Disclaimers – See Part One.
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The figure in the mirror had become unrecognizable to Amanda. She glared at her reflection. The vibrant blue dress fit her form a little too well for her taste. She tugged at the sides in an effort to make it look better. "I look like a blueberry."
Lex tucked in her navy blue dress shirt and buckled her belt. The black slacks she wore was a concession to the special day. She had promised Jeannie she'd "clean up," although she teasingly threatened to wear her old scruffy boots and her usual battered cowboy hat. Her sister-in-law hadn't been amused. She glanced at Amanda. "No, you don't."
"I most certainly do."
Lex fastened the buttons on her cuffs and moved to stand behind her lover at the mirror. She put her arms around Amanda and rested her chin on her shoulder. "You know, now that you mention it, you do remind me of something."
Amanda tensed. "What?" Lex's breath tickled her ear. She fought the urge to brush the maddening lips away. The gentle assault continued as Lex nibbled on her neck. She tapped the top of Lex's head. "Hello? You were saying?"
"Hmm?" It was always fun to tease Amanda, but Lex relented. "You look stunning. Seeing you standing there like that takes my breath away. I don't know how you manage it, but you keep getting more beautiful every day."
Although she didn't believe a word of what her partner said, the sentiment touched Amanda deeply. "You're so sweet." She tangled her fingers in Lex's hair and pulled her closer. "But I thought you said this dress reminded you of something."
"Yep. It sure does." Lex kissed the skin where Amanda's neck met her shoulder. "It reminds me how lucky I am to be married to you, and how thrilled I am that I'll be the one escorting the most beautiful woman to the wedding."
Amanda turned in her arms and gave Lex a heartfelt kiss. "I'm going to have to keep you." A knock on the door kept her from more in-depth exploration. "Someone has rotten timing."
Lex kissed the tip of her nose. "Not really. Another minute like this, and we'd be late for the ceremony."
The door opened and Jeannie came into the room. She noticed the way Lex was wrapped around Amanda. "Don't you two ever get enough?"
"Nope." But Lex loosened her hold and moved a step away from Amanda. "I guess you want some last minute instructions from your sister, huh?" She started to walk around Jeannie, who stopped her with a hand on her arm.
"Actually, I wanted to talk to you both." Jeannie adjusted her dress and sat gingerly on the edge of the bed. She had decided against a traditional wedding dress. Instead, she wore a simple, pale blue silk dress that came to just above her knees. She had a small jewelry box that she kept moving from one hand to the other.
Amanda noticed the gesture. She could tell that Jeannie was nervous about something, and she didn't think it was her impending nuptials. "Are you okay?"
"Yes. I mean, no. I mean, I think so." Jeannie gnawed at her lower lip. This was going to be a touchy subject, and she was still debating on whether it was a good idea or not. Unable to come up with a suitable opening, she wordlessly handed the jewelry box to her sister.
Lex stepped behind Amanda and peered over her shoulder. "What's that?"
"I don't know." Amanda opened the box and saw two gold rings nestled in green satin. "Jeannie?"
"Okay, let me explain." Jeannie stood. "These are mine and Frank's rings. I don't know what you're going to tell Lorrie when she gets older, but I thought—"
Amanda snapped the lid shut. "You thought she might like them?" She handed the box to Lex.
Jeannie lowered her eyes. She knew it had been a stupid idea. Her voice was barely audible. "I know she's your daughter, now. But I only thought she'd like to have something of her father's, when she's older." She was surprised when she felt her sister pull her into an embrace.
"That's an incredibly thoughtful thing to do, Sis." Amanda knew how hard it was for Jeannie to give up that final link to Frank. "Lex and I discussed this when we adopted Lorrie. When she's old enough, we'd like to tell her how brave and selfless her real mom is. And we plan on letting her know who her father is, too."
"I'd like that." Jeannie wiped a tear from her cheek. "I guess I'd better get back out there. Gramma is probably tearing the house up looking for me."
