See disclaimers in part 1.

Faith's Crossing

Part III

By Carrie Carr

Chapter 20

Lex was understandably nervous as she and Amanda walked through the airport terminal. Were they just trying to be funny when they named it a terminal? I'm feeling pretty terminal myself right now, she thought as she followed the lithe young blonde down the crowded walkway. God...I don't know if I can do this, Lex felt her stomach cramp painfully, and she looked around frantically for the nearest restroom as she felt her breakfast begin to rebel.

"C'mon, Lex...we've got to go and pick up our boarding passes - according to the monitor, our flight leaves in a little over an hour." Amanda tossed behind her, not looking back.

The rancher was torn between following her heart, and emptying her stomach. Another painful cramp made her gasp and almost drop to her knees, deciding for her. "Amanda," she moaned, trying to get the younger woman's attention. Aw, hell... Lex made a mad dash for the ladies' room, dropping the bags outside the door to the lavatory.

Amanda turned to point out something to her partner, and saw that the dark-haired woman was nowhere to be seen. "Lex?" She stopped and looked around slowly. Now where has she disappeared to?

An elderly man sitting on a nearby bench waved to her, beckoning the young woman over. "Miss? Are you looking for that rather tall young lady that was behind you?" he asked kindly, patting the empty spot beside him.

"Yes, the one with the dark hair...did you happen to see where she went?" Amanda sat down next to him.

"Oh yes..."he patted her hand. "Poor thing...she doesn't fly much, does she?" his clear blue eyes twinkled.

Amanda tried to control her anxiousness. "No, I'm afraid she doesn't. You said you saw where she went?" She kept scanning the people milling around them, hoping to spot Lex.

Scratching his stubbled chin, he smiled. "I could tell...she looked like a fish out of water, that one did. I like to try and figure out where people are from, and where they're going - why, just the other day..."

"I don't mean to sound rude, sir...but I'm a little concerned about my friend. Where..." Amanda butted in gently, feeling an unease settle over her. She wouldn't change her mind and leave, would she? The young woman wondered. No, not without telling me.

Pointing towards the ladies' room across the walkway, he chuckled. "I figured she was feeling a mite ill, 'cause she grabbed her stomach, turned about three sheets of pale, and high-tailed it over there." He was about to tell the pretty young woman more, but she absently thanked him, patted his shoulder and took off across the way.

"Excuse me...sorry..." Amanda carefully battled her way through a large group of people who had just disembarked from an arriving flight. Dropping her bags next to Lex's, the small woman shouldered through several women who were standing next to the sinks, complaining about the airline food. "Lex?" she called out, trying to find out which stall held her friend.

"Over here." A weak voice muttered, from the sink on the end. The tall woman was frighteningly pale, leaning up against the wall with a wet paper towel over her eyes.

Amanda's heart clinched at the sight. I really wasn't taking her fear of flying seriously, she berated herself, noticing how the hand holding the paper towel trembled. Standing beside the slumped form, Amanda placed a gentle hand on Lex's arm. "Oh, Lex..." she murmured.

"Sorry..." Lex whispered, taking a deep breath and removing the damp towel from her eyes. Seeing the sympathetic look on her lover's face, she forced a smile to her lips. "I didn't mean to take off on you like that..."

"Are you going to be okay?" the younger woman asked, fighting the strong urge she had to pull Lex into her arms.

The rancher swallowed several times. "Yeah..." she pushed away from the wall and started towards the door. "C'mon...let's go." The ladies' room was getting more and more crowded by the moment, which wasn't helping her queasiness any. Where in the hell did all these damn people come from, anyway?

Once they were safely out of the restroom, Lex was almost tempted to turn back around and hide in one of the stalls. Two flights had just unloaded their passengers, and the roaring throng of people was almost more than she could stand. Now I know why I hide away on a ranch, she thought, picking up their bags then leaning up against the wall. I can do this, she told herself, gathering up what was left of her nerves. Feeling a light hand on her side, Lex looked down into concerned green eyes. "Lead the way, my friend - I'll be right behind you." She motioned towards the crowd with a nod of her dark head.

Amanda started to say something, then stopped. Maybe it'll be less crowded by our gate...We can get our passes and she can sit and let her stomach settle. She slid the strap of her carryon over her shoulder. "Okay...stick close, and give my bag a tug if you need to make another side trip." She almost reached up to caress the unusually pale cheek, but quickly reminded herself where they were.

"Gotcha." Lex smiled, giving the bag a test pull.

The younger woman politely maneuvered them through the crowd, turning back every few steps to check on the condition of her companion. Over halfway to their destination, Amanda noticed a fine sheen of perspiration covering Lex's brow. Stopping in the middle of the concourse, she asked, "Are you going to make it? We can stop for a moment, if you need to."

"No, I'm okay," Lex assured the small blonde, although her legs were shaking from the strain. "We're almost there, anyway."

Not able to stand it any longer, Amanda took a strong grip on Lex's arm. "Lex, you don't look okay..." she looked around for someplace to sit. "C'mere...let's take a little break." She pulled the rancher towards a group of chairs by the window, watching as the tall woman collapsed gracelessly onto one. "Why don't you sit here with our bags, and I'll go get our boarding passes?" Seeing that her companion was about to argue, Amanda dropped to her knees beside Lex and added, "I think my shoulder is about to fall off from dragging this darn bag around... humor me, please?"

Lex lifted her hand and unconsciously touched her lover's cheek. "You are so transparent, sweetheart." She smiled tenderly. "Okay, you win. I'll wait for you right here."

"All right..." Amanda gave the strong thigh under her hand a squeeze. "I'll be back in a few minutes." She smiled at Lex and then stood, hoisting her purse to her shoulder as she hurried away.

The dark-haired woman watched Amanda's compact body move through the crowd with ease, until she finally disappeared from sight. Lex closed her eyes for a moment, only to have them pop back open when the plane parked next to her window started it's engines. Shit. Just what I need. C'mon, Lexington...don't be such a damn baby! She felt her stomach clinch again painfully. Lex started to stand up, but dropped back to her chair as another cramp hit her. I am not going to throw up again, she thought to herself angrily. Inhaling through her nose to combat her nausea, Lex wrapped her arms around her waist, bent over, and laid her head on her knees. Maybe I should have taken a tranquilizer, she thought as she fought to ease her rebelling stomach.

Calm...I need to stay calm...focus on something else... Breathing deeply, Lex let her thoughts drift to her gentle lover. In her mind, she pictured the sea-green eyes, the small perfect nose, and the petite, but well-built body. She imagined holding the younger woman in her arms, burying her face in the long silky reddish-blonde hair. I can almost smell her perfume, she marveled to herself. This self-hypnosis stuff really works!

"Lex?" a soft touch to the top of her head brought the rancher out of her musings.

"Hmm?" Lex raised her head slowly, opening her eyes to focus on the green eyes that she had just been thinking of. "Hi."

Amanda sat down next to the still-sweating rancher. "Honey, you're really pale," she wiped the damp hair out of Lex's eyes. "Is there anything I can do for you?" Ignoring the disgusted stare from the woman sitting two chairs away from Lex, Amanda pushed her lover back in the chair gently, twining their fingers together.

"Nah...I think I'll live," Lex quietly teased. "And you're doing more just being here, than any medication can do." She absently brought their linked hands to her lips, and kissed the small knuckles. "Thanks."

"Hrumpph! Disgusting!" The middle-aged woman glared at them, gathered her collection of shopping bags and luggage, then stormed off.

Lex grinned at Amanda's sudden blush. "Heh...maybe I should pull you onto my lap and kiss you senseless." She chuckled. "That would give the old bat something to stare at."

Amanda glanced around them. The irritated woman seemed to be the only person paying any attention to them. "Lex." She gently chided her partner, "You're so bad."

Wiggling her eyebrows comically, the dark-haired woman smirked. "I thought that's what you liked about me." She widened her blue eyes innocently.

"Nut." Amanda proclaimed, then she squeezed Lex's hand. "You must be feeling better... the color is coming back to your face."

"Lex sighed. "Yeah...sorry about that. I really didn't think it would be that bad." She gave Amanda a tired look. "Were you able to get our passes?"

"Yep." The younger woman pointed to a cart nearby. "And I also procured transportation for our fine luggage." She gave a gentle kick to the duffel bag she had decided to use. I really didn't see any need to pack much - I have plenty of clothes in Los Angeles, she grinned to herself. Besides, Mother will have little green kittens when I show up without matching luggage - gotta take my points where I can. "We still have to check this stuff in."

Standing up, the tall woman offered her hand to the still seated blonde. "Right, boss. Well, let's get this over with." She pulled Amanda up, then grabbed several bags and headed towards the cart.


Chapter 21

Amanda grinned, quite pleased with herself. She had managed to sweet talk an older couple into exchanging seats with them, so that Lex would have easier access to the lavatory, just in case. Sneaking a sideways glance to her silent partner, the young blonde was gratified to see that Lex seemed to be doing okay, other than the death-grip she had on Amanda's hand. Whatever works...I'd sit on her lap if I thought it would help, she giggled softly, Face it, Mandy - you'd sit on her lap even if it didn't help. Oh, I've got it bad, all right.

"What's so funny?" Lex asked, turning her head to face her friend. She took a deep breath when the plane lurched slightly.

"Umm...nothing, really." Amanda gave Lex's hand a comforting squeeze. "Just thinking."

Releasing the breath she had been holding, Lex quirked an expressive eyebrow. "About what?"

Leaning over and placing her lips next to the rancher's ear, Amanda whispered, "I was wondering if these seats would comfortably fit two...I'm seriously considering crawling into your lap and..." her last few words were spoken almost too softly to hear, and were punctuated by a soft nibble on the older woman's earlobe.

But Lex understood, and it caused her face to flush darkly. "Umm..." she cleared her throat, "I think that would certainly help me keep my mind off of flying...airplanes, anyway." She chuckled. "You have a delightfully wicked mind, my love."

"You don't know the half of it." The young blonde retorted with a sexy smile.

Oh, boy... Lex felt a slight shiver of excitement travel down her spine. I don't know what has gotten into Amanda, but I think I like it!

"Attention, ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We will be landing in approximately twenty minutes. It's a beautiful seventy-eight degrees in Los Angeles..." the friendly voice over the intercom interrupted their banter.

"I can't believe we're already about to land - you're the best medicine I've ever had, Amanda." Lex said over the captain's rambling voice. She pulled their linked hands up and kissed the younger woman's fingertips. "Guess now you'll have to fly with me all the time."

Amanda giggled. "Such a terrible price to pay..." she placed her free hand on her forehead, palm out. "Oh, dear me...I guess I'll just have to suffer." Giving the rancher an impish look, "Like I would ever let you out of my sight long enough to take a flight alone."

Lex smiled gently at that thought. "I don't know how I ever survived anything before you." Enjoying the happy grin that crossed the blonde's face, "I love you, Amanda." She leaned forward and kissed the younger woman tenderly.

They pulled apart slowly, each content to sit and enjoy the strong feelings coursing between them.


Lex had one more anxious moment as the plane touched down, but Amanda held her hand tightly and leaned close, whispering soothing words of comfort to the visibly shaken rancher.

"Focus on my voice, Lex." She murmured, "Close your eyes and breathe deeply." Amanda felt the older woman's muscles begin to relax. "That's it..." Using her free hand, Amanda caressed the arm that was holding her hand. "I'm here with you, sweetheart - we're okay. Remember when we were feeding the ducks at the park? And how that one duck thought you were the main course?" She saw a tiny smile on her partner's face. "I love you, Lex...concentrate on me..." she continued to speak in a soft voice.

Lex was so absorbed in Amanda's quiet words, she never felt the plane land or come to a stop. Hearing excited voices around her, she opened her eyes to see people gathering their personal items together, and crowding the aisles to exit the plane. Turning her head, she was captured by intense green eyes at very close range. "We're here?" she asked hoarsely, a surprised look on her face.

"Yep. And in one piece, too." Amanda grinned. "How are you doing?"

Lex paused thoughtfully. "Great." She sounded a little shocked. "My stomach doesn't even hurt anymore." She took and released a deep breath. "Thanks for being my security blanket." Giving the cute blonde a heartfelt smile.

