To Hold Forever

By Carrie Carr

Disclaimers – See Part One.

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Part 12

Chapter Twenty Three

Halloween. Lex always hated this time of year. The streets of Somerville were overly crowded with people gathering decorations for a holiday she thought of as frivolous. Pumpkins were used at almost every turn by shop owners, and Lex thought it was ridiculous that Amanda ask her to pick some up for the same reason. "One of these days, I'm going to tell her no." Lex realized the folly of her thoughts. "Right. That's not going to happen."

She was on her way to Sunflower Realty. They had decided, by mutual decision, that it would be all right for Amanda to go back to work part time. Amanda was getting restless at the house, and so was Lorrie. Martha was the one who suggested they let Lorrie go to daycare half a day, which would allow Amanda to go back to the office. It worked out well for all concerned, except Lex. She missed her playmates.

She adjusted the bags she held in her hands and struggled to get inside the office without dumping her bounty. Several women called out to Lex when she came in. Wanda held the manager's door open for her. "I'm glad you're here. She's been asking us every few minutes if any of us had heard from you." Wanda leaned in to whisper conspiratorially, "She's been driving us all nuts."

"Sorry about that. I had to scrounge everywhere for these damned pumpkins." Lex stepped into the office. The woman who sat behind the desk was concentrating on an open binder and talking on the phone.

Amanda raised her head after she heard the rustling of bags. "There you are. What took you so long? Did you get them? How many did you get? How big are they?"

"Hold your horses. One question at a time." Lex placed the bags in the middle of the desk. "Your pumpkins, ma'am." She stood by in amusement while Amanda took them out of the sacks and sorted them.

"These are great. Did you find a big one to carve?"

"Huh?" Lex thought the one on the far left was more than adequate. It was six inches in diameter. "What about that one?"

The pumpkin was a nice shape, and a perfect shade of orange. Amanda hefted it in one hand. "It's perfect for Lorrie to take to school. They're going to decorate their own jack-o-lanterns."

"You've got to be kidding me. Ten three-year-olds carrying around carving tools? Have they lost their mind?"

Amanda placed the pumpkin on the desk. Sometimes Lex could be so literal. "I don't think their insurance could handle that, honey. No, they use markers and draw on them. It's still messy, but much safer."

Lex dropped into one of the visitor's chairs. "That's a relief." She stretched her legs out and crossed them at the ankles. Her hands were loosely clasped together on her stomach. "Speaking of Halloween, has Lorrie made up her mind what she wants to dress up as?"

"We've narrowed it down to three things: a princess, a ballerina, or a cow."

"A ballerina? Where did that come from?"

Why wasn't she surprised? It didn't seem to faze her partner that their daughter was considering dressing up like a farm animal. Amanda wondered what a young Lex would have wanted to go as. "It's not my fault your daughter has a cow fetish."

"Hey, wait a minute. Now she's my daughter? And it's not a fetish. More like a," Lex had to think about it. "A deep appreciation. Yeah." She looked extremely pleased with herself.

"Appreciation? Lex, her first word was moo. And you're the one who got her so enamored of our bovine friends."

Lex studied her boots. She did have a point. But it was so much fun to tweak Amanda. It couldn't hurt to goad her a little more, could it? "Do you think we could find her a costume with little ears and maybe a tail?"

"Oh, no. My daughter isn't going out dressed like Elsie the Cow." She couldn't believe this. Had Lex completely lost her mind? "What else? Udders?"

"Now she's yours? Make up your mind, sweetheart." Lex appeared to think. "Hmm. You know, little udders would be cute. She could carry a milk bucket instead of a trick-or-treat bag."

Amanda had heard enough. "I don't think so." She walked around the desk and sat on Lex's lap, facing her. "Are you trying to say you want Lorrie to go out looking like a farm animal?"

Lex pursed her lips to keep from laughing in Amanda's face. "She won't have hooves, but some shiny black shoes and black mittens would work."

Amanda playfully grabbed her shirt front and tugged her close. "There's no way in hell that'll ever happen. Our little girl will be dressed in something more traditional. I think she'd look cute as a ballerina or a princess. And you'll be the one to help her pick it out."

A slow smile formed on Lex's face. "Moo." She burst into laughter when Amanda released her grip and tickled her instead. "Wait, wait." Her lover hit a particularly sensitive spot just below her ribs, and Lex jerked in response. She had to grab Amanda around the waist to keep her from falling.

