Disclaimers – See Part One.
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It had been a long week. Lex had spent the majority of it relegated to the lower floor of the house. When she was very lucky, she was allowed to spend time sitting on the front porch. She had conveniently "lost" the sling for her arm not long after returning from the hospital. Refusing to use the wheelchair Amanda rented for her, she instead relied heavily on a cane.
Martha came outside and placed her hands on her hips. She glared at Lex, who used one foot to push the porch swing back and forth. "Are you still pouting?"
"I'm not pouting."
"You could have fooled me." Martha wiped her hands on her ever-present dishtowel and sat next to the sullen woman. "She did it for your own good, you know."
"Hmph." Lex didn't care for the reason behind Amanda's betrayal. At least that's what it felt like. She had hoped, that of all people, her partner would understand. But no, Amanda had sided with Martha, and that was that. She assumed Amanda would remember how it felt, to be stuck at the house all the time with nothing to do. Surely she would have realized Lex's feelings on the matter. Lex lowered her gaze to her feet, which were only covered with heavy socks. "She hid my damned boots."
Failing in her attempt to stifle her laughter, Martha patted Lex on the leg. "That's what you get for trying to go riding, Lexie. You know you're supposed to be taking it easy."
"I feel like a bum." Lex fussed with the sturdy brace that covered her right leg, from mid-thigh to her ankle. "I'm tired of lazing around. There are things I need to be doing."
"Like what? Roy and the others have everything under control. And how do you plan to do these things? You can barely walk." Martha understood where she was coming from, but refused to allow Lex to injure herself further by over-stressing her knee.
Straightening in the swing, Lex crossed her arms over her chest. It was the same argument she had heard from Amanda. It's wasn't like she wanted to go out riding, or anything. Just a short trip to the barn to see the horses, surely that wasn't too strenuous. But both Amanda and Martha took turns not letting her out of their sight. If it hadn't been for getting to spend time with Lorrie, Lex would have mutinied sooner. "I'm using the cane, aren't I? Besides, it's not that far to the barn."
Lex turned to see Amanda leaning against the door jam. "Um, hi."
"Don't hi, me." Amanda's arms were also folded across her chest, and she wore a perturbed look on her face. "Has she been giving you a hard time, Martha?"
Not wanting to get into the middle of another disagreement between the two women, Martha stood. "Actually, I believe now would be a good time to bake that cake. And I'll see if Lorrie is up from her nap, yet" She went back in the house.
Amanda didn't move. Although she thought Lex looked adorable when she didn't get her way, she knew it wasn't the right time to admit it. She continued to stare at her lover, unwilling to break eye contact. "Well?"
"Are you still mad about your boots?"
Lex turned away and found the grass in the front yard fascinating. She didn't like being treated like a child, and couldn't understand why a short walk to the barn was such a big deal. "No."
"Liar." Amanda pushed off from the door and joined Lex on the swing. "I guess we have been a little rough on you. Will you ever forgive us?"
Amanda snuggled against Lex. "How about," she unfastened a button on Lex's shirt and sneaked her hand inside, "tonight, after dinner," her nails lightly scratched Lex's belly, "Lorrie and I go down to the barn with you?" She noticed her partner's eyes closed. "Lex?"
"Mmm?" Lex inhaled and trapped Amanda's hand. No longer upset, she forgot what she had been mad about to begin with. She turned her head and easily found Amanda's lips with her own. The barn could wait. It was turning out to be a nice afternoon. Very nice, indeed.
Cleve turned his head first one way, then the other. No matter how he looked at his reflection, his flattened nose mocked him. The purple bruises beneath his eyes were still dark, and the jagged tear across one cheek would leave a nasty scar. He blamed Lex for his appearance. The men who beat him worked for her, and he believed they were only doing her bidding. There could be no other explanation for their behavior. He was a great guy. No one would do him harm, unless they were paid to do so. He touched the scab on his face. The bitch would pay. He was sure of that.
He moved away from the mirror and gathered his personal belongings. Cleve tucked his wallet into his back pocket. The ragged leather bifold had been a gift from his mother, and he carried her picture inside. He couldn't wait for her to meet Amanda. Maybe when he took over the ranch, Marcy would come live with them. "That's right. Mom will be so proud of me. She's always wanted a daughter." Cleve took his keys from the dresser and picked up the duffle bag he used for his clothes.
