Lex and Amanda & friends just wont leave me alone! So, heres another part of their lives. There are bad words, some lovin between consenting female adults (yea!), and maybe a bit of evil-doing going on.
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This story, as are all of my writing and life, is dedicated to my AJ.
Copyright December 2002 by Carrie Carr. No unauthorized copying or distributing without written consent by the author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of my overactive imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Hands, wrinkled and gnarled with age, gently patted the leather-bound picture album before tucking it away into a cardboard box. A quick glance around the room showed that it was the final book to pack, so Travis Edwards climbed to his feet and dusted his hands across the thighs of his faded jeans. He placed the palms of his hands against his lower back and stretched his tall frame as a woman with faded blonde hair entered the room.
The middle-aged woman handed him a large glass of tea, condensation already making the outside of the tumbler slippery. "Mr. Edwards, why don't you let me finish up in here?"
"Thank you, Nancy, but that's really not necessary. You've had enough to handle with the other parts of the house. The least I can do is finish putting away old pictures for the move."
Travis had recently returned to Dallas to pack up his personal belongings so that he could move back to Somerville to be with his family. His granddaughter Lexington has offered him a room at her home, but Travis pride wouldnt allow that. Instead, he enlisted Lexingtons partner Amanda, to find him just the perfect house in town, which she did. It was a few short blocks away from Amandas grandparents home, and the four-bedroom house would be perfect for him and his housekeeper, who had agreed to make the move with him.
He took a deep draw from the glass and sighed in relief. The look he received from his long-time housekeeper brought a smile to his face. "I know, I know. You're going to tell me again how I should have just paid for someone to do all of this, right?"
Nancy shook her head. "Of course not, Mr. Edwards. That would be rude." She smirked with the familiarity of their years together. "But I did promise your granddaughter that I'd keep an eye on you, and not let you overdo it." She waited until he drained the glass, then took it from his hand. "If you'll go upstairs and rest for a little while, I'll make sure that these boxes are properly marked."
Travis knew when he'd been beaten. "That sounds like a good idea. I'll just--" The ringing of the doorbell interrupted him. Before the housekeeper could take a step, he waved her off. "I'll take care of it. Probably one of the movers here early." With a smile and a wave, Travis stepped around a pile of boxes and headed for the front door.
He opened the door and looked into eyes that somehow triggered painful memories, rendering him speechless. A moment later, the pain was replaced with confusion. Standing on the front steps of his home was a woman who appeared to be in her late thirties, with brown hair and eyes so light brown they were almost golden. Shaking off the eerie feeling, Travis attempted to smile. "May I help you?"
The woman brushed one hand through her short hair and looked embarrassed. Her clothes were clean, but she was obviously out of her element in the well-to-do neighborhood. A wrinkled denim jacket covered her black tee shirt, which was tucked into faded blue jeans. The scuffed white sneakers on her feet had seen better days, and she was carrying a dark green backpack over one shoulder. "Is this the Edwards' residence?"
"Yes, I'm Travis Edwards. Is there something I can do for you, miss?" Travis felt no fear at the womans presence, but her features were familiar, although he couldnt place where he might have seen her before.
Her face registered surprise at the owner of the grand house answering the door. "I don't know, Mr. Edwards." She let her hand fall to her side. "This probably wasn't a very good idea," she mumbled.
"I'm sorry, but if you're trying to sell me something, I'm really not interested. You see, I've got a lot of things to finish up today, and--"
"No sir, I'm not selling anything. My name's Eleanor Gordon, but everyone calls me Ellie." She reached under the collar of her tee shirt and pulled on a chain, which held a large gold class ring. "My mother is Naomi Gordon."
Travis leaned forward. His heart began to pound when he recognized the ring. "Where did you get that?"
Ellie lifted the chain over her head and handed the jewelry to him for closer inspection. "My mother gave it to me. She said it belonged to my father."
"Your father?" Travis looked inside the gold band and read the engraved initials W.T.E. "This was my son's." His eyes met hers. "I think you should come inside so that we can talk."
She followed him inside, stepping past boxes and trying to take in the grandeur of the large house. The further into the home she got, the more nervous Ellie became. What had started out as a lark to find the other half of her family quickly turned into wanting to run away as fast as she could.
Travis led the silent woman into the sitting room, one of the last areas left to pack. He motioned with one hand to the Victorian divan, where Ellie promptly sat down on the edge, as if afraid it would break under her weight. The backpack that had been slung over one shoulder, she quietly placed on the floor by her feet. He took the chair across from her and studied her slender form. Of average height, the way her clothes hung on her Ellie looked as if she was in need of a few good meals. He looked up as Nancy appeared in the doorway.
"Mr. Edwards? Is there something I can bring for you and your, guest?" She cast a dubious glance at the woman seated on the divan, but her years of training wouldnt allow her to be rude. It wasnt in her nature.
"Oh, yes. Thank you, Nancy. How about bringing us some of those nice sandwiches and more tea? I believe that Miss Gordon and I have a lot of things to discuss." Travis looked over at his guest, who stayed silent. He watched as Nancy left the room, then turned his attention back to the young woman.
Ellies eyes were fixed on the battered leather encasing her feet. She could feel the older mans gaze upon her, but her nervousness kept her from meeting his eyes. The butterflies in her stomach were dive-bombing the candy bar shed had for breakfast, and once again Ellie privately questioned her sanity for being there. She jumped when Travis cleared his throat.
"Miss Gordon, I dont want to appear nosy or rude, but would you mind telling me how you came to receive this?" Travis raised the ring and chain that he still held in his hand, fearing if he loosened his hold it would disappear. "Its not that I dont believe you, its just that"
"No, I understand." Ellie swallowed hard and forced herself to look into his kindly eyes. "A few months ago, I was helping my mother clean out her attic, and found a bunch of old letters and pictures." Ellie bent over and unzipped her backpack. Rummaging through its contents, she retrieved a photograph, which she passed over to Travis.
