The Way Things Should Be

Part IX

By Carrie Carr

See Disclaimers in Part 1

Chapter 17

As they walked back to the house, Ellie remembered something from earlier. She didn't know quite how Lex would take it, but feeling that their relationship was headed in the right direction, she decided to give it a try. "Lex?"


"Have you tried to hire anyone else to help with Amanda's sister?"

Lex stayed quiet for several minutes, while they continued their trek along the newly poured walkway. She watched as two of the alarm installers carried wireless equipment to Martha and Charlie's house, feeling a bit of relief that by the time they went to bed tonight, both houses would be protected. Ellie's question had caught her slightly off guard. "Not yet. I don't want to put Jeannie through any more stress than is necessary, and bringing in a new person every day would probably do just that." Her steps never faltered, but she turned to look Ellie in the face. "Why do you ask?"

"Would you mind introducing me to her? I mean, we're practically family, aren't we?"

"Sure. I've got some work to do inside, so maybe you can spend some time with Amanda and Jeannie."

Just hearing Amanda's name caused Ellie's heart to beat faster. Knowing that it was pointless, she still couldn't help but feel almost giddy at the thought of spending more time with the woman of her dreams. Not wanting to harm the newly formed bond she had with Lex, Ellie tried to keep a neutral look on her face. "That would be great."

Still not all that comfortable with the woman walking beside her, Lex tried to make polite conversation. "Are you planning on staying around for a while? Or is this just a visit?" After they climbed the steps to the porch, she held the back door open for Ellie to precede her. She took her cousin's silence wrong. "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to."

"Actually, that's something else I wanted to talk to you about. I'd like to help out around here, if you'd let me."

Lex stopped in the hallway, not sure if she'd heard correctly. "You want to work on the ranch?" She couldn't help but compare Ellie to herself. Older, smaller, and never looking like she'd worked outside a day in her life, Ellie just didn't seem like the type that would be comfortable throwing bales of hay or cleaning out stables. "Just exactly what is it you want to do?"

Embarrassed by Lex's thorough perusal, Ellie blushed. "Not what you're thinking, I'm sure." At Lex's confused look, she continued, "In San Diego, I worked for a couple of years as a nurse's assistant. I was just thinking that if Amanda's sister was okay with it, that I could help take over some of the care for her."

"A nurse's assistant? Why not a nurse?" As soon as the words left her mouth, Lex wanted to take them back. She could see that the subject was a touchy one for Ellie. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean anything by that."

"No, that's okay. You just reminded me of my mother, for a second." Ellie smiled to take the sting out of her words. "She always complained about me not going to nursing school, even though I didn't have the grades for it. And since I've had to work full-time to get myself through college, it's taken me longer." She looked down at the floor. "A few years ago, I thought I fell in love, and quit to help put him through law school. As soon as he passed the bar, he found someone else. So, I'm running behind on my education."

Having had her heart shattered by love before, Lex knew what Ellie was talking about. She put her hand on her cousin's arm in a comforting gesture. "I'm sorry."

Ellie closed her eyes for a moment. "It was a long time ago, at least it feels like it now." She opened her eyes and looked into Lex's face. "Of course, now I know that he wouldn't have been able to make me very happy in the long run, would he? So, I guess it was all for the best."

"Maybe." Seeing the lost look in the other woman's eyes, Lex pulled Ellie into a hug. "You're with family, now. So if there's anything we can do to help you with your studies, let us know."

"Thanks, Lex." For the first time in a very long time, Ellie felt truly at home. And it felt good.


The noisy diner hadn't been his first choice for a meal, but Billings wanted to stay in town until he was able to finish some business. He watched as a man in a dark business suit opened the front glass door to the establishment and stepped inside to look around. Rolling his eyes at his associate's inability to blend in, Billings raised his hand slightly to get Wilson's attention. He had removed his own tie and jacket and left them in his car, not wanting to stand out too much in the small town. "Where the hell have you been?" he whispered roughly.

"Sorry. I got lost." Realizing how he looked, Anthony loosened his tie and waved to the waitress. "Excuse me, but can I get a cup of coffee?" At her nod, he returned his attention to Billings. "What's the big deal? I'm only about five minutes late."

"The big deal is that our boss has been on my ass all morning. I talked to that damned rancher earlier, and she-"

"Here you go, hon," the buxomed waitress placed a cup of coffee in front of Anthony. Her platinum blonde hair was in disarray, and her makeup was smeared, but she was still a lovely woman. "Would you like something to eat?"

Anthony smiled at her friendly tone. "What do you recommend?" He hadn't had any intentions of eating here, but she was too nice to send away.

"I'd recommend the steakhouse across town," she whispered conspiratorially. "Or a sandwich, if you really want to eat here. Just stay away from the fried foods."

"I think I'll stick with the coffee." Anthony noticed her nametag. "Thank you, Francine."

Once the waitress had left the area, Billings thumped the table with his fist. "Are you through flirting yet? Or should I leave you alone with your little friend?"

"I was just being polite."

"Never mind." Billings looked around, then stood up. "Come on. I don't want to discuss business in here. There are too many ears around us." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a ten dollar bill, more than twice what his tab came to, and tossed it on the table. He led the way out of the diner, with Wilson right behind him.

They went around the corner of the building to the parking lot and climbed into the rental car that Billings had been driving. Once they were safely inside, the older man took a cigar from the console and lit it, enjoying the flavor of the smoke as it rolled around his mouth. He turned to look at his companion, who was trying to wave the heavy smoke away from his face. "As I was saying inside, I called the rancher earlier."

"What exactly did you say to her?" Unable to stand the smell any longer, Anthony opened his door to let air into the car.

Billings couldn't keep the smug look from his face. "Oh, I may have mentioned how rough the ranching business was, and of course gave her my condolences on the death of one of her horses."

The sick feeling returned to Anthony's stomach. He knew that they had planned on doing something out at the woman's ranch, but he never figured them for killing animals. "You killed her horse?"

"I told you were had to do something, you idiot. She wouldn't listen to reason."

Anthony was afraid of the answer he'd get, but he had to ask. "And did it help?"

"No." Billings chewed on his cigar for a few minutes, thinking. He finally rolled down the driver's side window and spit a wad of the tobacco onto the ground outside, before turning back to face Anthony. "I thought I'd give her a while, then call her back. You know, let her think about it a while." Billings leaned across the seat and opened the glove box, where he had left his cell phone. He turned the device on, and hit the redial button.


