The Way Things Should Be

Part X

By Carrie Carr

Chapter 19


It wasn’t the weary ache in her bones that woke Lex, or the painful tempo in her head that matched her heartbeat. The last vestiges of an all too real nightmare were the culprit, and she struggled to regain her composure as she looked around. The room was unfamiliar and for a brief period of time she didn’t know where she was. Attempting to fight off the headache, Lex’s eyes searched the partially lit room for anything that could jog her memory. Lighting upon a sleeping figure curled up in a beat up padded chair, she couldn’t help but smile. A strangled cry from the restless form was all she needed to move into action. Sitting up, Lex ignored the sudden dizziness and swung her feet over the side of the bed, practically falling to her knees next to the chair. "Amanda, sweetheart. Wake up."

The soft plea caused Amanda to jerk upright, and her eyes flew open in alarm. Even in the dim light, she was able to easily make out the features of the woman beside her. Amanda raised one hand and shakily traced a pattern across Lex’s face. "You’re okay," she whispered, her voice cracking.

"Yeah, I’m fine." Lex used the arms of Amanda’s chair to push herself into a standing position. The dizziness returned, which caused her to stumble back against the bed.

Amanda was up and reaching for Lex in an instant. "I don’t think so." With her help, Lex was back under the thin covers in no time, and only then did Amanda feel like she could relax. She sat on the edge of the bed, trying to calm her own rapidly beating heart. "What were you doing out of bed?" Over and over again, she fiddled with the blanket, more to have something to do with her hands than anything else.

"I woke up and was worried about you." Not sure if it was the medication or the bump on her head, Lex suddenly felt extremely tired, and fought to keep her eyes open. "That chair can’t be very comfortable. Why don’t you just come up here with me?"

As much as she wanted to, Amanda didn’t know if that was a good idea. But when her partner scooted to the far edge of the bed and held out her hand, all Amanda’s arguments went flying out the window. She slipped off her shoes and crawled in beside Lex and brought her close, fearing if she held her too tightly that Lex would shatter.

"Love you." Comforted at last, Lex allowed herself to drift off into a dreamless slumber.

Amanda felt the body within her arms relax, and knew that Lex had fallen asleep. "I love you too," she whispered. Lying in the narrow bed, holding Lex’s head to her chest, her tears fell into the dark hair as she came to grips with what she had almost lost that day.

The man who had been in the alley with Lex had not yet regained consciousness, and Lex herself hadn’t been much help in clearing up the details. All she could remember was the struggle over the gun, then her head being slammed into the brick wall behind her. The paramedics on the scene reported that Lex was using her shirttail to try and stem the flow of blood from the man’s heavily bleeding leg, but she had been non-responsive to any verbal commands, and was suffering from shock.

Each time Charlie questioned Lex, he was able to get a few more answers, but Amanda had finally put a stop to his interrogation when Lex got upset and her headache became worse. Amanda knew it was only a temporary respite, but she vowed to protect her lover from anyone, including family, for as long as she could.


The deputy sat outside the closed door, stretching his arms over his head to keep from falling asleep. He hated having to work guard duty, especially on someone who was not only handcuffed to the bed, but was clearly in no shape to attempt to escape. Hearing quiet footfalls coming closer, he jumped to his feet, glad to see a friendly face. "Good evening, Nurse Duggan."

Slender, with short dark hair and eyes, the nurse held a Styrofoam cup, which she handed to him. "I thought a cup of coffee might help."

"Thank you, ma’am." Inhaling the strong aroma, Deputy Terry Mardsen thought he could easily fall in love — with the coffee. "Is it always this quiet around here?"

"To tell you the truth, this is the most exciting it’s been here in a while." She nodded toward the door. "I need to go in and check on my patient. Why don’t you take a quick break? I don’t think he’s going anywhere."

Deputy Mardsen looked around to see if they were alone, then glanced down at his watch. It was after three in the morning, and he knew the nurse was right. "Thanks. I think I’ll go see if there’s something good in the snack machine." He took another deep drink of coffee, then left the cup on his chair before moving stiffly down the hall.

It didn’t take long for Nurse Duggan to check on Anthony Wilson. She was about to leave the room when his eyes opened, and he reached out for her. "Well, hello there."

He tried to sit up, but was easily held down by the nurse. Turning his head, Wilson noticed that his hands were cuffed to the metal railings on the bed. "Wha–"

"Just stay calm, sir. Let me go get the doctor for you, and he can answer any questions, all right?" She hurried from the room, not even noticing that the deputy hadn’t returned to his post.