Although he had a good idea of what was coming, nothing could have prepared him for the emotional jolt that the old black-and-white provoked. His son, looking strong and handsome in his Army uniform, shared an intimate smile with the woman standing next to him. Neither one was looking at the camera, but it wasnt hard to see that they were very much in love.
"That was taken the weekend before he shipped out. Mom says that she was already pregnant with me in that picture, although neither one of them knew it at the time."
"How long" Travis voice cracked. He cleared his throat and tried again. "How long did they know each other?" It wasnt like Billy to hide the fact that he was in love. His son had always worn his heart on his sleeve, and usually bragged to the world about his latest "true love".
Ellie hated the fact that her being here had upset the man in front of her. He seemed very nice, and much too old to be put through such an extreme emotional shock. She mentally cursed herself for not thinking things through, and for impetuously racing into the situation before getting all the facts. "I think theyd been dating for about a month before the picture was taken."
Although the woman sitting before him was a carbon copy of his late son, Travis felt he had to ask the next question. "And your mother is completely certain that Billy was your father? Just because he had given her his school ring, doesnt necessarily mean they were in an exclusive relationship."
"She was sixteen, Mr. Edwards. He was her first and her only, until she married my stepfather five years later." Ellie pulled out another picture, this one in color. Standing at the beach in their bathing suits was an attractive family: a woman with dark hair and eyes with her arm around the waist of a man who was blond with light eyes, and an eight-year old Ellie standing behind a toddler with blond hair that was almost white. "Thats my brother, William. Hes five years younger than me."
"Yes, sir. My dad is a great guy, and it was his idea, according to my mom." Ellie accepted the picture back from Travis, but allowed him to keep the black and white. "That one is for you, Mr. Edwards. I thought you might want to have it."
Travis brushed the dampness from his eyes. He was saved from speaking by Nancy, who brought in a tray holding a plate of sandwiches, two glasses of tea, and a pitcher. When she saw how upset her employer was, it took all of Nancys training not to go into attack mode. She put her hand on his shoulder in a comforting gesture. "Is there anything else I can get for you, Mr. Edwards?"
"No, Nancy. Thank you." He waited until she left the room before addressing his guest once again. "So, your mother never told you about your father? Why wait until now?"
Ellie sighed. She had sometimes asked herself that very question. "Mom told me years ago that my father was killed in Vietnam, and that she didnt know of any living relatives. I never questioned it, because Anthony, my stepdad, has always been an excellent father. I had no reason to want to look into my roots. But, like I told you earlier, when we found the old letters that your son had written my mom, I wanted to know more about him. So, here I am."
"And you just dropped everything to come find me? What about your family, your job?" Travis held out an empty plate to Ellie, motioning that she should take it and a sandwich. At first she declined, but when she saw he wasnt going to give up, she took the plate and placed some food on it.
"Thank you." Ellie picked up one of the glasses and took a long drink, not even bothering to sweeten the tea like she normally would. "My family understands my need to learn about my real father, Mr. Edwards. They dont like it, but they understand. Theyre back in San Diego, where I was born. As for my job, well, lets just say Im on vacation." She stopped speaking and took several bites of the sandwich, trying to keep from looking like it was her first real food in days, which it was.
Travis leaned back in his chair and watched the woman eat. She didnt gulp her food, but he could tell that she was definitely hungry. Her manners showed a good upbringing, and he could almost hear his beloved wifes voice telling him to quit treating their granddaughter like a stranger. "Eleanor? Im sorry, may I call you Eleanor?"
She nodded, then swallowed. "Yes, sir. You can call me Eleanor, or Ellie. Whatever you like, Mr. Edwards."
"Excellent. But only if you call me Travis. And, maybe when youre more comfortable, you can call me Grandpa, or Grandfather, whatever youd like."
Ellie almost choked on her iced tea. She surreptitiously wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. "Thank you, Mr. I mean, Travis. Id really like that."
He smiled and stood up. "Id like that too, Ellie. Why dont you let me show you upstairs, where you can get cleaned up and maybe rest? Im sure your journey from San Diego was a long one." Travis watched as Ellie eyed what was left of the sandwiches. "Why dont I have Nancy bring these up to your room?"
"Thanks." Ellie reached down and grabbed her backpack, then stood up. "I dont want to put you to any trouble. Im sure I could find someplace nearby to stay."
"Nonsense. I have more than enough room and plenty of places to sleep, at least until the movers get here. What are your plans now?" Travis led Ellie to the staircase in the foyer, where he took the steps slowly so as not to make her nervous. "I hope you plan on staying for a while, so that we can get to know each other."
Ellie hadnt thought that far ahead. Her main goal, which was to meet more of her family, had been attained. Now she was at a loss. She followed Travis up the stairs, all the while wondering where she was to go to from there.
In a clearing just beyond the deserted gravel road, two men stood in deep conversation. Both dressed in dark suits, the taller of the two scrawled notes on the clipboard that he held while the other chewed on a thick cigar and looked around. The occasional birdcall and the rustling of golden leaves on the trees were the only sounds around them, often punctuated by the scratching of pen against paper.
Not used to the heat of the Texas fall season, cigar man unbuttoned his suit coat. He pointed through the trees to the north. "You say a spring-fed creek runs about fifty yards away? How much water are we talking about here?"
The tall man looked up from the notes he was taking. "From the geologist's report, the main spring originates about ten miles away, but it's fed by several smaller ones as it travels south." Sweat caused his wire-framed glasses to slide down his nose, and he impatiently pushed them back up with one finger. His short, dark hair was plastered to his head, making him wish that he had left his jacket in the rental car that was parked on the other side of the fence. "Properly dammed, we could have a nice lake to the west of here within a year."
