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 cbzeer@attbi.com  This is dedicated to AJ, my soulmate and better half.

Copyright July 1999

Faith's Crossing

Part I

By Carrie Carr



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.


To be continued in part 2

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