Around the corner, a pudgy, sweating man watched the goings on with great interest. He took the few steps needed to go inside the hospital room, locking the door behind him. "Hello, Wilson. Good to see you awake."

Wilson flinched at the sound of the voice. He started to reach for the call button, but Billings quickly used his gloved hand to move it out of reach.

"That’s no way to say hello, is it?" Billings went to the left side of the bed and reached into his jacket pocket and removed a syringe. "You fucked up, big time. I’ve been ordered to cut our losses and get the hell out of this hick town."

"But," Anthony had to clear his throat to continue. Hoarse from lack of use, he sounded as if he had swallowed rocks. "What about the land we already have? And the work that’s been done?"

Billings took the lid from the empty syringe and held it between his fingers. "We haven’t gotten much of the land cleared, so that’s not that big of a deal. They’ll sell it back to the idiots around here, and take a loss." He opened the plunger wide, then inserted it into the intravenous tube that was taped to Anthony’s hand. "What have you told the authorities, Wilson?"

"Nothing, I swear!" Anthony tried to reach the tube to pull it out of his hand, but couldn’t. "Let me go, and we can both get out of here, Mr. Billings." His voice continued to rise, until Billings grabbed a pillow with his free hand and held it over Wilson’s face.

"I can’t. You’d never make it past the door with that leg wound. Sorry about this, kid." Pushing the plunger, Billings watched as the bubble of air made its way through the IV, all the while holding the young man down with his other arm. "Survival of the smartest, boy. Rule number one."

He put the cap back on the syringe and stuffed in into his pocket, then took special care to straighten up the bed. "Too bad, kid. You had some promise. Just a few more things to handle." Unlocking the door, Billings sneaked out of the room and into the night.


The hallway was filled with doctors, nurses, and sheriff’s department personnel, all of whom chattered amongst themselves. Sheriff Bristol was in the hospital room with Nurse Duggan, who once again told her story.

"He woke up a little after three, and I immediately went in search of the doctor on call. As far as I could tell, Mr. Wilson didn’t appear to be in any discomfort." She watched as the sheriff studied the dead man’s wrists. "The chafing wasn’t there before I left, but thought that maybe he just tried to get loose before I came back."

Charlie nodded, and walked around the bed. "Maybe." He squatted and raised the blanket, then shook his head. "If a man is thrashing around enough to bruise his wrists, you’d think that the sheet and blankets would be worked free, wouldn’t you?" Standing up, he moved to the foot of the bed, once again lifting the blanket, seeing the sheet kicked loose. "Like this."

Well, I’ll be damned. The old country sheriff isn’t quite as slow as he acts. Nurse Duggan crossed her arms over her chest. "Are you saying he was murdered?"

"I’m not saying anything, until we get an autopsy performed." The idea that someone walked right into the room and killed Anthony Wilson brought a chill to Charlie’s spine. He pushed by the nurse, who was still in shock. "Excuse me. I have some things to take care of." Walking out of the room, he beckoned one of the nearby deputies. "I want this room blocked off after the body has been removed. No one in and no one out." He leaned in closer, so that they wouldn’t be overheard. "I also want a twenty-four hour guard on Lexington Walters, until I say differently. But be discreet. I don’t want to alarm her, or her family."

"Yes, sir." The deputy stepped away quickly, talking in undertones on his walkie-talkie.

Looking at his watch, Charlie decided that a visit upstairs would be in order. Maybe Lex is up to talking about things, now. At the very least, I need to pass along some things to Amanda. He headed for the elevator, more than just the dead man on his mind.

The lift’s doors opened, and Charlie took in the quiet activity on the floor as he made his way to Lex’s room. Just as he was about to lightly knock on the door, it opened and he stood face to face with Amanda, who held back a startled cry.

"Charlie! You scared me half to death." She looked behind her. Satisfied that Lex was still resting, Amanda pushed the sheriff back into the hall and closed the door. "She’s asleep." Her tone was slightly accusatory, almost daring him to try and get by her.

"I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to frighten you. Why don’t you let me buy you a cup of coffee?" He saw a deputy standing over by the nurse’s station, and gave him a slight nod. "I came to talk to you, not to Lex."