"Good. The shareholders have been breathing down my neck for months, Wilson. We need to finish up buying the land around here, no matter what the cost." Cigar man spit a wad of soggy tobacco near the other man's feet, tossing what was left of his cigar to the ground. "We're not going to have any trouble with this, are we?"
Wilson casually took a step forward and crushed the glowing stub under the sole of his imported leather shoe. "Not that I'm aware of, Mr. Billings. Not many people know about the upcoming auction, so we're sure to win with a low bid."
"See that we do. After that Montana fiasco, my ass is on the line." The shorter man took a white handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the perspiration from his face. His bald head gleamed in the morning sun, and he hastily ran the cloth across his crown. "I don't care what it takes. We have to get this land. Once weve secured this tract, then the rest of the area should fall into our hands easily." Billings reached inside his coat for another cigar, snipping off its end with a silver cutter. He took his time at lighting the rolled tobacco, closing his eyes as the smoke rolled around in his mouth. A long moment later, his eyes reopened and he removed the cigar and pointed it at the man who stood across from him. "Nothing, I repeat, nothing better screw this up, Wilson. If my ass gets burned, you can be sure yours will be melted." He spat again, then rebuttoned the dark coat and stalked to the fence.
A light knock on her door caused Amanda Cauble to look up from her desk. "Come in." When an older woman entered the room, she stood up and hurried around the desk to embrace her. "Gramma, what a wonderful surprise. What brings you to the office today?"
Anna Leigh Cauble returned her granddaughters exuberant hug, then allowed herself to be seated in one of the guest chairs while Amanda sat next to her in the other. "Cant I come to see my granddaughter when I want?"
"Of course you can. Im just so glad to see you, thats all." Amanda brushed the wrinkles from her navy skirt. "How about I take you to lunch to make up for my manners?" She watched as Anna Leigh smiled, and knew that shed been forgiven.
"Actually, I was coming to ask you to lunch, dearest. But Im not one to pass on a free meal, especially from the manager of such a fine establishment." Although Anna Leigh owned Sunflower Realty, which Amanda managed for her, she no longer worried about the day-to-day workings of the business.
Knowing shed been gotten again, Amanda shook her head and stood up. "Let me get my purse, and well go down the street to the Crossing. At least they have a good lunch menu."
A short time later, both women were stationed at window seats in the bustling restaurant, sipping iced tea and waiting for their orders. Amanda watched her grandmother for a moment, then tapped the table. "Okay, spill it."
"Spill what, dear?" Anna Leigh tried her best to appear innocent, but failed miserably.
"Come on, Gramma. Your hands havent stilled since we sat down, and you keep looking around the room as if you were afraid someone was watching. Whats up?"
Anna Leigh took another sip of her tea, then set the glass down on the table. "You are much too smart for your own good, Mandy. I swear, youre as bad as your grandfather." She straightened the knife and fork that were on the table. "I need your help. I know youre real busy with the office right now, but the girls put me in charge, and well, Im at a loss."
"In charge? What are you talking about?" Amanda leaned forward to hear her grandmothers muted words. "What girls?"
"From the office, Mandy. Dont tell me you dont know." At that moment, the waitress brought each of them their salads. "Thank you."
"Youre welcome, maam. Is there anything else you two ladies need?" the waitress asked, even though she was already looking at another table, calculating how long it would be before they needed refills on their drinks.
"No, thank you. Were fine," Amanda dismissed her politely, anxious to hear what Anna Leigh had to say. After the waitress left, she waited for a long beat. "Well?"
Anna Leigh raised a forkful of lettuce to her mouth, but didnt eat. "Well, what?" She put the food into her mouth and chewed daintily.
"Argh!" Amanda threw her hands up in the air in frustration. "What about the girls at the office? Is there something wrong that they asked you to bring up to me?" She looked down at her bowl of salad, suddenly not very hungry.
Feeling bad, Anna Leigh swallowed her food and shook her head. "No, of course not. I was talking about the baby shower." She reached across the table and patted Amandas hand. "I thought you knew about it."
Amanda rolled her eyes. "All this secrecy is about a baby shower? Good grief." She picked up her glass of tea and swallowed about half its contents.
"Of course, Mandy. You know what a gossip Wanda is. Its almost impossible to keep anything a secret from her, but were determined to surprise her with a baby shower." Wanda Skimmerly worked at Sunflower Realty with Amanda. After years of marriage, she and her husband Dirk were expecting their first child. Both were ecstatic, but cautious. It wasnt something that they had planned for, but they were excited just the same. The other women at the office were so happy for them both, they wanted to do something fun for them.
"Well, good luck, Gramma. I bet she figures it out before you get it planned." Amanda started on her salad, relieved that her grandmothers news wasnt of a more serious nature.
Anna Leigh returned her attention to her plate. They concentrated on their salads for several minutes before she cleared her throat. "I was thinking about having the shower at our home next Saturday, Mandy. What do you think?"
"Im sure itll be fine, Gramma." A shrill sound to the left of their table caught Amandas attention. She watched as a woman comforted an infant, rocking and cooing to it quietly. Intent on the scene, she almost didnt hear her grandmothers next words.
"Excellent. Then I can count on you to help me host it, right?"
Amanda had just taken a drink of tea, and spewed it all over the table. She coughed and sputtered for several moments before she was able to speak. "Me? Why me?"
Unruffled, Anna Leigh dabbed at the tea on the table with her napkin. "Because youre my granddaughter, and the manager of the office. Why not?" She looked up into Amandas eyes. "Is there a problem, Mandy? I suppose I can always find someone else to help me, if youre too busy."