After introducing Ellie to Jeannie, Lex left the small room, not comfortable with all the people so close. She knew that Amanda would be a good buffer between the two women, and only a tiny part of Lex wanted to stay behind and make certain Ellie kept her distance from her wife. Shaking her head at her own jealous thoughts, Lex crossed the den to the desk in the corner and sat down.

Between the new property and the expense of the state of the art alarm system, Lex felt the need to contact the bank and make an appointment to discuss her finances, or lack thereof. She flipped through the Rolodex until she found the number she was looking for, then dialed the phone. It took a minute or so of talking with clerks and waiting, but soon the voice of the bank president came on the line.

"Ms. Walters, what a pleasant surprise. To what do I owe this pleasure?" Mr. Collins was always over-solicitous, and his rapid breathing was a sure sign that he was nervous.

"I'm sure you're aware of my recent, umm, expenditure, Mr. Collins." Lex looked around the quiet den, glad that she was still alone. "I'd like to come in sometime tomorrow, if you have the time, and talk about getting a loan."

Collins was quiet, not certain if he'd heard her correctly. "A loan?"

"Yes. I'm sure it would only need to be short-term, but because of some recent developments that I don't want to get into over the phone, I'm a little strapped for cash at the moment."

"Oh." The heavy breathing continued, as the bank president weighed the options. "Of course, Ms. Walters. I'll be here all day tomorrow, so just come right in whenever it's convenient for you."

"Thank you, Mr. Collins, I appreciate it." Lex hung up the phone, hating the thought of borrowing money. She was about to push the chair away from the desk when the phone rang. Thinking it might be Mr. Collins calling back, she quickly picked up the receiver. "Hello?"

"Walters, have you had time to think some more about my offer?" The low, scratchy voice sounded threatening, even as quiet as it was.

I don't need this. Especially now, with Amanda and everyone right in the next room. "Look, asshole. I don't know who you think you are, or why you want that piece of land so bad, but you can take your money and shove it up your ass." She sounded a lot braver than she felt, and while she reached for a pencil on the desk, Lex was dismayed to see her other hand shake.

"Do you remember what I said about the dangers of ranching? That doesn't just mean the animals, you know. Living so far away from town isn't safe, lady. Anything could happen, to any one of the people in that house."

"Are you threatening me?"

"Just stating a fact." The voice became even quieter. "I'm tired of jacking around with you, Walters. If I hang up this phone, we'll get that land another way."

Lex took a deep breath, then released it. "Go to hell." She slammed down the phone, trying hard not to throw up. The longer she sat there, the madder she got. "I don't know who that son of a bitch thinks he is, threatening me like that." She got to her feet and stomped across the den, going into Jeannie's room.

"What are you doing?" Amanda asked, seeing her partner go over to the door on the other side of the room. Even though the house had been completed gutted by the fire earlier in the year, the gun safe had suffered only minor damage. While the house was being rebuilt, Lex had replaced it and had the contractor hide it in a closet in the office.

"Just a precaution." Opening the door that hid the gun safe, Lex dialed the combination and opened the heavy steel door. She pulled out a rifle and checked the bolt, satisfied that it was loaded and ready to go. Putting the gun back into the safe, she repeated the procedure several more times, keeping the last rifle out before locking the safe and closing the door.

Amanda put her hand on Lex's arm to keep her from leaving the room. "A precaution? What kind of precaution includes guns?" She looked from Jeannie to Ellie, her own heart starting to pound as her lover remained silent. "Lex? Tell me what's going on."

Not wanting to frighten Amanda, Lex was unsure of what to tell her, so she kept quiet. She allowed the rifle to rest against her shoulder as she left the room, her mind struggling to come up with a way to protect her family, should anything happen. She heard footsteps behind her, but didn't stop, knowing that Amanda would follow her.

Once they were upstairs and in the master bedroom, making certain that the safety was on, Lex placed the rifle under her side of the bed. She got up from the floor and looked into her wife's stormy eyes, knowing that she was about to hear it for leaving the office without an explanation. "Before you say anything, let me-"

"Oh, so now you want to talk?" Amanda put her hands on her hips and glared at Lex. "You couldn't have the decency to tell me downstairs?"

"Amanda, please." Lex sat on the bed and lowered her head, waiting for the rest of the explosion. The silence she received surprised her, and she looked up to see tears tracking down Amanda's face. "Hey."

Wiping at her face, Amanda stayed a few steps away from Lex. "It hurts that you don't trust me enough to confide in me, Lex. I thought we were partners." Tired of the distance between them, she finally sat next to her wife, but refused to look at her. "I know we've been having difficulties lately, and I know they've mostly been my fault."

"No, sweetheart. It's not-"Lex was silenced by Amanda's hand on her leg. She felt her fear dissipate, leaving behind a heavy weariness. When the hand found hers and squeezed, the weariness was replaced by hope.

"We've got a lot of things to clear up, don't we?"

They did, but Lex didn't know if she could handle going through them at the moment. All she wanted to do was curl up somewhere with Amanda and let the world pass them by, at least for a few days. Lex was tired of everything that had happened, and had a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach that it wasn't over.


Downstairs, Ellie wasn't too sure what had transpired between Lex and Amanda, but the fussing of the baby brought her back to where she was. Not wanting to just snatch Lorrie from her mother, she asked, "May I?" At Jeannie's slight nod, Ellie picked up the crying infant. "Someone needs a change." She looked around until she saw the changing table tucked away in the corner of the room. Once Lorrie's needs had been met, Ellie was about to place her back next to her mother when Jeannie shook her head.

"Oo ol' 'er." The moment the words left Jeannie's mouth, her face turned red. She was tired of sounding so ridiculous, and was afraid to look up into Ellie's face, for fear of seeing either ridicule or pity.

Ellie rocked the baby in her arms. "You're such a beautiful little girl." She could tell that Jeannie was upset, and wanted to try and ease her fears, so she decided to talk to Lorrie, hoping that Jeannie would listen. "When I was about seven, there was a playground about a block from our house. I'd go there with my friends, and spend the day swinging, using the slide, and all sorts of fun things." She glanced out of the corner of her eye, and could see that she had Jeannie's undivided attention. "One day, I was pushing my best friend Rhonda in the swing. The seats were made from this heavy plastic, and were suspended by thick chains, so I was pushing as hard as I could to get her high into the air." Ellie stopped the story, reliving the moment.

"Wha' 'appene'?"