Amanda immediately felt bad for her attitude, but then realized what he had said. "Why? Is there something the matter?" She noticed the man that Charlie had acknowledged. "Wait a minute. What the hell is going on around here?"

"Let’s go somewhere quiet, so I can bring you up to speed."

Allowing herself to be led into an empty lounge, Amanda felt her apprehension grow. "Enough of the cloak and dagger routine. What’s happening? I saw one of your deputies out there. Is Lex in some sort of danger?"

"It’s just a precaution." Charlie took off his hat and sat on one end of a cot, suddenly feeling his age and wondering if he was getting too old for the stress of the job. "The man we found in the alley with Lex died a couple of hours ago."

"Oh." Amanda paced around the room, studying the pictures and posters that littered the walls. She turned to look at Charlie. "He was in pretty bad shape though, right?"

"That’s just it. He’d awakened, and the nurse went to get the doctor. When they got back to the room a few minutes later, the man was dead." Seeing the frightened look on Amanda’s face, he hurried to assure her. "It could have been anything, though. We’ll have to wait for the autopsy report to be sure."

Amanda crossed her arms over her chest, feeling chilled and sick to her stomach. "But you think he was killed, don’t you?" Her voice shook as she asked quietly, "When is this going to end?"

Getting to his feet and crossing the room, Charlie pulled the young woman into his arms. "I won’t let anything happen to her, I promise." Now if he could just make himself believe it, maybe they all had a chance.


The warmth of the sunlight on her face was a welcome relief from the confines of the hospital, and Lex closed her eyes in order to absorb as much as possible. Her head still felt as if it was about to explode, but the doctor had assured her it would lessen over the next few days, as would the nausea that made her keep one hand on the power window button. She could almost feel Amanda watching her, which caused a slight grin to form on her lips. "I’m fine."

"How did you know I was going to ask you that?" Although it was true, Amanda hated being so transparent. She kept flicking her eyesight between the road and Lex, afraid that they had released her partner from the hospital too soon. "I could have been about to comment on the weather, or something."

Lex started to laugh, but the pain in her head made her think better of it. "If you say so." She opened her eyes and faced Amanda. "Thanks for getting me out of there. I was about to go stir crazy. Besides, I’ve had worse before, and survived just fine without staying in a hospital."

"Maybe. But did that include having to face down some idiot with a gun?"

Damn. I hate it when she’s right. Lex exhaled heavily and resumed her partially reclined position in the seat. "Can we just drop it for now, please? There’s something else I want to do."

"What’s that?"

"Go up to where those guys were building their little ‘resort’."

Amanda nearly drove the truck off the road, and had to jerk the wheel quickly to keep them from going off into the side ditch. "Are you out of your mind?"

Lex held up one hand. "Hear me out, Amanda. If I’m right, then it’ll be as vacant as a ghost town up there."

"And if you’re not?"

"Then I hope you can make this truck haul ass in reverse," Lex responded, only half joking.


The churned up mud and bits of foliage clung to his feet, and more than once he slipped on the mess left by the construction equipment. As far as he could tell, he was the only person around, but the silence in the woods around him made him jumpy and nervous. He looked around at the wasted land, where trees were uprooted and everything else just appeared to be a nasty mess. The gravel that had been brought in for use as a temporary drive looked almost as bad, and he wondered if the area could be salvaged.

Car tires on the gravel caught his attention, and he quickly hid in the trees until he knew who was there. The familiarity of the vehicle caught him off guard. "They’re the last people I’d thought I’d see up here."

Once the truck had come to a complete stop, Lex unfastened her seatbelt. She pointed to the red SUV that was parked just off the gravel drive. "Whose car do you suppose that is?"

"I don’t know, but do you think it’s safe to find out?" Amanda’s belt was also unbuckled, since she wasn’t about to let Lex go anywhere without her. She was just about to suggest calling Charlie, when a movement from the woods seized her eye. "Look over there." A not-so-friendly face advanced on the truck, causing both women to cringe.

Lex tried to slide down in the seat, but the insistent tapping on the window told her she had been seen. She sat up and rolled down the window. "Hey, Charlie. What are you doing out here?"

"Me? What are the two of you doing? There’s no telling what you might have found." He leaned inside the window to look at Amanda. "I thought that at least you would have enough sense to stay away from here."

Amanda raised her hands away from the steering wheel. "Don’t blame me. I just figured it would be easier to drive her, than for her to take off on her own."