"Oops." Amanda decided Lex needed to be rewarded, so she gave her a quick peck on the lips.

"Is that the best you can do?"

It sounded like a challenge. And Amanda never backed down from one of those. She raised her arms and locked her hands together behind Lex's neck. Her lips touched Lex's again, this time prolonging the contact.

"Amanda, I've got those, oh." Wanda stood at the door and her face flushed with embarrassment. "Don't you two ever get enough?"

Lex broke the kiss and turned to Wanda. "Jealous?"

"Heck, yeah. Dirk's idea of romance is to only watch one football game on Sunday so we can eat dinner together." She rested against the edge of Amanda's desk. "And that's the dinner that I cook." She quirked an eyebrow at her boss. "Would you like to rent her out?"

Amanda reluctantly scooted off her lover's lap. "How much are you offering?"

"Hey!" Lex sat taller in her chair. "Don't I have some say in this?"

"Nope." Amanda decided that paybacks were sweet. Lex should have never teased her about Lorrie's Halloween outfit.

"Huh-uh." Wanda handed a file to Amanda. "Maybe we should just make it an even trade. Dirk's housebroken. Does she snore?"

Lex couldn't believe what she was hearing. They were bartering back and forth about her. "Now wait just a damned minute—"

Both Wanda and Amanda burst into laughter. Amanda was the first to recover. "Don't worry. I would never give you up."

"That's more like it." Lex resumed her earlier position with her legs out in front of her.

"I don't blame you. It takes a while to get them trained." Wanda lightly popped Lex on the head. "Don't forget to bring Lorrie over on Halloween. Dirk's looking forward to seeing her all decked out. We've decided to let Ally go as witch. She fell in love with the makeup we saw at the store." Allison was their daughter, who was only a few days older than Lorrie, and in her class at day care. The two girls got along well. Sometimes, almost too well. They were constantly getting each other into trouble. Actually, Lorrie instigated, and Ally followed. Wanda feared for the day the two started high school.

Amanda dropped the file onto her desk. "Don't worry, we'll be there." She waited until Wanda closed the door behind her, before she leaned back against her desk and crossed her arms over her chest. "Now, where were we?"

Lex patted her lap. "Here?"

"No, before that. I believe we were deciding between a princess and a ballerina."

Neither choice appealed to Lex. "How about after we pick her up at school, we take her shopping? We can decide then." Maybe if Lex went with them, they wouldn't get too carried away. She dreaded all the frills and such that either costume would entail.

"All right." Amanda pointed her finger at Lex. "But no whining." Before Lex opened her mouth, she added, "and no animals, either."

So much for that idea. Lex personally thought Lorrie would look cute as a little heifer, or puppy. Her big brown eyes would be perfect. She'd have to see what she could talk their child into. "Whatever you say, sweetheart."


The discount store had not been ready for Lex and Lorrie shopping together. Amanda seriously considered killing her partner after Lex tried to get Lorrie to pick out a ninja costume. It was hard to say no when both of them looked at her with the same hang dog expression. "For the last time, no. Lorrie, you don't even know what a ninja is." She got extremely nervous when Lex squatted and whispered something into the child's ear. "Lex—"

Lex hung up the black costume and took another down from a hook. "Okay, then how about this?"

A brightly colored vest, fluffy shirt, brown pants and…a sword? "Oh, no way. We're not giving her a weapon."

"But it's plastic." Lex showed the outfit to Lorrie. "What do you think, lil' bit?"

Lorrie eyed the costume dubiously. She zeroed in on the attached saber. "Yay!"

Amanda closed her eyes and raised her face upward. "Give me strength." She glared at Lex, who did her best to appear innocent. "No."


"No." Before Lex could utter another word, Amanda put one hand on her hip and held her hand up. "Forget it. I know you're only doing this to get back at me for this morning." She recognized the embarrassed look on Lex's face that meant she knew she was caught. "Go to the front of the store and sit in the coffee shop. We'll come and get you when we're through."


"Go." Amanda hated to be the bad guy, but she was tired of shopping. Her feet hurt, her back ached, and she had developed the headache from hell. Banning Lex was the only way she'd ever get done. "All right, Lorrie. Let's look around and see what we can find."