"No, Gramma, its not that." Amanda honestly didnt know why the idea of co-hosting a baby shower made her so uncomfortable. But, her grandmother had been there for her when no one else was, and she was determined to repay her in this small way. "Next Saturday?"
"Thats right. Im hoping that you and Lexington could maybe stay over Friday night, so we can get an early start on Saturday. What do you think?"
Im thinking that Lex will probably want to kill me for this. As much as Amanda dreaded a baby shower, she hated to imagine her partners reaction when she told her theyd been drafted to help with one. She listened politely as her grandmother started talking about plans, colors, and refreshments.
"Have you completely lost your mind?" Lexington Walters yelled, throwing her hat down in disgust. She glared at the person standing in front of her, who had the good sense to be looking at the ground, and not into her stormy eyes. "What makes you think Id go along with this?"
The man being dressed down bit the inside of his cheek to keep from going off on the rancher. This was his first day of work at the ranch, and he thought his previous experience with breaking horses would impress her. Once she had finished her tirade, he looked into her face and shrugged. "Its the way Ive always done it, Ms. Walters. Ive never had any complaints before."
Lex picked up her hat and dusted it against her leg. "Youve obviously worked for some real idiots, then, Roger." She heard his intake of breath, and wasnt surprised at the explosion.
"Look, lady, Ive been in this business since before you were in diapers, and I dont appreciate you talking to me like Im some sort of green kid." Roger stepped closer until they were almost nose to nose. "If you dont like my methods, fine. Let me talk to the guy who usually breaks in your horses, and well compare notes."
"You want to talk to the guy who breaks our horses?" Lex laughed. "Youre looking at her." She looked over at her foreman, Roy, who had been standing nearby in case the new hire got out of hand. "Have the boys prepare a couple of horses to break, Roy. Tomorrow morning Ill be showing Mr. Jensen how we do things at the Rocking W." She turned back to Roger. "Dont be late." Lex walked off, leaving Roger staring at her back, dumbstruck.
Roy patted the newest ranch hand on the back in both in sympathy and amusement, then headed back to the bunkhouse. This wasnt the first time that hed witnessed a new hire underestimating their boss.
Ronnie, who had been watching from a distance, waited until Lex was far enough away from the other men so that he wouldnt be heard. He jogged up and fell in step beside Lex, waiting for the right moment to speak.
"Whats on your mind, Ronnie?" Lex continued to walk, but she slowed her pace slightly so that the teenager could keep up. He had practically become her shadow since his adoption by Martha and Charlie months earlier, and Lex had to admit to herself that she enjoyed his company.
He shook his head at her perception. It never failed to amaze Ronnie how Lex seemed to know everything that went on at the ranch. He was hoping hed grow up to be half as good at what hed decided to do, which was go to veterinary school. Now if he could just get up the nerve to tell his benefactor. But for now, he was more interested in how Lex ran the ranch. "Did I hear right? Are you going to break some horses tomorrow?"
"Yep." Her anger still bubbling, Lex kept her answers short. If she hadnt caught Jensen with the sadistic bit he was planning on using for breaking horses, shed have ended up with several animals with ruined mouths. Lex couldnt believe the ignorance of the man, who had come to the ranch with glowing letters of recommendation.
Ronnie could tell that Lex was still fuming over her confrontation with the new hire, but his excitement got the better of him. "I know that Im supposed to clean out the stables on Saturday morning, but would it be okay if I came up to the corral and watched you break horses first? Maybe I can take care of my chores tonight, after dinner." He held his breath in anticipation of her answer.
The teenagers request caused Lex to stop in her tracks. "Why would you want to waste your time watching something like that?"
"I dont think its a waste of time at all, Lex. Its another part of how the ranch works, and you promised youd show me everything."
"I did, didnt I?"
"Yes, maam. You told me that as long as my grades stayed up, youd teach me everything you know about ranching." Ronnie smiled with pride. "Im on the honor roll again this semester, so Ive kept my part of the bargain."
Lex nodded then resumed her trek. "So you have." She couldnt help but admire Ronnies thirst for knowledge, something that he had shown almost from the moment he arrived at the ranch. "Ill make you a deal. You finish up your homework tonight, and the two of us will take care of the stables after we teach Jensen a thing or two. Hows that sound?"
"All right!" Ronnie whooped, pumping his fist in the air and jumping off the ground. At Lexs grin, he put his hands in the back pocket of his jeans and tried to appear nonchalant. "That sounds like a good deal to me, Lex. Thanks."
His exuberance brought the rancher out of her foul mood. She wrapped one arm around the boys shoulder and pulled him close. "Anytime, buddy." They walked the rest of the way to the ranch house in silence, both thinking about the coming morning.
"Oh, Mandy. Isnt this just the most darling thing?" Anna Leigh held up a garish pink infant dress for her granddaughters inspection. "I think that Wanda would love it."
Amanda rolled her eyes. For someone with as much class as her grandmother had, the woman had absolutely no taste in baby clothes. "Gramma, youve already bought four other pink outfits. What if she doesnt like pink?"
"Nonsense, dear. All baby girls look good in pink." But, to her credit, Anna Leigh returned the item to the rack. She turned to see Amanda staring at a young couple nearby.
The man, tall and very nice looking with dark hair and eyes, held a six-month old baby. He bent his head down and kissed the childs head, while his wife looked on with a smile. They were about Amandas age, and she couldnt help but be envious of the cooing bundle as she looked on. It seemed that everywhere she looked lately there was either a pregnant woman or someone with a baby. Even Wanda, who had never expressed a desire for a family, was due in the next few weeks. Her sister Jeannie was also expecting, due in early November.