The old lawman laughed. "You’re probably right about that." He squeezed Lex’s arm. "There’s nothing to see here. Whoever those guys were, they’re long gone, now."

"Yeah. That’s what I was afraid of." Lex looked over at the red SUV again. "Where did you get those wheels? Something new at the sheriff’s office?"

"Hell, no! I knew that the roads out here were going to be nasty, so I borrowed it from one of the guys."

Lex blew out a low whistle. "Seems like you’re paying the ‘guys’ too much. Maybe I’m in the wrong business."

"Nah. His parents gave it to him when he graduated from college." Charlie could see the fatigue on Lex’s face. "While don’t you two go on home? I’ll do a bit more exploring, and tell you all about it tomorrow."

"That’s the best idea I’ve heard all day," Amanda agreed. She waited until both she and Lex were buckled up and then gave Charlie a tiny salute. "See you at dinner tonight, Sheriff."

He watched at the truck turned around and hurried down the graveled path, knowing it would likely be breakfast before he saw either woman again, if then.


Chapter 20

Amanda closed the front door behind her, glad to be home from work. She wanted to spend some quality time with her partner, knowing it was as much her fault as anyone’s for the distance between them lately. Even though a couple of weeks had passed since Lex’s close call, Amanda realized that nothing was more important to her than the woman she loved. She heard voices coming from Jeannie’s room, and walked through the den to investigate.

"Oo don’ unnedtand. ‘Did id ‘omedin’ I need to do." Jeannie was almost in tears, trying her best to convey her wishes. "Id’ll be much eadier, if I’m in down."

Ellie was heartbroken. "Is it something I’ve done? I thought we were getting along pretty well." She considered Jeannie a little sister, and didn’t want anything to hurt their budding relationship.

"No! I jus’ dink dat if I’m in a home, de rehab would be fasder, and I’d ged well sooner."

Amanda stepped through the door just as Jeannie finished her sentence. "Did I hear right? You want to leave us?" Her sister nodded before turning her head away, embarrassed.

"We’ve been going round and round on this subject all day. She wants to move into the nursing center in town, where she can get more rehabilitation. I told her that I didn’t mind driving her in every day, but she’s being stubborn." Ellie crossed her arms over her chest, obviously perturbed.

Jeannie turned back to face her sister. "Pwease, Mandy? Id’s de only way I’ll feel like I’m doin’ someding for myself."

Understanding the emotions behind the request, Amanda nodded. "I’ll call them in the morning for you, okay? We’ll see when we can get you in."

"Danks." Jeannie held out her stronger hand until Amanda grasped it. "Nod jus’ for dis, bud for everydin’ you’ve done for me. I wuv you."

"I love you, too." Amanda leaned over and kissed her sister’s brow. When she straightened up, she could see tears in Ellie’s eyes. "As for you," she pulled Ellie’s slight frame into a hug, "thanks for taking such good care of Jeannie. You’ve really become a vital part of our family." She turned and left the room, leaving a shocked Ellie behind.


Roger Jenson sat in the warm barn, thankful for the protection it gave. The evening brought with it a damp chill that had settled into his weary bones, and he feared he’d never be warm again.

His anger at his present situation had not abated, though. Since being fired from the Rocking W, he had traveled the area, searching and sometimes almost begging for work. The answer was the same everywhere. ‘Sorry, we’re not hiring right now.’

He knew better. That bitch Walters must have blackballed me. As Roger tried to make himself more comfortable in the dusty hay, his face contorted as his mood darkened further. "I’ll teach her. A broad that thinks she’s a man just needs a little persuading, that’s all." He rubbed at his crotch, then reached for the hunting knife that hung on his belt. "And if that doesn’t work, I’ll show her another way."


Lex looked through the trees at the setting sun, wishing she was already at the ranch house. Knowing it wasn’t too much farther to the barn, she coaxed Thunder to pick up the pace a little, until he was at a slow trot. The large animal kept up the pace for several minutes until he stumbled and finally stopped altogether.

"What’s the matter?" Lex climbed down from the saddle and saw that Thunder was favoring his front left hoof. She bent over and grabbed his leg just above the hoof and pulled, which caused Thunder to lift the appendage. Lex cursed when the shoe he wore dangled, held on by one nail. It hadn’t been that long since the farrier had been to the ranch to replace one of Thunder’s other shoes, and Lex was livid. "I don’t know why that son of a bitch didn’t check all of your hooves, but when I get back to the house, I intend to find out." She gently pulled on the shoe until the remaining nail released. "Looks like we’ll both be walking from here."


