Faith's Crossing
By: Carrie Carr

Disclaimers: The characters in this story belong to me. There is a possibility of some violence in this story. You never know with Lex – but once again, nothing too graphic. PG-13 at most. No subtext…all maintext <g>, and again nothing graphic (still not talented enough to write the steamy stuff!).

Okay, this story picks up right where my first one, Destiny’s Bridge, left off. It probably won’t make much sense if you don’t read my previous story first (shameless plug!). Feedback (good and bad) is accepted at This is dedicated to AJ, my soulmate and better half.

Copyright July 1999


Chapter 1

Lex woke at her usual time – before the sun had the opportunity to rise. Groaning slightly to herself, the dark haired woman used her right hand to rub her weary eyes, debating with her more practical side that was telling her to get out of bed. Just when she had decided to listen that annoying little internal voice, she felt the small body that was partially draped across her to snuggle even more tightly to her side. Lex sighed. Not like I have a good reason to leave this. Her lips turned upward into a small smile. Not like I’d leave this even if I did have a good reason. She pulled the small woman closer, feeling the blonde head turn upwards.

"Morning." A sleep-roughened voice grumbled, then soft lips kissed Lex’s tan throat. "I’ve got to figure out a way to make you sleep in until at least sunrise, just once." Green eyes tracked up the sharp planes of the rancher’s face, absorbing the relaxed look on her companion.

Lex smiled, working her hand under the soft material of the younger woman’s sleep shirt, gently scratching the smooth back. "I dunno if you can, but it will certainly be fun watching you try."

Amanda crawled up the long body until their faces were inches apart. "You’re on." She dropped her head slightly, brushing her lips gently against Lex’s. Feeling strong hands running along the inside of her shirt gently mapping the route of her spine, Amanda deepened the kiss, noticing that the body under hers trembled. "Mmm…" she smiled against the older woman’s lips. "Cold?" She loved the way Lex responded to her touch, knowing that she responded to the taller woman in much the same way.

"N…n…no…not…at all." Lex stammered, unable to control her voice when she felt small hands exploring under her shirt – hands that knowingly found just the right places to touch, leaving behind an almost electrical charge. "Amanda…" she cleared her throat, "we shouldn’t…" But her body was happily rebelling – arching towards the younger woman’s touch. "Your…ah… grandparents…" she mumbled, losing the battle as small, soft hands began tracing down towards her stomach, closely followed by insistent bites and small licks from the chuckling blonde’s mouth. "They might…oh, god…" her eyes closed as Amanda found a particularly sensitive spot just below her ribs.

"Shhh…" the younger woman murmured. "It’s okay, sweetheart…they’re at the other end of the hall, and won’t be up for hours." She slowly worked the soft shirt up the quivering body below her. "Besides, "she chuckled, "the risk of getting caught is half the fun." Then she stopped talking, and concentrated on the enjoyable task at hand.


Chapter 2

Lex had a small smile on her face as she followed the young blonde down the stairway a few hours later. It had taken all of her considerable willpower to not climb into the shower with Amanda after their pre-dawn activities, especially after the younger woman had gone into great detail as to what she would be missing. She is such a little tease, she smirked, unable to take her eyes off of the gently swaying hips in front of her. So engrossed in her perusal, Lex didn’t realize when the small body stopped, and she had to grab the railing to keep them both from falling when she bumped into the lithe form.

Amanda turned around to peer into the rancher’s deep blue eyes. "Hey there. Everything okay?"

Snapping back to reality, Lex nodded. "Yeah, sure." Her brows creased into a questioning gaze when the smaller woman grasped her arms and exchanged places with her, putting Lex on the step below her. "What?"

Giving her companion a mischievous smile, Amanda leaned forward, wrapping her arms around the older woman’s neck. "Much better." She whispered, looking directly into Lex’s eyes before she captured the rancher’s lips in a sweet possessive embrace.


Breaking off the kiss reluctantly, Lex slowly turned around to find the source of the interruption. "Oops." She felt Amanda giggle.

At the bottom of the stairs stood Anna Leigh, a gentle smile on her face. "Good morning, you two." Seeing her granddaughter wrap her arms around the tall woman, her smile widened. "I trust you both slept well."

Amanda propped her chin on the broad shoulder in front of her. "Oh, yeah…like a baby." She gently pulled the dark-haired woman closer. "But, then again, I had a pretty good nap on the sofa last night."

"Sorry…but you looked so peaceful, I didn’t have the heart to disturb you." Lex unconsciously leaned back into the embrace.

Amanda felt large hands entwine with hers, which were splayed across Lex’s flat stomach. "Yeah, but you could have made me get up, instead of carrying me up the stairs."

Anna Leigh saw the taller woman blush slightly. "C’mon. I was just on my way up to tell you two that breakfast is ready."

Giving the older woman a grateful smile, Lex started down the stairs. "Mmm…I was hoping that’s what that great smell was."

"Great! I’m starving!" Amanda skipped down the stairs, stopping next to the smiling woman and capturing her hand, then dragging the grinning rancher into the kitchen.

"There’s a big surprise!" Lex mumbled to Anna Leigh, who laughed as the small blonde backhanded the tall woman on the stomach.

They all entered the kitchen laughing, causing Jacob to turn around at the counter from where he was pouring a cup of coffee. "Good morning, ladies." He pulled two more mugs from the cabinet. "Coffee?" Hearing thankful groans, he smiled and filled the cups, then turned back towards the women.

"Good morning, Grandpa Jake!" Amanda wrapped her arms around his waist, squeezing tight. Snuggling her face into his chest, she released a heavy sigh. "I’ve really missed this."

Jacob enveloped her in his arms, returning the hug. Kissing the blonde head beneath his chin, he smiled. "Me too, sweetie. Did you sleep well, Peanut?" Looking to Lex and Anna Leigh he nodded, "Hey there…have a seat, ladies. Breakfast is ready." With a final hug and kiss to his granddaughter, Jacob turned back towards the stove. "Wanna help, Peanut?"

Lex looked at the older woman, a question on her face. Anna Leigh shook her head and smiled. "Better do as he says…sit down, or he’ll never serve us!" She pointed at a chair opposite her, and watched the younger woman sit down gingerly.

While the two women got themselves seated at the table, Jacob and Amanda brought over several platters of food. Before sitting down, the small blonde handed Lex a steaming cup of coffee, and gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze. "Here you go…hope you’re hungry. Grandpa makes the best omelets I’ve ever tasted!" she winked at Jacob as he sat down next to his wife.

They spent the majority of the meal talking of the events at the ranch for the past week, with both of the elder Cauble’s expressing their shock and concern.

"…and then, after we get back to the house, Martha and I discover that tough-stuff over there," she points at Lex with her fork, "got shot sometime during all that running, and never said a word to either one of us."

Lex sat her coffee mug down on the table. "You’re getting it all out of proportion." She looked helplessly at Jacob. "I really didn’t notice – it was barely a scratch."

"Yeah, right…a scratch that even now, several days later, is still bleeding." The young blonde gave her companion a dirty look. "Which is why we’re going to see Doctor Anderson right after breakfast, right?"

Rolling her eyes, Lex let out a heavy sigh. "Amanda."

Anna Leigh looked across the table at the dark-haired woman. "Is that true?" not waiting for an answer, she expelled a long breath. "Lexington, you run the risk of infection with a wound like that…if it’s not already."

"That’s what I’ve been trying to tell her, but she’s just so darn stubborn!" Amanda added, sensing another ally in this ongoing battle. "She wouldn’t even let me change the dressing on it this morning!" her voice sounded strained.

The tall woman looked over at Jacob, begging with her eyes for some help. Seeing that he was keeping silent, she decided to try and change the subject. "Mr…ah, Jacob – do you know of a good detail shop around here?"

"Sure, Lex…Shuman’s on Fourth does excellent work, why?" he had finished his breakfast and was leaning back in his seat, one arm casually draped across the back of his wife’s chair.

Amanda leaned forward a bit. "Oh, that’s right…you can’t see the driveway from here." She smiled broadly. "C’mon, let’s go out front and I’ll show you!" she jumped to her feet and stepped away from the table. Pulling the equally smiling rancher with her, Amanda almost skipped through the house.

As soon as they reached the door, she turned around to face her grandparents. "Since you can’t see the driveway from here, how did you know we were here yesterday? You opened the door before we could even get to it."

Anna Leigh laughed. "You did call and say you were on your way, so we were expecting you. And when we heard the slamming of car doors, we figured it had to be you!" Hand in hand, she and Jacob followed the young women outside, stopping in shock when they saw the little Mustang sitting in the driveway – muddy, but whole. "Oh, my…." She stopped, her free hand over her heart. "How…"

Jacob turned to look at his granddaughter. "But I thought you said…" he noticed that Lex was turning a very unusual shade of pink.

"Lex pulled it out of the creek and then got it running again…she gave it to me the night all the excitement happened." Amanda wrapped an arm around the embarrassed rancher.

"Didn’t do that much, really…just let it dry out." She mumbled, not at all enjoying all the attention that was being focused on her.

Jacob came up on her other side, giving her a hug. "Uh-huh…and just how did you get the car out of the creek? Whistle, and it followed?" he enjoyed the look on both young women’s faces – Lex’s, which was one of pure embarrassment, and Amanda’s, who looked as if the idea had never crossed her mind.

"He’s right." Amanda looked up at the rancher, who wouldn’t meet her gaze. "The car was on the far side of the creek…how did…"she paused, understanding dawning on her features. "You didn’t." she whispered, the closing of Lex’s eyes telling her everything. "You went back into that cold, heavily running stream, after you had your ribs broken? Are you nuts?" She spun around to get face-to-face with the taller woman, her voice quivering.

Jacob moved back over to where Anna Leigh was standing. "I think we should go in and take care of the breakfast dishes, don’t you, sweetheart?" Seeing her nod, he gently grasped her hand and limped into the house.

Lex opened her eyes, hearing the upset in the younger woman’s voice. "I…um…you were just so sad about losing that car, and I wanted to do something to cheer you up. Especially after the story you told me on how you got it…" looking into the shining green eyes that took her breath away.

"But, God, Lex…you could have asked me to help you, anyway." Amanda felt her control slipping, and then the callused hands cradled her face gently. "When did you…?"

"The day I went to get the jeep. I used the winch on it to pull the Mustang out of the water." She kissed Amanda on the nose. "Piece of cake."

Amanda moved her arms up until they were wrapped around the dark-haired woman’s neck. "Yeah, right. And just how did you attach the winch to the Mustang?" she saw Lex trying to think up a good answer. "Magic?"

"How’d you guess?" Lex smirked. She felt her head being pulled downwards. "Not buying that, huh?" the tall woman asked, as she leaned down to meet Amanda halfway. Their lips touched, and to Lex time ceased to matter – it was as if all the sounds around them stopped, and all she could hear was the rapid beating of her own heart. A motorcycle suddenly roared by, causing the dark woman to realize where they were standing, so she slowly broke off the kiss.

Amanda brought her arms down and placed one around the tapered waist. "Don’t think for a minute that I’ve been distracted from our little discussion – we’ll finish it later." She began to lead the older woman back inside. "But right now, we’ve got a doctor’s appointment to keep."


Chapter 3

Even though she protested about having to go, Lex really liked Doctor Anderson – the elderly physician had taken care of her assorted injuries and illnesses her entire life, and was one of the few people she trusted completely. She and Amanda arrived at his office shortly after the doors were unlocked, which made them the only people sitting in the painfully cheerful waiting room. Since Dr. Anderson was a family practitioner, his office had brightly colored scenes adorning every wall. One wall had a circus theme, making the chairs look like they were inside the Big Top – animals everywhere. Another had a large mural of hot-air balloons, while the last looked like a corral, complete with several horses. Lex chose to sit in the "corral" area to her companion’s amusement.

"Always the little cowgirl, huh?" Amanda chuckled as she sat down beside her.

The rancher looked around, and smiled sheepishly. "Uh, well actually, I just like looking at the balloons." She pointed to the colorful wall across from them.

Before they could continue their conversation, the interior door next to the receptionist’s window opened, and a small, gray-haired man bent with age stepped into the main room. "Little Lexington Marie! It’s been a while, hasn’t it child?" he greeted with a strong voice. "Now get yourself in here, and bring your little friend too." He turned and headed down a brightly tiled hallway, gesturing to a door on his left.

Amanda chuckled at the chagrined look on the rancher’s face, as she followed after the old doctor. Lex stopped at the door and waited for the younger woman to enter the room before her. "Don’t you start." She whispered, getting a giggle in response.

"Come in, come in…close the door behind you." The small bespectacled doctor offered, sitting on a small rolling stool. "Not get over here and hop up on the examination bed, Lexington." He chuckled at her rolled eyes. "Don’t give me that look now, or I’ll have to call Martha."

Lex sighed, and gingerly sat up on the padded table. "It’s probably just a waste of your time, Dr. A., but…"

Ignoring her protestations, he turned towards the young blonde still standing by the door. "Come over her and sit down, honey…" he cocked his head at her and smiled. "I don’t believe we’ve met before, have we?" he held out a wrinkled hand.

Amanda grasped the offered hand, faintly surprised at the strength in it. "No, I don’t think so. My name is Amanda Cauble." She gave him an earnest smile.

The doctor held her hand in both of his. "Jacob and Anna Leigh’s little Amanda?" Seeing her blush and nod, he laughed. "That’s grand…they speak of you all the time. They are so proud of you, my dear." He allowed her to sit down, then turned his attention back to his patient, checking the clipboard his nurse had left in the room. "So…what have you gotten yourself into now, honey?" he laid the paperwork on the stool and adjusted his glasses. "Broken ribs and a gunshot wound?" Dr. Anderson held the end of his stethoscope to warm it up a bit. "I’ll bet you really set Martha off after that!" he waited patiently as Lex unbuttoned her shirt, then gently placed the listening device to her chest. "Have you made her mad? You look like you have lost a bit of weight."

"No, just been real busy…she’ll fatten me up again in no time." Lex sighed, then flinched when he began to probe the bandage on her side.

"Hurts, huh?" he shook his head. "Got a nasty scrape here, too…" poking the muscular side gently, "Why aren’t your ribs wrapped up? Do you want another punctured lung?" The old man began pulling the taped bandage from her side.

"Ow!" Lex jumped sideways slightly. "Could you please leave me some skin?"

Ignoring the tall woman’s complaining, the elderly doctor finished removing the gauze and let out a low whistle. "That doesn’t look good at all." He mumbled, shaking his head in dismay.

Amanda jumped up from her chair to stand next to him. "What? What’s wrong?" she peered around the small man, trying to see what he was looking at.

Running a hand down his face, Dr. Anderson pushed Lex onto her back, then lifted her legs until she was lying flat on the bed. "Might as well get comfortable, girl. We’re going to have to open it back up to take care of the infection." He patted her leg. "Let me go get Laura – she’s going to have to help me." He left the room to search for his nurse.

The small blonde took a close look at Lex’s side. She could see that the area around the wound was very swollen, and the skin had an unhealthy red shine to it. The bruising on her chest was fading, only showing mottled yellow and light purple, and the gash she received in the creek was almost completely healed. The older woman was lying still, her eyes closed. Amanda brushed the dark bangs off of her forehead. "Are you in much pain?"

Blue eyes opened, meeting her concerned gaze. "No…that’s what’s so strange. It’s only a slight ache." She captured the small hand running through her hair and brought it to her lips. "Is this where you tell me, ‘I told you so?’" she teased, trying to get a smile from the worried young woman.

"No, Lex…this is where I say, ‘I wish I wasn’t right’, because I hate seeing you go through this…" Amanda looked at the wound again. "That looks really bad…I can’t believe it’s not hurting you…I hurt just looking at it."

Doctor Anderson came back in the room, followed by a young woman about the same age as Lex. "See? I told you we wouldn’t be long." He told the waiting women. "Laura, this is…" he was about to introduce Amanda when the small red-haired nurse spoke up.

"Amanda? How’s your grandfather?" she walked over and gave the young blonde a hug, a huge smile on her face.

"He’s doing great, thanks." Amanda stepped back, but kept one hand on the nurse’s arm. "Talks about you quite a bit…says you’re the best nurse he had."

Laura laughed. "That’s just because I snuck him a milkshake every now and then." She looked over at the exam table. "Lex…it’s been a while, hasn’t it?" She gave Amanda’s hand a gentle pat, then walked over to the table. "What have you done to yourself this time? Wreck a car? Fall off of a horse?"

Doctor Anderson had put on rubber gloves, and pulled a rolling tray next to Laura. "No, actually something different, this time. Gunshot." He grinned as his nurse paled slightly.

"Gunshot?" She looked at the wound. "Dear Lord, Lex…do you thrive on trouble?" she gave the rancher’s shoulder a slight squeeze. Turning to Amanda, "You don’t have to watch…we’ll come get you as soon as we’re done."

The young blonde shook her head. "I’d rather stay, for moral support. If I won’t be in the way." She saw the grateful look on the rancher’s face.

"No…not at all." Laura pulled on her own gloves, "you can sit right over there." She pointed at a chair by Lex’s head. "Maybe with you here, we won’t be subjected to your friend’s bad language." She almost laughed out loud at the nasty look the woman on the bed was giving her.

"Hey! It wasn’t my fault! That needle was huge!" Lex countered, glad that Laura was helping her in the effort to distract the young blonde.

Laura reached over to the rolling cart and grinned. "You think that one was big…?" she took the protective cap off of the syringe that she was holding, "I get to give you three of these!"

The doctor laughed. "Laura, don’t tease my patient." He gave Lex a friendly pat on the leg. "Now, we’re going to give you a local anesthetic, so try not to kick my nurse, okay?"

Rolling her eyes, Lex nodded. "Okay. But she could at least pretend not to enjoy it so much." This with a mock glare to the redhead. "I don’t remember you being this sadistic in school."

"That’s just because you didn’t know me like you do now." The nurse retorted. "Now sit still, and I’ll try to be gentle."


Chapter 4

"Do you really think that’s such a good idea, Lex? The doctor said you should just lie down and take it easy for the rest of the day." Amanda sat up straighter, straining to see over the tall steering wheel. They had dropped off the Mustang at the detail shop and picked up Lex’s truck before going to the doctor’s office, and the young blonde felt somewhat dwarfed by the large customized Dodge pickup.

Lex turned her head to look at Amanda, who was sitting with one leg tucked under her so that she could see over the steering wheel. "The bank is on the same street as the pharmacy, it won’t take me but a minute to go in."

Stopped at a light, Amanda looked over at her passenger. Lex was unusually pale, and her eyes had a slightly glazed look to them. "Why don’t you let me take you home, and then I’ll go pick up your prescription?"

"I really need to pick up that paperwork at the bank – I called Mr. Collins yesterday, and said I would be in today to meet with him." Shifting in the seat, she closed her eyes as another wave of dizziness washed over her.

Amanda grasped the arm nearest her. "I’m sure he’d understand…"

"Maybe…but I won’t be able to get any rest until I can look at those papers." She maneuvered her arm until she was holding Amanda’s hand. "Please, Amanda…I promise to make it quick." Seeing the younger woman begin to waver, she added, "You can come in with me to make sure, okay?"

Amanda didn’t say anything, but she pulled the large truck up to the bank and turned it off. "Five minutes, Lex…then we’re going to pick up your prescriptions, and I’m taking you home and putting you to bed." Seeing the smirk on the older woman’s face, she groaned, "You know what I mean."

Lex laughed, then slowly got out of the truck. "What? I didn’t say a word." She held the door open for her companion.

A short heavyset man in an expensive suit met them just inside the door. "Ms. Walters! What a pleasure to see you again." He grabbed her hand and began to shake it wildly. "Please, come into my office." Pausing, he looked at the young woman standing next to the tall rancher. "Oh, excuse me, miss…?"

Lex turned slightly towards the smaller woman. "Sorry…Mr. Collins, this is a very good friend of mine, Amanda Cauble." She gestured towards the banker. "Amanda, this is Mr. Collins, the president of this fine institution." She smiled as the banker blushed.

"That is too kind of you to say, Ms. Walters." He led them to a glassed-in office in the corner of the building, and gestured them inside. "Please, have a seat." After Lex and Amanda sat down, the slightly balding man closed the door and then sat down behind an ornate oak desk. "I received your email, Ms. Walters, and personally gathered up the information you had requested. And…" He pulled out a small attaché case from under the desk, "not only was I discreet in my research, but I put everything in this case for you." His pudgy hands shook slightly. "You don’t believe that anyone here at the bank would be involved in any illegal activities, do you?"

Lex waved a hand in the air to cut him off. "No, of course not, Mr. Collins…I just felt that the fewer people who knew about this, the better off we would all be."

The bank president visibly relaxed. "Ah, that’s fine…just fine. We will do anything to keep one of our best customers happy."

Amanda cleared her throat discreetly, then casually looked over at the dark-haired woman sitting beside her.

Lex smirked then slowly stood up, extending her hand across the desk. "Mr. Collins, it’s been a pleasure doing business with you, but I’m afraid I have another appointment to get to."

"No problem, Ms. Walters…you have my home number if you need anything else, right?" he pumped her hand enthusiastically.

Lex winced, then disentangled her hand from the beaming banker, and picked up the attaché case. "You’ll be the first one I call, Mr. Collins." The tall woman turned and ushered Amanda out of the room.


Chapter 5

Amanda rushed out of the pharmacy as soon as she was given Lex’s prescriptions. So intent on her thoughts, she didn’t see the large man about to go through the door. "Ooof! Excuse me…" Stumbling back, she glanced up and saw whom she ran into.

"Well, well…hello there, sweet thing." The deep voice drawled. "Fancy meeting you here – come in to pick up your birth control pills?" Rick Thompson blocked her exit, standing in front of Amanda with his thick arms crossed over his chest. "No, wait…I guess that you don’t need to worry about that sort of thing anymore, do you?"

Why do I have the sudden urge to go home and shower? Yuck! "It’s really none of your business, Rick…so if you’ll excuse me, I have someone waiting for me." She tried to edge past the big man, who grabbed her arm to stop her.

"Wait! I just want to talk to you for a minute. When will you be coming back to work?" he let the small woman wriggle out of his grasp, confident that she wouldn’t go anywhere. Amused, Rick decided to see just how far he could push the little blonde. "So…have you had a nice vacation?" he sneered.

"You sonofabitch!" Amanda pulled her arm back and slapped him, hard.

Rick had actually been knocked back a step. "Why you little bitch…I’ll…" stepping forward, he reached for Amanda, only to be stopped by a strong grip on his shoulder. "What?!?"

He spun around, ready to pound on whoever had decided to interfere.

Ice blue eyes glared into his. "Problem?" Lex inquired coolly, even though it took all that she had not to knock the large man into next week.

"Mind your own damn business, Walters." He ranted, "the little whore slapped me!" his tirade was stopped when Lex grabbed two handfuls of his suit coat, pulling him into her face.

"So? Knowing you, you probably deserved it!" Lex growled. "Wanna try picking on someone your own size?"

"Why? What’s it to you?" his bravado fading, Rick’s tone turned more wheedling.

"She’s a friend of mine, asshole!" Lex could feel her heart pounding in anger, which in turn caused her newly stitched wound to throb painfully.

Amanda took the opportunity to step around Rick, and moved to stand behind the agitated rancher. Placing a cautious hand on Lex’s back, she whispered, "Let it go…he’s not worth it."

Releasing her hold on his jacket, Lex stepped back and took a deep breath. Seeing the big man begin to smile, she stepped back into his face. "And…" she dropped her voice to a menacing drawl, "If I…ever…hear of you speaking about her that way again, they’re gonna have to use Velcro to put you back together." She turned her back on him to leave.

"This ain’t over yet, by a longshot!" he yelled halfheartedly, after realizing a small crowd had gathered. "You’d better be careful who you’re threatening around here!" Rick waved a fist at the departing women.

Neither woman turned around, but Lex waved a bored hand over her head. "Yeah, right." She followed the small blonde back to the truck, climbing inside.

Amanda closed her door and leaned on the steering wheel. She looked over at Lex, who was slumped in her seat, eyes closed. "Are you alright?"

The rancher visibly pulled herself together and sighed. "Yeah…that jerk has always been able to yank my chain." She looked at the younger woman closely. "He didn’t hurt you, did he?"

Amanda gave her a strained smile, then started the truck. "Only the inside of my hand when I slapped him." She flexed the hand in question, then pulled the large vehicle out of the parking lot. "Let’s go home." She gave her passenger a real smile, "So I can tuck you into bed."

"Mmm…I think I can handle that," Lex returned her smile. Then her eyes closed, almost against her will. "Damn, Laura musta gave me some sort of sedative…I can barely stay awake." She mumbled, her head falling back against the seat.

"Yeah, she did say that she was going to give you something to help you relax…" Amanda’s voice trailed off when she saw that the older woman had fallen asleep. She felt a strong protective urge come over her. Rick’s real lucky he didn’t start anything with her…or I would have done more than just slap him. She drove the rest of the way home in contemplative silence, taking her time and avoiding the main streets, since they were normally rougher riding, and she didn’t want her companion jarred anymore than necessary.

Pulling up in the driveway, Amanda noticed that her grandparents were walking out to the Suburban. Climbing out of the truck, she met them halfway, as they had started towards her when she drove up.

"Mandy! Sweetheart," Anna Leigh wrapped her granddaughter up in a loving hug. "We were getting concerned…you’ve been gone for hours." She looked towards the truck. "Is Lexington going to come inside?"

Jacob had made his way over to where the two women were standing. "You just caught us on our way to the car dealership…they called to say Anna Leigh’s new car was ready." He had been driving his wife’s car when a drunk driver hit him six months ago. They had waited to order her a new one until last month, since Jacob had not been cleared by the doctor until recently.

"Hi, Grandpa." Amanda stepped into his welcoming arms. "I take it you’ve finally been given a clean bill of health?" She backed off a step and smiled at her grandmother. "Lex fell asleep on the drive back. They had to reopen the bullet wound because it was infected, and Laura," this with a smile to Jacob, "gave her a sedative to keep her calm."

Jacob smiled. "How is Laura? She was such a sweetheart to me…although I think I gained a few pounds from those contraband milkshakes she kept sneaking in to me." He looked at the sleeping figure in the truck. "Do you need any help getting Lex into the house?"

Amanda followed his gaze, her eyes softening as she looked at the dozing rancher. "No…I’ll wake her up in a minute. At least I should be able to get her to rest today." She gave both of them a hug. "You two go ahead and pick up that new car…I can’t wait to see it!" she ushered them back to the Suburban.

Once Jacob and Anna Leigh had driven off, Amanda walked back over to the hunter green 4x4. She opened the passenger door slowly, so as not to startle the sleeping woman. "Lex?" spoken quietly. "Honey, it’s time to wake up." She brushed the bangs out of the dark woman’s eyes, which slowly opened at her touch. "Hey there."

Lex looked around, somewhat disoriented. "Umm…" she cleared her throat, "Hi." Blinking a couple of times, she finally recognized where they were. "Sorry…didn’t mean to drop off like that." She wiped a shaky hand across her face.

"Don’t worry about it." Amanda unclipped the seat belt holding her in. "Think you can make it into the house?"

Rolling her eyes, Lex sighed. "Relax, I’m fine…just a little drugged up." She sat up and swung her legs out of the truck.

Amanda took a step back, but stayed within arms’ distance. "Okay…well, I’m staying right here, just in case." Daring the other woman to argue with her.

"Waste of time…" Lex stepped down from the truck, but her legs began to buckle as soon as she put her weight on them. "Whoa!"

Amanda jumped forward and caught Lex before she fell. Wrapping her arm around the taller woman, she chastised, "Teach you to not listen to me!" She started towards the house slowly, "Of all the stubborn, pig-headed…"

"Hey!" Lex complained, but held on tightly to the small blonde, "I just wasn’t awake yet." She grumbled, allowing Amanda to guide her into the house, and then up the stairs.

Walking into their bedroom, Amanda wordlessly guided Lex towards the bed, pulling the comforter back and then pushed Lex down gently. She lifted the rancher’s feet up, removed her boots, and then began to unsnap her jeans.

"If you were trying to get me into bed, all you had to do was say so." Lex teased, trying to gauge the other woman’s mood. Reaching down to help, she was startled when her hands were batted away. "What?"

Amanda pulled the jeans off of the long legs, folded them neatly and placed them on a nearby chair. "Hush." She pulled a well-worn nightshirt from Lex’s suitcase, then draped it over the bemused rancher. Lifting the covers back over the tall form, the small blonde went into the adjoining bathroom and brought out a glass of water, stopping to grab the prescription bottles from her purse. "Here…take these. I’m going to go downstairs and get you something to eat."

Puzzled, Lex did as she was told. "Okay…are you mad at me?" She sat the glass down on the bedside table.

Stopping at the doorway, Amanda realized how she must have looked to the other woman. "No honey, I’m not." She walked back over to the bed and sat next to the older woman. "I’m sorry…I just wanted to get you settled before you fell asleep again." She brought a hand up and caressed the tan cheek. "I’ll be right back." Standing up, Amanda leaned over and kissed Lex on the top of her head. "Behave yourself for a few minutes."

"Yes ma’am…" Lex realized that she wasn’t going to win any arguments today. "Could you do me a favor and bring the bank papers back with you? I’d really like to start looking over them." This with a pleading smile.

"Sure…if you promise to get some rest first." Amanda countered, standing at the doorway. "I’ll even help you if you want."

Lex leaned back against the pillows. "It’s a deal." She felt another wave of lethargy wash over her. What in the hell did they give me? I feel like I could sleep for a week! Closing her eyes, the exhausted woman didn’t even notice when Amanda snuck from the room.


Chapter 6

Amanda was sitting at the kitchen table nursing a cup of coffee, when Jacob and Anna Leigh returned from the dealership some time later.

"Peanut, is everything okay?" Jacob sat down next to her, concern etched on his strong face.

"Hmm? Oh, sure, Grandpa." She released a heavy sigh. "Just thinking." Looking across the room to her grandmother, she gave a wry smile. "Mother called while you were gone."

Anna Leigh sat down on the other side of the young woman. "Oh…is there anything wrong, dear?"

Amanda shook her head. "No…she called to see how Grandpa was feeling, and to find out why I haven’t called her for so long. I told her that everything was great, and that you’d gone to pick up your new car." Taking a deep breath, she almost whispered, "Mother says since I’m ‘not needed’ here anymore, she wants me to come back to Los Angeles and help her with the gallery."

Jacob put a strong arm around his granddaughter’s shoulders. "Help with the gallery? She rarely spends any time there herself these days." He looked at his wife. "I wonder what she’s up to now?"

"Maybe she just misses you, Mandy." Anna Leigh tried to be tactful. Fact was, Elizabeth Cauble only seemed interested in her children when she needed something from them. "Did she give you any other reason for wanting you to come back?"

Amanda ran her hand through her long blonde hair in agitation. "Not really…she did say that she and Dad were about to go out of the country again. But she usually leaves Jeannie in charge of the gallery, so I don’t know why she wants me there." Her older sister had rarely come to visit, spending most of her time traveling, much to Jacob and Anna Leigh’s dismay. Amanda wiped a tear from her eye. "I told her I wanted to stay here permanently, because I’ve found someone that I truly care about, and that I am happy for the first time in a very long time."

Anna Leigh squeezed her hand. "What did Elizabeth say about that?"

"She said that I was too young to know what I wanted." She sat up straighter. "And that this was just a ‘phase’ I’m going through." Amanda gave her grandmother a resolved look. "It’s not a phase, Gramma…I’ve never felt anything more…right. And I’m not giving this up."

Jacob pulled her close. "We’re both behind you one hundred percent, sweetheart." He looked over at his wife. "Funny thing is, I think your grandmother was told the same thing when we first started dating."

"C’mon, Anna…hurry up!" the diminutive redhead yelled, jogging towards the lake.

Anna Leigh laughed, and followed her best friend, not noticing the young man carrying an armful of wood crossing the path in front of her. "Ooof!" she knocked him down, scattering the wood everywhere. "Oh, my…I’m so sorry!" she apologized, helping the boy to his feet. Taking a close look, Anna realized that this was no boy…he was probably seventeen, a good year older than she was. Tall, and very nice looking, the young man was now covered with a layer of dirt from the path. "Are you okay?"

Jacob Cauble looked at the young woman that he had fallen for, literally. "Uh, yeah…I’m sorry I was in your way. Are you alright?" He dusted himself off, caught in her bright green eyes.

Anna laughed. "I’m fine..."she looked up into his shining blue eyes, "Where are my manners? My name is Anna Leigh." She reached out with a slender hand.

He wiped his hand on his shirt before shaking her hand. "Jacob Cauble. Pleased to meet you."

They spent the entire summer together, since both of them were staying at the lake. She with her high society friends, and he with his job as assistant to the maintenance man. Jacob thought that Anna must work around the cabins, and Anna assumed that he was there as a guest. As the summer came to a close, each found that they had been wrong about the other’s background, but didn’t seem to care.

"Anna Leigh," Jacob felt her snuggle closer to him as they watched the moon over the lake one evening, "I love you with all my heart and soul…I just wish I could offer you more."

She kissed his strong jaw. "Jacob, my love…you have given me more this summer than I ever dreamed possible."

He backed away from her, then bent to one knee. "I can’t give you much, but I would be honored if you would consent to become my wife." He pulled out a small silver ring, which normally graced his pinkie on his right hand. "This was my great-grandmother’s wedding ring, and it would make me proud if you would wear it until I could get you a proper engagement ring."

"Oh, Jacob…"she pulled him close. "I would be proud to be your wife." She allowed him to place the small ring on her finger, which was a perfect fit. "And if you dare try to replace this with something else, I may have to thump you!"

They went to tell her parents together, hoping that their obvious love would override any objections they may have.

"Absolutely not! No daughter of mine is going to marry some money-grubbing carpenter!" Robert Winston roared, pulling the young woman from Jacob’s arms. "Get up to your room this minute!" he pushed her towards the stairs.

"With all due respect, sir…" Jacob began, trying to reach his beloved.

"Get out of my house!" Robert pushed the young man back, waiting for the butler to grab him. "And stay away from my daughter!"

Jacob struggled, then stopped as he saw Anna Leigh begin to cry. "I love you, Anna Leigh. Don’t give up on us!" he yelled, as he was bodily drug from the house.

The next day, a weeping Anna Leigh was put on a passenger ship to Paris by her father, who hoped that the vacation would bring the young woman back to her senses.

Anna Leigh laughed. "I’d forgotten all about that." She looked down at the small silver band on her right hand. Seeing Amanda’s questioning look, she explained, "My family was considered to be in the upper echelon of Austin society at that time… Daddy thought your grandfather was ‘beneath my station’ – he even went so far as to send me to Paris for one summer." She smiled in remembrance. "I had been there for six miserable weeks, when a certain young gentleman showed up on my doorstep."

"Grandpa?" Amanda whispered, mesmerized by the story. "How did…?" she looked at her grandfather, who had a slight blush on his face – much to the delight of his wife.

"Well, since Jacob didn’t have the kind of money needed for passage, he worked his way across on a ship. I believe it was a cattle ship, wasn’t it dear?" she smiled.

Jacob finally laughed. "Oh yeah…shoveling sh…er, by-product for almost five weeks – talk about an adventure!" Seeing the delighted smile on his granddaughter’s face, he knew that they had successfully sidetracked her from her previous depression. "To this day, I can’t even look at a bag of fertilizer without traumatic flashbacks!" he joked.

"Guess that means you won’t be out to visit the ranch anytime soon, huh?" A sultry voice teased from the doorway.

"Lex! What are you doing up?" Amanda jumped up from the table and hurried over to the rancher. "You should be in bed!" she chastised.

The tall woman allowed herself to be steered to the table and guided into a chair. "I feel much better now, especially since I’ve finally got all that medication out of my system." She grinned at Jacob and Anna Leigh, "Remind me to get even with Laura next time I see her."

Jacob chuckled. "She’s pretty good at that, I remember." He gave the dark-haired woman a stern look. "You really should be in bed resting, Lex. You still look pretty pale."

"Oh, no…I hate lying in bed – makes me feel like I’m sick, or something." Lex raised a hand to stop Amanda before she could add anything. "I really feel fine. Besides, I’ve got some paperwork to start looking over." She quirked a brow at the young blonde.

Amanda sighed, realizing she would not win this round. "Okay, but only for a little while – then you’re going to get some more rest, or else."

"Or else what?" Lex smirked, glancing over at Jacob, who was trying not to laugh.

Watch out, my young friend…little Amanda’s a lot tougher than she looks, he grinned, looking at his wife.

The small blonde put her hand on Lex’s shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. "Or else I’ll call Martha, and tell her you’re not taking care of yourself…" she loved the scowl that replaced the cocky smile on the rancher’s face, "and I’m sure she’ll be glad to haul you back out to the ranch for a little TLC."

"You wouldn’t…." Lex countered, "you would!" seeing the gleefully evil grin that covered Amanda’s face. "Alright!" She let out a long breath. "You win, for now, anyway."

Trying to stop the battle, Anna Leigh decided on another tact. "Lexington, you are quite welcome to use our office – the desk is more than large enough to work on, I believe."

The rancher gave the older woman a relieved smile. "Thank you, Mrs. Cauble, uh, I mean Anna Leigh…" an apologetic quirk of her lips. That’s going to take some getting used to, I think. "I really appreciate you allowing me to stay here while I get some business taken care of, especially since my brother and I are not getting along very well right now, and I couldn’t very well stay at his house." Yeah, that’s an understatement.

"C’mon," Amanda grabbed her hand and pulled the taller woman to her feet, "I’ll show you where the office is, and help you get settled." She smiled at her grandparents as she tugged the rancher out of the room.


Chapter 7

Amanda led the taller woman through the house, pulling her into a spacious room off of the main hall. Large bay windows with cheery curtains brightened the room, which had a large antique cherry wood desk sitting in front of the windows, and several oversized chairs were scattered around the room.

"This is where Gramma keeps track of things at the real estate office, even though she officially retired a couple of years ago." Amanda explained, showing Lex the large computer occupying one whole side of the desk. "She keeps after me to take over for her, but until recently I really didn’t have any good reason to live here permanently." A sweet smile at the rancher. "C’mon, let’s sit down for a minute before you get too engrossed in paperwork." She sat the taller woman down on the sofa, then dropped down beside her with a sigh.

Lex watched as the younger woman nervously played with their still-clasped hands, a small tremor of fear running through her. Something’s bothering her…bite the bullet time, I think. "Amanda?" she used her free hand to lift the small woman’s chin up, so that they were looking eye-to-eye. "What’s the matter?" Seeing a small sparkle of tears in those sea-green eyes, a lump formed in her throat. "You know you can tell me, right?"

"I know…it’s just kind of hard to explain. I’m twenty-three years old, and yet every time my mother calls, I feel like I’m sixteen again." She felt the reassuring grip on her hand tighten slightly. "I spoke to my mother earlier today…she wants me to come back to Los Angeles and work in her art gallery."

Lex stiffened. "And…" she had to clear her throat, "What do you want?" Feeling her heart pound, the older woman tried valiantly to appear calm. The woman sitting next to her must have noticed, because she scooted closer, almost sitting in her lap.

"I want…" she pulled their linked hands up to her lips, "to stay here." She kissed the large hand in hers, "I want to tell my grandmother that I would be glad to run her office for her, and…" Amanda was unable to finish her thought, as she was pulled up into Lex’s arms, and her mouth was captured in a passionate kiss. Giving up words, the young woman tangled her hands in ebony waves, pulling Lex to her with almost inhuman strength. She trembled as she felt strong hands begin to roam across her back, mapping across her shirt with sweet urgency. Pulling back to look at Lex’s face, Amanda whispered, "I just found you." Seeing answering tears shine in those incredible blue eyes, "And I’m not ready to give you up…not for my mother, and not for anyone."

Lex looked into the younger woman’s eyes, and saw a fierce determination there. She really means this. Feeling her misgivings crumble beneath that gaze, Lex tried to think of words to convey what she was feeling in her heart. "I love you." Feeling totally inadequate, until she saw the answering smile break across Amanda’s face.

"I love you too." Amanda murmured, leaning forward to place a gentle kiss on the rancher’s mouth. Breaking off, she snuggled her face into the tan neck, happy to simply absorb the feeling of love that seemed to surround her.

They sat there quietly for a while, both content to just hold the other, until a ringing phone made them both jump. Amanda regretfully slipped off of Lex’s lap, and had just curled up next to her when Anna Leigh came into the room.

"I’m sorry to disturb you, Mandy…but your father is on the phone, and he wants to talk to you." The older woman looked upset.

"Gramma? Are you okay?" Amanda stood and walked over to her grandmother. "Did Daddy say something to upset you?" She felt Lex come up behind her and place a comforting hand on the small of her back.

Anna Leigh took a deep breath. "I’m fine, sweetheart." She gave her granddaughter a wry smile. "God knows I love my son, but he can be so small minded at times. I’ve often wondered where we went wrong with him." But she did know…her parents, trying to make up for losing their daughter to a ‘working man,’ gave young Michael the best of everything, even when Jacob and Anna Leigh strenuously argued against it. He was showered with expensive clothes, fancy cars, and had decided at an early age that money was the most important thing in the world, no matter how much his parents tried to tell him otherwise. And when his grandparents introduced him to a young socialite from a wealthy family, Michael immediately saw his opportunity, and proposed.

How on earth did our sweet little Amanda come from such a business-like merger? Anna Leigh often wondered to herself.

"Guess I’d better get this over with." Amanda walked over to the desk and picked up the phone. "Hello, Daddy." She listened for a few minutes, her normally cheerful demeanor becoming more clouded by the minute. Looking across the room, she saw that Lex and her grandmother were in a deep discussion. Putting her hand over the mouthpiece, she whispered, "Lex…" no other words need be spoken, as the tall woman crossed the room quickly to pull the small blonde into her arms.

Looks like she’s in good hands, now. Anna Leigh left the room quietly, closing the door behind her.

"I know what Mother wants, but as I told her earlier today, I’m staying here in Somerville." Tears welled up in her eyes as she listened to her father’s tirade. "I’m a grown woman, Dad… I love you and Mother, but there’s nothing there for me anymore." She took a deep breath as Lex pulled her tight, kissing her lightly on top of her head. "I’ve found someone I love very much, and I’m very happy here." She leaned back into the strong arms now supporting her. "Yes, Gramma and Grandpa know about it. She’s staying here with us now." Amanda pulled the phone away from her ear as he father began to rant in earnest now. "NO! She’s not like that! They have accepted my choices, why can’t you?" Amanda felt tears of frustration fall down her face. "I’m sorry you feel that way, Father." She slowly laid the phone back on its base, then turned and tucked herself into the strong body behind her. "Oh, God…" she began to cry.

Lex was at a loss. What can I say to her without sounding like a selfish fool? "Shhh…it’s gonna be alright, sweetheart." She whispered into the nearby ear.

Amanda cried herself out, feeling a deep sense of loss. "He doesn’t want anything to do with me until I ‘come to my senses’." She sighed. "He says all you want is my money, and that you’re just using me." She looked up, expecting to see anger.

Laughing out loud, Lex gave Amanda a strong squeeze. "You’re kidding, right?" she continued to chuckle, releasing her grasp on the younger woman and stepping over to a small table, where the attaché case from the bank was lying. Pulling out an envelope, she handed the smaller woman a piece of paper. "Read the balance on the statement." She grinned.

Amanda gave her a questioning gaze, but did as she asked and looked down at the bank statement. No wonder she’s smiling…she has more money than both my parents have combined! "You’re kidding, right?" Looking up at the grin stretched across the rancher’s face.

Lex shook her head. "Nope. My mother was evidently from a very well-to-do family…and with the investments I’ve made in the past few years, it’s safe to say that I won’t be trying to clean out your bank accounts in the middle of the night." She smiled.

"Not that I ever had any worries in that regard, Lex. I don’t use my parent’s money – which has also caused quite a few arguments." Amanda crossed to where the taller woman was standing and stepped into her arms. "I don’t care if you were just a poor ranch hand, I’d still be in love with you."

Lex kissed her temple. "I know…and you should know that I fell in love with you the moment I pulled you out of the creek. I had no idea who you were, but there was something about you…" she pulled the smaller woman closer. "So, are you going to help me read all these damn reports? Maybe you can figure out where all the money is going."

Amanda allowed herself to be led back over to the desk, sitting in a nearby chair. "Sure. I help with the bookwork at the office all the time – I love numbers."

Grinning at the younger woman, Lex handed her a pile of papers. "Maybe I should hire you to do my paperwork at the ranch? I hate sitting in an office when I can be outside doing something instead."

"I’d love to." Amanda smiled. "What are you willing to pay?" She asked, sorting the papers into some semblance of order.

Lex gave her a sexy smile. "I think we could work something out." She started dividing the papers she had into neat little piles.

They worked quietly for almost two hours, each woman studying the papers before her. Amanda finally found a pattern to the losses, pointing it out to the older woman. "Look. This is the third time I’ve seen this." She handed the paper to Lex.

"Now that you mentioned it, I’ve seen it a couple of times myself." Lex dug through a pile, then jumped to her feet. "That sonofabitch!" She threw the papers down and began to stomp through the room. "I’ll kill him!"

"Lex! Wait!" Amanda jumped up from her chair and caught the tall woman before she could reach the door. Latching onto a strong arm, she forced Lex to turn and face her.

The angry rancher was almost to the door when she felt a small hand grab her arm. Spinning around, she was about to sling off the annoyance when a quiet voice cut through the red haze of her fury.

"Lex?" Amanda spoke quietly, hoping to calm the angry woman as one would a wild animal. "Hey…come over here and sit down, please?" She thought at first Lex was just going to brush her aside and continue out the door, but the piercing blue eyes softened, and the older woman allowed herself to be guided to the sofa.

Leaning back on the sofa, Lex closed her eyes and took a shaky breath. "I’m sorry…" she murmured, feeling the anger ebb away, leaving only weariness in its place.

Amanda sat down next to her, feeling her own heart slowly go back to its normal rhythm. She watched as the older woman finally calmed down, seeing the tense lines on her face slowly soften. Picking up the hand that was clinched into a tight fist, she coaxed it open, entwining their fingers together. "Shhh…there’s nothing to be sorry about."

Lex pulled their joined hands up until they were against her chest. Bending her face down, she placed a very soft kiss on Amanda’s knuckles. "I’m sorry that you had to witness that." Opening her eyes, Lex looked down at their hands, still unable to bring herself to meet the younger woman’s gaze. "But better you know now how I can be, I guess."

"Look at me." A quiet demand. Taking a deep breath, Lex slowly raised her eyes to look into Amanda’s. Expecting to see fear or disgust, the rancher was somewhat shocked at the amount of love and understanding she was receiving through the shining green eyes across from her. Opening her mouth to speak, Lex found her lips gently covered with a soft fingertip.

"If that’s the best you can do to scare me off, you’re in big trouble." Seeing the older woman taking a breath to speak, Amanda shook her head. "No, wait…I know you have a temper," she gave the rancher a wry smile, "and if you ask anyone in my family, they’ll tell you I have a pretty short fuse myself." Taking her hand away from Lex’s mouth, she used it instead to caress the tan cheek. "So, between the two of us, everyone else had better watch out!" Noticing that Lex’s blue eyes were turning watery, Amanda threaded her fingers behind the older woman’s neck, pulling her head forward. She gave Lex a gentle kiss, then pulled back and smiled. "Would it help you to talk about it?"