"Rhonda jumped while at the highest point, and the swing came back and smashed me right in the face." Ellie couldn't remember all of the details, but she did remember the blood and the pain from the broken jaw. "I spent the next two years undergoing reconstructive surgery, not to mention having to learn to talk all over again." She looked Jeannie directly in the eyes. "The more you speak, the better you'll be at it. I'm a nurse's assistant, not a licensed speech therapist, but I can get some books on speech therapy and help you, if you'd like."

"Weally? Bu' why?" Jeannie didn't know why this woman, whom she had just met, would want to help her.

That was the question of the day. Why, indeed? At first, Ellie wanted to help around the house in order to have an excuse to stay, so that she could be near Amanda, and get to know Lex a little better. But when she met Jeannie, she knew that she wanted to help this woman get as much of her life back as possible. "You're family." Ellie knew that wasn't a good enough answer by the look on Jeannie's face. "I like you, Jeannie. You're a good person, and you've tolerated my grumpy cousin." She looked down at Amanda's sister, finally able to see the resemblance. But what she felt with Jeannie was protective, and hoped that they'd be able to build a good relationship. "But even if we weren't family, I'd like to be your friend."

Jeannie held out her hand, glad when it was accepted. "I'd wike dat too."


After that evening's meal, both households settled down into their own quiet routines. Martha, Charlie and Ronnie went back to the cottage, while the occupants of the main house decided to call it an early night and retire. Morris, who had spent the day in town helping Michael in his photography studio, dragged in after the meal and went directly to bed, swearing that animals were much easier to work with than people.

In the darkened den, Lex sat quietly thinking about the earlier phone call, while Amanda and Lorrie bade Jeannie goodnight. She knew that the man who called her was behind the death of the filly, but couldn't understand what was so important about that one parcel of land. The thought that she should just give in rankled her, but keeping the people she loved safe was her top priority. "Maybe I'm just being stubborn."

"That's usually a given," Amanda agreed, standing beside the sofa. She had heard Lex's quiet words as she stepped out of Jeannie's room, and couldn't help but answer. "What are you being stubborn about this time?"

"The new property." Lex looked up and could barely make out Amanda's outline, but was comforted by her presence. "Maybe I should just sell it."

Amanda could hear the defeat in her wife's tone, and it concerned her. "Why don't we go upstairs, and talk about it there? I think we've all had a long day." She waited until Lex stood up before she started out of the den, then turned when she heard the alarm keypad at the front door beep. Her lover bolted the door and turned around sheepishly.

"Just checking." Satisfied that the alarm was set and the house was secure, Lex followed Amanda upstairs. She couldn't remember the last time she had worried about locking the doors, and the thought saddened her.

With Lorrie asleep in her crib, it didn't take long for Lex and Amanda to get ready for bed. After turning off the lights, they snuggled up together in silence. The glow of the alarm keypad next to the door reminded Lex again of the recent troubles, and she couldn't contain a heavy sigh.

"I know I'm the last person that should be asking this, but do you want to talk about it?" Amanda feared the worst when Lex was quiet for a long time. She felt that it would serve her right if her partner didn't want to confide in her, especially with the way Amanda jumped all over her lately when asked that very same question. She almost didn't hear the softly spoken response.

"I think I've really screwed up, this time." Lex continued to look up at the stilled ceiling fan over the bed, which she could barely make out in the room.

Amanda rolled over onto her side, glad for the small amount of light that came from a nightlight near Lorrie's crib, which brought out Lex's profile in the otherwise darkened room. "Just what is it that you've supposedly done?"

Lex brought both of her hands up and linked them behind her head. "I didn't take them seriously."


"The guys who keep wanting to buy the new property." Lex turned her head so that she could see Amanda. "What if someone gets hurt, just because I'm being stubborn? We've already lost a horse to those assholes, even if I can't prove it."

Reaching across the space, Amanda caressed her wife's cheek. "Don't blame yourself for what someone else has done. You can't bend to the whims of others, just because they may threaten you."

"I just don't want anyone to get hurt. There are so many people here that are depending on me to keep them safe."

Amanda snuggled closer and kissed Lex's chin. "I think you're doing a fine job of that, love."

Tired of her morbid thoughts, Lex pulled Amanda into her arms and kissed the top of her head. "Thanks." She closed her eyes, the love being offered giving her peace like nothing else could.

It seemed like Lex had just closed her eyes when the alarm started to sound. She sat up in bed and glanced at the clock on the nightstand, seeing that it was after three in the morning. Swinging her legs out from under the covers, she stepped into her jeans and hurried over to the keypad by the door, punching in several numbers to silence the alarm.

"What is it?" asked Amanda, who sat up and rubbed at her eyes sleepily. She had turned on the lamp on her side of the bed when the alarm started to sound.

"One of the downstairs windows has been tripped," Lex answered, walking back over to the bed and bringing the rifle out from under it. Clad only in her nightshirt and jeans, she started for the door. "Lock up behind me, Amanda. I'll be back as soon as I check this out."

"But-" Amanda's argument was silenced by the door being closed. She was about to get up when the telephone rang. "Hello? Oh. Hi, Martha." Amanda looked over at the crib, where Lorrie continued to sleep. "No, Lex said it was one of the windows downstairs, and she's gone to check on it. Okay, thanks." She hung up the phone, glad to know that Charlie would be joining Lex in checking out the house.

When the alarm company tried to get Lex to sign a multi-year deal for monitoring, she couldn't help but laugh at them. With the county sheriff living less that fifty yards away, she assured them that they didn't need any other help. The alarm was wired so that if it was tripped at one house, the other house would know about it.

Lex had just closed the door to the master bedroom when she almost ran into Ellie and Morris. "What are you two doing?"

"I heard the alarm, and was going downstairs to check on Jeannie," Ellie admitted, looking rumpled in a tee shirt that hung to her knees. "Where's Amanda?"

"She's in our room with Lorrie." Lex looked to Morris. "How about you?"

"I just didn't want to be by myself," he admitted. "Maybe we should all be with Jeannie."

"Fine. Follow me downstairs, but stay behind me. Once I've checked the den and Jeannie's room, y'all can stay in there with the door locked, okay?" Lex started down the stairway, almost jumping out of her skin when Morris grabbed the back of her nightshirt.

The three made it through the hallway and into the den, where Lex checked all the windows carefully. She stepped into the refurbished office, and could see the terror on her sister in law's face. "It's okay, Jeannie. Probably just a false alarm." Lex closed the blinds on the window, and turned on the light. "I've brought you some company, while I check outside, okay?"