Standing at the back door, Amanda debated with herself. She thought about going upstairs to change her clothes first, but then again, she wanted to look good as part of her surprise. She looked down at the charcoal gray business suit she wore to the office that morning. The skirt was only an inch or two above the knee, but she knew what a thrill Lex got out of running her hands up and down Amanda’s stockings. Her mind made up, Amanda stepped out onto the back porch and hurried down the path toward the barn.

The cold wind almost took the door to the barn out of her hands, but she was able to get the leverage needed, which caused it to slam behind her. The still darkness of the barn unsettled her, yet she felt as if someone was watching her. "Lex?"

From his hiding space, Jenson smiled. Oh, this is even better than I had hoped. What better way to get back at the woman he despised, than by doing what he wanted with her girlfriend? He moved stealthily, not wanting to tip her off until he was ready.

Amanda was almost to the tack room door when she felt arms circle her waist. Thinking it was Lex, she was about to snap off a silly remark when she was roughly spun around. Her eyes widened in fear when she recognized Roger Jenson in the dim light. "What–" A leather glove roughly covered her mouth, causing her to bite her lip.

"Shut up, bitch," Roger snapped. He looked around the barn before shoving Amanda into the tack room. "This’ll do."

Oh, god. Amanda began to struggle, until his hand pulled away from her mouth and slapped her, hard. She blinked several times to clear the stars in her vision, which beat in time to her pounding heart.

"Don’t fucking fight me." He pulled his knife from its sheath and rested the blade along Amanda’s reddened cheek, where a bruise was already beginning to form. "I don’t want to cut that pretty face of yours," he whispered. When Amanda tried to turn her face away from his, he slapped her again, this time letting her fall to the floor.

Amanda screamed and tried to crawl away, but he was too fast for her. Before she knew what happened, she was lying on her back with one of his gloves stuffed in her mouth. She shook her head, pleading with her eyes.

Jenson enjoyed the feel of the woman writhing beneath him. Seeing the terror in her face was even better than he had expected. He placed his left forearm across her chest, just below her throat, and used the knife in his right hand to start slowly cutting away at the buttons on her silk top. "Fun, isn’t it?"

Feeling sick, Amanda closed her eyes and thought of Lex. He may touch my body, but he’ll never touch my soul. Oh, Lex, please help me!

"Damn, woman. You’re too pretty to be wasted on that broad. I bet all you need is a real man to teach you." Jenson put the knife in his left hand, and used his right hand to touch Amanda’s bra. "You sure are breathing hard. Bet you’re getting excited too, aren’t you?" He squeezed her breast roughly through the fabric. "I’ll get back to these, later. Got more," he rocked his hips into hers, "pressing matters, to attend to."


With the barn in sight, Lex heaved a sigh of relief. All she wanted to do now was put Thunder up, take a long hot bath, and go to bed. She hoped that Amanda was home, so that they could do two out of those three things together. She immediately picked up her pace.

After opening the barn door, she thought she heard scuffling coming from the tack room. Trying to be a quiet as she could, Lex dropped Thunder’s reins when she heard a muffled cry. She hurried inside, and what she saw from the doorway of the tack room almost made her sick. "You’re dead, you bastard!" She lunged forward, managing to knock the man off Amanda and into a bale of hay. Although they were about the same height, he outweighed her by thirty pounds or more.

Amanda, realizing Jenson was no longer on top of her, scooted into a sitting position and wrapped her suit jacket around herself. She pulled the dirty glove out of her mouth and closed her eyes, wanting to be anywhere but where she was.

Lex tried to get her hands around Jenson’s neck, but he landed a solid punch to her ribs that left her gasping. She returned his blow, by an uppercut to the man’s jaw.

"Is that the best you got, Walters? I think your little girlfriend’s tougher than you. At least she was at first." He edged around the room, rubbing his lower cheek. "Then again, she might have started liking it."

Her anger totally out of control, Lex roared and charged Jenson, causing them both to go flying over a row of saddles.

Jenson punched her in the face several times, satisfied to see blood appear. "You want to know something else? You may try to act like a man, but you fight like a girl." He used their close proximity slam his fist into her stomach, causing Lex to crumple. As her head dropped, he slammed his knee into her face, which brought Lex down in a silent heap. Confident that he had defeated her, Roger went back to where Amanda cowered and picked up his knife. "Isn’t that right, sweetheart? We were having a pretty good time before she came along and messed it up. Maybe we should finish what we started."