Lex leaned forward again until their foreheads were touching. "There’s not much to say…" her voice dropped to a hoarse whisper as her eyes involuntarily closed, "It’s about the missing money." Her hand was released, and she felt a heavy weight descend onto her chest… until small, strong arms wrapped themselves around her comfortingly. Pulling the smaller woman into her lap, Lex buried her face in the soft reddish-blonde hair. "It’s not the amount of money that bothers me…" she mumbled, feeling the younger woman squeeze her tighter.

Amanda stroked the dark head tenderly. "Shhh…I know that honey." She felt the body under hers tremble slightly.

"My own brother…" Lex sniffed, trying to control her emotions. "How can my own brother be embezzling money from the ranch?"

Dear god…no wonder she’s so upset… Amanda could feel the quiet sobs wracking the slender form beneath her. "Sweetheart…maybe there’s another explanation."

Pulling herself together, the older woman leaned back so she could look into Amanda’s face. "I could probably handle the fact that he’s taking money from the ranch, since he really never got over the fact that Dad signed it over to me." She gave the younger woman a weak smile, as soft fingertips wiped the tears from her face. "But the way he’s done it…I really never thought the slimy bastard was that smart."

"He can’t be too smart…since you’ve caught him at it." Amanda remarked, relieved to see that her companion was feeling more like herself.

Lex shook her head sadly. "That’s just it, Amanda. Looking at the statements and receipts, we haven’t caught him…" she helped the young woman off of her lap, picking up some papers from the desk. "Look right here…" She showed the smaller woman the signature on the withdrawal slip. It read, ‘Lexington M. Walters’. "We’ve caught me."


Chapter 8

Later that evening, Amanda convinced Lex to tell Anna Leigh and Jacob what was going on, since each of them had been running their own business for years. She was hoping their different perspectives would help them find an easier solution – one that didn’t include Lex having to testify against her only living sibling, and possibly sending him to prison. I don’t think she could handle that kind of guilt – not to mention dragging all of this out in public, Amanda reasoned.

"So, he’s been withdrawing money by signing your name to the slips for the last few months?" Anna Leigh asked, looking at the receipts from the bank. "And since all the statements had been sent to him, you’re just now finding out about it?"

Lex was sitting in a nearby chair with her head propped in her hands. "I know…it was totally irresponsible of me not to have copies of the statements sent to the ranch every month." She was feeling more and more foolish by the minute.

Amanda, sitting on the arm of Lex’s chair, rubbed her back comfortingly. "I think what Gramma is wondering is why the bank hadn’t figured out that anything unusual was happening." She looked at her grandmother, who nodded in agreement.

"Goodness, Lexington! I never meant for you to think that…" she waited until the young rancher looked up at her. "It’s just that the only time I can see that you’ve withdrawn money without using a check is when your brother has done it…and it was for fairly large amounts. I just can’t believe they actually allowed this to happen without some sort of verification."

Jacob looked up from the papers he was studying. "She’s right…those idiots at the bank should have realized something was wrong a long time ago…unless someone there is in on it too."

Lex closed her eyes, feeling a sudden exhaustion. "I’ve already called Mr. Collins and told him not to allow any more withdrawals from this account without visual verification." She leaned her head back against the chair. "I’m going to take your advice and go down tomorrow to open a new account, so Hubert won’t have any more access to the ranch funds."

Anna Leigh looked at Jacob, and they both looked at the rancher in concern. Amanda looked down, seeing that Lex had closed her eyes. "Lex?" She ran a hand gently through the dark hair, "I think you’ve done all you can today." She waited for the older woman to look up at her. "It’s getting pretty late, so why don’t we go upstairs and go to bed?"

"Yeah, I think you’re right. I’m beat." Lex sighed, then slowly stood up. She smiled tiredly at the older couple sitting at the desk. "I really appreciate all of your help today…I don’t know what I would have done without you." She looked down at her feet self-consciously, "I think I was just so shocked when I found out who was behind all of this, I couldn’t think straight."

Anna Leigh walked over to the taller woman and wrapped her arms around Lex’s broad shoulders. "Oh, sweetheart…you’re part of the family. We’ll always be here for you."

Jacob stood beside them, giving Lex’s shoulder a gentle squeeze. "That’s right, honey. Now get yourself upstairs and get some rest."

Lex stepped back and gave them both a heartfelt smile. "Thank you…I wish I had known my own grandparents – but I have a feeling they couldn’t have held a candle to you two." She then allowed Amanda to steer her out of the office and up the stairs, leaning slightly against the smaller woman.

"Lex…are you alright?" Amanda asked, as the rancher placed an arm around her shoulders.

"Yeah, I’m fine. Just enjoying the company." She chuckled, feeling Amanda swat her on the rear. "And I am a little tired…it’s been one hell of a long day." She patiently let the younger woman guide her to the bed, sitting down with a grin.

Amanda began to unbutton Lex’s shirt, not noticing the smirk she was receiving. "Have you taken your medicine this evening, Lex?" Not waiting for an answer, she efficiently stripped the rancher, and picked up a soft cotton nightshirt from a nearby suitcase for Lex to wear. "Here… put this on," she dressed the older woman as if she were a child. Before she could finish buttoning the shirt, she felt her hands gently captured.

"Amanda…?" Lex spoke softly, causing sea-green eyes to focus on her, "please stop fussing so much…you’re going to wear yourself out." She brought the small hands to her lips and placed a soft kiss on the delicate knuckles. "Why don’t you get undressed and join me?"

Amanda blinked. "Oh." She gave Lex an embarrassed smile. "I didn’t even realize what I was doing." She pulled away slowly, grabbing her own nightshirt from a nearby dresser. Stripping efficiently, Amanda didn’t notice the appreciative eyes watching her until she had slipped the long tee shirt over her head. "What?"

"Have I ever told you how beautiful you are?" Lex asked, in a reverent tone. "Just looking at you makes my heart stop."

"Oh, c’mon…I think that medication you’re on is affecting your eyes…" Amanda chuckled, then looked into Lex’s face, seeing that the older woman was quite serious. "You really think so?" She walked back over to the bed and sat down.

Lex pulled her close, then rolled over onto her back, tucking the younger woman against her left side. "Oh, yeah…" she gave her a light kiss on top of her golden head.

Amanda felt an unexpected surge of happiness flow through her with that thought. Wow… "Thank you." She murmured, absorbing the feeling with joy.

"You’re welcome." Lex pulled her even closer, if that were possible. "Love you." She managed to say before sleep claimed her.

"I love you too." The fair-haired woman whispered, as she kissed the strong shoulder underneath her cheek.


Chapter 9

The early morning sun was shining brightly through the windows when Amanda opened her eyes, which caused her to groan and attempt to bury her face back into her pillow. Feeling the pillow move, she reopened one eye and realized the surface her head was propped up on was actually breathing. Amazing…I actually woke up first. Reaching up with one hand, Amanda touched Lex’s forehead. No fever…that’s a good sign. She thought about getting up, but the older woman had her arm wrapped possessively around Amanda’s shoulder, and she really didn’t want to disturb her. So I guess I’ll just suffer here in bed, she smiled to herself. What a hardship. She wrapped her arms tightly around the strong body beneath her and drifted back to sleep.

Lex woke up sometime later, pleased to note that the fuzzy feeling from the medication was gone, and the wound in her side didn’t hurt at all. Amanda was still sprawled against her, tousled blonde head snuggled up under her chin. Looking towards the window, Lex could see the late morning sun streaming in. I can’t believe I slept so late…peering down fondly at her companion, she smiled. She’s not gonna let me live this down for a while, I’ll bet. Pulling the younger woman close, she softly kissed the top of her head. "Amanda," she felt a small arm squeeze her tighter. "C’mon, sweetheart, time to get up. We can’t lounge around in bed all day."

"Mmm…no." the smaller woman grumbled, "don’t wanna." She buried her head deeper into Lex’s shoulder.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, Lex grinned to herself, as she slowly edged a hand under Amanda’s nightshirt, tickling her ribs.

"Hey!" The young blonde squealed, jumping back, "Not nice!" Sitting up, she rearranged her shirt. "You look like you’re feeling better today," she observed.

Lex rolled over onto her left side, and propped her head up with her hand. "Yep…good as new."

Amanda mirrored her posture with a sweet smile. "I wouldn’t go that far…you still need to take it easy for a few days – doctor’s orders!" Seeing the decidedly evil grin that broke out across the rancher’s face, Amanda quickly rolled out of bed and started towards the bathroom. I don’t know what she’s thinking, but I don’t think I’ll like it, she thought to herself. "Don’t give me that look…" she warned, not turning around. Amanda was almost to the doorway when she was caught from behind. Strong hands reached under her shirt and began tracing a gentle pattern on her stomach.

"Want me to scrub your back?" a soft voice growled in her ear.

Amanda felt her legs start to weaken as Lex began a tender assault on her neck. "Uhmmm…" she lifted her arms back over her head to tangle her hands in the dark woman’s hair. The large hands began to drift upwards, taking a firm grasp on responsive flesh. "Ohh…yeah… sharing is good…" she murmured, then allowed a chuckling Lex to guide her gently into the bathroom.


By the time they made it downstairs, the kitchen was strangely quiet. Amanda steered Lex into a chair at the table and smiled. "Looks like I get to finally cook you some breakfast." She brought over a mug of coffee and placed it in front of the taller woman, "Here, you can start with this." She stepped over to the stove and turned the griddle on to heat.

Lex took a sip of the coffee gratefully. "Thanks…but you really don’t have to wait on me hand and foot, or cook my breakfast…we can always stop and get some doughnuts, or something."

"Oh, no…those things will kill you! Besides, I like taking care of you… I’ve never had anyone to pamper before – so get used to it." Amanda shook a finger at her, indicating that no more arguments would be heard, then turned and started pulling items out of the refrigerator.

Anna Leigh walked into the kitchen to refill her coffee cup. "Good morning, girls." She gave Amanda a hug, then kissed Lex on top of the head as she joined her at the table. "What kind of trouble are you two planning on getting into today?"

Amanda turned away from the counter where she was stirring pancake batter. "Funny you should ask, Gramma. I was going to talk to you about that."

"Really?" the older woman winked at Lex. "Well, here I am, so ask away…Do you need me to do something for you?"

Pouring the batter onto the griddle, Amanda chuckled. "Actually, I was hoping it was something I could do for you." Keeping one eye on the griddle, she partially turned to look at her grandmother. "Since I’ve decided to live here in Somerville on a more permanent basis, I was wondering…" she didn’t get the rest out before Anna Leigh leaped to her feet and wrapped the younger woman in an exuberant hug. "You’re staying? That’s wonderful, Mandy!" Pulling back to look her granddaughter in the eye, "Does this also mean I have a new office manager? Two people have called in the past week to give notice because of Rick." She felt bad that things had gotten this much out of hand – but her thoughts had been focused on Jacob’s health, and the real estate office had been on the bottom of her priorities list after her husband’s accident.

Giving the older woman a squeeze, Amanda returned her attention to the pancakes. "If you still want me to, then yes." Flipping them over, she turned back to Anna Leigh. "But…" she pointed the spatula, "only if you think I’d be the best person for the job."

"Absolutely! When can you start?" Anna Leigh laughed, then sat back down at the table across from Lex. "Would you two mind meeting me at the office this afternoon? I can’t wait to get rid of that sorry excuse for a human being."

Lex grinned. "I can’t speak for Amanda, but I would love to be there when you give that worthless son of a …goat, the axe." Looking at the back of the small blonde, she smirked. "Did Amanda tell you she had a run-in with him yesterday? He probably has a nice little bruise to show for it, too."

"Really? What happened?" Anna Leigh smiled back at her granddaughter, who groaned.

"I couldn’t help it…he started mouthing off, and I just lost my temper." Amanda placed the pancakes on plates and brought them to the table.

"Aaand?" the older woman drew out the word, expectantly.

"I slapped him." Amanda sat down next to the rancher, embarrassed.

Lex snorted. "More like knocked him silly! He nearly fell over!" she teased.

"Good Lord, Mandy! That man is huge! He could have seriously hurt you!" her grandmother scolded.

Looking over at Lex, the fair-haired woman smiled. "I wasn’t worried – Lex got into his face and nearly made him wet his pants!" The all laughed. "But please, Gramma, wait until we get there before you do anything, okay? I really don’t trust him."

"Certainly, sweetheart. That would work out better, anyway. Jacob has been going stir crazy, so he’s decided to work in his shop for a little while, and he’s gone now to get supplies." She smiled. "He’s just so glad to be able to drive himself around again."

Lex laughed again. "I can sympathize, since I nearly drove Martha crazy when I broke my leg a couple of years ago."

"How did…?" Amanda shook her head. "Nevermind. I don’t think I want to know."

Anna Leigh gave Lex a sympathetic look. "Wasn’t that when you rolled your truck during that nasty icestorm?"

"Yeah…that whole mess is the reason Martha insisted that I start carrying a cell phone with me…she gets pretty upset when I forget to take it." Like the night I went to check the fence in a thunderstorm…Well, at least that worked out. Seeing Amanda’s questioning look, she shrugged. "It happened on a Friday afternoon, and they didn’t find me until Saturday night."

"I remember…I swear, she nearly called out the National Guard!" Anna Leigh looked at Amanda, "Martha called everyone on the Historical Committee, and had nearly every able-bodied man in the county combing every inch of the roads between here and the ranch."

Amanda looked at Lex, horrified. "Dear god! That must have been horrible for you!"

"It really wasn’t that bad…I don’t remember much about it." Lex looked nonchalant.

Anna Leigh slapped her on the arm. "That’s because you were unconscious for most of it, silly!"

The tall woman rolled her eyes. "See? I told you it wasn’t that bad." She gave them both a smirk, then stood up and put her plate in the dishwasher. "You about ready?" she directed at the younger woman. "I’d like to get my business with the bank done as soon as possible."

"Yeah, I’m done." Amanda put her dishes away, then kissed her grandmother’s cheek. "See you at the office around one o’clock, Gramma?"

That will be perfect, sweetheart. You two try and stay out of trouble until then, okay?" Twin sets of rolled eyes caused Anna Leigh to chuckle. "I know it’s a lot to ask…" she said as they left, laughing.


Chapter 10

They were sitting in Mr. Collins office, the pudgy man sweating profusely as Lex sat there, silently glaring at him.

"I…I…swear to you, Ms. Walters," he stammered, wiping his forehead with an already damp handkerchief, "I honestly don’t see how this could have happened!" His face was getting redder by the minute, and Amanda was afraid the poor man was on the verge of passing out.

"Are you doubting my word, Mr. Collins?" Lex asked quietly, her intense blue eyes boring into the bank president’s face.

"No!" he practically shouted, "I mean, of course not!" he clarified, more quietly. "But our policy on any withdrawal is to get a visual identification – especially with such large amounts."

Lex leaned forward in her chair. "Then," she paused, lowering her voice even more, "unless my brother has changed drastically," she looked down at her own body, "I suggest that one of your employees is either not following policy, or they are in on his little scheme." She glanced back up, catching the sweating banker staring at her breasts.

He flushed scarlet, and began to stammer, "M..m..m..Ms W…ww…Walters…" pulling his collar away from his throat, "I can assure you that we will be investigating this matter thoroughly. And these papers, " he held up several documents, "will insure that only you…" he looked at one page somewhat puzzled, "and Miss Cauble here…" not hearing Amanda’s gasp of surprise, "will be the only people who have access to this account."

Lex nodded and stood up. "Very good…and if anything happens to this account…" she gave him an icy stare, "I will hold you personally responsible." She got a certain enjoyment out of seeing the banker’s face suddenly pale. "Good day, Mr. Collins." Lex gestured for Amanda to proceed her through the office door.

After Amanda signed the necessary papers, Lex ushered her out of the bank and back to the truck. The younger woman was unusually quiet as the rancher helped her into the passenger seat and closed the door after her.

Getting in behind the wheel, Lex sighed. She looked over at her silent friend with concern. "Are you alright? You seem awfully quiet."

Amanda blinked, then turned her gaze towards the dark-haired woman. "You didn’t tell me you were going to do that."

"What?" Lex asked, puzzled. "Oh…that." She met the green eyes with a hopeful look. "I’m sorry…I guess I wasn’t really thinking. Does it bother you?"

The younger woman wrinkled her brow thoughtfully. "No! I mean, it’s not that…I was just really surprised, that’s all." She offered her hand to Lex. "But why put anyone else on the account, after all the trouble it’s already caused? And why me?"

"Because I know you would make sure Martha was taken care of if anything ever happened to me…" Lex squeezed her hand.

"Please don’t talk like that…I don’t think I could survive if anything ever happened to you." Amanda took a deep breath, willing herself not to start crying. "Why not put Martha’s name on it, then?"

Lex pulled Amanda’s hand up and held it to her cheek. "I’m afraid if I do, Hubert will find out somehow…but he’d never suspect that I would give authorization to someone I’ve only known for a short while, " she kissed the small hand, "and because I’m totally in love with you, and want to share all I have…"

"You know that I have all I really need right here, right now, don’t you?" Amanda tenderly cupped the rancher’s cheek. Resisting the urge to crawl across the seats and wrap herself around Lex’s body, she smiled. "I’ll try not to ever break this trust you have in me." Removing her hand, the younger woman sat back and buckled her seatbelt. "It’s almost time to meet Gramma at the office, you ready?" She knew that this was not the time or place for such a deep conversation,

and could also see that her companion was more than a little off balance by the whole thing.

Lex nodded somewhat at a loss for words. "Yeah…this ought to be fun, huh?" she backed the truck out of the parking space in front of the bank, driving towards the real estate office.


Lex followed Amanda into the small building, ignoring the curious looks that passed her way. The younger woman led her into a brightly-lit room with several partitioned cubicles, guiding her to a comfortable chair next to a cluttered desk.

"I would apologize for the mess and try telling you it normally doesn’t look like this, but I refuse to lie." Amanda grinned, sitting down at the desk.

Lex leaned back in the chair, crossing her legs at the ankles and resting her entwined hands on her flat stomach. "They say a cluttered desk is the sign of a busy mind…" she grinned, "when do you find time to sleep?"

Amanda stopped her cleaning efforts, and wadded up a piece of paper – throwing it at the smirking rancher. "Oh, you!"

Lex caught the paper in mid air, tossing it back, only to have it hit the smaller woman on top of her head and then ricochet over the partition. "Oops!" she tried to look innocent as a small woman peeked over the wall, glaring. She had short, sandy-blonde curls framing her round face, and appeared to be a few years older than Lex. Her almost gray eyes flicked to the desk with a scowl.

Her demeanor instantly changed when she saw who was sitting at the desk. "Amanda! ‘Bout time you got back!" she disappeared, then reappeared a moment later in Amanda’s cubicle, encircling the younger woman in a hug. "You look great!" Noticing for the first time that they weren’t alone, she gave Lex a tentative smile. "Oh, sorry…I didn’t know you had company." She studied the silent woman from head to toe – extremely blue eyes, denim shirt, pressed jeans and worn but well cared-for boots. "You must be Lexington…the whole office has been buzzing about you."

"Really?" the tall woman stood and held out a hand. "You can call me Lex."

The older woman smiled, more genuinely this time. "Lord, my manners are horrible! I’m Wanda Skimmerly…it’s really nice to meet you." She shook the rancher’s hand.

"Wanda?" Amanda interrupted her babbling, "what do you mean, the whole office is buzzing?"

"Well, when your grandmother called to say why you weren’t coming in for a while, she said something about how you were literally pulled from the jaws of death – that’s Janet talking, not me." She looked at Lex. "She’s the one who spoke to Anna Leigh when she called in."

Lex laughed, then sat back down in her chair. "I’m afraid it wasn’t that exciting… I just helped Amanda out of the creek, and then held her hostage until the bridge was rebuilt." She winked at the older woman.

Wanda shook her head. "Uh-huh…if you say so." She looked at Amanda, who was sitting on the edge of her desk. "Well, I’ll let you get back to it, then…nice to finally meet you, Lex." She left the cubicle.

"Yeah…nice to meet you, too." The dark-haired woman replied, waving a hand. She glanced over at her companion, who had a smirk on her face. "The ‘jaws of death’? Good grief! These people need to quit watching so many talk shows."

Amanda chuckled, but was kept from answering by the buzzing phone on her desk. "Amanda Cauble…" she listened for a moment, then broke into a wide smile. "Hi, Gramma…sure. We’ll be right there." She looked at Lex as she hung up the phone. "Showtime." Offering her hand to the reclining woman, Amanda pulled the rancher up out of her chair and led her towards the office.


When they walked into the manager’s office, Lex and Amanda noticed that Anna Leigh was sitting behind the desk, with Rick lounging in a visitor’s chair with a sullen look on his face.

Hearing the door open, the large man turned then jumped to his feet. "I should have known…" he sneered as Amanda walked by him to sit on the corner of the desk. "This is about yesterday, right?" the large man glared at the young blonde. "You went crying to grandma because I hurt your little feelings?" Not getting a response from the small woman, Rick looked over at Lex, who was casually leaning by the door with her arms folded across her chest. "She’s got you on a pretty short leash…eh, Kentucky?" using the old school nickname to taunt the tall woman. "Maybe you’ll do a few tricks for us, huh?"

Before Lex could reply, Anna Leigh spoke up. "That’s quite enough, Mr. Thompson. Now please have a seat."

Lex smirked, but wisely kept quiet. I’m really gonna enjoy this. Looking over at her companion, she saw the angry set to Amanda’s face. It’s nice to have someone take up for me, for a change. Wanting to ease the tense lines on the younger woman’s face, Lex winked, and got a small smile in return. That’s better.

Anna Leigh stood up, walking around the desk. "Mr. Thompson…first, let me assure you this meeting has nothing to do with the events of yesterday – that was outside of this office, and I feel that my granddaughter is more than capable of taking care of herself." Seeing him relax, she continued. "However, it has been brought to my attention that as of late, you have been abusing your position."

"Abusing, my ass!" he sputtered, ready to jump to his feet once again.

"Mr. Thompson!" Anna Leigh held out a hand to forestall his outburst. When he sat back, she walked back over to the desk and sat down. "I have had several complaints about your treatment of the employees of this office." She pulled several sheets of paper from her briefcase. "These are the complaints from this past week." Handing the papers to Rick, she watched as he read over them.

"Harassment? Lewd comments? Intimidation?" He looked up at the older woman, his face reddening with anger. "What the hell is this? Some sort of freakin’ witchhunt?"

Anna Leigh shook her head sadly. "No, Mr. Thompson, it isn’t. And we’re not even going to go over what you did to Amanda last Friday."

"What? I sent her on a call…it’s not my fault the little brat can’t read directions!" he blustered.

Pulling a discolored paper from her purse, Amanda finally spoke. "Funny…even though it’s kind of water-stained, you can still make out the client’s name…’L. Walters’, and in the space below are the directions, in your handwriting."

"Mr. Thompson, as a woman who almost lost her granddaughter due to your petty games, I am furious. And, as the owner of this business who nearly lost a very valuable employee, I have no other recourse than to terminate your employment with this agency."

"What?!?" Rick jumped to his feet, incensed. Glaring at the young blonde he yelled, "It’s all your fault! Things were just fine around here until you showed up!" Pointing his finger at Anna Leigh, "You old biddy! Always looking down your nose at me – well, I’m not gonna sit still for this!" He took a step towards the desk when a hand on his arm stopped him.

"That’s far enough." Lex spoke quietly.

"Get your damn hands off me, you meddling bitch!" Rick spun, slamming an elbow into the unsuspecting rancher’s side.

Lex grunted and fell to her knees, arms wrapped around herself in agony.

Turning his murderous gaze on Anna Leigh he growled, "You’re next, old woman."

When Amanda saw Lex fall to the floor, everything around her slowed. Rick started walking towards the desk, when suddenly his head snapped upwards, the imprint of the young woman’s shoe on his chin. Amanda readied herself for another kick when the big man fell backwards, his eyes rolling back in his head.

Lex was able to look up just as Amanda knocked Rick out. Kneeling on one knee, she concentrated all her attention on fighting unconsciousness herself. Closing her eyes, Lex swallowed several times, fighting a wave of nausea that was brought on by the excruciating pain from her abused ribs. This hurts worse than when they were first broken, she focused on taking very small breaths, when she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder.

"Lex? C’mon sweetheart, look at me." Amanda brushed the dark hair away from the rancher’s bowed head, frightened by the loss of color on the normally tan features.

Anna Leigh was on the phone, calling the sheriff to come clean up the office. "Mandy? Should I ask for an ambulance?" She was worried, especially since Lex hadn’t moved since she had dropped to the ground.

"Honey? Do you want to go to the hospital?" Amanda was still running her hand nervously through the dark hair.

Lex shook her head. "No," she managed to get out, hoarsely. Finally able to look up into worried green eyes, she gave a slight smile. "Just…let me…catch my breath."

"Let’s get you off of the floor." Amanda waved her grandmother over, and the two of them helped the still pale rancher into the nearby chair.

The sheriff and two deputies stepped into the room, seeing the big man still out cold on the floor. "Damn…" he looked over at Lex, "Did you do this?"

The dark-haired woman shook her head and inclined it towards Amanda.

"Amanda?" he took off his hat and scratched his gray head. "Well, I’ll be damned… what did you use? A two-by-four?"

The young woman blushed, and looked down at Lex. "Ummm…no." She felt the rancher grasp her hand, which had been resting on the tall woman’s shoulder. "I, uh…kicked him."

Anna Leigh joined in. "That’s right…Mandy took kickboxing lessons during the summer when she stayed with us. Even won a few tournaments."

Charlie laughed. "Damn…remind me never to make you mad…" he teased, watching the deputies pull a groggy Rick to his feet and out of the room. "I know he’s a jerk, but do you have any other charges to press? I’ll need something to put down on the report."

"Assault." Amanda spoke quietly, and with a touch of anger, still looking down at Lex. "He hit Lex in the side, unprovoked."

The dark-haired woman shook her head. "No. I’m not pressing charges." She whispered, still in agony.

"But…" Amanda started, confused.

"No!" The rancher turned her pain-filled eyes towards the sheriff. "Tell him if he’ll leave Mrs. Cauble and Amanda alone, I won’t press charges."

Charlie nodded. "Gotcha." He looked at her still-pale face closely. "You gonna be okay?"

"Yeah, fine. Do you need me to sign anything?" she sat up a little.

"Nah…I’ll take care of it." He put his hat back on and walked to the door. "Take care of yourself, Lex." Tipping his hat to Anna Leigh and Amanda, "You ladies just give me a holler if you need anything."

Anna Leigh walked to the door and shook his hand. "Thank you, Sheriff. I certainly appreciate your quick response. Let me walk you out."

"Thanks, Mrs. Cauble…" he turned to leave, "Take care, Amanda." He waved to her as he walked out the door.

Amanda returned his wave, then squatted down beside Lex. "You feeling any better?" she was relieved to see the color beginning to reappear on the older woman’s face.

Lex smiled. "My hero." Enjoying the blush on the younger woman’s face.

"I really don’t know what came over me…I saw you go down, and then he was coming towards Gramma." She pulled Lex’s hand up to her face. "I guess I just snapped." The idea that I could easily take down someone that size without thinking scares me, she mused. "What kind of person am I to do something like that?" she whispered aloud.

"A very brave person, who will stand up for their family when they are being threatened." Lex answered. Seeing the serious green eyes still distant, she added, "But damn, Amanda… you’re something else! Wanna be my bodyguard?"

That did it. The smaller woman finally broke out of her mood and chuckled. "Oh Lex…" she laid her head down on the rancher’s lap, wrapping both arms around the strong legs and squeezing.

Anna Leigh walked back into the room. "Lexington…are you certain you’re going to be okay?" She stopped next to the dark-haired woman and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.

Lex looked up into the kindly eyes that looked so much like Amanda’s, and smiled. "I’m okay, now. Just sort of got my attention, that’s all." She looked down, seeing her hand running unconsciously through the long blonde hair in her lap.

The older woman gave her shoulder a tender squeeze. Taking a look down as well, she saw her granddaughter’s head comfortably pillowed on the rancher’s legs. "Mandy? Honey, I hate to disturb you, but everyone is in the conference room…it’s time to make the announcement."

Amanda lifted her head with a wry smile. "Well, it’s got to be easier that what we just went through, right?" She climbed to her feet and stretched. "You want to sit in? I’m sure the boss won’t mind." She asked Lex, then looked to her grandmother for confirmation.

Lex shook her head. "Actually, I need to make a few phone calls, if you don’t mind me ‘borrowing’ your office."

"My office?" Amanda laughed, "Oh, yeah…sure." She kissed the dark head. "I’ll be back in a little while." Entangling her arm with Anna Leigh’s, "C’mon, Gramma. Let’s go harass the help."


Chapter 11

Amanda sat through the endless congratulations with a smile on her face, but even her normally good nature was beginning to slip as the boundary to her personal space continued to shrink. If one more person pats me on the head, I swear I’ll bark! The meeting itself only lasted about ten minutes, but the group of employees had circled their new office manager afterwards, and showed no signs of leaving – even though it was almost an hour later.

Anna Leigh heard her granddaughter sigh for the third time in the last five minutes. I think it’s time to save Mandy from our well-wishing friends. She stood up and cleared her throat, getting everyone’s attention immediately. "Everyone, I realize how excited we all are, but let’s give your new boss a break." Accepting the grateful smile from the young woman, she continued, "With all that has happened in the past week, I’m still going to insist that my granddaughter take another week or two off to get some things settled. I know I can count on you all to continue on without her for a little longer." Agreeing murmurs were heard, and the happy employees began filing out of the room.

Amanda stood up and stretched, stepping over to Anna Leigh and wrapping her arms around the older woman. "Thank you…I know they meant well, but the walls were beginning to close in on me." She pulled back to look her grandmother in the eye. "Are you sure you want me to take more time off? I don’t really need to…"

"Yes, I’m sure." Anna Leigh placed a hand under the younger woman’s chin, looking carefully into her shadowed green eyes. "Honey, you’ve been through more in the past week than some folks handle in years…and I think you need an extended vacation to sort through it all." She kissed her granddaughter’s forehead and pulled the young woman into another hug. "You have a lot of issues to work through, even if you don’t realize it."

Amanda sighed. "Yeah, I know…guess the first thing I need to do is go back to LA, pack up all my stuff, and get it shipped here."

"What’s the rush?" The older woman pulled away slightly, but kept an arm looped around Amanda’s waist. "It’s been there for over six months already…what difference would a little longer make?"

The smaller blonde allowed Anna Leigh to escort her out of the conference room and back towards ‘her’ office. That’s going to take some getting used to. "Well, after my last couple of conversations with Mother and Father, I wouldn’t put it past them to either throw it all away, or give it to charity…they were pretty upset with me."

They had just walked up to the open office door when Anna Leigh asked, "So, when are you leaving for Los Angeles?"

"Probably next week." Amanda answered casually, not seeing the stricken look on Lex’s face as she stood up from the desk. "Lex…did you get your phone calls taken care of?" she gave the rancher a smile. "I thought we’d never get out of that meeting."

"Yeah…" the tall woman looked around uncomfortably, "Umm…I’ve got a couple of errands to run…" she ran a shaky hand through her hair, "you wanna stay here for a little while and get settled?"

Amanda looked at her quizzically. The rancher was looking pale and shaky. What’s up with her? She stepped a little closer and put her hand on Lex’s arm, causing the older woman to jump slightly. "Okay…when you get back, I have something to talk to you about." Feeling the arm under her hand tense, Amanda looked up into Lex’s face. "Are you okay? You’re not looking too well."

Taking a breath to speak, Lex shook her head. She’s right…I heard the tail end of the conversation and panicked. "Sorry…ummm…" she looked down at the floor, "Did I hear right? You’re going back to California?" willing her voice not to quiver.

Amanda mentally slapped her forehead. Idiot! She’s already shook up, and then hears that? Getting inside Lex’s guard, Amanda snuggled up to her and wrapped her arms around the tall woman gently. "Yeah…that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. You feel up to taking a trip with me sometime next week? I want to go get the rest of my stuff packed up and shipped back here, before my parents throw it out." She felt the older woman instantly relax.

"You want me to go to your parents house with you?" Lex asked, unsure. "Do you really think that’s such a good idea?"

Hearing the office door quietly close, Amanda smiled to herself. Gramma always seems to know… She pulled back slightly, then threaded her hands through the taller woman’s hair, pulling the dark head down gently. "I want them to meet you…so that they can see why I love you so." Brushing Lex’s lips softly with her own, Amanda felt the rancher tremble, so she gently deepened the kiss until a warmth began to spread throughout her own body.

Strong hands that had been wrapped around her waist slowly migrated downward, pulling the smaller woman nearer. Groaning into the older woman’s mouth, Amanda squeezed closer, until their bodies melded almost into one.

Breaking off the kiss to breathe, Lex nuzzled the blonde woman’s ear. "You’d better stop now, or your new office is going to get more of a christening than you can imagine." She felt the small body shake with laughter.

"Oh God, Lex…I think that would be a little hard to explain, don’t you?" Small chills ran down her spine as Lex nibbled on her earlobe. "Uhhh…L…Lex…ah….you’d better stop, or you’re gonna….mmmm…end up on my…ah…desk."

Kissing the tip of Amanda’s nose, Lex grinned, then backed off. "Heh…don’t tempt me." She took a deep breath, pleased to note that her ribs didn’t seem to have been damaged in the earlier scuffle. "So…when are we leaving?" she asked, seeing a large smile cover her companion’s face.

"Really? You’ll go?" Amanda wrapped her arms back around Lex’s body exuberantly. Hearing the sharp intake of breath, she pulled away quickly. "Oh no, Lex…your ribs! I’m so sorry…"

"Sshh…they’re fine…just a little tender." Lex pulled the small woman close again. "And of course I’ll go. Do you actually think I could stand to be without you for what…three, four days? Uh-uh…you’re stuck with me, sweetheart." She kissed the soft blonde hair lightly.

"Cool – I think I can handle that." Amanda murmured. She was about to say more when a knock on the door interrupted her. "Come in." she answered, giving Lex one final quick kiss on the chin before backing away a step.


Anna Leigh poked her head into the office. "Sorry to disturb you Mandy, but Elizabeth is on the phone asking for you." The older woman gave her granddaughter a somewhat disgusted look. "Sounds like your mother is in another one of her little ‘moods’."

Amanda shook her head sadly. "I’m sorry, Gramma…might as well send her on through." She walked over and sat down behind the large desk as the older woman left the room again.

"I’ll, uh…give you some privacy." Lex started towards the door.

"No!" The younger woman almost shouted. "Please stay? For moral support?" she begged, as the phone buzzed. Amanda waited until the tall woman sat down in the chair across from her before she picked up the handset. "This is Amanda…Hello, Mother."

"Amanda Lorraine Cauble! I’ve been calling all over town looking for you…" Elizabeth’s pinched voice whined.

"I’m fine, thank you for asking." The young woman replied, annoyed. "Is there something I can do for you, Mother?"

"Don’t take that tone with me, young lady. I’m still your mother – even though you never bother to call me anymore." Elizabeth berated. "When are you coming home? I fail to see how you can be happy in that horribly small town…they don’t even have a proper museum."

Amanda rolled her eyes. Well, we do have the Texas Oak Tree Museum, but I guess she’s probably not interested in that…"Mother, believe it or not, the world does not revolve around museums and the cultural arts."

Elizabeth gasped. "Dear Lord! Don’t say things like that! I do believe living with your grandparents is ruining you! They never did appreciate the finer things – I have no idea how your father turned out the way he did."

"I’ve often wondered that myself." Amanda murmured. "Is there a reason you called, other than to belittle Gramma and Grandpa?"

"See? You made me so upset that I almost forgot the reason I was looking for you…" the older woman sighed. "You have to come home next week…we are having our annual Fall Dinner for your father’s business associates, and he would like for you to be here."

"Mother, I have a job and responsibilities here…I can’t just drop everything to fly halfway across the country for a dinner party!" Even though she was planning on going back next week, the younger woman did not want to give her mother the satisfaction. Seeing Lex smile, she crooked a finger at her, beckoning the rancher towards her.

Lex raised an eyebrow, but got up and walked behind the desk. Amanda stood up wordlessly, then pushed the lanky form of her lover into the chair, gently sliding into the taller woman’s lap. Feeling strong arms pull her close, Amanda listened to her mother’s ranting.

"I think we’ve been too lenient with you, Amanda. You didn’t used to act this way with us." Her mother’s tone was harsh. "I told your father that it was not a good idea for you to spend so much time down there…"

Amanda tensed. "Why? Because I’m actually thinking for myself?" Lex gave her a squeeze, and her anger dissipated, replaced by an aching sadness. "I’m sorry I’m such a disappointment to you, Mother."

Her mother sighed. "Amanda dear…it’s not that you’re a disappointment, you’ve just gotten so headstrong. What happened to my little girl?"

She’s still in Los Angeles, working in the gallery, Amanda thought. Jeannie was always her little girl…I was always her disappointment. "I guess I grew up." The young woman sighed.

"Thank God!" Lex whispered in her ear, making Amanda chuckle.

"I’m sorry, what was that, Mother?"

"I said, it would mean a lot to your father and me if you could make it back for this dinner." She paused, then added, "You can even bring your new friend if you want to…we’d really like to see you, dear."

"Oooh…an invitation…guess I’d better starch my jeans." Lex whispered into the nearby ear.

Amanda slapped the large hands resting on her stomach. "Actually, Mother…that would work just fine…I need to come and pack up the rest of my stuff anyway." She leaned back as soft lips nibbled lightly on her neck. "What night is the dinner?"

Elizabeth breathed a sigh of relief. "Next Friday. Could you come a day or two early? Jeannie and Frank will be staying at the house next week, and I know they would love to see you."

Turning slightly, Amanda gave Lex a questioning glance. "Sure…whatever you want." The rancher murmured.

Amanda gave her lover a light peck on the lips. "Mother? We can fly out early Wednesday – but I have to be back here Sunday, alright?"

The older woman tsked. "Four days? Well, I guess it’s better than nothing. Call us Tuesday with your itinerary, and we’ll have the driver pick you up."

Frowning, the young woman shook her head. "No, Mother – that won’t be necessary… we’ll just rent a car." She hated the limousine.

"Fine. I won’t bother to do anything for you." Elizabeth muttered. "Your father would feel better if you acted more to your upbringing. We worked very hard to get where we are, and I really don’t want you to embarrass him by acting so…lower class. At least rent a decent car, not like that old junkard you drive now."

Oh yeah, they worked terribly hard, waiting until certain family members died to get at their inheritance. "Yes, Mother." It was hard to stay angry with her mother with Lex kissing the back of her neck. "I’ll see you on Wednesday." She hung up the phone before the older woman could complain any more. "Aarrgh! She’s so infuriating!"

Lex squeezed her tighter, and then kissed her on top of the head. "Mmm…think of it this way – you’ll get your revenge when you show up with me." She chuckled.

"What do you mean?" The younger woman turned slightly, so she could look the rancher in the eye.

"Well, I don’t think I’ll fit in too well – but don’t worry. I’ll try not to spit on the floors or anything." She gave Amanda a wry smile.

Stroking the tan cheek, Amanda smiled gently. "Do you actually think that I would be ashamed or embarrassed of you?" she gave the older woman a sad look. "Why?"

"No…I don’t think you would feel that way – but I can’t help but feel a little ‘common’ around folks like that." Then she grinned. "I guess this means I have an occasion to wear my new boots."

Amanda wrapped her arms around the dark-haired woman’s neck. "Honey, they probably could call you a lot of things, but common certainly isn’t one of them…gorgeous, sweet, funny, wonderful…"

Lex covered her mouth with a large hand. "Hush! I get your point, but…I don’t have anything to wear to something like that. I’d do anything for you, you know, but" she lowered her gaze, a slight blush on her face, "I hope I don’t have to wear one of those slinky-looking numbers… I haven’t worn a dress since I was four years old."

Lifting the older woman’s chin, Amanda gazed into her eyes. "Sweetheart, I would never ask you to be something you’re not – you can wear cutoffs and an old dirty tee shirt, and I’d still be proud to walk in with you."

Lex laughed. "Now that would be a picture!" She gave the younger woman a tender kiss. "But I think I should probably find something to wear – I really don’t have anything but jeans." A shy smile. "You want to help me pick something out?"

"Oooh! Shopping! My favorite hobby!" Amanda looked at Lex with a sexy grin. "Well, it was my favorite hobby, until recently." She climbed off of the rancher’s lap. "We’ll pick something up when we get to LA…C’mon…let’s go get something to eat, I’m starved."

"Newsflash." Lex grinned, getting to her feet as well.


Chapter 12

After telling Anna Leigh goodbye and not to wait dinner for them, Amanda and Lex found themselves sitting at a secluded table in a nearby restaurant.

Amanda was attacking the chips and salsa with gusto. "This is great!" She mumbled between mouthfuls. Glancing across the table, she noticed Lex was staring at her, with an amused look on her face. "What?"

"Amazing." The older woman grinned, shaking her head.

"What?!" Amanda stopped, studying the smiling face across from her.

Lex unsuccessfully tried to lose the silly smile she knew had to be on her face. "Umm…" she took a sip of her ice tea, then cleared her throat. "I was just wondering…how does someone as small as you enjoy food so much, and still have such a fantastic figure?"

Amanda blushed, ducking her head. "I don’t know about the figure, but I’ve always enjoyed my food." The smaller woman’s eyes grew large as a sizzling platter of fajitas was brought to their table. "Ooohhh…"

Lex partially choked on her tea. "Damn, Amanda…are you trying to kill me?" She laughed at the blush her comment caused. The dark-haired woman’s brows knit in thought. "Hey…I just realized something."

Amanda looked up from her fajita construction. "What’s that?" she added a dollop of guacamole, then folded the tortilla over in triumph. "Heh."

"This is the first time we’ve gone out to eat together – kinda like a first date, huh?" Lex smiled at the obvious enjoyment her companion had at building her meal.

Chewing then quickly swallowing, Amanda nodded. "Hey, you’re right. Want to do the entire cliched first-date thing? How about a movie after dinner? We could make an evening out of it."

"Sure…do I have to get you home early?" Lex grinned. "How late is your curfew?" she lifted a forkful of Spanish rice to her mouth.

"Nothing to worry about there…my grandparents trust me. I’ve never had a curfew when I have stayed with them." She took a sip of her tea, and gave Lex a sexy smile. "Of course, I’ve never had such a good incentive to stay out late before, either." Watching the tall woman flush, she giggled.

Lex, finished with building her own fajita, shook her head. "Then I guess it’s probably a good thing we didn’t meet any sooner – I could have corrupted your tender sensibilities." She looked up with a devilish smile. "Although, I believe it would have been fun to try."

Amanda wiped her face with her napkin, then returned it to her lap. "You can say that again." She teased.

After flirting shamelessly with Amanda throughout the meal, Lex dropped her napkin to the table with a heavy sigh. "Hey, it’s actually a pretty nice evening, not too cool – could I interest you in a walk through the park instead of a movie? I need to work off this dinner, somehow." She asked. I really need some fresh air – all this indoor activity is starting to make me a little stir-crazy.

"Do you feel well enough to go on a walk?" Amanda looked into the blue eyes across from her. "How are your ribs?"

Lex leaned back away from the table and sighed again. "I feel fine – stuffed, but fine." She waved at the waiter for the check. "You about done?" Smirking at Amanda’s empty plate.

The younger woman placed her napkin on the table and groaned. "Mmm…I think a walk is a great idea – I won’t be able to eat another bite for a least a week!" Hearing a stifled chuckle, she glanced up sharply. "Don’t you dare…" shaking her finger at Lex. "C’mon…there’s a nice little park a few blocks from the house…it has a small lake and path to walk on, too." She grabbed the check as soon as it hit the table. "My treat – I asked you to dinner, remember?"

Lex conceded with a nod. "Okay, next one’s on me." Seeing the nasty smirk on the young blonde’s face, she shook her head. "Uh-uh…don’t you even think about going there!"

Amanda shrugged her shoulders, an innocent look on her face. "Who, me?" she left money on the table with the check, and stood up. "Let’s go see what kind of trouble we can cause at the park…I’ll get my dessert later." With a wink, Amanda strolled happily out of the restaurant, leaving her companion to pick up her jaw and scramble after her.

Chapter 13

The last of the sun’s rays reflected brightly off of the small lake, as Lex pulled the dark truck into a nearby parking space. "Looks pretty deserted." The rancher commented, not seeing any other cars in the lot. As she stepped out of the tall vehicle, Lex pulled on her well-worn denim jacket, then closed the door and crossed to the other side.

"Yeah, but you should see this place in the spring and summer…can rarely find a parking space then." Amanda pulled a folded paper napkin from her purse, then climbed down out of the truck. Handing the item to Lex, she slipped on the coat she had brought – the old leather jacket Lex had worn in high school that she had ‘borrowed’ from the rancher. "Brrr…that wind is getting pretty chilly." Pulling the taller woman towards a paved path, she grinned. "C’mon…let’s get moving, so I’ll warm up."

Lex allowed herself to be guided down the well-traveled path. "What’s this?" she asked, handing the napkin back to the smaller woman.

"Duck food." Amanda chuckled, opening it up to show two leftover flour tortillas. She linked her arm through the tall woman’s and continued down the path that led to the lake.

Lex looked down at the young blonde fondly. "Do you come here often?" she felt the arm linked with hers tighten slightly.

"Yeah…this is kind of my thinking place – I usually bring old bread along and feed the ducks for hours at a time." She guided the older woman through a stand of trees, which opened up to a small cove. "When I was in school, I always spent my summers here – Mother never understood why." She pulled Lex over to a large log that was close to the water, then sat down next to her. "Mother and Dad would go to Europe, Jeannie would travel with them, or spend her time at one type of camp or another. I would beg to come here to visit Gramma and Grandpa…"

Lex pulled her close with a strong arm. "I don’t really remember much about any of my grandparents." She said quietly. "Dad’s folks died when he was just a kid, leaving him the ranch… I vaguely remember my mother’s father. Tall and handsome – but after she died, I never saw him or my grandmother again." She straightened a little, then smiled. "They didn’t care much for Dad – he’s kinda rough around the edges."

Amanda put her arm around the older woman. "I’m sorry…" she felt sympathetic tears filling her eyes.

Lex leaned over and kissed the top of the blonde head. "Don’t be…I’m not. Martha and the guys at the ranch more than made up for it – I had more attention from all of them than most kids ever get from two sets of grandparents."

"Really?" Amanda peeked up at the taller woman’s face, which wore a wistful smile.

"Oh, yeah." She laughed. "Of course, most of the hands usually helped me get into trouble – poor Martha spent most of her time chasing me with a spoon and hollering, ‘Get your filthy butt out of my kitchen and get into the tub!’" she paused thoughtfully. "Come to think about it, she still does that!"

