See Disclaimers in part 1.

Faith's Crossing

Part IV

By Carrie Carr

Chapter 27

After a short argument which she won, Amanda had Lex's place setting moved from next to Frank, to across the table beside her. The entire meal was spent in tense silence, only broken by the occasional attempts by Jeannie and her husband to clear the air.

"Good grief, Mandy...Daddy told us about what happened to you today. But he failed to mention that you looked like you got into a fight with Mike Tyson and lost." Jeannie teased. "So c'mon...tell us the whole story."

Amanda's explanation about the day's events further antagonized her parents, especially since she painted her companion's part in the tale so heroically. "The police officers said the look on that thief's face was really funny when Lex pulled that rope tight, and he hit the ground. They were trying to catch up on their bikes, and saw the whole thing."

Michael glared at the rancher. "Sounds rather foolish to me...chasing down a criminal when you are unarmed." He took a sip of wine. "People have been killed for less."

"I really wasn't thinking." The dark haired woman admitted. "I saw him hit Amanda, and totally lost it. I just wanted to make sure he paid for what he had done to her." Lex added quietly.

Uh-oh...time to change the subject, I think. "So, my lovely sister..." Jeannie smiled at the young blonde, "Give me all the juicy gossip from Somerville." She purposely ignored the glare from her mother, and winked at the rancher. "Or maybe you can fill me in, Lex."

"Sure...what do you want to know?" Lex flinched slightly when Amanda poked her leg under the table.

Jeannie gave her sister an evil grin. "Got anything on my sister? She never likes to talk about herself."

Lex grinned too, then almost yelped out loud as her leg was pinched. "Ow!" She quickly cleared her throat to cover up her slip. "Excuse me." Turning her head slightly, Lex quirked an eyebrow at her lover. "Well...did Amanda tell you about her promotion? She's now the manager of the real estate office."

"Really? Oooh...Mandy - that's great!" Jeannie almost squealed with excitement. "But what about that neanderthal, Rick?" She looked at Lex. "He was always so rude when I would call Amanda's office. Someone needs to knock him down a peg or two, in my opinion."

The rancher almost choked on the water she was drinking. "Well," she coughed, "there's actually a really funny story about that...ow!" A sharp pain from her just-stomped foot stopped Lex in mid-sentence.

Frank, who had been silent up until now, looked at the dark-haired woman. "You okay, Lex?" His smirk let her know he knew exactly what was wrong.

"Yeah..." she glared at Amanda, who smiled innocently. "Sudden cramp, I guess." She felt a hand rub her leg in a soothing manner.

"So...what's the story?" Jeannie asked, missing the glare her sibling threw at her.

Feeling the hand on her thigh tighten into a claw, the rancher decided that discretion was the better part of valor. "Seems poor Rick not only got fired, but ended up receiving a bruised jaw and got thrown into jail for disorderly conduct." The claw straightened out, and gave her a loving pat instead.

Amanda quickly decided to change the subject. "So, Mother...have you decided on a cruise, or a tour of Europe this year?" Knowing that Elizabeth had one real passion in her life - travel.

"I believe I'll do Paris...the last cruise was such a disappointment to me. People actually brought children on board!" Sounding totally disgusted, she continued, "And they let the little heathens run wild. It was absolutely disgraceful."

Lex started to say something, but closed her mouth and concentrated on her plate instead. No sense in giving them any more reason to make Amanda's stay here miserable, she thought to herself.

"Do you have something you'd like to say, Lex?" Michael had seen the tall woman begin to speak, then stop. "I'm sure that we would all be interested in whatever is on your mind."

Amanda looked at her father in surprise, but didn't say anything.

"I really don't think you want to hear my opinion, Mr. Cauble." Lex gave Amanda's father a small smile.

Michael returned her smile. "Don't be ridiculous...please - share with us." He waved a hand at the table.

Feeling Amanda's comforting touch on her leg, Lex gave her partner an apologetic look. "I was just going to say that those folks probably worked and saved for years to go on a cruise, so they had just as much right to be there as anyone."

"Are you saying that I...don' for my money?" Elizabeth gave the rancher a nasty look, daring her to answer.

Lex shook her head. "No, ma'am, not at all. I'm just saying that most folks don't take a real vacation every year. But when they do, they have as much right to relax and enjoy themselves as the people whose biggest concern is where they'll go, not how much it will cost."

Seeing his mother-in-law preparing herself to attack, Frank jumped into the conversation. "Have you ever been on a cruise, Lex?" Cutting the older woman off before she could get started.

The tall woman smiled, a little embarrassed. "No...never really had the time. As a matter of fact, this is the first time that I've been away from the ranch in several years." She gave Amanda a meaningful look. "But I wouldn't mind going on one, someday."

"Frank and I are taking an Alaskan Cruise as a second honeymoon next spring," Jeannie shared, helpfully. "Maybe you should consider going on one too - certainly a great way to beat the summer heat." She smiled. "I didn't visit as often as Amanda did, but the Texas summers stand out as extremely wicked in my mind. I don't know how you are able to handle it."

Lex shrugged. "I guess I'm just used to it - doesn't really bother me any."

Elizabeth saw her opportunity. "I suppose it's like the migrant workers in the Valley... they don't know any better than to stay in the hot sun all day. They're quite used to it as well, I suppose."

Amanda glared at her mother. "I can't believe your attitude!"

"It's okay, Amanda." Lex placed a hand on the younger woman's arm, trying to calm her down.

"No, it's not!" the furious blonde snapped, then looked into hurt blue eyes and immediately dropped her voice. "I'm getting tired of listening to my parents take potshots at you." She whispered, forgetting the other people at the table.

Lex casually slipped her hand beneath the table, and took a firm grasp of Amanda's fingers. "We'll talk about this later, okay?" she gave the smaller hand in hers a gentle squeeze. Looking up at Elizabeth, she smiled again. "And I have to agree with you, Mrs. Cauble...if a person works all day, every day in the heat, it's much easier for them to handle it." Then, with a slight twinkle in her eye, she continued, "Unlike the poor folks that have to sit in an office all the time... they break out into a sweat just walking to their cars at the end of the day."

Touché, Mother. Amanda smiled inwardly. She looked over at Lex and gave her a wink. "You about finished?" she looked at the half-eaten plate of food in front of her lover with a frown.

"Yeah...just not real hungry, I guess." This offered with a sheepish shrug. Lex's stomach was still in knots over what happened earlier in the day.

"You two got any plans for tonight?" Frank asked, after a not so subtle poke in the ribs from his wife.

Amanda looked at Lex, who raised an eyebrow encouragingly. "Not really...what do you have in mind?" She looked at her sister, who was smiling broadly.

" can't come to LA without going out at least for one evening...isn't that right, Amanda?" Jeannie winked.

The rancher looked suddenly panicked. "Umm...that's really nice of you, but I didn't bring anything to wear for a night out on the town."

Frank and Jeannie both laughed. "Actually," he said, smiling, "You'll be more suitably dressed for where we're going than Jeannie or I will."

"Okay, why not?" Lex looked at Amanda. "Do you feel up to it?" The tone in her voice made it clear that Amanda could just say no.

The young blonde smiled and patted Lex on the arm. "Sure..." she touched her bruised jaw, "Looks bad, but really doesn't hurt."

Elizabeth Cauble sighed heavily, drawing everyone's attention back to her. "I guess it's too much to ask that you actually spend some time with your father and me before you leave us." She gave Amanda a pitiful look.

"Now, now..." Michael stopped her. "I'm sure Amanda will be glad to spend some quality time with us in the morning." He gave the rancher an unreadable look. "And you too, Lex. I'd really like the opportunity to get to know you a little better." He smiled, a look that sent chills down the dark-haired woman's spine.

Why do I suddenly feel like a man at the gallows being told to jump? Lex wondered. "Sure, Mr. Cauble...if you really want to." She gave Amanda's hand a firm squeeze. "But I'm sure I can find something to occupy myself if you need to spend a little time alone with Amanda."

"That won't be necessary, Lex." If all goes well, Amanda will send your gold-digging hide back to Texas so fast it will make your head spin. He laughed inwardly. "If my daughter is determined to spend time with you, I'd really like for us to become better acquainted."

Jeannie stood up. "Great! We'll get ready, and meet you two in the sitting room in an hour." She grabbed her husband and hurried from the room.

Amanda released Lex's hand and stood up as well. "Guess we'd better go get ready, huh?" she asked her lover with a sweet smile. "We'll see you both in the morning," she assured her parents as Lex joined her by the door. "Goodnight."

Halfway up the stairs, Lex pulled Amanda to a stop. "Do you have any idea where we're going tonight?"

"Sure." Amanda grinned, then continued up the stairs, a growling rancher at her heels.

"AMANDA!" Lex chased her, laughing.


Chapter 28

Lex stood away from the pool table quietly, watching as Amanda lined up her shot. She couldn't help but smile as the cute blonde's tongue slightly poked from her mouth - the perfect picture of intense concentration.

"Don't let that innocent look fool you..." Frank whispered, "she's a first class shark!" he chuckled. "The first time we played, she beat me so badly that I had to carry her books to class for a solid week! Do you know how demeaning it is for a high school senior to be enslaved by a freshman?"

"Amanda said you were her best friend..." Lex took a sip of her beer, "How long have you known each other, if you don't mind me asking?" she shook her head as Amanda sunk her shot, dancing around and waving her hand in front of her sister's face. "Uh-oh..."

Frank watched, as his wife good-naturedly threatened the blonde with her cue stick. "Don't worry...Amanda can take her." He laughed out loud at the look of shock on the dark-haired woman's face. "I'm kidding! Well, not completely...Mandy can take her - but they don't actually fight, anymore." He took a strong swallow of his third scotch and water. The tall woman was still nursing her first beer, which she surprised them all by ordering. Lex told them she really didn't drink much anymore, which was okay by him and Jeannie, since the last time they were out they got carried away and had to call a cab. "Mandy literally ran me over on my first day at her school." He shook his head in remembrance. "I had just transferred from a small school south of Sacramento, and was completely and totally awed by this huge school. I had run myself ragged trying to find my classes, and had bent down in the hallway to tie my shoe. Then this little blonde whirlwind came flying around the corner and knocked me flat on my face."

Lex laughed. "I'll bet that was a sight! But it's nice to know she's always been like that, running from place to place." She felt a hand on her arm.

"What's so funny?" Amanda asked, reaching across Lex to grab her drink, a vodka Collins.

"Frank was just telling me how you two met." Lex grinned, seeing her lover blush.

Amanda rubbed her face. "'s your shot, Lex." She gave the older woman's stomach a gentle pat, then smiled at the rolled-eyed look she received as the rancher walked towards the pool table.

"You look really happy, Mandy." The big man studied his sister-in-law closely. "I don't think I've ever seen you smile so much." He nodded towards the pool table, where his wife was trying to ruin the rancher's shot by making faces and slinging silly comments at her.

"Yeah...I'm very happy." Amanda saw what Jeannie was doing and tossed a pretzel at her. "Stop cheating!" she yelled, getting a nasty look from her sibling. Turning her attention back to Frank, she smiled warmly. "She's the one, Frank."

He nodded. "I kinda figured that by the look on your face, kiddo." The burly man smiled, remembering the long talks the two of them used to have. Amanda had sworn she would find her one true love, and not settle for anything less. Frank was the only person she had shared that with - not even her sister knew the high standards she had set for a mate. He had understood, since he had fallen completely in love with her sister the moment he met her. "Even I can see she's special, Mandy...don't ever let her go." Frank spoke quietly, his eyes suspiciously sparkling in the smoky light of the bar.

Amanda wrapped her arms around his neck, giving him a light kiss on the lips. "Thanks, Frank...I knew you'd understand."

"I guess this means I get to take Slim here home with me." Jeannie teased, wrapping an arm around Lex's waist. "No offense, Frank, but I think I got the better end of the deal." She grinned as a long arm draped casually across her shoulder.

"I've heard about some of the wild things that goes on here in California," Lex drawled, raising an eyebrow as Amanda spun around and Frank placed his chin on her head, wrapping his arms around her protectively - an innocent look on his face. "You think you can handle her?" she gave the big man a smirk.

