. My dad gave it to me right before he left." Lex paused, thinking. "Makes me feel like he's here with me, watching."

Amanda began to button the coat closed. "How long has it been since you've spoken to him?" she looked up and saw a fleeting sadness in Lex's eyes.

The rancher took a deep breath, then released it slowly. "'Bout a year, I guess. He called asking for some money, said the circuit was pretty tough." She let her gaze turn inward for a long moment. "Haven't heard from him since, so I guess things are going better for him." She shook her head. "Anyway, guess I'd better go check on the horses." She pulled the younger woman into her arms. "See you in a little bit." Leaning down, Lex slowly captured Amanda's lips, feeling small arms wrap tightly around her neck.

"Hurry back." Amanda whispered when they finally broke apart. Thunder interrupted her, followed by a nearby flash of lightning. "Be careful." She ran a loving hand across a strong jaw.

Lex leaned into the caress, closing her eyes. She took a shuddering breath then looked down into green pools of light that were Amanda's eyes. "I love you." Saw those eyes sparkle, and a smile covered the blonde's face.

"I love you too." Amanda stood up on her tiptoes and placed a very soft kiss on the tall woman's lips. She deepened the kiss, pouring her heart and soul into the connection.

Lex opened the door, and stepped out. Turning she said, "I've got a key, so go ahead and lock the door." She started down the steps. "I'll be back in about an hour or so...just want to look around."

Amanda stood at the open doorway, a sweet smile on her face. "Don't be too long, or I'll come out after you." She winked at the older woman. "I know of several better activities than messing around with a bunch of horses."

Lex bit her bottom lip. "Hmmm...hold that thought. I may have a surprise for you later." She grinned, and started towards the barn.


Lex had made a short check of the horses, then moved quickly into the maintenance barn. The little Mustang was still sitting there, waiting patiently. She slipped off her coat and hat, and stepped into the greasy coveralls that she had left hanging by the door.

An hour later, Lex was certain the little car suffered no serious damage due to the flood. She put a couple of gallons of gas in the tank, and then sat down in the drivers' seat to turn the key. The engine grumbled, then finally sputtered to life. "YES!!!" she yelled outloud, pumping a hand into the air in triumph. Leaving the engine running, Lex walked over to the telephone that was hanging on the wall.

Two rings later, Martha answered. "Walters' residence, Martha speaking."

Feeling mischievous, Lex lowered her voice to a rumbling growl. "Hey, sound hot. Whatcha wearing?" she covered up the mouthpiece, trying to control her laughter.

" sound absolutely marvelous. What are you wearing?" the housekeeper countered, recognizing the voice immediately.

Lex lost it. Laughing hard, she replied, "Greasy overalls, sweetie..."

Martha laughed as well. "Hmm...a little too kinky for me, I think...but let me ask my friend in the other room - I think she's into nutcases like you!"

"Wait!" Lex yelled. "Don't get Amanda, just yet. I need you to do me a favor." She used her best pleading voice on the phone. "Ask her to stand at the window in the sitting room, looking out the front. I want to show her something."

Martha chuckled. "Got it running, did you?" She knew how much the young blonde treasured the classic car. "She's going to fall to pieces, you realize that, right?"

Lex smiled. "That's okay...I'll pick them up." She began stripping the coveralls off, using one hand. "I should be up there in about 5 minutes, okay?"

"Okay, sweetheart...I'll make sure she's ready." Martha hung up the phone, then went in search of the young woman in question.


While Lex was busy getting the Mustang in running condition, Amanda had gone into the office to call her grandparents.

"Hello, Grandpa Jake." She greeted the deep voice that answered the phone.

"Hey there, Peanut! How's everything going?" Jacob chortled, thrilled to be speaking to his favorite granddaughter.

"Great! How are you feeling? Is your leg still bothering you?" she asked, remembering how badly Jacob would limp, barely able to walk on his newly healed leg.

"Not bad at all now, sweetheart. I'll be back on the jogging track in no time!" he chuckled, then another voice broke in on the conversation.

"I'll second that, Mandy...your grandpa has been chasing me all over the house!" Anna Leigh laughed. "How's Lexington feeling?"

Amanda laughed as well. "Much better, Gramma...she's gone out to check the horses right now." She took a deep breath. "Once everything gets back to normal, I'd like to invite her home for dinner, if that's okay with both of you."

Anna Leigh crossed the living room, sitting next to Jacob on the sofa. "Does this mean what I hope it means?" she asked, feeling her husband grasp her hand gently.

"Yes, I think it does, Gramma. I've never felt like this with anyone else before..." she paused, "She completes me."

Jacob chuckled. "Wonderful! I've always liked her...especially after the way she took care of my Anna Leigh during that whole escapade with the Taylor house..."

"Oh really? Guess I'll have to get her to tell me all about that, huh?" Amanda laughed. "Anyway, I just wanted to call and let y'all know that the bridge work should be finished sometime I'll probably be home in the next day or so." Cutting off any other questions, the young woman continued, "I told Lex I wanted to stay out here for another week or so, just until she's healed up from this past week's activities. I just want to pick up a few things, and see both of you."

They spent the next half-hour or so talking about inconsequential things, with Amanda promising to bring "her" rancher to dinner in the next couple of days. They sound almost as thrilled about all of this as I am...I wonder if that's possible? I wonder what my own parents will think? Uh, don't think I want to know right now... Her grandparents had always been very supportive in her life's choices, even when her parents couldn't seem to comprehend what she tried very hard to tell them. She always felt more loved and happy during the summers of her childhood, spending them with the two most important people in her life. Jacob and Anna Leigh had treated her as their own child, with all the love and support she had been missing at home.

Amanda hung up the phone, a bittersweet pang in her chest. Her grandfather's recent accident had reminded her of their mortality, and she always became a little sad after these types of thoughts. Stop it! Don't dwell on the bad things, just think about all the good things! She repeated her grandmother's mantra, which kept her sane during those long nights at the hospital.

Amanda was still drifting in her thoughts when the phone rang. Martha must have picked it up immediately, because it only rang one time. A few minutes later, the housekeeper bustled into the room, a big smile on her face.

"Amanda! I'm sure glad I found you! Lexie wants you to look out the front window - she has a surprise for you." The older woman grasped her arm, and led the blonde into the sitting room.

The room was...delicate, Amanda mused. Queen Anne furniture, and a beautiful baby grand piano stood proudly in one of the only rooms she had not been into. The large bay window had delicate lace curtains, and soft watercolor paintings graced the room.

"Martha, it's beautiful!" she whispered, looking around the room in awe.

The housekeeper sighed, a sad look on her face. "This was Mrs. Walters favorite room... I remember when she used to sit at the piano and play for little Lexie..." she wiped an errant tear from her cheek. "Lexie used to sit in here for hours, practicing...she was really good at it, too - until her father told her it was useless to play the piano when she should spend her time learning how to run a ranch." Taking a deep breath the housekeeper continued, " She still comes in here, every once in a while and plays... I think it relaxes her."

"Lex plays the piano?" Amanda was somewhat surprised - the rancher didn't seem like the type to spend time with something that had to be done indoors.

"Oh, yes...she even used to write compositions when she was in school..." Martha's face took on an angry tint. "But that no-good father of hers teased her until she quit." She was about to comment further when a honk in the front interrupted her.