Amanda giggled. "I bet you were a real handful growing up."

"I don’t think so…but I’m sure Martha’s opinion would differ." Lex watched as several ducks jumped out of the water and waddled towards them, quacking excitedly. "Looks like your friends missed you." She grinned at Amanda’s delighted smile.

"Calm down, guys…" the younger woman was pulling the tortillas apart into very small pieces. After eyeing Lex cautiously, the ducks decided she didn’t pose a threat, and continued their enthusiastic welcoming of her companion. "Sorry…they’re a little excitable." Amanda looked over at Lex, who was watching a gray and white duck nibble on her boot tips.

"They’re psycho – this crazy thing is trying to eat my boots!" She wiggled her feet slightly, causing her attacker to pause momentarily, then start back up again.

Amanda laughed. "That’s all I have, guys…I’ll bring a loaf of bread next time," she showed the ducks her empty hands, which caused them to glare at her for a moment, wagging their tail feathers in agitation.

"I don’t think they’re real happy with you right now." Lex teased, then stood up. "Let’s continue our walk…maybe they’ll get the hint." She offered her hand to Amanda, who accepted it gracefully.

"Thanks…that sounds like a great idea." Amanda allowed herself to be pulled to her feet. "Let’s not use the path…do you mind if we just walked along the shoreline?" she held the hand in hers tightly as they began walking.

They were on their second circuit around the small lake when Lex’s cell phone rang. Jumping slightly, she stopped and pulled the small device from her coat pocket. "Hello?" listening for a moment, she frowned. "Martha, what’s wrong?" She felt a small hand on her arm, and looked down into concerned green eyes.

"Lexie, I’m really sorry to bother you like this," Martha apologized, sounding very upset.

"Don’t worry, we were just taking a walk…now tell me what’s the matter." Lex forced herself to stay calm. Martha never calls me…I’ve never even heard this damn phone ring before.

"Go on, tell me."

"Honey, it’s your brother. He called the house a few minutes ago looking for you." The housekeeper sounded quite agitated.

"Okay…did you tell him I was in town?" Lex didn’t like where this conversation was going.

"No, not at first. I didn’t figure it was any of his business." The older woman sighed. "I told him you weren’t available…that really upset him." She chuckled in remembrance.

Lex laughed. "I’ll bet. Then what?"

"He told me it was very important that he talk to you immediately – I told him again that you couldn’t come to the phone. That’s when he really started getting upset."

Dammit! Lex felt a headache fast approaching. "What did he say to you, Martha?"

"Oh, well he yelled and whined quite a bit," she laughed, "then he said, ‘Forget it! I’ll just come out there myself!’ and hung up."

"He’s on his way to the ranch?" Lex ran a slim hand through her hair. "Shit!" She looked at Amanda, who was looking back at her with a worried expression. "How long ago did you talk to him?" Lex was already pulling Amanda down the path towards the parking lot.

"I just hung up with him right before I called you." Martha said, not quite as angry as before.

"Good…I’m on my way – lock all of the doors, in case he gets there before I do, okay? Don’t let him in for any reason." Lex and Amanda were back at the truck, the taller woman holding the passenger’s door open for her companion. She closed the door, then quickly jogged around to the other side and climbed in.

"Why? Are you expecting him to cause trouble?" Martha sounded concerned. "What’s going on, Lexie?"

Holding the phone with her shoulder, Lex put the truck in reverse and backed out of the parking space quickly. "I don’t know what to expect – we found out that he’s the one who’s been taking money from the ranch." The rancher glanced at Amanda with a questioning look.

"Tell her to sit tight. We’re on our way." The young woman answered the unspoken question.

Lex smiled at her companion and turned the truck south, on the road out of town. "Amanda says to hold tight…" she spoke into the phone.

"She’s there? Let me talk to her, then." Martha perked up. "You shouldn’t be talking on the phone while you’re trying to drive, it’s not safe." She could hear the roar of the truck engine over the phone.

"Yes, ma’am." Lex handed the phone to the smiling blonde sitting next to her. "She wants to talk to you."

"Martha…it’s great to hear from you, although I’m sorry about the circumstances." Amanda chattered happily. She genuinely missed the older woman, even though it had only been a couple of days since she had last spoken to her.

"Amanda honey, how are you?" the housekeeper asked, sounding quite pleased with herself.

"Great! I’ve really got a lot to tell you when I see you again – so much has happened!" Amanda watched as Lex rolled her eyes.

Martha laughed. "Really? Well, I can’t wait…were you able to get Lexie to go see the doctor? I swear, that girl argues with me sometimes just for sport!"

"Yesterday morning, as a matter of fact – her side was terribly infected, but Dr. Anderson took care of that." The younger woman reached over and caressed a muscular leg, causing a slight smile on the rancher’s serious face.

"Blast it! I knew that would happen…but you say she’s okay?" Martha sighed. "She never takes care of herself…" the older woman muttered more to herself than to Amanda.

"She’s fine…got a couple of stitches, and Dr. Anderson made her promise to keep her ribs wrapped for another week." Amanda chuckled, remembering the argument with the old doctor. "He says she’s gotten a little too thin, though…" This little bit of news got her a glare from the subject in question. "Don’t give me that look…and keep your eyes on the road." Amanda scolded.

The housekeeper laughed. "If I could get her to sit still long enough to eat…" she turned serious. "But, I think that she’s eaten more in the last week or so than the entire last month combined. And I have you to thank for that – she’s happier now than I can ever remember seeing her. So thank you, Amanda – for giving my little girl back her heart."

Lex had turned to glance at Amanda, who had stilled suddenly. Even in the fading sunlight, she could see a deep blush on the younger woman’s fair skin. Reaching over with one hand, she touched the small blonde’s shoulder. "Hey…you all right?" she asked, trying to keep one eye on the road, and one on her companion.

Amanda blinked, and grasped Lex’s hand. "Yep." She gave the large hand a strong squeeze and smiled. "Martha, I think I got the best end of the deal." She told the housekeeper.

"I think you both did." The older woman chuckled. "How far out are you now?"

Lex had just turned off the main road, and Amanda could see the old bridge up ahead. "We’re almost to the bridge…so we should be at the house in about ten minutes or so."

"Great…I just started a fresh pot of coffee. I have a feeling we’re gonna be needing it." Martha paused. "Hold on a minute, honey…I think I hear a car pulling up out front."

"Wait!!…Martha? Are you there?" Amanda heard the phone being set down.

"What?" Lex looked over at the younger woman as they started across the bridge.

"She thought she heard a car drive up, and sat the phone down to go look." Amanda listened intently to the phone, trying to hear any unusual noises.

"Dammit!" Lex sped up the truck, practically flying across the old wooden structure.

"Lex! Slow down! We’re not going to be any help to Martha if you kill us!" Amanda had released the rancher’s hand, and was bracing herself against the dash.

The older woman slowed the vehicle down reluctantly. "Has she come back to the phone yet?" Lex had a deathgrip on the steering wheel, the dashlights casting an eerie glow on her tense face.

"No…not – wait, I think I hear something." The younger woman chewed on her lower lip in concern.

"Amanda?" Martha sounded somewhat breathless. "You still there?"

"God, Martha…don’t scare me like that – are you okay? We’re almost to the house." Amanda held her breath, waiting for the answer.

"Oh heavens, yes…but I’m afraid Hubert is going to hurt himself trying to get in." She laughed. "Sounds like he’s working his way around the house – banging on windows and doors as he goes."

The truck skidded to a stop in the long driveway, Lex parking beside a grossly expensive BMW convertible. She looked over at Amanda and gave her a worried look. "Do you want to wait here, or…"

The young blonde frowned. "Do you really want me to?" She unbuckled her seatbelt, looking at the taller woman for an answer.

"No…I’d rather you stay with me – I’m less likely to strangle Hubert if there are witnesses." Lex gave her a wry grin. She unclipped her buckle and opened the door. "C’mon, let’s go get this over with."

They were almost to the front door with they heard a man’s voice screaming from the back of the house, "Dammit, old woman! I know you’re in there – open this friggin’ door before I kick it in!"

Lex unlocked the front door and ushered Amanda inside, then closed and locked the door behind them. "Martha, we’re here." She said in a normal voice, walking down the hallway.

The short, round housekeeper stepped out of the den, causing Amanda to yelp in alarm. "Oh sweetheart…I didn’t mean to startle you." Turning towards the taller woman, "Lexie, I think that Hubert has about worked his way back around to the front of the house." Suddenly, a loud banging on the front door interrupted her.

"Goddammit!! Unlock this door, you old bitch, or I’ll knock it down!" Hubert kicked the door ineffectually.

Lex opened the door, an angry set to her face. "Hubert! What in the hell is your problem?" she stood in the doorway, daring him to try and get by her. "And watch what you say about Martha."

"Get the hell outta my way, Lex!" He tried to push past her, but was stopped when Lex put her hand in the middle of his chest. Hubert was only an inch or two taller than his younger sister, but he outweighed her by at least thirty pounds.

"Why?" Lex pushed her brother back a step. "What business do you have in this house?" She stepped out on the front porch with him. "I believe we settled that when I gave you the house in town – you didn’t want anything to do with this ‘old, dirty ranch’, or so you said then."

Hubert stood quietly, remembering. He’d always hated the ranch, even as a child. Illogically, he felt that this place killed his mother, since she had started going into labor here at the ranch, and it took longer than it should have to get her into town to the hospital. Then, of course, his father bypassing him and teaching his younger sister how to run it – it still hurt, all these years later. Looking at Lex now, he realized just how much he missed his mother, she looks so much like her. Shaking his head slightly, Hubert glared at his little sister. "I still don’t…but I seem to be having some trouble accessing the bank records, and I thought I may have left some papers here last time I did the books."

"I should hope you’re having trouble getting into the account…I changed it." Lex leaned back against the doorframe, casually crossing her arms across her chest.

"What?!?" Hubert yelled, stepping up to the smirking woman, grabbing the front of her denim jacket with both hands, and pulling her towards him. "You can’t do that!"

Lex reached up and grabbed the angry man’s wrists, squeezing them painfully. "Let go of me," she muttered quietly, "or I’ll break ‘em…then we’ll let the sheriff deal with you." Seeing the comprehension flicker across his angry features.

Hubert released her, pushing the tall woman back slightly. "Bitch." Taking a couple of steps back, he ran his hand through his dark hair. "Why didn’t you call the law when you found out?"

"Because, no matter what else I think of you, you’re family." Lex answered wearily. "Why did you do it? Couldn’t you have just asked?"

The big man let out a derisive snort. "Yeah, right…so you could lord that over me like you have everything else?" he shook his head. "You’re so damn high and mighty…always acting like you’re better than everyone else. I don’t have to explain anything to you – besides, you can’t prove a thing."

"What do you want from me, Hubert?" Lex dropped down onto the porch swing gracelessly. Bracing her elbows on her knees, she sighed. "I’m not going to press charges, but I think it would be a good idea if you stayed away from the ranch for a while."

A movement in the doorway caught his eye. "Oh, you’d like that, wouldn’t you?" Glancing at the small blonde moving towards them. "Is this your latest plaything? I’ll have to hand it to you, she’s…URK!"

Lex jumped up and pinned her brother against a nearby support post, her forearm against his throat. "Say what you want to about me, you asshole – but…never…let me hear you talk about Amanda that way again…" she enjoyed the look of fear on the big man’s face as she held him against the post, his face getting redder by the moment. She felt a gentle touch on her back.

"Lex? Let him go, please?" a soft voice pleaded behind her.

The tall woman flexed her arm, causing Hubert to stand up on his toes, gasping for air. "I’ve had it with you – I didn’t want this ranch, but by god I’m going to work it with everything I am, and no two-bit bean counter is going to change that." She felt Amanda place her small hand on her shoulder. "Especially not the likes of you!" Shifting slightly, Lex shoved her brother off of the porch.

Hubert stumbled to the driveway, holding his throat and gasping for breath. "This…isn’t… over, Lex." He panted, backing his way clumsily toward his car.

The rancher braced her hands against the porch rail, Amanda standing beside her. "Go home, Hubert…" she sighed heavily, watching as her brother got into his car and drove away. Bowing her head, Lex closed her eyes against the exhaustion that was left behind as her rage crumbled away.

"God, Lex…" Amanda whispered.

The older woman felt the words as if they were physical blows. Afraid to turn around, she took a deep breath. "Yeah…I completely lost it…" she felt the smaller woman duck under her arm and snuggle close.

"Was he always such a jerk?" the young blonde asked, turning to look up into the anguished face above her.

"Huh?" Lex blinked, then wrapped her arms around the smaller woman in reflex.

Amanda smiled at the unconscious gesture. "Good grief…how you have kept from killing him before now is a complete mystery to me."


Both women turned around to see Martha standing in the doorway, arms crossed. "You two gonna stand out there all evening mooning over each other, or are you coming inside for coffee?"

Smiling wearily, Lex wrapped an arm around Amanda and pulled her towards the door. "Well, how can we resist such a gracious invitation?" Allowing the younger woman to enter before her, Lex stopped in front of the smirking housekeeper.

Martha looked up into the twinkling blue eyes. "What?" Then she stopped in shock as the tall woman bent over and placed a gentle kiss on top of her graying head.

"Thanks." So softly uttered she almost didn’t hear.

"For what, honey?" the older woman heard her own voice crack.

"Everything." Lex murmured, then followed Amanda into the house.

Martha watched them go, wiping a tear from her eye with the corner of her apron. "Rotten kid…" she grumbled, "just when I think I have her figured out, she says something like that." She sighed heavily, then closed the door behind her.


Chapter 14

The three women spent the next several hours sitting in the kitchen, with Amanda catching Martha up on the happenings of the last couple of days. She tried to gloss over her involvement in the incident with Rick, but Lex wouldn’t let her.

"Wait…wait! Back up, Amanda!" the rancher looked over at Martha. "She neglecting to tell you the best part." Watching the young woman blush, she continued. "Rick started toward Mrs. Cauble, so I stepped in behind him to try and get his attention," she gave a sheepish grin, "He, ah…elbowed me in the ribs…" Lex cleared her throat, "and I dropped like a rock."

"Good lord, child!" Martha reached across the table and placed her hand on the tall woman’s arm. "Are you all right?"

Lex nodded. "Yeah…just kinda took my breath away for a few minutes…" she gave the young blonde next to her a warning look. "Anyway, there I was, on my knees trying to catch my breath, when I see Rick moving towards the desk again. He got about two steps when he went flying backwards!"

Martha looked back and forth between the two younger women. "How?" she was practically on the edge of her seat.

"Amanda did some sort of karate, or something…" Lex looked at the younger woman for confirmation.

"Kickboxing…actually." The young woman muttered, embarrassed.

The housekeeper’s jaw dropped. "You? Kicked him?"

"Nailed him right on the chin," Lex supplied helpfully. Amanda slapped her on the shoulder. "What?"

"I just wanna die…" the small blonde mumbled, covering her face with her hands.

Martha stood up, chuckling. "Don’t feel bad, honey…I think it’s great that you can defend yourself." She kissed the top of the young woman’s head. "Now…" she waited until she got both women’s attention, "I think it would be best if you two stayed the night…it’s been a long day, and there’s no sense in your driving back to town this late."

Amanda looked at Lex, who shrugged her shoulders. "That sounds like a great idea…let me give my grandparents a call so that they won’t worry." She stood up. "I’ll just use the phone upstairs, if that’s okay."

Lex smiled. "Sure…I’ll be up in a minute." Her eyes followed the young woman as she left the room.

"Lexie?" Martha was charmed by the smile on the dark woman’s face. "Honey?"

"Hmm?" Lex answered. "Oh! Umm…sorry about that." She straightened up in her chair. "What’s up?"

Martha stepped over until she was standing next to the younger woman. Absently running her hand through the dark hair, she murmured, "I was so proud of you this evening, Lexie."

The rancher leaned into the contact unconsciously. "Really? I thought you would be disappointed – I almost strangled my brother on the front porch, Martha." She released a heavy sigh. "Dad was right…" she closed her eyes wearily.

"About what, sweetheart?" the housekeeper continued her gentle ministrations.

"He said my temper would cause nothing but trouble…and he was right – first Lou, and now Hubert." She fought back the tears that threatened to fall when she thought about her youngest brother.

"How can you say that?" Martha sat down in the chair next to the anguished woman. "Louis was killed in a boating accident – you weren’t even there!"

Lex looked at the housekeeper, tears threatening to spill from her shining blue eyes. "And if I hadn’t lost my temper with him, he would have never gone in the first place."

It was the middle of summer, and Lex was angry because she was stuck in the office at the ranch, when she would much rather be down at the creek swimming. It had been over a year since her father had left her in charge of the ranch, and the teenager was getting more and more stressed out every day. Running the ranch, putting up with the snide remarks of her older brother Hubert, and trying to keep one eye on her younger brother Louis, all combined to make the serious young woman a bundle of nerves.

After an especially trying argument with Hubert over the working of the latest herd of cattle, Lex had escaped to the office for some much needed peace and quiet, when an excited Louis rushed into the room.

"Lex! There you are! I’ve been looking all over for you!" he exclaimed breathlessly. Where Lex and Hubert favored their mother with their dark good looks and blue eyes, Louis took after their father Rawson – short, small frame, dark blonde hair, and dark hazel eyes.

"Not too hard to figure out where I am," she muttered, "I seem to live in this damn office."

"Yeah," Louis agreed sadly. He missed his playful sister, who seemed to have disappeared in the past year or so. "Hey! I’ve got a great idea! A bunch of us are going to the lake this afternoon – why don’t you come with us?"

Lex ran an impatient hand through her hair. "I can’t…there’s too much to do around here." She looked at her younger brother. "Just who is ‘a bunch of us’?"

Louis couldn’t meet her eyes. "Uh…well…five guys from school, and Jim’s brother Randy, who’s gonna drive us out there."

"Randy? The kid that just got out of juvenile detention? No way!" Lex stood up and paced around the desk. "He’s what? Sixteen?" she looked at Louis, who was beginning to mirror her angry posture. "I absolutely forbid it!"

"You don’t own me, Lex! I wasn’t asking your permission – I just wanted to let you know where I’d be." He began to walk backwards towards the door.

"Dammit, Lou…use your head! You need a ‘responsible’ adult around if you guys are going to the lake…not some kid who just got out of jail!" She was interrupted by a horn honking in the front of the house.

"They’re here…I gotta go." Louis started for the door.

"Lou…I won’t allow it!" she reached for his arm.

Jerking away from her, he cried, "You’re…not…my mother, Lex! I don’t need your permission to go anywhere – Hubert already said I could go!" He turned back to face her. "I’ll see you tonight." The young man raced out of the office.

Lex started after him, but the phone on the desk stopped her. "What!?" she yelled into the receiver, taking her anger out on a poor helpless salesman who happened to call at the wrong time.

The rancher was still simmering in the office when the phone rang again, several hours later. "Hello?"

A stranger’s voice asked, "Lexington Walters?"

‘Great, another salesman,’ she thought. "Who wants to know?" Lex growled.

A short pause, then a sigh. "This is Richard Saylor…I’m one of the rangers that handles Somerville Lake."

‘I knew it! They’re in some sort of trouble…’ she grumbled to herself. "Is this about my brother, Louis? What kind of trouble did he get into?" she asked resignedly.

The man cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Miss Walters, we need you to come down to the lake…there’s been an…accident."

Lex jumped to her feet. "What kind of accident? Is my brother…?"

"The boat your brother was riding in capsized when another boat broad-sided it…" the ranger spoke gently, "I’m afraid your brother was killed…" he paused. "Do you have someone that can drive you to the lake? We need a relative to make a positive identification."

"I’ll be right there." Lex hung up the phone numbly.

Looking back, Lex realized that was the day she shut herself down – only going through the motions of day to day living, until Hubert brought Linda home. For a short while, Lex allowed herself to feel, until she was handed her heart back to her in pieces. Then it became easier to hide inside a bottle than to face the loneliness. After she sobered up, Lex decided to just quit caring – you couldn’t get hurt if you didn’t care. She never really mourned the death of Louis, choosing instead to shut off all of her emotions – until a certain green-eyed blonde entered her life.

Martha leaned over and pulled the younger woman into her arms. "Sweetheart, blaming yourself for that does no good…it was an accident, plain and simple. No one was to blame, especially you." The housekeeper kissed the top of the dark head. "Let it go…" she held the rancher closely to her as Lex sobbed, finally releasing all the grief she had held in for so many years.

Amanda stood quietly in the doorway, feeling guilty for witnessing such a private scene. God…I vaguely remember that summer – I had no idea who that boy was that had been killed. Poor Lex. Amanda wasn’t very fond of the water, so she and her grandparents rarely went to the lake when she visited in the summer…but she remembered hearing them speak of the tragedy right after it happened. Sparing one final glance in the kitchen, she turned and walked silently back up the stairs, tears of compassion in her eyes.

"Sorry, Martha…I don’t know what came over me…" Lex pulled back and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "It’s been almost ten years – why did I fall apart now?"

The housekeeper brushed the hair out of the younger woman’s eyes. "Baby, you finally gave in to your feelings enough to grieve." No sense in telling her how afraid I’ve been, wondering what would happen if she ever did open up…my poor little girl. She picked up a napkin from the table and wiped Lex’s face with it, like she used to do when the rancher was a child. "Now you go upstairs and get a good night’s sleep."

Lex took a deep breath, then gave the older woman a shaky smile. "You’re right, as usual. I’m pretty worn out." She leaned over and kissed the graying head. "Thanks."

Martha waved her off. "No need to thank me, child…that’s what I’m here for." She stood up, embarrassed.

Smiling to herself, the tall woman stood up as well, then enveloped the stocky woman in a strong hug. "Well, thanks anyway." She felt the small arms give her a squeeze. "I love you, you know." The rancher whispered, just before she released the older woman.

"I love you too…" Martha replied. She stepped back and turned Lex towards the doorway. "Now go on upstairs before Amanda thinks you’ve run off!" she swatted the smiling young woman on the rear.

"Yes ma’am." Lex hurried from the kitchen and up the stairs.


Taking and releasing a deep breath, Lex stood in the darkened doorway of the master bedroom, the only light in the room coming from the low burning fireplace.

"Amanda?" she called out quietly, unable to see if the younger woman was asleep on the bed. A movement near the fireplace caught her eye.

"Over here." Amanda sat up from her curled up position in one of the stuffed chairs.

Lex crossed the room quickly, dropping to her knees at the blonde woman’s feet. "You okay?" she asked, placing her hands on the small legs.

Even in the dim light, Amanda could see the rancher’s red and puffy eyes. Reaching out with a gentle hand, she brushed the unruly hair from Lex’s face. "I’m fine…but you’re looking a little rough around the edges – what’s say we take a quick shower and go to bed?" she continued to run her hand through the dark hair.

"Mmm…" Lex closed her eyes and absorbed the loving touch. "That’s the best offer I’ve had all day." She gathered her wits about her and stood up. "C’mon…I’ll scrub your back." She pulled Amanda up beside her, wrapping both arms around the smaller woman.

Amanda enjoyed the warm security of the strong arms she found herself in. Closing her eyes, she was content to stand and absorb the love that emanated from the older woman. "I could stay here forever," she mumbled, not realizing she had spoken out loud until she felt Lex squeeze her a little tighter.

"I hope so…" Lex murmured in her ear, "because I have no intentions of ever letting you go." She pulled her head back slightly so she could look into Amanda’s eyes. "I love you." Leaning down, Lex gently covered the younger woman’s lips with her own, placing a soft, re-affirming kiss on slightly parted lips.

Amanda leaned into the kiss, accepting the gentle, almost hesitant touch from the taller woman. Finally breaking off to breathe, she leaned her cheek against the rancher’s heaving chest. "Let’s go get that shower…" she gave Lex a quick kiss on the chin. "If you’re real good," she led the dazed woman towards the bathroom, "I’ll practice my massage techniques on you." She swatted Lex on the rear and closed the bathroom door.


Chapter 15

The sun was barely peeking over the horizon when Lex opened her eyes the next morning. She lifted her head from it’s warm nest, snuggled behind Amanda with her nose tucked in the sweetly fragrant blonde hair. Gently disentangling herself from the younger woman, Lex climbed out of bed, tucking the dark comforter back around the small body. Damn, I feel great! She marveled to herself, unsure if it was due to the release of long-held in emotion or the wonderful full body massage she had received from Amanda’s talented hands. Dressing quickly, Lex left a short note on the pillow next to the sleeping woman, then crept quietly out of the room.

Bounding down the stairs, Lex saw a light coming from the kitchen, so she made a slight detour in her direction. Seeing Martha at the counter humming to herself as she rolled out the biscuits, the rancher crept up behind the unsuspecting woman with an evil smile on her face.

"Good morning, Sunshine!" she bellowed, scooping up the shocked housekeeper and spinning her around the room.

"Aaaaahhh!!" Martha screamed, then reflexively grabbed the tall woman around the head, coating Lex’s dark hair with flour and bits of dough. "Put me down, you crazy brat!" she huffed, "I’m getting airsick!"

Laughing, Lex stopped spinning the older woman around, allowing her small feet to touch the ground. Realizing what Martha had been doing, she cringed when she saw the housekeeper remove her hands from where they had been clinched in her thick hair. "Ugh…" she gave the small woman another devious grin. "So, I’m guessing I look pretty good in white hair?" she casually reached behind her back and rubbed her palms across the flour-covered countertop.

Martha snickered. "I’m sorry about that, Lexie…you just startled me." Seeing the look on the younger woman’s face, she shook her head and pointed a finger directly at the tall woman’s chest. "Now, wait just a minute…" she backed up several steps, with the rancher closing in on her.

"What’s the matter, Martha?" Lex chuckled, hands still behind her back.

The older woman put her hands in front of herself defensively. "Don’t be doing anything that you might regret…"

Lex laughed. "Me? Never!" she closed in on the smaller woman, cornering her against the stove. Just as Lex was about to raise her hands and rub flour in Martha’s hair, she felt two small arms wrap around her from behind, trapping her arms to her sides.

"Can’t leave you alone for a minute, can I?" a soft voice whispered in her ear.

Martha laughed, and wiped another blob of flour onto the rancher’s nose. "Thanks, sweetie." She grinned at Amanda, then edged past the two women and went back to her biscuit making.

Lex twisted, then picked the young blonde up and cradled her in her arms. "Good morning, traitor."

Amanda looked up into sparkling blue eyes, then noticed the flour and dough in Lex’s hair. "Umm…good morning?" she used one hand to brush flour out of the taller woman’s hair. "You helping Martha cook breakfast again?" she teased.

Lex rolled her eyes. "No…" she mock-glared at the housekeeper’s back. "This was completely unprovoked. All I did was come in and tell Martha good morning!" she gave the woman in her arms a slight pout.

"Ha!" Martha snorted. "Don’t believe a word of it…the little brat snuck up on me and started spinning me around the room!"

"You didn’t…" Amanda looked up for confirmation.

"Well…" Lex blushed slightly.

"Ah…Lex?" Amanda grinned, her hands locked behind the rancher’s neck.

"Mmm?" the older woman looked deeply into her eyes, a tender smile on her face.

"You wanna let me down now?" the smaller woman asked, seeing the look of total love on her companion’s face.

"Not really…" Lex admitted. "I could do this for the rest of my life." She said quietly. "And I hope to." Even quieter.

Amanda stopped breathing. "Me too." She finally responded. "I can’t think of anyplace I’d rather be…"

Martha glanced at the two young women in the middle of the room. "Hey! Would you two either sit at the table, or go somewhere else right now? How am I supposed to cook with you two giving each other puppy-dog eyes in the middle of my kitchen?" That got the intended response. Both young women blushed furiously.

Lex gently allowed Amanda to stand on her own feet. "Sorry about that…sorta forgot what I was doing."

The younger woman gave her a gentle pat on her good side. "Don’t be…it was fun." She saw that Martha was diligently working on the biscuits, with her back turned to the couple. Amanda reached up and pulled Lex’s head down gently. "Let me give you a proper good morning." She gave the taller woman a long, passionate kiss, ending only when Martha cleared her throat.

"Excuse me, wouldn’t you two be more comfortable upstairs?" the housekeeper asked.

"Oops!" Amanda chuckled. Then she looked directly at Martha and grinned. "Probably. But I’m so hungry I could eat some of Lex’s pancakes!"

The housekeeper laughed, and Lex scowled. "Remind me to bring you breakfast in bed one morning – that’ll teach you to tease me!" she gave the smaller woman a light pat on the rear, then sat down at the table. "Need any help, Martha?"

"Oh, yes…you could be a big help and go find something else to do for about twenty or thirty minutes…" the housekeeper hinted, trying to keep Lex out from under her feet.

Amanda walked over and pulled the tall woman out of her chair. "C’mon…let’s go for a walk…" she led Lex out of the room, with Martha’s laughter floating after them. The young woman led the tall rancher down the long hallway, pulling her into the darkened den.

"I thought we were going for a walk?" Lex asked, as the small woman pushed her gently onto the couch.

Smirking, Amanda turned on the stereo, placing a CD in the drive. "Changed my mind…it looks pretty chilly outside this morning, so I thought we could just sit in here and enjoy your wonderful stereo system." She pushed play, and turned the volume down until it became background sound. The lights from the stereo cast a soft glow in the room, allowing Amanda to see the gentle smile on her lover’s face.

"Think so? Why don’t you come over here and get comfortable?" Lex murmured, watching the pale lights flicker across the young woman’s face.

Amanda grinned, then walked slowly across the room to climb up into the rancher’s lap, straddling her muscular legs. Wrapping her arms around Lex’s neck, she whispered, "You’re right… this is much more comfortable." She placed a soft kiss on the older woman’s lips, then snuggled under her chin.

Lex chuckled, then wrapped her arms around Amanda, pulling her close. "Happy to be of service, ma’am." Closing her eyes, Lex relaxed – somewhat shocked that she was able to sit still for such a long length of time, without the urge to be up and doing something. You’re a bad influence on me, Amanda…she thought wryly, enjoying the feel of the young woman in her arms.


Half an hour later, Martha peeked into the den discreetly, finding them after hearing the sounds of The Corrs floating down the hallway. Seeing the two women curled up on the large sofa, she smiled to herself. They look so darn cute, all snuggled up together like that. She crept quietly into the room, trying not to startle them. "Lexie?"

The rancher opened her eyes slowly. "Hey, Martha." She whispered, trying to keep from disturbing her sleeping companion. "I guess breakfast is ready?"

"It sure is…think you can tear yourself away?" Martha teased.

Lex grinned. "Well, if I have to, I guess…" she looked at the older woman with a wry smile. "’course, after breakfast I’m gonna need to wash my hair, for some strange reason."

Martha crossed her arms across her chest. "Not my fault. You shouldn’t sneak up on an old woman like that…"

"You’re not an old woman," Lex snorted, causing the bundle in her arms to moan, and snuggle closer. But the comment made her pause for a moment. Lex studied the older woman seriously, seeing for the first time the wrinkles on the once-smooth skin, and the hair that was becoming more gray than brown. When did that happen? Have I been so self-absorbed that I never noticed?

"Honey? Is everything okay?" the housekeeper noticed the far away look in the younger woman’s eyes.

"Damn, Martha…it’s been twenty-five years, hasn’t it?" she asked, still a little shocked at the amount of time that had passed.

Martha perched on the other end of the sofa and chuckled. "Hard to believe, isn’t it? I told you I was getting old."

"No, not old…but you’ve spent half of your life babysitting me…a little more than you bargained for, I’ll bet." Lex gave her a sardonic smile.

"And well worth every single minute of it," the housekeeper replied. "Although, I could do with less excitement, if you don’t mind. This past week or so had been a little bit too much, even for you." Martha stood up. "Now why don’t you wake up Sleeping Beauty there, and come and get some breakfast?" she chuckled and left the room.

Lex let her eyes follow the older woman from the room, a fond smile on her face. Gotta do something special for her…maybe Amanda will have some ideas. She looked down at the young woman securely attached to her. Leaning close to Amanda’s ear, Lex whispered, "Amanda?"

"Mmm…no…" the small woman mumbled, burying her face deeper into Lex’s chest.

The older woman grinned. "Sweetheart, you need to wake up…" she kissed the blonde head.

"Don’t wanna…" Amanda growled, squeezing her arms tighter around her captive.

"Breakfast is ready."

"What?" Amanda’s eyes popped open, and her head lifted away from Lex’s body.

The rancher laughed, pulling the small woman close. "You are absolutely priceless, Amanda."

"What’s that supposed to mean?" She looked at Lex crossly.

"That means," the older woman placed a gentle kiss on Amanda’s lips, "I don’t know," another kiss, "what I would do," a longer, more passionate kiss, "without you."

"Mmm…" the younger woman curled up against her. She was about to continue when her stomach growled. Ignoring the loud rumble, Amanda threaded her hands through the dark hair, forcing the older woman’s back against the sofa.

Lex sat back and enjoyed the gentle assault, until Amanda’s stomach rumbled again. Seeing that the young woman had no intention of stopping, the rancher decided to take matters into her own hands, in a manner of speaking. She dropped her hands from the young blonde’s shoulders, moving them down slowly until they came to rest on Amanda’s hips. Leaning forward slightly, Lex stood up, carrying the small body with her.

"Whoa! The couch is moving!" Amanda exclaimed, opening her eyes and looking around. She had unconsciously wrapped her legs around the rancher’s lean waist, and looked down at their entangled bodies with a flush of embarrassment. "Umm…guess I should let you go, huh?"

"Well…I could just carry you into the kitchen like this, if you want." The older woman told her with a sexy smile. "Or, I could carry you up the stairs, and give you a different kind of breakfast – although I would leave it to you to explain that one to Martha…" she smirked.

Amanda unwrapped her legs from the tall woman’s body reluctantly. "As much as I would love to go back upstairs with you, I don’t think either one of us wants to face Martha’s wrath if we don’t have breakfast." She pouted slightly. "But, we may need some way to work off such a wonderful feast, don’t you agree?"


"So, what kind of mischief are you girls going to stir up today?" Martha asked. The three women were sitting around the kitchen table after breakfast, relaxing with a cup of coffee.

Lex looked at Amanda, who shrugged good-naturedly. "Well, I thought we’d spend today and tonight here…" seeing the younger woman smile in agreement, "then I have to get packed for our trip next week."

"A trip? Where are you going?" The housekeeper asked, secretly happy that they were staying at the ranch for another day. It’s just too quiet when Lexie’s not around…

Amanda placed her coffee mug back on the table after draining it. "That’s right! We haven’t had a chance to tell you yet…" She smiled as Lex refilled both hers, and Martha’s coffee cups with the professionalism of a seasoned waitress. "My parents are having this big dinner party next week in Los Angeles, and I’ve convinced Lex to go with me. Besides, I’m going to need some help packing up my stuff and sending it to my grandparent’s house – since I’ve decided to move to Somerville for good."

"That’s wonderful news, honey!" Martha laid a small hand on the young woman’s forearm. She then looked over at Lex with a surprised grin. "How are you planning on getting there?"

The young blonde looked at Martha, confusion etching her lovely features. "Fly, of course…why do you ask?" She looked over at Lex, who had paled suddenly.

Oh, shit! I didn’t even think about how we were going to get there, Lex panicked. "Yeah, Martha. You didn’t think we’d walk, did you?" she tried to keep her tone light.

"Riiight…I guess it was a pretty silly question, wasn’t it?" Martha spared a glance at Amanda, who was looking at the rancher with a concerned look on her face.

Lex sighed. "No…it wasn’t silly. I hadn’t really thought about the form of transportation that we would take to get there…" she looked at Amanda with an embarrassed smile. "I…uh…have a little…trouble…on airplanes."

"What kind of trouble?" the younger woman reached over and entwined their hands. "Do you get airsick?"

Martha chuckled. "We should be so lucky." She then quieted after the dark-haired woman glowered at her.

"No…it’s not that." Feeling the gentle pressure on her hand, Lex continued, "I get a little… anxious…on airplanes." She looked at the housekeeper for help.

"I’d say more than anxious, sweetheart." The older woman looked at Amanda. "We had to practically knock Lexie out with tranquilizers the last time…not the best experience, let me tell you."

Amanda leaned in closer to the rancher. "What is it about flying that bothers you so much?"

Lex looked down at the table, unable to meet those intense green eyes. "I’m not sure…it could be one of several things – the enclosed space, the fact that we’re thousands of feet up in the air with nothing holding us up, or maybe it’s just the sickeningly perky flight attendants. I don’t know." She smiled at the younger woman.

"Maybe you just need something else to occupy your mind." The smaller woman offered.

"Such as?" a wicked grin.

Amanda blushed. "Umm…let’s try another tact." She cleared her throat. "Maybe your anxiousness is due to something that happened before. Have you had any bad experiences on an airplane?"

Lex smiled at the look on Amanda’s face. "Hmm…you mean other than the food?" she teased, receiving the expected slap on the arm for that remark. "No…nothing that I can think of…I’ve only flown three times – each time was more of a disaster than the last."

"And yet you’re willing to put yourself through all of that again?" Amanda was shocked.

The rancher shrugged her shoulders. "Yeah. I figure it’s about time to face my fears… Right, Martha?" she looked at the housekeeper, who had a perplexed look on her face.

She’s certainly got it bad… "If you say so, sweetheart. I know you’ve really been bothered by this for a long time." Martha looked at Amanda. "She swore after the last time that she’d never fly again."

"Why? What happened the last time?" the small blonde asked, looking from Lex to Martha.

Lex rolled her eyes, as the housekeeper laughed. "They say…" she looked pointedly at the older woman, "that I hit a flight attendant…but I don’t remember it. The medication I had been given to help me with my jitters was really something else."

Martha interrupted. "You did! They said it took three security guards to get you off of the plane…you kept hollering that he…" laughing, she had to stop and catch her breath, "grabbed your…rear!" The housekeeper hooted. She looked over at Amanda, who had one hand over her mouth, trying to stifle her giggles. "The tranquilizers made Lexie really woozy, and she had stood up to grab something from one of the overhead compartments – they said she started to tumble back, and the flight attendant caught her."

Amanda lost it. "Oh, god…that poor man!"

Lex gave her an indignant look. "Hey! It was my butt he was groping!"

The housekeeper wiped the tears of mirth from her face and eyes. "And for that you broke his nose? I met the poor man later…believe me, honey – you weren’t his type. I’m just thankful that he was so understanding, and didn’t press charges against you."

"I’ve always wondered what you told him to keep me out of jail…" Lex mumbled. To her amazement, the older woman blushed.

"Well, I…uh…appealed to his kind and generous nature…" Martha stammered, somewhat embarrassed at the length she went to protect the young woman.

Lex put her elbow up on the table, and propped her chin on her open hand. "Oh, this I gotta hear…" she grinned at Amanda, "Please…continue." She waved her other hand regally.

"Brat." Martha snorted, then took a deep breath. "Okay…well…we got you settled in the car," she grinned at the young blonde across from her, "slept like a baby for almost two days, too…Anyway, the poor man was in the airline security office, screaming about lawyers, court, and Amazon psycho women who should be locked away for the good of society." She gave Lex a knowing grin.

"So…how did you calm him down?" Now Amanda was curious as well.

"Well, for starters…I cried…Then, I told him how Lexie took care of me in my decidedly waning years," she rolled her eyes at her audience, "and that she was all I had left in this world after her daddy up and left us." She gave them a devious smile. "After all, it really wasn’t a lie now, was it?"

Lex laughed. "Martha, only you could make a man feel bad for getting beat up on an airplane."

The older woman stuck her tongue out at Lex. "Yeah, well…after I also explained to him that she was heavily tranquilized and had no idea what she was doing, he understood." Then she looked at the dark-haired woman with undisguised glee. "He told me his little poodle was the same way when they had to sedate her for long trips." Both she and Amanda cracked up.

Lex sat there looking at the two near-hysterical women, a deep blush on her face. Once they calmed down, she looked at Amanda with serious eyes. "Woof." Which set both women off again. Standing up, she tried to preserve as much dignity as possible. "I’m going upstairs for a shower, if you two ladies don’t mind." She got to the doorway and turned back towards them. "Try to stay out of trouble, okay?"

Amanda and Martha looked at each other, paused, then burst into laughter again.


Chapter 16

The next few days were a whirlwind of activity for both women. They spent two days at the ranch with Martha, with Lex explaining to Amanda that she really wanted to do something special for the older woman, but was at a complete loss as to what.

"Let me see what I can do." The younger woman assured her. "Now, let’s go get you packed." She drug the unwilling rancher upstairs.

"Uh…Amanda?" Lex was ashamed of her wardrobe, or more to the point, the lack thereof. "Maybe we should just buy some clothes when we get there." She mumbled as the smaller woman made her way to the closet.

Amanda stopped at the closet door, her hand reaching for the knob. "Why?" she turned and looked at the taller woman with a tender smile. "Have you suddenly outgrown all of your clothes?"

Lex snorted. "Not yet…although I’m sure I will soon if Martha keeps stuffing me three times a day." With a resigned sigh, she walked over to the closet and opened the door, causing the light inside to come on.

"Whoa…" Amanda exclaimed. The closet itself was only ten feet deep and six feet wide – but it had two wooden poles on each side that went the length of the closet. The rear wall was covered by large oak shelves, which had folded shirts and sweaters in the individual cubbyholes. But what surprised the younger woman the most was how empty it was. Only the right side of the closet had any clothes hanging in it – and even these didn’t fill the space all the way to the end. Shirts were on the top pole, with jeans and apparently a few pair of khaki slacks as well on the bottom pole.

Putting her hand on Amanda’s shoulder, the tall woman sighed again. "Yeah. I told you I don’t have many clothes – no sense in it, really." She shrugged. "Who’s gonna see me, anyway?"

"Honey, I have yet to see you dressed badly. You’ve got to be the best dressed rancher that I have ever seen." Amanda winked. "Besides, I don’t think Martha would let you out of the house if you weren’t all clean and pressed."

The older woman laughed, and pulled Amanda into an one-armed hug. "Oh, yeah…we’ve argued about that for years – she keeps insisting on ironing my jeans and denim shirts. I keep telling her that the cattle really don’t care what I look like." She followed the young woman into the closet. "And just how many ranchers have you seen?" Lex teased.

"Well, to be honest, you’re the first one I’ve ever really met. But," she turned and faced the older woman, "I’ve watched a lot of TV – and you are most certainly the best looking cowhand I’ve ever laid eyes on!" Amanda stood up on her tiptoes and wrapped her arms around the tall woman’s neck.

Lex unconsciously put her arms around the smaller woman and bent her head to meet her halfway. "Why, thank you kindly, ma’am." She drawled, placing her lips gently on Amanda’s, allowing the young woman to take the lead.

"Mmm…" Amanda murmured, leaning into the strong embrace. She felt the large hands slide down her back slowly then tucked themselves into the back pockets of her jeans. Breaking off the kiss to breathe, Amanda leaned her forehead into Lex’s heaving chest. "Much better…" she felt the chuckle rumble through the rancher, and smiled to herself in response. After giving one last squeeze to the lanky body, Amanda regretfully stepped back a pace. "Whew…okay. Let’s see about getting you packed." She looked at the row of neatly pressed pants. "Most of these jeans look brand-new… have you been shopping lately?"

"Not exactly." Lex looked at her feet, embarrassed. She felt a small hand lift her chin gently. Looking into the questioning green eyes, she let a small smile appear. "I keep wearing the same couple of pair because they’re comfortable – it drives Martha crazy."

"You’re so bad." Amanda chastised, then stepped back and pulled several pairs of jeans off of the pole, as well as one pair of khakis. "Here…hold these…" she started shuffling through the hanging shirts, then stopped. "Hey! Where did you get this?" she asked, running her hand across the soft material. "Doesn’t look like something you’d wear chasing cattle."

"Oh…I forgot I had that shirt." Lex touched the fabric with tentative fingertips.

Amanda grinned at her. "This is perfect! It’ll go great with these," she pulled a pair of pants from the rack, and handed them to the rancher. Wandering to the back of the closet, the young woman grabbed a pair of shiny boots, and as an afterthought snatched a pair of scuffed Nike’s from a nearby shelf. "I didn’t know you owned anything like these." she teased, holding the sneakers in the air.

The dark-haired woman scowled at her. "Smartass." Holding the items in her hands aloft, she asked, "Are all of these clothes really necessary? We’re gonna be there what? Four or five days at the most?"

"Absolutely! And you should consider yourself lucky…" the young woman walked past her, "I’m really packing you up light!" She stepped back into the bedroom. "Do you have a bathing suit?"

Lex laughed as she grabbed a suitcase from one of the high shelves in the closet. "Yeah, somewhere. But I haven’t worn it since high school…why?"

Amanda helped Lex carry the clothes and suitcase over to the bed. "My folks have a huge swimming pool with a attached hot tub – thought it might be fun to try it out with you."

"A hot tub, eh?" Lex stepped up behind the blonde, until her body was in complete contact with Amanda’s. Moving the reddish-blonde hair to one side, Lex began placing small kisses on her lover’s soft neck. "I don’t think your family would approve of what I could do with you in a hot tub." She felt the petite woman tremble slightly.

Amanda felt her knees begin to weaken. "I really don’t…care…mmm…" she raised an arm behind her head, taking a handful of thick dark hair in her fist and enjoying the sensation of gentle lips nibbling on her throat. "what my family thinks…ahh…" strong hands began working their way underneath the front of her shirt.

"Ahem." Martha stood at the doorway, hands on her hips and an almost stern expression on her face. "You two are never going to get packed at this rate."

Lex sighed then turned around, pulling Amanda in front of her. "And this would be a bad thing?" she could feel Amanda’s giggle where her hands were still splayed on the flat abdomen.

"Don’t get sassy with me, Lexie. I can still take you over my knee." Martha stepped into the room, walking towards the couple.

"Watch it, lady…or I’ll sic my bodyguard on you!" Lex threatened, ducking down behind the now-blushing Amanda.

"Hey! Don’t get me involved here…" Amanda laughed, feeling the strong arms around her squeeze her tightly.

Martha grinned. "Looks to me like you’re already pretty much involved, honey."

"Heh…she’s got ya there, sweetheart!" Lex murmured in her ear, tickling her stomach.

Amanda slapped her hands. "Stop that!" she growled good-naturedly.

Lex propped her chin on Amanda’s head. "Is there something we can do for you, Martha?"

"Actually, I came up here to tell you that Dr. Anderson called in your prescription of tranquilizers for your flight…he said that you can pick them up in the morning on your way to the airport."

"Thanks, Martha…but I’m going to try and do without them…" Lex sighed.

"Are you sure you want to do that?" the housekeeper asked.

The rancher released Amanda and sat down on the bed. "Yeah…I don’t want to be drugged out when I meet Amanda’s family." She ran a hand through her dark hair.

"Honey…" Amanda sat down next to her and grasped her hand. "I don’t want you to put yourself through hell just because of them…" she gently stroked the strong arm with her free hand, "Believe me, they’re really not worth it."

Martha sat down on the other side of Lex. "Okay…what about this," she rubbed the rancher’s back gently, "Why don’t you take the medication with you and then you’ll have it, just in case?"

Lex opened her mouth to argue.