Halloween evening had arrived and Lex was anxious to see her daughter's costume. Amanda refused to let her know what it was, and even Lorrie had been able to keep it a secret. So here she was, sitting in the living room and waiting impatiently for them to come downstairs. They had quite a few houses lined up. Both of their families, the women from Sunflower Realty, and many of the people they knew from the historical society and women's auxiliary had extended invitations. Lex was afraid they wouldn't get home until midnight if they went to every house.

Amanda stood in the doorway. "Close your eyes."


"Close your eyes. Lorrie wants to make an entrance. On second thought, cover them up." Amanda mimed putting her hands over her eyes. "Come on, hurry up."

"Good grief." Even though she thought it was unnecessary, Lex did as she was told. She heard heavy footsteps come in and stop right in front of her. It was hard to keep from peeking. Lex could hear Amanda speaking to Lorrie quietly, although she couldn't make out her words. She heard Lorrie giggle, which made her even more curious. "Well?"

"Almost," Amanda promised.

More giggles, and what sounded like a small foot stomp. "Now?"

"Otay. Momma, look."

Lex removed her hands. She couldn't believe her eyes. Their daughter stood proudly next to Amanda, who looked extremely smug. "Whoa. And who are you supposed to be?"

Lorrie slapped her own legs in frustration. "You, Momma."

It didn't take a genius to figure out Lorrie's "costume". She wore new jeans, black cowboy boots, a matching belt, and a light blue shirt. On top of her head sat a crisp, new black cowboy hat, and to set the outfit off, a lightweight brown duster. Lex lost her voice for a long moment. She was in total shock. "You look great, kiddo. Where did the coat come from? I know they don't make them that small."

"Martha whipped it up. It's more for show than protection from the cold, but she couldn't resist." Amanda plopped down on Lex's lap and put one arm around her neck. "Cute, isn't she?"

"And then some. Come here, lil' bit." Lex grunted when Lorrie climbed onto Amanda. "I guess I'm furniture now."

Lorrie took off her hat and put it on her momma's head. "Yep. We go play?"

Lex placed the hat back on her daughter's head. At least now she understood why Amanda was so adamant she wear new jeans and her pale blue shirt. "This was a great surprise, sweetheart." She noticed her wife wasn't wearing anything special. "Where's your costume?"

"I'm wearing it."

"And what are you supposed to be? A mom?" Lex tugged at the soft cotton leggings, topped off by one of her old sweatshirts.

"Nope. A pregnant mom." No matter how many times she said it, the word still felt surreal to her. She gave her thanks every day for the gift, and couldn't wait to bring their new child into the world. Amanda jumped when she felt a pinch to her bottom. "Watch it."

"Actually, that's one of my favorite pastimes, watching it." Lex ran her hand over Amanda's rear and squeezed it. "And I'd love to show you how much, but I think we promised a certain little girl she could go harass the town for goodies."

Lorrie bounced on Amanda's lap. "Yay! We go now." She slid off and stood in the middle of the living room floor. When they didn't move, she tried again. "Go." Her lower lip stuck out when her moms ignored her and started kissing each other, instead. "Go, pease?" She considered stomping her new boots on the floor but knew it wouldn't do any good. "Mommy? Momma?"

Amanda turned and looked at mini-Lex. "All right, honey. We'll go." She stood and helped Lex off the couch. She brushed her fingertip across her partner's lips. "And we'll finish this conversation later."

"I'm looking forward to it." Lex followed them out of the room, wondering how long a three year old hopped up on candy would stay awake. Longer than her, she imagined. It was going to be a long night.


Chapter Twenty Four

Things were going smoothly. Amanda was relieved that her morning sickness disappeared. Now in her fourth month, she was feeling much better. Lex also settled down into her usual routine. On the weekend she would take Lorrie for the morning, and the two of them would spend several hours together. It gave Amanda much-needed quiet time. They would stay gone until lunch, then Lorrie would take a nap with Amanda while Lex spent the rest of the day with the hired hands.

Amanda closed the bookkeeping program on the computer screen. When their friend Janna moved back to Wisconsin to take care of her mother, Amanda took over keeping the books for the ranch. Thanks to the program the accountant had made for them, it was a quick and easy job. It only took her an hour a day, then she was free to surf the Web.