"Mmm..." Amanda winked. "Do I get the usual perks?"

"Perks?" Lex's eyebrow rose. "What kind of perks are we talking about here?"

"Well," Amanda ran a teasing finger up the dark-haired woman's arm, "Normally, security blankets get to be taken everywhere..." she grinned, "Snuggled...cuddled...held tightly all night..."

Lex laughed. "I think something could be arranged." She looked around the now almost-empty plane. "Ready?" Standing up and stretching her arms over her head, Lex almost laughed again as Amanda took the opportunity to tickle her ribs. "Hey! Be careful what you start, Blondie."

"Blondie?!" Amanda shrieked, giving Lex a dirty look. "You really don't want to start a name calling contest with a realtor - we can be very creative...Snookums." This last part came out with an evil grin.

The tall woman nearly dropped the bag she had been pulling from the overhead compartment. "What?!" Letting the bag fall into her seat, Lex put her hands on her hips. "Where in the hell did that come from?" She leaned menacingly over the smaller woman. "Snookums?"

" about...Sugar Lips?" Amanda grinned, keeping the bag between her and the now beet-red rancher.

"Amanda..." Lex growled, picking up the bag. "I'll show you 'Sugar Lips'." She flipped the bag onto her shoulder and stepped closer to the grinning blonde.

Picking up her own bag, Amanda batted her wide green eyes at her would-be assailant. "Umm...have I told you lately how much I love you?"

Lex smiled, then stepped into the aisle to allow the younger woman to get in front of her. "I love you too."

"Sugar Lips!" Amanda chortled, then rushed down the aisle with a growling rancher hot on her heels.


"Is it always this...hazy?" Lex asked, looking up at the sky. They were on the road out of the airport in a shiny red Mustang convertible.

Amanda sighed. "Actually, it's pretty nice can almost breathe without choking." She joked, wrinkling her nose. Glancing at her companion, Amanda almost laughed out loud. Lex was fighting a losing battle with her hair, trying to keep it out of her eyes. "Problem?"

"I knew I should have worn my hat." the dark-haired woman muttered, wiping another strand of dark silk away from her mouth with a grimace.

Using one hand to dig through her purse, Amanda looked at the perturbed rancher. "Do you want me to put the top up?"

"No!" Lex turned to look sheepishly at her friend. "I'm really enjoying the...semi-fresh air." She smiled. They had nearly driven the poor car rental agent crazy - he had tried to talk them into a luxury car or import. Lex wanted something 'big', with lots of headroom, and Amanda wanted something 'sporty'. So they compromised on a convertible - Lex only agreeing if they could drive with the top down.

"Here..." Amanda handed Lex an elastic hair tie. She had tied her own hair back before leaving the airport. "I always have a ton of these in the bottom of my purse."

Taking the offering thankfully, Lex quickly pulled her long hair into a ponytail. "Thanks... I was about ready to cut it all off with a rusty pocketknife."

"You'd better not! I love your hair!" Amanda turned sideways to glare at her partner.

Lex noticed the cars stopped ahead of them. " wanna keep your eyes on the road, please?" She pointed ahead.

Amanda turned, then slammed her foot down hard on the brake. "Rats!" She quickly glanced up into the rearview mirror, hoping no one was directly behind them. Whew! Looking at Lex, she bit her lip. "Sorry about that." The rancher had one hand braced against the dash, and her eyes were closed tightly.

"No problem..." Lex croaked, opening her eyes then relaxing back into her seat. "There aren't any bridges on the way to your parent's house, are there?" she asked with a grin.

"None that I can think of, why?" Amanda answered, then realized what Lex was asking. "Hey! That wasn't my fault!" she waggled a warning finger at the chuckling brunette.

"Of course not...just because that bridge had been standing for as long as I could remember without mishap, then suddenly collapses the first time you drive across - I don't see any connection whatsoever." Lex crossed her arms across her chest and smirked.

Amanda snorted. "Oh yeah...I had to time it just right, too - getting that tree to hit at just the right moment...a pure stroke of genius!" She waved an arm dramatically. "But..." she reached over and grabbed Lex's hand, "the best part of my plan was making you jump into the creek after me..." Amanda felt her hand being squeezed, "and then getting you to take me home with you." She smiled triumphantly.

Lex laughed. "I like the way you think..." she pulled Amanda's hand up and kissed it.


Chapter 22

Amanda's family's house was nestled snugly in the hills surrounding Los Angeles, off of a tree-lined road. She pulled the car up to a large iron security gate, then pushed a code into the keypad next to an intercom. As the gate creaked open, Amanda looked over at her companion, who had a thoughtful look on her face.

"Seems kinda sad to live like that." Lex observed.

"Like what?" Amanda asked. Had she noticed the homeless people we passed on the street on the way out here? She didn't say anything at the time, she wondered to herself.


"Spending all that money for a big expensive house, then having to lock yourself away." Lex shook her dark head. "Why live like that?"

Navigating the rental car down the winding road that would eventually lead up to the house, Amanda sighed. Why indeed, she wondered to herself. "I guess that's why I spent so much time in Somerville," she said quietly. "This place has never felt like home, more like an expensive hotel."

Lex turned sideways in her seat, and took the smaller woman's hand in hers. "Oh, Amanda..." She had a sad look on her face.

"'s alright." Amanda reassured her, giving Lex a quiet smile. "I had a really great childhood with my grandparents..." here she really smiled, "And if I hadn't spent so much time with them, I may have never met you."

"Well, then...maybe I should thank your parents for letting you come to Texas." Lex drawled. Then she was struck speechless when the house came into view. Three stories, the light-colored brick gave it an almost marble-like quality - the six marble pillars in the front helped with the illusion. Huge trees covered the landscape, and a wide brick walkway completed the picture. "Damn." Lex murmured at last.

"Yeah...ostentatious, isn't it?" Amanda chuckled. "I still get lost in there sometimes." She pulled up into the circular drive, parking in front of the walk. "C'mon...let's get this started." She sighed, climbing out of the car.

"Oh, boy..." Lex walked up the brick steps next to Amanda, who stopped at the door and rang the bell. Before she could question the younger woman's actions, the massive oak doors opened inward, and a slender woman in a maid's uniform opened the doors.

"Miss Amanda! Welcome back!" she exclaimed, as the young blonde stepped forward and wrapped her arms around her in an exuberant hug.

"Beverly! You look fantastic!" Amanda gushed, taking a step back to study the woman. "Good grief! You must have lost fifty pounds!"

Beverly laughed at the young woman. "Fifty-four, to be exact..." she bragged. She then turned towards the open doorway, where a tall dark-haired woman stood, smirking. "Oh my." She's quite tall, isn't she?

"Oops! Sorry about that..." Amanda chuckled, then grabbed Lex by the arm and pulled her into the gleaming marble foyer. "Beverly, this is Lexington Walters...Lex, this is Beverly, who actually runs the house." She teased the older woman.

Lex stepped forward and held out her hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, ma'am." She saw the maid look at her strangely before accepting her hand.

Nice girl...but I hope Mr. and Mrs. Cauble don't catch her being this friendly with the household staff - they'll just make her stay here miserable. "It's really nice to meet you, Ms. Walters." Beverly smiled sincerely.

"Call me Lex." The rancher requested, "Ms. Walters sounds like a school teacher." She grinned.

"Alright, Miss Lex," Beverly looked at Amanda, who gave her a resigned look. "Miss Amanda, your father is in the library...he's expecting you."

Amanda rolled her eyes. "Thanks, Beverly. What kind of mood is he in?"

The maid shook her head as she closed the front doors. "He's been upset all day...Mr. Cauble spoke to his father this morning, and has been in the library ever since."

I bet I have a pretty good idea what the argument was about, Lex thought silently. She looked up at both women, torn. "Maybe I should just bring your bags in, then go get a hotel room." Lex started for the door. "I don't want to cause any more trouble for you with your family."

Amanda grabbed the back of the rancher's belt. "Oh, no you don't!" she pulled hard. "You're not going anywhere!"

Beverly smiled, then took the opportunity to leave, stepping quietly into the next room.

Lex turned around slowly, her eyes pained. " know I'd do anything in the world for you. I just don't want you to be forced to choose between us and your family - that's not fair to you." She stepped closer to Amanda and gently cradled the younger woman's face in her hands, not really caring where they were standing.

"There would be no decision to make...I'd choose you every time." She looked down at the ground. "You'd make me face them alone?" Amanda whispered softly, putting her hands unconsciously on Lex's waist. "Are you ashamed of me...of us?" her green eyes brightened with tears.

"Oh god, no!" Lex shook her head emphatically. "Never!" She used her thumb to wipe a fallen tear from Amanda's cheek. "I just...I was trying, hell." Lex leaned down and kissed Amanda gently. "I'll stand beside you for as long as you want me..." she pulled the smaller woman into a fierce embrace. "I'll never leave you, I swear." She waited until both their hearts stopped pounding, then pulled back slightly. "But would you rather see you father alone at first? I could wait outside the door for you."

Amanda inhaled, trying to pull her lover's soapy clean scent deeply into her lungs. "I don't want to see him alone..." she looked up lovingly into concerned blue eyes. "But I guess it would be the decent thing to do, huh?"

Lex could see the fear and sadness in the younger woman's face. God...she looks scared half to can I ask... "Amanda? Are you...afraid...of him?" She felt Amanda pull herself closer. "Are you afraid he's going to hurt you?" If she says yes, I won't let her out of my sight for an instant!

"No...he's never hurt me..." Amanda looked up and saw the fierce look on her lover's face. "Hey...really. He just gets a little loud sometimes - makes my ears hurt." She joked faintly. Not seeing the look fade, she patted the rancher's stomach gently. "Lex? You okay?"

"Hmm?" Lex answered, somewhat distracted. "Yeah, I'm fine." be that afraid of your own father. Dad and I didn't always get along, but I was never afraid...she grimaced inwardly, remembering, but I think he was, a time or two... "How about you? Is there anything I can do?" she smiled warmly down at Amanda.

The small blonde kissed Lex on the chin and stepped back. "You already have." She grabbed Lex's hand and began pulling her across the foyer, then into an elegant hallway. "C'mon... I want to introduce you to my father."

Lex allowed herself to be led down the well-furnished hallway. Their hall has more furniture than my entire house, she noticed to herself. Lex also saw the ease in which Amanda moved through the expensive home, and suddenly realized just how vastly different their lifestyles were. Stop it! Just because their house is fancier, that doesn't make them any better than you... Her mental chastising was halted when Amanda stopped in front of a pair of closed French doors.

" we are." Amanda exhaled. She turned and looked up at the rancher. "I've changed my mind...come in with me, please?" she practically whispered.

Running a hand lightly down the younger woman's face, Lex smiled. "Sure...just give me a sign if you want me to leave...otherwise, I'm your shadow."

Amanda leaned gratefully into the touch. "Thanks." Taking a deep breath, she knocked on the doors.

"Enter." The deep voice commanded from inside.

Pushing one of the doors partially open, Amanda poked her head tentatively inside. "Daddy?"

"Amanda!" the voice boomed. "It's about time you arrived. Get in here!"

Starting forward, Amanda snuck a hand behind her back and grabbed a handful of Lex's shirt, tugging hard. "Hi, Daddy." Amanda smiled at the man sitting behind the large cherry desk.

Michael Cauble was in his mid forties, his light reddish brown hair showing very little gray. Light hazel eyes hidden behind expensive glasses studied the two young women carefully as they stepped into the room. Making no move to stand, he motioned towards two chairs that had been strategically placed in front of the desk. "Have a seat."

Lex was barely able to control her anger. The sorry bastard hasn't seen his daughter for over six months, and he treats her like a business appointment? She waited until Amanda sat down, then gave her a smile and then occupied the other chair.

Michael leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers together in front of himself. "Did you have a good flight?" he asked, more as a matter of form than any real concern.

Amanda, sitting up stiffly in her chair with her hands clasped in her lap, nodded. "Yes sir...very smooth."

She looks like she's in the principal's office, waiting to be chewed out, Lex thought angrily. She was about to say something when Michael turned his cold gaze on her.

"You must be Lexington Walters." He gave her a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "You're the one who pulled my daughter from the creek." A statement, not a question.