"Sshhh…she’s right." Amanda stopped her. "And," she linked her arm with the dark haired woman’s, "we both might need sedatives around my family – they tend to be a little high strung."

"Oh…so that’s where you get it, huh?" Lex teased. "Ow!" she rubbed her arm where Amanda had slapped her.

"Serves you right, Lexie." Martha chuckled, standing up. "You girls going to be ready for lunch soon?"

"I can always eat!" Amanda confessed gleefully, getting to her feet.

"Ha! Big surprise." Lex mumbled, then found herself pushed back onto the bed. "What?" she asked the two retreating figures.


After lunch, Lex packed up the truck and then she and Amanda prepared to leave the ranch. Standing on the front porch, Martha tearfully hugged each woman.

"Now you girls try and stay out of trouble." She had just embraced Amanda, and stepped back to look into the shining green eyes of the younger woman. "Take care of yourself, okay sweetheart?"

Amanda pulled the housekeeper into another strong hug. "I’ll take good care of her, I promise." She whispered into the older woman’s ear, then kissed her on the cheek. Pulling back slightly, she smiled.

Lex rolled her eyes and grinned at Martha. "I’ll call you as soon as our plane lands…don’t worry." Seeing the tears on the round wrinkled face, she pulled the older woman into a fierce embrace of her own. "Hey…are you gonna be okay out here by yourself while I’m gone?"

"Heavens yes…thought I’d get those new curtains made for my house while you were away." She stepped back and gave them both a devilish smile. "And I thought it would be nice to have Charlie out for dinner a few nights this week – I know he must get tired of the food at the boarding house."

Lex winked at Amanda, then gave Martha a no-nonsense stare. "Maybe I should stop by the boarding house later tonight and find out what his intentions are."

"You wouldn’t dare!" Martha yelped, not seeing Amanda quickly cover her mouth to hide a grin. "Lexington Marie! How could you even think about…" the housekeeper paused, hearing the slight giggle behind her. Seeing Amanda trying to control her laughter, she turned back in time to catch Lex grinning widely. "Oh, you!"

Laughing, the tall rancher pulled Martha back into another hug. "Sorry, Martha…I just couldn’t resist." She placed a gentle kiss on the older woman’s forehead. "Charlie is like a second father to me…I hope you two will have some wonderful dinners while I’m gone." She leaned down and whispered into Martha’s ear, "I love you, you know…but try and behave yourself until I get back, okay?" She left another kiss, this one on a weathered cheek, and then stood up straight. "This isn’t getting us any closer to town," Lex sighed, releasing Martha regretfully. "I’ll also carry the cell phone…it’ll be long distance, but call me if you need anything."

Martha practically pushed her off of the porch. "Stop worrying…I’m a grown woman, Lexie. Now go on, and have a good time."

Amanda followed Lex down the steps. "Well, I can’t guarantee fun, but I know for a fact it won’t be boring!" she chuckled.

Lex opened the passenger’s side door for Amanda, then helped her into the truck. "Guess I’ll have to invest in one of those little steps for the truck." She teased, closing the door before Amanda could reply. "See ya in a few days, Martha!" she yelled, waving at the housekeeper as she crossed to the driver’s side of the large vehicle.

The rancher watched through the rearview mirror as Martha waved at them, until they were out of sight of the house. Releasing a heavy sigh, she turned her attention back to the road.

"Lex?" Amanda placed a small hand on her arm. "Honey? Are you okay?"

Blinking, the rancher turned back towards her companion. "Yeah, I’m okay…" she gave Amanda a small smile.

Not to be deterred, Amanda let her hand drift down the strong forearm until she was able to intertwine their fingers. "Sure you are…now tell me what’s bothering you."

Lex pulled their joined hands to her lips, and kissed the delicate knuckles. "I don’t like the idea of Martha staying out at the ranch for so long all alone…especially with Hubert acting like such an ass."

Amanda chuckled. "Hmm…from what I’ve seen, I don’t think she’ll be alone, sweetheart."

"You think so?" Lex turned slightly, and gave Amanda a more genuine smile. "I sure hope so…he’s been trying to get her to marry him for almost as long as I can remember." Turning her eyes back to the road, she sobered. "I know she loves him, but she seems determined to stay with me."

"Why don’t we call Charlie tonight and talk to him? Maybe he’ll keep an eye on things while you’re gone." Amanda was concerned at the look on Lex’s face. She’s going to make herself sick worrying about all of this. "I think she’s just worried about you being alone…" she gave the hand in hers a sturdy squeeze. "and I don’t think that’s going to be a problem anymore."

Lex smiled again. "Yeah?"

"Oh, yeah…most definitely." Amanda replied, love shining from her eyes.


Chapter 17

Once the truck had made it safely back into town, Lex looked over at Amanda with a questioning glance. "Would you mind too terribly much if we went straight over to the boarding house? I can’t concentrate on anything else until I know that Martha has been taken care of." She asked, with an apologetic smile. "I promise it won’t take too long."

Amanda squeezed the hand she had been holding throughout the entire drive. "Good idea…I’d feel a lot better too."

Ten minutes later, they pulled onto a quiet residential street in one of the older sections of town. Large two story wood-framed homes populated the block, several of them sporting historical landmark signs in their front yard. Lex pulled the truck up to a house situated in the middle of the block, with a sheriff’s department car sitting in the driveway.

"Wow," Amanda sighed, allowing Lex to help her from the truck, "It’s beautiful!" She followed the rancher up the stone walkway to the front porch. "Charlie lives here?"

Lex stopped on the porch and smiled. "Yep. He lives here with Mrs. Wade and her son, David." Seeing the unasked question in the green eyes, she continued. "Mr. Wade passed away about ten years ago, and Mrs. Wade needed a boarder to help make ends meet, and take care of things around the house. Charlie was living in a tiny efficiency apartment on the other side of town, away from the Sheriff’s Department – and he’d been good friends with the Wades’ forever, so he jumped at the chance for a nice room and home-cooked meals." Smiling, Lex knocked on the door.

Moments later, the door opened and a tall young man about twenty-five opened the door. "Lex!" he yelled, swinging the door inward and stepping out onto the porch, "It’s been way too long!" he scooped her up in a bearhug, swinging the poor rancher around in a circle.

"Dammit, Dave…put me down!" Lex yelled, wriggling unsuccessfully to get out of his grasp.

Dropping her back to her feet, David grinned, his white teeth shining against his ebony skin. Looking at Amanda, his smile faded a little. "Uh-oh…I didn’t realize we had company."

Lex stood off to the side, watching as green eyes sparkled with amusement. "Sorry about that, Dave…" she motioned the younger woman forward with a wave of her hand. "This is Amanda Cauble…Amanda, this brut is David Wade." She almost laughed at the chagrined look on the young man’s face.

"Oh, shi…uh, I mean…hello, Amanda…it’s nice to meet you." He held out a large hand tentatively.

Amanda grasped his hand firmly. "It’s nice to meet you too, David. Have you known Lex very long?"

"Over half of my life, I think…and please call me Dave." He ushered the two women into the house, and into a spacious living room. "Have a seat, ladies. Can I get you something to drink?"

Lex waited until Amanda sat down on one end of a navy blue loveseat, then dropped down beside her. "Nah…we were hoping to chat with Charlie for a few minutes…is he around?"

The young man leaned against the nearby sofa. "Yeah, I think he’s upstairs getting cleaned up – he should be down in a few minutes." He was about to continue when a very petite older woman walked into the room.

"Lexie Walters! I thought my old ears heard your voice! Get yourself over here right now!" she demanded, opening her arms.

Lex dutifully rose from the loveseat and crossed the room, bending low to embrace the older woman. "Mama Wade…you just keep looking younger and prettier every time I see you."

The old woman slapped her arm. "Don’t be spreading your bull around me, Lexie. I’ve had to hear it for too many years to be believing it."

Kissing the wrinkled cheek, Lex escorted the older woman to a chair. "I’m sorry it’s been so long, but it’s been pretty hectic at the ranch." She apologized.

Mrs. Wade slapped at her again. "You better quit treating me like some sort of senile invalid…I can still whip your fanny, young lady!" She noticed Amanda sitting quietly on the loveseat. "That your latest catch?" she pointed at the young blonde woman, who instantly blushed.

"What?!" Lex spun around in the middle of the room, stopped before she could finish walking back to her seat.

Dave laughed. "Charlie told us how you fished a young lady out of the creek – we figured this must be her." He explained, enjoying seeing Lex turn several shades of red as well.

"Where are your manners, girl?" the older woman queried. "Or should I just refer to her as ‘the catch of the day’?"

God…where’s a good rock to crawl under when you need one? "Sorry…Mama Wade, allow me to introduce you to Amanda Cauble. Amanda, this is Dave’s mother, Mrs. Ida Wade."

Amanda stood up and walked over to the chair. "Pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Wade." She held out her hand.

"Good lord…" the older woman scoffed, standing up. "C’mere." She embraced the surprised blonde in a strong hug, which was enthusiastically returned. "Call me Mama, honey. Everyone else does."

Amanda laughed. She’s got to be one of the few adults I’ve ever found that is actually shorter than I am. "Okay…thanks, Mama Wade. Dave tells me you’ve known Lex for a long time?"

"Goodness, yes…ever since little Davey brought her home after school – must have been fifteen years ago. Have a seat, and I’ll tell you all about it."

Lex stood up. "C’mon, Dave…I think that’s our cue to leave. Want to show me how that work in the garage is coming along?" She pulled the poor man out of the room before he could respond.


"Mama! Mama!" ten year old David came running into the house, his clothes torn and blood running from his nose and split lip.

Ida stepped out of the kitchen, then ran to catch her young son in the hallway. "Davey! What on earth happened to you?" She dropped to her knees and began wiping the blood away with the edge of her apron.

Panting, he began, "There were these boys…took my backpack…started hitting me…"

Ida clasped her son to her chest gently. "Shh…calm down, baby. You’re safe now."

He struggled to get away from her. "You don’t…understand…Mama…" he finally pulled free, and grabbed her hand. "C’mon…you gotta help her…" he started for the door, dragging Ida behind him. "Please…I think they hurt her pretty bad…"

Ida allowed her son to pull her out of the house, and down the street. "Who are we going to go help, honey?" she asked, as he practically ran down the sidewalk, pulling on her arm.

Half a block away, lying under the sparse shade of a half-dead tree, lay a young girl. She was curled up on one side, her knees pulled almost to her chest, and she wasn’t moving. Davey yanked away from his mother’s hand, and ran the rest of the way to where the girl lie. He squatted down beside her and began to run his hand gently over her dark hair.

"See? I told you I’d get some help…c’mon…wake up!" he brushed the hair out of her eyes, seeing the blood on her pale face. "Mama? Please?" The young boy turned back around to plead with his mother.

Ida hurried over to the young girl, who looked to be twelve or thirteen years old. She was wearing jeans and a denim shirt, and well-worn cowboy boots. "Davey, who is this girl?" Ida dropped to her knees next to the unmoving form.

"I dunno, Mama…when those boys started hitting me, she stood up to them and told them to stop. So they started hitting her. She told me to run, and I told her I was gonna get help." Tears were running down his dark and dirty face, leaving muddy tracks behind. "She’s gonna be alright, isn’t she?" He bit his lip to keep from crying out loud.

Turning the girl carefully onto her back, Ida frowned. "Davey, I want you to go to Mr. Conner’s house, and get him over here right away…I’m going to need some help in getting her to our house." Now I just have to figure out who this brave child is…I hope she’ll be able to tell me soon. Seeing her son staring at the girl, she shook his shoulder. "David! Hurry!" Then she sighed as the young boy took off again.

They finally got the still-unconscious girl to their house, and comfortably ensconced in the guestroom. The dark-haired child hadn’t moved, but they cleaned her up and found that she was sporting a rather nasty gash on the back of her head, but no broken bones. She had called Sheriff Bristol to come over and see if he knew the girl, since Ida had never seen her before.

Charlie was understandably shocked when he saw the young girl sleeping in the Wade’s guestroom. "Dear lord!! Lexington?" he stumbled over to the bed and sat down beside her.

Ida stood beside the lawman, seeing the tears in his eyes. "I guess you know our little hero here?"

He looked up at the small woman and smiled. "Hero? She looks like she’s been in one hell of a fight…Martha’s going to be furious!" he tenderly brushed the dark hair from the closed eyes, one of which was already sporting a dark bruise.

Ida patted him on the shoulder. "Well, she was…several older boys were beginning to beat up my Davey when she came along and took them all on…now my son has a serious case of hero worship."

The young girl began thrashing her head back and forth, and started to cry. Charlie scooped her up in his arms and held her tight. "Shhh…sweetheart…you’re okay…" he whispered in her ear.

Lex opened her one good eye, confused. "Uncle Charlie?" she rasped, blinking to clear her vision.

"Yeah, it’s me, honey. You feel okay?" he let her lie back on the bed, but still kept his arm under her shoulder.

"Umm…my head hurts, and I can’t open my eye…" her lower lip quivered a little. "Where are we?" she saw the small dark-skinned woman behind Charlie. "Where’s Martha?"

Ida stepped forward slowly, so as not to frighten the girl. "My name’s Ida Wade, and you’re in my house. Do you remember what happened?"

Lex shrugged her shoulders slightly.. "Sorta…I saw some guys following a little boy home from school, so I decided to see what they were up to. I kinda got mad when they took his backpack away and started hitting him." She looked up at Ida. "Is the little boy okay? They got a few hits on him before I could stop them."

Ida laughed. "Oh honey, he’s just fine." She stepped to the doorway and ushered in a small boy who was looking at the bed with wide-eyed wonder. "Lexington, I want you to meet my son, David." She gently pushed the young man towards the bed.

He stepped up to the bed and smiled. "Wow! You sure have a pretty eye!" said with the innocence of a child. "Your other eye probably looks real pretty too…thanks for stopping those boys today."

Lex looked at him and smiled. "Your welcome. Thanks for getting your mother to come and help me." She glanced up at Ida. "Thank you, Mrs. Wade…I’m real sorry I couldn’t stop those guys from hurting David." She then looked at Charlie. "Can I go home now, Uncle Charlie? I really want to see Martha."

Charlie looked up at Ida with a grin. "Sure, sweetheart. Let’s get you into the car – I’ll even turn on the lights and siren, how’s that?"

Ida looked up at Amanda, who had a gentle smile on her face. "After that, Lexie would walk Davey home from school…although I think the fresh baked cookies had as much to do with it as anything else." She laughed. "She even made sure he went to college, helped him get a scholarship and everything…now he’s got a business degree, and runs his own shop." She finished proudly.

Dave and Lex stepped back into the room. "Aw, Mama…" he grumbled.

Lex laughed, then walked over and sat down next to Amanda. "Mama Wade been telling her tall tales again?" She smirked at the look of outrage on the older woman’s face.

"Hrumpph! I’ll give you tall tales, young lady!" Ida grumped. Before she could continue her tirade, Charlie walked into the room.

"Well, well…isn’t this a pleasant surprise?" the lawman drawled, taking the chair nearest Ida. "Good evening, Ida. These kids giving you a hard time?"

Dave laughed. "She gives as good as she gets, you know that." He bent down and kissed her gray head. "I’d love to stay and visit, but I’m expecting a late delivery to the store." He gave a wave to the two women sitting on the loveseat. "Amanda, it was great meeting you – don’t be a stranger around here. And Lex," he grinned, "You’d better start showing up over here a little more often, or else."

Amanda laughed. "Thanks, Dave. I’ll get her over here more, I promise." She pointedly ignored the glare coming from her companion.

Ida stood up. "I’ll walk you out, honey." She wrapped an arm around her son’s waist as they left the room.

Charlie looked at Lex. "Everything okay out at the ranch?"

The rancher sighed, then stood up and walked over to the fireplace. Leaning on the hearth, she turned back towards Charlie. "Yeah, pretty much…I do have a favor to ask of you, though…"

Charlie could barely keep his jaw from dropping. She’s asking for help? Now that’s a change! "Sure, honey…name it."

"Amanda and I are flying to California tomorrow to pack up her stuff, and I’d appreciate it if you would stay out at the ranch while we’re gone."

The lawman watched as Amanda stood up and joined Lex by the fireplace, giving her a gentle rub on her back.

"Why? Not that I mind, but Martha has stayed out there by herself before." He looked at the undisguised sadness in the tall woman’s blue eyes. "What is it?"

"Hubert is up to his usual tricks…although I really don’t think he has the balls to do anything." Lex sighed. "But he was pretty pissed off when I chased him off of the ranch the other day – so I’m not sure what he may do." She ran a hand through her dark hair nervously.

Uh-oh…they’re at it again. Charlie remembered breaking up several altercations between the siblings when they were growing up. "Umm…was there a particular reason you chased him off? He’s not going to try and press charges against you again, is he?"

Lex laughed. "Ah…no." she shook her head. "I don’t think he’ll come running to you this time…" she gave Amanda a grin. "But I’d appreciate it if you’d stay out there, just in case."

Charlie grinned. "Well, it’ll be a hardship, but I guess I can do it. How long are you planning on being gone?"

Amanda gently pulled Lex back over to the loveseat. "We fly out tomorrow morning, and will be coming back Sunday afternoon. I’ve got to be back in the office on Monday."

"Have you picked up the sedatives yet?" Charlie teased, "Or do you just need to borrow some handcuffs for the flight?"

"Charlie…" Lex growled.

He laughed, and winked at Amanda. "Or I could get someone from Animal Control to dart her before she boards…"

Lex stood up, glaring. "Charlie, I’d hate to make Martha a widow before you could talk her into being a bride."

Looking surprised, the lawman blushed. "What makes you think…she’s never…ah, hell."

He looked down at the floor.

Teach him to pick on me, Lex smiled to herself. "C’mon, Charlie…would it really be so bad to live at the ranch?"

Exhaling heavily, he looked up. "You wouldn’t mind?"

"Mind?" Lex sputtered, "Why the hell would I mind?" She looked at him in disbelief. "Martha is a grown woman, and I certainly have no hold on her."

"Well, yeah…I know, but…I mean, she’s…" he continued to stammer.

The rancher stood up and crossed the room quickly, then knelt at Charlie’s feet. "You know, growing up…I had this ongoing dream…a fantasy, I guess." She waited until the flustered man’s eyes met hers. "In my head, and I guess in my heart too, Martha was my mom – my real mom…" she gave him a gentle smile, "and you were my dad…" Seeing the shocked happiness on his face, she continued, "Hell, Charlie…you two practically raised me anyway – my own dad never really gave a damn to what I was doing. I just wish Martha would quit worrying so much about me, and take care of her own happiness."

Charlie smiled at her, a trace of tears in his gray eyes. "Honey…" he glanced at Amanda, "I don’t think she has a thing to worry about anymore." He leaned forward and kissed her forehead. "Now I guess I’d better go on upstairs and pack a bag…since I’ll be out of town on vacation for a few days." He winked at Lex, then stood. "And if I had ever had a daughter, I would hope she’d be like you." He enveloped the dark-haired woman in a fierce hug. "Have a safe trip, sweetheart." Charlie kissed the top of her head and turned to leave the room. "Take care of our girl, Amanda…" he waved to the young blonde still seated on the loveseat as he left the room.

Lex sniffed, wiped her eyes, and then looked over at Amanda. "C’mon, let’s go…we still have to get you packed."


Chapter 18

Amanda sat in the den, watching the fire crackle in the fireplace, a gentle smile on her face. They had finished dinner over thirty minutes ago and Lex had apologetically left the house shortly thereafter, after having received a mysterious phone call. She was so cute about leaving… worried that I’d be upset, she mused.

"Mandy? Where are you, dear?" Anna Leigh’s voice echoed down the empty hallway.

"In here, Gramma…" the young woman said in a normal tone. She turned around on the sofa as her grandmother stepped into the room. "Hi."

The older woman stepped over to the sofa and sat down beside Amanda. "Is everything all right, dear? Lexington certainly left in a hurry – you two didn’t…" Have a fight or argument, she finished to herself, worried.

Amanda patted her grandmother’s leg. "Oh, no…Lex just got a phone call, and left to take care of something. She said she would be back in an hour or so."

Anna Leigh leaned back against the sofa with a sigh. "Thank goodness. I was afraid that you two had an argument about this trip."

"What would we have to disagree about? Lex seems really excited about going." Amanda turned sideways, so that she could get a better look at her grandmother’s face. "Has she said anything to you?"

The older woman gave her a gentle smile. "Well, she did mention she’s a little afraid of embarrassing you." Seeing the look of shock on Amanda’s face, she continued. "Shhh…wait, let me try and explain." Anna Leigh chewed on her lower lip for a moment, thinking. "Earlier while you were upstairs, Lexington came into the kitchen, asking if I needed any help." Seeing Amanda’s smile, she nodded. "Yes, I know. Anyway, I could tell that something was bothering her, so I asked."

"You look a little distracted, dear. Is something wrong?" Anna Leigh studied the quiet form leaning against the counter.

Lex looked up at the concerned tone, and saw only gentle understanding in the older woman’s face. "Umm…actually…could I ask you a question? I’d really like your…opinion, on something." She dropped her eyes back to the floor.

Sensing Lex’s discomfort, Anna Leigh turned away from the stove and led the younger woman over to the table, guiding her into a chair. "Sure, sweetheart. What is it?"

"Well…" unsure, Lex paused, until she felt the older woman squeeze her hands reassuredly. "I would ask Amanda, but I don’t want to upset her. She’s got enough on her mind right now." She looked down at their connected hands, startled at just how dainty Anna Leigh’s looked in hers.

"Lexington…look at me please." Anna Leigh waited patiently until the shadowed blue eyes locked with hers. "Honey, there’s nothing you could ask of me that you should be embarrassed about."

The rancher took a deep breath, momentarily closing her eyes. "I feel like such a hick…" she opened her eyes and gave the older woman a shaky smile. "I don’t want to worry Amanda, but I’m a little concerned about this damn…dinner party…we’re supposed to attend."

Anna Leigh looked at the younger woman, confusion on her delicate features. "Concerned? Why should you be concerned, Lexington? It’s just a dinner…not a Costume or Fashion Ball." She teased.

Lex snorted. "Oh god…that would be a real nightmare, wouldn’t it? Although I’m gonna feel like I’m in some sort of costume anyway." She looked into the green eyes that reminded her so much of Amanda’s. "You know I love your granddaughter, right?" Seeing the older woman nod, "And that I’d do anything for her?"

"Of that, I have no doubt, dear." Anna Leigh squeezed the suddenly cold hands that were laced with hers. "But…?" she prompted.

Lex sighed, and looked down again. "I want to be there to support her, but I really don’t have anything good enough to wear to this sort of thing. And…" another heavy sigh, "anything we buy I’m gonna be real uncomfortable in, and then they’ll know what a bumpkin their daughter is hooked up with." She gave the older woman an intense look. "I don’t care what they think about me…but I’ll be…damned…if I’m the cause for even one second of embarrassment for Amanda." She released Anna Leigh’s hands and stood up abruptly. "What am I going to do, Mrs…uh, I mean, Anna Leigh?" she paced back and forth across the bright kitchen like a jungle cat. "I’d die before hurting her."

"Sweetheart, I don’t think that’s going to be necessary." Anna Leigh stood up and put her hand on the disturbed woman’s arm. "Don’t worry…we’ll figure something out." She rubbed the tense arm soothingly. "Now, why don’t you go on upstairs and drag my granddaughter down for dinner? It should be ready in about ten minutes."

The tall woman gave her a grateful smile. "Thanks for listening, Anna Leigh…now I know where Amanda got her heart from." Lex left the older woman standing in the kitchen before she could come back with a sharp reply.

Amanda felt tears well up in her eyes. "I thought she was just nervous about flying…" Oh, Lex…what am I going to do with you?

Anna Leigh caught Amanda’s hand. "Honey, I didn’t mean to upset you…I just thought that you should know. Lexington was a little embarrassed about the whole thing."

"I can’t believe she didn’t trust me enough to talk to me about this." Amanda muttered, an errant tear making its way down her face.

"Oh, Mandy…" her grandmother brushed the tear from Amanda’s cheek, "It’s not an issue of trust…Lexington was afraid of upsetting you. She knows how worried you are already about this trip, and she didn’t want to add to your anxiety."

"That goofy cow-chaser…when is she going to figure out that she’s a whole lot more important to me than any stupid dinner party?" The young woman whispered, more to herself than to her grandmother. Wiping her eyes with the back of one hand, Amanda sniffed. "That’s it! I’m calling Mother right now and canceling…I refuse to make Lex feel this way." She started to stand, but found her progress halted by a strong grip on her arm.

Anna Leigh pulled the upset young woman back down to the sofa. "Mandy, wait…I really don’t think that’s a good idea." She waited until she had Amanda’s complete attention. "How do you think it will make Lexington feel if you cancel out now?" When her granddaughter gave her a questioning look, she continued, "She’d probably feel that she was right, and that you’re embarrassed because she’s not used to being in that type of environment."

Amanda opened her mouth to disagree, and then understanding dawned on her face. "Oh god…she would, wouldn’t she?" Knowing that her tall, dark, and brooding blue-eyed lover, for all her kiss-my-butt attitude, was emotionally very insecure. "Oh, Gramma…what can I do? I can’t hurt her that way… but I don’t want her to feel belittled or not good enough for my family, either." Then a devious smile broke out on her face. "Oooh…I think I’ve got an idea."

Uh-oh…Elizabeth had better watch out – Mandy’s got that ‘take no prisoners’ look on her face. "Ah, sweetheart? You’re not going to do anything that you might regret later, are you?"

Amanda laughed. "Of course not! I just have to plan my wardrobe, that’s all." She leaned over and wrapped her arms around Anna Leigh’s neck. "Thanks, Gramma…you’re the best!" she kissed the older woman’s cheek then stood up. "If you don’t mind, I’m going to go upstairs and finish packing."

Anna Leigh stood up as well. "No, not at all…do you need a ride to the airport in the morning?" The nearest airport was an hour and a half away, and she didn’t know if the young women wanted to leave a car there for the entire week.

"No, Lex said she wanted to just leave her truck at the airport, so no one would have to make a three hour round trip drive to take us and then pick us up." Amanda stood at the doorway. "But I really appreciate the offer, and I know Lex would too. I’ll see you and Grandpa in the morning, right?"

"Oh yes…do you think we’d miss seeing you two off?" Anna Leigh scoffed. "Your grandfather would never forgive himself otherwise." She crossed the room to meet the young woman at the door. "Try and get some rest tonight, sweetheart – the next few days will run you ragged, otherwise." She pulled her granddaughter into a strong embrace.

"I will, Gramma…I promise." Amanda returned the squeeze. "I love you." She felt a gentle kiss on the side of her head.

"I love you too, dearest. Goodnight." She watched as the beautiful young woman walked down the hall and then practically skipped up the stairs. She’s up to something, Anna Leigh smiled to herself, and I can’t wait to see what it is.


Chapter 19

Lex pulled the truck up to the Juvenile Detention Center, looking at her watch. I really should have told Amanda where I was going, but then she would have insisted on coming with me – and I know that she wants to spend as much time as possible with her grandparents before we leave. Releasing a heavy sigh, the tall woman stepped through the doors of the two-story brick structure, the white walls almost brown with the passage of time. The foyer was brightly lit, with several heavy doors sprinkled around, and a small Plexiglas service window off to the left of the entry doors. The rancher blinked a couple of times to adjust her eyes to the almost shining room, then quietly stepped up to the open window.

A middle-aged woman in a sheriff’s department uniform smiled up at Lex from the desk stationed behind the window. "You must be Lexington Walters…" she greeted. "Come on inside, Sergeant Roland is waiting for you in his office." She pointed to the heavy door to the right of the window, "Go on, I’ll buzz you in."

Lex walked over to the door, cringing at the loud sound her boots made on the sparkling tile floor. She put her hand on the doorknob, then opened it when she heard the tinny buzz. Letting the steel door close behind her, the rancher got a slight chill down her back when she heard the audible click, knowing she was locked in until someone let her out. Damn…I really hate this feeling. She shook her head, trying to dispel the growing unease she felt.

"Ms. Walters! Thank you for getting here so quickly!" a deep voiced jarred her from her thoughts, as a short heavy-set man in his mid-fifties stepped out of a nearby office. "Please, come in and have a seat." The smiling man escorted Lex into the office, pointing her towards a chair in front of a severely cluttered desk. "I’m Sergeant Roland, by the way…I’m in charge of this facility." He shook her hand before sitting down.

Lex smiled, and leaned back slightly in her chair. "Is this in reference to that boy that was with the cattle thieves we caught on my property?" she prodded, wanting to get out of this ‘facility’ and back to Amanda. Oh, I’ve got it bad, all right…can’t even be out of her sight for more than a few minutes…totally disgusting, she smiled to herself.

Sergeant Roland nodded. "Yes ma’am, as a matter of fact, it is." He spent a few moments digging through the multiple piles of paperwork on the desk. "Ah! Here we go!" he opened up a plain brown folder, shuffling through the papers in it. "Sheriff Bristol said you were interested in putting the boy to work at the Rocking W, is that correct?"

Lex nodded. "That’s right…but only if he is interested – I have no desire to force the kid to work for me if he doesn’t want to." She ran a hand through her hair. "And…" she leaned forward in her chair, "I don’t think anyone should be judged or punished for something that someone else in their family has done."

Having heard the town gossip about the Walter’s family, the lawman could only nod his head. Having that skunk Hubert for kin certainly is proof of that theory, he mused to himself. Reading a page from the file, he said, "Well, it looks like Ronnie is an average student, quiet, and has never been in any type of trouble before – would you like to talk to him before you make your decision? If you both agree, we’ll have to get him assigned as your ward, so that you both would be covered legally." He closed the folder.

"I’d be appointed his legal guardian?" Lex questioned, unsure of her feelings. I didn’t do a very good job with the last boy in my care, she silently berated herself.

"Yep." Sergeant Roland stood up. "Why don’t we go talk to Ronnie, and then we can discuss all the boring legalities." He escorted a silent Lex out of the room, guiding her down the eerie hallway until they reached another steel door. "Do you have any weapons that need to be checked?"

Making a show of patting her pockets, Lex smirked. "Hmm…I seemed to have left my sword in my other pants."

Sergeant Roland shook his head. "Charlie warned me about you," he grinned, "and he said to give him a call if you caused too much trouble." Using a key, he opened the door. "Follow me, please."

Lex followed the still chuckling man into another hallway, suppressing a shudder as the door clicked behind them. Good thing I never went in for a life of crime…I’d never survive being locked away like this, she thought to herself.

Understanding what was keeping his ‘guest’ quiet, the good sergeant decided to play tour guide. "Most of the boys we have stay in what we refer to as the Clubhouse. It’s an open bunk area that can hold up to twenty kids at once – right now we only have seven." He smiled proudly. "And they’re all pretty good boys, mostly just got in with the wrong crowd, or their families didn’t have time for them, sorta like Ronnie." He opened a door on their left-hand side, a few steps before the end of the hallway. "Here’s one of the visitation rooms – make yourself comfortable, and I’ll go fetch the boy."

Lex was pleased that this door didn’t automatically lock when it closed. Yeah, like it matters… where in the hell can you go from here? She wandered around the small room, which had a table, two wooden chairs, and comfortable looking loveseat that hugged one wall. The walls were unadorned, but she was able to look out a small glass and wire meshed window, seeing the dark and empty street outside.

She was still staring out of the window when the door opened. Turning slightly, she quietly studied the young man who stepped in ahead of Sergeant Roland. He’s not much bigger than Amanda is, she mused. Slight of frame, his sandy blonde hair was much shorter than she remembered, only coming down to the top of his collar. He was wearing was appeared to be new jeans, and a clean white button-down shirt.

Lifting his head, Ronnie finally gathered enough courage to look this strange woman in the eyes. Whoa, she’s tall, was his first thought, intimidating him somewhat. He felt the sergeant’s gentle hand on his shoulder as he was guided to a chair.

"Why don’t we all have a seat and get acquainted?" the heavy lawman said, waiting until Lex took the other chair at the table before sitting down on the loveseat. "Ronnie, this is Ms. Walters."

The young man, who had been studying the table silently ever since he had sat down, glanced up again as the woman stood up and offered her hand to him.

"Ronnie?" She gave him a firm handshake, treating him like an adult. Wow, she’s got beautiful eyes, was his only coherent thought, before he blushed and swallowed.

Lex looked into the young man’s light brown eyes, which conveyed sadness and more than a little fear. Poor kid looks scared to death, she thought sadly. I wonder if it’s me, or the circumstances?

"You’re the lady from the house, aren’t you?" His eyes widened, as he scooted back in his chair. "D…don’t b…b…be mad at m…m…me – Matt made me g…g…go!" He covered his head with his arms, and began crying softly.

Guess that answers that question, doesn’t it? Lex stepped back away from the table, a hurt look on her face. She glanced over at the sergeant, who shook his head sadly.

Roland stepped over to the table, placing his hand lightly on the boys’ back. "Shh… it’s okay, son. She’s not here to hurt you." He looked back up at the rancher, a helpless look on his lined face.

Lex sat back down across from the now-sniffling young man. "Ronnie, look at me." She commanded in a low voice. Waiting until he complied, she looked directly into his tear-filled eyes and continued, "Yeah, that was my house you were in – but I’m not mad at you, okay?" She gave him a kind smile. "I don’t blame you for anything your brother did, do you understand?" Pausing to let her words soak in, she added, "I know how you feel, ‘cause I have an older brother too." She watched as the boy wiped his eyes on his sleeve, and gathered his wits about him. "Do you like it here, Ronnie?"

Ronnie partially cocked his head at her, confused by the question. Looking over at the sergeant, who had resumed his place on the loveseat, he replied, "Uh, well…it’s not that bad. I have guys my own age to talk to, and they gave me these nice clothes." Giving the lawman an apologetic smile, "I miss going to school, though…we have classes here, but it’s just not the same."

Lex stood up and walked over to the window. Turning around, she crossed her arms across her chest and leaned back against the cold glass. "What do you want out of life, Ronnie?"

The young man seriously considered her question for several minutes before speaking. "I want to finish school, then I hope to go to college." He gave her a shy smile. "No one else in my family has ever graduated from high school – I’d kinda like to be the first."

Lex stepped back over to the table, sitting on the edge. "How hard are you willing to work for your goals?" She purposely sat close, so that he would have to look up at her.

"I really want to finish school – I’ll work as hard as I need to." Ronnie’s light eyes sparkled with a strong resolution. "I’m…not…going to be like my brother!" he exclaimed.

Barely suppressing a smirk, Lex looked his straight in the eye. "You willing to come and work on the ranch for me? You’d stay in the bunkhouse with the other hands – riding the bus to school, and then working on the weekends."

"You’re kidding, right?" Ronnie asked, shifting his gaze between the two adults. "I’d be working on a ranch?" Disbelief colored his tone.

"Yep…and you’ll get paid for the work you do – all you have to do is keep your grades up. I’ll make sure that you have clean clothes, food, and a roof over your head. What do you say?" The tall woman held his gaze.

"Really? I can go to school and get paid?" He marveled, a smile lighting up his youthful face.

"That’s right…you sure can." Lex nodded, then stood up. "Deal?" she held out a hand.

Ronnie flinched when he saw her hand coming towards him. "Sorry." He slowly stood and returned her grip. "When do I start?" he smiled.

Sergeant Roland cleared his throat. "Well, it’ll take a few days for the paperwork to go through…think you can handle it in here until next week?" he saw the rancher nod her head in confirmation.

"Sure…I’m supposed to go and visit Matt tomorrow anyway." He gave the lawman a mischievous grin. "Can I tell him?"

Lex laughed. "It’s okay with me, Ronnie." She pulled a card out of her coat pocket. "Here’s my home number, and my cell phone number. I’ve got to go out of town for a few days, but call me if you need anything, day or night, okay?"

"Thanks, Ms. Walters." The young man beamed up at her. "I won’t let you down, I promise."

Placing a hand on his slight shoulder, Lex chuckled. "I have complete faith in you, Ronnie…and you can call me Lex – since you’ll be working for me."

"Yes, ma’am." He grinned at her, then turned serious. "Thank you for giving me this chance – I won’t forget it." He held out his hand solemnly.

Lex returned his handshake. "You’re welcome…I can always use another good hand at the ranch." She tried to downplay the reason for helping him, since she wasn’t completely certain why herself.

"Well, c’mon, Ronnie…let’s get you back to the Clubhouse." Sergeant Roland put a companionable arm across the young man’s thin shoulders. He winked at Lex as he led the boy out.

Oh, god…what have I done? Lex sat down on the loveseat and placed her head in her hands. What right do I have to take care of that boy? Am I doing the right thing? What if…

Her thoughts were halted when Sergeant Roland opened the door. "You ready to get out of here, Ms. Walters?"

Lex released a heavy sigh and rolled her eyes. "Call me Lex, Sergeant." She stood up and followed him back down the long hallway.


Amanda looked at the mantle clock for the third time in as many minutes. Twelve-thirty, she sighed to herself, shaking her head. The young woman had finished her packing, put her bags in the front hall, taken a shower, and played cards with her grandparents during the course of the evening. Where on earth is she? Amanda wondered, pacing back and forth in the darkened den. The crackling of the fire in the fireplace was the only sound in the room, except for the occasional mutterings of the blonde woman bouncing from place to place.

Jacob and Anna Leigh had gone to bed hours before, trying to get their granddaughter to do the same. When she had refused, they good-naturedly teased her about ‘letting her wayward child stay out too late,’ and then wished her a good night. I know she’s a grown woman…I know she can take care of herself…I know there’s a perfectly good explanation for her not being here with me right now, she thought to herself, dropping her now exhausted body onto the sofa. "God, Lex…where are you?" she sighed aloud.

"Right here." A voice from behind her uttered quietly.

Amanda squealed, then vaulted over the couch, giving Lex an armful of anxious blonde. "I’m glad you’re okay…" she murmured into the rancher’s neck, wrapping her legs around the slender waist. "I thought…when you didn’t…" she sniffled.

Lex carried her mumbling bundle to the sofa and sat down. "Shh…everything’s okay…" she whispered, rocking back and forth gently.

Amanda finally calmed down, then pulled away slightly to look up into Lex’s shadowed face. "Sorry…guess I’m just really tired…" she gave her lover a wry smile. "And I’m a little nervous about tomorrow…I’m afraid of how my family is going to treat you."

"Don’t worry about me…I’m a big girl." Lex gave her a tender smile, wiping the tears from the younger woman’s face. "I’m sorry it took me so long tonight – I had a lot of paperwork to sign." Kissing Amanda lightly on the nose, she asked, "I tried calling a couple of times, but the line was busy. Is everything okay here?"

"Uh, yeah…everything is just fine." Amanda hid her face in the older woman’s chest, embarrassed by her earlier emotional outburst.

"Amanda…sweetheart?" Lex put her hand under the young woman’s chin, gently forcing her to look up. "I’m really sorry that I caused you to get so upset…" she gave her a loving smile. "Aren’t you even curious where I went?" Knowing her friend’s very inquisitive nature.

The blonde chewed her lip thoughtfully. "Well, I figured if it was any of my business, you’d tell me when you got ready to."

Uh-oh…time to soothe some ruffled feathers, I think. "It was stupid of me not to tell you earlier – but I thought that if you knew, you’d force yourself to go." Lex looked deeply into the green eyes a breath away, almost drowning in their depths. "And, I knew how much you wanted to spend time with your grandparents before we left." She cupped the beautiful face in her hands. "You have me so tightly wrapped around your little finger, I can’t tell you no. One look into your eyes, and I’ve fallen. One touch of your hand, and my heart stops. I can deny you nothing, but would gladly forsake everything to see your smile."

Amanda opened her mouth, closed it, and then shook her head in disbelief. "You know, for being the strong, silent type," she ran her hand lovingly across Lex’s jaw, "You can bring me to my knees with just a few words." She looked down, smiling at the proof of her statement. She was on her knees, straddled across the older woman’s legs. She stood, pulling her tall lover up beside her. Pulling Lex’s head down for a tender kiss, Amanda murmured, "Let’s go to bed. We can talk tomorrow." And she led the willing rancher down the dark hallway and up the stairs.

Chapter 20

Lex was understandably nervous as she and Amanda walked through the airport terminal. Were they just trying to be funny when they named it a terminal? I’m feeling pretty terminal myself right now, she thought as she followed the lithe young blonde down the crowded walkway. God…I don’t know if I can do this, Lex felt her stomach cramp painfully, and she looked around frantically for the nearest restroom as she felt her breakfast begin to rebel.

"C’mon, Lex…we’ve got to go and pick up our boarding passes – according to the monitor, our flight leaves in a little over an hour." Amanda tossed behind her, not looking back.

The rancher was torn between following her heart, and emptying her stomach. Another painful cramp made her gasp and almost drop to her knees, deciding for her. "Amanda," she moaned, trying to get the younger woman’s attention. Aw, hell… Lex made a mad dash for the ladies’ room, dropping the bags outside the door to the lavatory.

Amanda turned to point out something to her partner, and saw that the dark-haired woman was nowhere to be seen. "Lex?" She stopped and looked around slowly. Now where has she disappeared to?

An elderly man sitting on a nearby bench waved to her, beckoning the young woman over. "Miss? Are you looking for that rather tall young lady that was behind you?" he asked kindly, patting the empty spot beside him.

"Yes, the one with the dark hair…did you happen to see where she went?" Amanda sat down next to him.

"Oh yes…"he patted her hand. "Poor thing…she doesn’t fly much, does she?" his clear blue eyes twinkled.

Amanda tried to control her anxiousness. "No, I’m afraid she doesn’t. You said you saw where she went?" She kept scanning the people milling around them, hoping to spot Lex.

Scratching his stubbled chin, he smiled. "I could tell…she looked like a fish out of water, that one did. I like to try and figure out where people are from, and where they’re going – why, just the other day…"

"I don’t mean to sound rude, sir…but I’m a little concerned about my friend. Where…" Amanda butted in gently, feeling an unease settle over her. She wouldn’t change her mind and leave, would she? The young woman wondered. No, not without telling me.

Pointing towards the ladies’ room across the walkway, he chuckled. "I figured she was feeling a mite ill, ‘cause she grabbed her stomach, turned about three sheets of pale, and high-tailed it over there." He was about to tell the pretty young woman more, but she absently thanked him, patted his shoulder and took off across the way.

"Excuse me…sorry…" Amanda carefully battled her way through a large group of people who had just disembarked from an arriving flight. Dropping her bags next to Lex’s, the small woman shouldered through several women who were standing next to the sinks, complaining about the airline food. "Lex?" she called out, trying to find out which stall held her friend.

"Over here." A weak voice muttered, from the sink on the end. The tall woman was frighteningly pale, leaning up against the wall with a wet paper towel over her eyes.

Amanda’s heart clinched at the sight. I really wasn’t taking her fear of flying seriously, she berated herself, noticing how the hand holding the paper towel trembled. Standing beside the slumped form, Amanda placed a gentle hand on Lex’s arm. "Oh, Lex…" she murmured.

"Sorry…" Lex whispered, taking a deep breath and removing the damp towel from her eyes. Seeing the sympathetic look on her lover’s face, she forced a smile to her lips. "I didn’t mean to take off on you like that…"

"Are you going to be okay?" the younger woman asked, fighting the strong urge she had to pull Lex into her arms.

The rancher swallowed several times. "Yeah…" she pushed away from the wall and started towards the door. "C’mon…let’s go." The ladies’ room was getting more and more crowded by the moment, which wasn’t helping her queasiness any. Where in the hell did all these damn people come from, anyway?

Once they were safely out of the restroom, Lex was almost tempted to turn back around and hide in one of the stalls. Two flights had just unloaded their passengers, and the roaring throng of people was almost more than she could stand. Now I know why I hide away on a ranch, she thought, picking up their bags then leaning up against the wall. I can do this, she told herself, gathering up what was left of her nerves. Feeling a light hand on her side, Lex looked down into concerned green eyes. "Lead the way, my friend – I’ll be right behind you." She motioned towards the crowd with a nod of her dark head.

Amanda started to say something, then stopped. Maybe it’ll be less crowded by our gate…We can get our passes and she can sit and let her stomach settle. She slid the strap of her carryon over her shoulder. "Okay…stick close, and give my bag a tug if you need to make another side trip." She almost reached up to caress the unusually pale cheek, but quickly reminded herself where they were.

"Gotcha." Lex smiled, giving the bag a test pull.

The younger woman politely maneuvered them through the crowd, turning back every few steps to check on the condition of her companion. Over halfway to their destination, Amanda noticed a fine sheen of perspiration covering Lex’s brow. Stopping in the middle of the concourse, she asked, "Are you going to make it? We can stop for a moment, if you need to."

"No, I’m okay," Lex assured the small blonde, although her legs were shaking from the strain. "We’re almost there, anyway."

Not able to stand it any longer, Amanda took a strong grip on Lex’s arm. "Lex, you don’t look okay…" she looked around for someplace to sit. "C’mere…let’s take a little break." She pulled the rancher towards a group of chairs by the window, watching as the tall woman collapsed gracelessly onto one. "Why don’t you sit here with our bags, and I’ll go get our boarding passes?" Seeing that her companion was about to argue, Amanda dropped to her knees beside Lex and added, "I think my shoulder is about to fall off from dragging this darn bag around… humor me, please?"

Lex lifted her hand and unconsciously touched her lover’s cheek. "You are so transparent, sweetheart." She smiled tenderly. "Okay, you win. I’ll wait for you right here."

"All right…" Amanda gave the strong thigh under her hand a squeeze. "I’ll be back in a few minutes." She smiled at Lex and then stood, hoisting her purse to her shoulder as she hurried away.

The dark-haired woman watched Amanda’s compact body move through the crowd with ease, until she finally disappeared from sight. Lex closed her eyes for a moment, only to have them pop back open when the plane parked next to her window started it’s engines. Shit. Just what I need. C’mon, Lexington…don’t be such a damn baby! She felt her stomach clinch again painfully. Lex started to stand up, but dropped back to her chair as another cramp hit her. I am not going to throw up again, she thought to herself angrily. Inhaling through her nose to combat her nausea, Lex wrapped her arms around her waist, bent over, and laid her head on her knees. Maybe I should have taken a tranquilizer, she thought as she fought to ease her rebelling stomach.

Calm…I need to stay calm…focus on something else… Breathing deeply, Lex let her thoughts drift to her gentle lover. In her mind, she pictured the sea-green eyes, the small perfect nose, and the petite, but well-built body. She imagined holding the younger woman in her arms, burying her face in the long silky reddish-blonde hair. I can almost smell her perfume, she marveled to herself. This self-hypnosis stuff really works!

"Lex?" a soft touch to the top of her head brought the rancher out of her musings.

"Hmm?" Lex raised her head slowly, opening her eyes to focus on the green eyes that she had just been thinking of. "Hi."

Amanda sat down next to the still-sweating rancher. "Honey, you’re really pale," she wiped the damp hair out of Lex’s eyes. "Is there anything I can do for you?" Ignoring the disgusted stare from the woman sitting two chairs away from Lex, Amanda pushed her lover back in the chair gently, twining their fingers together.