Frank appeared thoughtful. "I dunno. Since you met her - you nearly drowned, got your ribs broken, were shot, and attacked by rustlers." He stepped back suddenly, pushing the giggling blonde forward. "Gimme back my wife - Please!"

Lex impulsively caught Amanda, who snuggled happily into her arms, much to Frank and Jeannie's amusement. "Fickle, ain't she?" the rancher muttered to the other couple, only to receive a slap on the belly. "What'd I say?" she complained to the blonde.

The more I'm around her, the better I like this mysterious rancher who has stolen my little sister's heart, Jeannie thought to herself. "Okay, that I whipped Slim at pool..."

"What?!" Amanda leaned back so that she could look Lex in the eye. "How could you lose? We only had to make one shot." She spun around and glared at her sister, who was now giggling. "What did you do?" Then she felt strong arms wrap themselves snugly around her.

"I didn't think she could actually do it..." Lex said, lying her head on the smaller woman's shoulder. "I said she couldn't distract me into blowing my shot."

Amanda frowned. "I'll ask again...what did she do?"

Jeannie laughed. "I tried dancing around the table like a fool - didn't work. I even blew in her ear..." She saw Amanda's eyes widen, "Nothing. So, while she was bent over about to shoot, I pinched her on the butt!" At this startling confession, everyone burst out laughing.

"Damn near knocked the guy at the next table out with the cue ball, too." The rancher admitted with an embarrassed grin.

Amanda pulled the long arms around her tighter. "God, honey...I'm sorry I missed that." She felt Lex laugh. "Are you ready for our next stop?"

Lex released a heavy sigh. "Do I want to know where we're going?"

Jeannie reached over, grabbed Lex by the hand, and started dragging her towards the door. "Dancing!" She exclaimed, as Amanda and Frank followed closely behind.

"What in the hell is that supposed to be?" Lex grumbled as a young person walked by her, their bright purple spiked hair and multiple face piercings shocking the somewhat conservative rancher.

Amanda giggled, pulling Lex through the crowd of people, right behind Frank and Jeannie. "I think it was a he, but don't quote me on that."

They found a table near the crowded dance floor, loud music with a strong beat making Lex's teeth hurt. She ordered another beer, and then focused her attention on the dozens of people dancing. Men dancing with women, men dancing with men, and women dancing with women all seemed to be having a good time. There were even a few wildly dressed people dancing alone, which caused a smirk to cross Lex's face.

"See anything you like?" Amanda asked, her lips close to the dark-haired woman's ear. She could tell that Lex was a little overwhelmed, seeing a lot of things that she would never see in a small town. The rancher looked particularly engrossed with a young woman who was wearing white makeup with black across her eyes and lips, studs and hoops adorning her eyebrows and nose. "Maybe I should get my nose pierced." Amanda whispered, then playfully licked Lex's ear.

"Huh?" the older woman jumped, then smiled. "C'mon..." she grabbed Amanda's hand. "Let's go join the crowd!" Lex stood and pulled the younger woman along with her, just as a slow song began. "Perfect!" she smiled, claiming a piece of the dance floor.

Amanda linked her hands behind the tall woman's neck, snuggling her face into Lex's chest. I really like this, she thought blissfully, as Lex pulled her even closer.

Closing her eyes happily, Lex gently swayed to the music, enjoying the feeling of holding Amanda in her arms. Her peaceful thoughts were interrupted by a strong hand on her shoulder.

"Mind if I cut in?" A short, pudgy woman with slicked back hair asked.

"No, thank you." Lex said, turning back around.

"Hey!" The woman, clad in leather pants and a leather vest, grabbed the taller woman's arm and swung Lex around to face her. "Look, cowboy, I'd like to dance with the cute blonde." She craned her neck to look the rancher in the eye. "Why don't you go feed your horse, and I'll show the lady a good time."

Amanda stepped between the two women, thinking fast. "Lex, honey..." she said loudly, patting the rancher on the stomach, "You remember what your parole officer said. The next person you hospitalize can get you sent back to prison." She almost laughed out loud at the look on the pushy woman's suddenly pale face.

Lex gave the woman an evil grin, then glanced down at her lover. "Aw...c'mon, sweetheart - just this once?" She took a menacing step towards Amanda's would-be suitor. "Please?"

Deciding to find someplace else to be, the leather-clad woman turned quickly and made her way back through the crowd, muttering under her breath. "I've got better things to do with my time..."

"Thanks, sweetheart." Lex wrapped Amanda into a hug, kissing her lightly on the forehead. "I really didn't want to ruin tonight by getting into an argument with Motorcycle Mama."

Amanda chuckled. "I was tempted to just smack her one, but I was afraid she'd scream 'lawsuit'." She wrapped her arms back around Lex's neck. "Don't we have a dance to finish?"

Lex kissed her lightly on the lips and rested her hands on Amanda's waist. "Yeah." She pulled the smaller woman to her and closed her eyes peacefully, slowly rocking once again to the music.

"I thought for sure we were going to have a brawl on our hands," Frank laughed at the table later. "We saw that woman try to cut in."

Jeannie nodded. "Why didn't you just slug her, Lex?" She asked the smiling rancher. "I know I probably would have, the rude little turd."

"Nah...I really couldn't blame her any." Lex put her arm on the back of Amanda's chair. "She had great taste in women." The rancher enjoyed seeing her lover blush. "Besides, I knew Amanda would be coming home with me." Lex winked.

Mother and Father are so wrong about her, Jeannie marveled, She's the best thing that's ever happened to Mandy. "You guys about ready to leave? I think Frank has had about all the fun he can stand for one night." She gestured towards her husband, whose eyes were beginning to droop.

Frank stifled a yawn. "Sorry about that...guess I'm not used to all this excitement."

"I'm pretty pooped too." Amanda admitted, leaning back against Lex's arm. "How about you, honey?" She turned her head and gazed into the dark-haired woman's eyes. "Ready to go home and go to bed?"

Lex quirked an eyebrow, amused. "Is that an offer from the cute blonde?" She stood up, offering her hand to Amanda. "I thought maybe I was just getting old - I can barely keep my eyes open." She pulled the younger woman to her feet.

"You...old...yeah, right!" Frank took Jeannie's hand, and they followed Lex and Amanda through the still raucous crowd towards the front door. "If she's old, then I'm ancient." He grumbled to his wife.

Jeannie patted him on the rear lovingly. "Whatever you say, grandpa."


"I haven't been out with Frank and Jeannie in a couple of years. We used to have a lot of fun together." Amanda yawned much later that evening, towel drying her hair in the bedroom. They both had decided that smelling like stale cigarette smoke from the bars was not a good way to sleep, so they shared a quick shower before getting ready for bed.

Lex, walked out of the bathroom in her boxers and sleepshirt, and returned the yawn. "Mmm..." she fell back onto the bed bonelessly. "Yeah...well, it was certainly an experience, that's for sure."

Concerned, Amanda walked over and kneeled on the bed. "Are you okay, honey? I know you maybe had one beer all night long - are you getting sick on me?"

"Nah...just tired." The rancher assured her. "I'm not used to staying up quite this late dancing and stuff." She smiled, then grabbed Amanda and pulled her on top of her. "You coming to bed anytime soon, or are you going to play with your hair all night?"

"Well, I wanted to...oooh..." Amanda gasped as a warm hand snuck under her nightshirt, tracing a soft pattern across her back. "Umm..." Gentle lips began nipping at her throat.

Lex felt the body on top of hers relax completely, as she continued her assault on Amanda's neck. She pulled away slightly, gazing deeply into green eyes that were struggling to stay open. "C'mon, love..." Lex sat up, pulling the blonde with her, "Let's get some sleep." She maneuvered them both under the covers, not relinquishing her hold on Amanda.

"'Night, love." Amanda murmured, placing a kiss on the older woman's throat.

"Pleasant dreams, sweetheart." Lex whispered, hearing the deep, even breathing that told her Amanda was already asleep.


Chapter 29

The four late-night revelers ended up sleeping in, so they spent the latter part of the morning enjoying each other's company for breakfast.

"So, Lex..." Frank teased, "You ready to go back out dancing? Maybe we can find your little friend again."

The dark-haired woman chuckled. "Think I'll give it a miss...I don't want to end up bailing Amanda out of jail."

"Me? I have no idea what you're talking about." Amanda tried to look innocent, but failed miserably when Lex gave her a knowing grin. "Stop that."

Choking on her coffee, Jeannie gasped, " know darn good and well what Lex is talking about." She wiped tears from her eyes, "You've still got a bad temper...I was hoping that staying with Gramma and Grandpa would have had a positive effect on you." She changed her focus of attention to the still smiling rancher. "Has she taken a swing at you yet, Slim?"

"No...not..." Lex shook her head, then stopped. "Well, actually..." she grinned. "Just yesterday, she slapped me."

Amanda looked shocked. "I did no such..." she paused, then rolled her eyes. "Oh, for god's sake! You deserved that - scaring me half to death, chasing after that guy." She glared at Lex. "And I'll do it again, if you ever pull another stupid stunt like that!"

"Yes, ma'am." Lex teased, then sobered. She ran gentle fingertips over the still-purple bruise on her lover's face. "How's that feel today? Looks like all of the swelling is gone, at least." The rancher barely controlled the urge to lean over and kiss the contusion.

Capturing the hand with one of her own, the blonde smiled. "Fine. Doesn't even hurt today, honest." She happily leaned into the touch.

Jeannie sighed. They are just so cute together..."Well, I hate to leave such wonderful company, but I promised Mother that I'd go by and check on the gallery." She tossed her napkin onto the table. "You ready, darling?" She asked Frank, who nodded.

"Sure. I've got a couple of last-minute things to pick up before the dinner tonight, anyway." The big man smiled at Amanda then stood up and pushed his chair back to the table.

Lex gave Amanda a look. "Yeah, I still gotta get something too, I guess." She missed the wink the blonde gave Frank.

"Miss Amanda...I'm terribly sorry to interrupt you, but your father has requested that you join them in the library." Beverly stepped into the dining room quietly, a subdued tone in her voice.

"Our cue to leave." Jeannie and Frank headed towards the doorway. "Good luck, guys." She waved a hand and hurried from the room.

Amanda smiled at the maid. "Thanks, Beverly...we'll be right there." As the woman began to leave, she asked, "What kind of mood is he in, or dare I even ask?"

"That's just it, Miss Amanda. He's in a really good mood - it's very strange." She shook her head and left the room quietly.

Turning to face Lex, Amanda frowned. "I don't think I like the sound of that. You sure you want to go with me?"

The rancher leaned forward, kissing the top of the younger woman's forehead. "I'm with you, long as you'll have me."

"Forever sounds pretty good to me, at least to start with." The blonde captured Lex's lips with her own, sharing a kiss full of love and promise. Pulling back and releasing a heavy sigh, Amanda forced a smile. "Let's go 'visit', then we'll go shopping, okay?"

"Right." Lex stood up, then pulled her friend into a strong hug as soon as the smaller woman got to her feet. "One for the road." She buried her face into the soft hair. "I love you, Amanda." She spoke quietly, savoring the moment. "With all my heart and soul."

Amanda felt the tall woman tremble slightly. "I love you too, Lex." She returned the embrace, kissing the collarbone that peeked through the v-neck of the shirt Lex as wearing. "And I always will."

"Come in and have a seat, you two." Michael motioned the young women into the library. Elizabeth was comfortably perched on the loveseat, while he stood at the bar, a set of papers in his hand.

Amanda pulled Lex over to the sofa, which was at a 90-degree angle from the loveseat, and directly across from the bar. She sat down next to the rancher, close enough to touch if she needed to. "Good morning, Mother." Giving the older woman a friendly smile.

"It's almost afternoon, Amanda. But I hear you had a late night last night." She gave the rancher an almost civil look. "Lex."

The dark-haired woman smiled politely and nodded. "Mrs. Cauble."

Michael interrupted. "Coffee?" he nodded to his wife. "Oh, I'm sorry Lex..." He raised a decanter filled with an amber liquid. "I hear that whiskey is more to your liking in the mornings." He poured a glass. "I'm afraid that all I have right now is scotch, but we can send one of the servant's out for some Jack Daniels, if you would prefer." Michael watched with hidden glee as his daughter's face showed confusion.