"That's right." Lex answered, her own smile somewhat forced. Standing up, she held her outstretched hand across the desk. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Cauble."

Michael stood and accepted her hand. Damn...she's got quite a grip. "Yes, well..." he released her hand quickly then sat back down. "I suppose you're here to collect some type of reward for your efforts?" He took in the way she was dressed - clean, slightly faded jeans, worn cowboy boots, and a denim shirt: her clothes, though pressed, gave Michael the impression of a poor, but proud woman. I'm not going to let her sink her money-hungry claws into my daughter's trust fund, he thought ruthlessly. "How much do you want?"

Amanda started to jump up, but Lex's hand on her arm stopped her. "Actually, Mr. Cauble, I've already gotten my reward." The tall woman grinned, then got up and stood behind Amanda's chair, resting her hands casually on the back. "I met your daughter."

Amanda saw her father redden, which was usually a sign of his explosive temper on the verge of erupting. She felt a warmth begin to flow through her, knowing that Lex was purposely diverting his attention to her instead. I shouldn't let her do this...but it feels so good to have someone stand up for me...

Michael stood up, his ire growing as he studied the smug look on the dark-haired woman's face. "What are you trying to say?" He wanted to reach across the desk and slap that look off of her face. "Amanda," he finally addressed his daughter, "leave us for a few minutes...your friend and I have some business to discuss."

Before the young blonde could say anything, Lex placed her hands gently on her shoulders. "Mr. Cauble, there's nothing that we have to discuss that Amanda can't hear, as far as I'm concerned."

Amanda's father stepped to the front of the desk, leaning casually against one edge. "Very well...I was just trying to save you some embarrassment, Ms. Walters." He matched stares with Lex, pointedly ignoring his daughter's sputtering. "Now..." he crossed his arms over his chest, "You look like you could use money." Michael held up his hand to forestall Amanda's argument. "Amanda, be quiet or I'll ask you to leave." Looking back at Lex, "I hear that you work on a ranch...and from what I've read lately, you certainly can't make any money doing that these days."

Lex could feel the waves of anger rolling off of Amanda through the hands she still had on the younger woman's shoulders. "Well, the recent rains haven't helped much, but we're doing okay." She smiled when she felt Amanda's hands gently covering her own.

Michael knew of his daughter's 'life's choice', but seeing her blatantly rub his nose in it, caused him to see red. "Look...let's cut the chase, Walters...we have money...quite a bit of it. How much do I have to give you to leave my daughter alone?"

Lex stalked around the chair, stepping right up into Michael's face. "Do you think so little of you daughter that I have to be after her money?" She growled, looking him straight in the eye. "All the gold in Fort Knox couldn't replace Amanda in my heart - I love her, and no amount of money can run me off." She stepped back and quietly added, "Only her word could do that." She felt a calming touch on her back. "I know I don't look like much...but you gotta believe that I would do anything for Amanda...I'll sign any damn papers you want to disclaim any access to your precious money." Lex let out a tired breath and sat down.

"Ms. Walters," Michael began, somewhat shocked that someone would speak to him that way, "You must understand my position. I love my daughter. And I would do whatever it takes to protect her from people willing to hurt her for her money."

Amanda stood up, livid. "Hello? I'm sitting right here, Father." She used a more formal name for Michael, trying to get his attention. "I'm a grown woman, and I'm more than capable of making my own choices about my life...why can't you see that?" she stood in front of her father, laying a hand on his arm. "Do you really still think of me as this young girl with absolutely no clue as to what is going on?" More softly, "Daddy, I know we don't see eye-to-eye very much any more, but can't you trust my judgement on something this important?" Seeing his eyes soften, "Please?" she turned slightly, looking at Lex lovingly. "Lex?"

The rancher nodded, then wearily stood. "I'll just go get our bags out of the car." She held out her hand for the keys. "See you in a bit." Lex looked at Michael. "Mr. Cauble." She nodded, then left the room quietly.

Amanda watched as Lex left the room, noticing her slow movements. I don't think she's quite completely recovered from the past couple of weeks...better give her a thorough 'checkup' later tonight. She smiled at that thought.

Michael watched his daughter's face as her 'friend' left the room. Dear lord... "She's not just some fling you brought to toss in our faces, is she?" he asked Amanda quietly.

The small blonde turned to face her father. "No Daddy, she's not." She gave him a resigned smile. "And I can guarantee that she's not after your money...just ask Gramma or Grandpa Jake."

"That's what Dad told me this morning on the phone - they seem quite taken with your farmer."

"She's a rancher..." Amanda argued, "and she's not some dumb cowpuncher who doesn't have any feelings." Taking a deep breath, she turned and walked over to a side table, picking up a paperweight and studying it. "I know you don't approve of what I've done with my life..."

Michael walked towards her, unsure. "Amanda, it's not that. Your mother and I just think that you could do so much more than sell real estate in a backwards little town in Texas." He put a cautious hand on her shoulder. "You were always the smart one, and lord knows you are certainly headstrong enough to accomplish whatever you put your mind to..." he gently stroked her hair, "I just don't want you to waste your talents - you've got such a good head for business. I was hoping you'd come to work for me."

Amanda spun around, shocked. "What?!" she looked up into her father's face, trying to see if he was telling the truth or not. "Why the sudden change? You didn't want to have anything to do with me after I graduated from college."

And that had hurt, Amanda remembered. She had studied every waking moment during her college years, taking more than a full load to graduate over a year early. Amanda had majored in business, foolishly thinking that her father would finally take notice of her, and welcome his youngest daughter into his consulting firm. But when Amanda proudly showed him her diploma, Michael had patted her condescendingly on the shoulder and told her to take a year or two off to travel.

"Amanda...please." Her father guided her over to a chair to sit down. "To tell you the truth," he sat down on the chair next to her, "I really didn't expect you to want to work after you got out of school...your sister only used college as a place to keep up with her friends, I just assumed you were doing the same."

Amanda, fighting her anger, willed herself not to cry. "Is that why you thought I took such a full load of classes? So that I could party with all of my friends?" she asked, incredulous.

Her father looked away, embarrassed. "Uh, well...I really didn't notice your class load. I just assumed you were doing a lot of extra curricular activities."

"Aaah!" Amanda growled, stood up and threw her hands in the air. She paced away from the desk, too angry too even look at her father. "I can't believe this!" she spun around angrily, finally looking her father in the eye. "And now you want me to come and work for you?" Walking back over and sitting down, she asked, "Why now?"


After a short argument with Beverly and the chauffeur Paul, Lex was finally allowed to carry their bags into the house.

"At least let Paul help you, Miss Lex...Mrs. Cauble will throw a fit if she finds out we let a guest carry their own luggage." The maid stood in front of the rancher, wringing her hands nervously.

Rolling her eyes, Lex handed Paul half of the bags. "This better?" she smiled at his look of relief.

"Thanks, Miss Lex..." the short, burly man grinned.

The rancher gave him a disgusted look. "Could you please drop the 'Miss'? At least when the bosses aren't around?"

Paul looked around carefully. "Uh, sure...Lex." He gave her a shy smile.

Beverly slapped him on the shoulder. "Paul...quit flirting and show...Lex..." she gave the taller woman a wry smile, "where she can put Miss Amanda's things. And show her the guest room across the hall."

Lex lifted Amanda's duffel bag to her shoulder. "Lead on, Paul." She directed the poor flustered driver. "Thanks again, Beverly." She gave the slender maid a genuine smile as she followed Paul up the large staircase.

Shaking her head as they moved down the opulent hallway, Lex mumbled, "Hell, I could sleep comfortably in the hall." As they passed an antique settee.

Paul chuckled. "I know what you garage apartment doesn't have as much furniture as one of these hallways - but you get used to it, I guess." He stopped in front of a door. "Here's Miss Amanda's room," then he pointed to the door Lex was standing next to, "and you're welcome to use that guestroom - I think Beverly likes you."

Setting the bags down, Lex opened the door a bit and peeked inside. "Good lord!" she muttered, then turned her attention back to the chauffeur. "Why do you think Beverly likes me?"

Laughing, Paul opened Amanda's door and took the bags inside, placing them next to the bed. "Well, she normally assigns one of the guestrooms down the hall...but that's the biggest one, and the sun won't wake you in the mornings."

Looking into Amanda's room, Lex found it hard to believe that her vivacious lover had ever lived here. It looks so...impersonal, she thought sadly.

The large room was furnished with only the essentials - a bed, desk, dresser, and two comfortable looking chairs. The room looked professionally decorated, with the flowery bright bedspread and matching curtains. If Lex didn't know any better, she would have sworn this was a room at the Hyatt.

Sitting the duffel bag carefully next to the bed, Lex shook her head and made her way back across the hallway, opening the guestroom door and stepping inside.

Similarly furnished, this room had darker furniture, set off with navy blue and maroon plaid covering the bed and adorning the windows. Damn room is almost as big as the entire upstairs at home, Lex thought ruefully to herself. Opening a door on the near side of the bed, she was pleasantly surprised to find a huge walk-in closet, complete with oak hangers. Better than the Holiday Inn, I suppose, she chuckled. Closing the door, Lex noticed another door on the other side of the bed. "Well...what do we have here?" The door opened into a nice sized bathroom, with a large platform bathtub taking up an entire corner. "Oh yeah...that'll hit the spot." She closed the door, walked over to the bed, and then opened up a suitcase. Think I'll get cleaned up...might as well try out that tub.


Chapter 23

Trudging up the stairs, Amanda replayed her conversation with her father over and over in her mind. Why now, Daddy? Why do you suddenly want me to come to work for you? Her father had deftly skirted around that very question, until she had finally decided to give up, and go find her missing friend. Would I be happy working for him? At one time, I would have sold my soul to do that...She bit her lip in thought, and isn't that what I would be doing now? Giving up my soul? Amanda knew that Lex would never leave the ranch to live in Los Angeles. It would be like trying to cage a mountain lion - she would die in 'captivity'...she needs her freedom, Amanda thought sadly.

Shaking her head, the young blonde opened her bedroom door. Noticing that only her bags were sitting by the bed, she momentarily panicked. "Lex?" she called out quietly, looking around. Mother strikes again, she thought sadly. All of her personal possessions were gone, probably packed away the day I called her, and the bookcase and dresser her grandfather had built for her were missing as well.

"Are you alright, Miss Amanda?" Beverly asked from the doorway. "Is there anything I can get for you?" I should have warned her that Mrs. Cauble had her room packed up and put into storage.

"I guess Mother couldn't wait to get rid of me, huh?" Amanda asked ruefully, waving an arm at the bare room.

Beverly smiled. "Actually, she said that since you wouldn't be here for very long, she didn't want you to spend all of your time packing, when you should be visiting your family." She walked over and laid a gentle hand on the younger woman's arm. "If it helps, I supervised the packing, not your mother." Her eyes were sympathetic.

Amanda let out a relieved breath. The thought of Mother digging through all of my personal things...ugh! "You have no idea how much that helps." She smiled brightly. "Have you seen Lex? I just finished talking to my father, and I thought she'd be up here."

"We put her in the guestroom across the hall." Beverly said, chuckling softly. "Paul said that Lex nearly fainted when she saw the size of the room."

"I'll bet." Amanda raised an eyebrow at the maid's familiarity with her lover. Lex, huh? She must really like her - that's the nicest room on this floor. "I think I'll go check up on my friend...she's had a pretty rough day." Amanda gave the older woman a hug. "Thanks for everything, Beverly...I'm really going to miss you."

"You have certainly been missed around here, dear...but I think you'll be much happier in Texas." The maid pulled back and winked. "Now, I'm going to leave you alone so you can rest up from your trip. Dinner will be in a few hours - I'll send Sophia up to get you when it's ready." Beverly smiled and left the room.

Amanda counted to ten, then peeked out into the hallway. The coast is clear, she thought, then snuck over and quietly knocked on the door.

No answer.

The petite woman knocked again, more firmly this time.

Total silence.

Maybe she's asleep, Amanda thought as she slowly opened the door. "Lex?" she whispered, stepping softly into the room. Looking over to the bed, she saw that it was empty, except for a set of clean clothes laid out neatly at the foot.