Concerned at the look on Amandas face, Anna Leigh touched her arm. "Is everything okay, Mandy? You seem a million miles away."
"Hmm?" Amanda blinked. She pasted a smile on her face and turned around. "Im sorry, Gramma. What did you say?"
"I asked if anything was wrong. Youre not yourself today."
Much to her dismay, tears welled up in Amandas eyes. "Im fine, really." She turned away, embarrassed by her emotions. "If youll excuse me for a moment, I need to go to the ladies room."
Anna Leigh watched in surprise as Amanda rushed away, wiping at her face with her hands. "Now I wonder what all that was about," she murmured. She made a mental note to call the ranch in the next few days and check with Martha, hoping that the housekeeper would have some insight into her granddaughters strange behavior.
Lex stepped out of the shower and wrapped a towel around her body. She fluffed her hair dry with another towel, then walked into the bedroom. At no sign of her lover anywhere, Lex frowned.
Amanda had been quiet all through dinner, not even joining in the teasing when Martha started giving Lex a hard time about attending Wandas baby shower. After the meal, she quietly excused herself, citing her need to make a few phone calls before locking herself in the office.
Worried, Lex glanced at the bedside clock. Almost two hours had gone by since she had last seen Amanda. I didnt think shed be that upset with me. When Amanda told her about the baby shower, Lex had been less than enthused. Of course, the rest of the table enjoyed a nice laugh at her expense, not that she minded. The thought of spending hours with a group of women oohing and ahhing over baby items was not Lexs idea of a good time. Charlie had slapped her on the back and promised the rancher that shed live through the ordeal, while Martha offered to buy her a dress for the occasion. All she had to do to quiet a giggling Ronnie was glare at him, but Lex figured her lack of enthusiasm for the event had upset her partner more than shed thought.
She hurriedly dressed in a pair of boxers and a heavy tee shirt, determined to speak to Amanda and find out what was bothering her, once and for all. In her haste, she nearly knocked the object of her search over, when they met at the bedroom door.
"Sorry," Amanda mumbled, putting her hands on Lexs hips to steady herself. She didnt bring her eyes up, instead finding the floor beneath them fascinating.
"No, Im the one whos sorry." Lex backed into the bedroom, pulling her lover with her. She started to sit them down on the bed, when Amanda broke free of her grasp and headed for the bathroom.
"Ill be back after my shower." Amanda was almost to the bathroom door when she felt Lexs hands on her hips again.
"Want me to scrub your back?"
Not looking at Lex, Amanda disentangled herself. "Thats okay. You just got dry." She closed the door in Lexs face. "Ill be out in a little bit."
Lex stood staring at the closed door. She was torn between going in and apologizing, or allowing Amanda her space. The way she had been dismissed helped her decide, and Lex dropped her shoulders and went to lie down on the bed to wait.
A short time later, Amanda stepped out of the bathroom, wrapped in the flowery terry cloth robe that Lex had given her when theyd first met. She crossed to the dresser and found a long nightshirt, then turned and headed back to the bathroom without speaking. She came back out a few minutes later, her hair still damp from her shower.
"Feel better?" Lex asked, more for something to say than anything else.
Amanda sat on her side of the bed, her back to Lex. "Whats that supposed to mean?" She slipped under the covers and lay down on her back, looking at the ceiling.
"Nothing. I just"
"Im sorry," Amanda interrupted, rolling over to face her lover. "I didnt mean to snap at you like that, Lex."
Lex rolled over until she mirrored Amandas posture, her head propped on one hand. She used her other hand to brush the damp hair away from the sad eyes across from her. "Whats wrong?"
Turning her head, Amanda kissed the palm that caressed her face. She closed her eyes, not certain how to answer the question. "I dont know," she whispered, her voice breaking. "Hold me, please?" An instant later she was cradled in strong arms, her head pillowed on her lovers chest. The soothing motion of Lexs hands stroking her hair and back calmed Amanda somewhat, but she still felt unsettled. What is wrong with me? Not wanting to think about it any further, she concentrated on the loving touch, allowing herself to unwind,.
The tense body in her arms slowly relaxed, and before Lex could question her anymore, Amanda fell asleep. The rancher lay in the darkness, holding the woman she loved and wondering what she could do to help.
Having been up half the night worrying, Lex awoke later than normal to find Amanda's side of the bed cold. She got up and went into the bathroom, not surprised to find it empty. On Saturday mornings, Amanda liked to go downstairs and help Martha with breakfast . The compromise worked well for everyone: Martha still fixed the meals, and both households ate together in the main house. On the weekends, she allowed Amanda to join in the meal preparation, and the two of them normally did the grocery list together on Sunday. After finishing her morning routine, Lex dressed and hurried downstairs.
"Good morning," Amanda greeted Lex warmly when she stepped into the kitchen. She poured a cup of coffee and set it down on the table before wrapping her arms around her lover for a hug.
Lex returned the embrace, somewhat confused at Amandas bright disposition, especially considering the evening before. "Good morning to you, too. I guess you slept pretty well?" She allowed herself to be led to the table and pushed down into her usual chair.
"I sure did." Amanda bent down and kissed Lex on the cheek. "Thanks," she whispered. She patted the rancher on the shoulder and moved back over to the stove, where Martha was putting the finishing touches on breakfast.
At that moment, Ronnie and Charlie stepped into the kitchen, the boy excitedly relating something to the sheriff. "You should have seen the look on his face. It was priceless." He stopped when he realized that all eyes were on them. "Morning." Ronnie kissed Martha on the cheek before taking his place at the table.
"From what Ronnie tells me, it sounds like youve got a busy morning ahead, Lex," Charlie drawled, sitting down across from her.
Lex shrugged her shoulders. "Not much different from any other Saturday, Charlie. Whats on your agenda for the day?"