One quick click, and she was on the Internet. Amanda opened the folder she had her favorite pages saved in. Another click, and she was on her most-visited site. "This is so cool." The page covered the stages of pregnancy, and how the fetus developed.

She read for well over an hour. When she found a page that was particularly fascinating, she decided to print it and share with Lex. She wasn't the only one interested in the topic. Sometimes, late at night, Amanda would wake, only to find Lex downstairs on the computer.

The printer spit out three pages and stopped. It was out of paper, so Amanda opened the desk drawer to get more. On top of the package was a thick envelope addressed to Charlie from a law enforcement academy in Houston. "What is this doing here?" She was torn between satisfying her curiosity and leaving the packet alone.

Amanda used unbelievable restraint and bypassed the envelope for the printer paper. She finished printing her pages and closed the session. But the bottom desk drawer haunted her. There was no reason Lex should have something of Charlie's in her office. "Maybe it got mixed in with her mail, and she forgot to give it to him." She opened the drawer and stared at the envelope. Her traitorous hands took the packet out of the drawer and placed it on top of the desk. One end was sliced open neatly. Someone had obviously already seen inside. Was it Lex, or Charlie?

Her curiosity got the better of her. Amanda slipped the contents out carefully. The top sheet was a form letter addressed to Charlie at the Sheriff's Department. Amanda's confusion grew when she read the letter. It thanked him for his inquiry, and told of the next testing date for the Academy. "What the hell?" She continued to read then scanned the following pages. There was an application, a long form to fill out for a background check, and a map to the testing facility in Houston. "This isn't for Charlie. He must have gotten it for Lex."

The thought of Lex wanting to do something so life altering, without discussing it with her, hurt Amanda's feelings. She had no idea Lex that wanted to do such a thing. She had never mentioned it. "Why would she keep something like this from me?"

"What's up?" Lex stood in the doorway with Lorrie sitting on her shoulders.

"Hi, Mommy. We rode ‘ossie's." Lorrie bounced as she talked. "We go fast."

Amanda gathered the papers and placed them back in the envelope. "You did?"

"Yep." Lorrie swatted Lex on the top of her head. "Down, pease."

They had been working hard on her manners. She caught on quickly, although there were still times she stubbornly refused. Amanda called them her "momma" moments. Lex didn't find it as amusing.

Lex carefully lifted Lorrie over her head and stood her on the floor. "There you go." She sat on the edge of the desk. "What do you have there?"

"That's what I'd like to know." Amanda turned the packet around so Lex could see it more clearly. "I was looking for printer paper and accidentally ran across this." While Lex picked it up, Amanda helped Lorrie up into her lap. She automatically put a piece of paper and a pencil on the desk. Lorrie began to draw, unaware of the drama unfolding.

"I'd forgotten all about this." Lex tossed the envelope in the box reserved for incoming mail.

Amanda's hurt expression conveyed more than words. She took the papers and placed them back in the desk drawer. "When were you going to tell me about it? After you filled it out and mailed it in?"

"No, of course not. It was just something I talked about with Charlie months ago. He gave it to me right after I got out of the hospital and I put it away. I wasn't hiding it from you." Lex walked around the desk and knelt next to Amanda's chair. She put her hand on her lover's leg. "I would never consider something like that without talking to you." She felt a wave of relief pour over her when Amanda took her hand in her own. "Before you got pregnant, I was going through some sort of mid-life crisis, or something. I honestly thought I couldn't be happy ranching anymore."

Amanda remembered all too well how Lex acted then. She only went through the motions of her daily life and nothing seemed to interest her. Amanda chalked it up to being overworked. The thought of Lex going through that all alone tore at her heart. "Why didn't you talk to me? I would have done anything in the world to help."

Lex lowered her gaze and concentrated on their linked hands. "There wasn't anything you could have done, sweetheart. For the longest time, I had no idea what was wrong. Then when I did know, I was at a loss as to what to do." She raised her head. "And leaving the ranch wasn't an option."

"Why not?"

"I know how much you love it here. I could never take you from all this. I even thought for a while that Lorrie would be better off living in town." Her heart skipped a beat when Amanda took her hand away.

"That would be a mistake. This ranch is her home." Amanda skimmed her fingers through Lex's hair. "And ours. Don't get me wrong. I'll follow you wherever you want to go. But don't think for a minute we're not happy living here."

The touch was soothing, and Lex began to relax. Her eyes closed. "I realize that now."