"What are you talking about, Daddy?" Amanda turned to face her lover. "Lex?"

The rancher was looking down at her feet, a resigned look on her face. Then, taking a deep breath, she looked up and locked gazes with Amanda's father. "No thank you, Mr. Cauble. I haven't drank hard liquor in years." She turned and met her lover's eyes. "Remember I told you about Linda?" she asked softly.

Amanda frowned, thinking. "Yes...what does that..."

"After that, I got a little wild for a while... but Martha got me straightened out." Lex felt a small hand on her leg, the presence reassuring. "I'll tell you all about it later, I promise." She whispered.

"I'm not worried, love." The young blonde smiled.

Michael frowned. Damn that Richards... this is not going as I had planned at all. "My mistake, Lex..." he conceded the point to the dark-haired woman. Let's just see if I can shake her up a little bit more. " you have family back in Texas, Lex?"

Confused by the sudden change in topics, the rancher nodded. "Yes...I have an older brother, Hubert."

Stepping away from the bar, Michael sat down next to his wife on the loveseat, who was sipping from a china cup. "How about your parents?" He leaned over and poured three more cups of coffee, offering one to both Lex and Amanda.

Lex accepted the offering politely, even though the thought of ingesting anything right now made her stomach cramp. "Thank you." She acknowledged the coffee, balancing the cup and saucer on one thigh. "My mother died when I was four - and my father...travels a lot." No lie there, but I guess I could just say he's a drifter who would rather wonder where his next meal is coming from, than have to look at his daughter.

Elizabeth wasn't certain what her husband had in mind, but she decided to play along. "And does your brother work with you at your ranch?"

"No, ma'am. He's a CPA in town." Lex shared a smile with Amanda. "He's not much for the ranch life."

"A professional, must be very proud of him." Elizabeth gave her daughter a look. Much more suitable than a common cowhand, that's for sure. "You only have one sibling? Must have been lonely growing up." She gave Lex a mock sympathetic look.

Lex swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat. "I had a younger brother...but he died...about nine years ago." She felt Amanda grasp her hand for support.

"I'm terribly sorry to hear that. It's always so tragic when a child dies." Michael shook his head sadly. "Especially when it can be avoided..." Wait...I seem to recall a boy named Walters that was killed at the lake around that time." He looked at the rancher, an understanding look on his handsome face. "That was your brother, wasn't it?"

"Louis..." Lex nodded, trying to keep her emotions under control. Almost ten years ago, and it still hurts as much as the day it happened... why can't I get past this?

Michael smiled, adjusting his glasses slightly. "That's what I thought. If I recall correctly..." he knew all of the details, since he had just read them this morning, "There was a boat full of kids, and they were hit by another boat, right?" Seeing the dark-haired woman nod slightly, a pained look on her face, he continued," Absolutely horrible. The whole affair could probably have been avoided with the proper adult supervision." Seeing Lex pale. "Don't you agree, Lex?"

"That's it!" Amanda stood up. "C'mon, Lex." She pulled the silent rancher to her feet. "We've got things to do, if you'll excuse us."

Lex allowed the younger woman to lead her through the doorway, her mind a million miles away. He's right...I should have been there, she mentally berated herself. If I had been driving the boat, maybe the entire accident could have been avoided. Numbly she continued to follow Amanda, feeling a small amount of comfort in their linked hands. The cool breeze on her face brought Lex back to her senses. Looking around she found herself standing in the garden, under Amanda's favorite tree.

"C'mere, love...sit down." Amanda sat down under the tree and patted her leg. She waited patiently until the blank look faded from Lex's face, and then she held out her arms. "Please?"

Forcing a small smile to her face, the rancher sat down in front of Amanda and stretched out, allowing the smaller woman to wrap her arms around her. Lex ended up lying on her back between Amanda's legs, her head resting against her lover's chest.

Amanda began gently running her fingers through the thick, dark hair, feeling Lex finally begin to relax. "I'm calling the airline...we're going home on the next flight out." The blonde murmured, angry tears threatening to fall.

"No." Lex finally spoke, her voice hoarse from holding back tears of her own.

"Yes! There's nothing here worth putting you through this - I'm tired of defending my actions to them, and having them try to get to me through you." Amanda absently straightened the bangs on Lex's forehead.

Lex turned slightly, so that she could look into Amanda's face. "Don't let them win, sweetheart...they'll never let you live it down." She raised a hand and caressed the unbruised side of the younger woman's jaw. "I can handle this...they just kinda caught me off guard, that's all."

Leaning down until their noses were almost touching, Amanda dropped a light kiss on the rancher's mouth. "Are you sure about this? We can be home before it gets dark tonight."

Lex raised her head slightly to capture the blonde's lips for a more prolonged contact. "Mmm..." Home...I think I like the sound of that, Lex thought for a wistful moment. "Yeah, I'm sure...we've got a dinner to sit through tonight." She gave her lover a small smile. "But it won't hurt my feelings if you decide that you want to leave Saturday morning."

Amanda grinned. "That's a great idea. I'll call and change our reservations." She wrapped her arms around the reclining woman and squeezed hard. "Have I told you lately just how much I love you?" She whispered into the ear next to her face.

"You may have mentioned something about it a time or two." Lex teased, raising up slightly to return the embrace. "I'm sorry about all that stuff with your father." She said quietly. "I guess I should have told you about that mess before you heard it from someone else... it was just a matter of time before somebody told you."

"No, Lex. I don't expect a day-by-day account of your life before you met me. What I don't understand is how he knew so much about it." Amanda had pulled back enough so that she could look Lex in the eye, angered by the poorly hidden pain she could see there.

The rancher swallowed. "It's a small little 'binge' was certainly no secret." She closed her eyes at the gentle touch on her head. "I spent over a month drunk out of my mind... got thrown out of quite a few bars, and was even picked up by the law a time or two. I imagine that everyone in town knows all about it."

Amanda continued to run her fingers through the dark hair. "You were young, and had been terribly hurt emotionally. Didn't anyone try to help you, talk to you?"

"Yeah...right." Lex scoffed, then looked up into green eyes sparkling with unshed tears. "You've got to understand, Amanda...I was young, it's true. But I was so full of anger and hatred at how unfair I thought my life was, that most folks steered clear of me." She blinked, then looked down, afraid to see the look on the blonde's face. "I had been so nasty to her, even Martha threatened to leave me." She took a ragged breath, "I think that the fear of losing her was what finally snapped me back to reality."

"Oh, sweetheart." Amanda pulled Lex's chin up, so that she could look into her sad blue eyes. "I don't think that Martha would ever leave more than I could." She gave the rancher a gentle kiss.

After returning the kiss, Lex smiled. "God, I love you." She ran a shaky hand down the younger woman's face, then chuckled. "I don't think she was actually going to leave, either. But she did toss a bucket of muddy water on me while I was passed out on the front porch one morning."

Amanda giggled. "I'll bet that went over well." She could almost picture the young rancher's face as Martha dished out her own brand of 'tough-love'. "Wish I had been there to see that."

If you would have been there, I'd wouldn't have been in that situation." Lex murmured. Taking a deep breath, she started to get up. "Let's go...I think we've got some shopping to do."

"You're right...I need to pick up a few things for tonight." Amanda jumped to her feet, pulling the taller woman up with her.

Lex kept her hold on Amanda's hand as they walked back towards the house. "A few things..." she mumbled, feeling the hand in hers tighten. "I thought you were going to help me get something more suitable to wear." Personally, she really didn't care what she wore, but Lex was determined not to embarrass her lover with her choice of clothing.

"Actually..." Amanda grinned, as they walked through the house and up the stairs, "You're all set. I have to find just the right thing to go with what you're wearing." She pulled Lex into the guestroom. "Just let me get my purse, and we'll go." She started to step away, then found herself pulled back into the arms of a grinning rancher.

"Aren't you forgetting something?" Lex asked, pulling the blonde into a tight embrace.

Amanda unconsciously clasped her hands behind the taller woman's neck, smiling up into twinkling blue eyes. "'re right. I need to grab the car keys, too."

"Ah...I see." Lex ran her hands lightly up the smaller woman's ribs.

Amanda giggled, squirming slightly. "Aaaack!" She tried to back away, but found herself suddenly lifted into the air, cradled in the rancher's arms like a small child. "Lex! Stop that!"

"Seems to me someone needs her memory refreshed." Lex grinned, slowly carry her cargo towards the bed.

Kicking her feet, Amanda unsuccessfully tried to break Lex's hold. "You're going to hurt yourself, you nut!" Then she squealed when she was tossed in the air towards the bed. "Aaaah!"

Amanda landed on her back in the middle of the large bed, bouncing slightly. Before she could say a word, she was covered with a long, lean body...her wrists being held together above her head with one large hand. "Lex...?"

"You know..." Hot breath on her neck caused Amanda to shiver slightly. "I could do this one of two ways..." Lex murmured, bending closer and taking a small bite from Amanda's earlobe.

"W..w..what's that?" The smaller woman gasped out, trying to get her breathing under control and failing miserably.

Lex allowed her free hand to slowly trace down Amanda's trembling body. "I could just torture you until you begged..." She kissed just below the blonde's ear.

Amanda wiggled, causing Lex to straddle her waist. "Uh-huh....and....just what sort of torture...Oh, god!...." she felt a warm hand sneak inside her shirt, lightly stroking her belly.

"Hmm..." the rancher pulled back a bit, so she could look into Amanda's flushed face. "Just how much 'torture' can you stand, my little impudent friend?" Lex leaned back down and captured the younger woman's lips for a long moment.

Amanda accepted the kiss greedily, trying to pull her hands free so she could tangle them in Lex's hair. "Mmm.... Lex...." she mumbled still squirming, but now for an entirely different reason.

Lex pulled away from Amanda's mouth, then began working her way down the slender throat. "You know," she slowly used her free hand to unbutton the bright green shirt, "I bet I can make you beg for mercy..." she began kissing the soft skin just above Amanda's bra.

"Oh...ummm...." Amanda closed her eyes, breathing heavily. "I'll never beg, you...oh, god..." she felt a warm tongue lick lightly at her chest. All thoughts of trying to play the game flew out the window.

"Won't beg, huh?" Lex placed a series of small bites on Amanda's now exposed stomach. "You sure about that?" She gently teased.

" can't make me...ah, Lex..." The younger woman was panting heavily now, as Lex continued to work her way across her belly. "Aaaah!" she squealed, eyes popping open as the rancher's long fingers began tickling her ribs. "Lex...stop it..." she wiggled back and forth.

The older woman continued to tickle her unmercifully, grinning wildly. "Heh...say it, Amanda." Her lover was giggling almost uncontrollably now.

"Oh, god, Lex...Stop!" Amanda sputtered out between gales of laughter. "Please!"

Lex stopped, a triumphant grin on her face. "Told you I could make you beg." Then laughed as she was pulled down for a heated kiss, causing the world to slip away.


Chapter 30

Shopping, Lex decided, had to have been invented by some poor slob trying to occupy his wife and keep her out of his hair, because no sane person would actually agree to put themselves through such torture. Slouched in a highly uncomfortable chair, the rancher sighed again as her companion tried on yet another item of clothing. She was stationed directly outside the dressing room door, mumbling replies to the younger woman's questions, as she had been for the past couple of hours.

"Now, before you say anything," Amanda warned, still behind the door, "I know that this is waaaay too formal for tonight, but I just couldn't resist trying it on."

Suddenly, standing in front of Lex was a vision in aqua. The long satin gown hung by spaghetti straps, draping over Amanda's lithe figure seductively.

"Uh..." Lex gasped, swallowing several times. She tried to get words from her brain to her mouth, but she couldn't form any words. Wow...

Amanda turned around and glanced at herself in the mirror, not noticing the look of complete awe on her lover's face. Looking back over her shoulder, she asked, "So...what do you think?"

Lex blinked a couple of times, then finally smiled widely. "Beautiful." She murmured, "Absolutely stunning." She stood up and walked over until she was directly behind the smaller woman. "You've got to get this, sweetheart." She whispered into Amanda's ear, looking over the petite shoulder into the mirror.