After checking out of the run down motel, Cleve decided he needed to find a place to board his horse, at least temporarily. He didn't want Lex to do anything to it out of spite. Once he was in control of the ranch, he'd bring his horse to the main barn, so it would be nearby.
Cleve stopped for a newspaper and took it into the diner. Not seeing any empty tables, he found a stool at the counter.
A smiling redhead stopped in front of him. "What can I get you to drink, hon?"
"Coffee, black." He opened the paper and started reading the classified ads. He had to give the woman credit. She never looked twice at his puffy face. When a white ceramic mug was placed in front of him, Cleve raised his eyes. "Thanks."
"You're welcome." Francine wiped the counter next to him. "Can I get you something to eat?"
He folded his paper over and pushed it out of the way. "What do you suggest?"
Francine leaned over and gave him a nice view of her considerable assets. "A nicer place." She winked and straightened. "But, if you're determined to eat here, the meatloaf hasn't killed anyone. Yet."
"Sounds good." Cleve waited until she left to turn in his order before he returned to reading the ads. Maybe he'd wait until the waitress got off work, and see if she'd show him around town. He could use a good distraction.
After ten minutes of non-stop chattering, the silence in the kitchen came as a surprise to Amanda. She placed her fork next to her plate and touched Lex's hand to get her attention. "I think someone has finally lost the battle."
Lex turned to see what she was talking about. A smile crossed her face at the sight. "Poor kid. Looks like she's out for the count."
Sound asleep, Lorrie's head was bent at an almost impossible angle. Her chin rested on her chest, and she still held her spoon with one hand. Mashed potatoes covered both cheeks. What appeared to be bits of meatloaf clung to her chin.
"She enjoys her food, that's for sure." Amanda stood and pried the utensil from the sleeping child's hand. She never saw Lex leave the table, but was thankful for the damp towel that was handed to her. Between the two of them it took no time at all to get Lorrie clean. Amanda tucked her against her shoulder. "I'll get her upstairs."
"While you're doing that, I'll get things put away down here." Lex brushed her palm over Lorrie's hair and kissed her head.
It was more of a chore than she expected. Lorrie had partially awakened while Amanda put her pajamas on her and started to fuss. With the promise of having a book read to her, the little girl cooperated and was back to sleep in no time.
A noise across the hall got Amanda's attention. She took one last look at her daughter's sleeping face before going into the master bedroom. The bathroom door opened, and Lex hobbled out. She was wearing a tee shirt and boxers, and her leg brace was missing. "What are you doing?"
"Getting ready for bed." Heavily favoring her leg, she plopped onto the bed.
"Sometimes I wonder how many children I'm raising. What am I going to do with you?" Amanda didn't expect an answer. She went about her own nightly rituals, and soon joined Lex. Her partner reclined on the bed, leafing through a child development magazine. "Anything interesting?"
Lex lowered the periodical. "It warns that toddlers tend to be argumentative." She placed it on her nightstand. A standoff between Amanda and Lorrie earlier in the day came to mind. "I think whoever wrote the article knew our daughter."
"No kidding." Amanda waited until Lex was stretched out comfortably again. She edged closer and ran her hand softly across her lover's knee. "It's looking better."
"Yep." Although still tender, her knee was able to bear more weight. Lex was confident that she could switch to the smaller brace, and was glad to be free of the cumbersome stabilizer for the evening.
Amanda snuggled against Lex's side. "I didn't expect you to be here."
"Where was I supposed to be?"
"After our talk this afternoon on the porch, I thought that you'd go to the barn after dinner." Amanda traced her finger across Lex's stomach. "Not that I'm complaining, or anything. You seemed so antsy today."
"I guess I was." Lex ran her fingers through Amanda's hair.
Lifting her head slightly, Amanda turned to face her. "Why didn't you?"
"Because I promised Lorrie she could go with me. But since she fell asleep at dinner, I changed my mind."
"You could have still gone. She would have never known." Caught up in the light of Lex's eyes, Amanda almost forgot what they were talking about.
A small grin appeared on her face when she saw the far off look in Amanda's eyes. "She might not have, but I would. I'm not going to break my promises to her, if I can help it."