Martha and Amanda brought the dishes over to the table and sat down, and the rest of the meal was punctuated by the normal small talk. Lex finished before everyone else and stood up. "If youll excuse me, Ive got to take care of some things down at the barn, before I go up to the corral." She kissed Amanda on the cheek. "See you at lunch?"
"Great." Lex nodded to the others before leaving the room.
Ronnie eyed his half-full plate, then the doorway. He began to shovel forkfuls of food into his mouth at a quicker pace, until Martha halted his hand midway to his mouth.
"Hold on there, Ronnie. Wheres the fire?"
He chewed hard, then swallowed. "What?"
"Youre tossing down that food like you havent eaten in days. Whats the rush?" Martha frowned. "Didnt you get enough to eat at dinner last night?"
"Yes, maam, I did. Its just I gotta hurry, or Ill be late." He continued to eat steadily, although at a much more acceptable pace.
Charlie exchanged looks with Amanda, who shrugged. "Its Saturday, son. What on earth would you be late for?"
Ronnie finished his meal and wiped his mouth with a napkin. "Theyre going to break some horses up at the corral this morning. Lex promised to let me watch." He looked at Martha. "May I be excused?"
"Of course." Martha remembered a similar scene in this very kitchen, probably fifteen years earlier. Lex used to get excited about the same things, and she understood how important it was to Ronnie. "Dont be late for lunch, though. Weve got a date with a math book afterwards, if I remember correctly."
"Yes, maam." Ronnie jumped up from the table and kissed the air by Marthas cheek. "Bye!" He raced out of the kitchen, excited.
Charlie leaned back in his chair and shook his head. "Im about halfway tempted to head up there myself," he mused. "Id like to see Lex show those men a thing or two."
"Oh, what do you mean?" Amanda asked, raising her fork to her mouth.
"Ronnie told me on the way over that Lex had a run-in with the new hand. Shes going to show him the proper way to break a horse."
Amandas fork dropped to her plate. "What?"
"Not again," Martha grumbled. "The last time Lexie did that, she broke two ribs, not the horse." She tossed her napkin down on her plate and stood up. "I swear, that girl doesnt have the sense that God gave a goose. She hires those men for a reason, crazy kid." She continued to grumble as she gathered up the empty dishes from the table.
"Are you telling me that Lex plans on getting on one of those wild horses?" Amanda asked, her appetite gone. She pushed away from the table. "She didnt mention anything like that to me last night." Not that she had the chance, Amandas inner voice chastised her. Your little tantrum saw to that, didnt it?
Charlie stood up. "Well, she is in charge of the ranch. Ronnie told me that the new man had some sort of homemade bit that he wanted to use on the horses, which would have cut their mouths to pieces. I dont blame her for wanting to clear things up." He barely had time to catch Amanda before she ran from the room. "Where are you off to?"
"Im going to go talk some sense into her, Charlie. Theres no reason she should risk injuring herself, just because of some jerk at the bunkhouse." Amanda tried to twist out of Charlies grasp. "Martha, tell him."
Martha shook her head. "No, honey. Hes right. Lexie is the head of the ranch, and we cant go racing off and embarrassing her in front of her men. That would just cause more trouble than good."
"Maybe. But you cant just sit around here and wait for something to happen, either." Amanda looked up at Charlie. "Please, take me up there? At least we can watch from a distance, or something."
"Oh, no. Youre not going to get me in the middle of this." He stepped back. "Ive got some paperwork I need to finish up at the house." Charlie grabbed his hat. "Ill see you ladies at lunch."
Amanda watched him leave, her arms folded across her chest. "Am I the only one around here who cares what happens to Lex?"
"Of course not, Amanda." Martha walked up and stood beside the distraught woman. "We all care. But Lexies been doing this since she was a teenager. Theres no one better at it than she is, I can guarantee you that."
"Youve all lost your minds," Amanda muttered, stomping out of the kitchen.
Lex parked the jeep next to the bunkhouse. Before she opened the door, she looked at Ronnie. "A lot of the guys like to sit on the top of the corral to watch, but Id prefer if youd just stand a few feet back."
"Sure, Lex. But why?"
"Some of the horses like to try and brush the rider off on the corral posts. Ive seen men get their legs broken because they werent fast enough to get out of the way." She climbed out of the vehicle to meet him on the other side. "Do you think I want to face Martha if something like that happened to you?"
He laughed and pulled his gray felt cowboy hat down to a more snug position. It had been a birthday present from Lex, and Ronnie was rarely without it. "I dont blame you there. Shes tough."
They walked to the corral where the men were gathered. Several of them hollered a greeting, which Lex acknowledged with a wave. She nodded to Roy, who was inside the corral helping two other men saddle a horse.
"Hey, boss. Were almost ready for you." He traded looks with Tony, another ranch hand. By unspoken agreement, they kept Roger away from the animal, just to be on the safe side. "Ive got this, if you dont mind checking the gate." A large pen was connected to the corral by a long chute, where they loaded the animals to tag or vaccinate. Roy wanted to make certain the gate was properly closed, since there was another horse already in the chute. The last thing they needed was another animal in the corral while Lex was astride this one.
"Tony nodded. Gotcha." He received a glare from Roger, who had just left the chute area.
The new hire walked over to Roy and roughly grabbed the heavy rope that was to be used as reins, causing the horse the shy away. "Whats the matter? Dont trust me?"
Roy attempted to calm the frightened animal, thankful when Lex stepped into the corral and helped him. "Weve got this, Roger. Why dont you go find yourself a good seat?" the foreman asked. Once the man was out of earshot, he whispered, "Are you sure this is such a good idea? I swear these are the wildest bunch Ive seen in a while, boss."