Jeannie nodded, and almost laughed at the way her uncle hung on Lex's shirt. She looked up as Ellie sat on the bed next to her.

"I hope you don't mind, but I didn't want to be alone," Ellie murmured. "Do you mind if I stay here for a while?"

"Dat's pine wi' me."

"Great." Ellie nodded to Lex, who had to pry Morris' hand away from her. "Close this door, and wait until you hear from me. It shouldn't take but a few minutes to check the outside of the house."

After checking the downstairs windows, Lex turned off the alarm and opened the back door. The cool night air chased the cobwebs from her mind, and she tiptoed off the porch and began to walk around the house to check for any unwanted visitors. She was almost to the edge of the house when she heard soft footfalls, and readied her gun. "Hold it!"

"Dammit, Lex! Put the gun down," Charlie yelled. His hands shook as he quickly lowered his revolver. The thought that he had almost shot someone he loved scared him to death, but not as much as it seemed to have scared Lex, who dropped to her knees.

"Oh, God." Placing the gun on the ground, Lex wrapped her arms around herself and began to rock back and forth. "Not again." Her mind flashed back to when she was a teenager, and one of her friends was killed in a hunting accident. She could smell the blood again, and when she closed her eyes, it was Charlie, not her friend, lying in front of her.

Charlie stood nearby, unsure of what to do. He had never seen Lex in such a state. Putting his gun in the holster clipped to his belt, he knelt beside her. "Lex? Honey, it's okay." He put his arm around her shoulders and helped Lex to her feet. "Let's go back inside. It was just a false alarm."

Unable to get past what she almost did, Lex allowed Charlie to lead her into the house. She didn't even realize when he pushed her down into a chair in the kitchen, and was unaware of the footsteps that signaled someone else's arrival. As Lex began to shiver, a soft quilt was placed around her shoulders.

After clicking the safety on the rifle, Charlie leaned it up in the far corner of the kitchen. He was about to go look for everyone else, when Amanda stepped into the room. She had a quilt wrapped around her, but seeing her lover's pale face caused her to hurriedly drape it around Lex, instead. "What happened?"

Charlie had the good sense to look embarrassed. "We met at the corner of the porch, behind the kitchen; both of us pointing our guns. When I yelled at Lex, she dropped to the ground and went quiet on me."

"You almost shot her?" Amanda tried to control herself, but her voice rose. "Is that what you're trying to tell me?"

"No! I don't think either one of us would have pulled the trigger, without knowing who we were shooting at. She just," Charlie waved at a still silent Lex, "shut down. I've never seen her like that before."

Amanda brought her arm around Lex's shoulder and leaned in close. "Lex? Honey, it's all right. No one was hurt." She continued to talk in low tones for several minutes, trying to get through to her partner.

"Get them out," Lex rasped.

Shocked by the raw tone, Amanda was afraid of what Lex was asking. "What?"

Lex turned her head to face Charlie, who was shocked by the anguish he could see in her eyes. "I want every damned gun out of this house, tonight. Right now." She had to hold her hands together, in order to keep them from shaking. "Please."

"Of course, Lex. I'll take care of it." Charlie nodded to Amanda, then quickly left the kitchen.

"I could have killed him, you know." Lex's voice was quiet, but steadier than it had been. "That was too damned close."

Amanda covered Lex's hands with her own. "But you didn't. Everything turned out okay."

Leaning her head into Amanda's shoulder, Lex closed her eyes. "I flashed back to when I was fourteen, and Lawrence was killed in that hunting accident. Except I saw Charlie lying there, not him." She shook her head. "Never again, Amanda. I won't let that happen again."

"I know you won't, love." Amanda pulled Lex close, giving silent thanks for everyone's safety.


Dawn brought with it a somber morning, as the household readied itself for another day. Lex spent extra time at her desk, gathering up the necessary papers to take to the bank. Amanda stood nearby, a frown on her face. She had tried for over an hour to dissuade her partner from leaving the house, especially after what had transpired the evening before. "If you won't listen to reason, then at least let me go with you."

"And who's going to take care of Lorrie?" Lex tucked the remaining papers in a folder and stood up. "I'm fine, Amanda. Really." But she wasn't, and she knew it. After they had gone back to bed, Lex had lain there quietly, afraid to close her eyes and see what her imagination wrought. It would take a lot longer than she wanted to let on to get over that scene.

Seeing the haunted look behind Lex's eyes, Amanda didn't believe a word of what she said. All she wanted to do was take her hurting wife into her arms and never let her go. "We can both go with you."

Lex shook her head. "I'm not going to be gone that long, sweetheart. Just to the bank, then back to the house. Shouldn't take more than an hour or so." She stepped closer and put her hands on Amanda's hips. "Surely you can do without me for that long."

"Smartass." Raising her hands, Amanda linked them behind Lex's neck and pulled her head down for a long kiss. She felt her body tugged closer, until there wasn't any space between them, as Lex deepened the kiss. When they finally broke apart, both were breathing heavily. "Kiss me like that again, and you're definitely not going anywhere, Slim."

"Oh, yeah?"

Amanda gave her a quick peck on the lips. "Yeah." She brushed her hands down the front of Lex's dark gray cotton shirt, loving the feel of the material and the woman beneath it. "An hour or so, huh?"

"Yup." Lex gasped as the wandering hands cupped her breasts. "You're not playing fair, Amanda."

"Who says I'm playing?" Taking a step back, Amanda winked. "Don't be gone too long, honey. I've got plans for you this afternoon."

"Plans. Yeah." Nodding to herself, Lex started out of the room when she heard Amanda calling her name. "Huh?"

Taking pity on her flustered wife, Amanda handed Lex the envelope she had left on the desk. "You're forgetting something, love."

"Right." Lex took the papers and leaned over to give Amanda a quick kiss on the cheek. "Back in a flash." She started out the door, then turned back around. "I love you."

"Love you, too," Amanda countered. She followed Lex out onto the front porch and watched as her partner made her way into her truck. "Be safe," she whispered, waving as the truck disappeared down the road and out of sight.

Chapter 18

Jeannie heard the muted voices in the den, then the closing of the front door as Lex left for the morning. She didn't know all the details from the night before, but after Charlie came in and gathered up the remaining guns, she actually felt more secure. The thought of sleeping that close to those things made me nervous. Another thing that worried her was the appearance of her sister in law. Lex looked as if she hadn't slept at all, and even Jeannie could see the slight tremor in the usually sure hands of the woman she had come to depend on for her quiet strength. A light knock on the door brought her out of her musings, and her mood brightened when Ellie stepped into the room, carrying Lorrie. "Hi."