Amanda pulled the coat tighter and trembled, never opening her eyes. She tried to shrink back into the woodwork of the barn, but the feel of his rough hand on her cheek told her she wasn’t successful. "No," she whispered. She thought she had heard Lex’s voice, but maybe she had imagined it. Her jaw was grabbed roughly, forcing her to open her eyes and look at him.

"I said, we should finish what we’d started." Jenson was about to pull Amanda’s jacket from her body when he felt an arm wrap around his neck.

"You are finished." Lex dragged him away from her wife. After seeing the complete horror on Amanda’s face, she was more determined than ever to make the man pay.

Laughing, Jenson twisted in Lex’s grip and sliced at her with his knife. "I don’t think so, bitch. It’s payback time." He jabbed at her again, enjoying watching the woman try to dodge his advance. When Lex fell tripped on an overturned saddle and fell onto her back, Jenson stood over her and smiled. A voice from the doorway caused his head to turn, giving Lex the time she needed to get up and tackle him again.

"Hold it right there! Sheriff’s department," Charlie yelled, aiming his firearm at the pair that grappled along the hay-covered floor.

"You are dead, you son of a bitch! Do you hear me?" Lex screamed, her hands around Jenson’s throat. She slammed his head into the ground, time and time again, until he quit struggling. "Dead!"

"Lex, wait!" Charlie re-holstered his gun and rushed over to stop Lex from killing the unconscious man. When he had trouble prying her hands from around Jenson’s throat, he tried another tactic. "Check on Amanda. I’ll take care of this scum." His words had the desired effect, as Lex slowly released her grip and looked up at him.

"Amanda?" Her voice caught on the word, and she looked around the tack room, not seeing her partner anywhere. Lex stumbled to her feet and rushed out into the main part of the barn. She searched around frantically, until her eyes came upon Amanda, sitting below the intercom. "Oh, sweetheart."

Amanda looked up as she heard Lex’s strangled words. Even bruised and bloody, her partner had never looked better to her in her life. She held out her arms, and Lex fell into them. The two women were so emotionally spent that neither could speak.


A hulking deputy escorted Jenson from the barn, politely averting his eyes to the scene in the corner. He tipped his hat to Charlie before dragging the groggy prisoner to the squad car and forcing him into the back seat.

Martha knelt next to Lex, using a clean towel to try and clean the blood and dirt from her face. "I really think the both of you need to go to the hospital." She had been trying for the past half-hour, unsuccessfully, to talk some sense into the duo. Both were wrapped in quilts that Martha had brought to the barn. Amanda wasn’t letting go of Lex, who kept looking at Amanda as if she’d disappear if she turned her eyes away.

Distressed about the shaking body in her arms, Lex knew it would be best if a doctor checked out her partner. Amanda hadn’t uttered a word since Charlie had come into the barn, which worried her even more.

"Your beautiful face," Amanda finally whispered, looking at Lex. Several small cuts were still oozing blood, and her face was already sporting different shades of blue and purple.

"It’ll heal. I’m more worried about you." Lex reached over, but Amanda shrank away from her touch. The movement almost broke Lex’s heart. She started to pull away, when her hand was grabbed by Amanda’s, and her leather riding glove removed.

"I’m sorry, it’s just the smell of the gloves. He–" Remembering the smell, and the taste when Jenson forced the glove into her mouth made Amanda nauseous all over again.

Lex almost started crying at the pitiful tone in Amanda’s voice. "Don’t you dare apologize." She pulled Amanda close. "But maybe Martha’s right, and you should go get looked at by a doctor." She wanted to voice a question, but was terrified of the answer.

Amanda shook her head. "I’ll be okay. You got there in time to stop him. He never," she paused to get her emotions under control, "he wasn’t able to–"Amanda started to sob again. "I’ve never been so frightened in my life. When he started to, you know," she tightened her hold on Lex, "I decided to just close my eyes and think of you, hoping that you’d come to save me."

"I’m so sorry–"

"Don’t be. You came, and you did save me."

Lex turned away in shame. "Yeah, right. More like I got my assed kicked, and Charlie came in." She looked around the room until she saw the sheriff. "Charlie?"

He finished up with another one of the deputies and joined the three women in the corner of the barn. "Yes? Can I radio for an ambulance, now?"