The bathroom door was closed, but Amanda could see a small amount of light leaking out from under the door. Knocking softly, she called out to her partner. "Lex?"

Not a sound.

Opening the door slowly, she poked her blonde head into the steamy room, glancing around. Aw...she looks so cute...

Lex was sound asleep in the bathtub, a damp washcloth covering her eyes.

Amanda closed the door and then locked it behind her. "Lex?" she walked towards the sleeping woman carefully, trying not to startle her.

"Mmm..." the dark-haired woman rolled her head to one side, still not awake. She slipped a little lower in the water, until it came almost to her chin.

Kneeling down next to the tub, Amanda pulled the washcloth off of Lex's face. "Lex...honey?" she murmured, pushing the damp bangs away from the still woman's face. "Hey."

Sleepy blue eyes partially opened. "Hmm?" Lex moaned, then blinked. "Amanda?" she struggled to sit up a little. "Wha...damn." She pulled one hand out of the water and rubbed her face. "Sorry...must have dozed off there."

Amanda giggled. "Do you always fall asleep in the tub?" She ran her hand down Lex's face. "Who woke you before I came along?"

This earned her a sheepish grin. "That's why I normally don't take baths - it takes waaaay too much time. But Martha would usually..." her words were stopped by insistent lips. "Mmm..." Arms worked their way around her neck, and Lex lifted both of her arms out of the water and wrapped them snugly around the sturdy body next to the tub.

"Aaah...Lex..." Amanda broke the kiss long enough to breathe. "You're getting my shirt... ummm..." a warm mouth attached itself to her sensitive throat. " shirt..." she moaned. "Aaaack!!" Amanda suddenly found herself in Lex's the tub...fully clothed. "I can't believe..." she began, until her lips were again captured by the now heavily breathing rancher. Large hands began unbuttoning her shirt, and Amanda gasped as the cool air hit her wet, bare skin. Giving up the battle (not that she was fighting all that hard, she thought later), she kicked off her shoes as those roaming hands unsnapped her jeans. "Guess a bath couldn't hurt." She mumbled around the rancher's lips.

Lex chuckled, then helped Amanda slip out of the rest of her clothes, pulling her farther into the tub. "You got that right."


" are we supposed to dress for dinner?" Lex asked, sprawled out on the bed, still wrapped in a towel.

Amanda stepped out of the bathroom, brushing her just-dried hair. Looking at the relaxed form on the bed, she smirked. "In clothes, preferably." She was clad only in her bra and underwear, after sneaking across the hallway to grab dry clothes while wearing only a towel.

Lex suddenly appeared behind her, handing Amanda her towel and chuckling. "Smartass." She kissed the back of the blonde's neck. "I thought I'd just go 'casual' - whatta ya think?"

"I think that if you don't get dressed, we may never make it downstairs for dinner." Amanda turned around and placed a soft kiss on the taller woman's throat. "Thankfully, my parents don't insist that we dress up for dinner - it's really not that big of a deal." She gave Lex's flat belly a gentle pat. "C'mon...let's get dressed. Sophia will probably be coming for us soon."

"Who's Sophia?" Lex asked, as she rummaged through her suitcase. "Where did you put my...oh, here they are." She pulled out socks and underwear, and tossed them on the bed.

Amanda finished getting dressed and laughed. "Sophia is the maid for this floor - Beverly said she'd come for us when dinner is ready."

Lex turned around, her neatly pressed jeans on, but unbuttoned. "Should I wear a tee shirt, or one of my button downs?" she stepped over to the closet to find a suitable shirt. "Just how casual is dinner in this place? Will I have to wade through ten different types of forks before I find the right one?" She grabbed a light blue oxford shirt and held it up to her body. "How's this?"

Walking over to the nervously babbling rancher, Amanda took the shirt from her and removed it from the hanger. "It's perfect..." She draped the fabric over the broad shoulders. "Don't worry so's just a simple dinner. You have eaten in public before, haven't you?" She teased, trying to get the older woman to calm down.

Lex watched as the small hands buttoned her shirt for her. "Yeah, of course I's just that...well, they're...I just want to make a good impression, that's all." She took a deep breath and sighed. "I don't want your family to think I'm some sort of backwoods hick that eats with their hands..."

"Honey...they're not going to think that. Just because you own a ranch, that doesn't mean you have no manners. Martha raised you much better than that." Amanda wrapped her arms around Lex's waist, pulling the tall woman closer. "And if for some reason their little snooty brains think that way, no matter how wrong it is, I don't give a damn! I love you, so they'll just have to love you too!"

"Oh, yeah?" Lex countered her eyes twinkling, pulling the smaller woman into a hug.

Amanda nodded into her chest. "Damn right."

A knock at the door interrupted them. "Miss Amanda, are you there?" A soft, lightly accented Spanish voice asked through the door.

"Come in, Sophia..." Amanda said, taking only one step away from Lex, who finished tucking in her shirt and buttoned her jeans closed.

"I'm sorry to be disturbing you, Miss Amanda, but Mrs. Cauble asked that you and your guest join them in the drawing room before dinner." The short, heavyset woman said softly.

"Thank you, Sophia...let me introduce you - this is Lexington Walters...Lex, this is Sophia, who spent a lot of time chasing me up and down these halls when I was a child." She gave the maid a sweet smile.

Lex stepped forward and held out her hand. "Nice to meet you, can call me Lex."

"Umm..." the maid was somewhat at a loss, looking up into those intense blue eyes. "Thank you, Miss's a real pleasure to meet you." She released the tall woman's hand and smiled at them both. "I'll let Mrs. Cauble know you'll be down soon." Nodding to Amanda, Sophia left the room, still smiling.

Amanda stood chuckling, staring at the quickly closed door. "You seem to have enchanted our entire household staff." She turned and looked at Lex, who was sitting on the bed slipping on her socks.

"Oh yeah...I think I'm more of an oddity - they act like they've never seen someone wearing scruffy boots before." She pulled one of the talked about pieces of footwear on.

"That's not it at all, honey..." Amanda sat down beside her, wrapping an arm around the broad shoulders. "It's because they're not used to houseguests treating them like people." She sighed. "I don't think my mother knows anyone's name except Beverly's - and she only knows hers because Beverly is in charge of the staff."

Lex leaned her head over until it touched Amanda's. "That's a real shame. They're all really nice folks." She kissed the blonde head, then stood up. "Do I look okay?" The rancher held her arms out away from her body, a little nervously.

Amanda scratched her chin, apparently deep in thought. "Hmm..." She pursed her lips. "No, you don't look okay." Seeing the upset look on Lex's face, she laughed and continued, "You look great!" Amanda stood up and grabbed the older woman's hand. "C'mon...let's go face the inquisition."


Amanda stood outside the closed doors to the sitting room, gathering her courage. All right, Mandy...get a grip, she mentally chastised. Looking at her partner, she saw that Lex had a slightly lost look on her face. "Ready?" she smiled at the taller woman.

"As I'll ever be." Lex returned her smile.

Conversation stopped and all eyes in the room turned towards the door as Amanda and Lex entered.

An auburn-haired young woman, who looked like a slightly older version of Amanda, stepped towards them, a smile on her face. "Amanda! It's so good to see you again." She gave the younger woman a strong hug, then pulled back and tugged on the end of Amanda's hair. "What did you do to your hair?"

Amanda smiled as her sister backed away. "I cut it to make it easier to take care of," she unconsciously brushed the shoulder-length blonde strands away from her face. "With taking care of Grandpa and working at the office, I just didn't have time to mess with waist-long hair."

"It makes you look older." A slender blonde woman commented from a nearby chair. "Are you going to stand there all evening, or are you going to come tell me hello?" she regally questioned, lifting a hand towards them.

Amanda traded rolled eyes with her sister, then walked over to their mother, who stood up as her younger daughter approached. "Hello, Mother." Amanda greeted the aristocratic woman, "You're looking well."

Elizabeth Cauble placed her hands on Amanda's shoulders, then leaned forward to place a light kiss on the younger woman's cheek. "Thank you dear..." she pulled back and patted her hair with one hand. "I had Antoine make it a little lighter, this time." She looked her youngest daughter over carefully. "You are looking a little washed out, dear - have you been working too hard? Showing strange people dirty little houses all day is not something a lady should be doing." She said the words as if work were a disease.

"No...actually, I've been on vacation for the past couple of weeks - and it's been raining too much to get any sun." Not to mention most of my...activities...have been indoors lately, she grinned to herself. "And I really don't want to have another argument over my job right now." Amanda turned towards the doorway, where her lover stood quietly. "Lex...come over here." She looked back at her family, then took Lex's hand. "Mother, this is Lexington Walters - she's the woman I told you about over the phone...Lex, this is my mother, Elizabeth Cauble."

The rancher looked at Elizabeth, who was a couple of inches taller than Amanda. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Cauble." She held out her hand to the older woman, who took it with slight disdain.

"Yes, I'm sure." Elizabeth removed her hand quickly, wiping it not so discreetly with a handkerchief. So this is the cowhand who is after my daughter's inheritance... we'll just see about that, she gave the taller woman an icy glare.

Amanda missed the look her mother gave Lex as she grabbed the rancher's arm and casually directed her over to where her sister and a tall handsome man stood. "Jeannie, Frank... this is Lex, the love of my life." She turned to see Lex's face blush slightly. "Lex, this is my sister Jeannie, and my best friend Frank Rivers, who just happens to be married to her."

Frank shook Lex's hand with enthusiasm. "So, you're this mysterious rancher that our Mandy has been raving about..." he pulled her into a hug, and whispered into her ear, "Welcome to the family, Lex...just don't let the old battle-ax get to you." Frank released the somewhat shocked rancher, who gave him a shaky smile.

"Thanks,'s really good to meet you." Lex glanced over at Amanda, and smiled. "Although Amanda hasn't told me much about her family, I'm looking forward to getting to know all of you before we leave." Seeing her partner's face looking at her questioningly, "I'm sure you have some interesting stories to tell." Then she turned back towards Jeannie and held out her hand. "Nice to meet you, Jeannie."

Amanda's sister took her hand cautiously. " seems that we owe you our thanks for saving my sister's life." She didn't really understand Amanda's lifestyle, but knew from listening to her mother's ravings that this woman was her 'girlfriend'. Well, I'll give my little sister one thing - she certainly has great taste, Jeannie thought to herself. Gorgeous eyes - and she doesn't look like the money-hungry demon Mother described, either. Hmm...

Lex gave Jeannie a slightly embarrassed smile. "I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, that's all..." she was saved from any further comments by a clear voice from the doorway.

"Excuse me, but dinner is ready, Mrs. Cauble." Beverly gave Elizabeth a slight curtsy.

Elizabeth held out her hand for Michael to take. "Very well. Shall we all continue our conversations in the dining room?" she asked the others, her and her husband taking the lead and stepping from the room.

Frank gave Lex and Amanda a wink. "Guess that's our cue to follow." He waited for Jeannie to take his arm, then followed the older couple out of the sitting room.

Lex watched as the others left, then turned and bowed to Amanda with a rakish smile. "Shall we, my dear?" she held out her arm.

Amanda swatted the offered arm, then wrapped her arms around Lex tightly. "God...I love you..." she murmured into the taller woman's chest. "Think they'd miss us if we just staying right here, like this?"

Kissing the top of the blonde head, Lex chuckled. "Uh, yeah...I'm afraid they would." She whispered, looking over Amanda's head and seeing Elizabeth's angry glare at the doorway, before the older woman turned on her heel and fled the scene. "C'mon, sweetheart...I can hear your stomach rumbling from here. Let's go impress your family with my table manners." She teased. "I promise to use my fork instead of my fingers."

"Oh, god...don't even joke about that!" Amanda laughed. "But it would be fun to see my mother's face if you did." She lifted her head up and gave the rancher a tender kiss. "Okay... let's go watch my mother hold court at the dining room table." She pulled Lex out of the sitting room and down the hall.


Chapter 24

They stepped into a lavish dining room, with a large table that could easily seat twenty people. Michael Cauble sat at the head of the table, with his wife to the right of him, and his eldest daughter to the left. Frank stood next to Jeannie's chair, waiting for the other women to take their seats. There was a place setting next to Elizabeth, and another on the other side of Frank. Before Amanda could complain about the seating arrangements, Lex gently pushed her towards the chair next to her mother, while the rancher took her place next to the grinning Frank.