"Good morning. Someone told me that they missed their mommy, so I thought I'd better listen." Ellie placed the infant next to her mother, pleased when Jeannie automatically brought her good arm around to cradle Lorrie. Her own sudden attachment to Lorrie was a surprise. Ellie had never been around infants in a personal setting, so she was completely shocked when she felt almost maternal around Lorrie. When Amanda knocked on her bedroom door earlier in the morning and asked if she'd take care of the baby, Ellie couldn't refuse. Now here she was, with probably the same goofy look on her face as she'd seen on everyone else when they were in the room with the smallest member of the family.

"'danks." Jeannie looked down at her daughter, getting lost for a moment in her eyes. Oh, Frank. Our daughter is going to be beautiful. I just wish you could be here to see her.

Ellie watched as Jeannie bonded with her daughter, and it made her think about her own mother. She wondered what she had done wrong in her life to break that precious link. Unlike Billy, she had followed her mother's examples, strictly adhering to the rules and conditions set forth from Naomi. And look where it got me. Ostracized, and thousands of miles away from home. Ellie felt the familiar hurt blossoming inside and turned away from the touching scene. "I'll be right back." She stepped out of the room and almost ran into Amanda, who was on her way in. "Excuse me."

"Are you all right?" Amanda put her hand out and caught Ellie's arm as she tried to walk by. "Ellie?"

"Please, just let me go." The last thing Ellie wanted was for Amanda to see her this way. She tried to at least keep from facing her cousin's wife, not wanting her pity. "Jeannie's holding the baby, so you might want to go in and visit."

Not to be deterred, Amanda refused to let go. "I will, in a bit." She used the grip she had on Ellie and led her to the sofa and sat down, then turned to face the other woman. "Are you still having problems with Lex? Because if that's it, I can talk to her."

"No, we're good." The concern in Amanda's voice brought a lump to Ellie's throat. She had already resigned herself to only being family in Amanda's eyes, but the warm hand on her skin was hard to ignore. She swallowed hard then turned, seeing compassion and mistaking it for something else, and deciding to throw caution to the wind. "Amanda, I need to tell you something."


Lex walked along the sidewalk, noticing how the leaves were beginning to fall from the Bradford flowering pear trees that lined the main street in Somerville. She remembered the flack a few years previously when the city council had opposed planting them, until several private groups came forward with the money. The hardy plants grew quickly and were drought and heat tolerant, and brightened up the entire downtown area. Finally in front of the bank, she took a moment to watch a pair of sparrows fight over a crumb of something, before both of them took flight and hid in the nearest tree. Nervously brushing her hands down the front of her neatly pressed jeans, she entered the building, where she was met by Mr. Collins.

"Ms. Walters, welcome. It's a pleasure to see you again," the bank president huffed. Even though it was early in the day, he had removed his jacket and sweat rings could be seen under his arms. He held out his hand and after a enthusiastic shake, led Lex into his office, closing the door behind them. "Please, have a seat."

Taking the chair closest to the door, Lex leaned forward. "I'd like to thank you again for seeing me on such short notice, Mr. Collins. I know you're a busy man."

He waved a pudgy hand in the air. "I'm never too busy for you. Now, you mentioned something yesterday about needing a short-term loan?"

"Yes." Lex opened the envelope that she had brought with her and handed several papers across the desk. "As you can see, I've had a few unexpected expenditures come up recently, and with winter coming, I don't want to run short."

Collins picked up his glasses and put them on, reading over the documents that Lex had provided. "I see." Reading further, his eyes widened and he looked up. "You're willing to mortgage the land you just acquired? But it's worth several times what you're asking for."

Lex nodded. "Exactly. But the stock we'll be selling in the spring will more than cover the loan, so there shouldn't be a problem. I just wanted to give the bank a good offer."

"It's more than a good offer, Ms. Walters. Are you sure about this?" Although he would have probably given her a loan on her signature alone, Collins wasn't one to turn down a good business opportunity.

"Completely." Lex felt the butterflies in her stomach settle while she watched the bank president get on the phone and talk to one of his clerks, who was to get the paperwork ready. A timid knock on the door caused her to turn around, and she couldn't help but smile at the woman bearing a tray with coffee and sweet rolls. "Hi, Barbara."

"Good morning, Lex. It's been a while, hasn't it?" Barbara put the tray down on the desk and stole a glance at Collins, who was still on the phone. "How's Amanda? Please tell her how sorry I am about all that's happened lately." Barbara heard through the bank grapevine about Jeannie's stroke and Frank's death, but didn't want to just show up at the ranch uninvited.

"She's doing as well as she can, thank you. I'll tell her you asked about her." The woman standing before her looked tired. "How are you doing? Is Janna keeping you out too late?"

Barbara checked to see if Collins was listening, but he was still busy on the telephone. "Uh, no. Janna moved back north a month ago to take care of her family."

Damn. Open mouth and insert foot, Lexington. No wonder she looks so ragged out. "I'm sorry to hear that."

"It's okay." Barbara jumped as the bank president hung up his phone. "I've got to go." She left the office before Lex could say another word.

Collins stood up and gestured toward the door. "If you'll just follow me, we'll get those papers signed so that you can be on your way, Ms. Walters."


"Amanda, I need to tell you something." Ellie took Amanda's hands in hers. With her heartbeat pounding in her ears she scooted closer. "Do you remember when I first came here?"

Not too sure where the conversation was heading, Amanda nodded. "I do. Why?"

"The first moment I saw you, I was so confused. All my life, I'd been taught that you had to lead a certain life, and anything else was morally wrong." Looking down at their hands, Ellie whispered, "But meeting you, someone who was obviously a good person, threw all that off kilter. Years and years of listening to my mother, who was, to me, as close to a saint as I'd ever meet went flying out the window."

"A saint?"

Ellie looked up, her face wearing an embarrassed grin. "Yeah. I'd heard all my life how she sacrificed everything to raise me, alone, until my step dad came along. So, not knowing any better, I thought she was right." She sighed. "And up until I came here, I continued to think that way." She wasn't about to go into how she followed Naomi around, spouting Scriptures and damning everyone who didn't think their way, including Billy. Of how her eyes were finally opened when she had been laid off, and her mother refused to help her. No, those things would stay in the past, just as she hoped that the woman sitting next to her would be a part of her future. Ellie brushed a strand of hair away from Amanda's face. "You have no idea how incredibly wonderful you are, do you?"