Amanda grasped her hand. "We'll go with you. It's almost time for the ceremony to start." She followed Jeannie out of the room.
Lex studied the velvet-covered box she held. The aching loss was almost as strong today as it had been three years ago. She missed the robust man who had easily befriended her. "Don't worry, Frank. I promise I'll keep a close eye on both your girls." She placed the box into her overnight bag and left the room.
While Amanda rushed to one last bathroom break, Lex was in the kitchen, struggling to keep Lorrie from removing her dress. The pale yellow dress flared out around her knees, due to the lacy petticoats beneath it. The lace itched, and Lorrie wanted no part of it. "Hold still, lil' bit. Your bow came untied." Before she could move her hand away, Lorrie had pulled the bow loose again.
"No!" Lorrie started to swing the ends of the bow around. "Don't want dis."
"I know, but it'll only be for a little while, then you can get back into your play clothes." Lex tied the ribbon and caught the little girl's hands before she could do any more damage. "Lorrie, stop."
Lorrie jerked her hands away. "No!" She stomped her foot for good measure. Her new black patent leather shoes clacked loudly on the tile floor. She pulled at the frilly dress Jeannie had picked out for her. "Momma, dis no good." She shook one foot. "Hurts."
"I know it's not comfortable, sweetheart. You won't have to wear it long, I promise. As soon as the ceremony is finished, we'll go upstairs and change." If Lorrie wasn't going to be in the wedding party, Lex would have dressed her in something more appropriate. As it was, she argued for days about Jeannie's choice of clothing.
Instead of having Lorrie be the flower girl, Jeannie and Rodney decided to keep things simple and have her carry the rings. Lorrie had been very excited about her participation until she saw what she was going to have to wear. Even at three, she was extremely opinionated about her clothes. Amanda swore it was Lex's fault, even though she'd never expressed her views on fashion around their daughter.
Amanda stepped into the room. She wished for a camera when she saw her partner trying to reason with their daughter. "Do you need any help, Momma?"
Lex stood and dusted off the knee of her slacks. "No, I think we have it handled." She took Amanda's hands in hers and kissed her lightly on the lips. "Are you doing okay?"
"I'm fine. But this had better be a short ceremony. Otherwise, I'm afraid I'll embarrass myself by running off to the bathroom, again." Both turned when they heard a mysterious thump. "Lorrie!"
"Dere." Lorrie stepped away from the trash can with a satisfied look on her face. Her feet were bare, and she was on the verge of pulling her dress over her head when Lex interrupted her.
"Lorrie, no." Lex dipped one hand into the trash and grimaced when her hand found the shoes. She pulled them out slowly. Coffee grounds covered the leather. "I can't believe you did that." Something unidentifiable dripped from one of the shoes. "Ugh."
Amanda had to cover her mouth to keep from laughing. The look on Lex's face was priceless. She cleared her throat before speaking. "I don't think those are salvageable."
Lex took them to the sink. "No, really?" She placed the shoes on a paper towel and washed her hands. "Now what are we going to do? She can't go barefoot."
"Oh, I don't know. I think it would be cute." Amanda held up her hand before Lex could say anything. "I'm kidding. What other shoes does she have here?"
"Her boots, and I think a pair of sneakers." Lex exhaled heavily when she heard a happy yelp come from Lorrie. The child was now dancing in place, wearing only her white tights and underwear. The dress was hanging half in, half out, of the trash. "Dammit!"
Amanda grabbed Lex's arm as she walked by. "Honey, wait." She could tell Lex was close to her breaking point. "Since Lorrie's boots are here, I'm assuming her jeans are, too?"
"Yeah. Martha told me she wanted to dress like me this morning, so she wore her cowboy outfit." Now that she was over the original shock, watching Lorrie dance gleefully around the kitchen did seem quite amusing. "Looks like the ring bearer is going to be more casual than everyone else." She kissed Amanda's cheek. "We'll be back down in a few minutes." Lex held out her hand. "Lorrie, come on. Time to get dressed."