Amanda rushed to the window, then gasped. "Oh my God!" she rushed out of the room and through the front door before the housekeeper could say a word.

Martha peeked through the window, seeing a light blue Mustang sitting in the front circular drive. "I'll be damn..." she muttered, then laughed and headed towards the kitchen.



Amanda stood on the front porch, tears streaming down her face. Lex had stepped out of the vehicle, and was standing on the driver's side, door still open. The young blonde walked slowly down the steps, unable to say a word.

The rancher smiled. Oh, this was definitely worth a few sleepless nights... she barely had time to brace herself before Amanda wrapped her small body around the taller woman.

"I can't believe this! I though it was lost forever!" Amanda murmured, her faced tucked securely in Lex's shoulder. "Was this what you were doing all those nights?"

Lex buried her face in the soft blonde locks. "Yeah...surprised?" she smiled when the younger woman squeezed tighter. "It's got a small dent on the left rear panel, and the upholstery needs to be cleaned, but other than that it's okay." She pulled away from the small blonde momentarily, reaching into the back seat. "I found this in the front floorboard." She handed over a purse and briefcase, dotted with dirt, but reasonably intact. "I didn't look at anything, but I laid everything out on a workbench to dry."

Amanda looked at the items, then back at Lex. She grabbed the tall woman around the neck, kissing her soundly. "Thank you!" she couldn't begin to explain the emotions thrumming through her. "You have no idea what this means to me!" she began to cry.

Lex held her close, kissing the top of the blonde head. "I have a pretty good idea...I know that you and your grandfather found this car and rebuilt it together - yet you never complained when you thought it was gone."

The younger woman stepped back, looking her directly in the eyes. "The car is very important to me, that's true...but as long as I was alive, I knew that things always have a way of working themselves out. My grandparents taught me that." She framed the strong face with her hands. "And as long as I have you, nothing else matters." Amanda leaned up and placed a soft kiss on Lex's chin.

Lex closed the car door, and led the young woman back towards the house. "I'm just glad you dropped into my life." She opened the front door, then handed Amanda the keys to the car. "Here...we'll take your car into town tomorrow." Lex locked the door behind them.


The two young women were sitting in front of a roaring fire in the den; Lex comfortably ensconced in a chair, with Amanda relaxing in her lap. "Are you sure I'm not hurting you?" Amanda asked the older woman. Lex had a very tight hold on her, and they had been snuggling for well over an hour.

"Are you kidding me?" the rancher nibbled on a convenient ear. "I've never felt better." She was about to get a little more serious about it when Martha walked into the room.

"Excuse me, Lexie...but I've gotten dinner ready, if you can tear yourself away from what you are doing." The housekeeper worked hard to keep the grin off of her face. "If not, I guess I can just throw it out."

Amanda practically jumped out of the dark woman's lap. "Wait! You wouldn't throw out perfectly good food, would you?" she seemed horrified by the thought.

Lex laughed, and stood up as well. "Please...this is the same woman who would save my plate and make me finish it later when I was growing up." She shook her head. "She never throws food away!"

Martha slapped at her as she walked through the door. "That's only because you would barely stand still long enough to eat...then come back an hour later whining about being hungry."

The trio laughed their way into the kitchen. Martha pushed the younger women gently into chairs and joined them as they passed platters of food back and forth.

"I've been meaning to ask you Martha, when do you find time to cook all these wonderful meals?" Amanda asked, enjoying her food with gusto.

"It's not really that big of a deal, honey...and it doesn't take that long at all." The housekeeper answered, jumping when thunder rumbled a little too close by.

Lex looked up at the ceiling and shook her head. "I swear, I'd almost welcome a drought after this past week." Another crack of thunder shook the house.

"Sounds like it's getting closer." Amanda stated, unconsciously scooting closer to the rancher.

"It's only weather...nothing to be worried about." Lex wrapped her arm around Amanda's shoulders, pulling her close. Then she quieted, and listened carefully. "Did you hear something?"

Martha looked at her quizzically. "I hear another storm approaching, why?" she listened as well, but couldn't hear anything out of the ordinary.

"Shhh.." Lex warned, getting up and walking to the kitchen window. "Something isn't right out there."

Suddenly, another crash of thunder, and the lights went off in the house.

"Damn!" the rancher cursed, groping around in the darkness. She reached into a nearby drawer and pulled out a flashlight. "Amanda? Martha? You two okay?" she aimed the beam of light towards the table, highlighting two pale faces. Walking over to the frightened women, Lex squatted down between them. "I don't like the feel of this." She saw the small blonde tremble slightly. Grasping a nearby hand, Lex squeezed it gently. "'s okay...probably just the storm."

Amanda knew that Lex was only saying that to make her feel better. I think we're in some serious trouble here, she mused, then looked into concerned blue eyes. "Yeah, sure..." she looked over at Martha, who had a concerned look on her face as well. Amanda was about to reassure the housekeeper when the sound of breaking glass assaulted their ears.

Lex jumped up, looking at Martha. "You two get into the storm cellar, I'll go check it out." She started towards the door, when two hands caught her from behind.

"Are you crazy? C'mon down into the cellar with us. I've got the portable radio here in my apron, we'll call Charlie." Martha begged, suddenly afraid of the unknown.

Amanda waited patiently for the older woman to finish. "She's right. If it's those thieves, they have guns, and you don't. Please don't do this." She pleaded quietly, knowing in her heart that Lex couldn't and wouldn't do as she asked.

Lex kissed the small blonde gently on the lips. "Go with Martha. I've got to check this out." She turned to look at the housekeeper. "Go to the cellar...please." She stared at the older woman for a very long moment. "Call Charlie - tell him to come in the back way." She walked over and grabbed a nearby skillet. "You always said I was dangerous in the kitchen." She smiled.

Martha smiled grimly and grabbed the younger woman. "C'mon, honey. The cellar is very well hidden...we'll be safer there." She looked up at the rancher, tears floating in her dark eyes. "Join us soon, okay sweetheart?" She began to lead the small woman towards the table, squatting down and moving the small rug underneath.

Lex followed, scooting the table off to one side so that the housekeeper could open a trap door. "You two go on in, I'll cover your tracks." She bent down next to the older woman and gave her a strong hug. "I'll see you in a little bit."

Martha smiled, then stepped down into the dark passage. "You'd better." She continued down until she reached the bottom, then picked up a lantern, lighting it with a nearby book of matches. "Thank the good Lord I clean this place up on a weekly basis."

Amanda looked at Lex, tears running down her face. "I'd rather stay with you." She leaned into the strong hand that caressed her face. "I don't think I can stay anywhere without you."

Lex pulled her close for a deep kiss. "I need you to take care of Martha for me." She jumped as the back door was forcibly opened. "Hurry. I'll see you soon." Another quick kiss. "I love you." She whispered, then sent the small woman down the stairs, closing the trap door behind her.

The rancher rearranged the rug and placed the table back over it before she started towards the doorway, armed with only a flashlight and a cast iron frying pan. She could hear voices in the hall, as she raised her makeshift weapon and stood against the wall.

"Shut up, damn it!" a deep voice barked low, just inside the house. "They know we're here now."

Another voice broke though the silence. "Why do we have to do this, Matt? Wouldn't it be easier to just steal a car or something?" a young voice whined.