"Me?" Amanda scoffed. "I don't think so."

"Yes, you." Releasing her grip, Ellie stood up and stepped away from the sofa. "I see you, everyday, taking care of the people in this house without complaint. And it seems like you never get any thanks for it." Before Amanda could protest, she held up one hand. "No, really. My cousin has no idea the things you've sacrificed for her, does she? I've been watching, and I know."

Amanda stood up also. "It's not like that at all, Ellie. We've compromised, not sacrificed. If you're talking about living out here, it was my idea. I love the peace and quiet the ranch offers, and the short drive to town is perfect to help me unwind when I get off work."

"And what about having a family? Is that one of your compromises, too?" Ellie moved closer, until they were almost touching. "Don't you want children?"

The question hit Amanda in one of her most vulnerable spots, and she felt her composure slip. "Of course I do. And when the time is right, I'm sure Lex and I will talk about it."

"But you already know how she feels about kids, don't you?" Hating to see the hurt she put in Amanda's eyes, Ellie ran one of her hands down the other woman's arm. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."

"But it's true. Lex doesn't want kids." Leaning in closer, Amanda allowed herself to be pulled into Ellie's arms, accepting the comfort she so desperately needed.


Lex walked out of the bank, feeling better than she had in weeks. She now had no worries that the ranch would survive the coming winter, and felt more confident in her ability to take care of the family. As she headed back to where she had parked her truck, she noticed a familiar figure watching her from across the street. When they made eye contact, the man darted into the closest alley. "That little bastard." Looking both ways, Lex waited until it was clear before she jogged across the street, intent on having a "visit" with her watcher.

She was halfway down the length of the alley when she heard something behind her. Before Lex could turn around, she felt a poke in the back, causing her to stop.

"I think we need to talk, Ms. Walters."

Holding her hands up even with her shoulders, Lex turned around slowly. "Wilson, wasn't it?" She nodded at the gun he pointed at her. "Is that really necessary?"

"You've made it that way." He gestured with the gun. "Let's go back a little farther. I'd hate for someone to disturb our little chat." Never taking his eyes off Lex, Wilson waited until she passed a trash dumpster, and motioned for her to put her back against the wall of a building. "That should be far enough."

"What's this all about?" Lex could feel the rough brick scratching through her shirt and the sensation somehow calmed her. She thought that if she could just keep him talking, that somehow she'd be able to get out of the alley alive.

Anthony glanced around, assuring himself they were still alone. "Don't play stupid with me. You know what we want."

"Why? I'll admit it's a nice patch of land, but you don't look like the ranching type." Lex lowered her hands and crossed her arms over her chest in an attempt to appear nonchalant.

"It's one of the last pieces we need for the resort, and believe me, my employer will do whatever it takes to get it."

Lex pushed off against the wall, which caused Wilson to pull the hammer back on the revolver he was pointing. "Resort?" Seeing the gun shake in his hand, she held up her own hands again. "Whoa. Easy there."

"I've got a check in my pocket. Sell the property to me, and we can forget this little incident ever happened." Anthony was beginning to perspire now, and he could feel his stomach begin to knot up.

"I can't."

Anthony frowned and stepped closer. "You can't? Dammit, lady, we're not playing around here. If we can't get the property from you, we'll get it from your heirs." He aimed the gun at her chest. "And if not from them, then we'll get it from their heirs." He didn't want to shoot her, but it was either the rancher, or him. And Anthony Wilson hadn't gotten as far as he had without a strong sense of self-preservation.

"You don't want to do this." Lex spoke quietly, and held out one hand. She sensed that the man before her wasn't a killer. "Give me the gun, before someone gets hurt." As Lex reached for the gun, she saw Wilson's finger tighten on the trigger. The loud report from the gun echoed through the alley, and the birds that had been nesting in nearby trees flew away in a panic.


The silence in the room was broken only by the sound of rapid keystrokes, as the man sitting at the dilapidated desk hurried to complete a personal challenge. Terence spied the red digital numbers from the clock across the room, and took a calming breath. He assumed he had at least another couple of hours before he was to meet Liz for lunch, but he didn't want to take any chances.

Liz's increasingly bizarre behavior was only one of the reasons for Terence's change of heart. Fearing what would happen to someone as "delicate" as himself in prison, he didn't want to get caught, and some of the things that Liz was doing would bring on both their captures.

Coming face to face with one of the people that their actions had damaged, also had a profound effect on his conscience. Hearing Liz constantly complain about how her eldest daughter was "ruined" and of no use to her, helped him realize that the woman was completely gone, and again he questioned his role in getting her released from the mental hospital. He hoped that what he did today would help in relieving at least a part of that guilt.

Terence knew that he couldn't return all the money that he had taken from the Walters woman, but he was determined to do the best that he could. Using the email addresses he had from the original documents, he wrote Liz's youngest daughter and Walters, explaining what had happened. He also added a heartfelt apology for his part in the schemes, and in his writing assured them they would never hear from him again. After clicking the "send" key, Terence felt a huge weight lift from his shoulders.

He enjoyed the freeing of his conscience for several minutes, then went back to work removing all traces from his laptop of what he had done. The last thing he needed was for Liz to start snooping around and find out that he had turned against her. Hearing a knock, he closed the lid of the computer and went to the door, wishing it had a peephole. "Who is it?"

"This is the manager. I'm sorry to bother you sir, but we've had a severe water leak in the room next to yours, and we need to come in and check your lavatory."

Terence unlocked the door and was shoved back several feet by a hulk of a man, whose hairy fists grabbed him by his shirt and slammed him into the wall. "Hey! Look, buddy, I think you've made a mistake." His worry turned to abject terror when a small woman stepped inside and closed the door. "Liz?"

"What have you been up to, Terence?" she asked sweetly.

"I don't know what you mean," he stammered, watching as she walked around the room, picking up different things and placing them back down. "I was going to meet you for lunch, as we planned. I never expected to see you here."

Elizabeth was standing at the desk and put her hand on the computer, then pulled it away. "It's still warm; imagine that." She picked up the laptop and threw it across the room, where it slammed against the far wall and fell behind the bed. "Don't play games with me." She nodded to her cohort, and he slammed one hand hard into Terence's stomach.