"You're a good mom, Lex. She's a lucky little girl."
Lex pulled Amanda's face to her for a kiss. "I think I'm the lucky one. Many times over." She started to tug on Amanda's shirt. "You're over-dressed, again." She easily divested Amanda of her top, the years of practice making it almost second nature. With a half roll of her body, Lex playfully penned her lover to the bed. "Let's see if I can finish what we started on the swing today."
Amanda worked her hands beneath Lex's shorts to pull her closer to her. She lifted her chin as soft lips claimed her throat. The exhaustion she felt from the long day slowly receded as Lex lovingly worshipped her body.
Hubert hated shopping. He would rather order things off the Internet. But some things, like groceries, were a necessity. It still rankled him. He wondered if Somerville would ever join the twenty-first century, and have grocery deliveries. Still grumbling to himself, he wandered the aisles, pushing a cart that seemed to have a mind of its own. Turning a corner, he slammed into another cart. "Why don't you pay attention to where you're going, asshole?"
"Hubert?" Ellie leaned on her cart with an amused smile on her face. "Looks like someone finally got tired of your mouth."
A firm hand grasped his shoulder. "You should watch your language, young man."
Hubert spun around. His grandfather held a bag of coffee beans in one hand. "Leave me the hell alone, old man." A sudden thought flickered through his mind. "Actually, I was just thinking about you, grandfather."
"Oh?" Travis didn't like the sound of that. "What are you up to, now?"
"It's nothing like that. I just feel bad for how we left things the other day." Hearing a snicker from his cousin, Hubert glared at her. "It's true."
Ellie had her elbow propped on the handle of the cart, and placed her chin in her open palm. "This ought to be good."
Biting his tongue to hold back a sharp retort, Hubert tried to smile. "Janine explained to me how things might have sounded. I apologize if I was out of line."
"Really?" Travis didn't believe him for a moment, but was curious as to how Hubert's little ploy would pan out. "Where is your lovely wife?"
"That stupid bi—, I mean, she went back to Huntsville. To visit," he added quickly.
"She do that to you face?" Ellie questioned, innocently.
His face reddened. "Yes! No, it was an accident."
Travis had heard enough. He was tired of Hubert's games. "What is it that you want, son?"
"I'm not your—" Hubert caught himself. "Actually, I wanted to talk to you about a business deal."
"Oh?" Travis held up his hand to forestall Ellie's objections. "Ellie, would you mind getting the fresh vegetables? I'll be along shortly."
She sighed, but took the coffee from him and placed it in the basket. "Sure." Glaring at Hubert, she added, "I'll be back in a few minutes."
Once she left, Travis put his hands in his front pockets to appear less threatening. "Go on, tell me what you have to say."
"It's like this. While I was away, the lease expired on my office. Those jackasses didn't give me a chance to do anything about it, and when I got back, all my shit, I mean, furniture and stuff, was gone. I wanted to ask if you'd loan me the money to get started again. I could make you a silent partner."
"You can't be serious."
He didn't know why his grandfather was looking at him that way. Hubert thought it sounded like a perfect solution, and he wouldn't have to pay him back. "Of course I am. It's a good opportunity for someone your age. You'd have a steady income. I know how hard it is for you elderly guys. You don't think she'll take care of you in your old age, do you? Elsie is just sponging off you. God knows at her age she'll never find a guy to take care of her."
"Her name is Ellie. And, for the record, I'm not about to give you one red cent." Travis stepped closer to Hubert. "You leave her, and your sister, out of your petty schemes. If I hear one word about you bothering anyone in my family, I'll have the law on you so fast it will make your head spin."
Travis smiled, but it wasn't friendly. "Trust me. I have my sources."
The threat made him nervous. Hubert swallowed nervously and straightened his jacket. "Fine. Just don't come crying to me when that broad bleeds you dry." He brushed by Travis and hurried to the next aisle.
Ellie returned just in time to see Hubert's retreat. "Is everything all right?"
"Yes." Travis put his arm around his granddaughter. "I don't think we'll have to worry about Hubert anymore."
"I sure hope not. He's even more of a jerk than Lex says." Although she still had her problems with Lex, Ellie could tell that Hubert was nothing like her. "Do you think he was adopted?" She sincerely wished she'd never see him again, but didn't think she'd be that lucky.