"Because I don't like being made a fool of, and that damn woman did just that!" the deeper voice intoned, walking carefully down the hall. "You still with us, Darrell?" he whispered.

"Yeah...I'm here. Why, I don't know." Another voice commented, barely heard. He cocked the rifle, making sure a round was in the chamber.

Lex leaned closer against the wall, hearing the three men move nearer and nearer to the kitchen doorway.


Chapter 8


Amanda watched with a growing sense of dread as the trapdoor closed, then turned to look around the small room. The lantern's flickering light painted the walls, which were covered with open shelves that were filled with canned goods and other items. Martha had sat down on a wooden bench that ran down the middle of the room with a heavy sigh.

"C'mere, honey." The housekeeper patted a spot on the bench. She pulled the small radio from her apron pocket as Amanda sat down beside her. "Charlie? Do you read me?" The older woman spoke into the small radio quietly.

A small burst of static answered as a faint voice replied, "Martha? Read you loud and clear...what's up?"

The housekeeper glanced at the young woman, a relieved smile on both of their faces. "You need to get to the house, pronto. We've got some unexpected visitors."

"Roger that..." a short pause, "where are you, hon? Are you okay?"

Martha exchanged a worried glance with Amanda. Better not give too much away, just in case. She thought a moment before replying. "Amanda and I are weathering it out just fine." She paused again, giving that time to sink in. "Lexie said for you to come in the back way. The electricity is off, so be careful."

There was a short pause, then the sheriff spoke. "Gotcha. I'm at the previously discussed location - on my way now." He understood the need for caution - the thieves could listen in on their conversation far too easily. "Sit tight, sweetheart." He signed off.

Light thumping from above caught the two women's attention. Martha looked at the ceiling, biting her bottom lip. "Sounds like they're in the hallway now." She glanced over at Amanda, whose shadowed face held a look of alarm.

"I hate just sitting here!" the young woman exclaimed, standing up and pacing the length of the small room. "There's got to be something we can do!"

The housekeeper stood up, getting a firm grasp on the surprisingly strong shoulders. "I don't like it much either, but we are helping in a way." Seeing Amanda take a breath to argue, she continued, "With us down here safe, Lexie can concentrate on those men and not have to worry about us." She pulled the young woman back over to the bench to sit down. "The best thing we can do is stay calm, in case she needs our help." She held Amanda's hand, squeezing it firmly.

Amanda took a deep breath, wiping an errant tear from her cheek. "I know that what you're saying makes sense, but I can't help but feel that I should be doing more." Another loud thump from above made her look up at the ceiling. She was about to say more when a sharp bang came from above. Oh, God, no! "LEX!!!" she screamed.


Leaning up against the wall next to the doorway, Lex listened as the three men continued to argue.

"Okay, listen...if we split up, it won't take as long to search."

"Matt," a younger voice interrupted, "I don't wanna do ain't right."

"Shut up, Ronnie." The older man growled, then sighed. "Fine. You stick with me, and we'll check upstairs. Darrell, you look around down here. Shoot anything that moves, got it?"

A resigned sigh was his answer. "Yeah, yeah....I got it." He watched as the other two moved towards the stairs, flashes of lightning through the windows and opened door the only illumination in the silent house.

Lex hugged the wall tighter - she heard two of the men move past the door and towards the darkened stairway, as the third stood in the hallway, grumbling to himself.

"Check the downstairs," he mumbled, "shoot anything," he peeked into the kitchen.

The rancher raised the frying pan over her head, preparing to swing downwards as soon as the thief stepped into the room.

Darrell stood in the doorway, holding his breath and listening carefully. A close lightning strike lit up the entire room, and he could see that it was empty. Shaking his head, the thief continued down the hallway towards the front of the house.

Lex let out the breath she had been holding, a little angry that the man didn't walk into the kitchen. Guess I'll just have to follow him. She stepped up to, and into the doorway, slowing looking out with one eye. The rancher could barely make out the dark form which was stepping into the den. Time to play hide-and-seek, she smiled to herself, as she snuck down the long hallway.

Darrell stepped into the den, waving the rifle back and forth, peeking around the heavy furniture. As he made his way to the office, Lex slowly crept up behind him, raising the frying pan over her head. Sensing another presence in the room, the nervous man started to turn around when another flash of lightning lit up the room, highlighting a tall form barely two feet away from him. He raised his rifle to fire at the apparition, which suddenly appeared to be swinging something towards his head.


The gunshot echoed throughout the silent house, leaving a dead quiet behind it.


Amanda jumped to her feet, prepared to race up the stairs when a strong hand on her arm stopped her. "Let go of me!!" she cried, struggling to break free.

Martha held the squirming young woman tightly. "No, sweetheart. We've got to stay here." She wrapped Amanda in a firm hug. "We don't know what's going on up there."

Amanda tried to twist out of the strong grasp, then finally relented. "But she may need me!" she sniffled, burying her face into a strong shoulder. "She could be hurt..." a shudder ran through her body, "or..." she couldn't even finish such a horrible thought.

The housekeeper held onto the younger woman tightly. "Honey, you can't think like that." She placed a gentle kiss on the blonde head. "Our Lexie is one of the strongest people I've ever known." She led the smaller woman over to the bench to sit down.

Amanda calmed down, thinking about what the older woman had said. She is very capable - I'm not giving Lex enough credit. Looking at Martha, Amanda could read the fear in her eyes as well. I never thought about what this is doing to her...Lex is practically her daughter. I've been pretty selfish here. She linked her hands with the older woman's and squeezed gently. "You're right, as usual. I guess I'm just a little on's been a pretty wild week."

Martha was about to reply when the radio crackled.

"Martha? You there?"

She hurriedly pulled the device once again from her apron. "We're here, Charlie."

"I'm right outside...did I hear a gunshot just now?" nervousness was quite evident in the sheriff's tone. "Are y'all okay?"

Martha took a trembling breath then looked over at Amanda, who was chewing on her lower lip. "Amanda and I are fine...we're still hidden." Her voice broke, "I'm not sure about Lexie, though." She felt a small arm wrap around her shoulder in support.

"She's fine, I'm sure of it." Charlie assured her. "I've got reinforcements on the way...we caught one group of those damn thieves, hiding near the stolen vehicles. Damn fools."

Amanda pulled the older woman close with relief. "That means there's only three left..." she gave a forced little laugh. "No contest."


The silence hung heavily in the air upstairs; a crumpled body lay sprawled in the center of the office floor. The tall figure stood over the still form for a moment, then squatted down beside it to check for a pulse. Still breathing. Guess that's a good sign. Lex tossed the frying pan off to one side, then removed the laces from the unconscious man's work boots, tying up his hands and feet. Picking up the rifle, she was about to leave the room when she heard heavy footsteps on the stairs. down, and two to go. The rancher crossed stealthily across the den, ending up next to the doorway. Peeking around the corner, she could barely see two forms; one at the foot of the stairs, and the other standing in the kitchen doorway.

"Matt, I'm scared!" the younger man whined softly, as the older man stepped into the kitchen. A moment later he returned, then walked towards the back door, which was still partially open.

"Shut up! I swear to God, if you don't quit whining, I'll shoot you myself!" he growled, opening up the door to the utility room and quickly looking inside.