"It's too dressy for the dinner tonight - I checked with Jeannie, and she said that most of the guests will be coming in straight from the office. Mother was going to make it a formal affair, but something came up this past week and everyone is having to put in extra time." Amanda explained, enjoying the way the shimmering material brought out the color of Lex's eyes, as she peeked over her bare shoulder.

"I don't care." Lex put her hands on the blonde's shoulders, turning the smaller woman to face her. "I'll find someplace elegant to take you...but you look too beautiful in it not to have it." She squeezed Amanda's shoulders gently. "Please? Let me buy it for you."

Amanda looked at the price tag. Six hundred dollars?! Oh no, I don't think so, my love. Covering one of Lex's hands with her own, she smiled. "Honey, I really appreciate the thought, but this dress is too expensive for you to waste your money on."

Picking up the tag and peering at it, Lex shrugged. "It can't hold a candle to what you're worth to me." Giving Amanda a thoughtful look, she smiled gently. "How about if I make it a birthday present?"

"My birthday isn't for several months - not that I don't appreciate the thought." Amanda was still blushing, still not used to such bold compliments. "And I really appreciate the sentiment behind it as well." She turned back towards the dressing room. "Could you come in and help me with the zipper, please?" This was asked in a voice loud enough for the circling saleswoman to hear.

"Sure." Lex followed her into the small room, latching the door shut behind them. "Turn around and I'll..." the rancher found herself the recipient of a deep, loving kiss.

Amanda pulled back with a smile. "I love you, Lexington Marie one else has ever made me feel as loved and special as you do." She turned so that her back was facing the tall woman. "Now unzip me and we'll get out of here."

Lex grinned and did as she was asked. Running a fingertip down the exposed smooth back, she chuckled. "We're finally through?"

"Well," Amanda pulled the dress off, slipping back into her comfortable khakis, "We can always look around some more, if you want." She looked down shyly as Lex kneeled, offering her help with her shoes. "I feel a little bit like Cinderella, going from that gown back into this." She plucked at the green polo short adorning her body. Stepping into the loafers, she watched as Lex tied them for her. "You're going to spoil me, you know."

"All part of my plan to keep you happy, sweetheart." The rancher gently massaged a strong calf. "Besides, I enjoy it too." She stood up and allowed Amanda to exit the dressing room first, grabbing the dress on her way out. "You almost forgot something."

Amanda shook her head. "I'm not going to win this one, am I?" she asked, watching as her lover handed the dress to the now beaming saleswoman.

"Nope." Lex chuckled, then turned to the woman at the cash register. "She's gonna need shoes to match, right?"

The painfully thin woman nodded enthusiastically. "Of course! I can tell you're a woman of refined tastes, Madam." Looking at Amanda, she asked, "what size, dear?"

Amanda smiled, but stepped back a pace. "Oh, no...that's really not necessary - I'm sure I have shoes to match somewhere." She gave Lex a pleading look.

Leaning up against the counter with her arms crossed, Lex smirked. "Size?"

"Six..." Amanda sighed, shaking her head.

Leaning over to the saleswoman, the rancher whispered, "I don't care what it costs, make sure they're the most comfortable shoes you can find, okay?"

Dollar signs practically lighting up her eyes, the saleswoman scurried away. "Right away, Madam."

"I'll get you back for this." Amanda muttered, watching as the saleswoman hurried back with a shoebox under one arm.

Lex smiled. "Oh, yeah?" she handed the clerk a credit card. "You can try, but I wouldn't waste money on a fancy dress for me..." she teased, signing for the purchases.

"Thank you, Ms. Walters, for your business. I look forward to serving you again." The saleswoman smiled, handing the hanging bag to Lex.

Amanda giggled at the look on the dark-haired woman's face. "No dress, huh?" She bent down and picked up her other shopping bags. "That's too bad. I could really see you in a slinky red number." The blonde teased, as they made their way out of the shop.

"Oh, no...that would clash with my boots." Lex disagreed, helping Amanda with her bags. "Here...I'll hold these, while you unlock the trunk."

"Thanks, honey." Amanda playfully piled all the bags into the taller woman's arms.

Lex juggled the packages, trying to keep from dropping any of them. "Good grief, sweet-heart..." she barely kept one of the packages from falling to the ground, "I don't remember seeing you buy this much stuff." She balanced a bag on her raised thigh.

"Mandy Cauble? Is that really you?" A high-pitched female voice squealed.

Amanda spun around just in time to be wrapped up in an embrace from a tall woman with dark blonde hair. "Francine?" she asked, shocked.

The woman stepped back a pace, smiling broadly. "Oh, my god! I can't believe it! You look absolutely fantastic!" she kept a firm grasp on the smaller woman's hands, as she bounced up and down excitedly. Stopping to look at the car, she commented, "I'm glad to see you finally retired that old heap you were driving."

"Ah, hell..." Lex murmured, dropping a couple of packages. Squatting down to gather them back up, she didn't notice the close scrutiny by Amanda's friend.

Francine eyed the dark-haired woman with a speculative eye. "Mandy...I see you've finally got a driver, too. You knuckle under to the pressure from your mother?" She gave the smaller woman a knowing smile. "I should have known that you'd pick a nice-looking woman. But isn't she dressed a little casual?" Although she was happily married to her high school sweetheart, the tall blonde still appreciated a nice body, and the lanky form gathering up shopping bags certainly fit that bill. Really good looking...hmm...

Amanda released Francine's hands, going over to help Lex with the strewn-about packages. "I'm sorry, honey...let me help you get them to the car." She turned back to a slack-jawed Francine. "Would you mind opening the trunk? The keys are still in it." She grabbed a couple of bags and winked at Lex. "Francine, I'd like you to meet Lex Walters...the love of my life." She dumped her packages into the trunk, unloading the rancher's arms as well. "Lex... this is Francine Cummings... a really good friend of mine since high school."

Lex held out a hand, smiling broadly. "It's nice to meet you, Francine." She almost blushed at the other woman's close perusal of her.

"My pleasure, Lex..." Francine gave her a slow once over, then winked at Amanda. "Honey, if I could find someone like this, I'd dump my husband!" she saw both women turn a deep shade of red. "So, I take it you're only visiting? Something tells me Lex isn't from around here."

The small blonde laughed. "Nope...we're leaving tomorrow...what gave her away?" she stood next to the still blushing rancher, patting her on the arm.

Francine chuckled. "Well, she has the most darling accent..." she laughed out loud. "And yours seems to have picked up quite a bit, as well."

"Yeah, well. I...have...spent the last seven months in Texas." Amanda acknowledged, as she turned back towards her old friend.

"Good lord! What happened to you?" Francine suddenly noticed the bruise on Amanda's jaw. "And what does the other guy look like?" she teased.

Amanda ruefully stroked the side of her face, careful of the bruise. "I got mugged at the beach yesterday. But Lex caught him, so everything's okay now."

Francine stepped between the two women, linking an arm with each of them. "C'mon... let's go have a cup of coffee and you can tell me all about it." She led them down the sidewalk, babbling the entire time.

"Your friend was really nice..." Lex observed quite some time later, totally relaxed as she lounged on the bed in the guestroom. "Chatty as hell, but nice."

Amanda stepped out of the bathroom, clad in only a black slip and matching lace bra. "Yeah, I know...she's one of the few friends I had in high school that didn't dump me when they found out I was gay." She sighed and sat down next to the rancher.

Lex put an arm around the younger woman and pulled her close. "I'm so sorry, love..." she kissed the blonde head. "I suppose in that respect, I was a lot luckier than you."

"Really? Why?" Amanda pulled back for a moment, looking into Lex's eyes.

"I didn't have to worry about what anyone thought." Lex gave her lover a small smile. "I pretty much stuck to myself, and didn't have anyone I really considered a friend." She wiped a stray tear from underneath Amanda's sparkling green eyes. "Except for Martha, and the guys at the ranch - and none of them ever judged or ridiculed me." Lex pulled the blonde woman into her lap. "I'm glad that you had Francine, and even Frank." She teased gently.

Amanda wrapped her arms around Lex and sighed. "I had a couple of friends who stuck beside me...although there were quite a few more who acted as if I had the plague. And of course I also had Gramma and Grandpa Jake - they were the absolute best."

"I take it your folks were in the not-so-happy-to-hear-it crowd, huh?" Lex asked, feeling warm breath on her chest.

"I guess you could say that...they still think it's a phase I'm going through." Amanda gave a rueful chuckle. "Mother thinks that I'm gay because Jeannie married Frank, and I'm trying to get back at all of them."

Lex laughed out loud at that revelation. "You poor thing...Pining away for your sister's husband." She flinched as she received a sharp poke from a sharp finger. "Ouch! Jeannie was right!"

Amanda sat back a little. "Huh? My sister was right about what?"

"You are a bully!" Lex teased, capturing Amanda's swinging hands in self-defense. "Heh." She fell back onto the bed, allowing the younger woman to straddle her hips.

"And you are lucky that it's almost time for us to go downstairs for the dinner..." Amanda growled, leaning down to tease Lex with a near kiss. "Otherwise, I'd show you just how much of a bully I can be." She pulled back just as the dark-haired woman leaned up to catch her lips. "Teach you to tease me..." She leaned back down and dropped a quick kiss, then pulled away quickly with a smile.

Lex lay back on the bed and closed her eyes. " win..." she released a heavy sigh, and let go of the small hands.

The younger woman shook her head. "I win? You've got to be kidding! You never give up without a...aaaaaah!" Amanda found herself suddenly on her back, with a grinning rancher leaning over her body. "You cheated." She muttered.

"Me? Cheat?" Lex smiled down at her lover. "I can't help it if you let your guard down like that - you shouldn't be so trusting." She leaned down and gave Amanda a loving kiss. "Let's get dressed for this shindig, before your mother busts in here looking for you."

Amanda allowed Lex to help her off of the bed, then headed for the closet. "I'll just get your clothes together, then." She stepped back out, carrying several items on hangers. "Here you go...time to get ready."

Lex looked at the clothing, and frowned. "Are you sure about this, sweetheart? I really don't want to upset your parents any more than they already are."

"I'm perfectly will go very well with what I'm wearing - I want you to be comfortable, you know." Amanda handed her the hangers, and smiled. "Trust me. You'll look great." She went over to the shopping bags that were sitting in the corner. "Let me slip this stuff on, and you'll see what I mean." She carried two of the bags into the bathroom and closed the door.

Sighing, Lex took the clothing off of the hangers and began to get dressed. I hope she knows what she's doing...


Chapter 31

Milling around through the large group of people, Jeannie searched for her husband, murmuring her apologies to yet another nosy business associate of her father's. "Yes, Amanda is here, Mr. Cross...she should be arriving any moment now." She quickly stepped away from the large, sweating man, who had always seemed quite enamoured with her younger sister. Like she'd ever give your creepy butt a second look, she thought, flinching away from his hand as it came perilously close to her rear end.

"There you are, sweetheart." A warm voice whispered in her ear, as a hand lightly patted her bottom.

Spinning quickly, Jeannie almost slapped her husband. "Frank!" she growled, pushing him in the chest, "Where on earth have you been?" Forgetting her anger immediately, she eyed her husband's sturdy form appreciatively. The black denim hugged his hips and legs well, and the gray tab collar shirt fit his broad shoulders like a glove. "You look great, honey." She smiled at him. Everyday I love him more and more...I think it was love at first sight, for me.


Jeannie had teased her little sister unmercifully about her latest 'friend'. She had yet to meet the mysterious Frank Rivers, a transfer student who was in the same grade as she, but she had heard from her friends that he was tall, broad shouldered, and extremely handsome.

She was sitting in the study one evening pouring over chemistry books, trying to prepare herself for a test the next morning when she heard her little sister's voice in the foyer.

"Frank, c'mon...just because I'm a freshman, it doesn't mean I don't know anything about history. I love the time period during World War II, and it's always been a favorite of mine. Let me help you write your paper...and you can help me with my biology paper - deal?"