They were almost out of the room when Amanda called out to her. "Don't forget her belt and hat. We might as well go all the way."
That got a laugh out of Lex. She couldn't wait to see the look on Jeannie's face when she saw Lorrie. It would serve her right, for trying to make Lorrie wear something so uncomfortable.
Fifteen minutes later, everyone was in their place outside. Lex walked slowly toward the minister, with Amanda's hand tucked in the crook of her arm. In front of them, Lorrie strutted proudly, her western hat bobbing with each step. Her jeans were neatly pressed, and the shirt she wore was a bright yellow. Even her boots gleamed in the early afternoon sunshine.
Lex placed a kiss on Amanda's cheek before bending down to whisper something in Lorrie's ear. She must have been satisfied by her daughter's answer, because she kissed Lorrie on the nose before sitting in the front row.
The murmuring crowd silenced as the string quartet began to play the traditional wedding march. All heads turned to see Michael escort Jeannie toward her future husband, who stood nervously in place. Rodney's face was pale. It took his younger brother, Jared, poking him in the arm to make him blink and attempt to relax.
All was going smoothly until it was time for Lorrie to give up the rings. When the minister held out his hand, she tucked the pillow close to her and shook her head. "No. Mine."
Everyone laughed, but the minister didn't feel like arguing with a three-year-old. "Young lady, you've done a commendable job. Now it's time to relinquish the rings and sit." He reached for the satin pillow where the rings were tied.
"Mine!" Lorrie jumped back.
Rodney waved off Lex, who started to stand. He knelt in front of the little girl. "Hi, Lorrie. Do you remember me?"
She wrinkled her nose and looked at him for a long moment. "Yep." Lorrie gave him a bashful smile. "I likes you."
"I like you, too." He leaned closer and lowered his voice. "Are you ready for this to be over? It's kind of boring, isn't it?"
"Well, if you'll give the nice man the rings, we can finish all this boring stuff, and go have cake."
Lorrie seemed to consider his request. "Otay." She didn't like the minister, so she gave the pillow to Rodney. "Dere."
"Thank you, Lorrie." He stood and handed the rings to the reverend. "I think we're ready to finish this up." Rodney took his place beside Jeannie again. They exchanged vows, and the entire gathering was relieved when the happy couple went down the aisle together.
The milling crowd was a perfect place to hide. Although she didn't think the Ladies Auxiliary Hall was appropriate for the festivities, Elizabeth had no problem blending in with the other people in the room. The circle of women she had joined were all dressed in their Sunday finery and barely gave her a moment's notice. Most of them were her own age and without knowing it, their chatter provided her with a detailed description of the wedding ceremony she missed.
Elizabeth was still seething over the loss of that particular milestone in her daughter's life. Not because she wanted to be there for Jeannie. No, she believed it was her inalienable right as the mother of the bride to be an integral part of the ceremony. I would have done so, anyway, if it had been in a church, like a proper wedding.
One of the women waved her drink around to punctuate her point. "Mind you, I have no problem with having young children having a small part in a wedding. But you think they would give that young one better manners," a particularly snotty woman tsked. "Allowing their daughter to throw such a fit. It's not proper."
The lady next to her rolled her eyes. "Mona Lennon! I thought she was precious. And I don't remember your own grandchildren being very well behaved at that age."
"Hrumph. Mine are angels, compared to that heathen. I mean, seriously, Shirley. What she was wearing was totally inappropriate."
"Get over yourself, Mona. You're just jealous because Lois was the one who did most of the planning. I would think it's the mother's right, being so heavily involved. Lois did a beautiful job."
There was another thorn in her side. Elizabeth was hard-pressed to keep an outraged look off her face. She knew all about Lois. The interloper had snagged her husband away from her. It didn't matter to Elizabeth that they had been divorced for nearly a year before he remarried. Michael was hers, and no court order could change that. She could be silent no more. "She's not the real mother though, is she? Does anyone know why the bride's own mother wasn't present?"