"Nah…I think I’ll live," Lex quietly teased. "And you’re doing more just being here, than any medication can do." She absently brought their linked hands to her lips, and kissed the small knuckles. "Thanks."

"Hrumpph! Disgusting!" The middle-aged woman glared at them, gathered her collection of shopping bags and luggage, then stormed off.

Lex grinned at Amanda’s sudden blush. "Heh…maybe I should pull you onto my lap and kiss you senseless." She chuckled. "That would give the old bat something to stare at."

Amanda glanced around them. The irritated woman seemed to be the only person paying any attention to them. "Lex." She gently chided her partner, "You’re so bad."

Wiggling her eyebrows comically, the dark-haired woman smirked. "I thought that’s what you liked about me." She widened her blue eyes innocently.

"Nut." Amanda proclaimed, then she squeezed Lex’s hand. "You must be feeling better… the color is coming back to your face."

"Lex sighed. "Yeah…sorry about that. I really didn’t think it would be that bad." She gave Amanda a tired look. "Were you able to get our passes?"

"Yep." The younger woman pointed to a cart nearby. "And I also procured transportation for our fine luggage." She gave a gentle kick to the duffel bag she had decided to use. I really didn’t see any need to pack much – I have plenty of clothes in Los Angeles, she grinned to herself. Besides, Mother will have little green kittens when I show up without matching luggage – gotta take my points where I can. "We still have to check this stuff in."

Standing up, the tall woman offered her hand to the still seated blonde. "Right, boss. Well, let’s get this over with." She pulled Amanda up, then grabbed several bags and headed towards the cart.


Chapter 21

Amanda grinned, quite pleased with herself. She had managed to sweet talk an older couple into exchanging seats with them, so that Lex would have easier access to the lavatory, just in case. Sneaking a sideways glance to her silent partner, the young blonde was gratified to see that Lex seemed to be doing okay, other than the death-grip she had on Amanda’s hand. Whatever works…I’d sit on her lap if I thought it would help, she giggled softly, Face it, Mandy – you’d sit on her lap even if it didn’t help. Oh, I’ve got it bad, all right.

"What’s so funny?" Lex asked, turning her head to face her friend. She took a deep breath when the plane lurched slightly.

"Umm…nothing, really." Amanda gave Lex’s hand a comforting squeeze. "Just thinking."

Releasing the breath she had been holding, Lex quirked an expressive eyebrow. "About what?"

Leaning over and placing her lips next to the rancher’s ear, Amanda whispered, "I was wondering if these seats would comfortably fit two…I’m seriously considering crawling into your lap and…" her last few words were spoken almost too softly to hear, and were punctuated by a soft nibble on the older woman’s earlobe.

But Lex understood, and it caused her face to flush darkly. "Umm…" she cleared her throat, "I think that would certainly help me keep my mind off of flying…airplanes, anyway." She chuckled. "You have a delightfully wicked mind, my love."

"You don’t know the half of it." The young blonde retorted with a sexy smile.

Oh, boy… Lex felt a slight shiver of excitement travel down her spine. I don’t know what has gotten into Amanda, but I think I like it!

"Attention, ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We will be landing in approximately twenty minutes. It’s a beautiful seventy-eight degrees in Los Angeles…" the friendly voice over the intercom interrupted their banter.

"I can’t believe we’re already about to land – you’re the best medicine I’ve ever had, Amanda." Lex said over the captain’s rambling voice. She pulled their linked hands up and kissed the younger woman’s fingertips. "Guess now you’ll have to fly with me all the time."

Amanda giggled. "Such a terrible price to pay…" she placed her free hand on her forehead, palm out. "Oh, dear me…I guess I’ll just have to suffer." Giving the rancher an impish look, "Like I would ever let you out of my sight long enough to take a flight alone."

Lex smiled gently at that thought. "I don’t know how I ever survived anything before you." Enjoying the happy grin that crossed the blonde’s face, "I love you, Amanda." She leaned forward and kissed the younger woman tenderly.

They pulled apart slowly, each content to sit and enjoy the strong feelings coursing between them.


Lex had one more anxious moment as the plane touched down, but Amanda held her hand tightly and leaned close, whispering soothing words of comfort to the visibly shaken rancher.

"Focus on my voice, Lex." She murmured, "Close your eyes and breathe deeply." Amanda felt the older woman’s muscles begin to relax. "That’s it…" Using her free hand, Amanda caressed the arm that was holding her hand. "I’m here with you, sweetheart – we’re okay. Remember when we were feeding the ducks at the park? And how that one duck thought you were the main course?" She saw a tiny smile on her partner’s face. "I love you, Lex…concentrate on me…" she continued to speak in a soft voice.

Lex was so absorbed in Amanda’s quiet words, she never felt the plane land or come to a stop. Hearing excited voices around her, she opened her eyes to see people gathering their personal items together, and crowding the aisles to exit the plane. Turning her head, she was captured by intense green eyes at very close range. "We’re here?" she asked hoarsely, a surprised look on her face.

"Yep. And in one piece, too." Amanda grinned. "How are you doing?"

Lex paused thoughtfully. "Great." She sounded a little shocked. "My stomach doesn’t even hurt anymore." She took and released a deep breath. "Thanks for being my security blanket." Giving the cute blonde a heartfelt smile.

"Mmm…" Amanda winked. "Do I get the usual perks?"

"Perks?" Lex’s eyebrow rose. "What kind of perks are we talking about here?"

"Well," Amanda ran a teasing finger up the dark-haired woman’s arm, "Normally, security blankets get to be taken everywhere…" she grinned, "Snuggled…cuddled…held tightly all night…"

Lex laughed. "I think something could be arranged." She looked around the now almost-empty plane. "Ready?" Standing up and stretching her arms over her head, Lex almost laughed again as Amanda took the opportunity to tickle her ribs. "Hey! Be careful what you start, Blondie."

"Blondie?!" Amanda shrieked, giving Lex a dirty look. "You really don’t want to start a name calling contest with a realtor – we can be very creative…Snookums." This last part came out with an evil grin.

The tall woman nearly dropped the bag she had been pulling from the overhead compartment. "What?!" Letting the bag fall into her seat, Lex put her hands on her hips. "Where in the hell did that come from?" She leaned menacingly over the smaller woman. "Snookums?"

"Heh…how about...Sugar Lips?" Amanda grinned, keeping the bag between her and the now beet-red rancher.

"Amanda…" Lex growled, picking up the bag. "I’ll show you ‘Sugar Lips’." She flipped the bag onto her shoulder and stepped closer to the grinning blonde.

Picking up her own bag, Amanda batted her wide green eyes at her would-be assailant. "Umm…have I told you lately how much I love you?"

Lex smiled, then stepped into the aisle to allow the younger woman to get in front of her. "I love you too."

"Sugar Lips!" Amanda chortled, then rushed down the aisle with a growling rancher hot on her heels.


"Is it always this…hazy?" Lex asked, looking up at the sky. They were on the road out of the airport in a shiny red Mustang convertible.

Amanda sighed. "Actually, it’s pretty nice today…you can almost breathe without choking." She joked, wrinkling her nose. Glancing at her companion, Amanda almost laughed out loud. Lex was fighting a losing battle with her hair, trying to keep it out of her eyes. "Problem?"

"I knew I should have worn my hat." the dark-haired woman muttered, wiping another strand of dark silk away from her mouth with a grimace.

Using one hand to dig through her purse, Amanda looked at the perturbed rancher. "Do you want me to put the top up?"

"No!" Lex turned to look sheepishly at her friend. "I’m really enjoying the…semi-fresh air." She smiled. They had nearly driven the poor car rental agent crazy - he had tried to talk them into a luxury car or import. Lex wanted something ‘big’, with lots of headroom, and Amanda wanted something ‘sporty’. So they compromised on a convertible – Lex only agreeing if they could drive with the top down.

"Here…" Amanda handed Lex an elastic hair tie. She had tied her own hair back before leaving the airport. "I always have a ton of these in the bottom of my purse."

Taking the offering thankfully, Lex quickly pulled her long hair into a ponytail. "Thanks… I was about ready to cut it all off with a rusty pocketknife."

"You’d better not! I love your hair!" Amanda turned sideways to glare at her partner.

Lex noticed the cars stopped ahead of them. "Amanda…honey…you wanna keep your eyes on the road, please?" She pointed ahead.

Amanda turned, then slammed her foot down hard on the brake. "Rats!" She quickly glanced up into the rearview mirror, hoping no one was directly behind them. Whew! Looking at Lex, she bit her lip. "Sorry about that." The rancher had one hand braced against the dash, and her eyes were closed tightly.

"No problem…" Lex croaked, opening her eyes then relaxing back into her seat. "There aren’t any bridges on the way to your parent’s house, are there?" she asked with a grin.

"None that I can think of, why?" Amanda answered, then realized what Lex was asking. "Hey! That wasn’t my fault!" she waggled a warning finger at the chuckling brunette.

"Of course not…just because that bridge had been standing for as long as I could remember without mishap, then suddenly collapses the first time you drive across – I don’t see any connection whatsoever." Lex crossed her arms across her chest and smirked.

Amanda snorted. "Oh yeah…I had to time it just right, too – getting that tree to hit at just the right moment…a pure stroke of genius!" She waved an arm dramatically. "But…" she reached over and grabbed Lex’s hand, "the best part of my plan was making you jump into the creek after me…" Amanda felt her hand being squeezed, "and then getting you to take me home with you." She smiled triumphantly.

Lex laughed. "I like the way you think…" she pulled Amanda’s hand up and kissed it.


Chapter 22

Amanda’s family’s house was nestled snugly in the hills surrounding Los Angeles, off of a tree-lined road. She pulled the car up to a large iron security gate, then pushed a code into the keypad next to an intercom. As the gate creaked open, Amanda looked over at her companion, who had a thoughtful look on her face.

"Seems kinda sad to live like that." Lex observed.

"Like what?" Amanda asked. Had she noticed the homeless people we passed on the street on the way out here? She didn’t say anything at the time, she wondered to herself.

"Spending all that money for a big expensive house, then having to lock yourself away." Lex shook her dark head. "Why live like that?"

Navigating the rental car down the winding road that would eventually lead up to the house, Amanda sighed. Why indeed, she wondered to herself. "I guess that’s why I spent so much time in Somerville," she said quietly. "This place has never felt like home, more like an expensive hotel."

Lex turned sideways in her seat, and took the smaller woman’s hand in hers. "Oh, Amanda…" She had a sad look on her face.

"No…it’s alright." Amanda reassured her, giving Lex a quiet smile. "I had a really great childhood with my grandparents…" here she really smiled, "And if I hadn’t spent so much time with them, I may have never met you."

"Well, then…maybe I should thank your parents for letting you come to Texas." Lex drawled. Then she was struck speechless when the house came into view. Three stories, the light-colored brick gave it an almost marble-like quality – the six marble pillars in the front helped with the illusion. Huge trees covered the landscape, and a wide brick walkway completed the picture. "Damn." Lex murmured at last.

"Yeah…ostentatious, isn’t it?" Amanda chuckled. "I still get lost in there sometimes." She pulled up into the circular drive, parking in front of the walk. "C’mon…let’s get this started." She sighed, climbing out of the car.

"Oh, boy…" Lex walked up the brick steps next to Amanda, who stopped at the door and rang the bell. Before she could question the younger woman’s actions, the massive oak doors opened inward, and a slender woman in a maid’s uniform opened the doors.

"Miss Amanda! Welcome back!" she exclaimed, as the young blonde stepped forward and wrapped her arms around her in an exuberant hug.

"Beverly! You look fantastic!" Amanda gushed, taking a step back to study the woman. "Good grief! You must have lost fifty pounds!"

Beverly laughed at the young woman. "Fifty-four, to be exact…" she bragged. She then turned towards the open doorway, where a tall dark-haired woman stood, smirking. "Oh my." She’s quite tall, isn’t she?

"Oops! Sorry about that…" Amanda chuckled, then grabbed Lex by the arm and pulled her into the gleaming marble foyer. "Beverly, this is Lexington Walters…Lex, this is Beverly, who actually runs the house." She teased the older woman.

Lex stepped forward and held out her hand. "It’s a pleasure to meet you, ma’am." She saw the maid look at her strangely before accepting her hand.

Nice girl…but I hope Mr. and Mrs. Cauble don’t catch her being this friendly with the household staff – they’ll just make her stay here miserable. "It’s really nice to meet you, Ms. Walters." Beverly smiled sincerely.

"Call me Lex." The rancher requested, "Ms. Walters sounds like a school teacher." She grinned.

"Alright, Miss Lex," Beverly looked at Amanda, who gave her a resigned look. "Miss Amanda, your father is in the library…he’s expecting you."

Amanda rolled her eyes. "Thanks, Beverly. What kind of mood is he in?"

The maid shook her head as she closed the front doors. "He’s been upset all day…Mr. Cauble spoke to his father this morning, and has been in the library ever since."

I bet I have a pretty good idea what the argument was about, Lex thought silently. She looked up at both women, torn. "Maybe I should just bring your bags in, then go get a hotel room." Lex started for the door. "I don’t want to cause any more trouble for you with your family."

Amanda grabbed the back of the rancher’s belt. "Oh, no you don’t!" she pulled hard. "You’re not going anywhere!"

Beverly smiled, then took the opportunity to leave, stepping quietly into the next room.

Lex turned around slowly, her eyes pained. "Amanda…you know I’d do anything in the world for you. I just don’t want you to be forced to choose between us and your family – that’s not fair to you." She stepped closer to Amanda and gently cradled the younger woman’s face in her hands, not really caring where they were standing.

"There would be no decision to make…I’d choose you every time." She looked down at the ground. "You’d make me face them alone?" Amanda whispered softly, putting her hands unconsciously on Lex’s waist. "Are you ashamed of me…of us?" her green eyes brightened with tears.

"Oh god, no!" Lex shook her head emphatically. "Never!" She used her thumb to wipe a fallen tear from Amanda’s cheek. "I just…I was trying to…umm…aw, hell." Lex leaned down and kissed Amanda gently. "I’ll stand beside you for as long as you want me…" she pulled the smaller woman into a fierce embrace. "I’ll never leave you, I swear." She waited until both their hearts stopped pounding, then pulled back slightly. "But would you rather see you father alone at first? I could wait outside the door for you."

Amanda inhaled, trying to pull her lover’s soapy clean scent deeply into her lungs. "I don’t want to see him alone…" she looked up lovingly into concerned blue eyes. "But I guess it would be the decent thing to do, huh?"

Lex could see the fear and sadness in the younger woman’s face. God…she looks scared half to death…how can I ask… "Amanda? Are you…afraid…of him?" She felt Amanda pull herself closer. "Are you afraid he’s going to hurt you?" If she says yes, I won’t let her out of my sight for an instant!

"No…he’s never hurt me…" Amanda looked up and saw the fierce look on her lover’s face. "Hey…really. He just gets a little loud sometimes – makes my ears hurt." She joked faintly. Not seeing the look fade, she patted the rancher’s stomach gently. "Lex? You okay?"

"Hmm?" Lex answered, somewhat distracted. "Yeah, I’m fine." Damn…to be that afraid of your own father. Dad and I didn’t always get along, but I was never afraid…she grimaced inwardly, remembering, but I think he was, a time or two… "How about you? Is there anything I can do?" she smiled warmly down at Amanda.

The small blonde kissed Lex on the chin and stepped back. "You already have." She grabbed Lex’s hand and began pulling her across the foyer, then into an elegant hallway. "C’mon… I want to introduce you to my father."

Lex allowed herself to be led down the well-furnished hallway. Their hall has more furniture than my entire house, she noticed to herself. Lex also saw the ease in which Amanda moved through the expensive home, and suddenly realized just how vastly different their lifestyles were. Stop it! Just because their house is fancier, that doesn’t make them any better than you… Her mental chastising was halted when Amanda stopped in front of a pair of closed French doors.

"Well…here we are." Amanda exhaled. She turned and looked up at the rancher. "I’ve changed my mind…come in with me, please?" she practically whispered.

Running a hand lightly down the younger woman’s face, Lex smiled. "Sure…just give me a sign if you want me to leave…otherwise, I’m your shadow."

Amanda leaned gratefully into the touch. "Thanks." Taking a deep breath, she knocked on the doors.

"Enter." The deep voice commanded from inside.

Pushing one of the doors partially open, Amanda poked her head tentatively inside. "Daddy?"

"Amanda!" the voice boomed. "It’s about time you arrived. Get in here!"

Starting forward, Amanda snuck a hand behind her back and grabbed a handful of Lex’s shirt, tugging hard. "Hi, Daddy." Amanda smiled at the man sitting behind the large cherry desk.

Michael Cauble was in his mid forties, his light reddish brown hair showing very little gray. Light hazel eyes hidden behind expensive glasses studied the two young women carefully as they stepped into the room. Making no move to stand, he motioned towards two chairs that had been strategically placed in front of the desk. "Have a seat."

Lex was barely able to control her anger. The sorry bastard hasn’t seen his daughter for over six months, and he treats her like a business appointment? She waited until Amanda sat down, then gave her a smile and then occupied the other chair.

Michael leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers together in front of himself. "Did you have a good flight?" he asked, more as a matter of form than any real concern.

Amanda, sitting up stiffly in her chair with her hands clasped in her lap, nodded. "Yes sir…very smooth."

She looks like she’s in the principal’s office, waiting to be chewed out, Lex thought angrily. She was about to say something when Michael turned his cold gaze on her.

"You must be Lexington Walters." He gave her a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. "You’re the one who pulled my daughter from the creek." A statement, not a question.

"That’s right." Lex answered, her own smile somewhat forced. Standing up, she held her outstretched hand across the desk. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Cauble."

Michael stood and accepted her hand. Damn…she’s got quite a grip. "Yes, well…" he released her hand quickly then sat back down. "I suppose you’re here to collect some type of reward for your efforts?" He took in the way she was dressed – clean, slightly faded jeans, worn cowboy boots, and a denim shirt: her clothes, though pressed, gave Michael the impression of a poor, but proud woman. I’m not going to let her sink her money-hungry claws into my daughter’s trust fund, he thought ruthlessly. "How much do you want?"

Amanda started to jump up, but Lex’s hand on her arm stopped her. "Actually, Mr. Cauble, I’ve already gotten my reward." The tall woman grinned, then got up and stood behind Amanda’s chair, resting her hands casually on the back. "I met your daughter."

Amanda saw her father redden, which was usually a sign of his explosive temper on the verge of erupting. She felt a warmth begin to flow through her, knowing that Lex was purposely diverting his attention to her instead. I shouldn’t let her do this…but it feels so good to have someone stand up for me…

Michael stood up, his ire growing as he studied the smug look on the dark-haired woman’s face. "What are you trying to say?" He wanted to reach across the desk and slap that look off of her face. "Amanda," he finally addressed his daughter, "leave us for a few minutes…your friend and I have some business to discuss."

Before the young blonde could say anything, Lex placed her hands gently on her shoulders. "Mr. Cauble, there’s nothing that we have to discuss that Amanda can’t hear, as far as I’m concerned."

Amanda’s father stepped to the front of the desk, leaning casually against one edge. "Very well…I was just trying to save you some embarrassment, Ms. Walters." He matched stares with Lex, pointedly ignoring his daughter’s sputtering. "Now…" he crossed his arms over his chest, "You look like you could use money." Michael held up his hand to forestall Amanda’s argument. "Amanda, be quiet or I’ll ask you to leave." Looking back at Lex, "I hear that you work on a ranch…and from what I’ve read lately, you certainly can’t make any money doing that these days."

Lex could feel the waves of anger rolling off of Amanda through the hands she still had on the younger woman’s shoulders. "Well, the recent rains haven’t helped much, but we’re doing okay." She smiled when she felt Amanda’s hands gently covering her own.

Michael knew of his daughter’s ‘life’s choice’, but seeing her blatantly rub his nose in it, caused him to see red. "Look…let’s cut the chase, Walters…we have money…quite a bit of it. How much do I have to give you to leave my daughter alone?"

Lex stalked around the chair, stepping right up into Michael’s face. "Do you think so little of you daughter that I have to be after her money?" She growled, looking him straight in the eye. "All the gold in Fort Knox couldn’t replace Amanda in my heart – I love her, and no amount of money can run me off." She stepped back and quietly added, "Only her word could do that." She felt a calming touch on her back. "I know I don’t look like much…but you gotta believe that I would do anything for Amanda…I’ll sign any damn papers you want to disclaim any access to your precious money." Lex let out a tired breath and sat down.

"Ms. Walters," Michael began, somewhat shocked that someone would speak to him that way, "You must understand my position. I love my daughter. And I would do whatever it takes to protect her from people willing to hurt her for her money."

Amanda stood up, livid. "Hello? I’m sitting right here, Father." She used a more formal name for Michael, trying to get his attention. "I’m a grown woman, and I’m more than capable of making my own choices about my life…why can’t you see that?" she stood in front of her father, laying a hand on his arm. "Do you really still think of me as this young girl with absolutely no clue as to what is going on?" More softly, "Daddy, I know we don’t see eye-to-eye very much any more, but can’t you trust my judgement on something this important?" Seeing his eyes soften, "Please?" she turned slightly, looking at Lex lovingly. "Lex?"

The rancher nodded, then wearily stood. "I’ll just go get our bags out of the car." She held out her hand for the keys. "See you in a bit." Lex looked at Michael. "Mr. Cauble." She nodded, then left the room quietly.

Amanda watched as Lex left the room, noticing her slow movements. I don’t think she’s quite completely recovered from the past couple of weeks…better give her a thorough ‘checkup’ later tonight. She smiled at that thought.

Michael watched his daughter’s face as her ‘friend’ left the room. Dear lord… "She’s not just some fling you brought to toss in our faces, is she?" he asked Amanda quietly.

The small blonde turned to face her father. "No Daddy, she’s not." She gave him a resigned smile. "And I can guarantee that she’s not after your money…just ask Gramma or Grandpa Jake."

"That’s what Dad told me this morning on the phone – they seem quite taken with your farmer."

"She’s a rancher…" Amanda argued, "and she’s not some dumb cowpuncher who doesn’t have any feelings." Taking a deep breath, she turned and walked over to a side table, picking up a paperweight and studying it. "I know you don’t approve of what I’ve done with my life…"

Michael walked towards her, unsure. "Amanda, it’s not that. Your mother and I just think that you could do so much more than sell real estate in a backwards little town in Texas." He put a cautious hand on her shoulder. "You were always the smart one, and lord knows you are certainly headstrong enough to accomplish whatever you put your mind to…" he gently stroked her hair, "I just don’t want you to waste your talents – you’ve got such a good head for business. I was hoping you’d come to work for me."

Amanda spun around, shocked. "What?!" she looked up into her father’s face, trying to see if he was telling the truth or not. "Why the sudden change? You didn’t want to have anything to do with me after I graduated from college."

And that had hurt, Amanda remembered. She had studied every waking moment during her college years, taking more than a full load to graduate over a year early. Amanda had majored in business, foolishly thinking that her father would finally take notice of her, and welcome his youngest daughter into his consulting firm. But when Amanda proudly showed him her diploma, Michael had patted her condescendingly on the shoulder and told her to take a year or two off to travel.

"Amanda…please." Her father guided her over to a chair to sit down. "To tell you the truth," he sat down on the chair next to her, "I really didn’t expect you to want to work after you got out of school…your sister only used college as a place to keep up with her friends, I just assumed you were doing the same."

Amanda, fighting her anger, willed herself not to cry. "Is that why you thought I took such a full load of classes? So that I could party with all of my friends?" she asked, incredulous.

Her father looked away, embarrassed. "Uh, well…I really didn’t notice your class load. I just assumed you were doing a lot of extra curricular activities."

"Aaah!" Amanda growled, stood up and threw her hands in the air. She paced away from the desk, too angry too even look at her father. "I can’t believe this!" she spun around angrily, finally looking her father in the eye. "And now you want me to come and work for you?" Walking back over and sitting down, she asked, "Why now?"


After a short argument with Beverly and the chauffeur Paul, Lex was finally allowed to carry their bags into the house.

"At least let Paul help you, Miss Lex…Mrs. Cauble will throw a fit if she finds out we let a guest carry their own luggage." The maid stood in front of the rancher, wringing her hands nervously.

Rolling her eyes, Lex handed Paul half of the bags. "This better?" she smiled at his look of relief.

"Thanks, Miss Lex…" the short, burly man grinned.

The rancher gave him a disgusted look. "Could you please drop the ‘Miss’? At least when the bosses aren’t around?"

Paul looked around carefully. "Uh, sure…Lex." He gave her a shy smile.

Beverly slapped him on the shoulder. "Paul…quit flirting and show…Lex…" she gave the taller woman a wry smile, "where she can put Miss Amanda’s things. And show her the guest room across the hall."

Lex lifted Amanda’s duffel bag to her shoulder. "Lead on, Paul." She directed the poor flustered driver. "Thanks again, Beverly." She gave the slender maid a genuine smile as she followed Paul up the large staircase.

Shaking her head as they moved down the opulent hallway, Lex mumbled, "Hell, I could sleep comfortably in the hall." As they passed an antique settee.

Paul chuckled. "I know what you mean…my garage apartment doesn’t have as much furniture as one of these hallways – but you get used to it, I guess." He stopped in front of a door. "Here’s Miss Amanda’s room," then he pointed to the door Lex was standing next to, "and you’re welcome to use that guestroom – I think Beverly likes you."

Setting the bags down, Lex opened the door a bit and peeked inside. "Good lord!" she muttered, then turned her attention back to the chauffeur. "Why do you think Beverly likes me?"

Laughing, Paul opened Amanda’s door and took the bags inside, placing them next to the bed. "Well, she normally assigns one of the guestrooms down the hall…but that’s the biggest one, and the sun won’t wake you in the mornings."

Looking into Amanda’s room, Lex found it hard to believe that her vivacious lover had ever lived here. It looks so…impersonal, she thought sadly.

The large room was furnished with only the essentials – a bed, desk, dresser, and two comfortable looking chairs. The room looked professionally decorated, with the flowery bright bedspread and matching curtains. If Lex didn’t know any better, she would have sworn this was a room at the Hyatt.

Sitting the duffel bag carefully next to the bed, Lex shook her head and made her way back across the hallway, opening the guestroom door and stepping inside.

Similarly furnished, this room had darker furniture, set off with navy blue and maroon plaid covering the bed and adorning the windows. Damn room is almost as big as the entire upstairs at home, Lex thought ruefully to herself. Opening a door on the near side of the bed, she was pleasantly surprised to find a huge walk-in closet, complete with oak hangers. Better than the Holiday Inn, I suppose, she chuckled. Closing the door, Lex noticed another door on the other side of the bed. "Well…what do we have here?" The door opened into a nice sized bathroom, with a large platform bathtub taking up an entire corner. "Oh yeah…that’ll hit the spot." She closed the door, walked over to the bed, and then opened up a suitcase. Think I’ll get cleaned up…might as well try out that tub.


Chapter 23

Trudging up the stairs, Amanda replayed her conversation with her father over and over in her mind. Why now, Daddy? Why do you suddenly want me to come to work for you? Her father had deftly skirted around that very question, until she had finally decided to give up, and go find her missing friend. Would I be happy working for him? At one time, I would have sold my soul to do that…She bit her lip in thought, and isn’t that what I would be doing now? Giving up my soul? Amanda knew that Lex would never leave the ranch to live in Los Angeles. It would be like trying to cage a mountain lion – she would die in ‘captivity’…she needs her freedom, Amanda thought sadly.

Shaking her head, the young blonde opened her bedroom door. Noticing that only her bags were sitting by the bed, she momentarily panicked. "Lex?" she called out quietly, looking around. Mother strikes again, she thought sadly. All of her personal possessions were gone, probably packed away the day I called her, and the bookcase and dresser her grandfather had built for her were missing as well.

"Are you alright, Miss Amanda?" Beverly asked from the doorway. "Is there anything I can get for you?" I should have warned her that Mrs. Cauble had her room packed up and put into storage.

"I guess Mother couldn’t wait to get rid of me, huh?" Amanda asked ruefully, waving an arm at the bare room.

Beverly smiled. "Actually, she said that since you wouldn’t be here for very long, she didn’t want you to spend all of your time packing, when you should be visiting your family." She walked over and laid a gentle hand on the younger woman’s arm. "If it helps, I supervised the packing, not your mother." Her eyes were sympathetic.

Amanda let out a relieved breath. The thought of Mother digging through all of my personal things…ugh! "You have no idea how much that helps." She smiled brightly. "Have you seen Lex? I just finished talking to my father, and I thought she’d be up here."

"We put her in the guestroom across the hall." Beverly said, chuckling softly. "Paul said that Lex nearly fainted when she saw the size of the room."

"I’ll bet." Amanda raised an eyebrow at the maid’s familiarity with her lover. Lex, huh? She must really like her – that’s the nicest room on this floor. "I think I’ll go check up on my friend…she’s had a pretty rough day." Amanda gave the older woman a hug. "Thanks for everything, Beverly…I’m really going to miss you."

"You have certainly been missed around here, dear…but I think you’ll be much happier in Texas." The maid pulled back and winked. "Now, I’m going to leave you alone so you can rest up from your trip. Dinner will be in a few hours – I’ll send Sophia up to get you when it’s ready." Beverly smiled and left the room.

Amanda counted to ten, then peeked out into the hallway. The coast is clear, she thought, then snuck over and quietly knocked on the door.

No answer.

The petite woman knocked again, more firmly this time.

Total silence.

Maybe she’s asleep, Amanda thought as she slowly opened the door. "Lex?" she whispered, stepping softly into the room. Looking over to the bed, she saw that it was empty, except for a set of clean clothes laid out neatly at the foot.

The bathroom door was closed, but Amanda could see a small amount of light leaking out from under the door. Knocking softly, she called out to her partner. "Lex?"

Not a sound.

Opening the door slowly, she poked her blonde head into the steamy room, glancing around. Aw…she looks so cute…

Lex was sound asleep in the bathtub, a damp washcloth covering her eyes.

Amanda closed the door and then locked it behind her. "Lex?" she walked towards the sleeping woman carefully, trying not to startle her.

"Mmm…" the dark-haired woman rolled her head to one side, still not awake. She slipped a little lower in the water, until it came almost to her chin.

Kneeling down next to the tub, Amanda pulled the washcloth off of Lex’s face. "Lex…honey?" she murmured, pushing the damp bangs away from the still woman’s face. "Hey."

Sleepy blue eyes partially opened. "Hmm?" Lex moaned, then blinked. "Amanda?" she struggled to sit up a little. "Wha…damn." She pulled one hand out of the water and rubbed her face. "Sorry…must have dozed off there."

Amanda giggled. "Do you always fall asleep in the tub?" She ran her hand down Lex’s face. "Who woke you before I came along?"

This earned her a sheepish grin. "That’s why I normally don’t take baths – it takes waaaay too much time. But Martha would usually…" her words were stopped by insistent lips. "Mmm…" Arms worked their way around her neck, and Lex lifted both of her arms out of the water and wrapped them snugly around the sturdy body next to the tub.

"Aaah…Lex…" Amanda broke the kiss long enough to breathe. "You’re getting my shirt… ummm…" a warm mouth attached itself to her sensitive throat. "Lex…my shirt…" she moaned. "Aaaack!!" Amanda suddenly found herself in Lex’s lap…in the tub…fully clothed. "I can’t believe…" she began, until her lips were again captured by the now heavily breathing rancher. Large hands began unbuttoning her shirt, and Amanda gasped as the cool air hit her wet, bare skin. Giving up the battle (not that she was fighting all that hard, she thought later), she kicked off her shoes as those roaming hands unsnapped her jeans. "Guess a bath couldn’t hurt." She mumbled around the rancher’s lips.

Lex chuckled, then helped Amanda slip out of the rest of her clothes, pulling her farther into the tub. "You got that right."


"So…how are we supposed to dress for dinner?" Lex asked, sprawled out on the bed, still wrapped in a towel.

Amanda stepped out of the bathroom, brushing her just-dried hair. Looking at the relaxed form on the bed, she smirked. "In clothes, preferably." She was clad only in her bra and underwear, after sneaking across the hallway to grab dry clothes while wearing only a towel.

Lex suddenly appeared behind her, handing Amanda her towel and chuckling. "Smartass." She kissed the back of the blonde’s neck. "I thought I’d just go ‘casual’ – whatta ya think?"

"I think that if you don’t get dressed, we may never make it downstairs for dinner." Amanda turned around and placed a soft kiss on the taller woman’s throat. "Thankfully, my parents don’t insist that we dress up for dinner – it’s really not that big of a deal." She gave Lex’s flat belly a gentle pat. "C’mon…let’s get dressed. Sophia will probably be coming for us soon."

"Who’s Sophia?" Lex asked, as she rummaged through her suitcase. "Where did you put my…oh, here they are." She pulled out socks and underwear, and tossed them on the bed.

Amanda finished getting dressed and laughed. "Sophia is the maid for this floor – Beverly said she’d come for us when dinner is ready."

Lex turned around, her neatly pressed jeans on, but unbuttoned. "Should I wear a tee shirt, or one of my button downs?" she stepped over to the closet to find a suitable shirt. "Just how casual is dinner in this place? Will I have to wade through ten different types of forks before I find the right one?" She grabbed a light blue oxford shirt and held it up to her body. "How’s this?"

Walking over to the nervously babbling rancher, Amanda took the shirt from her and removed it from the hanger. "It’s perfect…" She draped the fabric over the broad shoulders. "Don’t worry so much…it’s just a simple dinner. You have eaten in public before, haven’t you?" She teased, trying to get the older woman to calm down.

Lex watched as the small hands buttoned her shirt for her. "Yeah, of course I have…it’s just that…well, they’re…I just want to make a good impression, that’s all." She took a deep breath and sighed. "I don’t want your family to think I’m some sort of backwoods hick that eats with their hands…"

"Honey…they’re not going to think that. Just because you own a ranch, that doesn’t mean you have no manners. Martha raised you much better than that." Amanda wrapped her arms around Lex’s waist, pulling the tall woman closer. "And if for some reason their little snooty brains think that way, no matter how wrong it is, I don’t give a damn! I love you, so they’ll just have to love you too!"

"Oh, yeah?" Lex countered her eyes twinkling, pulling the smaller woman into a hug.

Amanda nodded into her chest. "Damn right."

A knock at the door interrupted them. "Miss Amanda, are you there?" A soft, lightly accented Spanish voice asked through the door.

"Come in, Sophia…" Amanda said, taking only one step away from Lex, who finished tucking in her shirt and buttoned her jeans closed.

"I’m sorry to be disturbing you, Miss Amanda, but Mrs. Cauble asked that you and your guest join them in the drawing room before dinner." The short, heavyset woman said softly.

"Thank you, Sophia…let me introduce you – this is Lexington Walters…Lex, this is Sophia, who spent a lot of time chasing me up and down these halls when I was a child." She gave the maid a sweet smile.

Lex stepped forward and held out her hand. "Nice to meet you, Sophia…you can call me Lex."

"Umm…" the maid was somewhat at a loss, looking up into those intense blue eyes. "Thank you, Miss Lex…it’s a real pleasure to meet you." She released the tall woman’s hand and smiled at them both. "I’ll let Mrs. Cauble know you’ll be down soon." Nodding to Amanda, Sophia left the room, still smiling.

Amanda stood chuckling, staring at the quickly closed door. "You seem to have enchanted our entire household staff." She turned and looked at Lex, who was sitting on the bed slipping on her socks.

"Oh yeah…I think I’m more of an oddity – they act like they’ve never seen someone wearing scruffy boots before." She pulled one of the talked about pieces of footwear on.

"That’s not it at all, honey…" Amanda sat down beside her, wrapping an arm around the broad shoulders. "It’s because they’re not used to houseguests treating them like people." She sighed. "I don’t think my mother knows anyone’s name except Beverly’s – and she only knows hers because Beverly is in charge of the staff."

Lex leaned her head over until it touched Amanda’s. "That’s a real shame. They’re all really nice folks." She kissed the blonde head, then stood up. "Do I look okay?" The rancher held her arms out away from her body, a little nervously.

Amanda scratched her chin, apparently deep in thought. "Hmm…" She pursed her lips. "No, you don’t look okay." Seeing the upset look on Lex’s face, she laughed and continued, "You look great!" Amanda stood up and grabbed the older woman’s hand. "C’mon…let’s go face the inquisition."


Amanda stood outside the closed doors to the sitting room, gathering her courage. All right, Mandy…get a grip, she mentally chastised. Looking at her partner, she saw that Lex had a slightly lost look on her face. "Ready?" she smiled at the taller woman.

"As I’ll ever be." Lex returned her smile.

Conversation stopped and all eyes in the room turned towards the door as Amanda and Lex entered.

An auburn-haired young woman, who looked like a slightly older version of Amanda, stepped towards them, a smile on her face. "Amanda! It’s so good to see you again." She gave the younger woman a strong hug, then pulled back and tugged on the end of Amanda’s hair. "What did you do to your hair?"

Amanda smiled as her sister backed away. "I cut it to make it easier to take care of," she unconsciously brushed the shoulder-length blonde strands away from her face. "With taking care of Grandpa and working at the office, I just didn’t have time to mess with waist-long hair."

"It makes you look older." A slender blonde woman commented from a nearby chair. "Are you going to stand there all evening, or are you going to come tell me hello?" she regally questioned, lifting a hand towards them.

Amanda traded rolled eyes with her sister, then walked over to their mother, who stood up as her younger daughter approached. "Hello, Mother." Amanda greeted the aristocratic woman, "You’re looking well."

Elizabeth Cauble placed her hands on Amanda’s shoulders, then leaned forward to place a light kiss on the younger woman’s cheek. "Thank you dear…" she pulled back and patted her hair with one hand. "I had Antoine make it a little lighter, this time." She looked her youngest daughter over carefully. "You are looking a little washed out, dear – have you been working too hard? Showing strange people dirty little houses all day is not something a lady should be doing." She said the words as if work were a disease.

"No…actually, I’ve been on vacation for the past couple of weeks – and it’s been raining too much to get any sun." Not to mention most of my…activities…have been indoors lately, she grinned to herself. "And I really don’t want to have another argument over my job right now." Amanda turned towards the doorway, where her lover stood quietly. "Lex…come over here." She looked back at her family, then took Lex’s hand. "Mother, this is Lexington Walters – she’s the woman I told you about over the phone…Lex, this is my mother, Elizabeth Cauble."

The rancher looked at Elizabeth, who was a couple of inches taller than Amanda. "It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Cauble." She held out her hand to the older woman, who took it with slight disdain.

"Yes, I’m sure." Elizabeth removed her hand quickly, wiping it not so discreetly with a handkerchief. So this is the cowhand who is after my daughter’s inheritance… we’ll just see about that, she gave the taller woman an icy glare.

Amanda missed the look her mother gave Lex as she grabbed the rancher’s arm and casually directed her over to where her sister and a tall handsome man stood. "Jeannie, Frank… this is Lex, the love of my life." She turned to see Lex’s face blush slightly. "Lex, this is my sister Jeannie, and my best friend Frank Rivers, who just happens to be married to her."

Frank shook Lex’s hand with enthusiasm. "So, you’re this mysterious rancher that our Mandy has been raving about…" he pulled her into a hug, and whispered into her ear, "Welcome to the family, Lex…just don’t let the old battle-ax get to you." Frank released the somewhat shocked rancher, who gave him a shaky smile.

"Thanks, Frank…it’s really good to meet you." Lex glanced over at Amanda, and smiled. "Although Amanda hasn’t told me much about her family, I’m looking forward to getting to know all of you before we leave." Seeing her partner’s face looking at her questioningly, "I’m sure you have some interesting stories to tell." Then she turned back towards Jeannie and held out her hand. "Nice to meet you, Jeannie."

Amanda’s sister took her hand cautiously. "Lex…it seems that we owe you our thanks for saving my sister’s life." She didn’t really understand Amanda’s lifestyle, but knew from listening to her mother’s ravings that this woman was her ‘girlfriend’. Well, I’ll give my little sister one thing – she certainly has great taste, Jeannie thought to herself. Gorgeous eyes – and she doesn’t look like the money-hungry demon Mother described, either. Hmm…

Lex gave Jeannie a slightly embarrassed smile. "I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, that’s all…" she was saved from any further comments by a clear voice from the doorway.

"Excuse me, but dinner is ready, Mrs. Cauble." Beverly gave Elizabeth a slight curtsy.

Elizabeth held out her hand for Michael to take. "Very well. Shall we all continue our conversations in the dining room?" she asked the others, her and her husband taking the lead and stepping from the room.

Frank gave Lex and Amanda a wink. "Guess that’s our cue to follow." He waited for Jeannie to take his arm, then followed the older couple out of the sitting room.

Lex watched as the others left, then turned and bowed to Amanda with a rakish smile. "Shall we, my dear?" she held out her arm.

Amanda swatted the offered arm, then wrapped her arms around Lex tightly. "God…I love you…" she murmured into the taller woman’s chest. "Think they’d miss us if we just staying right here, like this?"

Kissing the top of the blonde head, Lex chuckled. "Uh, yeah…I’m afraid they would." She whispered, looking over Amanda’s head and seeing Elizabeth’s angry glare at the doorway, before the older woman turned on her heel and fled the scene. "C’mon, sweetheart…I can hear your stomach rumbling from here. Let’s go impress your family with my table manners." She teased. "I promise to use my fork instead of my fingers."

"Oh, god…don’t even joke about that!" Amanda laughed. "But it would be fun to see my mother’s face if you did." She lifted her head up and gave the rancher a tender kiss. "Okay… let’s go watch my mother hold court at the dining room table." She pulled Lex out of the sitting room and down the hall.


Chapter 24

They stepped into a lavish dining room, with a large table that could easily seat twenty people. Michael Cauble sat at the head of the table, with his wife to the right of him, and his eldest daughter to the left. Frank stood next to Jeannie’s chair, waiting for the other women to take their seats. There was a place setting next to Elizabeth, and another on the other side of Frank. Before Amanda could complain about the seating arrangements, Lex gently pushed her towards the chair next to her mother, while the rancher took her place next to the grinning Frank.

He pulled Lex’s chair out for her, getting an upraised eyebrow in response. "Thanks, Frank…" Lex mumbled, then gave a wink to her partner across the table.

"Now that we’re all finally seated," Elizabeth gave the rancher an annoyed look, "you may have dinner brought in, Beverly."

Everyone was completely silent as the servers brought in the meal, waiting until they left the room to begin speaking. "So, Lex…is this the first time you’ve ever been to Los Angeles?" Michael was bound and determined to show how unworldly Amanda’s choice in suitors was.

Setting down her fork, the rancher smiled. "Yes it is, Mr. Cauble…I don’t usually take the time to travel from the ranch, but since Amanda decided that she needed to come, wild horses couldn’t keep me away." She gave her lover a smile across the table.

"What exactly do you raise on your ranch? Cattle, horses…?" Frank decided that the dark haired woman could use an ally.

Lex gave him a smile. "Cattle, mostly…but I’m trying to turn it into more of a horse ranch. What is it you do, Frank?"

The big man cleared his throat. "I played professional football for a couple of years, until I blew out my knee…now I’m in the public relations business."

"You’re that Frank Rivers?" Lex exclaimed. "Wow! I used to curse you when the Cowboys would play the Rams…you’re one of the best defensive backs I’ve ever seen play the game!"

"Such a barbaric game…grown men trying to hurt each other." Elizabeth sniffed. "But I suppose you’d be interested in that sort of thing, wouldn’t you, Ms. Walters?"

Amanda shook her head. "I don’t think…"

Lex chuckled. "Nah…I enjoy watching the game, but I just as soon be out riding, than sitting in front of a television, or stuck inside with a desk job."

"Most…desk jobs…as you put it, are very good ways of making a living. At least it’s steady income." The matriarch fussed with her napkin.

"I agree, Mrs. Cauble…I just can’t ever see myself locked in that sort of position – but folks that do, have my complete respect." The rancher noticed the red flush rising on the older woman’s face, and grinned inwardly. Not going to get me to lose my temper over something that trivial, lady…

Michael decided to try and change the subject, since the only person losing control of their temper seemed to be his normally calm wife. "Amanda, have you thought any more on my offer? You could have the office right down the hall from me, and of course you’d be making over twice what you could at that puny real estate office." He enjoyed the look of shock on the rancher’s face.

Amanda looked across the table to Lex, whose face had turned quite pale. "Um…I thought we were going to discuss this tomorrow?" she directed towards her father. Oh, Lex… don’t look at me that way.

"Amanda! That would be wonderful! You’ve always wanted to work with your father…" Elizabeth beamed, placing a hand on her younger daughter’s arm. "We could have all of your things brought back out of storage in the morning." She gave the quiet woman across the table a triumphant look.

Lex felt her whole world collapse. Dropping her fork to her barely touched plate, she swallowed the lump in her throat and mumbled, "If you’d please excuse me…I need to make a few phone calls." She promptly stood up and left the room.

Michael watched the rancher leave, a satisfied smirk on his face. "Well, Amanda, I guess we should talk about your salary…"

Elizabeth cut in before her younger daughter could speak. "Michael, you know we don’t discuss money or politics while we are eating – it’s bad for the digestion." She turned to Amanda. "We really must do something about your wardrobe, dear…I think you’ve spent too much time in the company of that…woman – you look like a migrant worker, or something equally distasteful."

Amanda tossed her napkin on the table in disgust. "These are the same damn clothes I wore when I lived here!" she began to stand up, but Elizabeth’s grip on her shirt stopped her.

"Watch your language, young lady!" Michael stood up angrily, his face red. "Apologize to your mother this instant…" he pushed his chair back, prepared to go around the table towards his youngest daughter.

"Daddy…let’s all calm down, here…" Jeannie grabbed her father’s arm, pulling gently. "It’s been a really long day, and we’re all tired." She gave a nervous smile as Michael sat back in his chair. Looking at her sister, she asked, "Amanda? C’mon, why don’t you sit back down and we can finish dinner like civilized adults?"

"I’m really not that hungry…if you will all excuse me, I’m going to check on my friend." Amanda quietly pushed her chair back towards the table and left the room.

Waiting until the young woman closed the door behind her, Michael turned towards his wife. "Dammit, Elizabeth! You just had to start on her clothes…" he looked over at his oldest daughter. "And I don’t want to hear anything out of you…"

"Okay, sure…" Jeannie shrugged her shoulders. Poor Amanda…they’re just not going to let this go…

"Please, Michael – calm yourself. I can’t help it if our daughter had begun dressing like a…a…field hand! Did you see those jeans? They were faded! And not even pressed!" she tsked.

Jeannie stifled a giggle. "I think she looks great – and I love her hair." She turned to her husband, "What do you think? Should I get mine trimmed, too?"

"Whatever makes you happy, sweetheart…" Frank grinned at his wife. "You’d look great without any hair at all." He enjoyed the look of shock on her face.

"Eeww…" Jeannie grimaced, then stuck her tongue out at her husband.

Amanda stepped out of the dining room, closed the door quietly behind her, and then started down the long hallway towards the sitting room. "Lex?" She peeked her head inside, finding the large room empty. Okay…if I were an upset rancher, where would I go? She wondered to herself. Turning around, she almost screamed out loud when she came face to face with Beverly.