A deep chuckle answered her. "Mandy, I should become a lawyer - I'll never be able to get the upper hand in an argument with you." He allowed the blonde girl to lead him through the foyer and into another room. "You win...just don't tell anyone, okay? I'd hate to have to expl..." he stopped there, as they entered a large room, with bookcases lining the walls. But the room isn't what caught his attention...the young woman propped in one corner of a large chair near the fireplace almost took his breath away.

Amanda looked up at her friend, startled by his sudden silence. "Frank? Hey...what's..." she then noticed where his eyes were. Oh...well, isn't this interesting? She thought to herself with a grin.

Jeannie, for her part, was caught off guard just as much as the sturdy looking young man on the other side of the room. My god...THAT'S Mandy's new friend? She didn't tell me he looked like a Greek god...she felt her mouth go dry, and her heart start to pound. "Hel...hello, Mandy...I thought I heard you come in," she managed to utter. "Who's your friend?"

After Amanda made the introductions, she silently left the room, neither of them noticing her absence. It didn't take them long to realize that they had a lot in common, in particular one cute little blonde, who never let them live it down that she had brought them together.


And for that, Jeannie mused, I will be eternally grateful, as she caught the adoring look her handsome husband bestowed upon her.

"Thanks, baby." The big man leaned over and gave his wife a gentle kiss on the lips. "You look absolutely gorgeous yourself." Jeannie was wearing a knee-length dark green skirt complimented by a pale yellow silk top, which had already brought her mother's wrath down upon her.

"What in heaven's name are you wearing? This is a dinner, not a sock-hop. I demand that you go and change immediately!" Elizabeth had stopped her oldest daughter at the doorway to the sitting room, her voice shaking with anger. She herself was wearing a dark lavender evening gown, which to Jeannie's eyes was far too formal for a simple dinner party.

"Sorry, Mother...this is all I have. And it still looks nicer than some of the wrinkled business suits I've seen tonight." Jeannie stood firm, knowing that her mother would get over her little fit soon enough. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have to mingle." She slipped by the older woman and began greeting her father's business associates.

"I'm glad someone thinks so...Mother wasn't quite so impressed." Jeannie gave her husband a wry smile.

"Yeah...I saw the look your mother gave you." Frank pulled her to him, wrapping his arm around Jeannie's waist. "Don't let her get to you, sweetheart. You look fantastic." Seeing a movement by the door, Frank turned his head. "Whoa." He exclaimed quietly, drawing his wife's attention in the same direction.

Craning her head over the crowd, she asked, "What...?" Taking a deep breath, Jeannie smiled. "Oh, wow..."

Amanda had stepped into the room, her partner following close behind. She was wearing a black denim skirt that fell to just below her knees, and a slightly oversized dark green silk shirt, which brought out the color of her eyes. The young blonde reached behind her body and grabbed her lover's arm, pulling Lex with her into the room. Jeannie's jaw almost hit the floor when she studied the rancher - the dark-haired woman was wearing pressed black denim jeans, shiny black boots, and a royal blue satin shirt that made her sapphire eyes stand out like twin points of light.

Frank gave out a low whistle. "They make a good looking couple, don't they?" he whispered into his wife's ear. He caught Amanda's eye and waved them over.

The two women made their way across the crowded room. "Hey, guys." Amanda greeted, smiling warmly at them. "You both look great!" she gave them a wink.

"Damn, didn't tell us that you two would be looking so good." Frank teased, watching as a blush covered Lex's face. With her boots on, the rancher was almost as tall as he was. I do believe little Amanda picked a winner...she's certainly something else, he marveled to himself. "Have you seen..."

"It's about time you made it downstairs - people have been asking about you for the past twenty minutes." Elizabeth Cauble snapped, stepping between her youngest daughter and Frank. Looking at Amanda's clothes, she sniffed, "Are you and your sister trying to ruin this family's reputation? How much is it to ask that you dress properly for a social function?" she was about to continue when a very distinguished older gentleman stepped forward into their little group.

"Elizabeth...don't tell me these two lovely young women are your daughters?" he took Amanda's hands into his and brought one to his lips. "Amanda Cauble...I swear you look more and more like your lovely grandmother Anna Leigh every time I see you." He gave her a wink over her knuckles.

Amanda smiled broadly, removing her hands from his and then stepping into his arms for a hug. "Uncle's so good to see you again." She pulled back and grabbed the rancher's arm. "I want you to meet my very close friend, Lexington Walters...Lex, this is John Grayson, an old friend of my grandparents."

The tall, gray-haired man held out his hand, which Lex took and gave a hearty handshake. "It's a pleasure to meet you, sir." She smiled, enjoying the look of disgust from Elizabeth. Gee, sorry about that, Mom...seems like everyone else here likes the way that Amanda looks.

"So you're the young lady who saved Amanda's life." He smiled back, and noticed the look of pure adoration coming from the young blonde. "I spoke to Jacob just last week on the phone, and he told me all about Mandy's latest adventures."

Lex felt a blush rise up her neck. Damn...word spreads around these people quicker than a brushfire. "Just happened to be in the right place at the right time." She said, embarrassed by the attention.

The older man laughed. "And modest, too. Well, whatever you want to call it, you have our deepest appreciation, Ms. Walters."

" me Lex, Mr. Grayson." The rancher offered, seeing Amanda's face light up in response.

"Only if you'll call me John, young lady." He gave her a knowing grin. "Perhaps I'll see you at Anna Leigh's big Pre-Christmas get-together this year, Lex."

Lex glanced over at Amanda, who was nodding, a huge smile on her face. " just might, sir."

"Excellent!" he boomed, patting her on the shoulder. Looking to Amanda he said, "Mandy, I'm sure I'll see you later." He accepted another hug from the young woman, then took a gentle grip on Jeannie's arm. "C'mon, sweetheart...tell me what you've been up to lately." He walked off with her and Frank in tow.

Elizabeth glared at the retreating man's back, then stepped up into Lex's face. "Don't think that you can fool everyone here," she whispered, "My husband will find out what you're after, sooner or later." She spun around and made her way into the group of people, greeting them with insincere words.

"What did she say to you, honey?" Amanda asked, seeing the look of resigned acceptance cross her lover's face.

Lex looked down at Amanda and gave her a small smile. "Nothing important..." she looked towards the other end of the room. "Umm...looks like they're moving everyone out." She tried desperately to change the subject.

"Good...that will give us a minute to ourselves." Amanda waited until the room had cleared, then led Lex over to the loveseat. "Sit down with me for a moment, okay?"

"Are you sure? I'd hate to make your mother more angry at you right now." Lex was concerned about the matriarch's attitude - she could handle Elizabeth's wrath as long as it was directed at her, but she didn't want to subject her partner to any more of the woman's hateful outbursts.

Amanda chuckled. "It's going to take her at least ten minutes to get everyone seated like she wants - she'll never miss us." Sobering, she reached out a hand and pulled the older woman to sit down beside her. "Lex...please don't shut me out. Anything that has to do with you is important to me." Amanda pulled their linked hands to her chest, leaning down to kiss the rancher's knuckles. "I know that my mother said something completely out of line to you...please tell me." She gave Lex a determined look. "Or I'll just ask her myself."

"No!" Lex shook her head adamantly. "I don't want you to get into another argument with her just because of me." She looked at their hands, which were now in the younger woman's lap. "She just said...that your father will keep trying to find out what I want with you." Lex finished quietly. "They seem to think I'm after your money."

"Dammit!" Amanda jumped up, only being held back by the strong grip Lex still had on her hand. "I'm going in there right now and give them both a piece of my mind!"

Lex pulled her back down. " much as I appreciate you defending my honor, let me handle them, okay?" Forestalling another outburst from Amanda, Lex continued, "And even though I don't want to sink to their level, I've got an idea on how to answer their questions." She smiled warmly. "So don't worry, love...I'll take care of everything."

Amanda looked into Lex's eyes, then leaned forward until their foreheads were touching, and gave the rancher a tender kiss. "Okay, I'll let you handle it. But don't expect me to stand by and watch them continue to treat you badly." She gave Lex another kiss. "Because I can't do that."

"Do you think you two can control yourselves long enough to join us for dinner?" Michael Cauble's disgusted voice carried across the sitting room.

Lex stood, then calmly led Amanda across the room, not releasing the younger woman's hand. Stopping at the doorway to look down on the angry, smaller man, she gave him a cold smile. "Thank you for coming to get us, Michael." She stressed his name, daring him to say something. "I know that you usually have one of the servants do that...but I really appreciate the personal touch." Lex patted him on the shoulder with her free hand, as she and Amanda stepped past him and started towards the dining room.

"What was that all about?" Amanda whispered, as she and Lex walked down the quiet hallway.

"Just the first part of my plan, sweetheart." Lex leaned over as they were walking and kissed the blonde head. No more Ms. Nice...time to play some hardball, she grinned to herself. And I'm gonna enjoy every damn minute of it, too.

Before stepping into the dining room, Lex tried to release Amanda's hand, but the younger woman held on stubbornly. With a mental shrug, Lex decided to stir things up a little. Reaching their designated places, she gave Amanda a quick grin and pulled out the smaller woman's chair for her.

Blushing slightly, the blonde chuckled. "Thanks." Out of the corner of her eye, Amanda saw her mother narrow her eyes. Uh-oh...I don't know what Lex is up to, but I think it's working.

Lex traded grins with Frank, who was seated directly across from her. Looking around the table, she could tell that the only person who 'dressed' for the dinner was Elizabeth - most of the guests were wearing business suits. She gave the smirking Jeannie a wink and sat down beside her partner.

"Since we are all finally seated," Michael Cauble was standing at the head of the table, addressing the group, "I would like to thank all of you for attending this evening..."

As his voice droned on, the man sitting next to Lex chuckled. "He threatened us with the loss of our jobs if we didn't show up for this little function." He whispered to her. "Jeremy down there," he nodded towards a thin, nervous looking young man who kept checking his watch, "well, his wife went into the hospital late this afternoon. She's in labor with their first child." Shaking his head in disgust, he then offered his hand to the rancher. "My name's Mark Garrett - I handle all of the accounts in the Southwest."

"Lexington Walters, but you can call me Lex. I'm a friend of Amanda's." The rancher offered, giving the dark haired man's hand a firm shake. "You say you're in charge of the Southwest? Where are you based?" she asked, curious. Hmm...I didn't know that - I thought he only had the one office here in Los Angeles...interesting.

"Santa Fe, New Mexico - for the moment, at least. But I've been trying to talk Mr. Cauble into moving the office to Dallas...the weather's a little milder there." Mark lowered his voice. "You'd think that since he has family in Texas, that he'd be thrilled to have an office nearby."

Lex nodded. "Have you worked for Mr. Cauble very long?" It was nice to have a friendly face at the dinner table tonight, she mused. Glancing back at her partner, Lex could see that Amanda was engrossed in a conversation her sister.

Mark nodded. "About six years. I'm hoping to open my own office someday." He gave the rancher a grim look. "I've been offered a job here in Los Angeles, but if I'm going to relocate, it will have to be someplace without smog or crime."

"I don't blame you a bit, Mark. I can't wait to get back home, myself." Lex agreed, pushing her food around on her plate. "What is this stuff, anyway? Looks like it isn't quite dead, yet."

"Lex! Quit playing with your food." Amanda leaned over and whispered, as she noticed that the older woman had 'fenced off' the main course with her vegetables.

Sighing, Lex put her fork down. "I just didn't want it to get away, that's all." She muttered.

Amanda shook her head and traded looks with Jeannie. "At least try to eat some of it, honey." She murmured. "We'll raid the refrigerator later, I promise." Looking around the table, she was somewhat relieved to see that Lex wasn't the only one not eating the dinner. I hate when Mother decides to experiment with the menu...last time I broke out in hives. Yuck!

"Lex..." Mark studied the dark-haired woman carefully, "Are you in the real estate business too?"

She almost choked on her water. " What made you think that I was, Mark?"

"Well, you said you were a friend of Amanda's...and you seem too 'normal' to have come from the same social circles that Mrs. Cauble usually frequents." Mark gave her a friendly smile. "I just assumed that you had met her through the real estate office, that's all."

Lex returned his smile with a somewhat mischievous one of her own. "As a matter of fact, we did sorta meet that way. She came out to try and put my ranch on the market." Pausing to let that sink in, she then continued, "Shame that I didn't know I was supposed to be selling it at the time." She winked at him.