He pulled Lex's chair out for her, getting an upraised eyebrow in response. "Thanks, Frank..." Lex mumbled, then gave a wink to her partner across the table.

"Now that we're all finally seated," Elizabeth gave the rancher an annoyed look, "you may have dinner brought in, Beverly."

Everyone was completely silent as the servers brought in the meal, waiting until they left the room to begin speaking. "So, this the first time you've ever been to Los Angeles?" Michael was bound and determined to show how unworldly Amanda's choice in suitors was.

Setting down her fork, the rancher smiled. "Yes it is, Mr. Cauble...I don't usually take the time to travel from the ranch, but since Amanda decided that she needed to come, wild horses couldn't keep me away." She gave her lover a smile across the table.

"What exactly do you raise on your ranch? Cattle, horses...?" Frank decided that the dark haired woman could use an ally.

Lex gave him a smile. "Cattle, mostly...but I'm trying to turn it into more of a horse ranch. What is it you do, Frank?"

The big man cleared his throat. "I played professional football for a couple of years, until I blew out my I'm in the public relations business."

"You're that Frank Rivers?" Lex exclaimed. "Wow! I used to curse you when the Cowboys would play the're one of the best defensive backs I've ever seen play the game!"

"Such a barbaric game...grown men trying to hurt each other." Elizabeth sniffed. "But I suppose you'd be interested in that sort of thing, wouldn't you, Ms. Walters?"

Amanda shook her head. "I don't think..."

Lex chuckled. "Nah...I enjoy watching the game, but I just as soon be out riding, than sitting in front of a television, or stuck inside with a desk job."

"Most...desk you put it, are very good ways of making a living. At least it's steady income." The matriarch fussed with her napkin.

"I agree, Mrs. Cauble...I just can't ever see myself locked in that sort of position - but folks that do, have my complete respect." The rancher noticed the red flush rising on the older woman's face, and grinned inwardly. Not going to get me to lose my temper over something that trivial, lady...

Michael decided to try and change the subject, since the only person losing control of their temper seemed to be his normally calm wife. "Amanda, have you thought any more on my offer? You could have the office right down the hall from me, and of course you'd be making over twice what you could at that puny real estate office." He enjoyed the look of shock on the rancher's face.

Amanda looked across the table to Lex, whose face had turned quite pale. "Um...I thought we were going to discuss this tomorrow?" she directed towards her father. Oh, Lex... don't look at me that way.

"Amanda! That would be wonderful! You've always wanted to work with your father..." Elizabeth beamed, placing a hand on her younger daughter's arm. "We could have all of your things brought back out of storage in the morning." She gave the quiet woman across the table a triumphant look.

Lex felt her whole world collapse. Dropping her fork to her barely touched plate, she swallowed the lump in her throat and mumbled, "If you'd please excuse me...I need to make a few phone calls." She promptly stood up and left the room.

Michael watched the rancher leave, a satisfied smirk on his face. "Well, Amanda, I guess we should talk about your salary..."

Elizabeth cut in before her younger daughter could speak. "Michael, you know we don't discuss money or politics while we are eating - it's bad for the digestion." She turned to Amanda. "We really must do something about your wardrobe, dear...I think you've spent too much time in the company of that...woman - you look like a migrant worker, or something equally distasteful."

Amanda tossed her napkin on the table in disgust. "These are the same damn clothes I wore when I lived here!" she began to stand up, but Elizabeth's grip on her shirt stopped her.

"Watch your language, young lady!" Michael stood up angrily, his face red. "Apologize to your mother this instant..." he pushed his chair back, prepared to go around the table towards his youngest daughter.

"Daddy...let's all calm down, here..." Jeannie grabbed her father's arm, pulling gently. "It's been a really long day, and we're all tired." She gave a nervous smile as Michael sat back in his chair. Looking at her sister, she asked, "Amanda? C'mon, why don't you sit back down and we can finish dinner like civilized adults?"

"I'm really not that hungry...if you will all excuse me, I'm going to check on my friend." Amanda quietly pushed her chair back towards the table and left the room.

Waiting until the young woman closed the door behind her, Michael turned towards his wife. "Dammit, Elizabeth! You just had to start on her clothes..." he looked over at his oldest daughter. "And I don't want to hear anything out of you..."

"Okay, sure..." Jeannie shrugged her shoulders. Poor Amanda...they're just not going to let this go...

"Please, Michael - calm yourself. I can't help it if our daughter had begun dressing like a...a...field hand! Did you see those jeans? They were faded! And not even pressed!" she tsked.

Jeannie stifled a giggle. "I think she looks great - and I love her hair." She turned to her husband, "What do you think? Should I get mine trimmed, too?"

"Whatever makes you happy, sweetheart..." Frank grinned at his wife. "You'd look great without any hair at all." He enjoyed the look of shock on her face.

"Eeww..." Jeannie grimaced, then stuck her tongue out at her husband.

Amanda stepped out of the dining room, closed the door quietly behind her, and then started down the long hallway towards the sitting room. "Lex?" She peeked her head inside, finding the large room empty. Okay...if I were an upset rancher, where would I go? She wondered to herself. Turning around, she almost screamed out loud when she came face to face with Beverly.

"Goodness!" the maid exclaimed, "I'm terribly sorry to give you such a scare...are you alright, Miss Amanda?"

The young blonde leaned up against the doorframe, releasing a heavy breath. "I'm fine... you wouldn't happened to have seen Lex in the past few minutes, would you?"

Beverly nodded. "As a matter of fact, I have...she asked me to show her how to get to the back gardens - she said she needed some fresh air." She noticed the lines of tension on the younger woman's face. "Is it true that you'll be staying? Mr. Cauble called me earlier and told me to have your things pulled from storage tomorrow - but I wanted to check with you first."

"I'm afraid that's just wishful thinking on his part, Beverly - at the rate things are going, I'm not sure if we'll even be here through tomorrow." She spared a wistful glance down the hallway. "Um...I've got a moving truck and crew scheduled to show up tomorrow - would you..."

The maid patted her on the shoulder. "I'll send them over with Paul to the storage facility - he'll make sure that they get everything." She saw the sad look on Amanda's face as the young woman looked down the hall, fidgeting. "Why don't you go and check on your friend? I'll tell everyone that you retired for the evening."

A relieved smile crossed Amanda's face. "Thanks, Beverly. I owe you one." She forced herself to walk slowly down the hallway, making her way towards the side of the house.


Sitting on a slight hill under a large tree, Lex looked down at the massive 'garden'. A beautiful fountain, surrounded by a ten-foot hedge on three sides, soothed the rancher's frazzled nerves. Propping her chin on an upraised knee, Lex stared at the gurgling pool, mesmerized by the play of lights by the sinking sun on the spraying water.

C'mon, Lexington...pull yourself together... she released a heavy sigh. This was just the sort of thing that you were afraid of, wasn't it? That she'd come back here, and pick up where she left off? All of her friends are here, and her family... she angrily brushed away a tear from her face. "Look at this place...what in the hell could I possibly have to offer her to compare with this?"

She murmured quietly, closing her watering blue eyes.

"Your love." A gentle voice whispered from behind her. "Your heart." Lex's view was suddenly blocked by the owner of the voice, blonde hair framed by the setting sun. "Mind some company?" Amanda asked, touching Lex's knee with her hand.

"Uh...sure." Lex shifted so that the younger woman could sit in front of her, framed by the rancher's long legs. She wiped at her eyes, disguising the motion by using the same hand to comb her dark hair out of her face. "Sorry about running out on you like that...the walls were starting to close in on me." Lex wrapped her arms around Amanda and pulled her close.

Leaning back into the embrace, Amanda sighed, then bent her head to kiss one of the strong arms holding her. "Don't apologize...I'm just really sorry that my father said what he did."

"Was it true?" Lex whispered in her ear. "Are you considering staying here, and going to work for him?" Taking a deep breath, she continued, "If that's what you want...I' your decision. I love you, and I want you to be happy." She laid her head on the younger woman's shoulder.

Amanda tangled her fingers into the dark, thick hair spilling over her shoulder. "What about us? Do you think I could just walk away from this...from you?" She felt the body behind her take in a shaky breath.

"No! I don't think that. But I'm also not stupid enough to disregard what a great opportunity this is for you." Lex raised her head slightly, placing a kiss just below Amanda's ear. "I you some time to get settled, then come back out here - if you want." The rancher found herself torn between her heart - which was screaming 'Don't go!' and her mind - saying 'this is the best thing for Amanda.' Oh, god...what am I going to do?

Amanda turned around slightly, so that she could see Lex's face. "What about your ranch?" She put a hand up to cradle the older woman's tense jaw.

"I'll...sell it, or hire somebody to run it...I don't care about the damn ranch," Lex closed her eyes and unconsciously leaned into Amanda's gentle touch. "She felt a fingertip brush away another tear from her face. "I do care about you...nothing else matters to me."

Fighting back tears of her own, Amanda brushed the dark bangs from her lover's face. "You'd...give up your ranch for me?" she choked out.

"In a heartbeat." Lex opened her eyes and frowned. "Hey...don't cry..." she lifted a shaky hand to the younger woman's face, brushing the now-falling tears away. "What's wrong?"

"No one's...ever...offered to do something like that for me, before." Amanda looked deeply into Lex's eyes. "Oh, Lex..." she cried.

The rancher pulled Amanda closer, kissing the top of her head. "Shhh..." she began rocking the now sobbing woman. "Please don't cry, sweetheart...I love you. Do you really think I'd let you stay here alone?"

Amanda let herself calm down before continuing. "No...I know you wouldn't leave me... but you don't have to worry. I would never ask you to give something up that means so much to you."

"What are you saying?" Lex felt a jolt of fear shoot through her. "Do you...don't you... you don't want me to stay?" she finished in a quiet voice.

"No...I don't want you to stay..." Amanda smiled to herself, "I would get really lonesome in Texas without you." She finished, looking up into Lex's eyes. Seeing the understanding light up the older woman's features, she grinned. "The movers are going to pick up everything in storage you still want to stay? We can leave whenever you get ready."

"But what about Friday? Won't your father be upset with you?" Lex almost laughed out loud, she was so happy. She's not staying...she's going home with me!

Amanda wrapped her arms around Lex and squeezed tight. "He's already upset...and to quote a good friend of mine, 'you're more important' than some stupid dinner party."

"Thanks...but we're already here - might as well stick it out." Lex pulled Amanda's chin up and gave her a sweet kiss, which was eagerly returned.

After reluctantly breaking off to catch her breath, Amanda sighed. "You know, this is one of my favorite places...I was hoping I would find you here." She snuggled closer, tucking her head into the older woman's chest.

"Really?" Lex murmured, rubbing her cheek on the soft blonde hair. "It just seemed so... peaceful...secluded. Kinda reminds me of home." She chuckled. "Without the fancy fountain, of course."

Amanda giggled. " would probably scare the horses half to death, not to mention the fuss Martha would probably make over it." She raised up a little and kissed the soft skin on Lex's throat. "I used to sit out here for hours - reading...dreaming..."

"What did you dream about?" Lex asked quietly, enthralled at this peek into her lover's early life.

"When I was really young, I'd dream about the usual things...who I would marry, what I was going to do when I grew up - you know, that sort of stuff." She felt the strong arms tighten around her. "For as long as I can remember, I wanted to go to work for my father. Of course, I alternated that idea with working for Gramma, or even helping Grandpa Jake - I had a hard time deciding. But mostly, I wanted to follow in my father's footsteps."

"Oh, sweetheart..." Lex murmured sadly, seeing where this conversation was headed.

"No, wait..." Amanda patted Lex's stomach gently. "Anyway, I went to college and took a lot of extra classes so that I could graduate early - I wanted to make my dad proud." She sighed. "But he really didn't take me seriously - just sort of brushed me off and told me to travel for a couple of years, like my mother had. So, in my fit of rebellion, I got my realtor's license instead, and joined a small office here in Los Angeles." Seeing the sad look on Lex's face, Amanda touched her cheek gently. "And I thank god everyday that it all happened that way." She leaned forward and captured the rancher's lips, allowing her passion to take over. "Because..." she punctuated her point with a smaller kiss, "you are..." another, slightly longer kiss, "my greatest dreams come true." She met Lex's lips halfway, pulling the older woman's head down, with one hand tangled in her dark hair.