The smaller man sat down on the bottom step, wrapping his arms around his knees, rocking back and forth. A large clap of thunder startled him and he began to cry. "Matt...I wanna go home!"

Lex watched as the taller form moved quickly back towards the stairs.


"Sssshhhh! Quit being such a damn baby! You're fifteen years old - grow up!" he shook the younger man's shoulder. "Now c'mon! Stay behind me and keep your mouth shut!" he started walking down the hallway, heading straight for the den where Lex stood waiting.

C'mon, you bastard...just a little closer... She silently urged him on. Dragging a poor kid into this mess...I'm gonna enjoy this! She turned the rifle around in her hands, holding it like a club.

Another rumble of thunder, then the back door swung open as lightning lit up the sky once again.

"Hold it!!" a man's voice yelled, flashing a beam of light down the hallway. "Sheriff's department!"

Matt whirled, keeping the young man between him and the deputy, who had raised his gun.

"NO!!!" Lex screamed, not wanting to see the boy shot. She jumped out of the den brandishing her rifle like a club. "Hold your fire!!" she yelled at the deputy, swinging the gun downward towards the thief's head.



The lights came on just as the shots rang out.


"Okay, I've got men at all of the doors, and I've found where they threw the outdoor electrical switch. As soon as my men are in position, I'll turn the lights back on, and we'll go in."

Amanda quickly pulled the radio from Martha's now shaking hands. "Do you really think that's wise? We don't know where Lex is, or what the situation is up there."

"Normally I'd agree with you - but I don't want my men to be shooting at shadows. Someone could get hurt." He paused, trying to get his point across with upsetting either woman unduly. "And, if Lex is hurt, it'll be easier to find her if the lights are on."

Before Amanda could reply to that dark thought, two more gunshots rang out upstairs, just as the electricity came on. "Charlie? What's going on?" she practically screamed into the radio. "Charlie?!?!" Amanda handed the radio to Martha, and started towards the stairs. "That's it! I'm not spending a single second longer down here!!"

Before she could reach the stairs, the trapdoor opened, blinding the two women with a bright light. Amanda had to shade her eyes from the glare, since there was only one weak bulb in the storm cellar. "Lex?" she whispered, begging in her heart for it to be true. She charged up the stairway, Martha quickly at her heels.

Lex was practically bowled over by the overexcited women, finding herself almost flat on the floor. "Hey, hey! Take it easy!" she chuckled.

Charlie stood in the doorway, a big grin on his face. "Damn, Lex...I've been meaning to ask you how you're able to attract the most beautiful women!"

Martha got off of her knees, and took a near-leap at the lawman. "Oh, Charlie! You've always been such a sweet-talker!" She gave him a passionate kiss.

Lex looked up at Amanda, who was leaning over her prone body. "I guess this means you missed me?" she asked, a devilish smile on her face.

The younger woman bent down and gave her a sweet kiss. "Yeah, I guess you could say that." Amanda sat up, looking Lex's body over carefully. "Are you okay? We heard several gunshots." She ran her shaking hands across the beautiful body beneath her.

The rancher sat up, wrapping her arms around the lovely blonde. "Not a are you holding up?"

Amanda enjoyed the sensation of strong arms holding her close. "Just" She placed a gentle kiss on the strong neck. "But I guess I should get you out of the kitchen floor." She stood up, hauling the rancher with her. Amanda pulled Lex close, then wrapped her arms around the taller woman, squeezing tightly. "I really don't want to go through anything like that again." She tucked her head under the strong chin, exhaling with a great sigh of relief.

Lex kissed the blonde head as she brought her arms protectively around the smaller woman. "C'mon...let's see if they need any help with the clean up." She began to lead Amanda towards the hallway.

Charlie and Martha were already there, the housekeeper not releasing the strong grasp she had on the sheriff's hand. He stood there with a tired smile on his weathered face, watching as his men finished up their business.

Amanda's eyes popped open wide - there were deputies everywhere! One was checking the back door, another was speaking to a young teenager who was seated on the stairway, and several more were leading away two men in handcuffs. One of the men was bleeding from a head injury, and he glared at Lex as he was led out the front door; the other man was complaining about a gunshot wound to his leg, and a 'excruciating' headache - he too glared at the rancher, and questioned her parentage under his breath as he was led outside.

One deputy stepped up to Lex, carrying his hat in his hands. "Uh..." he looked down at his feet, "Lex, I want to apologize again for shooting at you." The big man looked like he was about to cry.

Amanda stiffened, and would have probably attacked the poor man had the taller woman not tightened her hold on the blonde's shoulders. "Jeremy, I don't blame you - all you could see was a person with a gun." She gave him a devilish grin. "I'm just glad you can't shoot worth a damn!"

He shook his head and smiled. "Yeah. Me too." They all looked towards the front door as a loud rumble assaulted their ears. Jeremy grinned at the rancher. "That would probably be your men - it took two of our guys with riot gear to keep them away after they finished the bridge." He was about to say more when the six muddy men stomped into the house.

The man in the lead was older, with a scraggly dark beard that was liberally sprinkled with gray. The evident leader of the group, he limped up to Lex with worry in his eyes. "Miz Lexington." He looked her over carefully, seemingly not even noticing the beautiful young woman tucked up against her side. "You look like you're still in one piece...we'd heard on the radio there'd been some shooting." Finishing his careful perusal, he blushed slightly when he noticed the young blonde standing next to the rancher. Yanking his hat off of his head, the older man mumbled, "'Scuse me...I...umm..."

Lex took pity on the grizzled man and smiled. "Lester, I'd like you to meet Amanda Cauble...Amanda, this is Lester - he takes care of the boys down at the bunkhouse."

The smaller woman held out a hand, giving the older man a strong handshake. "Nice to meet you, Lester. Martha has spoken highly of you." She smiled brightly, ignoring the mud liberally covering his bent form.

This caused his blush to darken. "Ah, now I know you're pullin' my leg." He gave the housekeeper a wry grin. "I'm just glad y'all are alright. Me and the boys are gonna go on up to the bunkhouse and get cleaned up." He smiled at Lex, put his hat on, and shuffled towards the door. Turning, he tipped his hat at Amanda, "Real pleasure to meet you, miss. Hope we'll be seeing more of you around." He started back towards the door again, ushering the other men outside. "C'mon, ya damn fools, let's get out of these folks' way."

Amanda waited until he closed the door, then burst out laughing. "He's cute." She looked up at Lex, who gave her a tired smile. She looks exhausted. Hmm...what should I do? Subtle? Yeah, why not? Turning her attention to the sheriff, she smiled. "Do you think anyone would mind if we went upstairs?" She gave the rancher a pleading look. "I really need to go sit legs won't stop shaking." True... and she knew that this was the only way to get her tall friend to take a break. "Could you give me a hand up the stairs?"

Lex scanned the young woman's face worriedly. "Are you okay? Should I call a doctor?" she felt a small hand pat her stomach gently.

"No...I'm just tired, and more than a little shook up, I guess. I'm not used to so much excitement." Amanda looked at Charlie and Martha, who both grinned knowingly. "Well?"

"Uh, yeah. You go ahead and get some rest, we'll get this all straightened up down here." He felt Martha's hand tighten around his, and the smile on the lawman's face grew.