Choking on his wine, Mark gasped for a moment before he could ask, "Tenacious, isn't she?"

"Yeah, she is. But this wasn't actually her idea - her manager sent her on a wild goose chase."

"Really?" Mark looked intrigued. "'re a rancher? No offense, Lex...but I was under the impression that most ranches today are run by corporations - because there's not enough money in it for the average person to make any kind of profit from it." The dark-haired woman gave him an icy glare. Oh, hell...I definitely put my foot in my mouth this time, "No, wait!" he held up a hand to placate her rising temper. "I honestly didn't mean anything by it...I was just curious." Seeing her calm down, he added, "Sorry about that, mouth tends to overrun my mind, most of the time."

" fault - I'm a little...sensitive...on that subject right now." Feeling a gentle touch on her leg, Lex turned back to face Amanda.

"What's up?" the younger woman asked, concerned.

"Nothing...Mark and I were just discussing the ranching business." She reached under the table and covered Amanda's hand with her own. "You doing okay?" Glancing around, the rancher noticed that most of the people had finished eating, or at least finished pushing the food around on their plates. "Is this all there is to their damn dinner? You had to fly all the way across the country for half-cooked," she looked down at her plate, "whatever the hell this is supposed to be, and a few insults?"

Amanda gave her a small grin. "I think that it was more of an excuse to get me home than anything else...I wouldn't be here if I hadn't already planned to come and pack my stuff up - especially with the way they've been treating you." She squeezed the hand that she held. "I'm really sorry about all of that."

"Don't worry about it...I'm just glad you didn't have to face them alone." Lex felt the younger woman lean up against her. She enjoyed the contact, feeling quite out of sorts since this entire evening began. I really don't know how I survived all these years alone without her, she thought to herself.


All heads turned towards the front of the table where Michael Cauble was standing, tapping his wineglass with a knife to get everyone's attention. "Ladies and gentlemen, once again I would like to thank all of you for attending our dinner this evening, and for making this another very successful quarter." He held up his glass of wine. "I'd like to propose a toast to each and every one of you for a job well done." Waiting until everyone raised their glasses, he took a sip, then lifted the wine into the air once again. "And I would also like to express my gratitude to my wonderful family, because without their love and support I would not be the man that I am today." He gave Elizabeth an insincere smile. "To my beautiful wife, and my two lovely daughters," he nodded to Jeannie and Amanda, "who are the greatest blessings a man can have."

Lex covered her mouth with her napkin, stifling a chuckle. Damn...he's spreading more fertilizer than we have in the entire south pasture, she thought ruefully. Flinching at the elbow in her ribs, she coughed. "Ahem...uh...yes?" Giving Amanda an innocent look.

"Behave." Green eyes flashed dangerously.

Finishing his little speech, Michael stepped away from the table. "If you will all excuse me, I have some unfinished business to attend to. Feel free to have coffee or brandy in the sitting room." Once he left the room, everyone at the table seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. Conversations began in earnest, as many of the guests prepared to leave for the evening.

"I'll see you in a bit, okay? I want to have a word or two with your father." Lex whispered into Amanda's ear, then kissed it discreetly. She stood up, and placed a hand on the younger woman's shoulder. "It shouldn't take but a couple of minutes... why don't you enjoy the company for a while?"

"Okay, but if you're not out of there in ten minutes, I'm coming in after you." Amanda smiled up at the rancher. "Remember, we've got to leave pretty early in the morning - so you've got to get into bed at a decent hour."

Lex grinned, causing the blonde to blush. "Uh-huh...I certainly plan to." She winked. "See you in a little bit, okay?" She left the room before Amanda could say anything else.


Chapter 32

Michael sat at his desk, studying over the latest fax from his private investigator. Bank we're getting somewhere, he smiled to himself, thinking that he had finally got his hands on the proof he had been waiting for. But before he could begin to look at the numbers, a strong knock came at the door.

Damn... "Who is it?" he snarled, angry at the interruption. Stupid servants...when will they learn, 'not to be disturbed' means to leave me the hell alone!

The door opened, and a dark head poked in, as Lex walked into the room. "Ah...there you are. I think we have some things that need to be cleared up." She strode over to one of the chairs in front of his desk and sat down.

"Make yourself comfortable, Walters..." he snapped sarcastically, attempting to casually hide the papers he had been trying to study. "What is it that you want? I'm a very busy man, you know."

Lex smirked, then stretched long legs out in front of her, crossing her booted feet at the ankles. "I think that it's about time we come to an understanding, Michael." She enjoyed the way he flushed with anger.

"Really? And just how to you propose that we do that? Are you planning on leaving my daughter alone?" Michael spat, tearing off his glasses and tossing them onto the desk. He felt a sudden surge of fear as the dark-haired woman jumped suddenly to her feet, then leaned forward with her hands braced on the desk.

"Let's quit playing stupid little games, Mike..." she said in a low tone, "Just what in the hell is your problem with me?" Lex continued to lean forward until she was just inches away from Michael's face. "Is it because I'm a woman? Or is it the fact that I actually work for a living? What is it about me that bothers you so damn much?"

Michael stood up and stepped around the desk, trying to distance himself from the imposing figure. "Because you're a woman? No..." he went over and poured himself a drink, gulping the amber liquid down with a single swallow. Turning to face her, he grimaced. "Unlike Elizabeth, I have resigned myself to the fact that my youngest daughter is unnatural... there's not much I can do about that. But," he pointed the empty glass in the rancher's direction, "I can try to make her see reason when it comes to dirt-poor farmers trying to sink their claws into her bank account!" He filled the glass again, then drained it quickly.

Lex leaned back against the desk, arms crossed. "Dirt-poor farmer?" she laughed. "Number one - I'm a rancher...Second - I have no designs on Amanda's money." She stood up straight and walked over to Michael, standing only a step away from the shorter man. "Third - I have more than enough money of my own, that I certainly have no need for yours." She got right into his face and spoke. "Last, but not least, I love her with everything that I am...nothing can change that." Hands grasped in her shirt took Lex by surprise, as she felt Michael pull her closer.


Amanda stood at the doorway, trying to listen to the sounds within. Not hearing anything, she opened the door just in time to see her father grab Lex by the shirt and slam her into the bar. Before she could say anything, Michael had punched her lover in the face, causing her lower lip to bleed. "Stop it!" she shouted, scrambling across the room, trying to pull her livid father off of Lex. "Daddy! Let her go, now!" she tugged at his sleeve.

Michael Cauble shook his head to clear it, and then pushed the tall woman backwards again, happy to see that he was at least able to do some damage to her before his daughter interfered. "Get out of my house... you're not welcome here." He muttered, secretly hoping that the tall woman would try and retaliate. Then maybe Amanda would see her as I do...damned arrogant piece of trash.

"Gladly." Lex pushed by him, wiping her bloody mouth and chin with the back of her hand. She started for the door, trying to control her anger. Narrow-minded bastard... if he wasn't Amanda's father, I would... her thoughts ended there as she felt a small hand touch her arm.

Amanda was able to stop her before she got to the door. "Oh, honey..." she took a strong grip on the rancher's arm and led her from the office, not bothering to acknowledge her still seething father's presence. "C'mon...let's go upstairs and get you cleaned up, okay?" she slowly led the quiet woman up the stairs.

Lex allowed her lover to lead her to the guestroom, not even realizing it when she was pushed down onto the bed. That son of a bitch...he's more worried about his damn money than he is his own daughter! I should have throttled him when I had the chance...No...he is her father...I can't do that to her. Lex's mind continued to whirl as the younger woman stepped into the bathroom, returning with a damp washcloth and placing it onto her still bleeding mouth. "Amanda?" she finally focused on the concerned green eyes in front of her.

"Yes...I'm here, love." Amanda continued to dab at the oozing cut, wincing at the swelling and light bruising that was already appearing. "Are you okay?"

The rancher took stock of her body. "Umm... yeah, I think so." She looked into the worried face standing above her. "Yeah...I'm okay. How about you?" she was still shaking from the effort it took not to strangle the older man that was still in the office. Damn...I gotta get this under control.

Amanda sat down on the bed, pulling Lex close to her. "I'm fine...why did my father attack you like that?" She leaned back against the headboard of the bed, waiting until the older woman got comfortable before continuing. "I've never seen him so angry...he's never been the violent type before." Amanda had pulled Lex into her arms, allowing the dark head to rest on her chest, as she held the washcloth to her lover's mouth with one hand.

Lex sighed, allowing the anger to slowly seep away, leaving behind a sad weariness. "I guess I pushed him a little too far...I just wanted to find out why he hated seeing us together." She relaxed as she felt a gentle stroking of her hair. It's taking every ounce of control I have not to go back in there and toss him on his ass, after that arrogant bastard called his own daughter 'unnatural', she fumed silently.

"What did he say?" Amanda whispered gently, continuing her stroking as she felt the body that was lying partially on her own tense up again. "It's okay, love...nothing he said could change what I feel for you." She leaned over and kissed the top of the dark head. "Or what you mean to me."

Closing her eyes, Lex allowed herself to absorb the love emanating from the younger woman, as she gently moved the washcloth away from her face. " and determined that I'm after your money...guess the only way I can change his mind about that is to send him my bank statements, or something." She took a deep breath, then released it slowly. "I'm sorry about this, sweetheart...I just wish you didn't have to be a witness to that little scene."

"Honey, look at me, please." Amanda forced Lex's face upward, until their eyes met. "What would you have done if I hadn't pulled my father away?" She searched the blue eyes, trying to find a clue as to what the older woman was thinking. "Would you have fought back?"

Lex shook her head. "I don't know." She saw the quiet look of love and determination in the face above her, and then looked back down. "God knows I wanted to...I wanted to toss him across the room for what he said about you, and for the way they've treated you." Felt the hand on her head stop moving, then tugged her close.

Amanda felt tears begin to trail down her face as she pulled the rancher closer to her, realizing just how much Lex had figured out about her home life. They say it's the quiet ones you have to worry about the most, because they usually notice all the little things, she thought to herself. "It doesn't matter, anymore." She murmured, feeling her defenses finally shatter completely. "I don't care what they say, or long as we're together, it just doesn't matter." She began to cry in earnest, then felt herself being lifted and cradled in strong arms.


Sitting back at his desk after his daughter and 'that woman' had left, Michael shook his head. I've lost...that damn bitch has my daughter, and I'll never make the girl see reason about her. He angrily shuffled through the papers on his desk. Guess there's no real sense in keeping these, now...he thought, about to throw them away. "Ah, what the hell...I paid good money to see this, might as well look at it." Letting his eyes scan the pages, he felt the color drain from his face. "'s not possible." He mumbled, trying to catch his breath.

" must simply come out of this office and tell our guests goodnight." Elizabeth stood at the door, with a pained look on her face. "They've finished up all the good brandy and scotch, and are getting quite tipsy." She saw the expression on his face and stepped further into the room. "What is it?"

The pale businessman looked up at his wife. "We were wrong, Elizabeth." He looked like he was in shock.

"Wrong? What in heaven's name are you babbling about?" She walked over to the desk and stood next to him, placing her hand on his shoulder. "Quit sounding like an idiot and tell me." She accepted the papers he handed her, a puzzled look on her face.

"Read that..." Michael rubbed his eyes with one hand. Dear god...she could ruin me...

Elizabeth looked over the papers as reality slammed her hard. "You mean to tell me that uncouth farmer actually owns major stock in one of your subsidiaries? How is this possible?" She felt her legs weaken, as her husband stood and guided her to the loveseat nearby.

"From what I've read, it seems that her mother was a very wealthy woman before she married...when she died, her very sizable inheritance was divided between her three children. After the youngest child died, his portion was split up between the two remaining offspring. It appears that Walters," he still choked on the name, "turned the majority of her money over to an investment broker, and he made several wise plays on the stock market. Just happens that one of the investments is in my business." Michael shook his head. "If she finds out about this and pulls her support, I could go under."