Lex greeted Amanda's passion with her own, then gasped as she felt a small hand unbuttoning her shirt. "Ah...Amanda..." the insistent hand reached inside, brushing her stomach lightly. "Oh, god...we can't..." a small mouth attached itself to her throat, as the hand began moving upward. "Mmm...No! What if someone...ahh..." the warm hand found it's target, squeezing gently.

"How about..." a sultry voice whispered in her ear, "we continue our conversation upstairs?" Amanda nibbled on the trembling rancher's earlobe. "I want you...right now." She pulled back a little, enjoying the flushed look on Lex's face. "C'mon..." Amanda slowly removed her hand, then buttoned the older woman's shirt back up. "I want to try out that huge bed in the guestroom." She stood up, pulling a slightly rumpled Lex to her feet.

Walking back into the house, Amanda giggled when Lex stumbled as they stepped through the kitchen doorway.

"Don't's all your fault, you know." Lex growled, her arm wrapped tightly around the shorter woman's waist.

Amanda guided her charge through the kitchen and back towards the main foyer. Just as they were reaching the large staircase, a voice stopped them.

"I've been looking for you, Amanda." Michael stated, stepping into the foyer. "I thought we had a conversation to finish." He glared at Lex, noticing the tall woman's bedraggled appearance. "Just where exactly were you?"

Not relinquishing her hold on her lover, Amanda smiled. " We were just enjoying the peace and quiet of the gardens, Daddy." Feeling Lex begin to tense, she added, "And I think we said all there was to say earlier."

Michael frowned. "I don't think so...come back into my office, and we'll try to get all of this straightened out." He turned, expecting his daughter to follow.

"I'm sorry, Daddy...but we were on our way upstairs. Maybe you and I can't talk some more tomorrow." She turned, pulling Lex with her. "Goodnight."

Knowing when to back off, Michael stormed back towards his office. Dismissed! Like a servant, by my own daughter...all because of that...that...woman! "We'll just have to see about that, won't we?" he mumbled, sitting down behind his desk, and pulling his Rolodex forward. Finding the number he was searching for, Michael grabbed the phone.

"Richards Investigations." A slightly accented female voice answered.

"This is Michael Cauble. Put James on the phone." Michael ordered, not sparing time for niceties.

"Very well, Mr. Cauble - hold one moment, please." The secretary's voice was cool and professional.

Michael waited impatiently, drumming his fingers on his desk. There should be a law against Muzak...As tinny strains of Memories flooded his ear.

"Richards, here." A somewhat gravely voice intoned. "Mr. Cauble? What can I do for you?"

"James, I have a rush job for you - double your usual fee if you can get it together before Friday." Michael had pulled a pencil from his desk and was now doodling aimlessly on a notepad. A stick figure wearing a cowboy hat appeared beneath his sketching pencil.

"This Friday? Must be really important." Richards sounded intrigued. "What is it?"

"I want you to dig up everything you can find on a Lexington Walters - she's a rancher right outside of Somerville, Texas..." Michael growled. "I don't care what it costs, or how many men you have to put on it. I need it quick." The stick figure now stood on a wide platform.

The investigator chuckled. "Not a problem, Mr. Cauble. I'll send out a team in the next hour, and send you a report by tomorrow morning." He had been under Michael Cauble's employ for the past several years, and knew how well the man would pay.

"Excellent. Don't send it by courier, though...just fax it to me. I rely on your discretion, James." Michael hung up the phone, smiling. No two-bit dirt grubber is going to get her hands on my daughter's money. The platform in his sketch became a gallows - a noose now around the neck of the stick figure.


Lex allowed herself to be guided up the long staircase, her thoughts elsewhere. Why is her family so dead set against seeing her happy? Are they really that self-centered? Or is it something else? Maybe it's because of who she's with...

"Honey? You still with me here?" Amanda questioned, closing the guestroom door behind them. "What's wrong?" She pulled Lex over to the bed, and gently sat her down. "Lex?" Amanda lightly touched her face, seeing the rancher finally shake herself and her gaze sharpen.

"Huh? Oh, sorry about that...just thinking." Lex murmured, leaning into the touch. "What were you saying?" She pulled the younger woman into her lap with a heartfelt sigh.

Amanda snuggled into Lex's arms, content to let the subject drop. "Nothing...I was just a little concerned." She kissed the tan throat under her lips. "Are you feeling okay?"

Lex chuckled. "I've never felt better...why don't we get ready for bed?" She stood up, lifting Amanda to her feet as well. "Oh...umm..." she mumbled, feeling small hands begin to unbutton her shirt again. She reached for the rest of the buttons, intent on helping her lover with the task.

"No...please...let me." Amanda whispered, pushing the shirt back over broad shoulders and onto the floor. She began unbuttoning Lex's jeans, then quickly slid them down her hips, bumping the older woman back onto the bed.

"I can..." Lex started, but quieted when Amanda placed a soft hand over her mouth. She kissed the hand, which then moved to caress her face, running lightly over her upraised eyebrows.

The younger woman smiled. "Just sit back...I've been wanting to do this all evening." She leaned over and placed a tender kiss on the rancher's lips, then backed off and began removing the well-worn boots from Lex's feet, the socks quickly following them to the floor.

Sitting back on the bed, Lex could only marvel at the gentle attentiveness that her lover showed. Deciding to just lie back and enjoy the ride, she chuckled when a hand tickled her bare foot. "Hey!" She wiggled the foot slightly.

Amanda giggled. "'ve just got such cute feet...I couldn't resist." She ran another fingertip down Lex's instep, then grabbed the end of the jeans and pulled them off of the long legs. "And really sexy legs..." she murmured, running her hands up the inside of the rancher's calves, amazed at how strong they were. For someone who rides horses so much, she's got incredible legs.

"Ah...umm...oh, god..." Lex leaned back and closed her eyes, feeling her heart begin to pound. Her eyes opened back up slightly when she heard the sound of cloth rustling nearby. Enjoying her slight bit of voyeurism, the rancher watched as Amanda slowly removed her own clothes, unaware that she was being watched. "You are so beautiful, Amanda..." she murmured, watching as her words caused the younger woman to blush.

"Yeah, right..." Amanda chuckled, as she walked back over towards the bed. "Ugh!" she grunted as she was quickly pulled down on top of Lex. "I don't think..." her doubts were silenced by insistent lips, which claimed hers hotly. "Mmm..." she wrapped her arms around the dark-haired woman's neck, feeling strong hands pull her closer.

"Don't worry..." Lex murmured between heated kisses, "I wasn't expecting you to do any more thinking tonight." She rolled over to cover the younger woman's body with her own.


Chapter 25

Amanda stretched stiffly, noticing with a slight frown that the sun was trying to peek in the windows. She looked down lovingly at the woman who was snuggled partially on top of her, Lex's dark head resting comfortably on her chest. How did I ever get so lucky? Everything I ever wanted in someone, and in a really good looking package too... Amanda gently brushed the scattered bangs from the smooth forehead. Why can't they just see how happy I am, and leave us alone? Everything has to be connected with money, not love, as far as they're concerned. She released a heavy sigh, dropping her head back down onto her pillow.

"Hey...what's the matter?" Lex's voice, rough with sleep asked. "You okay?" she nuzzled the soft skin under her cheek.

Glancing back down into those incredibly blue eyes, Amanda smiled. "I'm great. Just thinking." She ran her fingertips across Lex's smooth cheek. "I love you so very much, you know."

"I love you too." Lex placed a kiss on Amanda's chest, then hugged her tight. "I don't know who to thank for sending you to me, but I'm going to spend the rest of my life loving you."

A knock on the door stopped Amanda's answer. "Miss Amanda? It's me, Beverly." The maid's soft voice floated through the door.

Lex grinned, then shrugged, as Amanda gave her a questioning look. The rancher climbed out of bed, and padded into the bathroom, closing the door behind her.

"Come in, Beverly." Amanda had just enough time to put Lex's shirt on and climb back into bed as the maid stepped into the room.

Beverly gave the younger woman a knowing smile. "I'm really sorry to bother you so early, but I thought you might want to know that your mother is looking for you." She looked at the clothes strewn around the room. "And I didn't want her...interrupting...anything."

Amanda blushed. "Uh, yeah...thanks a lot, Beverly." She rubbed her face with one hand. "Do you know what she wants?"

"She mentioned something about choosing your outfit for Friday." Beverly gave her a sympathetic smile."

"Too bad...I have already chosen my clothes - she'll just have to live with it." Amanda grinned, then realized that the shirt she was wearing was inside out and buttoned crookedly, which caused her to blush again.

Lex stepped out of the bathroom, with a green towel wrapped around her body. "Good morning, Beverly." She grinned to the maid, watching from the corner of her eye as Amanda blushed furiously. "Everything okay, Amanda?" she asked, smirking.

"Yeah...I guess. Beverly came up to warn us that Mother's looking for me." The blonde woman ducked her head, finding the pattern on the comforter quite interesting.

Lex walked into the closet, laughing. "Must not be looking too hard...I don't see you hiding." She stepped back out, jeans on, buttoning a denim shirt.

Amanda covered her head when the maid began to laugh. "Oh, god..."

"I'll just let you get ready..." Beverly winked at Lex. "And I'll tell your mother that you'll be down soon, so she won't be disturbing you." She laughed again as another groan was heard from under the comforter. Beverly left the room, closing the door quietly behind her.

Sitting down on the edge of the bed, Lex pulled the comforter away from Amanda's head. "What's the matter, sweetheart?" She grinned as Amanda glared at her. "You're not shy, are you?"

' WHAP! '

Amanda slammed a pillow into the smirking rancher's face, knocking her off of the bed. Silence from below worried the younger woman, "Lex?" She leaned over the edge of the bed, just in time for the same pillow to knock her backwards. "Hey!" Amanda felt the bed shift as a large body leaped up, straddling her hips. "You wouldn't..." she started, just as long fingers began tickling her unmercifully. "Lex!..." she giggled, "C'mon...argh!" she squirmed, trying to fight back.

"Stop! I'm gonna make a mess if you don't quit!" she got out between gales of laughter.

Lex stopped tickling Amanda, and gently pulled the younger woman's arms up over her head. Leaning down, she gave her lover a soft kiss. "Bathroom's all yours, sweetheart... I'll just straighten up in here. Nice fashion trend you're setting with that shirt, by the way." She jumped off of the bed, laughing, as Amanda growled and tossed another pillow her way.


Deciding to avoid an early confrontation, Amanda had asked Beverly to have breakfast served to her and Lex on the sunporch off of the kitchen. Windows open, it wasn't a usual meeting place for members of the family, because the fresh air often brought small insects with it. The sun was partially blocked by the awning that ran across the back, but Lex loved it anyway.

"That was great." Lex moaned, leaning back in her chair and giving her lover a grateful smile. She pulled her arms back over her head and stretched until her back popped several times.

Amanda reached over and scratched the rancher's stomach lightly. "You didn't eat much dinner last night," she said regretfully, "Did you get enough breakfast?"

Lex chuckled and swatted the teasing hand away. "Stop that." She straightened up and grabbed her coffee cup. "Oh, yeah. I think I even out ate you." The dark-haired woman gave Amanda a smirk. "What's on the agenda for today?"

"How about a drive down to the beach?" Amanda pulled her napkin from her lap and placed it on the table. "Maybe a little sightseeing?" She reached over and took Lex's hand in hers. "I thought we could just get out of the house for a little while, give my parents time to calm down." And hopefully avoid a confrontation with Mother over my clothes for the dinner.

Pulling their linked hands up to her lips, Lex gave Amanda's knuckles a gentle kiss. "Whatever you want, sweetheart. It's your show." She smiled as the younger woman's eyes closed. "The beach sounds good...I've never seen the ocean."

Amanda opened her eyes and rubbed Lex's hand against her cheek. "Never? Well then, that's exactly what we're going to do." Standing up, she pulled the older woman up with her. "C'mon...we'll go change into some shorts, then hit the beach."