"No, I think we’re all right. But I do have a question for you." Lex was glad that Charlie knelt beside them, but kept his distance from Amanda. She wasn’t sure how her lover would take any man’s presence at the moment.

"Okay." He tilted his hat back on his head and tried to put a smile on his face. "Shoot."

"How did you end up in the barn? Don’t get me wrong, I was never happier to see anyone in my entire life. But you never come out here."

Amanda cleared her throat. "While you were fighting with him," she couldn’t bring herself to say Jenson’s name, "I went to the intercom and called the main house. He had that knife, and I was so scared for you. I knew Charlie was there, because I heard him and Martha talking before I came out here to surprise you."

"Surprise me?"

"Mmm-hmm." Surrounded by those she loved, Amanda began to calm. "I thought it would be fun to be in the barn waiting for you when you got home. Stupid idea, huh?"

Lex kissed the top of Amanda’s head. "Not at all. I think it was very sweet." She looked around and saw that the barn was now vacant, except for the four of them. "Why don’t we head to the house and get cleaned up? I don’t know how much longer my old bones can handle being this close to the floor."

That last little comment elicited a small laugh from Amanda, who watched in concern as Lex allowed Charlie to help her up. She quickly got to her feet on her own, not wanting Lex to hurt herself by trying to aid her. Wrapping one arm around her wife’s hips, she guided them both from the barn. "Bath?"

"Sounds great. Together?"

"Is there any other way?" Amanda asked, causing Charlie to lose his footing when he overheard the conversation. "Trouble there, Sheriff?"

Charlie took his wife’s hand and led her away from the pair. "Nope. Not a bit. We’ll be in the, umm, kitchen, if you need us." They hurried away, Martha laughing at her husband’s antics.


Their bath taken, Lex and Amanda went to bed, neither bothering with nightclothes. Lex crawled under the sheets first and wasn’t surprised when Amanda slid in beside her. Lex wrapped both arms around her lover. "Is this okay?" Her voice almost echoed off the walls in the room, which was eerily quiet since Martha had insisted that Lorrie spend the night over at the cottage.

"Very." Amanda moved until she was on top of Lex, looking down into her face. "Make love with me?" she asked quietly. She could still feel his touch on her skin, and wanted something to erase the horrible memory. "Please?"

Lex raised a shaky hand and brushed the hair away from Amanda’s face. "Are you sure? Because if you need me to, I can just hold you."

"Don’t," Amanda took a deep breath, "don’t you want to touch me?"

"Of course! There’s never a day, a moment, when I don’t." Lex waited until she had Amanda’s full attention. "But I also never want to hurt you." The kiss she received effectively silenced Lex’s argument, and she lay there quietly and allowed Amanda to take the lead. Although the hands that traced patterns down her chest were incredibly gentle, Lex couldn’t help but gasp when Amanda hit a sensitive spot on her ribs.

Amanda stopped immediately. "Did I hurt you?"

"A little." Feeling the loss when Amanda’s hands disappeared, Lex caught them and put them back where they had been. "Not enough to stop, though."

Those few little words righted all that had been wrong in her world. Amanda realized with sudden clarity that although it would take her a long time to get over the evening’s events, just knowing how Lex felt about her made it easier to move on. "Thank you," Amanda whispered, kissing the hollow of Lex’s throat. She knew realistically neither one of them were in any shape to go any further, and rolled over to snuggle close in order to keep from hurting her wife. "Raincheck?"

"Sure." Lex was gratified Amanda had changed her mind. Her whole body ached, and she honestly didn’t think it was in either one of their best interests at the moment. The soft snore coming from Amanda told Lex she had already fallen to sleep, but not even total exhaustion was enough to keep Lex from staying awake most of the night. She was afraid the living nightmare she had walked in on in the barn would cross over into her dreams, and she didn’t want to disturb Amanda. So she kept a quiet vigil until the sun crept into the bedroom the next morning.


"No! Don’t touch me," Amanda cried, slamming her elbow into Lex’s side. "Get away!"

Lex, who had just fallen asleep an hour or so before, jerked awake and looked around the room frantically. "Ow! What?" When she saw that Amanda was having a nightmare, she tried to wake her partner gently. All that got her was another had jab to the ribs, which sent Lex over the side of the bed and onto the floor. "Damn." Lex had just gotten back on the bed when the door to their room opened and a disheveled looking Ellie rushed inside.