"Good." Amanda pulled on her hair hard enough to get her attention. "Don't you ever suffer through anything like that alone, got me?"

Lex opened her eyes and was relieved to see understanding and love looking back at her. "Yes, ma'am."

Amanda stood, bringing Lorrie up with her. "It's time for lunch, isn't it?"

"Yep." Lorrie dropped her pencil on the desk. She slid out of Amanda's arms and took off for the kitchen.

Neither of them remembered moving, but soon Lex and Amanda were in each other's arms. Their lips met and they spent a quiet moment reconnecting. They would talk about the packet later.


Later came that same evening. The house was quiet and Lorrie was tucked into bed, sound asleep. Amanda and Lex were snuggled together in bed. Amanda sat against the headboard, with her partner stretched across the bed and her head pillowed in her lap. They hadn't said much to each other, both lost in their own thoughts.

Amanda trailed her fingers through Lex's hair. "What made you think about joining the sheriff's department?" She remembered seeing an application for the department in the packet. "Is it what you always wanted to do?"

"I don't know. I guess when we were out there, looking for those escaped prisoners. It seemed like something different from ranching." Lex closed her eyes and enjoyed the gentle touch. "I was so burned out. This is all I've ever done, and it started getting to me." She stayed silent for so long, Amanda thought she had fallen asleep. "You know, Charlie has been around here for as long as I can remember. He's always been someone I looked up to."

That tidbit of information surprised Amanda. "I had no idea. You've known him all your life, then?"

"Yep. When Dad was off at some rodeo, he'd always come out and take me for rides in his squad car. I'd even get to run the siren, if we were here on the ranch." The memory was one of the few happy ones she had growing up. She hadn't exactly been unhappy on the ranch. But because of the added responsibility of having to handle things when her father was away, she grew up more quickly than other kids her age. Lex had no idea how miserable her existence was until she pulled a complete stranger out of a flooded creek, a few years earlier. "Charlie was more of a father to me than my own. I've always looked up to him."

"Do you think you'd be happy as a deputy?" Amanda was fearful of the answer. She realized ranching was a hard life. But the thought of Lex purposely doing something so dangerous terrified her. Seeing her unhappy was worse. "I think if it's something you want to do, you should."

Lex raised her head. "You do?"

It was one of the hardest things she'd ever said. "Yes." Amanda swallowed her fear. "I want you to be happy, honey. And if working with Charlie will do that, I'm all for it."

"Thank you." Lex put her head back down but kept her eyes on Amanda. "But decided it wasn't for me."


She wasn't certain she could find the right words, but Lex felt Amanda deserved to know. "When I fell into that sinkhole, a lot of things went through my mind. My family, my friends, and the ranch. But the one, most important thing I couldn't stop thinking of, was you. And how, if something happened to me, it would affect you." She used her thumb to brush away a tear that fell from Amanda's eye. "You and Lorrie mean everything to me. I can't knowingly do something that would put my life in jeopardy, and leave you behind." She sat up and rested on one hand so they were eye to eye. "We're a family." Lex put her other hand on Amanda's stomach. "And growing. I promise I'll be here until we're both old and gray."

Amanda couldn't say anything. She pulled Lex to her and began to cry on her shoulder. She knew, in her heart, that everything would be all right. Lex promised, and she never went back on her word.


The horse moved along at an easy gait, its head bobbing with each step. A gentle breeze blew across Lex's neck, drying the perspiration that gathered around her tied-back hair. To her, the quiet surrounding them was peaceful and she could make out several different birds by their song.

"Momma, what's dat?" Lorrie, seated in front of her, pointed to the left.

At least it had been quiet. Lex stopped Mine and squinted in the same direction in an attempt to see what her daughter was talking about. A sudden movement caught her eye. "That's a rabbit."

Lorrie twisted around and stared at her mother. "Ribbit?"

"No, rabbit. Raa-bit."

"Rabbit. Can it pway?"

Lex had to think about the best way to answer her question. "No, lil' bit. It's a wild animal, and we can't play with those. He might hurt you."