"Whats the matter, Roy? Afraid I cant handle it?" Lex teased, as she carefully ran her hands over the horses skin. She paused when she saw a raised mark on the animals stifle, or where the hip met the abdomen. "Whats this?"
He leaned down and studied the spot. "Im not sure, but if I didnt know better, Id swear it was a welt." Their eyes met. "Looks pretty fresh, Lex."
"Thats what I was thinking." As much as she tried to give everyone a chance, she was beginning to dislike Roger Jensen. "Would he have had any time alone with the horses since they were brought up from the back pasture?"
"Im not sure." Roy scratched his chin. "Hell, Lex. I didnt think to keep a continuous eye on him. Do you think hed do something like this?"
Lex pursed her lips and nodded to where the men were gathered. "I dont know, Roy. But hes looking pretty damn smug right now." She was well past being angry. "Ive half a mind to go over there and knock that damned grin off his face, thats for sure."
"Maybe we should just save this for another time," Roy suggested. "If he whipped these horses to scare them, it would be foolish to try and break them now."
"Are you calling me a fool?" Lex asked. "Never mind. Just cover up so I can get on." She waited until Roy held a piece of burlap over the horses face, then hurried into the saddle and grabbed the heavy rope. Bracing herself, Lex nodded.
Roy stepped out of the way, pulling the burlap down with him. He quickly climbed through the corral beams and said a silent prayer for the stubborn woman who clung to the bucking horse with just the strength in her thighs and grip of one hand.
Although she should have been terrified, Lex couldnt help but grin at the adrenaline that rushed through her. She had always enjoyed this part of ranching, even though it was one of the more dangerous jobs. As the horse kicked his rear legs in the air, she leaned back and held the ropes taut. The unexpected spin almost caught her off guard, but she was able to stay in the saddle. Not even the loss of her hat tore her concentration away from the animal beneath her, as she continued to hang on.
Amanda paced around the house for a whole fifteen minutes before she decided to drive up to the corral and see what was happening. It didnt take very long to navigate the narrow dirt road, and before she knew it she had parked her Mustang next to Lexs old jeep. Once she got out of the vehicle, she could see the men hanging off the fencing of the corral, some yelling encouragement to Lex, who was being tossed around like a rag doll. Horrified, Amanda rushed over and climbed up next to them so that she could see.
The horse didnt seem to be tiring. Lex was beginning to think that maybe Roy was right, and that trying to break the animal was a mistake. She was contemplating jumping off when she heard a familiar voice ring out over the din.
"Lex!" Amanda screamed, seeing her lover struggle to control the huge animal.
Turning her head toward the sound, Lex didnt see the horses head suddenly jerk sideways. Her firm grip on the ropes caused the animal to fall on its side, rolling completely over before jumping up and running to the far side of the corral.
The crumpled form on the ground didnt move. Two men rushed to the horse to keep it back, while Roy and Amanda hurried over to check on Lex. Both landed on their knees next to the still body. Lex was lying on one side, her face turned to the ground. Roy pulled off his gloves and touched the side of her throat, checking for a pulse. A low groan caused him to jerk away. "Lex?"
"Damn," Lex coughed, rolling over onto her back. She looked up into the worried eyes of her wife. "What are you doing here?"
Amanda began to run her hands over Lexs body. "Are you hurt?"
Lex sat up and rubbed her midsection. "Nah. Just got the breath knocked out of me," she wheezed. A hard slap to her shoulder caught her off guard. "Ow! What was that for?"
"For scaring me to death!" Amanda stood up as Roy helped Lex to her feet. "Dont you ever do that again, Lexington Walters." She wiped the moisture from her face, her tears of worry now turning to tears of anger. "What were you trying to prove, anyway?"
Roy, for his part, decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and quietly left the two women alone in the middle of the corral. He motioned to the men to take care of the horse, and headed for the bunkhouse for a cup of coffee. Ill bet shed rather take her chances with the horse. I know I would.
Lex followed Amanda out of the corral, picking her hat up on the way and dusting it off against her thigh. She waited until they were away from the men before answering her lovers question. "For your information, Amanda, this is what I do. What are you doing here?"
Amanda stopped and spun around. "No, Lex. What you do is run a ranch. What part of that says you have to ride wild animals?"
"Im not going to ask my men to do anything that I wouldnt do," Lex retorted.
"They all know that. But does that mean you have to risk your life? How do you think that makes them feel? Its their job."
The rancher paused. She had never actually thought about it that way.
Amanda could see that she had Lexs attention. "And what about what we have? Dammit, Lex, weve only been together for a year. Dont you think we deserve more time together than that?" She stepped closer and put her hands on Lexs hips. "I cant bear the thought of losing you so soon after finding you."
"Amanda," Lex took off her gloves and tucked them in her back pocket. She reached up and wiped the tears from her lovers face. "Im sorry." She was relieved when Amanda leaned forward into her arms. "Please dont cry, sweetheart."
The anguished plea only caused Amanda to cry harder. She buried her face in Lexs dusty shirt and held on tight.
Lex was about to say something else when she heard snickering behind them. She turned her head and saw Roger shaking his head.
"Looks like shes got you on a pretty short tether, Walters. Guess youre too whipped to show me how to break ponies."
"Back off, Jensen."
He either didnt hear the low order, or didnt care. Roger moved closer. "Damned cute, though. Is she good in the" His comment was cut short by Lexs fist. She had released her hold on Amanda and punched the obnoxious man.
Lex stood over Jensen, her hands clenched at her sides. "Youve got exactly ten minutes to get off my ranch, asshole." She wanted to pick Roger up and pound on him, but Amandas hands on her back calmed her.