Ellie didn’t even notice Lex’s nudity. "What the hell’s going on here?" She roughly tried to pull her cousin away from Amanda. When she saw the dark bruise on Amanda’s face, Ellie wanted nothing more than to strangle Lex. "Good god, what have you done to her?"

"I didn’t do anything to her." Lex struggled out of Ellie’s grip. "And it’s none of your business, anyway."

Between the noise and the movement around her, Amanda woke up. "Is there a reason the two of you are wrestling on the bed?"

"Ask her," both women answered at once.

Ellie finally took a good look at Lex and blushed. Not only was she nude, but her body was covered in bruises as well. "Have the two of you been fighting?"

The frank appraisal by her cousin made Lex uncomfortable, and she slid back under the covers. "No." She turned to look at Amanda. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, just a nasty nightmare." Amanda looked between Lex and Ellie. "I’m sorry to have awakened both of you."

"I was already awake, and just getting ready to go downstairs to see if Jeannie’s up, yet." Ellie stepped away from the bed, embarrassed by her previous actions. "Sorry about attacking you like that, Lex."

Lex couldn’t help but be impressed by her cousin’s change of heart recently. The Ellie she first met would have never apologized, and more than likely would have gotten a few good punches in before retreating. "That’s okay. I’m sure it did look pretty strange."

"Now that’s a first," Martha commented from the doorway. She had been downstairs handing Lorrie over to Jeannie when she heard the ruckus above them. "You’re both behaving this morning? I may just have to sit down before I faint." She crossed the room and sat next to Amanda. "How are you faring this morning?"

"Okay. I had a bad dream a few minutes ago, which caused this whole mess." Amanda was happy to feel Lex take her hand, and she squeezed back.

Ellie looked at the three women on the bed. "Is anyone going to tell me why Amanda and Lex look like they’ve gone three rounds in the ring and lost? I thought at first that–"

"I know what you thought," Lex interrupted. "And, believe me, I may be an asshole with a bad temper at times, but I’d die before I ever lay a hand on Amanda in anger. Remember that."

Martha saw that Ellie looked like she was about to go on the defensive, and decided it was time to defuse the situation before it got out of hand. "Ellie, would you mind going down and keeping Jeannie company while I get breakfast on the table?"

"Sure." When she got to the door Ellie looked back at Amanda, who nodded to assure her everything was all right. "I’ll see everyone downstairs, I guess."

Amanda waited until she was certain the three of them were alone. "Thanks. I really didn’t feel like getting into everything right now."

"That’s quite all right, dear. You don’t have to tell anyone a thing more than you want, although I think Charlie might have some more questions for you both whenever you feel up to it."

Lex could feel her protective streak kick in. "Why? I thought we told him more than enough yesterday. I don’t want Amanda having to relive that nightmare." In truth, it was Lex that didn’t want to start thinking about the events of the evening before. Even she knew that they had been lucky that she showed up when she did.

Amanda tightened her grip on Lex’s hand. "It’s okay. I want to make sure he has everything he needs to put that creep away for a long time." She gave Martha a weak smile. "We’ll be down for breakfast in a little while so we can just answer everyone’s questions at the same time. No sense in going over it more than once."

"Are you sure?" Lex would rather keep Amanda in bed for the day, if only to protect her from everyone’s curiosity and good intentions.


Martha stood up. "Do you want me to call your family, and see if they’d like to come out?" At Amanda’s shy nod, she dusted her hands together. "Well, then. Looks like I’d better get busy fixing up a feast." Before stepping away from the bed, Martha leaned over and gave Amanda a light peck on the forehead. "You just come on down whenever you’re ready, and I’ll take care of everything."

Grateful for the mothering nature of the housekeeper, Amanda could barely keep her emotions in check. "Thanks, Martha."

Lex watched Martha close the door behind her as she left. "I’ve got to be the luckiest woman in the world."

"Why’s that?"

"Because not only was I raised by her, but I get to spend the rest of my life with you. Pretty good deal, if you ask me."

Amanda sighed and rolled over to snuggle into her lover’s arms. "Sounds like we both lucked out, then." She kissed the hollow of Lex’s throat. "Think we can sneak in a little nap before breakfast?"

"I don’t see why not." Lex pulled the covers up over them both. "I love you."

"Love you, too." Amanda’s voice trailed off as she fell asleep, content to have Lex protect her from the bad dreams.


To be concluded in Part 11

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