"Goodness!" the maid exclaimed, "I’m terribly sorry to give you such a scare…are you alright, Miss Amanda?"

The young blonde leaned up against the doorframe, releasing a heavy breath. "I’m fine… you wouldn’t happened to have seen Lex in the past few minutes, would you?"

Beverly nodded. "As a matter of fact, I have…she asked me to show her how to get to the back gardens – she said she needed some fresh air." She noticed the lines of tension on the younger woman’s face. "Is it true that you’ll be staying? Mr. Cauble called me earlier and told me to have your things pulled from storage tomorrow – but I wanted to check with you first."

"I’m afraid that’s just wishful thinking on his part, Beverly – at the rate things are going, I’m not sure if we’ll even be here through tomorrow." She spared a wistful glance down the hallway. "Um…I’ve got a moving truck and crew scheduled to show up tomorrow – would you…"

The maid patted her on the shoulder. "I’ll send them over with Paul to the storage facility – he’ll make sure that they get everything." She saw the sad look on Amanda’s face as the young woman looked down the hall, fidgeting. "Why don’t you go and check on your friend? I’ll tell everyone that you retired for the evening."

A relieved smile crossed Amanda’s face. "Thanks, Beverly. I owe you one." She forced herself to walk slowly down the hallway, making her way towards the side of the house.


Sitting on a slight hill under a large tree, Lex looked down at the massive ‘garden’. A beautiful fountain, surrounded by a ten-foot hedge on three sides, soothed the rancher’s frazzled nerves. Propping her chin on an upraised knee, Lex stared at the gurgling pool, mesmerized by the play of lights by the sinking sun on the spraying water.

C’mon, Lexington…pull yourself together… she released a heavy sigh. This was just the sort of thing that you were afraid of, wasn’t it? That she’d come back here, and pick up where she left off? All of her friends are here, and her family… she angrily brushed away a tear from her face. "Look at this place…what in the hell could I possibly have to offer her to compare with this?"

She murmured quietly, closing her watering blue eyes.

"Your love." A gentle voice whispered from behind her. "Your heart." Lex’s view was suddenly blocked by the owner of the voice, blonde hair framed by the setting sun. "Mind some company?" Amanda asked, touching Lex’s knee with her hand.

"Uh…sure." Lex shifted so that the younger woman could sit in front of her, framed by the rancher’s long legs. She wiped at her eyes, disguising the motion by using the same hand to comb her dark hair out of her face. "Sorry about running out on you like that…the walls were starting to close in on me." Lex wrapped her arms around Amanda and pulled her close.

Leaning back into the embrace, Amanda sighed, then bent her head to kiss one of the strong arms holding her. "Don’t apologize…I’m just really sorry that my father said what he did."

"Was it true?" Lex whispered in her ear. "Are you considering staying here, and going to work for him?" Taking a deep breath, she continued, "If that’s what you want…I’ll…support your decision. I love you, and I want you to be happy." She laid her head on the younger woman’s shoulder.

Amanda tangled her fingers into the dark, thick hair spilling over her shoulder. "What about us? Do you think I could just walk away from this…from you?" She felt the body behind her take in a shaky breath.

"No! I don’t think that. But I’m also not stupid enough to disregard what a great opportunity this is for you." Lex raised her head slightly, placing a kiss just below Amanda’s ear. "I could…um…give you some time to get settled, then come back out here – if you want." The rancher found herself torn between her heart – which was screaming ‘Don’t go!’ and her mind – saying ‘this is the best thing for Amanda.’ Oh, god…what am I going to do?

Amanda turned around slightly, so that she could see Lex’s face. "What about your ranch?" She put a hand up to cradle the older woman’s tense jaw.

"I’ll…sell it, or hire somebody to run it…I don’t care about the damn ranch," Lex closed her eyes and unconsciously leaned into Amanda’s gentle touch. "She felt a fingertip brush away another tear from her face. "I do care about you…nothing else matters to me."

Fighting back tears of her own, Amanda brushed the dark bangs from her lover’s face. "You’d…give up your ranch for me?" she choked out.

"In a heartbeat." Lex opened her eyes and frowned. "Hey…don’t cry…" she lifted a shaky hand to the younger woman’s face, brushing the now-falling tears away. "What’s wrong?"

"No one’s…ever…offered to do something like that for me, before." Amanda looked deeply into Lex’s eyes. "Oh, Lex…" she cried.

The rancher pulled Amanda closer, kissing the top of her head. "Shhh…" she began rocking the now sobbing woman. "Please don’t cry, sweetheart…I love you. Do you really think I’d let you stay here alone?"

Amanda let herself calm down before continuing. "No…I know you wouldn’t leave me… but you don’t have to worry. I would never ask you to give something up that means so much to you."

"What are you saying?" Lex felt a jolt of fear shoot through her. "Do you…don’t you… you don’t want me to stay?" she finished in a quiet voice.

"No…I don’t want you to stay…" Amanda smiled to herself, "I would get really lonesome in Texas without you." She finished, looking up into Lex’s eyes. Seeing the understanding light up the older woman’s features, she grinned. "The movers are going to pick up everything in storage tomorrow…do you still want to stay? We can leave whenever you get ready."

"But what about Friday? Won’t your father be upset with you?" Lex almost laughed out loud, she was so happy. She’s not staying…she’s going home with me!

Amanda wrapped her arms around Lex and squeezed tight. "He’s already upset…and to quote a good friend of mine, ‘you’re more important’ than some stupid dinner party."

"Thanks…but we’re already here – might as well stick it out." Lex pulled Amanda’s chin up and gave her a sweet kiss, which was eagerly returned.

After reluctantly breaking off to catch her breath, Amanda sighed. "You know, this is one of my favorite places…I was hoping I would find you here." She snuggled closer, tucking her head into the older woman’s chest.

"Really?" Lex murmured, rubbing her cheek on the soft blonde hair. "It just seemed so… peaceful…secluded. Kinda reminds me of home." She chuckled. "Without the fancy fountain, of course."

Amanda giggled. "Yeah…it would probably scare the horses half to death, not to mention the fuss Martha would probably make over it." She raised up a little and kissed the soft skin on Lex’s throat. "I used to sit out here for hours – reading…dreaming…"

"What did you dream about?" Lex asked quietly, enthralled at this peek into her lover’s early life.

"When I was really young, I’d dream about the usual things…who I would marry, what I was going to do when I grew up – you know, that sort of stuff." She felt the strong arms tighten around her. "For as long as I can remember, I wanted to go to work for my father. Of course, I alternated that idea with working for Gramma, or even helping Grandpa Jake – I had a hard time deciding. But mostly, I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps."

"Oh, sweetheart…" Lex murmured sadly, seeing where this conversation was headed.

"No, wait…" Amanda patted Lex’s stomach gently. "Anyway, I went to college and took a lot of extra classes so that I could graduate early – I wanted to make my dad proud." She sighed. "But he really didn’t take me seriously – just sort of brushed me off and told me to travel for a couple of years, like my mother had. So, in my fit of rebellion, I got my realtor’s license instead, and joined a small office here in Los Angeles." Seeing the sad look on Lex’s face, Amanda touched her cheek gently. "And I thank god everyday that it all happened that way." She leaned forward and captured the rancher’s lips, allowing her passion to take over. "Because…" she punctuated her point with a smaller kiss, "you are…" another, slightly longer kiss, "my greatest dreams come true." She met Lex’s lips halfway, pulling the older woman’s head down, with one hand tangled in her dark hair.

Lex greeted Amanda’s passion with her own, then gasped as she felt a small hand unbuttoning her shirt. "Ah…Amanda…" the insistent hand reached inside, brushing her stomach lightly. "Oh, god…we can’t…" a small mouth attached itself to her throat, as the hand began moving upward. "Mmm…No! What if someone…ahh…" the warm hand found it’s target, squeezing gently.

"How about…" a sultry voice whispered in her ear, "we continue our conversation upstairs?" Amanda nibbled on the trembling rancher’s earlobe. "I want you…right now." She pulled back a little, enjoying the flushed look on Lex’s face. "C’mon…" Amanda slowly removed her hand, then buttoned the older woman’s shirt back up. "I want to try out that huge bed in the guestroom." She stood up, pulling a slightly rumpled Lex to her feet.

Walking back into the house, Amanda giggled when Lex stumbled as they stepped through the kitchen doorway.

"Don’t laugh…it’s all your fault, you know." Lex growled, her arm wrapped tightly around the shorter woman's waist.

Amanda guided her charge through the kitchen and back towards the main foyer. Just as they were reaching the large staircase, a voice stopped them.

"I’ve been looking for you, Amanda." Michael stated, stepping into the foyer. "I thought we had a conversation to finish." He glared at Lex, noticing the tall woman’s bedraggled appearance. "Just where exactly were you?"

Not relinquishing her hold on her lover, Amanda smiled. " We were just enjoying the peace and quiet of the gardens, Daddy." Feeling Lex begin to tense, she added, "And I think we said all there was to say earlier."

Michael frowned. "I don’t think so…come back into my office, and we’ll try to get all of this straightened out." He turned, expecting his daughter to follow.

"I’m sorry, Daddy…but we were on our way upstairs. Maybe you and I can’t talk some more tomorrow." She turned, pulling Lex with her. "Goodnight."

Knowing when to back off, Michael stormed back towards his office. Dismissed! Like a servant, by my own daughter…all because of that…that…woman! "We’ll just have to see about that, won’t we?" he mumbled, sitting down behind his desk, and pulling his Rolodex forward. Finding the number he was searching for, Michael grabbed the phone.

"Richards Investigations." A slightly accented female voice answered.

"This is Michael Cauble. Put James on the phone." Michael ordered, not sparing time for niceties.

"Very well, Mr. Cauble – hold one moment, please." The secretary’s voice was cool and professional.

Michael waited impatiently, drumming his fingers on his desk. There should be a law against Muzak…As tinny strains of Memories flooded his ear.

"Richards, here." A somewhat gravely voice intoned. "Mr. Cauble? What can I do for you?"

"James, I have a rush job for you – double your usual fee if you can get it together before Friday." Michael had pulled a pencil from his desk and was now doodling aimlessly on a notepad. A stick figure wearing a cowboy hat appeared beneath his sketching pencil.

"This Friday? Must be really important." Richards sounded intrigued. "What is it?"

"I want you to dig up everything you can find on a Lexington Walters – she’s a rancher right outside of Somerville, Texas…" Michael growled. "I don’t care what it costs, or how many men you have to put on it. I need it quick." The stick figure now stood on a wide platform.

The investigator chuckled. "Not a problem, Mr. Cauble. I’ll send out a team in the next hour, and send you a report by tomorrow morning." He had been under Michael Cauble’s employ for the past several years, and knew how well the man would pay.

"Excellent. Don’t send it by courier, though…just fax it to me. I rely on your discretion, James." Michael hung up the phone, smiling. No two-bit dirt grubber is going to get her hands on my daughter’s money. The platform in his sketch became a gallows – a noose now around the neck of the stick figure.


Lex allowed herself to be guided up the long staircase, her thoughts elsewhere. Why is her family so dead set against seeing her happy? Are they really that self-centered? Or is it something else? Maybe it’s because of who she’s with…

"Honey? You still with me here?" Amanda questioned, closing the guestroom door behind them. "What’s wrong?" She pulled Lex over to the bed, and gently sat her down. "Lex?" Amanda lightly touched her face, seeing the rancher finally shake herself and her gaze sharpen.

"Huh? Oh, sorry about that…just thinking." Lex murmured, leaning into the touch. "What were you saying?" She pulled the younger woman into her lap with a heartfelt sigh.

Amanda snuggled into Lex’s arms, content to let the subject drop. "Nothing…I was just a little concerned." She kissed the tan throat under her lips. "Are you feeling okay?"

Lex chuckled. "I’ve never felt better…why don’t we get ready for bed?" She stood up, lifting Amanda to her feet as well. "Oh…umm…" she mumbled, feeling small hands begin to unbutton her shirt again. She reached for the rest of the buttons, intent on helping her lover with the task.

"No…please…let me." Amanda whispered, pushing the shirt back over broad shoulders and onto the floor. She began unbuttoning Lex’s jeans, then quickly slid them down her hips, bumping the older woman back onto the bed.

"I can…" Lex started, but quieted when Amanda placed a soft hand over her mouth. She kissed the hand, which then moved to caress her face, running lightly over her upraised eyebrows.

The younger woman smiled. "Just sit back…I’ve been wanting to do this all evening." She leaned over and placed a tender kiss on the rancher’s lips, then backed off and began removing the well-worn boots from Lex’s feet, the socks quickly following them to the floor.

Sitting back on the bed, Lex could only marvel at the gentle attentiveness that her lover showed. Deciding to just lie back and enjoy the ride, she chuckled when a hand tickled her bare foot. "Hey!" She wiggled the foot slightly.

Amanda giggled. "Sorry…you’ve just got such cute feet…I couldn’t resist." She ran another fingertip down Lex’s instep, then grabbed the end of the jeans and pulled them off of the long legs. "And really sexy legs…" she murmured, running her hands up the inside of the rancher’s calves, amazed at how strong they were. For someone who rides horses so much, she’s got incredible legs.

"Ah…umm…oh, god…" Lex leaned back and closed her eyes, feeling her heart begin to pound. Her eyes opened back up slightly when she heard the sound of cloth rustling nearby. Enjoying her slight bit of voyeurism, the rancher watched as Amanda slowly removed her own clothes, unaware that she was being watched. "You are so beautiful, Amanda…" she murmured, watching as her words caused the younger woman to blush.

"Yeah, right…" Amanda chuckled, as she walked back over towards the bed. "Ugh!" she grunted as she was quickly pulled down on top of Lex. "I don’t think…" her doubts were silenced by insistent lips, which claimed hers hotly. "Mmm…" she wrapped her arms around the dark-haired woman’s neck, feeling strong hands pull her closer.

"Don’t worry…" Lex murmured between heated kisses, "I wasn’t expecting you to do any more thinking tonight." She rolled over to cover the younger woman’s body with her own.


Chapter 25

Amanda stretched stiffly, noticing with a slight frown that the sun was trying to peek in the windows. She looked down lovingly at the woman who was snuggled partially on top of her, Lex’s dark head resting comfortably on her chest. How did I ever get so lucky? Everything I ever wanted in someone, and in a really good looking package too… Amanda gently brushed the scattered bangs from the smooth forehead. Why can’t they just see how happy I am, and leave us alone? Everything has to be connected with money, not love, as far as they’re concerned. She released a heavy sigh, dropping her head back down onto her pillow.

"Hey…what’s the matter?" Lex’s voice, rough with sleep asked. "You okay?" she nuzzled the soft skin under her cheek.

Glancing back down into those incredibly blue eyes, Amanda smiled. "I’m great. Just thinking." She ran her fingertips across Lex’s smooth cheek. "I love you so very much, you know."

"I love you too." Lex placed a kiss on Amanda’s chest, then hugged her tight. "I don’t know who to thank for sending you to me, but I’m going to spend the rest of my life loving you."

A knock on the door stopped Amanda’s answer. "Miss Amanda? It’s me, Beverly." The maid’s soft voice floated through the door.

Lex grinned, then shrugged, as Amanda gave her a questioning look. The rancher climbed out of bed, and padded into the bathroom, closing the door behind her.

"Come in, Beverly." Amanda had just enough time to put Lex’s shirt on and climb back into bed as the maid stepped into the room.

Beverly gave the younger woman a knowing smile. "I’m really sorry to bother you so early, but I thought you might want to know that your mother is looking for you." She looked at the clothes strewn around the room. "And I didn’t want her…interrupting…anything."

Amanda blushed. "Uh, yeah…thanks a lot, Beverly." She rubbed her face with one hand. "Do you know what she wants?"

"She mentioned something about choosing your outfit for Friday." Beverly gave her a sympathetic smile."

"Too bad…I have already chosen my clothes – she’ll just have to live with it." Amanda grinned, then realized that the shirt she was wearing was inside out and buttoned crookedly, which caused her to blush again.

Lex stepped out of the bathroom, with a green towel wrapped around her body. "Good morning, Beverly." She grinned to the maid, watching from the corner of her eye as Amanda blushed furiously. "Everything okay, Amanda?" she asked, smirking.

"Yeah…I guess. Beverly came up to warn us that Mother’s looking for me." The blonde woman ducked her head, finding the pattern on the comforter quite interesting.

Lex walked into the closet, laughing. "Must not be looking too hard…I don’t see you hiding." She stepped back out, jeans on, buttoning a denim shirt.

Amanda covered her head when the maid began to laugh. "Oh, god…"

"I’ll just let you get ready…" Beverly winked at Lex. "And I’ll tell your mother that you’ll be down soon, so she won’t be disturbing you." She laughed again as another groan was heard from under the comforter. Beverly left the room, closing the door quietly behind her.

Sitting down on the edge of the bed, Lex pulled the comforter away from Amanda’s head. "What’s the matter, sweetheart?" She grinned as Amanda glared at her. "You’re not shy, are you?"

‘ WHAP! ‘

Amanda slammed a pillow into the smirking rancher’s face, knocking her off of the bed. Silence from below worried the younger woman, "Lex?" She leaned over the edge of the bed, just in time for the same pillow to knock her backwards. "Hey!" Amanda felt the bed shift as a large body leaped up, straddling her hips. "You wouldn’t…" she started, just as long fingers began tickling her unmercifully. "Lex!…" she giggled, "C’mon…argh!" she squirmed, trying to fight back.

"Stop! I’m gonna make a mess if you don’t quit!" she got out between gales of laughter.

Lex stopped tickling Amanda, and gently pulled the younger woman’s arms up over her head. Leaning down, she gave her lover a soft kiss. "Bathroom’s all yours, sweetheart… I’ll just straighten up in here. Nice fashion trend you’re setting with that shirt, by the way." She jumped off of the bed, laughing, as Amanda growled and tossed another pillow her way.


Deciding to avoid an early confrontation, Amanda had asked Beverly to have breakfast served to her and Lex on the sunporch off of the kitchen. Windows open, it wasn’t a usual meeting place for members of the family, because the fresh air often brought small insects with it. The sun was partially blocked by the awning that ran across the back, but Lex loved it anyway.

"That was great." Lex moaned, leaning back in her chair and giving her lover a grateful smile. She pulled her arms back over her head and stretched until her back popped several times.

Amanda reached over and scratched the rancher’s stomach lightly. "You didn’t eat much dinner last night," she said regretfully, "Did you get enough breakfast?"

Lex chuckled and swatted the teasing hand away. "Stop that." She straightened up and grabbed her coffee cup. "Oh, yeah. I think I even out ate you." The dark-haired woman gave Amanda a smirk. "What’s on the agenda for today?"

"How about a drive down to the beach?" Amanda pulled her napkin from her lap and placed it on the table. "Maybe a little sightseeing?" She reached over and took Lex’s hand in hers. "I thought we could just get out of the house for a little while, give my parents time to calm down." And hopefully avoid a confrontation with Mother over my clothes for the dinner.

Pulling their linked hands up to her lips, Lex gave Amanda’s knuckles a gentle kiss. "Whatever you want, sweetheart. It’s your show." She smiled as the younger woman’s eyes closed. "The beach sounds good…I’ve never seen the ocean."

Amanda opened her eyes and rubbed Lex’s hand against her cheek. "Never? Well then, that’s exactly what we’re going to do." Standing up, she pulled the older woman up with her. "C’mon…we’ll go change into some shorts, then hit the beach."

Allowing herself to be pulled through the house, Lex shook her head. "Amanda, you packed my bag – all I have are some old cut-offs. Not exactly the thing to be running around in."

"Oh yeah? Why else do you think I packed them? I’ve got some too, and think that they’ll be perfect." The determined blonde had gotten them almost to the stairway when her mother stepped out of nowhere. "Oh, hi mother. We were just about to go to the beach – do you want to come?" Knowing how much Elizabeth hated anything that had to do with the outdoors, Amanda couldn’t resist.

"No…thank you, Amanda. I’d like a word with you," she gave the rancher an icy glare, "alone, if you don’t mind."

Lex looked down at her companion, who looked as if she were ready to explode. "No problem. I’ll just go upstairs and get changed." She gave Amanda’s hand a strong squeeze, released it, then turned and walked quietly up the stairs.

"Come, Amanda. We’ll go into the drawing room – I have coffee ready." Elizabeth turned and walked across the foyer, her daughter trailing dutifully behind.

Amanda waited until they were seated before she began speaking. "Mother, I know you’ve never approved of what I’ve done with my life, or my choices I’ve made…but I will not sit still for your rude treatment of Lex."

"Now, wait just a minute…" Elizabeth sputtered.

"No! You wait." Amanda held up a hand for forestall her mother’s tirade. "I resigned myself a long time ago to the fact that I was a disappointment to you and Daddy." She took a deep breath then continued, "I’m never going to be one of your snobby little society girls, like you wanted."

Elizabeth grasped the younger woman’s arm. "Amanda, that’s not completely true. Your father and I respect the fact that you have a mind of your own." She released her hold to pick up a dainty coffee cup and saucer. Taking a small sip, the regal woman put it back on the table in front of them then continued. "Where did we go wrong? Your sister seems happy." She looked her daughter in the eyes, "What did we do to make you this way?"

Amanda blinked, unsure of the question. "What exactly are you talking about, Mother? Is this about me being gay?"

"I refuse to accept that, Amanda. You were raised in a good home." She searched her daughter’s face for a clue to her questions. "It’s because of Frank, isn’t it?"

"What?" Amanda’s mouth dropped open.

Elizabeth nodded to herself, pleased with her deduction. "You and he were quite an item, and then your sister Jeannie stole him right out from under your nose." She tapped her chin with an elegant nail. "I should have seen this before. This is your way at getting back at all of us for giving your sister our blessing with him, isn’t it?"

Amanda jumped up, too agitated to sit still. "Oh, for crying out loud, Mother!" She paced over to the piano, then turned back to face the older woman. "I told you I was gay when I was still in high school! Frank has always been just a very good friend." She walked over to stand in front of Elizabeth. "I was the one who set him up with Jeannie. He’s like a brother to me!"

"Calm down, dear…come over here and sit down." Elizabeth patted the spot next to her on the loveseat. "We’ll forget about your little outburst for now." She waited until Amanda was once again seated. "Now, about this woman you’ve brought with you," Elizabeth raised her hand to silence her daughter. "Just a minute…from what Michael’s parents have told us, she saved your life a few weeks ago, correct?"

For the first time since they stepped into the room, Amanda smiled. "Yes, she did. Lex had no idea who I was, but she jumped into that flooded creek and pulled me to safety, getting hurt herself in the process."

"And you stayed with her at her ranch, afterwards?" Elizabeth questioned.

"Yes. The bridge was partially destroyed, so Lex offered me a place to stay until it could be repaired." Green eyes sparkled with remembrance.

Elizabeth grasped Amanda’s hands with her own, leaning forward slightly. "She’s quite a strong looking woman…now tell me the truth, Amanda. We can protect you here." The older woman looked around the room cautiously, then whispered, "Did she force herself on you? Are you afraid of what she might do if you don’t stay with her?"

Amanda couldn’t help it…she laughed. "Lex? You’ve got to be kidding!" She pulled away from her mother, leaning back in the loveseat. "Somebody should ask her that question… I practically threw myself at her."

Watching her daughter’s body language, Elizabeth came to a decision. No, I don’t think she feels threatened by that woman, but…"You threw yourself at her? Amanda! I’m…" Another idea sprouted itself in the older woman’s mind. "Hero worship." She stated smugly.

"Excuse me?"

"That’s it. Since you’re not being forced to stay with her, that’s the only logical explanation." The older woman took another sip of her coffee. "You feel…beholden…to her for saving your life and then taking care of you. So you naturally show your gratitude by staying with her."

Amanda jumped to her feet again. "That’s bullshit!" she practically yelled, then stopped when she saw the look on her mother’s face. "I’m sorry, Mother." She sat back down again. "You’re wrong. It’s not fear, hero worship, or misplaced gratitude that keeps me with Lex."

"Then what…" Elizabeth began, only to be cut off by Amanda.

"It’s love. Plain and simple." Amanda looked into her mother’s eyes, hoping to see understanding there. "I can’t explain how it happened, or why…but I fell hopelessly, deeply in love with her almost instantly." She stood up and slowly walked to the door. "Why is it so hard for you and Daddy to understand that?" Amanda shook her head and left the room, closing the door quietly behind her.

Elizabeth Cauble sat immobile, staring at the closed door. We’ll just see what her father has to say about this…Michael always has a few tricks up his sleeves. She smiled, although it didn’t quite reach her eyes.


Lex stood at the bedroom window, staring at nothing as the voice through the cellular phone wound down.

"Lexie, don’t you let those folks get to you, now." Martha pleaded, after hearing what Lex had reported to her so far. "You’re just as good, if not better, than any of them, honey."

The rancher released a heavy sigh. "You say that, Martha…but you haven’t seen this place. It’s straight out of one of those silly television shows you used to watch. I keep expecting to see Joan Collins step out of a room any minute now."

Martha laughed. "Now that would be a sight!" she sobered. "How’s Amanda handling all of this? Poor thing’s probably as flustered as you are, I’ll bet."

"She’s doing a lot better than I am, I think. Although it’s been one fight after another for her ever since we got here." Lex ran a hand through her hair, then leaned forward until her forehead was pressed against the cool glass of the window. "She’s a hell of a lot stronger than I thought she was, that’s for sure."

"I could have told you that, Lexie. That young lady may look like the sweet quiet type, but she’s got the heart of a lion." Martha stated, matter of fact. "You tell her I said hello, and to not take any bunk from anyone. And make sure she knows she always has a home here, no matter what."

"Yes ma’am." Lex finally smiled. "I was kind of thinking along those exact lines, myself."

Martha chuckled. "I knew I didn’t raise a fool, honey. Now you take care of yourself, and her too – we’ll have a nice barbecue when you girls get back home."

Lex laughed. "That sounds like a wonderful idea, Martha. I’ll talk to you tomorrow."

"Alright, sweetheart. Goodbye." The sweet housekeeper hung up the phone, already happily planning the feast.

Lex had just closed the phone when the bedroom door opened. Turning away from the window, the tall woman crossed the room quickly when she saw the upset look on Amanda’s face. "What’s the matter, sweetheart? Are you…?" Lex stopped her questioning when the young blonde wrapped her arms around her and buried her tear-streaked face in the rancher’s chest. "Hey." She instinctively returned the embrace, running a hand through the soft hair. "You okay?"

Amanda sniffed, then looked up into worried blue eyes. "Yeah…just needed to connect with you for a minute." She felt a soft kiss on the top of her head and smiled. "I love you so much, Lex…why can’t my parents understand that?"

"Your mother gave you a hard time, huh?" Lex asked, as she guided the younger woman over to the bed to sit down. "They just want what’s best for you," she pulled Amanda into her lap, "so do I."

"I don’t think that’s it…they want what’s best for them – they’ve never even bothered to ask me what I wanted." Amanda raised her arms to wrap them around Lex’s neck, pulling the dark head close for a kiss. "Mmm…" She turned to face the rancher, straddling strong thighs.

Lex chuckled when Amanda finally broke free to breathe. "Is that what you wanted?" she leaned down and captured the younger woman’s lips again. "Better?" she teased.

"Oh yeah…much." Amanda murmured snuggling close, then ran one hand lightly down Lex’s side, feeling the jean-clad leg beneath her. "I thought you were going to change?"

"I was…but I decided to call Martha instead." Lex waved the cell phone in front of Amanda’s face.

The blonde swatted the phone away. "Oh yeah? How’s she doing?"

The rancher laughed. "Ornery as ever. She sends you her love, and said for you not to let them get to you." She paused, "And…umm…she said to tell you not to forget that you have a home there." Lex finished quietly.

"I do, huh?" Amanda questioned just as quietly, looking up into Lex’s face.

Lex looked down, lost in sparkling green eyes. "Yeah…you know, I’ve been thinking a lot about that. And I realize that we haven’t known each other that long…" Lex babbled, unsure of herself. "But I was wondering if…"

Amanda could feel the rancher’s heart pounding by the hand she had placed on the older woman’s chest. "Lex…honey…what are you trying to say?" She tried to calm the nervous woman by then gently massaging her neck and shoulder.

"Well, um…I know you value your independence, and I’m not trying to rush you, or push you into something that you’re not ready for…and it’s really not that far from town…" Lex continued, still flustered.

Understanding dawned on Amanda. "Wait…" she covered the rattled rancher’s mouth with her hand. "Are you asking me to move in with you at the ranch?" Seeing the telltale flush on her companion’s face, she smiled brightly. "You know, I was wondering how I was going to survive when I have to go back to work next week."

Lex looked at her, trying unsuccessfully to keep a silly grin from erupting on her face. "Does this mean…?"

"Think you could handle having me under foot all the time?" Amanda teased. "Ooof!" she grunted as the breath was suddenly squeezed from her.

"YES!" Lex whooped, hugging the smaller woman to her tightly. She buried her face in the soft fragrant hair. "Under foot? I should be so lucky!" she mumbled happily. "You can either redo the guest room, or just move into the master bedroom with me…I’ll try to make space in my closet." She joked.

Amanda laughed. "Let’s worry bout it when we get home, okay? I’m just going to have the movers put everything into storage right now…we can sort through it all later." She kissed Lex on the chin.

"We’ve got a pretty good sized storage shed up by the bunkhouse, if you’d rather use that…I cleaned it out about three years ago…had a bunch of Dad’s junk in it – I don’t think anything is even in there right now." Lex pulled Amanda’s face up gently, then gave her a tender kiss. "Thanks." She whispered when they broke apart.

"For what?" Amanda asked, searching the face so close to hers.

Lex cradled the younger woman’s cheek with one hand. "For bringing more happiness into my life than I ever thought was possible." She captured Amanda’s lips again, this time with more fervor.

Amanda returned the kiss, threading her hands through the thick dark hair, rolling onto her back and pulling the rancher over on top of her. "Mmm…" she pulled away just far enough to speak. "Why don’t we wait until this afternoon to visit the beach? I can think of better things to do around here." She pulled Lex’s face back down towards her.

With a wicked chuckle, Lex couldn’t agree more. "You’re the boss."


Chapter 26

The breeze blowing off of the ocean was cool, but not cold as the two women walked side by side on the nearly deserted beach. When Lex had questioned Amanda about the sparse crowd, the younger woman told her it was the wrong time of the year. "Most people just spend their time in the nearby shops for right now."

"This is great." The rancher sighed, bending over and picking up a small shell, then cramming it into the pocket of her faded cutoffs like a small child.

Amanda giggled, then looped an arm through Lex’s, bumping the taller woman with her hip. "Yeah, it is." She stopped and picked up another seashell. "Here, I think you missed one." She handed the treasure to her companion, who blushed slightly.

"Thanks." Lex sheepishly put it in her pocket. "Thought that maybe Martha might like them." Then she grinned at the look on the younger woman’s face. "Yeah, yeah…okay. You caught me. I like ‘em." She pulled Amanda into an impromptu hug. "Thanks…I’m really having a good time today."

"You haven’t seen anything yet. Wait ‘til we hit the shops – now there…are some interesting…sights." Amanda smiled, totally charmed by the child-like glee her lover displayed at all the sights and sounds on the beach. Lex had dragged her playfully into the surf when they first arrived, and threatened to throw the smaller woman into the ocean until she surrendered a kiss. "C’mon, you silly thing. Let’s take your little…treasures…back to the car, and we’ll have lunch –

then do a little shopping." Amanda pulled the smiling rancher back towards the parking lot.

After a light lunch of corn dogs and potato chips, Amanda guided Lex towards a row of colorful shops, slinging a large, brightly decorated straw bag over one shoulder.

"What’s in the bag?" Lex asked, trying to peek inside as she walked beside her friend.

Amanda pulled away with a quirky grin. "Nothing, yet. But I like to be prepared." She pushed her wide sunglasses up on her nose.

Lex laughed, and pulled her just acquired aqua baseball cap that stated ‘Life’s a Beach’ down a little further over her eyes. "If you say so, sweetheart." She glanced down at the younger woman’s legs. "You’ve got a really nice tan, you know that?" She grinned at Amanda’s blush.

"Thanks. I used to spend a lot of time at the beach when I lived here – just to get out of the house…you know." Amanda studied her companion with a less than clinical eye. "I’ve never really noticed before, but…you…have a good tan. How did you manage that? All I’ve ever seen you in, besides nothing," she leered, "is jeans." Lex not only had a nice tan, but long, very muscular legs as well.

"Well, when I’m putting the colts through their paces in the summertime, I sometimes wear cutoffs so I don’t pass out from the heat." Lex admitted with a grin. Then she stopped, sidetracked by several girls jumping multiple ropes. How in the hell do they do that? She wondered, fascinated.

Amanda wandered ahead a few yards, enamoured with the sight of a man who was making colorful sand sculptures. Just as she turned to get Lex’s attention, a young man grabbed at the bag on her shoulder, backhanding her across the face to make her release the purse.

Lex looked up just as the man hit Amanda. "Hey!" she yelled, grabbing one of the long jump ropes without a second thought. The rancher started running towards Amanda, who was sitting up holding her hand against her cheek. "You okay?" Lex asked, looking over her lover carefully.

"Yeah, just caught me off guard." Amanda tried to smile, but winced instead.

The rancher patted her knee. "Okay. Sit tight…I’ll be right back." Then she took off, sprinting after the thief.

"Lex! Wait!" Amanda yelled, as she watched the older woman’s long legs shorten the distance between herself and her quarry. A young boy stepped over to the still seated blonde, handing her a small bag filled with crushed ice. "Thank you." She smiled at the boy, who ducked his head and blushed.

As she chased the thief down the paved path, Lex fashioned a loop on one end of her confiscated rope. She never broke pace as she dodged the seemingly endless throng of people in her path. Seeing the young man look back at her in fear, she grinned. "That’s right, you little shit…you’d better be scared." She growled, slowly making progress in catching up to the purse-snatcher, who quickly decided on an alternate route.

Knocking a few pedestrians down, the man took off across the sand, not even realizing when his pursuer got closer. Lex was only about ten yards away when she began swinging the rope over her head in a wide loop, closing in on the man quickly.

"URK!" The thief gasped, as the tightened rope around his chest stopped his progress. He wheezed again as he fell onto his back in the sand, hard.

Lex fell to her knees, straddling his still panting body. She tangled her hands into the front of his sweat-stained tee shirt, a dark look on her beautiful face. "You son of a bitch!" The furious rancher pulled him up slightly, then slammed him back into the sand. "I ought to kill you right here, and save the state some money." Before she could do any damage, two police officers jumped from their bicycles and pulled her off of the now terrified man.

"Easy there, miss." One of the cops said, holding onto Lex’s shoulder as his partner handcuffed the frightened thief. "Must have been something pretty important in that bag." He commented, handing the item back to the still heavily breathing rancher.

"No…" Lex, still on her knees gasped, getting her breathing under control, "It’s empty." She gave the subdued man a nasty look. "The little bastard hit my friend." As if that explained everything.

The other cop grinned as his partner handed the rope back to Lex. "Nice job, by the way. We’re going to need to get a statement from you, though."

"Can I go back and check on my friend first?" Lex asked, standing up and brushing the sand from her knees.

"Sure." Cop number two agreed, leading the thief towards a nearby police car. "We’ll even have someone give you a ride back, since we need to collect a statement from your friend too." He opened the front passenger side door for Lex, then pushed the still-dazed thief into the back seat. "Johnston here," he nodded to the burly officer behind the wheel of the car, "will drop you off on his way to the station, and we’ll meet you there, okay?"

"Thanks." Lex shook his hand and sat down in the car, still shocked at what she almost did. Damn…I could have killed that guy – thank god the police showed up when they did, or I’d be the one in the backseat.

If I have to fend off one more…kind…person, I swear I’ll scream! Amanda thought to herself. Ever since Lex took off after her assailant, concerned bystanders, offering her everything from a glass of water to a dinner date bombarded the young woman. Some helpful soul had even brought her a folding lawn chair to sit in, as she fretted on the location of her companion. God, Lex…why did you take off after that guy? You knew there was nothing in that damn bag, she wondered silently, hoping that the tall woman would return soon.

When a police car pulled up into the parking lot beside where Amanda was sitting, she immediately thought the worst. Oh, god…what’s happened to her? She fought to keep the tears at bay, when a tall form blocked the sun in front of her.

Concerned blue eyes looked right into her soul, as Lex knelt down in front of the frazzled blonde. "Amanda?" The rancher placed a warm hand on the younger woman’s knee. "You okay, sweetheart?"

"Oh, god…Lex…" Amanda began to cry, as she launched herself out of the chair and into the arms of her lover. She wrapped her arms around the older woman’s neck, ending up on her knees in front of Lex.

"Easy there, Amanda…shhh." The dark haired woman murmured in her ear, rubbing her back with a comforting motion. She slowly stood up, pulling the sobbing young woman with her.

Amanda pulled back slightly, tears still running down her face. "Are you okay?" she sniffed, a small smile forming when Lex gently wiped her face with her hand.

"Yeah, I’m fine. How about you?" Lex asked, running her fingertips lightly over her jaw, where a bruise was already beginning to form. That son of a bitch…I should have killed him when I had the chance.

"I’m okay." Amanda assured her, then slapped her hard on the side. "Don’t you…ever… do that to me again!" she demanded in a shaky tone, anger and fear in her eyes.

"Ouch!" Lex jumped. "What?" she stepped back away from the younger woman, whose eyes were sparkling with emotion.

"Take off after a thief like that…Dammit, Lex! That stupid bag wasn’t worth risking your life for!" the blonde fumed.

Lex stepped towards Amanda cautiously. "Him? Aw, Amanda…he’s just a scrawny two-bit little purse-snatcher."

She really doesn’t get it…"Lex…" Amanda began patiently, "He could have been a junkie looking for quick money – and carrying a knife or gun for protection." She put her hands on the dark-haired woman’s waist. "And I don’t want to lose you this soon after finding you, okay?"

Understanding raced across Lex’s tan features. "Oh…I never really thought about that. I just saw him hit you, and kinda lost it." She pulled Amanda into a strong hug. "Sorry about that."

She regretfully released the younger woman when a throat was cleared discreetly behind her. Turning around, Lex kept her arm around Amanda’s waist as she greeted the two bicycle cops. "Oh, hi…Officers. Sorry, I didn’t catch your names." She grinned, as the policemen shook their heads and laughed.


Lex studied her companion’s profile with concern, as Amanda drove them back towards her parent’s house. "Oh, sweetheart," she said quietly, touching the side of Amanda’s face, "That is going to be one hell of a bruise."

The side of Amanda’s face was already turning purple, from her cheek down across her beautiful jaw. "I guess." She turned her head to peek into the rear view mirror, then grimaced. "Well, at least there’s not much swelling – the ice really helped." She gave Lex a wry smile. "I can’t believe you actually roped that guy…wish I had seen that!"

The rancher rolled her eyes. "Those cops exaggerated, I think…it looked a lot more impressive than it actually was." She smirked. "Thought we’d never get away from your fan club, though." The petite blonde had been surrounded by a throng of well wishers, which followed the two women all the way to their car, offering all types of assistance.

"Don’t remind me." Amanda chuckled. "Although I think you had your own admiration society with those two policemen." She teased, then reached up and grabbed Lex’s hand, giving it a firm squeeze. "The look on that one guy’s face when you turned down his dinner offer was priceless."

When the taller of the two police officers had approached Lex for a date, she matter of factly stated, "Sorry…but I don’t think my girlfriend here would approve." Which caused Amanda to giggle, and the other cop to burst out laughing. The embarrassed officer had apologized, then offered to take them both out, which they politely declined, using the excuse that they didn’t have enough time before they had to leave for Texas.

"Yeah…sorry about that. I wasn’t really thinking." Lex grinned. "But it was pretty funny, wasn’t it?"

Amanda shook her head. "What am I going to do with you?"

Lex gave her a sexy grin. "Oh, I’m sure you can come up with something creative."

"We’ll see about that, my little thief roper." The blonde giggled, as she pulled up to the familiar security box. Before she reached out to punch in the security code, Amanda leaned over and released Lex’s hand, grabbing her by the back of the neck. "C’mere." She pulled the rancher’s head towards her.

Lex obeyed willingly, allowing the younger woman to take control of the situation, as chills chased down her spine. "Damn, Amanda…" she wheezed as they broke off, "How in the hell do you do that?" she leaned her forehead into the blonde’s bangs, her entire body trembling slightly.

Amanda took a deep, shaky breath as well. "Whoa…that sure got the old blood pumping, didn’t it?" She gave Lex another, shorter kiss. "Oh yeah…whoo!" She grinned, then released Lex and punched the code into the patiently waiting gate.

"What in the hell did you do to my daughter?" Michael Cauble yelled, when he spotted Lex and Amanda walking across the main foyer, heading for the stairs. He stormed towards the women, fists clinched at his side.

"Daddy…wait!" Amanda stepped in front of Lex, holding her hand out to block her father’s path.

Shoving his daughter aside, Michael pushed the tall woman up against the stairwell, his face red with rage. "You like hitting defenseless women, cow chaser?"

Amanda squeezed between the two of them, pushing her father back. "Stop it! Lex didn’t do anything to me, Daddy…I was mugged at the beach."

"What?! You were mugged?" Michael backed off, but only a step, glaring at the rancher. "Where the hell were you while my daughter was being assaulted?"

Lex wisely kept her mouth shut, allowing Amanda to handle her father. The fuming rancher knew that if she said anything, it would only hurt the woman she loved – so she concentrated on controlling her breathing. Stay calm, Lexington…let Amanda take care of him… She took a deep breath and released it, feeling the younger woman’s hand pat her gently on the arm.

"Lex was only a few steps away, and she caught the guy – then turned him over to the police." Amanda stated proudly, stepping back and putting a hand behind her to make contact with the silent woman, whose anger she could almost feel as Lex unconsciously put her hands on the small waist in front of her.

Michael prudently decided to let the matter drop. "Very well." He looked at their matching ragged shorts and frowned. "Is it too much to ask that you two change for dinner? We’re not having a clambake."

Amanda felt Lex stiffen behind her, the hands on her hips tightening slightly. "Is it too much for me to ask that you and Mother act civil tonight? If not, Lex and I can go out for dinner, then fly out first thing in the morning." She asked in a calm voice, halfway hoping his answer would be negative. Please…give me a reason to get out of here…

Damn…she’s really grown up in the past year, hasn’t she? Michael mused to himself, vaguely proud. All right…I’ll play her little game. "Of course, dear. We just got off on the wrong foot, didn’t we, Lex?" He reached forward and offered his hand to the dark-haired woman. "No hard feelings?"

"Sure, Mr. Cauble." Lex took his hand in a firm grasp. "No hard feelings." But she couldn’t help but feel that the man was up to something. Probably up to no good, but we’ll just play it by ear for now.

"Thanks, Daddy." Amanda gave her father a hug. "We’ll be cleaned up and changed in time for dinner." She wasn’t fooled either by his sudden capitulation, but decided to accept the cease-fire for now. "C’mon, Lex…" she grasped the older woman by the arm and led her up the stairs.

Once they were safely ensconced in the guestroom, Amanda locked the door and studied her quiet companion. "Are you okay?" she ran her hands searchingly over the rancher’s body. "My father didn’t hurt you, did he?"

"I’m fine." Lex grabbed the wandering hands, pulling them behind her back. "He just pushed me, no damage done." She felt Amanda’s hands sneak into her back pockets, and she raised an eyebrow in response.

"Just checking for bruises." Amanda grinned at her unrepentantly. "Maybe I should take off your clothes and double check? No sense in taking any chances."

Lex laughed. "Sure…let’s take a shower – the lights are much better in there." She pulled the younger woman towards the bathroom and closed the door behind them.

Chapter 27

After a short argument which she won, Amanda had Lex’s place setting moved from next to Frank, to across the table beside her. The entire meal was spent in tense silence, only broken by the occasional attempts by Jeannie and her husband to clear the air.

"Good grief, Mandy…Daddy told us about what happened to you today. But he failed to mention that you looked like you got into a fight with Mike Tyson and lost." Jeannie teased. "So c’mon…tell us the whole story."

Amanda’s explanation about the day’s events further antagonized her parents, especially since she painted her companion’s part in the tale so heroically. "The police officers said the look on that thief’s face was really funny when Lex pulled that rope tight, and he hit the ground. They were trying to catch up on their bikes, and saw the whole thing."

Michael glared at the rancher. "Sounds rather foolish to me…chasing down a criminal when you are unarmed." He took a sip of wine. "People have been killed for less."

"I really wasn’t thinking." The dark haired woman admitted. "I saw him hit Amanda, and totally lost it. I just wanted to make sure he paid for what he had done to her." Lex added quietly.

Uh-oh…time to change the subject, I think. "So, my lovely sister…" Jeannie smiled at the young blonde, "Give me all the juicy gossip from Somerville." She purposely ignored the glare from her mother, and winked at the rancher. "Or maybe you can fill me in, Lex."

"Sure…what do you want to know?" Lex flinched slightly when Amanda poked her leg under the table.

Jeannie gave her sister an evil grin. "Got anything on my sister? She never likes to talk about herself."

Lex grinned too, then almost yelped out loud as her leg was pinched. "Ow!" She quickly cleared her throat to cover up her slip. "Excuse me." Turning her head slightly, Lex quirked an eyebrow at her lover. "Well…did Amanda tell you about her promotion? She’s now the manager of the real estate office."

"Really? Oooh…Mandy – that’s great!" Jeannie almost squealed with excitement. "But what about that neanderthal, Rick?" She looked at Lex. "He was always so rude when I would call Amanda’s office. Someone needs to knock him down a peg or two, in my opinion."

The rancher almost choked on the water she was drinking. "Well," she coughed, "there’s actually a really funny story about that…ow!" A sharp pain from her just-stomped foot stopped Lex in mid-sentence.

Frank, who had been silent up until now, looked at the dark-haired woman. "You okay, Lex?" His smirk let her know he knew exactly what was wrong.

"Yeah…" she glared at Amanda, who smiled innocently. "Sudden cramp, I guess." She felt a hand rub her leg in a soothing manner.

"So…what’s the story?" Jeannie asked, missing the glare her sibling threw at her.

Feeling the hand on her thigh tighten into a claw, the rancher decided that discretion was the better part of valor. "Seems poor Rick not only got fired, but ended up receiving a bruised jaw and got thrown into jail for disorderly conduct." The claw straightened out, and gave her a loving pat instead.

Amanda quickly decided to change the subject. "So, Mother…have you decided on a cruise, or a tour of Europe this year?" Knowing that Elizabeth had one real passion in her life – travel.

"I believe I’ll do Paris…the last cruise was such a disappointment to me. People actually brought children on board!" Sounding totally disgusted, she continued, "And they let the little heathens run wild. It was absolutely disgraceful."

Lex started to say something, but closed her mouth and concentrated on her plate instead. No sense in giving them any more reason to make Amanda’s stay here miserable, she thought to herself.