"Good lord above...I wouldn't be able to show my face again! Imagine the humiliation!" Elizabeth fretted, then glared at her husband. "What are you going to do about it?" She glanced down and noticed the bruise and scrape on his knuckle. "What happened to your hand?" Seeing the look on his face, she paled. "Oh, didn't..."

Michael stood up, then paced over to the bar and poured two glasses of scotch. Silently he walked back to the loveseat and sat down, handing his wife a glass. "I'm afraid I did...the damn woman made me so angry, I didn't even think about it." He tipped the glass up and drained it. "But I have to admit it felt really good, punching that smirk off her face."

Elizabeth took a sip of her drink, then let out a heavy breath. "Damage control...that's what we need now." She glared at her husband again. "You should apologize immediately!" I can't believe this is happening...

"No...that would probably make her realize that something's up. We need to be subtle about all of this..." he chewed his lip in concentration. "I found out from the upstairs maid that they are planning on leaving first thing in the morning - we'll just let them go, and hope to god that she doesn't realize the power she holds." He nodded to himself. "If worse comes to worse, we'll get Amanda to keep her in line - for some reason, she seems to listen to our daughter."

"Very well...but you'd better be ready to beg for forgiveness from this woman if she finds out." She gave him a small smile. "Because money isn't the only thing that you would lose if she destroys you, dear." Elizabeth patted her husband on the cheek, then stood and left the room, feeling his eyes on her as she closed the door.


Chapter 33

Bright, early morning sunlight beamed down on the tall figure placing bags in the trunk of the red convertible. Lex gave the last bag a gentle shove, wondering how in the hell they were able to get them in there to begin with. I thought she sent most of her stuff back with the movers - we didn't have this much stuff before, did we?

"Everything about loaded up?" small, strong arms circled her waist from behind. "Frank and Jeannie should be out to say goodbye in a few minutes." Amanda pulled the tall woman close, burying her face into the broad back.

Lex stood up straight, then turned slowly. "Yep...that was the last of it." She wrapped her arms around the blonde and grinned. "Although we may have to pay freight charges for all the luggage." Leaning down, she placed a tender kiss on Amanda's mouth. Her own mouth was quite sore, and the two of them sported similar bruises on their faces. We are definitely a matched set, Lex thought to herself as she ran a gentle fingertip along the smaller woman's jaw. "Did you run a final check for any missing underwear?" she teased, seeing her lover blush.

"How was I supposed to know that you threw them behind the chair? I swear Sophia giggled for hours after finding them." Amanda grouched, remembering the note from Beverly that stated that she needed to keep better track of her 'unmentionables', so as not to distract the rest of the household staff. Looking up, she saw Lex trying not to smile. "Stop that." She commanded. "You're going to make your lip start bleeding again." She raised a small hand and ran her thumb lightly across the bruised lip. "Maybe you need a stitch or two."

Kissing the thumb offered to her, Lex shook her head. "'ll be okay." She was about to prove her point when a voice echoed across the cool, still morning.

"You two never seem to get enough, do you?" Jeannie teased, walking through the door with Frank. "Guess it'll just be us seeing you off...Mother is upstairs with a migraine, and Father is on an overseas call."

Amanda stepped away from Lex, and embraced her older sister. "It's probably for the best, anyway. Thanks for everything, Jeannie...I really appreciate how you've accepted Lex." She felt a twinge of sadness at leaving.

The auburn-haired woman held her sister tightly. "I'm just glad you finally found the person you've been looking for, Mandy..." realizing that this was probably the last time she'd see her little sister for quite a while, she murmured, "I know you probably won't be coming back to this house any time soon," If ever, her mind supplied, "but Frank and I have plenty of room, if you two would like to come and visit."

"Thanks, Jeannie..." Amanda pulled back a bit and glanced back over her shoulder. Seeing the rancher give a nod, she smiled. "Next vacation you two get, why don't you come out to the ranch with us." She asked, feeling a large kernel of pride at that statement. Our ranch... I think I really like the sound of that.

Lex stepped up and grinned. "Yeah...we've got quite a bit of room ourselves..." looking over the two sister's heads, she winked at Frank. "And I won't even make you muck out any stalls."

The big man stepped forward and pulled Amanda into a fierce embrace. "Take care, Mandy...we'll try to stop by and see you two real soon, okay?"

Amanda felt her heart surge with love for her brother-in-law and dear friend. "That would be great."

"What are your plans around Christmas?" Lex asked, shaking hands with Frank. Seeing the happy look on Amanda's face, she mentally patted herself on the back. Good one, Lexington. You just might figure all of this out yet.

Frank looked over at his wife, who shrugged. "Well, I was planning on hiding..." he winked at the rancher. "Why do you ask?"

Lex put her arm around the tall man, and escorted him over to the two smiling sisters. "Well, since it's gonna be Amanda's first Christmas out at the ranch, I thought maybe you two would like to join us...I'm hoping to have a houseful."

Amanda looked over at her partner with adoring eyes. "A houseful, huh?" She stepped away from Jeannie and nearly flew into the older woman's arms. "Anyone I know?"

"Well - you, me...Martha and Charlie...your grandparents...the Wades..." Lex glanced over at the other couple. "And of course Frank and Jeannie, if they're willing."

Jeannie laughed, then pulled her sister away from Lex. "I don't know about Frank, but I'd love to be there!" She wrapped her arms around the dark-haired woman and laughed. Feeling the strong arms pull her close, she whispered into the nearest ear, "Thank you, Lex. I've never seen my sister so happy." She pulled back a bit, then kissed the blushing woman on the cheek. "Welcome to the family, Slim."

Lex sighed, then a smirk crossed her face. Ah, what the hell. Seeing Amanda grin too, she kissed Jeannie full on the mouth. "Thanks, sis." She almost laughed out loud at the deep flush covering the woman's face.

Frank laughed so hard, he had to hold on to Amanda to keep from falling down. "Damn, trying to kill me?" he saw his wife begin to stalk towards him, and raised his hands ineffectually against her attack. "Honey, wait!" he chuckled, as Jeannie slapped at him.

"Sorry, Frank...but any woman who pinches my butt gets a kiss." Lex teased, allowing Amanda to snuggle close. She pulled the younger woman towards the car. "I hate to kiss and run," she winked at Jeannie, "But our plane leaves in about an hour and a half..."she allowed her lover to get into the car, still giggling. "We'll make up an extra spot in the barn at Christmas for y'all, okay?" Lex ducked as Amanda's sister tossed her shoe at her, laughing.


Lex took a panicked breath as she boarded the plane. C'mon, Lexington, you can do this... it's no different than the last time, she berated herself, as she felt a cold chill run down her spine. She allowed Amanda to take the seat by the window, so that she could stretch her long legs out in the aisle of the plane. Sitting down, she felt a small hand grasp hers and hold on tightly.

"You doing alright, love?" Amanda looked up into the unusually pale face, her heart aching for the upset she could feel from her partner.

"No problem." Lex gave her lover a tiny smile, then took a deep breath as the flight attendant closed the door on the plane. Breathe, dammit... she listened as the air conditioner pumped oxygen into the plane. See? You're not gonna suffocate, so just get over it, idiot! The rancher mentally chastised.

Amanda pulled a strong hand towards her, until she was able to cradle it against her chest. Kissing the knuckles, she whispered, "It's okay, Lex." She forced the older woman to look at her. "Look at me, honey." She waited until the rancher complied. "Listen to my voice, okay? It's just you and me..." Amanda felt the plane begin to taxi down the runway, but Lex was totally transfixed on her. "Have I told you about the time that I accidentally locked Jeannie in the trunk of the limousine? Mother nearly had a cow..." she told her partner about the tale of two young girls, playing hide and seek, and of the complete embarrassment of a well-to-do woman that had sent her driver to meet an important artist at the airport...only to have the artist greeted by a crying girl in the trunk of the expensive limousine.

The story took up almost half of the flight, with Amanda embellishing it several times to make it last. When she noticed blue eyes disappearing under heavy eyelids, she finally just snuggled up against the tall woman and closed her eyes. Lex smiled lovingly down upon the blonde head. Poor thing... this week has been real rough for her...maybe I can do something to make up for that. She allowed her head to lean onto the blonde one next to her, and closed her eyes.

"Ma'am? The plane has landed..." the lovely young flight attendant gently jostled Lex's shoulder, trying to wake her up.

Lex opened her eyes and noticed the empty plane, and the young woman smiling down on her. "Umm...thanks..." she gave the woman an embarrassed smile. "We'll be out of here in just a second."

The uniformed lady smiled. "No real hurry. I just wanted to make sure you didn't have another flight to catch." She was folding up a blanket from a nearby seat. "If you need anything, just let me know." She gave the rancher a knowing grin, then moved down the aisle.

Oh, boy...good thing Amanda slept through that..."Sweetheart?" Lex whispered gently. "Amanda, we've landed..." she kissed the head that was snuggled against her, using her free hand to brush the blonde hair away from blinking eyes.

"Mmm..." Amanda leaned up and placed a kiss on Lex's mouth. As she stretched, she realized where they were. "Oh! Did you say we've landed?" she blushed. "I was having the most incredible dream." She released Lex's hand and rubbed her face.

"Obviously." Lex smirked, standing up and stretching. Her back cracked several times as she raised her arms over her head and leaned backwards. "Damn...I hate sitting for that long." She noticed her appreciative audience. "See something you like, ma'am?" Lex teased her partner.

Amanda stood up, running a hand through her disheveled blonde hair. "You could say that..." she caught the look from the flight attendant. "And I don't think I'm the only one, either." The younger woman smiled, then wrapped her arms around the rancher and squeezed. "But she'll just have to be content to enjoy you from a distance, 'cause I'm not sharing."

Lex chuckled. "Fine by me..." she enveloped the smaller woman in a fierce hug. "I love you, Amanda." She whispered, as she buried her face in the fragrant blonde hair.

"I love you too, Lex." Amanda pulled back and smiled brightly. "You ready to go home?" Then she frowned, a little. "Um, would you mind too much..."

"If we went to see your grandparents first?" The rancher smiled. "I was just going to suggest that." She carefully guided her lover down the narrow aisles. "Let them know you survived, and then we can tell them that you've going to be moving in at the ranch." As they left the plane, Lex turned back towards Amanda, who was about half a step behind her. "I enjoyed your story, by the way - forgot all about the plane."

Amanda hitched her purse up on her shoulder, then took an extra step to be directly next to the taller woman. "Really? Thanks...sorry I fell asleep on you, though." She looked up into amused blue eyes. "What?"

"Don't feel bad...I fell asleep too. The flight attendant had to wake me up after the plane was already empty." Lex looked around, trying to read the signs. "Where the hell do we pick up the damn luggage?" She spotted a map of the airport and walked over to check it out. Spotting her destination, she shook her head. "You've flown quite a bit, right?" Lex asked her partner, as they made their way to the baggage claim area.

"Yes...although the last time I was so worried about Grandpa Jake, I don't remember much of the flight - Jeannie and Frank had my car sent to me by truck." Amanda followed the long legged rancher, struggling to keep up. "Why do you ask? Hey, want to slow it down to at least a reasonable jog?"

Lex stopped and turned around. "I'm sorry, sweetheart. I keep forgetting that not everyone can cover as much distance as I can." She waited for a moment until the smaller woman caught her breath. "Anyway, I was just wondering...why do they seem to make you walk all the way to the other side of the damn airport to pick up your luggage? Especially since they won't let you carry much of it with you? Seems rather ridiculous to me."

Amanda laughed. "I think travelers have been asking that same question since the first commercial flight, love." She wrapped her hand around Lex's upper arm. "C'mon...we're almost there." She led the smiling woman through the milling crowds.


Chapter 34

"Mandy!! You're back early!!" Jacob exclaimed, as the two young women stepped into the kitchen. He opened his arms as the small blonde practically knocked him down. "Hey, there...easy, honey." He hugged her tightly, looking at Lex over her head. Seeing the bruise on the dark-haired woman's mouth, he frowned. "You two okay?"

Amanda stepped back slightly, looking up into her grandfather's concerned eyes. "We're fine, Grandpa." Feeling his callused hand gently trace the bruise on her face, she smiled. "It was pretty exciting, actually." She looked around the kitchen. "Where's Gramma?"