Amanda woke to a light breath on her exposed stomach. She was charmed by the look on her wife's face. "Good morning. How long have you been up?"
"A while." Lex kissed her tummy. "I've been visiting with Junior."
"Oh, really? And what does Junior say?"
Lex grinned and kissed the same spot again. "She told me that you're an awesome mommy, and she can't wait to meet you."
Amanda grabbed Lex's face and pulled. "Get up here, you nut." She kissed her, purring when the contact was deepened. "Now that's how to say good morning."
"Yep." Lex rolled over onto her side and brought Amanda with her. "Have I told you lately how much I love you?"
Amanda kissed her again. "You may have mentioned it a time or two dozen last night." She ran her hands under Lex's shirt and up her back. "And showed me, too. But I'll never get tired of hearing it."
"Good. Because I don't ever plan on stopping." Wandering hands caused her to squirm. "You keep doing that, I'll show you all over again."
"And that would be a bad thing?"
"Mommy!" A loud voice called from across the hall. "Momma!"
Lex chuckled at their daughter's timing. She forced herself away from Amanda and went next door to fetch their demanding offspring. Without the brace for her leg, she limped heavily. But she loved being the one who helped the child in the mornings. "Hold your horses, Lorrie."
In a few minutes, Amanda heard the pounding of tiny feet. She barely had time to prepare herself before Lorrie climbed on the bed and launched herself at her. "Good morning, sweetie."
"Mommy, I pottied."
"You did?" Amanda looked at Lex, who nodded and joined them on the bed. "Really?"
"Yep," Lorrie answered. "Big girl."
Amanda tickled her. "That's wonderful. You are getting to be a big girl."
Lex braced herself on her left arm and put her chin on her hand. "No accidents, either. I think someone is ready for her big girl panties." They had bought her underwear in several designs. Lorrie's favorites were decorated with cartoon princesses. She knew that once she was able to go to the "big girl potty", she'd get to wear them all the time, not just during the day.
Lorrie clapped her hands. "Yay! Big girl panties." She bounced on the bed. "Now?"
"Yep." Lex started to get up, then remembered something. "How do we ask, Lorrie?"
She batted her brown eyes at Lex. "Pease? Big girl panties?"
"Good girl." Lex scooped her up and carried her off to her room, to change into her new underwear. An obstacle faced, and conquered.
After breakfast, Amanda caught Lex in the bedroom, placing a smaller brace on her injured knee. "Isn't it a little soon for that?"
"Nope. The doctor told me I could put weight on it, as soon as I was comfortable to. It's not going to get better if I don't walk on it. I've had similar problems before, and it worked out okay."
"If you say so." Amanda handed Lex her cane. "Stick with this for a while, please? I don't think I could carry you very far."
Lex stood and embraced her. I don't know. After lugging Lorrie around so much, you've developed quite a set of muscles, there."
Amanda felt hands grab her butt. "That's not where my muscles are, Stretch."
"Feels pretty muscular to me." Lex kissed her on the nose and started for the door. "Let's relieve Martha of the kiddo, and head over to the barn. I promised her."
"And that's all she's talked about this morning, other than her new underwear." Amanda linked her arm with Lex's spare one and walked down the stairs with her. "You've created another horse fanatic."
Lex looked quite pleased with herself. "Yep. That's my girl."
They found Lorrie "helping" Martha with a pie. The little girl had a small amount of dough and was beating it with a rolling pin. She had a few smudges of flour on her face and arms, but was otherwise neat.
She looked up as they came into the kitchen. "I cookded," she related proudly.
"I just bet you are." Lex limped to the table and sat next to her. "What are you making?"
"Pie," Lorrie answered, as if it were obvious. She put the rolling pin on the table and began to slap at the dough. "Gots to go flat," she explained. "Make yum."
Lex gave her full attention to the little cook. She dutifully ate the small bite Lorrie offered of the dough. "You're right, lil' bit. That is yummy."
Amanda stood next to Martha while they both watched Lorrie give Lex a cooking lesson. She marveled at her partner's patience. She seemed perfectly content to sit and listen to their daughter chatter about the pie dough, even though Amanda knew she was itching to get to the barn, and out of the house. She had no doubts that their next child would receive the same caring attention, and was looking forward to see how their lives would unfold.