The small blonde began pulling Lex up the stairs. "Thanks, Charlie. We'll see you both in the morning." She gave a little wave, then smiled as she felt the rancher lean against her slightly. "C'mon, honey," she whispered, "Let's get you into bed."

The tall woman pulled her closer. "Now that's the best offer I've had all day." She leaned down and gave Amanda's ear a light nip. "Or at least all evening."

They made their way up to the master bedroom, Lex going straight to the bed and sitting down. "Damn...I feel like I could sleep for days." She ran a hand through her tangled dark hair.

Amanda knelt at her feet, gently pulling off Lex's boots. "Sounds like a plan to me." She stood up, unbuttoning the rancher's shirt, then pulling it off and touching the bandage wrapped around her ribs. "Let me go get something to..." she didn't finish, as she found herself sprawled across the tall woman's body.

"I thought you were tired." A raspy whisper in her ear, then a soft nibble started across her throat.

The smaller woman sat up, moving back slightly. "Well, I...umm..." she lost her train of thought as electric blue eyes captured hers.

Lex ran a hand down the younger woman's cheek. "Sorry. I really shouldn't tease you like that, but you're so cute when you get flustered."

Amanda leaned into the touch, turning and placing a soft kiss on the callused palm. "Yeah well, normally I don't like it when people tease me..." she gave Lex a sweet look, "but with you, it's different, somehow." She smiled, then reached down and began to unbutton the older woman's jeans. Seeing Lex raise an eyebrow, she blushed. "Now don't be getting any ideas... I just want you to be comfortable before we go to sleep."

The dark woman gave her another look, but didn't argue as Amanda gently pulled the jeans off, then pulled the sheet and comforter over her prone form. Lex, fighting to keep her eyes open, watched as Amanda removed her own clothes then crawled into bed. "Damn, but you're beautiful." She mumbled, eyes closing against her will.

Amanda blushed, then rolled over on her side, propping her head up with one hand. "Obviously you are so tired that your eyesight has been effected..." she brushed dark bangs off of the resting woman's forehead. "Lex?" No answer. Amanda sighed. "Sleep well, my friend." She edged over and snuggled up against the rancher, kissed the tan cheek, then joined her in sleep.


Lex opened her eyes slowly, unsure of why she was awake. It was still dark outside, and a glance at the bedside alarm clock showed that it was just a little after five o'clock in the morning. She started to get up, and then realized that she had been effectively pinned to the bed by a small muscular body. And my left arm is numb, she grimaced, realizing the lack of feeling must be the reason she was awake. A devilish smile crossed her face. Oh, I could really have some fun here. Using her free hand, Lex slowly pulled the covers back, exposing their upper bodies to the cool air in the room. Amanda moaned slightly, snuggling up even closer, which allowed the older woman to free her arm. Lex was quite proud of herself until the extremity began to tingle painfully.

Amanda woke up, feeling a definite cool draft. Opening her eyes, she saw that somehow the comforter and sheet had been pushed down around her waist, leaving her upper body bare to the room. Glancing up at her companion, the young woman saw that Lex was awake as well, biting her lower lip with a pained expression on her face. Shivering slightly, Amanda pulled the covers up over them both, and then ran her hand along the clenched jaw. "Lex? What's the matter? Is it your side?" she sat up slightly.

The older woman shook her head and tried to relax. She flexed her left hand with a small grimace. " arm has fallen asleep," she gave Amanda a small grin, "and now I'm trying to wake it up."

The young woman sat up to lean comfortably against the headboard and reached under the covers for Lex's arm. She began to gently massage the muscles, enjoying the feel of Lex's smooth skin. Finishing up, she leaned over and gave the dark woman a tender kiss. "How's that?"

Lex pulled the smaller woman over until she was lying on top. "Mmm...seems to be working just fine." She mumbled, wrapping both arms securely around Amanda and squeezing. "But it may need extensive physical therapy," she continued, rolling over until the young woman was under her. Lex began placing tender bites on Amanda's neck. "Better safe than sorry," she whispered in a nearby ear, leaving a soft kiss behind.

"Ooohh...yeah." Amanda gasped, threading her fingers in the thick hair above her. "I'll be glad to...oh, boy..." she trembled as the older woman began tracing a fiery path down her body with small bites and gentle kisses.


Lex and Amanda strolled into the kitchen hours later, both looking quite happy and rested. Charlie was sitting at the table talking with Martha, who was at the stove cooking the morning meal.

"Well, well...look who finally decided to get up." She teased the young women, who both had the decency to blush.

Lex recovered first, sitting down next to Amanda. "Well, we woke up earlier, and just decided to take it easy for awhile."

Charlie snickered into his coffee cup, while the young blonde next to Lex blushed again. "Roy stopped by earlier, said he and the boys were going to take care of the horses for you for the next week or so..." he smiled at the housekeeper, who had a smug look on her face. "They felt bad that you had to do all the chores lately, and they want to make it up to you."

Lex looked at Martha. "Sounds like a certain someone has been busy this morning."

The housekeeper turned away from the stove, hands on her hips. "Now you just listen to me, Lexie." She stalked over to the table, putting one hand under the rancher's chin and tilting her face upwards. "You are going to take it easy for a few days - at least until these dark circles disappear from under your eyes." Seeing a stormy look appear on Lex's face, she leaned over and placed a gentle kiss on the young woman's forehead. "Please? For me?"

Lex's face lightened immediately. "Aw, Martha...don't look at me that way." She looked over at her blonde companion, who was trying to control herself. "What's so funny?"

Amanda was sitting next to the tall woman, one hand covering her mouth. "Nothing!" But her eyes were sparkling.

Lex leaned over until she was inches away from Amanda's face. She waited until the younger woman's eyes were locked with her own, then in a quiet voice said, "I have ways of making you talk, my dear."

The younger woman's eyes widened, then glinted with something other than humor. "I'm looking forward to seeing you try." She leaned over and placed a quick kiss on the surprised rancher's nose.

"She gotcha there, Lexie!" Martha chortled as she went back to the stove. "I'm sure you girls are hungry, right?" She started piling two plates with food.

Charlie looked at them, then at his watch. "'s almost ten o'clock! Getting closer to lunch, isn't it?"

Lex glared at him. "You really don't want to go there." She looked down at the plate the housekeeper had placed in front of her. "Good Lord, you actually expect me to eat all of this?"

The older woman sat back down at the table after placing a similarly laden plate in front of the young blonde. "As a matter of fact, I do." She gave the rancher a long stare. "You haven't been eating enough to keep a bird alive...and I'm putting a stop to it!"

Amanda giggled. "I was wondering how she could run a ranch on what she I know..." she ignored the nasty look the tall woman was giving her.

Lex rolled her eyes. "Fine. But don't blame me for the mess in the kitchen when I explode from eating all of this." She grumbled as she started on her breakfast.

"Poor'll probably be bedridden for days." Amanda patted her leg in mock sympathy.

"Hrumpph." Another grumble from the rancher, but she couldn't disguise the affection in her eyes. "And this would be a bad thing?" she winked.

Ducking her head, the younger woman prudently didn't answer, but continued to eat her breakfast with a large smile on her face.