Lex had to admit it was a good question. She remembered when she asked her father a question, and he would brush her off with, "because I said so". She vowed if she ever had children, she would do her best to give them the best answer possible. But sometimes, especially lately, Lorrie tended to question everything. The answers were becoming harder to come by. "Uh, well." Lex lowered her voice, so as not to startle the rabbit. "Wild animals aren't used to us, and when they get scared, they only want to get away. Even if they don't mean to they will scratch and bite to be left alone. If we try to catch them we could hurt them. You wouldn't want to hurt it, would you?"

Lorrie scrunched up her face while she thought. "No." She waved as the rabbit disappeared into the brush. "Bye, rabbit. Momma?"


"Is puppies wild?"

Lex couldn't help but chuckle. "Not all of them. Why?"

"Derek has puppies. His mommy says no pway. Why?" Derek was a friend of hers from daycare. He constantly bragged about the litter and he had even brought pictures to show everyone. Lorrie hadn't stopped talking about it.

Oh, boy. Lex wished Amanda was with them. She knew what the next question would be. "They're probably too little to play with. Do you remember the baby horse you saw?" Earlier in the week, one of the mares on the ranch gave birth, and Lorrie had wanted to play with the foal. She had gotten upset when Lex told her it was too young to play.


"Puppies are like that, too. You have to wait until they're old enough before you can play with them."

"Otay." Lorrie was quiet for the next five minutes, until something else came to her. "Momma?"

Lex sighed. "Yes?"

"When can puppies pway?"

There it was. Lex knew that no matter how she answered, the next question could get her into trouble. "You have to wait until their eyes are open good, and they can get around real well."

"Oh. Otay." She was appeased, for the moment, anyway. They had ridden along for another minute or so when something else popped into her head. "Momma?"

Lex was beginning to wish they had found something else to do, other than riding. "Yes?"

"Can I gets a puppy?"

Great. Now what should she say? Lex could only hope Amanda wouldn't kill her for the answer. "I don't know, Lorrie. We'll have to see what your mommy says about it."

"Otay." Lorrie bounced in the saddle. "Momma?"

Her patience was wearing thin, but Lex tried to keep it out of her voice. "Yes?"

"We go fast?" Lorrie had obviously become bored. "Mine wanna goes fast." She rocked forward. "Pease?"

How could she resist such a plea? Lex tightened her hold on Lorrie and urged the horse into a canter. "Hang on, kiddo." They headed back to the house, while Lex silently prayed that Amanda was in a good mood.


"Don't you dare lay this on me!"

Even though she was in the kitchen, Martha cringed as she heard Amanda's voice rise in the den. "I'm sure glad it's not me in there." She started to hum in order to drown out the argument.

"I don't see why it's such a big deal." Jeannie was getting dizzy watching her sister pace back and forth. "You said you'd help."

Amanda glared at her. "Help, yes. Completely plan your wedding in only three weeks? I don't think so."

"But Mandy, I don't want to be as big as a house on my wedding day. Surely you, of all people, can understand that." Jeannie had decided that since her family all lived in Somerville, she would have her wedding here. Her fiancé, Rodney, had agreed.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Amanda put her hands on her hips. "Are you saying I'm fat?" She was extremely self-conscious of her appearance. Even though she only had a slight "baby pooch", she could already tell that her clothes were fitting differently. She spent too much time in the mornings trying to find pants that weren't too tight. Her clueless partner was no help. Lex had rubbed her stomach and mentioned how cute she was, which caused Amanda to burst into tears and lock herself in the bathroom for over an hour.

Jeannie rolled her eyes. "Of course not." She touched her own stomach. "I'm the one who looks like she's going to have twins."

"Mommy!" Lorrie raced into the room and stopped suddenly when she saw Jeannie on the sofa.

Lex followed, her boots thudding as she chased after her daughter. "Lorrie, wait. You can't just—" She practically skidded to a stop. "Hi, Jeannie."

"Hey there yourself, Slim." Jeannie watched the little girl, who hid behind Lex's legs. "She really doesn't like me, does she?"

Amanda held out her arms and Lorrie jumped into them. "How's my girl?" She kissed he little girl's head. "She just doesn't know you very well." Amanda sat on the other end of the couch and Lorrie cuddled closer. When Lex sat on the arm of the sofa, Amanda leaned against her. "Did you two have a good ride?"

"Uh, yeah. About that," Lex ran her fingers through Lorrie's hair. "I think I may have gotten in a little over my head."

No longer upset at her daughter's snub, Jeannie found Lex's words humorous. "What else is new?"