"Do you have something you’d like to say, Lex?" Michael had seen the tall woman begin to speak, then stop. "I’m sure that we would all be interested in whatever is on your mind."

Amanda looked at her father in surprise, but didn’t say anything.

"I really don’t think you want to hear my opinion, Mr. Cauble." Lex gave Amanda’s father a small smile.

Michael returned her smile. "Don’t be ridiculous…please – share with us." He waved a hand at the table.

Feeling Amanda’s comforting touch on her leg, Lex gave her partner an apologetic look. "I was just going to say that those folks probably worked and saved for years to go on a cruise, so they had just as much right to be there as anyone."

"Are you saying that I…don’t…work for my money?" Elizabeth gave the rancher a nasty look, daring her to answer.

Lex shook her head. "No, ma’am, not at all. I’m just saying that most folks don’t take a real vacation every year. But when they do, they have as much right to relax and enjoy themselves as the people whose biggest concern is where they’ll go, not how much it will cost."

Seeing his mother-in-law preparing herself to attack, Frank jumped into the conversation. "Have you ever been on a cruise, Lex?" Cutting the older woman off before she could get started.

The tall woman smiled, a little embarrassed. "No…never really had the time. As a matter of fact, this is the first time that I’ve been away from the ranch in several years." She gave Amanda a meaningful look. "But I wouldn’t mind going on one, someday."

"Frank and I are taking an Alaskan Cruise as a second honeymoon next spring," Jeannie shared, helpfully. "Maybe you should consider going on one too – certainly a great way to beat the summer heat." She smiled. "I didn’t visit as often as Amanda did, but the Texas summers stand out as extremely wicked in my mind. I don’t know how you are able to handle it."

Lex shrugged. "I guess I’m just used to it – doesn’t really bother me any."

Elizabeth saw her opportunity. "I suppose it’s like the migrant workers in the Valley… they don’t know any better than to stay in the hot sun all day. They’re quite used to it as well, I suppose."

Amanda glared at her mother. "I can’t believe your attitude!"

"It’s okay, Amanda." Lex placed a hand on the younger woman’s arm, trying to calm her down.

"No, it’s not!" the furious blonde snapped, then looked into hurt blue eyes and immediately dropped her voice. "I’m getting tired of listening to my parents take potshots at you." She whispered, forgetting the other people at the table.

Lex casually slipped her hand beneath the table, and took a firm grasp of Amanda’s fingers. "We’ll talk about this later, okay?" she gave the smaller hand in hers a gentle squeeze. Looking up at Elizabeth, she smiled again. "And I have to agree with you, Mrs. Cauble…if a person works all day, every day in the heat, it’s much easier for them to handle it." Then, with a slight twinkle in her eye, she continued, "Unlike the poor folks that have to sit in an office all the time… they break out into a sweat just walking to their cars at the end of the day."

Touché, Mother. Amanda smiled inwardly. She looked over at Lex and gave her a wink. "You about finished?" she looked at the half-eaten plate of food in front of her lover with a frown.

"Yeah…just not real hungry, I guess." This offered with a sheepish shrug. Lex’s stomach was still in knots over what happened earlier in the day.

"You two got any plans for tonight?" Frank asked, after a not so subtle poke in the ribs from his wife.

Amanda looked at Lex, who raised an eyebrow encouragingly. "Not really…what do you have in mind?" She looked at her sister, who was smiling broadly.

"Lex…you can’t come to LA without going out at least for one evening…isn’t that right, Amanda?" Jeannie winked.

The rancher looked suddenly panicked. "Umm…that’s really nice of you, but I didn’t bring anything to wear for a night out on the town."

Frank and Jeannie both laughed. "Actually," he said, smiling, "You’ll be more suitably dressed for where we’re going than Jeannie or I will."

"Okay, why not?" Lex looked at Amanda. "Do you feel up to it?" The tone in her voice made it clear that Amanda could just say no.

The young blonde smiled and patted Lex on the arm. "Sure…" she touched her bruised jaw, "Looks bad, but really doesn’t hurt."

Elizabeth Cauble sighed heavily, drawing everyone’s attention back to her. "I guess it’s too much to ask that you actually spend some time with your father and me before you leave us." She gave Amanda a pitiful look.

"Now, now…" Michael stopped her. "I’m sure Amanda will be glad to spend some quality time with us in the morning." He gave the rancher an unreadable look. "And you too, Lex. I’d really like the opportunity to get to know you a little better." He smiled, a look that sent chills down the dark-haired woman’s spine.

Why do I suddenly feel like a man at the gallows being told to jump? Lex wondered. "Sure, Mr. Cauble…if you really want to." She gave Amanda’s hand a firm squeeze. "But I’m sure I can find something to occupy myself if you need to spend a little time alone with Amanda."

"That won’t be necessary, Lex." If all goes well, Amanda will send your gold-digging hide back to Texas so fast it will make your head spin. He laughed inwardly. "If my daughter is determined to spend time with you, I’d really like for us to become better acquainted."

Jeannie stood up. "Great! We’ll get ready, and meet you two in the sitting room in an hour." She grabbed her husband and hurried from the room.

Amanda released Lex’s hand and stood up as well. "Guess we’d better go get ready, huh?" she asked her lover with a sweet smile. "We’ll see you both in the morning," she assured her parents as Lex joined her by the door. "Goodnight."

Halfway up the stairs, Lex pulled Amanda to a stop. "Do you have any idea where we’re going tonight?"

"Sure." Amanda grinned, then continued up the stairs, a growling rancher at her heels.

"AMANDA!" Lex chased her, laughing.


Chapter 28

Lex stood away from the pool table quietly, watching as Amanda lined up her shot. She couldn’t help but smile as the cute blonde’s tongue slightly poked from her mouth – the perfect picture of intense concentration.

"Don’t let that innocent look fool you…" Frank whispered, "she’s a first class shark!" he chuckled. "The first time we played, she beat me so badly that I had to carry her books to class for a solid week! Do you know how demeaning it is for a high school senior to be enslaved by a freshman?"

"Amanda said you were her best friend…" Lex took a sip of her beer, "How long have you known each other, if you don’t mind me asking?" she shook her head as Amanda sunk her shot, dancing around and waving her hand in front of her sister’s face. "Uh-oh…"

Frank watched, as his wife good-naturedly threatened the blonde with her cue stick. "Don’t worry…Amanda can take her." He laughed out loud at the look of shock on the dark-haired woman’s face. "I’m kidding! Well, not completely…Mandy can take her – but they don’t actually fight, anymore." He took a strong swallow of his third scotch and water. The tall woman was still nursing her first beer, which she surprised them all by ordering. Lex told them she really didn’t drink much anymore, which was okay by him and Jeannie, since the last time they were out they got carried away and had to call a cab. "Mandy literally ran me over on my first day at her school." He shook his head in remembrance. "I had just transferred from a small school south of Sacramento, and was completely and totally awed by this huge school. I had run myself ragged trying to find my classes, and had bent down in the hallway to tie my shoe. Then this little blonde whirlwind came flying around the corner and knocked me flat on my face."

Lex laughed. "I’ll bet that was a sight! But it’s nice to know she’s always been like that, running from place to place." She felt a hand on her arm.

"What’s so funny?" Amanda asked, reaching across Lex to grab her drink, a vodka Collins.

"Frank was just telling me how you two met." Lex grinned, seeing her lover blush.

Amanda rubbed her face. "Umm…it’s your shot, Lex." She gave the older woman’s stomach a gentle pat, then smiled at the rolled-eyed look she received as the rancher walked towards the pool table.

"You look really happy, Mandy." The big man studied his sister-in-law closely. "I don’t think I’ve ever seen you smile so much." He nodded towards the pool table, where his wife was trying to ruin the rancher’s shot by making faces and slinging silly comments at her.

"Yeah…I’m very happy." Amanda saw what Jeannie was doing and tossed a pretzel at her. "Stop cheating!" she yelled, getting a nasty look from her sibling. Turning her attention back to Frank, she smiled warmly. "She’s the one, Frank."

He nodded. "I kinda figured that by the look on your face, kiddo." The burly man smiled, remembering the long talks the two of them used to have. Amanda had sworn she would find her one true love, and not settle for anything less. Frank was the only person she had shared that with – not even her sister knew the high standards she had set for a mate. He had understood, since he had fallen completely in love with her sister the moment he met her. "Even I can see she’s special, Mandy…don’t ever let her go." Frank spoke quietly, his eyes suspiciously sparkling in the smoky light of the bar.

Amanda wrapped her arms around his neck, giving him a light kiss on the lips. "Thanks, Frank…I knew you’d understand."

"I guess this means I get to take Slim here home with me." Jeannie teased, wrapping an arm around Lex’s waist. "No offense, Frank, but I think I got the better end of the deal." She grinned as a long arm draped casually across her shoulder.

"I’ve heard about some of the wild things that goes on here in California," Lex drawled, raising an eyebrow as Amanda spun around and Frank placed his chin on her head, wrapping his arms around her protectively – an innocent look on his face. "You think you can handle her?" she gave the big man a smirk.

Frank appeared thoughtful. "I dunno. Since you met her - you nearly drowned, got your ribs broken, were shot, and attacked by rustlers." He stepped back suddenly, pushing the giggling blonde forward. "Gimme back my wife – Please!"

Lex impulsively caught Amanda, who snuggled happily into her arms, much to Frank and Jeannie’s amusement. "Fickle, ain’t she?" the rancher muttered to the other couple, only to receive a slap on the belly. "What’d I say?" she complained to the blonde.

The more I’m around her, the better I like this mysterious rancher who has stolen my little sister’s heart, Jeannie thought to herself. "Okay, gang…now that I whipped Slim at pool…"

"What?!" Amanda leaned back so that she could look Lex in the eye. "How could you lose? We only had to make one shot." She spun around and glared at her sister, who was now giggling. "What did you do?" Then she felt strong arms wrap themselves snugly around her.

"I didn’t think she could actually do it…" Lex said, lying her head on the smaller woman’s shoulder. "I said she couldn’t distract me into blowing my shot."

Amanda frowned. "I’ll ask again…what did she do?"

Jeannie laughed. "I tried dancing around the table like a fool – didn’t work. I even blew in her ear…" She saw Amanda’s eyes widen, "Nothing. So, while she was bent over about to shoot, I pinched her on the butt!" At this startling confession, everyone burst out laughing.

"Damn near knocked the guy at the next table out with the cue ball, too." The rancher admitted with an embarrassed grin.

Amanda pulled the long arms around her tighter. "God, honey…I’m sorry I missed that." She felt Lex laugh. "Are you ready for our next stop?"

Lex released a heavy sigh. "Do I want to know where we’re going?"

Jeannie reached over, grabbed Lex by the hand, and started dragging her towards the door. "Dancing!" She exclaimed, as Amanda and Frank followed closely behind.

"What in the hell is that supposed to be?" Lex grumbled as a young person walked by her, their bright purple spiked hair and multiple face piercings shocking the somewhat conservative rancher.

Amanda giggled, pulling Lex through the crowd of people, right behind Frank and Jeannie. "I think it was a he, but don’t quote me on that."

They found a table near the crowded dance floor, loud music with a strong beat making Lex’s teeth hurt. She ordered another beer, and then focused her attention on the dozens of people dancing. Men dancing with women, men dancing with men, and women dancing with women all seemed to be having a good time. There were even a few wildly dressed people dancing alone, which caused a smirk to cross Lex’s face.

"See anything you like?" Amanda asked, her lips close to the dark-haired woman’s ear. She could tell that Lex was a little overwhelmed, seeing a lot of things that she would never see in a small town. The rancher looked particularly engrossed with a young woman who was wearing white makeup with black across her eyes and lips, studs and hoops adorning her eyebrows and nose. "Maybe I should get my nose pierced." Amanda whispered, then playfully licked Lex’s ear.

"Huh?" the older woman jumped, then smiled. "C’mon…" she grabbed Amanda’s hand. "Let’s go join the crowd!" Lex stood and pulled the younger woman along with her, just as a slow song began. "Perfect!" she smiled, claiming a piece of the dance floor.

Amanda linked her hands behind the tall woman’s neck, snuggling her face into Lex’s chest. I really like this, she thought blissfully, as Lex pulled her even closer.

Closing her eyes happily, Lex gently swayed to the music, enjoying the feeling of holding Amanda in her arms. Her peaceful thoughts were interrupted by a strong hand on her shoulder.

"Mind if I cut in?" A short, pudgy woman with slicked back hair asked.

"No, thank you." Lex said, turning back around.

"Hey!" The woman, clad in leather pants and a leather vest, grabbed the taller woman’s arm and swung Lex around to face her. "Look, cowboy, I’d like to dance with the cute blonde." She craned her neck to look the rancher in the eye. "Why don’t you go feed your horse, and I’ll show the lady a good time."

Amanda stepped between the two women, thinking fast. "Lex, honey…" she said loudly, patting the rancher on the stomach, "You remember what your parole officer said. The next person you hospitalize can get you sent back to prison." She almost laughed out loud at the look on the pushy woman’s suddenly pale face.

Lex gave the woman an evil grin, then glanced down at her lover. "Aw…c’mon, sweetheart – just this once?" She took a menacing step towards Amanda’s would-be suitor. "Please?"

Deciding to find someplace else to be, the leather-clad woman turned quickly and made her way back through the crowd, muttering under her breath. "I’ve got better things to do with my time…"

"Thanks, sweetheart." Lex wrapped Amanda into a hug, kissing her lightly on the forehead. "I really didn’t want to ruin tonight by getting into an argument with Motorcycle Mama."

Amanda chuckled. "I was tempted to just smack her one, but I was afraid she’d scream ‘lawsuit’." She wrapped her arms back around Lex’s neck. "Don’t we have a dance to finish?"

Lex kissed her lightly on the lips and rested her hands on Amanda’s waist. "Yeah." She pulled the smaller woman to her and closed her eyes peacefully, slowly rocking once again to the music.

"I thought for sure we were going to have a brawl on our hands," Frank laughed at the table later. "We saw that woman try to cut in."

Jeannie nodded. "Why didn’t you just slug her, Lex?" She asked the smiling rancher. "I know I probably would have, the rude little turd."

"Nah…I really couldn’t blame her any." Lex put her arm on the back of Amanda’s chair. "She had great taste in women." The rancher enjoyed seeing her lover blush. "Besides, I knew Amanda would be coming home with me." Lex winked.

Mother and Father are so wrong about her, Jeannie marveled, She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to Mandy. "You guys about ready to leave? I think Frank has had about all the fun he can stand for one night." She gestured towards her husband, whose eyes were beginning to droop.

Frank stifled a yawn. "Sorry about that…guess I’m not used to all this excitement."

"I’m pretty pooped too." Amanda admitted, leaning back against Lex’s arm. "How about you, honey?" She turned her head and gazed into the dark-haired woman’s eyes. "Ready to go home and go to bed?"

Lex quirked an eyebrow, amused. "Is that an offer from the cute blonde?" She stood up, offering her hand to Amanda. "I thought maybe I was just getting old – I can barely keep my eyes open." She pulled the younger woman to her feet.

"You…old…yeah, right!" Frank took Jeannie’s hand, and they followed Lex and Amanda through the still raucous crowd towards the front door. "If she’s old, then I’m ancient." He grumbled to his wife.

Jeannie patted him on the rear lovingly. "Whatever you say, grandpa."


"I haven’t been out with Frank and Jeannie in a couple of years. We used to have a lot of fun together." Amanda yawned much later that evening, towel drying her hair in the bedroom. They both had decided that smelling like stale cigarette smoke from the bars was not a good way to sleep, so they shared a quick shower before getting ready for bed.

Lex, walked out of the bathroom in her boxers and sleepshirt, and returned the yawn. "Mmm…" she fell back onto the bed bonelessly. "Yeah…well, it was certainly an experience, that’s for sure."

Concerned, Amanda walked over and kneeled on the bed. "Are you okay, honey? I know you maybe had one beer all night long – are you getting sick on me?"

"Nah…just tired." The rancher assured her. "I’m not used to staying up quite this late dancing and stuff." She smiled, then grabbed Amanda and pulled her on top of her. "You coming to bed anytime soon, or are you going to play with your hair all night?"

"Well, I wanted to…oooh…" Amanda gasped as a warm hand snuck under her nightshirt, tracing a soft pattern across her back. "Umm…" Gentle lips began nipping at her throat.

Lex felt the body on top of hers relax completely, as she continued her assault on Amanda’s neck. She pulled away slightly, gazing deeply into green eyes that were struggling to stay open. "C’mon, love…" Lex sat up, pulling the blonde with her, "Let’s get some sleep." She maneuvered them both under the covers, not relinquishing her hold on Amanda.

"’Night, love." Amanda murmured, placing a kiss on the older woman’s throat.

"Pleasant dreams, sweetheart." Lex whispered, hearing the deep, even breathing that told her Amanda was already asleep.


Chapter 29

The four late-night revelers ended up sleeping in, so they spent the latter part of the morning enjoying each other’s company for breakfast.

"So, Lex…" Frank teased, "You ready to go back out dancing? Maybe we can find your little friend again."

The dark-haired woman chuckled. "Think I’ll give it a miss…I don’t want to end up bailing Amanda out of jail."

"Me? I have no idea what you’re talking about." Amanda tried to look innocent, but failed miserably when Lex gave her a knowing grin. "Stop that."

Choking on her coffee, Jeannie gasped, "Mandy…you know darn good and well what Lex is talking about." She wiped tears from her eyes, "You’ve still got a bad temper…I was hoping that staying with Gramma and Grandpa would have had a positive effect on you." She changed her focus of attention to the still smiling rancher. "Has she taken a swing at you yet, Slim?"

"No…not…" Lex shook her head, then stopped. "Well, actually…" she grinned. "Just yesterday, she slapped me."

Amanda looked shocked. "I did no such…" she paused, then rolled her eyes. "Oh, for god’s sake! You deserved that – scaring me half to death, chasing after that guy." She glared at Lex. "And I’ll do it again, if you ever pull another stupid stunt like that!"

"Yes, ma’am." Lex teased, then sobered. She ran gentle fingertips over the still-purple bruise on her lover’s face. "How’s that feel today? Looks like all of the swelling is gone, at least." The rancher barely controlled the urge to lean over and kiss the contusion.

Capturing the hand with one of her own, the blonde smiled. "Fine. Doesn’t even hurt today, honest." She happily leaned into the touch.

Jeannie sighed. They are just so cute together…"Well, I hate to leave such wonderful company, but I promised Mother that I’d go by and check on the gallery." She tossed her napkin onto the table. "You ready, darling?" She asked Frank, who nodded.

"Sure. I’ve got a couple of last-minute things to pick up before the dinner tonight, anyway." The big man smiled at Amanda then stood up and pushed his chair back to the table.

Lex gave Amanda a look. "Yeah, I still gotta get something too, I guess." She missed the wink the blonde gave Frank.

"Miss Amanda…I’m terribly sorry to interrupt you, but your father has requested that you join them in the library." Beverly stepped into the dining room quietly, a subdued tone in her voice.

"Our cue to leave." Jeannie and Frank headed towards the doorway. "Good luck, guys." She waved a hand and hurried from the room.

Amanda smiled at the maid. "Thanks, Beverly…we’ll be right there." As the woman began to leave, she asked, "What kind of mood is he in, or dare I even ask?"

"That’s just it, Miss Amanda. He’s in a really good mood – it’s very strange." She shook her head and left the room quietly.

Turning to face Lex, Amanda frowned. "I don’t think I like the sound of that. You sure you want to go with me?"

The rancher leaned forward, kissing the top of the younger woman’s forehead. "I’m with you, sweetheart…as long as you’ll have me."

"Forever sounds pretty good to me, at least to start with." The blonde captured Lex’s lips with her own, sharing a kiss full of love and promise. Pulling back and releasing a heavy sigh, Amanda forced a smile. "Let’s go ‘visit’, then we’ll go shopping, okay?"

"Right." Lex stood up, then pulled her friend into a strong hug as soon as the smaller woman got to her feet. "One for the road." She buried her face into the soft hair. "I love you, Amanda." She spoke quietly, savoring the moment. "With all my heart and soul."

Amanda felt the tall woman tremble slightly. "I love you too, Lex." She returned the embrace, kissing the collarbone that peeked through the v-neck of the shirt Lex as wearing. "And I always will."

"Come in and have a seat, you two." Michael motioned the young women into the library. Elizabeth was comfortably perched on the loveseat, while he stood at the bar, a set of papers in his hand.

Amanda pulled Lex over to the sofa, which was at a 90-degree angle from the loveseat, and directly across from the bar. She sat down next to the rancher, close enough to touch if she needed to. "Good morning, Mother." Giving the older woman a friendly smile.

"It’s almost afternoon, Amanda. But I hear you had a late night last night." She gave the rancher an almost civil look. "Lex."

The dark-haired woman smiled politely and nodded. "Mrs. Cauble."

Michael interrupted. "Coffee?" he nodded to his wife. "Oh, I’m sorry Lex…" He raised a decanter filled with an amber liquid. "I hear that whiskey is more to your liking in the mornings." He poured a glass. "I’m afraid that all I have right now is scotch, but we can send one of the servant’s out for some Jack Daniels, if you would prefer." Michael watched with hidden glee as his daughter’s face showed confusion.

"What are you talking about, Daddy?" Amanda turned to face her lover. "Lex?"

The rancher was looking down at her feet, a resigned look on her face. Then, taking a deep breath, she looked up and locked gazes with Amanda’s father. "No thank you, Mr. Cauble. I haven’t drank hard liquor in years." She turned and met her lover’s eyes. "Remember I told you about Linda?" she asked softly.

Amanda frowned, thinking. "Yes…what does that…"

"After that, I got a little wild for a while… but Martha got me straightened out." Lex felt a small hand on her leg, the presence reassuring. "I’ll tell you all about it later, I promise." She whispered.

"I’m not worried, love." The young blonde smiled.

Michael frowned. Damn that Richards… this is not going as I had planned at all. "My mistake, Lex…" he conceded the point to the dark-haired woman. Let’s just see if I can shake her up a little bit more. "So…do you have family back in Texas, Lex?"

Confused by the sudden change in topics, the rancher nodded. "Yes…I have an older brother, Hubert."

Stepping away from the bar, Michael sat down next to his wife on the loveseat, who was sipping from a china cup. "How about your parents?" He leaned over and poured three more cups of coffee, offering one to both Lex and Amanda.

Lex accepted the offering politely, even though the thought of ingesting anything right now made her stomach cramp. "Thank you." She acknowledged the coffee, balancing the cup and saucer on one thigh. "My mother died when I was four – and my father…travels a lot." No lie there, but I guess I could just say he’s a drifter who would rather wonder where his next meal is coming from, than have to look at his daughter.

Elizabeth wasn’t certain what her husband had in mind, but she decided to play along. "And does your brother work with you at your ranch?"

"No, ma’am. He’s a CPA in town." Lex shared a smile with Amanda. "He’s not much for the ranch life."

"A professional, then…you must be very proud of him." Elizabeth gave her daughter a look. Much more suitable than a common cowhand, that’s for sure. "You only have one sibling? Must have been lonely growing up." She gave Lex a mock sympathetic look.

Lex swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat. "I had a younger brother…but he died…about nine years ago." She felt Amanda grasp her hand for support.

"I’m terribly sorry to hear that. It’s always so tragic when a child dies." Michael shook his head sadly. "Especially when it can be avoided…" Wait…I seem to recall a boy named Walters that was killed at the lake around that time." He looked at the rancher, an understanding look on his handsome face. "That was your brother, wasn’t it?"

"Louis…" Lex nodded, trying to keep her emotions under control. Almost ten years ago, and it still hurts as much as the day it happened… why can’t I get past this?

Michael smiled, adjusting his glasses slightly. "That’s what I thought. If I recall correctly…" he knew all of the details, since he had just read them this morning, "There was a boat full of kids, and they were hit by another boat, right?" Seeing the dark-haired woman nod slightly, a pained look on her face, he continued," Absolutely horrible. The whole affair could probably have been avoided with the proper adult supervision." Seeing Lex pale. "Don’t you agree, Lex?"

"That’s it!" Amanda stood up. "C’mon, Lex." She pulled the silent rancher to her feet. "We’ve got things to do, if you’ll excuse us."

Lex allowed the younger woman to lead her through the doorway, her mind a million miles away. He’s right…I should have been there, she mentally berated herself. If I had been driving the boat, maybe the entire accident could have been avoided. Numbly she continued to follow Amanda, feeling a small amount of comfort in their linked hands. The cool breeze on her face brought Lex back to her senses. Looking around she found herself standing in the garden, under Amanda’s favorite tree.

"C’mere, love…sit down." Amanda sat down under the tree and patted her leg. She waited patiently until the blank look faded from Lex’s face, and then she held out her arms. "Please?"

Forcing a small smile to her face, the rancher sat down in front of Amanda and stretched out, allowing the smaller woman to wrap her arms around her. Lex ended up lying on her back between Amanda’s legs, her head resting against her lover’s chest.

Amanda began gently running her fingers through the thick, dark hair, feeling Lex finally begin to relax. "I’m calling the airline…we’re going home on the next flight out." The blonde murmured, angry tears threatening to fall.

"No." Lex finally spoke, her voice hoarse from holding back tears of her own.

"Yes! There’s nothing here worth putting you through this – I’m tired of defending my actions to them, and having them try to get to me through you." Amanda absently straightened the bangs on Lex’s forehead.

Lex turned slightly, so that she could look into Amanda’s face. "Don’t let them win, sweetheart…they’ll never let you live it down." She raised a hand and caressed the unbruised side of the younger woman’s jaw. "I can handle this…they just kinda caught me off guard, that’s all."

Leaning down until their noses were almost touching, Amanda dropped a light kiss on the rancher’s mouth. "Are you sure about this? We can be home before it gets dark tonight."

Lex raised her head slightly to capture the blonde’s lips for a more prolonged contact. "Mmm…" Home…I think I like the sound of that, Lex thought for a wistful moment. "Yeah, I’m sure…we’ve got a dinner to sit through tonight." She gave her lover a small smile. "But it won’t hurt my feelings if you decide that you want to leave Saturday morning."

Amanda grinned. "That’s a great idea. I’ll call and change our reservations." She wrapped her arms around the reclining woman and squeezed hard. "Have I told you lately just how much I love you?" She whispered into the ear next to her face.

"You may have mentioned something about it a time or two." Lex teased, raising up slightly to return the embrace. "I’m sorry about all that stuff with your father." She said quietly. "I guess I should have told you about that mess before you heard it from someone else… it was just a matter of time before somebody told you."

"No, Lex. I don’t expect a day-by-day account of your life before you met me. What I don’t understand is how he knew so much about it." Amanda had pulled back enough so that she could look Lex in the eye, angered by the poorly hidden pain she could see there.

The rancher swallowed. "It’s a small town…my little ‘binge’ was certainly no secret." She closed her eyes at the gentle touch on her head. "I spent over a month drunk out of my mind… got thrown out of quite a few bars, and was even picked up by the law a time or two. I imagine that everyone in town knows all about it."

Amanda continued to run her fingers through the dark hair. "You were young, and had been terribly hurt emotionally. Didn’t anyone try to help you, talk to you?"

"Yeah…right." Lex scoffed, then looked up into green eyes sparkling with unshed tears. "You’ve got to understand, Amanda…I was young, it’s true. But I was so full of anger and hatred at how unfair I thought my life was, that most folks steered clear of me." She blinked, then looked down, afraid to see the look on the blonde’s face. "I had been so nasty to her, even Martha threatened to leave me." She took a ragged breath, "I think that the fear of losing her was what finally snapped me back to reality."

"Oh, sweetheart." Amanda pulled Lex’s chin up, so that she could look into her sad blue eyes. "I don’t think that Martha would ever leave you…no more than I could." She gave the rancher a gentle kiss.

After returning the kiss, Lex smiled. "God, I love you." She ran a shaky hand down the younger woman’s face, then chuckled. "I don’t think she was actually going to leave, either. But she did toss a bucket of muddy water on me while I was passed out on the front porch one morning."

Amanda giggled. "I’ll bet that went over well." She could almost picture the young rancher’s face as Martha dished out her own brand of ‘tough-love’. "Wish I had been there to see that."

If you would have been there, I’d wouldn’t have been in that situation." Lex murmured. Taking a deep breath, she started to get up. "Let’s go…I think we’ve got some shopping to do."

"You’re right…I need to pick up a few things for tonight." Amanda jumped to her feet, pulling the taller woman up with her.

Lex kept her hold on Amanda’s hand as they walked back towards the house. "A few things…" she mumbled, feeling the hand in hers tighten. "I thought you were going to help me get something more suitable to wear." Personally, she really didn’t care what she wore, but Lex was determined not to embarrass her lover with her choice of clothing.

"Actually…" Amanda grinned, as they walked through the house and up the stairs, "You’re all set. I have to find just the right thing to go with what you’re wearing." She pulled Lex into the guestroom. "Just let me get my purse, and we’ll go." She started to step away, then found herself pulled back into the arms of a grinning rancher.

"Aren’t you forgetting something?" Lex asked, pulling the blonde into a tight embrace.

Amanda unconsciously clasped her hands behind the taller woman’s neck, smiling up into twinkling blue eyes. "Hmm…you’re right. I need to grab the car keys, too."

"Ah…I see." Lex ran her hands lightly up the smaller woman’s ribs.

Amanda giggled, squirming slightly. "Aaaack!" She tried to back away, but found herself suddenly lifted into the air, cradled in the rancher’s arms like a small child. "Lex! Stop that!"

"Seems to me someone needs her memory refreshed." Lex grinned, slowly carry her cargo towards the bed.

Kicking her feet, Amanda unsuccessfully tried to break Lex’s hold. "You’re going to hurt yourself, you nut!" Then she squealed when she was tossed in the air towards the bed. "Aaaah!"

Amanda landed on her back in the middle of the large bed, bouncing slightly. Before she could say a word, she was covered with a long, lean body…her wrists being held together above her head with one large hand. "Lex…?"

"You know…" Hot breath on her neck caused Amanda to shiver slightly. "I could do this one of two ways…" Lex murmured, bending closer and taking a small bite from Amanda’s earlobe.

"W..w..what’s that?" The smaller woman gasped out, trying to get her breathing under control and failing miserably.

Lex allowed her free hand to slowly trace down Amanda’s trembling body. "I could just torture you until you begged…" She kissed just below the blonde’s ear.

Amanda wiggled, causing Lex to straddle her waist. "Uh-huh….and….just what sort of torture…Oh, god!…." she felt a warm hand sneak inside her shirt, lightly stroking her belly.

"Hmm…" the rancher pulled back a bit, so she could look into Amanda’s flushed face. "Just how much ‘torture’ can you stand, my little impudent friend?" Lex leaned back down and captured the younger woman’s lips for a long moment.

Amanda accepted the kiss greedily, trying to pull her hands free so she could tangle them in Lex’s hair. "Mmm…. Lex…." she mumbled still squirming, but now for an entirely different reason.

Lex pulled away from Amanda’s mouth, then began working her way down the slender throat. "You know," she slowly used her free hand to unbutton the bright green shirt, "I bet I can make you beg for mercy…" she began kissing the soft skin just above Amanda’s bra.

"Oh…ummm…." Amanda closed her eyes, breathing heavily. "I’ll never beg, you…oh, god…" she felt a warm tongue lick lightly at her chest. All thoughts of trying to play the game flew out the window.

"Won’t beg, huh?" Lex placed a series of small bites on Amanda’s now exposed stomach. "You sure about that?" She gently teased.

"No…you can’t make me…ah, Lex…" The younger woman was panting heavily now, as Lex continued to work her way across her belly. "Aaaah!" she squealed, eyes popping open as the rancher’s long fingers began tickling her ribs. "Lex…stop it…" she wiggled back and forth.

The older woman continued to tickle her unmercifully, grinning wildly. "Heh...say it, Amanda." Her lover was giggling almost uncontrollably now.

"Oh, god, Lex…Stop!" Amanda sputtered out between gales of laughter. "Please!"

Lex stopped, a triumphant grin on her face. "Told you I could make you beg." Then laughed as she was pulled down for a heated kiss, causing the world to slip away.


Chapter 30

Shopping, Lex decided, had to have been invented by some poor slob trying to occupy his wife and keep her out of his hair, because no sane person would actually agree to put themselves through such torture. Slouched in a highly uncomfortable chair, the rancher sighed again as her companion tried on yet another item of clothing. She was stationed directly outside the dressing room door, mumbling replies to the younger woman’s questions, as she had been for the past couple of hours.

"Now, before you say anything," Amanda warned, still behind the door, "I know that this is waaaay too formal for tonight, but I just couldn’t resist trying it on."

Suddenly, standing in front of Lex was a vision in aqua. The long satin gown hung by spaghetti straps, draping over Amanda’s lithe figure seductively.

"Uh…" Lex gasped, swallowing several times. She tried to get words from her brain to her mouth, but she couldn’t form any words. Wow…

Amanda turned around and glanced at herself in the mirror, not noticing the look of complete awe on her lover’s face. Looking back over her shoulder, she asked, "So…what do you think?"

Lex blinked a couple of times, then finally smiled widely. "Beautiful." She murmured, "Absolutely stunning." She stood up and walked over until she was directly behind the smaller woman. "You’ve got to get this, sweetheart." She whispered into Amanda’s ear, looking over the petite shoulder into the mirror.

"It’s too dressy for the dinner tonight – I checked with Jeannie, and she said that most of the guests will be coming in straight from the office. Mother was going to make it a formal affair, but something came up this past week and everyone is having to put in extra time." Amanda explained, enjoying the way the shimmering material brought out the color of Lex’s eyes, as she peeked over her bare shoulder.

"I don’t care." Lex put her hands on the blonde’s shoulders, turning the smaller woman to face her. "I’ll find someplace elegant to take you…but you look too beautiful in it not to have it." She squeezed Amanda’s shoulders gently. "Please? Let me buy it for you."

Amanda looked at the price tag. Six hundred dollars?! Oh no, I don’t think so, my love. Covering one of Lex’s hands with her own, she smiled. "Honey, I really appreciate the thought, but this dress is too expensive for you to waste your money on."

Picking up the tag and peering at it, Lex shrugged. "It can’t hold a candle to what you’re worth to me." Giving Amanda a thoughtful look, she smiled gently. "How about if I make it a birthday present?"

"My birthday isn’t for several months – not that I don’t appreciate the thought." Amanda was still blushing, still not used to such bold compliments. "And I really appreciate the sentiment behind it as well." She turned back towards the dressing room. "Could you come in and help me with the zipper, please?" This was asked in a voice loud enough for the circling saleswoman to hear.

"Sure." Lex followed her into the small room, latching the door shut behind them. "Turn around and I’ll…" the rancher found herself the recipient of a deep, loving kiss.

Amanda pulled back with a smile. "I love you, Lexington Marie Walters…no one else has ever made me feel as loved and special as you do." She turned so that her back was facing the tall woman. "Now unzip me and we’ll get out of here."

Lex grinned and did as she was asked. Running a fingertip down the exposed smooth back, she chuckled. "We’re finally through?"

"Well," Amanda pulled the dress off, slipping back into her comfortable khakis, "We can always look around some more, if you want." She looked down shyly as Lex kneeled, offering her help with her shoes. "I feel a little bit like Cinderella, going from that gown back into this." She plucked at the green polo short adorning her body. Stepping into the loafers, she watched as Lex tied them for her. "You’re going to spoil me, you know."

"All part of my plan to keep you happy, sweetheart." The rancher gently massaged a strong calf. "Besides, I enjoy it too." She stood up and allowed Amanda to exit the dressing room first, grabbing the dress on her way out. "You almost forgot something."

Amanda shook her head. "I’m not going to win this one, am I?" she asked, watching as her lover handed the dress to the now beaming saleswoman.

"Nope." Lex chuckled, then turned to the woman at the cash register. "She’s gonna need shoes to match, right?"

The painfully thin woman nodded enthusiastically. "Of course! I can tell you’re a woman of refined tastes, Madam." Looking at Amanda, she asked, "what size, dear?"

Amanda smiled, but stepped back a pace. "Oh, no…that’s really not necessary – I’m sure I have shoes to match somewhere." She gave Lex a pleading look.

Leaning up against the counter with her arms crossed, Lex smirked. "Size?"

"Six…" Amanda sighed, shaking her head.

Leaning over to the saleswoman, the rancher whispered, "I don’t care what it costs, make sure they’re the most comfortable shoes you can find, okay?"

Dollar signs practically lighting up her eyes, the saleswoman scurried away. "Right away, Madam."

"I’ll get you back for this." Amanda muttered, watching as the saleswoman hurried back with a shoebox under one arm.

Lex smiled. "Oh, yeah?" she handed the clerk a credit card. "You can try, but I wouldn’t waste money on a fancy dress for me…" she teased, signing for the purchases.

"Thank you, Ms. Walters, for your business. I look forward to serving you again." The saleswoman smiled, handing the hanging bag to Lex.

Amanda giggled at the look on the dark-haired woman’s face. "No dress, huh?" She bent down and picked up her other shopping bags. "That’s too bad. I could really see you in a slinky red number." The blonde teased, as they made their way out of the shop.

"Oh, no…that would clash with my boots." Lex disagreed, helping Amanda with her bags. "Here…I’ll hold these, while you unlock the trunk."

"Thanks, honey." Amanda playfully piled all the bags into the taller woman’s arms.

Lex juggled the packages, trying to keep from dropping any of them. "Good grief, sweet-heart…" she barely kept one of the packages from falling to the ground, "I don’t remember seeing you buy this much stuff." She balanced a bag on her raised thigh.

"Mandy Cauble? Is that really you?" A high-pitched female voice squealed.

Amanda spun around just in time to be wrapped up in an embrace from a tall woman with dark blonde hair. "Francine?" she asked, shocked.

The woman stepped back a pace, smiling broadly. "Oh, my god! I can’t believe it! You look absolutely fantastic!" she kept a firm grasp on the smaller woman’s hands, as she bounced up and down excitedly. Stopping to look at the car, she commented, "I’m glad to see you finally retired that old heap you were driving."

"Ah, hell…" Lex murmured, dropping a couple of packages. Squatting down to gather them back up, she didn’t notice the close scrutiny by Amanda’s friend.

Francine eyed the dark-haired woman with a speculative eye. "Mandy…I see you’ve finally got a driver, too. You knuckle under to the pressure from your mother?" She gave the smaller woman a knowing smile. "I should have known that you’d pick a nice-looking woman. But isn’t she dressed a little casual?" Although she was happily married to her high school sweetheart, the tall blonde still appreciated a nice body, and the lanky form gathering up shopping bags certainly fit that bill. Really good looking…hmm…

Amanda released Francine’s hands, going over to help Lex with the strewn-about packages. "I’m sorry, honey…let me help you get them to the car." She turned back to a slack-jawed Francine. "Would you mind opening the trunk? The keys are still in it." She grabbed a couple of bags and winked at Lex. "Francine, I’d like you to meet Lex Walters…the love of my life." She dumped her packages into the trunk, unloading the rancher’s arms as well. "Lex… this is Francine Cummings… a really good friend of mine since high school."

Lex held out a hand, smiling broadly. "It’s nice to meet you, Francine." She almost blushed at the other woman’s close perusal of her.

"My pleasure, Lex…" Francine gave her a slow once over, then winked at Amanda. "Honey, if I could find someone like this, I’d dump my husband!" she saw both women turn a deep shade of red. "So, I take it you’re only visiting? Something tells me Lex isn’t from around here."

The small blonde laughed. "Nope…we’re leaving tomorrow…what gave her away?" she stood next to the still blushing rancher, patting her on the arm.

Francine chuckled. "Well, she has the most darling accent…" she laughed out loud. "And yours seems to have picked up quite a bit, as well."

"Yeah, well. I…have…spent the last seven months in Texas." Amanda acknowledged, as she turned back towards her old friend.

"Good lord! What happened to you?" Francine suddenly noticed the bruise on Amanda’s jaw. "And what does the other guy look like?" she teased.

Amanda ruefully stroked the side of her face, careful of the bruise. "I got mugged at the beach yesterday. But Lex caught him, so everything’s okay now."

Francine stepped between the two women, linking an arm with each of them. "C’mon… let’s go have a cup of coffee and you can tell me all about it." She led them down the sidewalk, babbling the entire time.

"Your friend was really nice…" Lex observed quite some time later, totally relaxed as she lounged on the bed in the guestroom. "Chatty as hell, but nice."

Amanda stepped out of the bathroom, clad in only a black slip and matching lace bra. "Yeah, I know…she’s one of the few friends I had in high school that didn’t dump me when they found out I was gay." She sighed and sat down next to the rancher.

Lex put an arm around the younger woman and pulled her close. "I’m so sorry, love…" she kissed the blonde head. "I suppose in that respect, I was a lot luckier than you."

"Really? Why?" Amanda pulled back for a moment, looking into Lex’s eyes.

"I didn’t have to worry about what anyone thought." Lex gave her lover a small smile. "I pretty much stuck to myself, and didn’t have anyone I really considered a friend." She wiped a stray tear from underneath Amanda’s sparkling green eyes. "Except for Martha, and the guys at the ranch – and none of them ever judged or ridiculed me." Lex pulled the blonde woman into her lap. "I’m glad that you had Francine, and even Frank." She teased gently.

Amanda wrapped her arms around Lex and sighed. "I had a couple of friends who stuck beside me…although there were quite a few more who acted as if I had the plague. And of course I also had Gramma and Grandpa Jake – they were the absolute best."

"I take it your folks were in the not-so-happy-to-hear-it crowd, huh?" Lex asked, feeling warm breath on her chest.

"I guess you could say that…they still think it’s a phase I’m going through." Amanda gave a rueful chuckle. "Mother thinks that I’m gay because Jeannie married Frank, and I’m trying to get back at all of them."

Lex laughed out loud at that revelation. "You poor thing…Pining away for your sister’s husband." She flinched as she received a sharp poke from a sharp finger. "Ouch! Jeannie was right!"

Amanda sat back a little. "Huh? My sister was right about what?"

"You are a bully!" Lex teased, capturing Amanda’s swinging hands in self-defense. "Heh." She fell back onto the bed, allowing the younger woman to straddle her hips.

"And you are lucky that it’s almost time for us to go downstairs for the dinner…" Amanda growled, leaning down to tease Lex with a near kiss. "Otherwise, I’d show you just how much of a bully I can be." She pulled back just as the dark-haired woman leaned up to catch her lips. "Teach you to tease me…" She leaned back down and dropped a quick kiss, then pulled away quickly with a smile.

Lex lay back on the bed and closed her eyes. "Okay…you win…" she released a heavy sigh, and let go of the small hands.

The younger woman shook her head. "I win? You’ve got to be kidding! You never give up without a…aaaaaah!" Amanda found herself suddenly on her back, with a grinning rancher leaning over her body. "You cheated." She muttered.

"Me? Cheat?" Lex smiled down at her lover. "I can’t help it if you let your guard down like that – you shouldn’t be so trusting." She leaned down and gave Amanda a loving kiss. "Let’s get dressed for this shindig, before your mother busts in here looking for you."

Amanda allowed Lex to help her off of the bed, then headed for the closet. "I’ll just get your clothes together, then." She stepped back out, carrying several items on hangers. "Here you go…time to get ready."

Lex looked at the clothing, and frowned. "Are you sure about this, sweetheart? I really don’t want to upset your parents any more than they already are."

"I’m perfectly sure…it will go very well with what I’m wearing – I want you to be comfortable, you know." Amanda handed her the hangers, and smiled. "Trust me. You’ll look great." She went over to the shopping bags that were sitting in the corner. "Let me slip this stuff on, and you’ll see what I mean." She carried two of the bags into the bathroom and closed the door.

Sighing, Lex took the clothing off of the hangers and began to get dressed. I hope she knows what she’s doing…


Chapter 31

Milling around through the large group of people, Jeannie searched for her husband, murmuring her apologies to yet another nosy business associate of her father’s. "Yes, Amanda is here, Mr. Cross…she should be arriving any moment now." She quickly stepped away from the large, sweating man, who had always seemed quite enamoured with her younger sister. Like she’d ever give your creepy butt a second look, she thought, flinching away from his hand as it came perilously close to her rear end.

"There you are, sweetheart." A warm voice whispered in her ear, as a hand lightly patted her bottom.

Spinning quickly, Jeannie almost slapped her husband. "Frank!" she growled, pushing him in the chest, "Where on earth have you been?" Forgetting her anger immediately, she eyed her husband’s sturdy form appreciatively. The black denim hugged his hips and legs well, and the gray tab collar shirt fit his broad shoulders like a glove. "You look great, honey." She smiled at him. Everyday I love him more and more…I think it was love at first sight, for me.


Jeannie had teased her little sister unmercifully about her latest ‘friend’. She had yet to meet the mysterious Frank Rivers, a transfer student who was in the same grade as she, but she had heard from her friends that he was tall, broad shouldered, and extremely handsome.

She was sitting in the study one evening pouring over chemistry books, trying to prepare herself for a test the next morning when she heard her little sister’s voice in the foyer.

"Frank, c’mon…just because I’m a freshman, it doesn’t mean I don’t know anything about history. I love the time period during World War II, and it’s always been a favorite of mine. Let me help you write your paper…and you can help me with my biology paper – deal?"

A deep chuckle answered her. "Mandy, I swear…you should become a lawyer – I’ll never be able to get the upper hand in an argument with you." He allowed the blonde girl to lead him through the foyer and into another room. "You win…just don’t tell anyone, okay? I’d hate to have to expl…" he stopped there, as they entered a large room, with bookcases lining the walls. But the room isn’t what caught his attention…the young woman propped in one corner of a large chair near the fireplace almost took his breath away.

Amanda looked up at her friend, startled by his sudden silence. "Frank? Hey…what’s…" she then noticed where his eyes were. Oh…well, isn’t this interesting? She thought to herself with a grin.

Jeannie, for her part, was caught off guard just as much as the sturdy looking young man on the other side of the room. My god…THAT’S Mandy’s new friend? She didn’t tell me he looked like a Greek god…she felt her mouth go dry, and her heart start to pound. "Hel…hello, Mandy…I thought I heard you come in," she managed to utter. "Who’s your friend?"

After Amanda made the introductions, she silently left the room, neither of them noticing her absence. It didn’t take them long to realize that they had a lot in common, in particular one cute little blonde, who never let them live it down that she had brought them together.


And for that, Jeannie mused, I will be eternally grateful, as she caught the adoring look her handsome husband bestowed upon her.

"Thanks, baby." The big man leaned over and gave his wife a gentle kiss on the lips. "You look absolutely gorgeous yourself." Jeannie was wearing a knee-length dark green skirt complimented by a pale yellow silk top, which had already brought her mother’s wrath down upon her.

"What in heaven’s name are you wearing? This is a dinner, not a sock-hop. I demand that you go and change immediately!" Elizabeth had stopped her oldest daughter at the doorway to the sitting room, her voice shaking with anger. She herself was wearing a dark lavender evening gown, which to Jeannie’s eyes was far too formal for a simple dinner party.

"Sorry, Mother…this is all I have. And it still looks nicer than some of the wrinkled business suits I’ve seen tonight." Jeannie stood firm, knowing that her mother would get over her little fit soon enough. "Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to mingle." She slipped by the older woman and began greeting her father’s business associates.