Charlie looked at Martha, who was smiling happily. Time to change the subject, I think. Clearing his throat, the lawman looked over at Lex. "Since you don't have any chores to do, what are your plans for what's left of today?" his eyes twinkled.

Placing her coffee mug back on the table, Lex glanced over at the young blonde. "Well, I thought that if Amanda felt up to it, we'd make a trip to town." Seeing the younger woman's answering smile, she continued, "I need to pick up my other truck, and I thought that we could put her car in the shop to get the interior cleaned up."

"That would be great!" The young woman enthused, "My grandparents will be so excited!" Amanda took the rancher's larger hand in hers. "Think I could talk you into staying there for a few days?" Looking into Lex's eyes, she felt the room recede until it seemed that only the two of them were there. "I realize that you know Gramma and Grandpa Jake, but I'd really like to introduce you to them, if you know what I mean."

Lex was so absorbed in the green eyes across from hers, she didn't hear when Martha and Charlie made their silent exit. She swallowed hard, trying to put her thoughts into words. "Are you sure about that?" She saw the shock, and then sadness cross Amanda's expressive face.

"What?" She looked into sad blue eyes. "Why wouldn't I want to show you off?" Amanda used shaky hands to cradle the older woman's face. Leaning forward, she placed a gentle kiss on Lex's trembling lips. "I love you," she whispered, "and I want the entire world to know it."

Lex felt the sadness squeeze her heart painfully. "I love you too," she spoke quietly, "but I don't want to see you get hurt." Taking a deep breath, she continued, "People in town have very long memories, and I've got a pretty checkered past." Her voice broke as she felt the soft touch of Amanda's fingertips brushing the tears that had fallen from her eyes.

Amanda stood up, then sat down again, this time in the older woman's lap. She wrapped one arm around Lex's shoulders, and used her free hand to capture the rancher's callused hand. Bringing the large hand to her lips, she placed a tender kiss on the knuckles, then pulled their linked hands to rest between their bodies. "I've already told my grandparents about us," she whispered, making eye contact with Lex, "and they couldn't be happier." She kissed the older woman's forehead. "And I really don't give a damn what anyone else thinks - so get used to it."

Lex started to speak. "Are..." She cleared her throat and tried again. "Are you sure about this? You're going to hear a lot of nasty stuff, and most of it's probably true." Seeing the fierce determination in those very green eyes, she relented. "I just want you to know what you are getting into." She was about to add more, but was interrupted when Amanda's lips found her own.

Amanda poured everything she had into that kiss - transferring all her hopes, dreams, and love to the dark rancher. When she pulled back, the young woman could see the love shining in Lex's eyes, and she felt her own begin to fill with tears of happiness. "So you'd better get used to the fact that you're stuck with me....'cause I'm not going anywhere." She murmured, leaning up until their foreheads touched.

Taking a shuddering breath, Lex closed her eyes and pulled the young woman against her with all the strength left in her shaking arms. She buried her face in the soft golden hair, trying to come up with something, anything, to express the feeling in her heart. "Oh God, Amanda," she whispered hoarsely, "I love you with all that I am." She felt the return squeeze.


They had sat in the kitchen tangled together silently for what seemed like hours, neither speaking, yet not quite ready to let the other go. Finally, Amanda pulled back slightly, running her hand down the tan cheek of the taller woman. "Well, now that we've gotten that settled, are you ready to drive into town, so I can show you off?"

Lex blushed. "Not much to show, but yeah, I guess so...let me go get a bag together, since we'll be there for a few days." She waited until the smaller woman climbed off of her lap with a reluctant sigh. "I've also got a few errands to run while we're there, if you don't mind." She stood, wrapping a long arm around Amanda's shoulder.

The young blonde grinned. "Sure...I've got some things to take care of too." Like requesting some more vacation time, and of course thanking that slimeball Rick for sending me out here, she mused. I can't wait to see his face! A small giggle escaped from her.

"What's so funny?" Lex asked, as the headed towards the stairs.

"I was just thinking about Rick." Amanda couldn't help herself, she chuckled again.


"I'm just picturing the look on his face when I stand up in front of the entire office and thank him for sending me on a wild goose chase." She shook her blonde head ruefully.

Lex stopped in the middle of the stairway and looked at her, as if she had completely lost her mind. "Thank him?!?"

"Yep." Amanda nodded, prodding the rancher forward once again. "I'm gonna say, 'Rick, if it weren't for you, I may have never met the love of my life - so thank you!' and then watch him pass out from the shock." She laughed.

Lex finally laughed as well. "That would certainly do it." She allowed Amanda to enter the master bedroom ahead of her. "But when he gets up, he's mine." This was said in a low growl. "The bastard nearly got you killed - and I have a few choice words of my own for him." She was walking towards the closet when the light touch on her back stopped her. Turning around, she saw a quiet look on the younger woman's face.

"No...please don't." Seeing the confusion on Lex's face, Amanda continued, "I would gladly go through all of that again for what I have gained this past week." She enjoyed the look of comprehension, then pure joy that suddenly covered the older woman's face.

Lex grinned and scooped the small woman up into her arms. "Funny...I feel the same way." She spun Amanda around, enjoying the startled laughter that began to float through the air around them.

"Lex! You nut! Put me down before you hurt yourself!" Amanda chortled, arms wrapped around the taller woman's neck. Realizing she was in the unique position of finally being able to physically see eye-to-eye with the rancher, Amanda took advantage of the opportunity presented to her and captured the older woman's lips with a vengeance.

Lex happily returned her offering, accepting the deepening of the contact wholeheartedly. She loosened her grip on the smaller woman slightly, as she felt her own legs begin to weaken. "God, Amanda," she whispered huskily, "it's amazing what you make me feel with just one kiss."

The younger woman smiled against her mouth. "It's only fair...considering what you can do to me with just one look." She murmured. "You in much of a hurry to get into town?" She slid down the long form slowly. "I thought we could leave sometime after lunch." She stepped away carefully, capturing the large hands and backing up towards the bed.

Lex smiled, her eyes slightly glazed with desire. "You're the boss." She allowed the younger woman to pull her forward onto the bed, laughing.


Amanda drove the little Mustang towards the bridge, with a growing sense of unease. The closer they got, the more she began to shake. Oh, God...I don't know if I can do this. She was starting to feel physically ill, until a strong hand covered hers.

"Stop the car for a minute, Amanda." Lex spoke quietly, but with authority, and the younger woman was unable to deny the request. "Please?"

"'s okay," she managed to get out, even as she stopped the car.

Lex stepped out of the car as it rolled to a stop, only a few yards from the edge of the newly constructed bridge. She walked over to the driver's side and opened the door, offering Amanda her hand. "C'mere..." she beckoned, feeling the cold clammy hand of her companion grasp hers. "We're gonna take this slow and easy, okay? Just let me know when it gets to be too much." She began to slowly lead the younger woman towards the bridge, pulling her tightly against her as they walked forward.

Amanda took a deep breath, and walked with Lex up to the edge of the bridge. Before she could feel any panic, however, the strong arm around her shoulder tightened slightly, and she felt the fear melt away. Placing one foot on the wooden surface, she trembled. Stop it! Lex is here, and she won't let anything happen - just get over it!! Amanda berated herself, angry that an inanimate object could instill such fear into her.