"Right here, sweetheart." Anna Leigh called from the doorway, where she had an arm wrapped around Lex. "Goodness! You two look like you've been in a fight." She led the rancher over to where Amanda and Jacob were standing. "You are going to tell us why you look like this, right?"

"Sure..." the young blonde rubbed her jaw. "It's really quite a good story, too." She winked at the rancher. "But do you mind if we raid the refrigerator first? I'm starving." Amanda stepped away from her grandfather, and pulled Anna Leigh into a hug. "I really missed you, Gramma."

The older woman smiled, and held her granddaughter tight. "We missed you too, Mandy." Pulling away, she laughed as Amanda's stomach took that moment to growl. "Okay, I can take a hint. We'll feed you, then you get to tell us all about your trip." Looking back at Lex, she smiled warmly. "And also tell us what kind of trouble you two got into."

Lex laughed. "Don't blame me...trouble just seems to find her!" she pointed at her lover, and then started backing up as Amanda stalked towards her. "Uh,'s true!" She held her hands out in front of her, trying to ward off the pending attack.

"Just you wait, Slim..." Amanda teased, seeing the tall woman blush. "I'll take care of you later, when you least expect it."

Jacob laughed, as he pulled several items from the refrigerator. "You two sit down...hope a sandwich sounds okay to you."

"Let me help you with that,, Jacob." Lex offered, maneuvering quickly around the giggling blonde. She pulled some of the things from his large hands and placed them on the table. Looking over at Amanda, she teased, "You gonna join us, or are you going to sit there smiling all day?"


"And then Lex ropes the guy with a kid's jump rope!" Amanda exclaimed, waving a potato chip to emphasize her point. "The police officers said she looked just like John Wayne, or maybe even Roy Rogers," she grinned at her partner's embarrassment. "Then she sat on him, and the two cops had to pull her off."

Anna Leigh put a hand on the rancher's arm. "Goodness, Lexington...that was a very brave thing to that how you got hurt?" She studied the quiet blue gaze, as Lex looked down at the table.

"Uh, no...he didn't touch me." She looked up at the older woman and gave her a small smile. "And it was pretty stupid, actually. I just didn't think." She glanced across the table at Amanda. "But I tend to have that problem around your granddaughter."

The blonde woman giggled, then realized what had been said. "Hey! Wait a minute! What did I do?"

Jacob shook his head and chuckled. "Okay, so now you've explained how Mandy ended up looking like she does...but what happened to you, Lex?" he didn't miss the exchange of guilty glances between the two young women. "Oh, c' can't be that bad, can it?" Then a thought occurred to him. " didn't do it, did you?" He knew his granddaughter had a fiery temper, and had been known to explode quite easily when angered.

Lex shook her head. "No, sir...she didn't. Her father did." Hearing Anna Leigh's gasp of shock, she turned to face her. "It was pretty much my own fault - I kinda pushed him into it."

"That's the biggest load of bunk I've ever heard!" Jacob growled. "There's never an excuse to hit a lady..."

"I'm no lady, Jacob..." Lex argued, "And I really did keep at him until he lost control."

Amanda put her hand on the older man's arm to try and calm him, but looked at Lex. "You did no such thing, were just trying to protect me."

"Protect you?" Anna Leigh was still in shock over the revelation that her son could strike a woman. "Dear god, don't tell me he was going to hit you, too."

Lex took a deep breath. "No ma'am...I had gone into his office last night to find out why he was so...hostile...towards our relationship." She looked over at her lover with sad eyes. "She never said anything, but I could tell it was tearing Amanda up inside." Turning back to Anna Leigh, Lex swallowed hard. "Anyway, I asked him if it was because I was a woman, and he said no, that he was pretty much used to the idea that Amanda," here she paused. I really don't need to bring that part of the conversation out, do I? "Well, that she was gay. So then, I asked if it was because I worked for a living - that kinda set him off." She gave the older couple a gentle smile. "He thinks that I'm after Amanda's money."

Jacob looked at her quizzically. "YOU? After Mandy's money?" he burst into laughter. "Oh, that's too funny!"

"Really, sweetheart..." Anna Leigh was smiling as well. "Did you enlighten him, dear?" She covered the rancher's hand with her own.

"No, ma'am, I didn't." She shrugged. "I didn't think it would do any good, because he'd just probably think that I was lying...but I did tell him that I loved Amanda, and no amount of money could change that." She touched her mouth with her free hand. "That's when he kinda lost it and hit me."

Amanda nodded. "I opened the door to the office and saw Daddy grab Lex and push her back against the bar - he hit her before I could stop him." She exchanged a tender look with the rancher. "I'm glad we decided that we were going to leave this morning, instead of tomorrow - I don't think either one of us could have handled another day there."

Jacob sighed. "I thought we raised him better than that...I really want to turn that boy over my knee." He looked at Lex. "I'm sorry about that, child...I hate the fact that you were hurt by someone from our family."

"I don't blame you, or your family, Jacob." Lex looked at the older man with respect. "Amanda and I talked about it last night. Even though he's her father, you and Anna Leigh are a whole lot more of a family to her than they are." Smiling at her lover, she continued, "And speaking of families, that reminds me of something we need to tell you, right, Amanda?"

"Hmm?" The blonde asked, then her face lit up in understanding. "Oh, yeah...that's right!" She gave the older couple a brilliant smile. "Umm...well...Lex asked, and...I..." she began to stammer. "You's..."

Feeling sorry for the young woman, Lex stood up and circled around the table until she was standing directly behind Amanda. Placing her hands on the blonde's shoulders, she shook her head. "What my friend here is so eloquently trying to say, is that I asked her to move into the ranch house with me, and she accepted."

Anna Leigh clapped her hands in delight. "That's wonderful, isn't it Jacob?" she smiled at her husband. "We were just discussing that very thing this morning."

"You were?" Amanda was hard pressed to keep her jaw from hitting the table. She raised her hands and covered Lex's. "It's really not that far from town, and we'll still visit with you often."

Lex laughed. "Honey, I think it's okay." She gave the older couple a happy grin. "And you know that you have an open invitation, right?"

Jacob stood up. "We'll be sure and take you up on that offer, young lady." He helped his wife stand away from the table as well. "Now we've got some errands to run...why don't you two go on upstairs and get a little rest? You both look completely worn out."

"Good idea, love. We'll see you girls for dinner tonight?" Anna Leigh asked, as her husband wrapped an arm around her.

Amanda smiled and stood up as well, letting Lex wrap long arms around her. "Wouldn't miss it." She stifled a yawn. "But I think you're right about needing a nap. We'll see you guys later, I think." She blushed as her grandfather winked at her, just as they left the room. "God...they're just too much, sometimes." She muttered.

"What was that about a nap?" A sultry voice whispered in her ear, causing chills to chase down the blonde's back.

"Nap? Who said anything about a nap?" Amanda turned around in the tall woman's arms. "I didn't say nap, did I?" She pulled the dark head down for a gentle kiss. "Umm...let's go upstairs, okay, honey?" Grabbing a strong slender hand and pulling Lex towards the stairs.


Chapter 35

Dinner last night, Lex mused, was interesting, to say the least. Jacob knows some pretty good tales on Amanda. She chuckled as she tossed another bag into the back of the truck. And I had no idea that she was such a hellion when she was a kid.

"What's so funny?" Amanda asked, bringing the last bag with her, and handing it to Lex. "You're still thinking about those stories Grandpa Jake told last night, aren't you?"

"Yep...I had no idea you were such a...scamp, growing up." The rancher teased. "Remind me not to let you anywhere near the cattle, unsupervised." Jacob had related a tale of a young Amanda using the neighborhood dogs as dolls for a tea party - complete with clothes and hats.

Amanda groaned. "God...I'm going to have to find some way of getting even with him for telling that one, aren't I?" She took another step until she was wrapped up in warm arms. "Mmm."

Lex enjoyed the embrace. I don't think I will ever get enough of this, she sighed to herself. "C'mon...Martha's expecting us for lunch." She kissed the top of Amanda's head, and then released her.

Jacob and Anna Leigh met them at the front of the truck. "You two will be back over for Jacob's birthday next weekend, right?" the older woman asked, giving Amanda a hug.

"We wouldn't miss it for anything," Lex replied, shaking Jacob's hand. She reached out to Anna Leigh, but was surprised when the older woman wrapped her arms around her and squeezed tight.

"Thank you for making our little girl so happy, Lexington." Anna Leigh whispered in the tall woman's ear. Pulling back slightly, she said in a louder voice, "Welcome to our family, dear." She felt the rancher return the hug enthusiastically.

Lex held the older woman close, a lump in her throat. "You..." she had to stop and clear her throat, "both have always made me feel like part of the family...thank you for raising such a wonderful granddaughter." She stepped back and ran a hand across her face. "Umm...yeah." Taking a deep breath, Lex smiled. "Thanks for everything..." she felt Amanda snuggle close. "Well, ah...see you next weekend, right?" The rancher knew she was quickly losing her composure. We gotta get out of here before I start bawling like a baby.

Amanda could feel the fine line Lex was treading, and decided it was time for a retreat. "We've got to get going...Martha is probably getting ready to call out the National Guard by now." She joked, giving her grandparent's a wink.

"You two go on...we'll see you Saturday, if not sooner!" Jacob teased, as the two young women climbed into the truck. He pulled his wife to him happily. "Those two are something else, aren't they, sweetheart?"

Anna Leigh looked up into his eyes lovingly. "Yes they are, my dearest. Let's go into the house and discuss it, shall we?" She gave him an impish grin.

Jacob laughed. "Why do I have the distinct feeling that we won't be doing much talking?" he led his wife into the house, and allowed her to pull him up the stairs.


The drive to the ranch was unusually silent, both women deeply engrossed in their own thoughts. Lex was worried about her partner, and how she would be able to adjust to the life they were about to embark upon together. The fact that Amanda's parents disapproved didn't matter to the rancher, but she knew in her heart that the younger woman was devastated by their hateful words. Looking sideways as she drove, Lex noticed the slight smile on her companion's face. "Penny for your thoughts?" she asked quietly.

Amanda turned away from the window absently. "Think you can afford it, Slim?" she teased, reaching over and pulling Lex's hand into her lap. She noticed the concern etched on the older woman's face. "Actually, I was just thinking about how happy I am right this very moment." She watched as several emotions flitted across the strong planes of the older woman's face.

"Really?" Lex wanted to be reassured, wanted to know that Amanda was happy with her decision, happy with the opportunity to start a life with her. "I was just thinking, if you wanted, we could always build a house in town, if you don't like living on the ranch." She braced herself for the answer. God, Amanda...I'll go anywhere, be anyone, just for the opportunity to be with you. I hope you know that.

The blonde woman studied her lover carefully. "But you love living on the ranch." What on earth is going through that complex mind of hers?

"What good is the ranch without you?" Lex pulled the truck to a stop, just before they got to the old bridge. She unbuckled her seatbelt and turned sideways, so that she could give Amanda all of her attention. Pulling the younger woman's hands towards her, she smiled. "I love you, Amanda Cauble...and I want to do everything in my power to make you happy. If that means living in town, fine." She pulled the small hands to her mouth, and gave them a light kiss. "If that means pitching a tent in the middle of the woods, that's fine too."


"No, wait...please. I've got to get this out now." The dark-haired woman blinked, a tear falling down her face. "I'm not real good with stuff like this...but I want you to understand what a difference you've made in my life. I love you, and I hope we can have a long and happy life together." Lex looked deeply into Amanda's green eyes, seeing a strong love reflected back to her.

Amanda gently pulled a hand free, and wiped the tear away with her thumb. "I love you too, Lex." She looked around outside, and smiled widely. "Kinda fitting that we should start our life together here." The younger woman reached over and opened her door. "C'mon...let's stretch our legs for a minute, okay?"

Lex followed her lead, and soon both women were standing on the shore of the creek, looking down at the peaceful stream of water flowing beneath the bridge. "Full circle, huh?" The rancher mumbled, feeling the compact body tucked against her side nod. She felt at peace for the first time in her life - the woman next to her made her complete, somehow.

"Full circle, love." Amanda whispered, as she lifted her head up and pull Lex down for a loving kiss.


The End


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