"I’m glad someone thinks so…Mother wasn’t quite so impressed." Jeannie gave her husband a wry smile.

"Yeah…I saw the look your mother gave you." Frank pulled her to him, wrapping his arm around Jeannie’s waist. "Don’t let her get to you, sweetheart. You look fantastic." Seeing a movement by the door, Frank turned his head. "Whoa." He exclaimed quietly, drawing his wife’s attention in the same direction.

Craning her head over the crowd, she asked, "What…?" Taking a deep breath, Jeannie smiled. "Oh, wow…"

Amanda had stepped into the room, her partner following close behind. She was wearing a black denim skirt that fell to just below her knees, and a slightly oversized dark green silk shirt, which brought out the color of her eyes. The young blonde reached behind her body and grabbed her lover’s arm, pulling Lex with her into the room. Jeannie’s jaw almost hit the floor when she studied the rancher – the dark-haired woman was wearing pressed black denim jeans, shiny black boots, and a royal blue satin shirt that made her sapphire eyes stand out like twin points of light.

Frank gave out a low whistle. "They make a good looking couple, don’t they?" he whispered into his wife’s ear. He caught Amanda’s eye and waved them over.

The two women made their way across the crowded room. "Hey, guys." Amanda greeted, smiling warmly at them. "You both look great!" she gave them a wink.

"Damn, Mandy…you didn’t tell us that you two would be looking so good." Frank teased, watching as a blush covered Lex’s face. With her boots on, the rancher was almost as tall as he was. I do believe little Amanda picked a winner…she’s certainly something else, he marveled to himself. "Have you seen…"

"It’s about time you made it downstairs – people have been asking about you for the past twenty minutes." Elizabeth Cauble snapped, stepping between her youngest daughter and Frank. Looking at Amanda’s clothes, she sniffed, "Are you and your sister trying to ruin this family’s reputation? How much is it to ask that you dress properly for a social function?" she was about to continue when a very distinguished older gentleman stepped forward into their little group.

"Elizabeth…don’t tell me these two lovely young women are your daughters?" he took Amanda’s hands into his and brought one to his lips. "Amanda Cauble…I swear you look more and more like your lovely grandmother Anna Leigh every time I see you." He gave her a wink over her knuckles.

Amanda smiled broadly, removing her hands from his and then stepping into his arms for a hug. "Uncle John…it’s so good to see you again." She pulled back and grabbed the rancher’s arm. "I want you to meet my very close friend, Lexington Walters…Lex, this is John Grayson, an old friend of my grandparents."

The tall, gray-haired man held out his hand, which Lex took and gave a hearty handshake. "It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir." She smiled, enjoying the look of disgust from Elizabeth. Gee, sorry about that, Mom…seems like everyone else here likes the way that Amanda looks.

"So you’re the young lady who saved Amanda’s life." He smiled back, and noticed the look of pure adoration coming from the young blonde. "I spoke to Jacob just last week on the phone, and he told me all about Mandy’s latest adventures."

Lex felt a blush rise up her neck. Damn…word spreads around these people quicker than a brushfire. "Just happened to be in the right place at the right time." She said, embarrassed by the attention.

The older man laughed. "And modest, too. Well, whatever you want to call it, you have our deepest appreciation, Ms. Walters."

"Please…call me Lex, Mr. Grayson." The rancher offered, seeing Amanda’s face light up in response.

"Only if you’ll call me John, young lady." He gave her a knowing grin. "Perhaps I’ll see you at Anna Leigh’s big Pre-Christmas get-together this year, Lex."

Lex glanced over at Amanda, who was nodding, a huge smile on her face. "Umm…you just might, sir."

"Excellent!" he boomed, patting her on the shoulder. Looking to Amanda he said, "Mandy, I’m sure I’ll see you later." He accepted another hug from the young woman, then took a gentle grip on Jeannie’s arm. "C’mon, sweetheart…tell me what you’ve been up to lately." He walked off with her and Frank in tow.

Elizabeth glared at the retreating man’s back, then stepped up into Lex’s face. "Don’t think that you can fool everyone here," she whispered, "My husband will find out what you’re after, sooner or later." She spun around and made her way into the group of people, greeting them with insincere words.

"What did she say to you, honey?" Amanda asked, seeing the look of resigned acceptance cross her lover’s face.

Lex looked down at Amanda and gave her a small smile. "Nothing important…" she looked towards the other end of the room. "Umm…looks like they’re moving everyone out." She tried desperately to change the subject.

"Good…that will give us a minute to ourselves." Amanda waited until the room had cleared, then led Lex over to the loveseat. "Sit down with me for a moment, okay?"

"Are you sure? I’d hate to make your mother more angry at you right now." Lex was concerned about the matriarch’s attitude – she could handle Elizabeth’s wrath as long as it was directed at her, but she didn’t want to subject her partner to any more of the woman’s hateful outbursts.

Amanda chuckled. "It’s going to take her at least ten minutes to get everyone seated like she wants – she’ll never miss us." Sobering, she reached out a hand and pulled the older woman to sit down beside her. "Lex…please don’t shut me out. Anything that has to do with you is important to me." Amanda pulled their linked hands to her chest, leaning down to kiss the rancher’s knuckles. "I know that my mother said something completely out of line to you…please tell me." She gave Lex a determined look. "Or I’ll just ask her myself."

"No!" Lex shook her head adamantly. "I don’t want you to get into another argument with her just because of me." She looked at their hands, which were now in the younger woman’s lap. "She just said…that your father will keep trying to find out what I want with you." Lex finished quietly. "They seem to think I’m after your money."

"Dammit!" Amanda jumped up, only being held back by the strong grip Lex still had on her hand. "I’m going in there right now and give them both a piece of my mind!"

Lex pulled her back down. "Sweetheart…as much as I appreciate you defending my honor, let me handle them, okay?" Forestalling another outburst from Amanda, Lex continued, "And even though I don’t want to sink to their level, I’ve got an idea on how to answer their questions." She smiled warmly. "So don’t worry, love…I’ll take care of everything."

Amanda looked into Lex’s eyes, then leaned forward until their foreheads were touching, and gave the rancher a tender kiss. "Okay, I’ll let you handle it. But don’t expect me to stand by and watch them continue to treat you badly." She gave Lex another kiss. "Because I can’t do that."

"Do you think you two can control yourselves long enough to join us for dinner?" Michael Cauble’s disgusted voice carried across the sitting room.

Lex stood, then calmly led Amanda across the room, not releasing the younger woman’s hand. Stopping at the doorway to look down on the angry, smaller man, she gave him a cold smile. "Thank you for coming to get us, Michael." She stressed his name, daring him to say something. "I know that you usually have one of the servants do that…but I really appreciate the personal touch." Lex patted him on the shoulder with her free hand, as she and Amanda stepped past him and started towards the dining room.

"What was that all about?" Amanda whispered, as she and Lex walked down the quiet hallway.

"Just the first part of my plan, sweetheart." Lex leaned over as they were walking and kissed the blonde head. No more Ms. Nice…time to play some hardball, she grinned to herself. And I’m gonna enjoy every damn minute of it, too.

Before stepping into the dining room, Lex tried to release Amanda’s hand, but the younger woman held on stubbornly. With a mental shrug, Lex decided to stir things up a little. Reaching their designated places, she gave Amanda a quick grin and pulled out the smaller woman’s chair for her.

Blushing slightly, the blonde chuckled. "Thanks." Out of the corner of her eye, Amanda saw her mother narrow her eyes. Uh-oh…I don’t know what Lex is up to, but I think it’s working.

Lex traded grins with Frank, who was seated directly across from her. Looking around the table, she could tell that the only person who ‘dressed’ for the dinner was Elizabeth – most of the guests were wearing business suits. She gave the smirking Jeannie a wink and sat down beside her partner.

"Since we are all finally seated," Michael Cauble was standing at the head of the table, addressing the group, "I would like to thank all of you for attending this evening…"

As his voice droned on, the man sitting next to Lex chuckled. "He threatened us with the loss of our jobs if we didn’t show up for this little function." He whispered to her. "Jeremy down there," he nodded towards a thin, nervous looking young man who kept checking his watch, "well, his wife went into the hospital late this afternoon. She’s in labor with their first child." Shaking his head in disgust, he then offered his hand to the rancher. "My name’s Mark Garrett – I handle all of the accounts in the Southwest."

"Lexington Walters, but you can call me Lex. I’m a friend of Amanda’s." The rancher offered, giving the dark haired man’s hand a firm shake. "You say you’re in charge of the Southwest? Where are you based?" she asked, curious. Hmm…I didn’t know that – I thought he only had the one office here in Los Angeles…interesting.

"Santa Fe, New Mexico – for the moment, at least. But I’ve been trying to talk Mr. Cauble into moving the office to Dallas…the weather’s a little milder there." Mark lowered his voice. "You’d think that since he has family in Texas, that he’d be thrilled to have an office nearby."

Lex nodded. "Have you worked for Mr. Cauble very long?" It was nice to have a friendly face at the dinner table tonight, she mused. Glancing back at her partner, Lex could see that Amanda was engrossed in a conversation her sister.

Mark nodded. "About six years. I’m hoping to open my own office someday." He gave the rancher a grim look. "I’ve been offered a job here in Los Angeles, but if I’m going to relocate, it will have to be someplace without smog or crime."

"I don’t blame you a bit, Mark. I can’t wait to get back home, myself." Lex agreed, pushing her food around on her plate. "What is this stuff, anyway? Looks like it isn’t quite dead, yet."

"Lex! Quit playing with your food." Amanda leaned over and whispered, as she noticed that the older woman had ‘fenced off’ the main course with her vegetables.

Sighing, Lex put her fork down. "I just didn’t want it to get away, that’s all." She muttered.

Amanda shook her head and traded looks with Jeannie. "At least try to eat some of it, honey." She murmured. "We’ll raid the refrigerator later, I promise." Looking around the table, she was somewhat relieved to see that Lex wasn’t the only one not eating the dinner. I hate when Mother decides to experiment with the menu…last time I broke out in hives. Yuck!

"Lex…" Mark studied the dark-haired woman carefully, "Are you in the real estate business too?"

She almost choked on her water. "Uh…no. What made you think that I was, Mark?"

"Well, you said you were a friend of Amanda’s…and you seem too ‘normal’ to have come from the same social circles that Mrs. Cauble usually frequents." Mark gave her a friendly smile. "I just assumed that you had met her through the real estate office, that’s all."

Lex returned his smile with a somewhat mischievous one of her own. "As a matter of fact, we did sorta meet that way. She came out to try and put my ranch on the market." Pausing to let that sink in, she then continued, "Shame that I didn’t know I was supposed to be selling it at the time." She winked at him.

Choking on his wine, Mark gasped for a moment before he could ask, "Tenacious, isn’t she?"

"Yeah, she is. But this wasn’t actually her idea – her manager sent her on a wild goose chase."

"Really?" Mark looked intrigued. "So…you’re a rancher? No offense, Lex…but I was under the impression that most ranches today are run by corporations – because there’s not enough money in it for the average person to make any kind of profit from it." The dark-haired woman gave him an icy glare. Oh, hell…I definitely put my foot in my mouth this time, "No, wait!" he held up a hand to placate her rising temper. "I honestly didn’t mean anything by it…I was just curious." Seeing her calm down, he added, "Sorry about that, Lex…my mouth tends to overrun my mind, most of the time."

"No…my fault – I’m a little…sensitive…on that subject right now." Feeling a gentle touch on her leg, Lex turned back to face Amanda.

"What’s up?" the younger woman asked, concerned.

"Nothing…Mark and I were just discussing the ranching business." She reached under the table and covered Amanda’s hand with her own. "You doing okay?" Glancing around, the rancher noticed that most of the people had finished eating, or at least finished pushing the food around on their plates. "Is this all there is to their damn dinner? You had to fly all the way across the country for half-cooked," she looked down at her plate, "whatever the hell this is supposed to be, and a few insults?"

Amanda gave her a small grin. "I think that it was more of an excuse to get me home than anything else…I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t already planned to come and pack my stuff up – especially with the way they’ve been treating you." She squeezed the hand that she held. "I’m really sorry about all of that."

"Don’t worry about it…I’m just glad you didn’t have to face them alone." Lex felt the younger woman lean up against her. She enjoyed the contact, feeling quite out of sorts since this entire evening began. I really don’t know how I survived all these years alone without her, she thought to herself.


All heads turned towards the front of the table where Michael Cauble was standing, tapping his wineglass with a knife to get everyone’s attention. "Ladies and gentlemen, once again I would like to thank all of you for attending our dinner this evening, and for making this another very successful quarter." He held up his glass of wine. "I’d like to propose a toast to each and every one of you for a job well done." Waiting until everyone raised their glasses, he took a sip, then lifted the wine into the air once again. "And I would also like to express my gratitude to my wonderful family, because without their love and support I would not be the man that I am today." He gave Elizabeth an insincere smile. "To my beautiful wife, and my two lovely daughters," he nodded to Jeannie and Amanda, "who are the greatest blessings a man can have."

Lex covered her mouth with her napkin, stifling a chuckle. Damn…he’s spreading more fertilizer than we have in the entire south pasture, she thought ruefully. Flinching at the elbow in her ribs, she coughed. "Ahem…uh…yes?" Giving Amanda an innocent look.

"Behave." Green eyes flashed dangerously.

Finishing his little speech, Michael stepped away from the table. "If you will all excuse me, I have some unfinished business to attend to. Feel free to have coffee or brandy in the sitting room." Once he left the room, everyone at the table seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. Conversations began in earnest, as many of the guests prepared to leave for the evening.

"I’ll see you in a bit, okay? I want to have a word or two with your father." Lex whispered into Amanda’s ear, then kissed it discreetly. She stood up, and placed a hand on the younger woman’s shoulder. "It shouldn’t take but a couple of minutes… why don’t you enjoy the company for a while?"

"Okay, but if you’re not out of there in ten minutes, I’m coming in after you." Amanda smiled up at the rancher. "Remember, we’ve got to leave pretty early in the morning – so you’ve got to get into bed at a decent hour."

Lex grinned, causing the blonde to blush. "Uh-huh…I certainly plan to." She winked. "See you in a little bit, okay?" She left the room before Amanda could say anything else.


Chapter 32

Michael sat at his desk, studying over the latest fax from his private investigator. Bank statements…now we’re getting somewhere, he smiled to himself, thinking that he had finally got his hands on the proof he had been waiting for. But before he could begin to look at the numbers, a strong knock came at the door.

Damn… "Who is it?" he snarled, angry at the interruption. Stupid servants…when will they learn, ‘not to be disturbed’ means to leave me the hell alone!

The door opened, and a dark head poked in, as Lex walked into the room. "Ah…there you are. I think we have some things that need to be cleared up." She strode over to one of the chairs in front of his desk and sat down.

"Make yourself comfortable, Walters…" he snapped sarcastically, attempting to casually hide the papers he had been trying to study. "What is it that you want? I’m a very busy man, you know."

Lex smirked, then stretched long legs out in front of her, crossing her booted feet at the ankles. "I think that it’s about time we come to an understanding, Michael." She enjoyed the way he flushed with anger.

"Really? And just how to you propose that we do that? Are you planning on leaving my daughter alone?" Michael spat, tearing off his glasses and tossing them onto the desk. He felt a sudden surge of fear as the dark-haired woman jumped suddenly to her feet, then leaned forward with her hands braced on the desk.

"Let’s quit playing stupid little games, Mike…" she said in a low tone, "Just what in the hell is your problem with me?" Lex continued to lean forward until she was just inches away from Michael’s face. "Is it because I’m a woman? Or is it the fact that I actually work for a living? What is it about me that bothers you so damn much?"

Michael stood up and stepped around the desk, trying to distance himself from the imposing figure. "Because you’re a woman? No…" he went over and poured himself a drink, gulping the amber liquid down with a single swallow. Turning to face her, he grimaced. "Unlike Elizabeth, I have resigned myself to the fact that my youngest daughter is unnatural… there’s not much I can do about that. But," he pointed the empty glass in the rancher’s direction, "I can try to make her see reason when it comes to dirt-poor farmers trying to sink their claws into her bank account!" He filled the glass again, then drained it quickly.

Lex leaned back against the desk, arms crossed. "Dirt-poor farmer?" she laughed. "Number one – I’m a rancher…Second – I have no designs on Amanda’s money." She stood up straight and walked over to Michael, standing only a step away from the shorter man. "Third – I have more than enough money of my own, that I certainly have no need for yours." She got right into his face and spoke. "Last, but not least, I love her with everything that I am…nothing can change that." Hands grasped in her shirt took Lex by surprise, as she felt Michael pull her closer.


Amanda stood at the doorway, trying to listen to the sounds within. Not hearing anything, she opened the door just in time to see her father grab Lex by the shirt and slam her into the bar. Before she could say anything, Michael had punched her lover in the face, causing her lower lip to bleed. "Stop it!" she shouted, scrambling across the room, trying to pull her livid father off of Lex. "Daddy! Let her go, now!" she tugged at his sleeve.

Michael Cauble shook his head to clear it, and then pushed the tall woman backwards again, happy to see that he was at least able to do some damage to her before his daughter interfered. "Get out of my house… you’re not welcome here." He muttered, secretly hoping that the tall woman would try and retaliate. Then maybe Amanda would see her as I do…damned arrogant piece of trash.

"Gladly." Lex pushed by him, wiping her bloody mouth and chin with the back of her hand. She started for the door, trying to control her anger. Narrow-minded bastard… if he wasn’t Amanda’s father, I would… her thoughts ended there as she felt a small hand touch her arm.

Amanda was able to stop her before she got to the door. "Oh, honey…" she took a strong grip on the rancher’s arm and led her from the office, not bothering to acknowledge her still seething father’s presence. "C’mon…let’s go upstairs and get you cleaned up, okay?" she slowly led the quiet woman up the stairs.

Lex allowed her lover to lead her to the guestroom, not even realizing it when she was pushed down onto the bed. That son of a bitch…he’s more worried about his damn money than he is his own daughter! I should have throttled him when I had the chance…No…he is her father…I can’t do that to her. Lex’s mind continued to whirl as the younger woman stepped into the bathroom, returning with a damp washcloth and placing it onto her still bleeding mouth. "Amanda?" she finally focused on the concerned green eyes in front of her.

"Yes…I’m here, love." Amanda continued to dab at the oozing cut, wincing at the swelling and light bruising that was already appearing. "Are you okay?"

The rancher took stock of her body. "Umm… yeah, I think so." She looked into the worried face standing above her. "Yeah…I’m okay. How about you?" she was still shaking from the effort it took not to strangle the older man that was still in the office. Damn…I gotta get this under control.

Amanda sat down on the bed, pulling Lex close to her. "I’m fine…why did my father attack you like that?" She leaned back against the headboard of the bed, waiting until the older woman got comfortable before continuing. "I’ve never seen him so angry…he’s never been the violent type before." Amanda had pulled Lex into her arms, allowing the dark head to rest on her chest, as she held the washcloth to her lover’s mouth with one hand.

Lex sighed, allowing the anger to slowly seep away, leaving behind a sad weariness. "I guess I pushed him a little too far…I just wanted to find out why he hated seeing us together." She relaxed as she felt a gentle stroking of her hair. It’s taking every ounce of control I have not to go back in there and toss him on his ass, after that arrogant bastard called his own daughter ‘unnatural’, she fumed silently.

"What did he say?" Amanda whispered gently, continuing her stroking as she felt the body that was lying partially on her own tense up again. "It’s okay, love…nothing he said could change what I feel for you." She leaned over and kissed the top of the dark head. "Or what you mean to me."

Closing her eyes, Lex allowed herself to absorb the love emanating from the younger woman, as she gently moved the washcloth away from her face. "He…is…bound and determined that I’m after your money…guess the only way I can change his mind about that is to send him my bank statements, or something." She took a deep breath, then released it slowly. "I’m sorry about this, sweetheart…I just wish you didn’t have to be a witness to that little scene."

"Honey, look at me, please." Amanda forced Lex’s face upward, until their eyes met. "What would you have done if I hadn’t pulled my father away?" She searched the blue eyes, trying to find a clue as to what the older woman was thinking. "Would you have fought back?"

Lex shook her head. "I don’t know." She saw the quiet look of love and determination in the face above her, and then looked back down. "God knows I wanted to…I wanted to toss him across the room for what he said about you, and for the way they’ve treated you." Felt the hand on her head stop moving, then tugged her close.

Amanda felt tears begin to trail down her face as she pulled the rancher closer to her, realizing just how much Lex had figured out about her home life. They say it’s the quiet ones you have to worry about the most, because they usually notice all the little things, she thought to herself. "It doesn’t matter, anymore." She murmured, feeling her defenses finally shatter completely. "I don’t care what they say, or do…as long as we’re together, it just doesn’t matter." She began to cry in earnest, then felt herself being lifted and cradled in strong arms.


Sitting back at his desk after his daughter and ‘that woman’ had left, Michael shook his head. I’ve lost…that damn bitch has my daughter, and I’ll never make the girl see reason about her. He angrily shuffled through the papers on his desk. Guess there’s no real sense in keeping these, now…he thought, about to throw them away. "Ah, what the hell…I paid good money to see this, might as well look at it." Letting his eyes scan the pages, he felt the color drain from his face. "No…it’s not possible." He mumbled, trying to catch his breath.

"Michael…you must simply come out of this office and tell our guests goodnight." Elizabeth stood at the door, with a pained look on her face. "They’ve finished up all the good brandy and scotch, and are getting quite tipsy." She saw the expression on his face and stepped further into the room. "What is it?"

The pale businessman looked up at his wife. "We were wrong, Elizabeth." He looked like he was in shock.

"Wrong? What in heaven’s name are you babbling about?" She walked over to the desk and stood next to him, placing her hand on his shoulder. "Quit sounding like an idiot and tell me." She accepted the papers he handed her, a puzzled look on her face.

"Read that…" Michael rubbed his eyes with one hand. Dear god…she could ruin me…

Elizabeth looked over the papers as reality slammed her hard. "You mean to tell me that uncouth farmer actually owns major stock in one of your subsidiaries? How is this possible?" She felt her legs weaken, as her husband stood and guided her to the loveseat nearby.

"From what I’ve read, it seems that her mother was a very wealthy woman before she married…when she died, her very sizable inheritance was divided between her three children. After the youngest child died, his portion was split up between the two remaining offspring. It appears that Walters," he still choked on the name, "turned the majority of her money over to an investment broker, and he made several wise plays on the stock market. Just happens that one of the investments is in my business." Michael shook his head. "If she finds out about this and pulls her support, I could go under."

"Good lord above…I wouldn’t be able to show my face again! Imagine the humiliation!" Elizabeth fretted, then glared at her husband. "What are you going to do about it?" She glanced down and noticed the bruise and scrape on his knuckle. "What happened to your hand?" Seeing the look on his face, she paled. "Oh, no…you didn’t…"

Michael stood up, then paced over to the bar and poured two glasses of scotch. Silently he walked back to the loveseat and sat down, handing his wife a glass. "I’m afraid I did…the damn woman made me so angry, I didn’t even think about it." He tipped the glass up and drained it. "But I have to admit it felt really good, punching that smirk off her face."

Elizabeth took a sip of her drink, then let out a heavy breath. "Damage control…that’s what we need now." She glared at her husband again. "You should apologize immediately!" I can’t believe this is happening…

"No…that would probably make her realize that something’s up. We need to be subtle about all of this…" he chewed his lip in concentration. "I found out from the upstairs maid that they are planning on leaving first thing in the morning – we’ll just let them go, and hope to god that she doesn’t realize the power she holds." He nodded to himself. "If worse comes to worse, we’ll get Amanda to keep her in line – for some reason, she seems to listen to our daughter."

"Very well…but you’d better be ready to beg for forgiveness from this woman if she finds out." She gave him a small smile. "Because money isn’t the only thing that you would lose if she destroys you, dear." Elizabeth patted her husband on the cheek, then stood and left the room, feeling his eyes on her as she closed the door.


Chapter 33

Bright, early morning sunlight beamed down on the tall figure placing bags in the trunk of the red convertible. Lex gave the last bag a gentle shove, wondering how in the hell they were able to get them in there to begin with. I thought she sent most of her stuff back with the movers – we didn’t have this much stuff before, did we?

"Everything about loaded up?" small, strong arms circled her waist from behind. "Frank and Jeannie should be out to say goodbye in a few minutes." Amanda pulled the tall woman close, burying her face into the broad back.

Lex stood up straight, then turned slowly. "Yep…that was the last of it." She wrapped her arms around the blonde and grinned. "Although we may have to pay freight charges for all the luggage." Leaning down, she placed a tender kiss on Amanda’s mouth. Her own mouth was quite sore, and the two of them sported similar bruises on their faces. We are definitely a matched set, Lex thought to herself as she ran a gentle fingertip along the smaller woman’s jaw. "Did you run a final check for any missing underwear?" she teased, seeing her lover blush.

"How was I supposed to know that you threw them behind the chair? I swear Sophia giggled for hours after finding them." Amanda grouched, remembering the note from Beverly that stated that she needed to keep better track of her ‘unmentionables’, so as not to distract the rest of the household staff. Looking up, she saw Lex trying not to smile. "Stop that." She commanded. "You’re going to make your lip start bleeding again." She raised a small hand and ran her thumb lightly across the bruised lip. "Maybe you need a stitch or two."

Kissing the thumb offered to her, Lex shook her head. "Nah…it’ll be okay." She was about to prove her point when a voice echoed across the cool, still morning.

"You two never seem to get enough, do you?" Jeannie teased, walking through the door with Frank. "Guess it’ll just be us seeing you off…Mother is upstairs with a migraine, and Father is on an overseas call."

Amanda stepped away from Lex, and embraced her older sister. "It’s probably for the best, anyway. Thanks for everything, Jeannie…I really appreciate how you’ve accepted Lex." She felt a twinge of sadness at leaving.

The auburn-haired woman held her sister tightly. "I’m just glad you finally found the person you’ve been looking for, Mandy…" realizing that this was probably the last time she’d see her little sister for quite a while, she murmured, "I know you probably won’t be coming back to this house any time soon," If ever, her mind supplied, "but Frank and I have plenty of room, if you two would like to come and visit."

"Thanks, Jeannie…" Amanda pulled back a bit and glanced back over her shoulder. Seeing the rancher give a nod, she smiled. "Next vacation you two get, why don’t you come out to the ranch with us." She asked, feeling a large kernel of pride at that statement. Our ranch… I think I really like the sound of that.

Lex stepped up and grinned. "Yeah…we’ve got quite a bit of room ourselves…" looking over the two sister’s heads, she winked at Frank. "And I won’t even make you muck out any stalls."

The big man stepped forward and pulled Amanda into a fierce embrace. "Take care, Mandy…we’ll try to stop by and see you two real soon, okay?"

Amanda felt her heart surge with love for her brother-in-law and dear friend. "That would be great."

"What are your plans around Christmas?" Lex asked, shaking hands with Frank. Seeing the happy look on Amanda’s face, she mentally patted herself on the back. Good one, Lexington. You just might figure all of this out yet.

Frank looked over at his wife, who shrugged. "Well, I was planning on hiding…" he winked at the rancher. "Why do you ask?"

Lex put her arm around the tall man, and escorted him over to the two smiling sisters. "Well, since it’s gonna be Amanda’s first Christmas out at the ranch, I thought maybe you two would like to join us…I’m hoping to have a houseful."

Amanda looked over at her partner with adoring eyes. "A houseful, huh?" She stepped away from Jeannie and nearly flew into the older woman’s arms. "Anyone I know?"

"Well – you, me…Martha and Charlie…your grandparents…the Wades…" Lex glanced over at the other couple. "And of course Frank and Jeannie, if they’re willing."

Jeannie laughed, then pulled her sister away from Lex. "I don’t know about Frank, but I’d love to be there!" She wrapped her arms around the dark-haired woman and laughed. Feeling the strong arms pull her close, she whispered into the nearest ear, "Thank you, Lex. I’ve never seen my sister so happy." She pulled back a bit, then kissed the blushing woman on the cheek. "Welcome to the family, Slim."

Lex sighed, then a smirk crossed her face. Ah, what the hell. Seeing Amanda grin too, she kissed Jeannie full on the mouth. "Thanks, sis." She almost laughed out loud at the deep flush covering the woman’s face.

Frank laughed so hard, he had to hold on to Amanda to keep from falling down. "Damn, Lex…you trying to kill me?" he saw his wife begin to stalk towards him, and raised his hands ineffectually against her attack. "Honey, wait!" he chuckled, as Jeannie slapped at him.

"Sorry, Frank…but any woman who pinches my butt gets a kiss." Lex teased, allowing Amanda to snuggle close. She pulled the younger woman towards the car. "I hate to kiss and run," she winked at Jeannie, "But our plane leaves in about an hour and a half…"she allowed her lover to get into the car, still giggling. "We’ll make up an extra spot in the barn at Christmas for y’all, okay?" Lex ducked as Amanda’s sister tossed her shoe at her, laughing.


Lex took a panicked breath as she boarded the plane. C’mon, Lexington, you can do this… it’s no different than the last time, she berated herself, as she felt a cold chill run down her spine. She allowed Amanda to take the seat by the window, so that she could stretch her long legs out in the aisle of the plane. Sitting down, she felt a small hand grasp hers and hold on tightly.

"You doing alright, love?" Amanda looked up into the unusually pale face, her heart aching for the upset she could feel from her partner.

"No problem." Lex gave her lover a tiny smile, then took a deep breath as the flight attendant closed the door on the plane. Breathe, dammit… she listened as the air conditioner pumped oxygen into the plane. See? You’re not gonna suffocate, so just get over it, idiot! The rancher mentally chastised.

Amanda pulled a strong hand towards her, until she was able to cradle it against her chest. Kissing the knuckles, she whispered, "It’s okay, Lex." She forced the older woman to look at her. "Look at me, honey." She waited until the rancher complied. "Listen to my voice, okay? It’s just you and me…" Amanda felt the plane begin to taxi down the runway, but Lex was totally transfixed on her. "Have I told you about the time that I accidentally locked Jeannie in the trunk of the limousine? Mother nearly had a cow…" she told her partner about the tale of two young girls, playing hide and seek, and of the complete embarrassment of a well-to-do woman that had sent her driver to meet an important artist at the airport…only to have the artist greeted by a crying girl in the trunk of the expensive limousine.

The story took up almost half of the flight, with Amanda embellishing it several times to make it last. When she noticed blue eyes disappearing under heavy eyelids, she finally just snuggled up against the tall woman and closed her eyes. Lex smiled lovingly down upon the blonde head. Poor thing… this week has been real rough for her…maybe I can do something to make up for that. She allowed her head to lean onto the blonde one next to her, and closed her eyes.

"Ma’am? The plane has landed…" the lovely young flight attendant gently jostled Lex’s shoulder, trying to wake her up.

Lex opened her eyes and noticed the empty plane, and the young woman smiling down on her. "Umm…thanks…" she gave the woman an embarrassed smile. "We’ll be out of here in just a second."

The uniformed lady smiled. "No real hurry. I just wanted to make sure you didn’t have another flight to catch." She was folding up a blanket from a nearby seat. "If you need anything, just let me know." She gave the rancher a knowing grin, then moved down the aisle.

Oh, boy…good thing Amanda slept through that…"Sweetheart?" Lex whispered gently. "Amanda, we’ve landed…" she kissed the head that was snuggled against her, using her free hand to brush the blonde hair away from blinking eyes.

"Mmm…" Amanda leaned up and placed a kiss on Lex’s mouth. As she stretched, she realized where they were. "Oh! Did you say we’ve landed?" she blushed. "I was having the most incredible dream." She released Lex’s hand and rubbed her face.

"Obviously." Lex smirked, standing up and stretching. Her back cracked several times as she raised her arms over her head and leaned backwards. "Damn…I hate sitting for that long." She noticed her appreciative audience. "See something you like, ma’am?" Lex teased her partner.

Amanda stood up, running a hand through her disheveled blonde hair. "You could say that…" she caught the look from the flight attendant. "And I don’t think I’m the only one, either." The younger woman smiled, then wrapped her arms around the rancher and squeezed. "But she’ll just have to be content to enjoy you from a distance, ‘cause I’m not sharing."

Lex chuckled. "Fine by me…" she enveloped the smaller woman in a fierce hug. "I love you, Amanda." She whispered, as she buried her face in the fragrant blonde hair.

"I love you too, Lex." Amanda pulled back and smiled brightly. "You ready to go home?" Then she frowned, a little. "Um, would you mind too much…"

"If we went to see your grandparents first?" The rancher smiled. "I was just going to suggest that." She carefully guided her lover down the narrow aisles. "Let them know you survived, and then we can tell them that you’ve going to be moving in at the ranch." As they left the plane, Lex turned back towards Amanda, who was about half a step behind her. "I enjoyed your story, by the way – forgot all about the plane."

Amanda hitched her purse up on her shoulder, then took an extra step to be directly next to the taller woman. "Really? Thanks…sorry I fell asleep on you, though." She looked up into amused blue eyes. "What?"

"Don’t feel bad…I fell asleep too. The flight attendant had to wake me up after the plane was already empty." Lex looked around, trying to read the signs. "Where the hell do we pick up the damn luggage?" She spotted a map of the airport and walked over to check it out. Spotting her destination, she shook her head. "You’ve flown quite a bit, right?" Lex asked her partner, as they made their way to the baggage claim area.

"Yes…although the last time I was so worried about Grandpa Jake, I don’t remember much of the flight – Jeannie and Frank had my car sent to me by truck." Amanda followed the long legged rancher, struggling to keep up. "Why do you ask? Hey, honey…you want to slow it down to at least a reasonable jog?"

Lex stopped and turned around. "I’m sorry, sweetheart. I keep forgetting that not everyone can cover as much distance as I can." She waited for a moment until the smaller woman caught her breath. "Anyway, I was just wondering…why do they seem to make you walk all the way to the other side of the damn airport to pick up your luggage? Especially since they won’t let you carry much of it with you? Seems rather ridiculous to me."

Amanda laughed. "I think travelers have been asking that same question since the first commercial flight, love." She wrapped her hand around Lex’s upper arm. "C’mon…we’re almost there." She led the smiling woman through the milling crowds.


Chapter 34

"Mandy!! You’re back early!!" Jacob exclaimed, as the two young women stepped into the kitchen. He opened his arms as the small blonde practically knocked him down. "Hey, there…easy, honey." He hugged her tightly, looking at Lex over her head. Seeing the bruise on the dark-haired woman’s mouth, he frowned. "You two okay?"

Amanda stepped back slightly, looking up into her grandfather’s concerned eyes. "We’re fine, Grandpa." Feeling his callused hand gently trace the bruise on her face, she smiled. "It was pretty exciting, actually." She looked around the kitchen. "Where’s Gramma?"

"Right here, sweetheart." Anna Leigh called from the doorway, where she had an arm wrapped around Lex. "Goodness! You two look like you’ve been in a fight." She led the rancher over to where Amanda and Jacob were standing. "You are going to tell us why you look like this, right?"

"Sure…" the young blonde rubbed her jaw. "It’s really quite a good story, too." She winked at the rancher. "But do you mind if we raid the refrigerator first? I’m starving." Amanda stepped away from her grandfather, and pulled Anna Leigh into a hug. "I really missed you, Gramma."

The older woman smiled, and held her granddaughter tight. "We missed you too, Mandy." Pulling away, she laughed as Amanda’s stomach took that moment to growl. "Okay, I can take a hint. We’ll feed you, then you get to tell us all about your trip." Looking back at Lex, she smiled warmly. "And also tell us what kind of trouble you two got into."

Lex laughed. "Don’t blame me…trouble just seems to find her!" she pointed at her lover, and then started backing up as Amanda stalked towards her. "Uh, well…it’s true!" She held her hands out in front of her, trying to ward off the pending attack.

"Just you wait, Slim…" Amanda teased, seeing the tall woman blush. "I’ll take care of you later, when you least expect it."

Jacob laughed, as he pulled several items from the refrigerator. "You two sit down…hope a sandwich sounds okay to you."

"Let me help you with that, Mr…um, Jacob." Lex offered, maneuvering quickly around the giggling blonde. She pulled some of the things from his large hands and placed them on the table. Looking over at Amanda, she teased, "You gonna join us, or are you going to sit there smiling all day?"


"And then Lex ropes the guy with a kid’s jump rope!" Amanda exclaimed, waving a potato chip to emphasize her point. "The police officers said she looked just like John Wayne, or maybe even Roy Rogers," she grinned at her partner’s embarrassment. "Then she sat on him, and the two cops had to pull her off."

Anna Leigh put a hand on the rancher’s arm. "Goodness, Lexington…that was a very brave thing to do…is that how you got hurt?" She studied the quiet blue gaze, as Lex looked down at the table.

"Uh, no…he didn’t touch me." She looked up at the older woman and gave her a small smile. "And it was pretty stupid, actually. I just didn’t think." She glanced across the table at Amanda. "But I tend to have that problem around your granddaughter."

The blonde woman giggled, then realized what had been said. "Hey! Wait a minute! What did I do?"

Jacob shook his head and chuckled. "Okay, so now you’ve explained how Mandy ended up looking like she does…but what happened to you, Lex?" he didn’t miss the exchange of guilty glances between the two young women. "Oh, c’mon…it can’t be that bad, can it?" Then a thought occurred to him. "Mandy…you didn’t do it, did you?" He knew his granddaughter had a fiery temper, and had been known to explode quite easily when angered.

Lex shook her head. "No, sir…she didn’t. Her father did." Hearing Anna Leigh’s gasp of shock, she turned to face her. "It was pretty much my own fault – I kinda pushed him into it."

"That’s the biggest load of bunk I’ve ever heard!" Jacob growled. "There’s never an excuse to hit a lady…"

"I’m no lady, Jacob…" Lex argued, "And I really did keep at him until he lost control."

Amanda put her hand on the older man’s arm to try and calm him, but looked at Lex. "You did no such thing, Lex…you were just trying to protect me."

"Protect you?" Anna Leigh was still in shock over the revelation that her son could strike a woman. "Dear god, don’t tell me he was going to hit you, too."

Lex took a deep breath. "No ma’am…I had gone into his office last night to find out why he was so…hostile…towards our relationship." She looked over at her lover with sad eyes. "She never said anything, but I could tell it was tearing Amanda up inside." Turning back to Anna Leigh, Lex swallowed hard. "Anyway, I asked him if it was because I was a woman, and he said no, that he was pretty much used to the idea that Amanda," here she paused. I really don’t need to bring that part of the conversation out, do I? "Well, that she was gay. So then, I asked if it was because I worked for a living – that kinda set him off." She gave the older couple a gentle smile. "He thinks that I’m after Amanda’s money."

Jacob looked at her quizzically. "YOU? After Mandy’s money?" he burst into laughter. "Oh, that’s too funny!"

"Really, sweetheart…" Anna Leigh was smiling as well. "Did you enlighten him, dear?" She covered the rancher’s hand with her own.

"No, ma’am, I didn’t." She shrugged. "I didn’t think it would do any good, because he’d just probably think that I was lying…but I did tell him that I loved Amanda, and no amount of money could change that." She touched her mouth with her free hand. "That’s when he kinda lost it and hit me."

Amanda nodded. "I opened the door to the office and saw Daddy grab Lex and push her back against the bar – he hit her before I could stop him." She exchanged a tender look with the rancher. "I’m glad we decided that we were going to leave this morning, instead of tomorrow – I don’t think either one of us could have handled another day there."

Jacob sighed. "I thought we raised him better than that…I really want to turn that boy over my knee." He looked at Lex. "I’m sorry about that, child…I hate the fact that you were hurt by someone from our family."

"I don’t blame you, or your family, Jacob." Lex looked at the older man with respect. "Amanda and I talked about it last night. Even though he’s her father, you and Anna Leigh are a whole lot more of a family to her than they are." Smiling at her lover, she continued, "And speaking of families, that reminds me of something we need to tell you, right, Amanda?"

"Hmm?" The blonde asked, then her face lit up in understanding. "Oh, yeah…that’s right!" She gave the older couple a brilliant smile. "Umm…well…Lex asked, and…I…" she began to stammer. "You see…it’s…"

Feeling sorry for the young woman, Lex stood up and circled around the table until she was standing directly behind Amanda. Placing her hands on the blonde’s shoulders, she shook her head. "What my friend here is so eloquently trying to say, is that I asked her to move into the ranch house with me, and she accepted."

Anna Leigh clapped her hands in delight. "That’s wonderful, isn’t it Jacob?" she smiled at her husband. "We were just discussing that very thing this morning."

"You were?" Amanda was hard pressed to keep her jaw from hitting the table. She raised her hands and covered Lex’s. "It’s really not that far from town, and we’ll still visit with you often."

Lex laughed. "Honey, I think it’s okay." She gave the older couple a happy grin. "And you know that you have an open invitation, right?"

Jacob stood up. "We’ll be sure and take you up on that offer, young lady." He helped his wife stand away from the table as well. "Now we’ve got some errands to run…why don’t you two go on upstairs and get a little rest? You both look completely worn out."

"Good idea, love. We’ll see you girls for dinner tonight?" Anna Leigh asked, as her husband wrapped an arm around her.

Amanda smiled and stood up as well, letting Lex wrap long arms around her. "Wouldn’t miss it." She stifled a yawn. "But I think you’re right about needing a nap. We’ll see you guys later, I think." She blushed as her grandfather winked at her, just as they left the room. "God…they’re just too much, sometimes." She muttered.

"What was that about a nap?" A sultry voice whispered in her ear, causing chills to chase down the blonde’s back.

"Nap? Who said anything about a nap?" Amanda turned around in the tall woman’s arms. "I didn’t say nap, did I?" She pulled the dark head down for a gentle kiss. "Umm…let’s go upstairs, okay, honey?" Grabbing a strong slender hand and pulling Lex towards the stairs.


Chapter 35

Dinner last night, Lex mused, was interesting, to say the least. Jacob knows some pretty good tales on Amanda. She chuckled as she tossed another bag into the back of the truck. And I had no idea that she was such a hellion when she was a kid.

"What’s so funny?" Amanda asked, bringing the last bag with her, and handing it to Lex. "You’re still thinking about those stories Grandpa Jake told last night, aren’t you?"

"Yep…I had no idea you were such a…scamp, growing up." The rancher teased. "Remind me not to let you anywhere near the cattle, unsupervised." Jacob had related a tale of a young Amanda using the neighborhood dogs as dolls for a tea party – complete with clothes and hats.

Amanda groaned. "God…I’m going to have to find some way of getting even with him for telling that one, aren’t I?" She took another step until she was wrapped up in warm arms. "Mmm."

Lex enjoyed the embrace. I don’t think I will ever get enough of this, she sighed to herself. "C’mon…Martha’s expecting us for lunch." She kissed the top of Amanda’s head, and then released her.

Jacob and Anna Leigh met them at the front of the truck. "You two will be back over for Jacob’s birthday next weekend, right?" the older woman asked, giving Amanda a hug.

"We wouldn’t miss it for anything," Lex replied, shaking Jacob’s hand. She reached out to Anna Leigh, but was surprised when the older woman wrapped her arms around her and squeezed tight.

"Thank you for making our little girl so happy, Lexington." Anna Leigh whispered in the tall woman’s ear. Pulling back slightly, she said in a louder voice, "Welcome to our family, dear." She felt the rancher return the hug enthusiastically.

Lex held the older woman close, a lump in her throat. "You…" she had to stop and clear her throat, "both have always made me feel like part of the family…thank you for raising such a wonderful granddaughter." She stepped back and ran a hand across her face. "Umm…yeah." Taking a deep breath, Lex smiled. "Thanks for everything…" she felt Amanda snuggle close. "Well, ah…see you next weekend, right?" The rancher knew she was quickly losing her composure. We gotta get out of here before I start bawling like a baby.

Amanda could feel the fine line Lex was treading, and decided it was time for a retreat. "We’ve got to get going…Martha is probably getting ready to call out the National Guard by now." She joked, giving her grandparent’s a wink.

"You two go on…we’ll see you Saturday, if not sooner!" Jacob teased, as the two young women climbed into the truck. He pulled his wife to him happily. "Those two are something else, aren’t they, sweetheart?"

Anna Leigh looked up into his eyes lovingly. "Yes they are, my dearest. Let’s go into the house and discuss it, shall we?" She gave him an impish grin.

Jacob laughed. "Why do I have the distinct feeling that we won’t be doing much talking?" he led his wife into the house, and allowed her to pull him up the stairs.


The drive to the ranch was unusually silent, both women deeply engrossed in their own thoughts. Lex was worried about her partner, and how she would be able to adjust to the life they were about to embark upon together. The fact that Amanda’s parents disapproved didn’t matter to the rancher, but she knew in her heart that the younger woman was devastated by their hateful words. Looking sideways as she drove, Lex noticed the slight smile on her companion’s face. "Penny for your thoughts?" she asked quietly.

Amanda turned away from the window absently. "Think you can afford it, Slim?" she teased, reaching over and pulling Lex’s hand into her lap. She noticed the concern etched on the older woman’s face. "Actually, I was just thinking about how happy I am right this very moment." She watched as several emotions flitted across the strong planes of the older woman’s face.

"Really?" Lex wanted to be reassured, wanted to know that Amanda was happy with her decision, happy with the opportunity to start a life with her. "I was just thinking, if you wanted, we could always build a house in town, if you don’t like living on the ranch." She braced herself for the answer. God, Amanda…I’ll go anywhere, be anyone, just for the opportunity to be with you. I hope you know that.

The blonde woman studied her lover carefully. "But you love living on the ranch." What on earth is going through that complex mind of hers?

"What good is the ranch without you?" Lex pulled the truck to a stop, just before they got to the old bridge. She unbuckled her seatbelt and turned sideways, so that she could give Amanda all of her attention. Pulling the younger woman’s hands towards her, she smiled. "I love you, Amanda Cauble…and I want to do everything in my power to make you happy. If that means living in town, fine." She pulled the small hands to her mouth, and gave them a light kiss. "If that means pitching a tent in the middle of the woods, that’s fine too."


"No, wait…please. I’ve got to get this out now." The dark-haired woman blinked, a tear falling down her face. "I’m not real good with stuff like this…but I want you to understand what a difference you’ve made in my life. I love you, and I hope we can have a long and happy life together." Lex looked deeply into Amanda’s green eyes, seeing a strong love reflected back to her.

Amanda gently pulled a hand free, and wiped the tear away with her thumb. "I love you too, Lex." She looked around outside, and smiled widely. "Kinda fitting that we should start our life together here." The younger woman reached over and opened her door. "C’mon…let’s stretch our legs for a minute, okay?"

Lex followed her lead, and soon both women were standing on the shore of the creek, looking down at the peaceful stream of water flowing beneath the bridge. "Full circle, huh?" The rancher mumbled, feeling the compact body tucked against her side nod. She felt at peace for the first time in her life - the woman next to her made her complete, somehow.

"Full circle, love." Amanda whispered, as she lifted her head up and pull Lex down for a loving kiss.