"Done!" Lorrie turned to Martha. "Mada? We cookded?"
Martha gathered the dough and placed it in a three and a half inch tart pan. She ladled a spoonful of apple mixture, and covered it with the dough she had put aside for the occasion. When she was through, she showed the finished product to Lorrie. "How's that?"
Lorrie clapped. "Good!" Her eyes never left the "pie" as Martha placed it in the oven.
"Did you ever do that with Lex?" Amanda asked, quietly. "You're so good with Lorrie."
"Thank you, but it's a labor of love." Martha handed Lex a damp dishtowel to clean the flour and dough from Lorrie's face and hands. "I wish I could have done the same with Lexie, but her father wouldn't hear of it. He said she didn't have time for such nonsense." She scrubbed the counter. "It was a pure shame, too. She was forever sneaking into the kitchen. I know she wanted to learn more than how to feed horses, poor thing."
"You still did a wonderful job. I can see a lot of you in Lex. She was lucky you were here for her." Amanda saw Lex help Lorrie from the table. "It looks like you'll be getting the kitchen back."
"Mommy, go!" Lorrie wrapped her arms around Amanda's legs. "See ossie's."
Lex started to use the dishtowel to wipe the table. Martha took it away from her and swatted her on the rear. "Hey."
"I'll finish this, honey. You have more important things to take care of." She shooed them out of the kitchen. After they left, Martha leaned against the counter and wiped her forehead with her hand. "Now maybe I can get some things done."
Lorrie raced ahead, while Lex and Amanda took a more leisurely pace to the barn. Lex limped slightly, and tried to only use her cane for balance. Her knee ached, but it wasn't anything she couldn't handle. She'd had plenty of injuries growing up on the ranch, and refused to let any of them take her down for long. Lorrie stretched as far as she could to reach the handle on the barn door, but could only touch it with her fingers. "Take it easy, kiddo. We'll be there soon enough."
Amanda picked Lorrie up as Lex opened the door. They had a rule. Because there were so many things she could hurt herself with, she wasn't allowed to have free reign in the barn. "Now remember, Lorrie, let's use our inside voice, so we don't scare the horses," she reminded her.
"Yep." Lorrie's favorite was Amanda's paint pony, Stormy. She rubbed the animal's nose gently. "Good ossie."
Lex stopped at the new filly's stall. She did a cursory check, and could see that someone had taken very good care of her. "How are you doing, girl?" She patted the horse's neck. "You look none the worse for wear. Wish I could say the same."
"She's the horse you were on when you got hurt?" Amanda asked, bringing Lorrie with her to stand by Lex. "New, isn't she?"
"Yep." Lex scratched behind the filly's ears, much to the horse's delight. "Even as new as she is, she did me proud out there."
Amanda rubbed under the animal's jaw. "Does she have a name?"
Lex grinned at her. "I call her Mine."
"Okay." Amanda drew the word out. "Isn't that a silly name for a horse?"
"Nope. I bet Lorrie would agree with me." Lex patted Mine's neck again. "Lorrie, do you like this horse?"
The little girl grinned, looking like a miniature of her momma. "Yep. Mine!"
"See? Perfect name." Lex couldn't keep the satisfied look off her face. "Lorrie, do you want to help me feed the horses?"
"Yep!" Lorrie squirmed until Amanda put her down. She happily followed Lex into the feed room, while Amanda continued to pet Mine.
"You poor thing. I have a feeling you've just gotten a new owner." She laughed as Mine bumped her in the chest with her nose. "Don't blame me, I just raise them."
Later that afternoon, Amanda and Lorrie were in the kitchen putting together a puzzle, while Lex went over the ranch's books. The front door slammed. Seated at her desk in the office, Lex was about to go investigate when Cleve strode into the room. "What do you want?" She noticed the cut and fading bruises on his face. "What the hell happened to you?"
"I came for my check." He pointed at his broken nose. "Don't act like you don't know about this. Those assholes at the bunkhouse worked me over. I bet you got a good laugh out of it."
"You want your check? Fine." Lex took out a checkbook from the top drawer and quickly scrawled on it. She tore it off the top and thrust it at him. "Take it." She put her pen down and pushed away slightly from the desk. "When did this happen?"