Gagging at the bile rising in his throat, Terence struggled to catch his breath. "No," he sputtered, just as another beefy hand smashed into his ribcage, where he felt the distinct snap of bone. Black spots swam before his eyes as he was jerked to his feet again. "Please, Liz," he addressed the woman coming toward him. "Don't."

"My dear boy, you've become a liability to me." Elizabeth patted Terence on the cheek, much as she would a child. "Especially with your stupid conscience showing up." She turned and headed for the door. "Clean this mess up for me, would you, Eddie? I've got a long vacation to plan, thanks to our friend here."

"Yes, ma'am," the thug confirmed. His grin showed several missing teeth, and he waited until the door closed behind the petite woman before he removed a gun from beneath his jacket.


Time seemed to stand still for Ellie, who was enjoying holding Amanda in her arms. They stood in the middle of the den, Amanda softly crying while the older woman comforted her by running one hand over her hair. "Sssh. It's okay," Ellie murmured. She used her other hand to lightly rub Amanda's back, hoping that her touch would help soothe some of the hurt away.

For Amanda, it felt good to finally be able to release some of her pent-up emotions. She didn't know why having a family was so important to her, but hearing Lex's negative thoughts time and time again on the subject was more than she could stand. She took a deep breath to try and get herself back in control, and pulled back so that she could look Ellie in the eyes. "Thanks."

"No problem," Ellie whispered, her voice husky. She watched as Amanda moistened her lips, and her heart began to race. This is it. "Amanda, I-" Ellie leaned forward and closed her eyes.

At the exact moment, Charlie burst into the room, with Martha close behind. "Amanda, I'm afraid there's been a problem in town." The sheriff stopped and looked at the two women. I didn't see what I thought I did…or did I?

When Charlie interrupted them, Ellie quickly stepped away from Amanda, who had a confused look on her face. Damn!

Amanda stepped out of Ellie's embrace, not too sure what had just transpired between them. Was she about to…no. We had cleared all that up. Then she remembered that they weren't the only two people in the room, and that Charlie had said something to her. She turned toward him. "What did you say?" She saw Martha's tear-stained face behind the sheriff, and Amanda felt as if her heart had jumped into her throat. "What kind of problem?"

"I don't have many details yet, but there's been a shooting in town. They've taken Lex to the hospital." Even as he tried to keep a professional air, the lawman's voice shook with emotion. "I'm on my way in now, and thought you'd like a ride." He held out a hand to Amanda, who rushed into his arms.

Ellie tried to keep the disgusted look from her face. Although she had recently reconciled with her cousin, she couldn't help but be angry that even when Lex wasn't here, she interfered with Ellie's attempts to profess her true feelings to Amanda.

The sound of Lorrie's cry from Jeannie's room reminded Amanda of other responsibilities. "The baby. Who's going to take care of her?"

"I'll stay," Ellie offered. She felt that she'd just be in the way when they got to town, and did want to help. And she didn't like the look she was getting from Martha, who had witnessed the same scene as Charlie.

Amanda turned and tried to offer a smile. "Thank you." She allowed Charlie and Martha to lead her from the room, hoping her legs wouldn't fail her.


Somerville wasn't a large town by any means, but since the local hospital served most of the county, it did boast a well-staffed emergency room. Usually they dealt with car accidents, broken bones, burns, and after hours stomach aches. So when they were alerted to two blood-covered individuals being brought in with the words "gunshot" and "lots of blood", the staff seemed even more alert.

The doors opened, and two gurneys wheeled inside. Being directed by one of the nurses, the attendants split up, placing the patients in two different rooms. "This one's lost a lot of blood! I can't find a pulse," the attending physician admitted when the bed rolled in. He began to bark out orders, which were muffled as the door closed.

Across the hall, another doctor was taking care of his own patient. "Can you hear me?" He noticed the glazed look in the victim's eyes, knowing it was most likely due to shock. Being extremely gentle, he pulled the blood-soaked shirt away from the patient's body.

While the doctors did their job, a young deputy came into the emergency room, his own uniform sporting large spots of blood. Barely out of college, Brett Shields took a job with the sheriff's office, hoping that the training would prepare him for a career someday as a big city police officer. But after what he had witnessed today, he wasn't so sure. He stepped up to the nurses station and waited until the head nurse turned around. "Excuse me, ma'am."

Slender and middle aged, the RN looked as if she'd seen it all. Her gray hair was cut short, and the glasses she wore reflected the florescent lights overhead. "Yes?"

"I'm here about the two people that were just brought in. Is there any word on their conditions?" He hoped to have something to report to the sheriff, who had radioed that he was on his way.

The nurse shook her head. "Not yet, I'm afraid. The doctors are busy with them now, but if you'll just have a seat, I'll let you know as soon as I can."

"Thank you." Brett turned to go find a place to sit, then looked down at his hands, which had blood on them and were shaking. "God." Finding his way to the bathroom, the deputy scrubbed until his skin was red, swearing he'd never forget the scene, or the smell. He barely made it to the toilet, where he retched until the dry heaves made him dizzy.


The drive to town was the longest that Amanda could ever remember. She sat in the back seat of the sheriff's car, holding Martha's hand and trying to comfort the older woman, who was silently trying to comfort her. Several more radio reports came in as they drove, but none could give them any updates or details on exactly what had transpired in the alley across from the bank.

When the hospital came into view, Amanda unbuckled her seat belt, and had her door open before the car came to a complete stop. She was halfway to the emergency room doors before either Charlie or Martha could climb out of the vehicle.

Once inside, she looked around, trying to find someone who could help her. Several people were seated in chairs that lined the walls, some looking more in need of medical attention than others. A nurse about her own age walked by, and Amanda touched her arm. "Excuse me, I'm looking for some information about my partner."

The nurse stopped and studied the woman before her. "Your partner?"

Exasperated, Amanda tried to keep from slapping the woman. "Yes, my partner. Her name is Lexington Walters, and she was brought in just a little while ago."

"I'm afraid I can't give out any information at this time." The nurse started to leave, but the sudden grip on her arm stopped her forward motion. "I beg your pardon?"

"Please. I have to know where she is, and if she's okay."

Twisting out of Amanda's grasp, the nurse shook her head. "I'm sorry, but you'll have to check with the admitting nurse. I honestly don't know anything." She hurried away, wanting to get back to pediatrics where she belonged.

Amanda felt a hand on her shoulder, and turned around to see Martha's concerned face. "I can't get anyone to help me."