"Shhh...easy, sweetheart." Lex spoke quietly into her ear, as she would a spooked horse. "Everything's going to be okay, I promise." They walked halfway across the bridge before she felt the smaller woman begin to relax.

Feeling her heartbeat begin to calm, Amanda sneaked a peek up at her protector. Just like a security blanket, right Mandy? She stopped in the middle of the bridge, returning the taller woman's embrace. "Thank you." She placed a soft kiss on the chest her face was buried in. "I'm going to be okay now." Looking up at the shadowed face above her, Amanda finally smiled. "Let's go get the car and get out of here."


The rest of the drive into town was uneventful, the two women sharing humorous antidotes from their childhood.

"And then he said, 'How in the hell did that calf end up wearing my boots?' Lex finished, watching the younger woman wipe her eyes from too much laughter.

The young blonde shook her head. "Stop it, please! I'll never get that picture out of my head...poor Charlie!" she chuckled, turning the car onto a beautifully landscaped street, trees draping overhead. She looked over at the rancher, who was beginning to look a little spooked. "We're almost okay?"

Lex had been looking out of the window, remembering the last time she had driven down this street. Been at least eight months, she thought, not much has changed. "Yeah, I'm fine...just feel a little bit intimidated, I guess..." she glanced back over at her companion.

"Really? So you've been over here before?" Amanda remembered her grandmother saying that Lex was on the Historical Committee, but hadn't realized that the rancher had been to their house.

"Yeah, a couple of months before you moved back here, there was a meeting of the Committee at Mrs. Cauble's home...and I happened to attend." She took a deep breath to gain the courage to tell her story. "Anyway, the ladies were chatting about some old barn north of town, when a couple of the alarms on their cars went off. We all went outside to look, and there were a couple of kids trying to break into the vehicles." She looked down at her lap, unable to meet the startling green gaze across from her. "I wasn't really thinking...just ran outside while Mrs. Cauble called the police. I caught them, but they tried to get away, and I..." she stopped, unable to continue.

Amanda had pulled the car over when Lex started her story, realizing that the older woman was having more trouble than she cared to admit telling her tale. "You don't have to..."

Lex finally looked at her, ashamed. "Yes, I do. You really need to know what kind of person I can be." She took another deep breath. "They were just a couple of punks, trying to get a little extra money from stuff they could steal..." she rubbed her eyes. "I lost it...Here they were, two dirty teenagers, stealing from ladies I considered friends..." Here she closed her eyes. "I beat the hell out of took five deputies to pull me off of them, and they both spent weeks in the hospital." She slumped down farther into her seat. "I've been ashamed to show my face in town ever since..."

"Oh, Lex..." Amanda felt sympathetic tears welling up in her eyes. "You have nothing to be ashamed protected people you care about." She reached a hand over and clasped the rancher's arm.

The older woman opened her eyes and looked at Amanda. "I'm not sure I can agree with you...If you could have just seen the looks on those ladies faces." A single tear fell down her angular face. "I see them almost every night in my dreams. They were horrified, and for good reason." She ran a hand through her hair nervously. "I guess I'm just afraid of seeing that look on your grandmother's face when you show up with me on her doorstep...I don't think I could handle that."

Amanda unbuckled her seat belt and crawled into Lex's lap. "NO! My grandmother thinks the world of you...we've spoken on the phone quite a few times since I've been staying with you, and she has said nothing but wonderful things about you." She gave the older woman a light kiss. "And if she felt any different, you know she would have told me!" Daring the rancher to contradict her.

Lex sat for a minute, just absorbing what the younger woman was saying. She's right. Mrs. Cauble is certainly no wilting flower...she would have told Amanda about any misgivings she had about me already. Time to quit feeling so sorry for myself. "Yeah, you're right." She gave the smaller woman a sweet kiss. "You wanna take me home, now? Think I want to tell Mr. and Mrs. Cauble my true intentions towards you."

Amanda gave her a puzzled look. "Intentions? Why do I have this sudden vision of you standing under my window serenading me?" She laughed, then became somewhat alarmed when Lex gave her a grin.

"Damn! You figured me out!" she chuckled, seeing the shock on her companion's face. "Don't worry...I'll cancel the Mariachi Band..."

Slipping back into the driver's seat, Amanda laughed again. "You wouldn't..." she looked at Lex's semi-innocent face, "You would! Don't you dare!" She buckled back up, then pulled the small car back onto the street, laughing all the while.


Amanda pulled into the tree-lined drive, parking behind the shining Suburban. "Looks like they're home." She got out of the car then strolled to the passenger's side, waiting for the tall woman to climb out. "C'mon...let's go give 'em a big surprise." She took Lex's hand, practically running up the walkway to the door.

Before the young woman could open the door it swung wide open, her grandmother standing in the doorway smiling. "Mandy! You're home!" She rushed outside, wrapping her arms around Amanda in breathless abandon.

"Errk! Gramma, calm down!" Amanda gasped, as the older woman squeezed the breath out of her.

Jacob Cauble stood just inside the doorway, watching with an amused air. "Well, Peanut, we can never accuse you of not making an entrance!" he laughed, until the young woman released her grandmother and came at him full force. "Ugh! Okay, I'm happy to see you too."

Anna Leigh looked at Lex, who was standing back with a bemused look on her face. "Lexington? Are you just going to stand there, or are you going to say hello?" She stepped towards the tall woman.

Lex gave her a gentle smile. "Hello, Mrs. Cauble. It's been a while, hasn't it?"

"You scamp! Get over here!" Anna Leigh pulled the young woman into a strong embrace. Whispering into her ear, "I could never thank you enough for what you have given us...and I'm glad you're here."

Amanda and Jacob stood arm in arm, watching the scene on the front porch with glee. "I'm glad you got her to come back with you, Peanut. Your grandmother has been very worried about her since your last talk." He leaned down and placed a gentle kiss on the blonde head.

"Is the guest room still available? I actually got her to agree to stay in town for a few days, and I want to get her to visit Dr. Anderson while she's here." She smiled at the rancher when Anna Leigh brought her to the doorway.

Jacob let go of his granddaughter and reached for the tall woman standing next to his wife. Pulling her into a powerful hug, he kissed the top of her head. "Welcome back, Lexington. I hope you will stay with us a few days, so we can get caught up." He led her into the house, with Amanda and Anna Leigh close behind.

The dark woman followed him into the living room, sitting in the loveseat he pointed her towards. "Well, if you don't mind me hanging around, I'd like that. I have some business to attend to here in town that will take a couple of days, if that's okay with you."

Amanda plopped down next to her, almost sitting in the rancher's lap. Grabbing the older woman's hand, she laughed. "Like I would let you out of my sight for any amount of time."

Jacob sat in the large recliner, with Anna Leigh perched on the arm. "Looks like our little Amanda has gotten her hooks into you, Lexington." He laughed at the blush that colored both young women's faces. "Not that I'm complaining, mind long as Mandy is happy, we're happy. Right, Anna?" he grasped his wife's hand, then pulled it to his lips for a kiss.

Anna Leigh looked at her granddaughter, then at the woman seated next to her. "I couldn't agree more, Jacob."

"That's good, because I've fallen completely, totally, and irreversibly in love with Lex, and I couldn't be happier." Amanda snuggled closer to the completely embarrassed rancher.