"Fine." He climbed to his feet and licked his lower lip, tasting blood. "I didnt want to work for a damned woman, anyway."
"Come on, honey." Amanda pulled at Lexs shirt. "Lets go back to the house and get you cleaned up."
She would have rather stayed to make sure Jensen left, but Lex decided that shed upset Amanda enough for one day. "Sounds good to me. I think Im wearing most of the corral," she joked, as she crawled into the passengers seat of Amandas car and closed the door.
Not a word was spoken as they drove back to the ranch house. Amanda was still trying to calm down after the horrifying scene at the corral. She kept seeing Lexs still form lying in the dirt, and the fear of losing what they had was fresh in her mind. She knew that she had overreacted, but didnt know how to voice her apology, so she kept quiet.
For her part, Lex was still fuming over the arrogance of Roger Jensen. She was also irritated with herself for not checking his references more carefully, taking the names he had given at face value. Thatll teach me. Now Ive got to put another ad in the paper to replace him.
It wasnt long before Amanda parked the Mustang in front of the main house. She was out of the car and halfway to the house before she realized that Lex wasnt with her. With one foot on the front porch, Amanda turned around and looked back over her shoulder. Lex was still in the car, staring straight ahead with an angry look on her face. I really screwed up this time. Shes furious.
Before Amanda could go back to the car, Lex opened her door and climbed out. Lost in her thoughts, she didnt even acknowledge Amandas presence as she walked by her and into the house. She was through the den and almost to the office when Amandas quiet voice stopped her.
"What?" Lex spun around and stood, waiting for the reason her train of thought had been disturbed. She wanted to call the newspaper and place her ad for the Sunday edition, and had very little time left to do so.
Amanda understood that her lover was upset, but the curt tone still hurt. "I thought you were going to go upstairs and get cleaned up." The dirt and grime that covered Lexs clothes left a light trail behind her, and Amanda knew that Lex normally didnt like to track anything into the house that would cause Martha any undue work.
"I will, but Ive got some things to take care of, first." Lex turned back around and went into the office, closing the door behind her.
"But " Amanda barely got the word out of her mouth before she was alone in the room. She was about to go upstairs alone, when her own anger got the best of her. Im not going to allow her to brush me off like that. We need to talk about this. Her mind made up, Amanda crossed the room and knocked on the office door. When she didnt get an answer, she slowly opened the door and peeked inside.
Lex sat at the desk, typing away at the computer. She had removed her hat, and there were rivulets of mud down the side of her face where she had perspired. Intent on the screen in front of her, Lex didnt hear Amanda step into the room.
Frowning, Lex looked up from the computer. "Amanda? Whats the matter?"
An incredulous look crossed Amandas face. "Whats the matter? You snapped at me and locked yourself in here, and you want to know whats the matter?" Her voice began to rise as she grew more upset. "I know I screwed up back there, but thats no reason to bite my head off and then ignore me."
"Im sorry that I was so concerned about you. I guess just because were married, I dont have that right." Amandas temper was in full force, and she had a lot to get off her chest. She pointed her finger at Lex, who had pushed the chair away from the desk and stood up. "I know were going to disagree on things, but Ill be damned if Ill let you just walk away from me without so much as a word."
Amanda moved around the desk until she was less than a foot away from her lover and waved her left hand in front of Lexs face. "Were partners, Lexington Walters. The day you put this ring on my finger, we agreed to share everything. And, for your information, Id like more than a year to share with you. Lifes too precious to go around doing crazy things like you did today." The look that Lex gave her caused Amanda to pause in her tirade. "Well?"
"Can I talk, now?" Lex asked quietly.
Amanda pursed her lips in thought. "Okay."
Taking hold of Amandas hands, Lex raised them to her lips and kissed them. She looked into her wifes eyes, upset with herself at causing the woman she loved so much anguish. "Im sorry, Amanda. I didnt mean to snap at you, I was running out of time to get the ad placed for Jensens replacement before the deadline for tomorrows edition." She leaned forward and kissed Amanda lightly on the lips and then pulled away. "And, Ill do my best to not take stupid chances anymore, okay?"
"Okay." Amandas ire dissipated almost as quickly as it had flared. She used her thumb to wipe a smudge of dirt from Lexs cheek. "Why dont we go upstairs and get you into the shower? I doubt that Martha will allow you at the lunch table like this." She led her partner from the office, relieved that the misunderstanding was behind them.
Once upstairs, Lex followed Amanda into the bathroom and allowed herself to be undressed. She was enjoying the attention as her shirt was slowly unbuttoned, until Amanda gasped. "What?"
Amanda ran her hands delicately across Lexs torso, where a mottled purple and black bruise had formed. "Does this hurt?"
"Not much," Lex assured her, craning her neck to see. The discoloration covered her lower abdomen just above her hips. "Must be where the saddle got me when that damned horse rolled over." She looked back up into the concerned face of her lover. "Really, sweetheart. I barely feel it." She pulled Amanda close, determined to take the worried look off her face. "Wanna scrub my back?"
The playful tone caused Amanda to grin. "I think that can be arranged." Her own shirt was pulled from her body before she had a chance to say another word. Moments later, her bra joined the shirt on the floor, and Amanda stood in front of Lex, wearing only her jeans and sneakers. Gentle hands traced the contours of her chest, causing her to tremble in anticipation.
"Cold?" Lex asked, a sly look on her face. She didnt wait for an answer, but unbuttoned the faded jeans and slid them down. Looking up from where she knelt, Lex wrapped her arms around Amandas legs and leaned into her. "I love you, Amanda," she murmured.
"I love you, too." Amanda pulled Lexs head closer to her body and stroked her hair. Once again she was reminded just how precious what they had was, and she vowed to herself to protect their love, no matter what the cost.
To be continued in Part 2
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