Amanda ignored her sister. "Lorrie, did you and momma have fun?"

"Yep." Lorrie cut her eyes at Jeannie and stuck her thumb in her mouth. The woman scared her. When Jeannie scooted closer, she tucked her face into Amanda's shoulder.

The child's gesture hurt Jeannie's feelings more than she cared to admit. She purposely softened her voice. "Hi there, cutie. Do you remember me?"

Lorrie burrowed deeper and her voice was muffled. "Yep."

"I'm not that scary, am I?" Jeannie lightly touched Lorrie's back. "After all, I am your mo, I mean, aunt." Now, more than ever, she regretted her absence in the child's life. It also made her realize how smart she was, allowing Amanda and Lex to adopt Lorrie. She was obviously very well loved.

Lex could see the sadness cross Jeannie's face. "Any word on Rodney's job search?"

"Actually, he was offered a chance to join another doctor's practice. Now all we'll have to do is find a place to live."

"Which doctor?" Lex wasn't sure if she wanted Lorrie's birth mother living so close by. They had filed all the proper paperwork to make the child legally theirs, but Jeannie's proximity made her nervous.

"Dr. Anderson. He told Roddy his other partner decided to move to Houston."

Lorrie decided the strange lady meant no harm. She turned and curiously stared at her. "Hi."

Jeannie's face glowed. "Hi, sweetie."

Now that Lorrie had relaxed, Amanda wanted to hear more from Lex. "You were trying to say something, earlier?"

"It's not that important. We can talk about it later." Lex hoped Lorrie had forgotten about their previous conversation. Unfortunately, the child had a one-track mind.


Amanda looked into Lorrie's eyes. "What is it, honey?"

"Can I gets a puppy?"

Lex lowered her head. She knew what was coming next, and Amanda didn't disappoint. The tone in her voice reeked of ‘you're so dead'.

"Lex, did you and Lorrie talk about a puppy today?"

"Not exactly. Well, sort of." Lex lifted her face and couldn't decipher her partner's tone. "I mean, we were just riding along, and she saw a rabbit. And then—" Her mouth was covered by Amanda's hand.

"Mommy, we sawed a rabbit." Lorrie saw what Amanda did to Lex and thought it was fun. "Can I help?"

Amanda quickly jerked her hand away and wiped it on Lex's shirt. She should have remembered how Lex would lick her palm to get it off her mouth. "Gross."

Lex smirked. "I thought you liked it when I—" She cut her sentence off when Amanda waggled a finger at her.

"Very funny. Now, explain to me why Lorrie wants a puppy."

"You remember, she's been asking for a while. Ever since she saw those pictures at the daycare." She explained the scenario to Jeannie, who appeared confused. "A friend of hers at the church daycare has new puppies, and he brought pictures to show everyone. Now, all we hear about is how much Lorrie would like one, too."

Lorrie followed the conversation. "Yay! Puppy!"

"Not yet. Why don't you ride your pony for a while?" Amanda allowed her to get down. Lorrie went to her rocking horse and climbed aboard. Now that the little girl had been sidetracked, she went back to Lex. "You were saying?"

Lex rubbed the back of her neck. "Um, well. Like I said, she saw the rabbit and wanted to play with it. I explained how she should leave wild animals alone, and then she changed directions and asked if puppies were wild, too."

Jeannie cracked up. "I would have loved to hear your answer to that one."

"Hey, I did all right." Lex felt a finger tapping her leg. "Oh, right. I told her puppies weren't wild, but couldn't play until they were old enough. Then the little interrogator asked if she could have a puppy. I told her we'd have to ask you, first."

"Gee, thanks." Amanda glanced at Lorrie, who was still riding in a private adventure. "What do you think?"

"I don't know. I was going to ask you."

Amanda shook her head. "You're worse than she is." She turned to Jeannie. "I just got the two of them housebroken. What's your opinion?"

"Don't drag me into this."

"How about," Lex lowered her voice, "we get her a young dog, not a puppy? She'd still have a dog to play with, but it wouldn't be as hard to train."

It sounded good to Amanda. "Okay. But we leave her at home with Martha while we're looking. I don't need to have both of you giving me that pouty face."

"I don't know what you're talking about." Lex gave her the exact look.

Amanda did her best to ignore Lex. It was going to be a long week.

To be continued in part 13


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