Allowing herself to be pulled through the house, Lex shook her head. "Amanda, you packed my bag - all I have are some old cut-offs. Not exactly the thing to be running around in."

"Oh yeah? Why else do you think I packed them? I've got some too, and think that they'll be perfect." The determined blonde had gotten them almost to the stairway when her mother stepped out of nowhere. "Oh, hi mother. We were just about to go to the beach - do you want to come?" Knowing how much Elizabeth hated anything that had to do with the outdoors, Amanda couldn't resist.

"No...thank you, Amanda. I'd like a word with you," she gave the rancher an icy glare, "alone, if you don't mind."

Lex looked down at her companion, who looked as if she were ready to explode. "No problem. I'll just go upstairs and get changed." She gave Amanda's hand a strong squeeze, released it, then turned and walked quietly up the stairs.

"Come, Amanda. We'll go into the drawing room - I have coffee ready." Elizabeth turned and walked across the foyer, her daughter trailing dutifully behind.

Amanda waited until they were seated before she began speaking. "Mother, I know you've never approved of what I've done with my life, or my choices I've made...but I will not sit still for your rude treatment of Lex."

"Now, wait just a minute..." Elizabeth sputtered.

"No! You wait." Amanda held up a hand for forestall her mother's tirade. "I resigned myself a long time ago to the fact that I was a disappointment to you and Daddy." She took a deep breath then continued, "I'm never going to be one of your snobby little society girls, like you wanted."

Elizabeth grasped the younger woman's arm. "Amanda, that's not completely true. Your father and I respect the fact that you have a mind of your own." She released her hold to pick up a dainty coffee cup and saucer. Taking a small sip, the regal woman put it back on the table in front of them then continued. "Where did we go wrong? Your sister seems happy." She looked her daughter in the eyes, "What did we do to make you this way?"

Amanda blinked, unsure of the question. "What exactly are you talking about, Mother? Is this about me being gay?"

"I refuse to accept that, Amanda. You were raised in a good home." She searched her daughter's face for a clue to her questions. "It's because of Frank, isn't it?"

"What?" Amanda's mouth dropped open.

Elizabeth nodded to herself, pleased with her deduction. "You and he were quite an item, and then your sister Jeannie stole him right out from under your nose." She tapped her chin with an elegant nail. "I should have seen this before. This is your way at getting back at all of us for giving your sister our blessing with him, isn't it?"

Amanda jumped up, too agitated to sit still. "Oh, for crying out loud, Mother!" She paced over to the piano, then turned back to face the older woman. "I told you I was gay when I was still in high school! Frank has always been just a very good friend." She walked over to stand in front of Elizabeth. "I was the one who set him up with Jeannie. He's like a brother to me!"

"Calm down, dear...come over here and sit down." Elizabeth patted the spot next to her on the loveseat. "We'll forget about your little outburst for now." She waited until Amanda was once again seated. "Now, about this woman you've brought with you," Elizabeth raised her hand to silence her daughter. "Just a minute...from what Michael's parents have told us, she saved your life a few weeks ago, correct?"

For the first time since they stepped into the room, Amanda smiled. "Yes, she did. Lex had no idea who I was, but she jumped into that flooded creek and pulled me to safety, getting hurt herself in the process."

"And you stayed with her at her ranch, afterwards?" Elizabeth questioned.

"Yes. The bridge was partially destroyed, so Lex offered me a place to stay until it could be repaired." Green eyes sparkled with remembrance.

Elizabeth grasped Amanda's hands with her own, leaning forward slightly. "She's quite a strong looking tell me the truth, Amanda. We can protect you here." The older woman looked around the room cautiously, then whispered, "Did she force herself on you? Are you afraid of what she might do if you don't stay with her?"

Amanda couldn't help it...she laughed. "Lex? You've got to be kidding!" She pulled away from her mother, leaning back in the loveseat. "Somebody should ask her that question... I practically threw myself at her."

Watching her daughter's body language, Elizabeth came to a decision. No, I don't think she feels threatened by that woman, but..."You threw yourself at her? Amanda! I'm..." Another idea sprouted itself in the older woman's mind. "Hero worship." She stated smugly.

"Excuse me?"

"That's it. Since you're not being forced to stay with her, that's the only logical explanation." The older woman took another sip of her coffee. "You her for saving your life and then taking care of you. So you naturally show your gratitude by staying with her."

Amanda jumped to her feet again. "That's bullshit!" she practically yelled, then stopped when she saw the look on her mother's face. "I'm sorry, Mother." She sat back down again. "You're wrong. It's not fear, hero worship, or misplaced gratitude that keeps me with Lex."

"Then what..." Elizabeth began, only to be cut off by Amanda.

"It's love. Plain and simple." Amanda looked into her mother's eyes, hoping to see understanding there. "I can't explain how it happened, or why...but I fell hopelessly, deeply in love with her almost instantly." She stood up and slowly walked to the door. "Why is it so hard for you and Daddy to understand that?" Amanda shook her head and left the room, closing the door quietly behind her.

Elizabeth Cauble sat immobile, staring at the closed door. We'll just see what her father has to say about this...Michael always has a few tricks up his sleeves. She smiled, although it didn't quite reach her eyes.


Lex stood at the bedroom window, staring at nothing as the voice through the cellular phone wound down.

"Lexie, don't you let those folks get to you, now." Martha pleaded, after hearing what Lex had reported to her so far. "You're just as good, if not better, than any of them, honey."

The rancher released a heavy sigh. "You say that, Martha...but you haven't seen this place. It's straight out of one of those silly television shows you used to watch. I keep expecting to see Joan Collins step out of a room any minute now."

Martha laughed. "Now that would be a sight!" she sobered. "How's Amanda handling all of this? Poor thing's probably as flustered as you are, I'll bet."

"She's doing a lot better than I am, I think. Although it's been one fight after another for her ever since we got here." Lex ran a hand through her hair, then leaned forward until her forehead was pressed against the cool glass of the window. "She's a hell of a lot stronger than I thought she was, that's for sure."

"I could have told you that, Lexie. That young lady may look like the sweet quiet type, but she's got the heart of a lion." Martha stated, matter of fact. "You tell her I said hello, and to not take any bunk from anyone. And make sure she knows she always has a home here, no matter what."

"Yes ma'am." Lex finally smiled. "I was kind of thinking along those exact lines, myself."

Martha chuckled. "I knew I didn't raise a fool, honey. Now you take care of yourself, and her too - we'll have a nice barbecue when you girls get back home."

Lex laughed. "That sounds like a wonderful idea, Martha. I'll talk to you tomorrow."

"Alright, sweetheart. Goodbye." The sweet housekeeper hung up the phone, already happily planning the feast.

Lex had just closed the phone when the bedroom door opened. Turning away from the window, the tall woman crossed the room quickly when she saw the upset look on Amanda's face. "What's the matter, sweetheart? Are you...?" Lex stopped her questioning when the young blonde wrapped her arms around her and buried her tear-streaked face in the rancher's chest. "Hey." She instinctively returned the embrace, running a hand through the soft hair. "You okay?"

Amanda sniffed, then looked up into worried blue eyes. "Yeah...just needed to connect with you for a minute." She felt a soft kiss on the top of her head and smiled. "I love you so much, Lex...why can't my parents understand that?"

"Your mother gave you a hard time, huh?" Lex asked, as she guided the younger woman over to the bed to sit down. "They just want what's best for you," she pulled Amanda into her lap, "so do I."

"I don't think that's it...they want what's best for them - they've never even bothered to ask me what I wanted." Amanda raised her arms to wrap them around Lex's neck, pulling the dark head close for a kiss. "Mmm..." She turned to face the rancher, straddling strong thighs.

Lex chuckled when Amanda finally broke free to breathe. "Is that what you wanted?" she leaned down and captured the younger woman's lips again. "Better?" she teased.

"Oh yeah...much." Amanda murmured snuggling close, then ran one hand lightly down Lex's side, feeling the jean-clad leg beneath her. "I thought you were going to change?"

"I was...but I decided to call Martha instead." Lex waved the cell phone in front of Amanda's face.

The blonde swatted the phone away. "Oh yeah? How's she doing?"

The rancher laughed. "Ornery as ever. She sends you her love, and said for you not to let them get to you." She paused, "And...umm...she said to tell you not to forget that you have a home there." Lex finished quietly.

"I do, huh?" Amanda questioned just as quietly, looking up into Lex's face.

Lex looked down, lost in sparkling green eyes. " know, I've been thinking a lot about that. And I realize that we haven't known each other that long..." Lex babbled, unsure of herself. "But I was wondering if..."

Amanda could feel the rancher's heart pounding by the hand she had placed on the older woman's chest. "Lex...honey...what are you trying to say?" She tried to calm the nervous woman by then gently massaging her neck and shoulder.

"Well, um...I know you value your independence, and I'm not trying to rush you, or push you into something that you're not ready for...and it's really not that far from town..." Lex continued, still flustered.

Understanding dawned on Amanda. "Wait..." she covered the rattled rancher's mouth with her hand. "Are you asking me to move in with you at the ranch?" Seeing the telltale flush on her companion's face, she smiled brightly. "You know, I was wondering how I was going to survive when I have to go back to work next week."

Lex looked at her, trying unsuccessfully to keep a silly grin from erupting on her face. "Does this mean...?"

"Think you could handle having me under foot all the time?" Amanda teased. "Ooof!" she grunted as the breath was suddenly squeezed from her.

"YES!" Lex whooped, hugging the smaller woman to her tightly. She buried her face in the soft fragrant hair. "Under foot? I should be so lucky!" she mumbled happily. "You can either redo the guest room, or just move into the master bedroom with me...I'll try to make space in my closet." She joked.

Amanda laughed. "Let's worry bout it when we get home, okay? I'm just going to have the movers put everything into storage right now...we can sort through it all later." She kissed Lex on the chin.

"We've got a pretty good sized storage shed up by the bunkhouse, if you'd rather use that...I cleaned it out about three years ago...had a bunch of Dad's junk in it - I don't think anything is even in there right now." Lex pulled Amanda's face up gently, then gave her a tender kiss. "Thanks." She whispered when they broke apart.

"For what?" Amanda asked, searching the face so close to hers.

Lex cradled the younger woman's cheek with one hand. "For bringing more happiness into my life than I ever thought was possible." She captured Amanda's lips again, this time with more fervor.

Amanda returned the kiss, threading her hands through the thick dark hair, rolling onto her back and pulling the rancher over on top of her. "Mmm..." she pulled away just far enough to speak. "Why don't we wait until this afternoon to visit the beach? I can think of better things to do around here." She pulled Lex's face back down towards her.

With a wicked chuckle, Lex couldn't agree more. "You're the boss."


Chapter 26

The breeze blowing off of the ocean was cool, but not cold as the two women walked side by side on the nearly deserted beach. When Lex had questioned Amanda about the sparse crowd, the younger woman told her it was the wrong time of the year. "Most people just spend their time in the nearby shops for right now."

"This is great." The rancher sighed, bending over and picking up a small shell, then cramming it into the pocket of her faded cutoffs like a small child.

Amanda giggled, then looped an arm through Lex's, bumping the taller woman with her hip. "Yeah, it is." She stopped and picked up another seashell. "Here, I think you missed one." She handed the treasure to her companion, who blushed slightly.

"Thanks." Lex sheepishly put it in her pocket. "Thought that maybe Martha might like them." Then she grinned at the look on the younger woman's face. "Yeah, yeah...okay. You caught me. I like 'em." She pulled Amanda into an impromptu hug. "Thanks...I'm really having a good time today."

"You haven't seen anything yet. Wait 'til we hit the shops - now there...are some interesting...sights." Amanda smiled, totally charmed by the child-like glee her lover displayed at all the sights and sounds on the beach. Lex had dragged her playfully into the surf when they first arrived, and threatened to throw the smaller woman into the ocean until she surrendered a kiss. "C'mon, you silly thing. Let's take your little...treasures...back to the car, and we'll have lunch -

then do a little shopping." Amanda pulled the smiling rancher back towards the parking lot.

After a light lunch of corn dogs and potato chips, Amanda guided Lex towards a row of colorful shops, slinging a large, brightly decorated straw bag over one shoulder.