"The day they took you to the hospital." He lurched forward and placed his hands on the desk. "I hope you paid them well, because I plan on suing your ass for it."
Lex leaned back in her chair. "I do pay them well, because they do a good job. Unlike you. And, for the record, I had nothing to do with it." She smirked. "Although it only helped your looks."
"Bitch!" He raked his hand over the table top and scattered the contents to the floor. "I should have done more to you out there than just leave. Maybe worked you over."
Amanda stood in the doorway. She had heard the commotion and came to see what was going on. "Lex, what is he talking about?"
It wasn't the way Lex wanted to tell Amanda. They had yet to discuss her ordeal. "Can we talk about this later?"
"No, I think I'd like to hear it, now."
He spun and gave Amanda a cocky grin. "I'm the one who found her. Out there." He took a step closer. "You should have seen her. Hanging by one hand to that worthless horse, begging for help. I should have got off my ride and knocked her around some more. She couldn't even stand up. It was great."
Amanda's eyes sparkled with hatred. "And you left her there like that?" She turned her gaze to Lex. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"We hadn't really talked about it. It's kind of embarrassing." Lex started to get to her feet, but Amanda's upraised hand forestalled her.
"Lex, could you give Cleve and me a minute?"
The patter of small feet caused them all to look behind Amanda. Lorrie peeked around her mother's legs to see what was happening. "Momma? Who dat?"
"No one, baby." Amanda clasped the top of Lorrie's head against her in a protective gesture.
"Mommy mad?" Leave it to a child to see to the heart of things. Lorrie nervously stuck a thumb in her mouth and stared at Cleve. "Who you?"
Cleve took another step toward Amanda and Lorrie. "Can't you shut that brat up?"
Amanda backed up, taking Lorrie with her. She didn't like the look in his eyes, and she could smell the alcohol on his breath. "Don't come any closer."
Lex cleared her throat. In a deceptively soft voice, she spoke to her wife. "Sweetheart, would you mind taking Lorrie into the kitchen? I don't think she needs to be around our guest."
"All right." Amanda didn't want to leave Lex, but knew her top priority was their daughter's safety. "Just holler if you need anything." She picked up Lorrie and slowly backed out of the room.
Lex waited until they were gone. She stood and picked up her cane and shoved the end of it into Cleve's chest. "I've had about all I can stand of you, you little pissant. I've put up with a lot of your bullshit, because I thought I owed you something. But your free ride is over." She punctuated her words with a poke of the cane. "If, you, ever, yell at my daughter again, I'll kick your ass all over the place."
"Is that a threat?" He glared at her. "Because if it is—"
She dropped the cane on the desk and grabbed him by the front of his coat. Her voice dropped so low he could almost feel it in his bones. "Oh, no, asshole. That wasn't a threat. It was a promise." Lex released him and stepped back. "Now get out, before I call the sheriff and have you thrown in jail for trespassing."
He couldn't resist a final dig. "You know, I bet that girlfriend of yours is a sweet piece of ass. All she needs is a good man to show her what she's missing." The look in her eyes froze him. Cleve crumbled up the check and tucked it in his coat pocket. "You can have her. I don't need this shit." Deciding that a retreat was better than facing his half-sister, he straightened his coat and left.
When she heard the front door slam, Lex fell back against the desk and sat on the edge. Her hands shook, and it took all her self control not to follow Cleve and tear him apart. Soft footsteps approaching calmed her instantly.
Amanda, holding Lorrie, walked in and took her place next to her lover. "Are you all right? Charlie's on his way."
Lex leaned into her and closed her eyes. "I'm fine. Made as hell, though." She smiled slightly when she felt tiny hands on her head. Raising her face, she kissed Lorrie's fingers when they touched her lips. "Hey there, lil' bit."
"Love Momma." Lorrie stretched and put her arms around Lex's neck, causing her to take her.
"I love you too, Lorrie. You're such a sweet girl."
Lorrie nodded. "Me good." She gave Lex a slobbery kiss on the lips.
All of Lex's anger faded into nothing. The only thing that mattered was here, in this room. She didn't give her half brother another thought. They were what mattered, not some idiot who thought the world owed him. No, she'd let life handle Cleve. She was content to bask in the love of her family.
To be continued in part 11
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