"That's all right, hon. Charlie's going to talk to the head nurse. Being sheriff has its advantages, you know." Martha escorted Amanda to a relatively quiet spot in the waiting area, where they could watch as Charlie spoke to a woman at the nurse's station. While he was talking, a younger man in a deputy's uniform stepped up beside him and began to talk.

Noting the dark splotches on the deputy's uniform made Amanda lightheaded. She wondered if any of the blood belonged to Lex, and then felt sharp pains in her chest at the thought. Wrapping her arms about her chest, Amanda leaned forward until her head rested on her thighs. She didn't see Charlie turn and wave.

But Martha noticed, and she patted Amanda on the back. "Let's go see what's going on." She stood and helped Amanda to her feet, feeling relief at the smile on her husband's face. Everything must be all right, if he's grinning like that. One of these days, I'm going to move to Florida and retire, so I don't have to be around while that girl of mine takes years off my life. The things she gets into would drive anyone into an early grave. She gladly accepted a hug from Charlie. "She's okay?" Martha asked, as she watched Amanda being led into one of the treatment rooms.

"She's going to be fine," he assured her. "At least until she gets home and gets a piece of Ellie."

Martha looked up at her husband's face. "You saw that too, did you?"

"Uh-huh. Maybe someone should talk to Ellie, and see if she has a death wish."

"That might not be such a bad idea. They just now started getting along, and I'd hate for that to change, just because Ellie's got a hankering for what Lexie has." Martha hugged Charlie. "Why don't we go get some coffee, and you can tell me what happened to our girl today." They started down the hall, and Charlie began to explain to his wife the events as he knew them.

Amanda opened the treatment room door and stepped inside. She saw the still form on the narrow bed, covered to the chin with a sheet and heavy blanket. Unsure if her lover was awake, she kept her voice low. "Lex?"

Her brain still foggy, Lex wasn't sure if she had heard anything or not. She turned her head toward the sound, and saw what she thought was a vision. Opening her mouth to speak, Lex tried to form words, but couldn't seem to remember how. She frowned, confused.

"Honey, can you hear me?" Amanda moved closer. She looked around for a chair, and saw what was left of the shirt that Lex had worn that morning lying on a trashcan. It had been cut off her body, and was liberally soaked with blood, which confused Amanda. The doctor had told her that Lex had a few scrapes and bruises, a knot on the side of her head, and was suffering from shock. They planned on keeping her overnight for observation, but she was otherwise fine. Was he lying, or does he not know what he's doing?

Lex's frown disappeared, replaced by a slight smile. She's not a dream. It was hard to tell, since she'd had some strange ones every time she dozed off. She slipped her hand out from under the blanket and waited until Amanda took it. "Hey."

"Hi." Amanda sat next to her partner on the bed, holding their linked hands to her chest. She doubted if she'd ever be able to let go. "You gave us quite a scare, you know." She could still see traces of dried blood on Lex's neck and in her hair. "What happened?"

"To tell you the truth, I was pretty damned scared, too." Lex closed her eyes and could see the alley again. "It's all pretty blurry." She remembered seeing Anthony Wilson across the street from the bank, and of following him between the buildings, and then having a gun pointed at her. The more she struggled to think, the more it hurt. "I can't."

Amanda could tell it pained Lex, and tried to put her at ease. "It's okay. Just relax." She stroked Lex's hair, until her breathing smoothed out. A light knock on the door caused her to turn her head, and she smiled at Charlie and Martha when they stepped inside. "Hi," she whispered.

"How's she doing?" Charlie asked, while Martha went to the other side of the bed to see for herself.

Not releasing her hold, Amanda continued to speak quietly. "Her head hurts, and she's a little disoriented. She can't seem to remember much about what happened to her."

"From what the doctor told us outside, that's not too uncommon," Charlie tried to assure her. "But I'm hoping once the guy across the hall wakes up, he can shed a bit more light on things."

"What guy?" Martha asked, finally getting into the conversation. Once she assured herself that Lex was going to be okay, she wanted all the details to what had transpired.

Charlie backed away from the bed, beckoning them to follow. "The man who had the gun." He didn't want Lex to overhear, both to keep her calm, and to not taint her memory of the incident.

"He's here?" Amanda snapped, clenching her fists at her sides. "The son of a bitch who tried to shoot Lex is still nearby? Are you people crazy?"

"Calm down, Amanda. He's under guard." Charlie moved to block the door, so that Amanda couldn't go after the man. "Not to mention he nearly bled to death on the way to the hospital, so I doubt he's going anywhere, for a while."

Now that she knew that Lex was in no immediate danger, Amanda settled down. At least a bit. She crossed her arms over her chest and glared at the sheriff. "Good. Serves him right."

Martha's eyes widened. Never had she heard Amanda say anything even remotely negative about someone else, much less wish death on them. She stepped closer and began to rub a soothing pattern on the younger woman's back. "Do we have any idea what happened?"

"From what I've been told about the evidence at the scene, the two of them were in the alley across from the bank, and he had a gun. There was a struggle, he was shot in the leg, and Lex cracked her head on the building behind her. When the paramedics arrived, she was in shock, but was trying to stem the loss of blood for him. Otherwise, he'd have died."

"She should have let him," Amanda muttered, still shook up. She couldn't even imagine the terror that Lex went through, having a gun pointed at her like that. "Do we know why he had a gun? And why Lex?"

Charlie scratched the back of his neck. "Well, we're working on that." Truth was, with the check Wilson had in his coat pocket, he had a pretty good idea as to why. He just couldn't discuss everything about the case.

"Right." Amanda knew that look, and also knew that she wouldn't be getting any more information out of Charlie. "Do you think it would be okay if I stayed here tonight with Lex? I don't want her waking up alone."

Knowing that he'd been let off the hook, the sheriff nodded. "I don't see why not. Let me go talk to her doctor, and let them know."

"He's not a very good liar," Amanda commented to Martha.

Martha gave Amanda a one-armed hug. "Why do you think I married him? Well, besides the fact that he looks so cute in his uniform." She leaned in close to whisper, "Not to mention, how good he looks out of it."

"Eew." Amanda covered her ears. "I didn't need to get that visual, thank you very much." It was like thinking about her parents having sex. Amanda knew it happened, she just didn't want to know about it. But she was very thankful for the distraction, which allowed her emotions time to settle down after the morning's events. She kissed the older woman on the cheek and returned the hug.


To be continued in Part 10

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