"What's in the bag?" Lex asked, trying to peek inside as she walked beside her friend.

Amanda pulled away with a quirky grin. "Nothing, yet. But I like to be prepared." She pushed her wide sunglasses up on her nose.

Lex laughed, and pulled her just acquired aqua baseball cap that stated 'Life's a Beach' down a little further over her eyes. "If you say so, sweetheart." She glanced down at the younger woman's legs. "You've got a really nice tan, you know that?" She grinned at Amanda's blush.

"Thanks. I used to spend a lot of time at the beach when I lived here - just to get out of the know." Amanda studied her companion with a less than clinical eye. "I've never really noticed before, a good tan. How did you manage that? All I've ever seen you in, besides nothing," she leered, "is jeans." Lex not only had a nice tan, but long, very muscular legs as well.

"Well, when I'm putting the colts through their paces in the summertime, I sometimes wear cutoffs so I don't pass out from the heat." Lex admitted with a grin. Then she stopped, sidetracked by several girls jumping multiple ropes. How in the hell do they do that? She wondered, fascinated.

Amanda wandered ahead a few yards, enamoured with the sight of a man who was making colorful sand sculptures. Just as she turned to get Lex's attention, a young man grabbed at the bag on her shoulder, backhanding her across the face to make her release the purse.

Lex looked up just as the man hit Amanda. "Hey!" she yelled, grabbing one of the long jump ropes without a second thought. The rancher started running towards Amanda, who was sitting up holding her hand against her cheek. "You okay?" Lex asked, looking over her lover carefully.

"Yeah, just caught me off guard." Amanda tried to smile, but winced instead.

The rancher patted her knee. "Okay. Sit tight...I'll be right back." Then she took off, sprinting after the thief.

"Lex! Wait!" Amanda yelled, as she watched the older woman's long legs shorten the distance between herself and her quarry. A young boy stepped over to the still seated blonde, handing her a small bag filled with crushed ice. "Thank you." She smiled at the boy, who ducked his head and blushed.

As she chased the thief down the paved path, Lex fashioned a loop on one end of her confiscated rope. She never broke pace as she dodged the seemingly endless throng of people in her path. Seeing the young man look back at her in fear, she grinned. "That's right, you little'd better be scared." She growled, slowly making progress in catching up to the purse-snatcher, who quickly decided on an alternate route.

Knocking a few pedestrians down, the man took off across the sand, not even realizing when his pursuer got closer. Lex was only about ten yards away when she began swinging the rope over her head in a wide loop, closing in on the man quickly.

"URK!" The thief gasped, as the tightened rope around his chest stopped his progress. He wheezed again as he fell onto his back in the sand, hard.

Lex fell to her knees, straddling his still panting body. She tangled her hands into the front of his sweat-stained tee shirt, a dark look on her beautiful face. "You son of a bitch!" The furious rancher pulled him up slightly, then slammed him back into the sand. "I ought to kill you right here, and save the state some money." Before she could do any damage, two police officers jumped from their bicycles and pulled her off of the now terrified man.

"Easy there, miss." One of the cops said, holding onto Lex's shoulder as his partner handcuffed the frightened thief. "Must have been something pretty important in that bag." He commented, handing the item back to the still heavily breathing rancher.

"No..." Lex, still on her knees gasped, getting her breathing under control, "It's empty." She gave the subdued man a nasty look. "The little bastard hit my friend." As if that explained everything.

The other cop grinned as his partner handed the rope back to Lex. "Nice job, by the way. We're going to need to get a statement from you, though."

"Can I go back and check on my friend first?" Lex asked, standing up and brushing the sand from her knees.

"Sure." Cop number two agreed, leading the thief towards a nearby police car. "We'll even have someone give you a ride back, since we need to collect a statement from your friend too." He opened the front passenger side door for Lex, then pushed the still-dazed thief into the back seat. "Johnston here," he nodded to the burly officer behind the wheel of the car, "will drop you off on his way to the station, and we'll meet you there, okay?"

"Thanks." Lex shook his hand and sat down in the car, still shocked at what she almost did. Damn...I could have killed that guy - thank god the police showed up when they did, or I'd be the one in the backseat.

If I have to fend off one more...kind...person, I swear I'll scream! Amanda thought to herself. Ever since Lex took off after her assailant, concerned bystanders, offering her everything from a glass of water to a dinner date bombarded the young woman. Some helpful soul had even brought her a folding lawn chair to sit in, as she fretted on the location of her companion. God, Lex...why did you take off after that guy? You knew there was nothing in that damn bag, she wondered silently, hoping that the tall woman would return soon.

When a police car pulled up into the parking lot beside where Amanda was sitting, she immediately thought the worst. Oh, god...what's happened to her? She fought to keep the tears at bay, when a tall form blocked the sun in front of her.

Concerned blue eyes looked right into her soul, as Lex knelt down in front of the frazzled blonde. "Amanda?" The rancher placed a warm hand on the younger woman's knee. "You okay, sweetheart?"

"Oh, god...Lex..." Amanda began to cry, as she launched herself out of the chair and into the arms of her lover. She wrapped her arms around the older woman's neck, ending up on her knees in front of Lex.

"Easy there, Amanda...shhh." The dark haired woman murmured in her ear, rubbing her back with a comforting motion. She slowly stood up, pulling the sobbing young woman with her.

Amanda pulled back slightly, tears still running down her face. "Are you okay?" she sniffed, a small smile forming when Lex gently wiped her face with her hand.

"Yeah, I'm fine. How about you?" Lex asked, running her fingertips lightly over her jaw, where a bruise was already beginning to form. That son of a bitch...I should have killed him when I had the chance.

"I'm okay." Amanda assured her, then slapped her hard on the side. "Don't you...ever... do that to me again!" she demanded in a shaky tone, anger and fear in her eyes.

"Ouch!" Lex jumped. "What?" she stepped back away from the younger woman, whose eyes were sparkling with emotion.

"Take off after a thief like that...Dammit, Lex! That stupid bag wasn't worth risking your life for!" the blonde fumed.

Lex stepped towards Amanda cautiously. "Him? Aw, Amanda...he's just a scrawny two-bit little purse-snatcher."

She really doesn't get it..."Lex..." Amanda began patiently, "He could have been a junkie looking for quick money - and carrying a knife or gun for protection." She put her hands on the dark-haired woman's waist. "And I don't want to lose you this soon after finding you, okay?"

Understanding raced across Lex's tan features. "Oh...I never really thought about that. I just saw him hit you, and kinda lost it." She pulled Amanda into a strong hug. "Sorry about that."

She regretfully released the younger woman when a throat was cleared discreetly behind her. Turning around, Lex kept her arm around Amanda's waist as she greeted the two bicycle cops. "Oh, hi...Officers. Sorry, I didn't catch your names." She grinned, as the policemen shook their heads and laughed.


Lex studied her companion's profile with concern, as Amanda drove them back towards her parent's house. "Oh, sweetheart," she said quietly, touching the side of Amanda's face, "That is going to be one hell of a bruise."

The side of Amanda's face was already turning purple, from her cheek down across her beautiful jaw. "I guess." She turned her head to peek into the rear view mirror, then grimaced. "Well, at least there's not much swelling - the ice really helped." She gave Lex a wry smile. "I can't believe you actually roped that guy...wish I had seen that!"

The rancher rolled her eyes. "Those cops exaggerated, I looked a lot more impressive than it actually was." She smirked. "Thought we'd never get away from your fan club, though." The petite blonde had been surrounded by a throng of well wishers, which followed the two women all the way to their car, offering all types of assistance.

"Don't remind me." Amanda chuckled. "Although I think you had your own admiration society with those two policemen." She teased, then reached up and grabbed Lex's hand, giving it a firm squeeze. "The look on that one guy's face when you turned down his dinner offer was priceless."

When the taller of the two police officers had approached Lex for a date, she matter of factly stated, "Sorry...but I don't think my girlfriend here would approve." Which caused Amanda to giggle, and the other cop to burst out laughing. The embarrassed officer had apologized, then offered to take them both out, which they politely declined, using the excuse that they didn't have enough time before they had to leave for Texas.

"Yeah...sorry about that. I wasn't really thinking." Lex grinned. "But it was pretty funny, wasn't it?"

Amanda shook her head. "What am I going to do with you?"

Lex gave her a sexy grin. "Oh, I'm sure you can come up with something creative."

"We'll see about that, my little thief roper." The blonde giggled, as she pulled up to the familiar security box. Before she reached out to punch in the security code, Amanda leaned over and released Lex's hand, grabbing her by the back of the neck. "C'mere." She pulled the rancher's head towards her.

Lex obeyed willingly, allowing the younger woman to take control of the situation, as chills chased down her spine. "Damn, Amanda..." she wheezed as they broke off, "How in the hell do you do that?" she leaned her forehead into the blonde's bangs, her entire body trembling slightly.

Amanda took a deep, shaky breath as well. "Whoa...that sure got the old blood pumping, didn't it?" She gave Lex another, shorter kiss. "Oh yeah...whoo!" She grinned, then released Lex and punched the code into the patiently waiting gate.

"What in the hell did you do to my daughter?" Michael Cauble yelled, when he spotted Lex and Amanda walking across the main foyer, heading for the stairs. He stormed towards the women, fists clinched at his side.

"Daddy...wait!" Amanda stepped in front of Lex, holding her hand out to block her father's path.

Shoving his daughter aside, Michael pushed the tall woman up against the stairwell, his face red with rage. "You like hitting defenseless women, cow chaser?"

Amanda squeezed between the two of them, pushing her father back. "Stop it! Lex didn't do anything to me, Daddy...I was mugged at the beach."

"What?! You were mugged?" Michael backed off, but only a step, glaring at the rancher. "Where the hell were you while my daughter was being assaulted?"

Lex wisely kept her mouth shut, allowing Amanda to handle her father. The fuming rancher knew that if she said anything, it would only hurt the woman she loved - so she concentrated on controlling her breathing. Stay calm, Lexington...let Amanda take care of him... She took a deep breath and released it, feeling the younger woman's hand pat her gently on the arm.

"Lex was only a few steps away, and she caught the guy - then turned him over to the police." Amanda stated proudly, stepping back and putting a hand behind her to make contact with the silent woman, whose anger she could almost feel as Lex unconsciously put her hands on the small waist in front of her.

Michael prudently decided to let the matter drop. "Very well." He looked at their matching ragged shorts and frowned. "Is it too much to ask that you two change for dinner? We're not having a clambake."

Amanda felt Lex stiffen behind her, the hands on her hips tightening slightly. "Is it too much for me to ask that you and Mother act civil tonight? If not, Lex and I can go out for dinner, then fly out first thing in the morning." She asked in a calm voice, halfway hoping his answer would be negative. Please...give me a reason to get out of here...

Damn...she's really grown up in the past year, hasn't she? Michael mused to himself, vaguely proud. All right...I'll play her little game. "Of course, dear. We just got off on the wrong foot, didn't we, Lex?" He reached forward and offered his hand to the dark-haired woman. "No hard feelings?"

"Sure, Mr. Cauble." Lex took his hand in a firm grasp. "No hard feelings." But she couldn't help but feel that the man was up to something. Probably up to no good, but we'll just play it by ear for now.

"Thanks, Daddy." Amanda gave her father a hug. "We'll be cleaned up and changed in time for dinner." She wasn't fooled either by his sudden capitulation, but decided to accept the cease-fire for now. "C'mon, Lex..." she grasped the older woman by the arm and led her up the stairs.

Once they were safely ensconced in the guestroom, Amanda locked the door and studied her quiet companion. "Are you okay?" she ran her hands searchingly over the rancher's body. "My father didn't hurt you, did he?"

"I'm fine." Lex grabbed the wandering hands, pulling them behind her back. "He just pushed me, no damage done." She felt Amanda's hands sneak into her back pockets, and she raised an eyebrow in response.

"Just checking for bruises." Amanda grinned at her unrepentantly. "Maybe I should take off your clothes and double check? No sense in taking any chances."

Lex laughed. "Sure...let's take a shower - the lights are much better in there." She pulled the younger woman towards the bathroom and closed the door behind them.


To be concluded in part 4

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