Jacob and Anna Leigh exchanged amused glances. "So, Lexington..." he drawled, trying to keep a straight face, "What are your intentions towards our granddaughter?" seeing the shocked look on Amanda's face he nearly lost his composure. And watching the tall rancher struggle with her thoughts, he nearly laughed out loud. "Well?"

Lex looked at Amanda, then at Jacob and Anna Leigh, standing up to address the two older people. "Mr. Cauble, Mrs. Cauble, my intentions are purely honorable. I love Amanda with my entire being, and if I were able, I would ask you for her hand." She looked back at the young blonde, who had tears floating in her eyes. "But since I can't, I want to stand here right now and give you my word that I will treat Amanda with the greatest respect, and honor her for as long as she will have me." She felt a small hand grasp hers. "We've only know each other less than a week, yet it feels like a lifetime. She brings out the best in me, and I will do everything in my power to make her happy." God, that was hard!

Anna Leigh stood up, followed by Jacob. "Lexington..." she began sternly, watching the emotions flicker across the dark features, "Welcome to our family." She walked over and pulled the dark-haired woman into a strong hug. "And call me Anna Leigh...Mrs. Cauble sounds so, impersonal, don't you think?" She felt the body she was holding shake with silent sobs. "Shhh... it's okay, sweetheart." She rubbed Lex's back comfortingly.

Lex drew a deep breath and slowly pulled away. "Thanks, Anna Leigh. You have no idea what it means to me to hear that." Embarrassed, she ran a hand over her eyes.

Amanda stepped up beside her and gave the tall woman a hug. "That was beautiful, Lex. I didn't know you were quite that eloquent." She leaned on the nearby shoulder.

"Well, Lexington, seems like you're stuck with us." Jacob walked over and embraced the young woman. "And if you call me Mr. Cauble again, I'll have to get tough! You can call me Jacob, Grandpa, or old fart...I'll answer to just about anything." He chuckled at her look of surprise. "Although I usually reserve 'old fart' for my Anna Leigh to call me..." he flinched as the older woman slapped his arm lightly. "See what these Cauble women are capable of? Are you sure you want to be subjected to this?"

Lex laughed, and looked down at Amanda. "Yeah, I know...she's already popped me a couple of times... guess it's in the genes." She winced as the expected slap came her way. "See what I mean?" Her comment broke the seriousness of the conversation, for which she was glad. Damn...this was harder than breaking a wild horse. Glad I'll never have to go through this again. Then her thoughts sobered. Oh, shit! I've still got to meet her parents!


It was late evening, with Lex and Amanda snuggled up on the sofa in front of a roaring fire. "You know," Lex chuckled, "I always knew your grandparents were special...I just never really realized just how special they were until today." She felt a light kiss on her collarbone, where Amanda's face was comfortably tucked.

"Yeah...It may sound strange, but they're closer to me than my own parents..." Amanda agreed, snuggling closer in the dark woman's lap. "I love my mom and dad, but we were never as close...I've always felt like I could tell Gramma and Grandpa Jake anything."

Lex kissed the top of her head. "I know what you mean. I feel the same way about Martha. She's always been there for me."

They sat there for a while longer, staring as the flames burned down, just enjoying the quiet company of each other. Amanda had dozed off, and Lex was contemplating her visit to the bank tomorrow, as well as going to the county jail to sign the complaint against the five thieves. She had refused to press charges against the teenager, especially when Charlie told her he was an orphan under the care of his older brother, Matt. When she asked him what they were going to do with the boy, the sheriff said they would probably have to put him in juvenile hall. Lex was going to see the boy tomorrow, and ask him if he'd like to work on the ranch. I hope I'm making the right decision here, she wondered, but I can't let a boy go to jail for following his brother.

Anna Leigh glided quietly into the room, in case the two younger women were asleep. She noticed her granddaughter was sound asleep on the rancher's lap, and the dark-haired woman was staring pensively into the dying fireplace. She edged over to the arm of the sofa and perched atop it. "Lexington? Is everything alright, honey?"

Lex looked up at the older woman, seeing where Amanda got her beauty. "Yeah, just fine. I was just going over in my head the things I have to do tomorrow." She uttered quietly, loathe to wake the sleeping bundle in her arms.

"From what I hear, that means a trip to the doctor as well, doesn't it?" Anna Leigh didn't know how else to bring such a subject up. "Amanda said over the phone that you have broken ribs, and had been shot?"

Sighing, Lex ran her free hand through her hair. "Yeah...she'll badger me 'til I go, I guess." She looked up at the older woman. "It's really not that bad...I'm sure she made it sound worse than it actually was."

Anna Leigh grinned, then gave the dark head a gentle pat. "Uh-huh...your forget how well I know you." Then her face took on a pensive look. "Why haven't you been by recently? I've missed our conversations we used to have on the patio Saturday evenings." The two women would sit outside, drinking iced tea and discussing everything from politics to the price of cattle after the Historical Committee meetings, but that had stopped after the incident eight months ago.

"I..." Lex stammered, looking one of her worse fears in the face, "I just figured you didn't need me around your little gatherings...I'm not exactly tea party material." She couldn't look the older woman in the eye.

"Lexington...I was never so proud of you as I was that day you stopped those horrible thieves! What if one of the ladies had decided to leave early? Do you think they would have just ran away?" She forced the younger woman to look her in the eye. "I don't think so. I believe that they would have seriously hurt someone...and yet you jumped to our defense immediately." She gave the dark rancher a gentle smile. "Don't be ashamed of the fact that you protected us from an unknown danger...yes, they were just boys. But you know as well as I do how vicious young men can be...don't underestimate what you did that day. The ladies still talk about how very proud of you they are."

Lex was caught speechless. I never realized... "Mrs., ummm... Anna Leigh," she smiled at the look the older woman gave her. "Thank you. I've been worried all this time about what happened then. I'll still worry about it, but you've helped me put it more in perspective."

Anna Leigh leaned over and kissed the dark head. "Honey, there's nothing in this world I wouldn't do for you... now why don't you get yourselves upstairs and into bed?" she gave the young woman a sneaky grin. "Unfortunately, the guest room is under repairs, so you'll have to share with Amanda. I do hope that's alright." She patted the nearby arm. "Get some rest, we'll see you in the morning." She got up and left the room, a chuckle escaping her lips.

Lex looked after the older woman with a fond smile. Oh yeah...she's subtle. She glanced down at the sleeping woman in her arms. Wonder if I can get her awake long enough to make it upstairs? "Amanda?" she asked quietly, gently shaking the small body.

"Mmmm?" The blonde head tucked itself tighter into her chest.

The rancher shook her head in defeat. Can't say I didn't try. She stood up, cradling the sleeping form gently. Okay, now where the hell is her bedroom? Lex started walking up the stairs, remembering from a previous tour of the house that all the bedrooms were on the back area of the second floor. Just as she reached the top, Amanda woke up slightly.

"Lex?" She looked up into the blue eyes, then realized where they were. "You didn't carry me up the stairs, did you?" Amanda used one hand to push the dark bangs from the rancher's eyes.

"Yep." The tall woman smiled. "And your grandmother told me the guestroom was being repaired, so we'll have to share..." she shifted her grip on the small form in her arms. "So where should I take you?"

Amanda grinned. "Anywhere you want to."



The End


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