Mona snorted. "That psycho?" She leaned in closer to Elizabeth. "I heard she was locked up in a loony bin, somewhere."
Elizabeth was about to defend herself when she heard a commotion across the room. Rodney was dancing in place to the music, holding a young girl on his shoulders. The child had both hands tangled in his hair, and was chattering happily. She wondered who the little girl was, until she saw her daughter Jeannie pull on her legs. Could that be? Yes, she was the right age. Elizabeth felt a small stirring of pride at how her beautiful her granddaughter had become. Although she would have to talk to Jeannie about how to dress her more becomingly. That western outfit! Disgusting! Jeannie can't be all well if she let her daughter dress like that worthless dirt farmer of Amanda's.
Shirley noticed where Elizabeth's attention had shifted. "Isn't she adorable? I think she looks so much like her mother."
"That she does." Even from her distant vantage point, Elizabeth could see that.
Back in the kitchen, matronly ladies moved about at a frenetic pace, loaded with platters of hors d'oeuvres and ingredients for punch. They bustled about with almost military precision as they prepared refreshments for the guests. Amanda, bored beyond belief, sat in a corner out of the way. She had tried to help with the preparations earlier, only to be directed to a chair by her grandmother. Every time she tried to get up, several of the women had clucked their disapproval, until she surrendered and plopped back into the seat they assigned her.
"Are you all right, dearest?" Anna Leigh noticed the expression on Amanda's face and mistook it for weariness. She sat next to her and in concern, placed a hand on her granddaughter's arm. "Perhaps I should take you home."
Amanda hated feeling so useless. "Please, don't. I'm fine." The baby moved, causing her to groan and stand. "Well, I was. Save my seat, will you? My daughter has made her presence known, and demands attention." She moved slowly through the door, grumbling under her breath. "I'm so sick and tired of racing to the bathroom every five minutes." She caressed her stomach while she waddled to the restroom. "Would you please give your poor mommy a break?" Another shift in her baby's position made her quicken her steps. "Gee, thanks."
In the circle of women, Elizabeth gasped when she saw Amanda's condition. "Oh, my."
Shirley mistook her expression. "Isn't she beautiful? Pregnancy does suit her."
"Yes, it does." Elizabeth felt vindicated. It's obvious I've missed many things in my children's lives recently. Apparently, Amanda has had a change of heart and has dumped that woman and found herself a husband. It's about time. Now she had two daughters she could be proud of.
Another's entrance into the Hall deflated Elizabeth's happiness.
Lex strode into the room purposely, stopping along the way to shake hands with several people before gesturing toward the dance floor. She was almost there when Lorrie spotted her.
"Momma!" Lorrie squirmed until Rodney helped her to the floor. She ran to Lex and held out her arms.
"Hello there, lil' bit. Have you been good?" Lex scooped her up and swung her around, as her daughter squealed her delight.
Elizabeth had heard enough. She pushed through the crowd until she was close enough to the pair to be seen. "Put my granddaughter down immediately, you bitch!"
Lex almost dropped Lorrie, but regained her equilibrium quickly. "Watch your language around my daughter, Elizabeth. What are you doing here?"
"Protecting what's mine." Elizabeth moved closer. "Now hand her to me." A curious crowd began to form around them.
Amanda had heard the clamor when she came out of the bathroom. In moments, she was at Lex's side. "Mother? What are you doing here?"
Elizabeth spun around. "Please don't worry yourself, dear. I'm only trying to remove this unwelcome visitor before she causes a scene."
Jeannie and Rodney were soon flanking Lex and Amanda. Jeannie had told him more than he cared to know about this woman. During her rehabilitation, she had told him how Elizabeth had disowned her when she became incapacitated, and about her mother's unhealthy obsession with Amanda. "Mrs. Cauble, perhaps you should leave."
"I'm not going anywhere until this is resolved. How can you stand here while she puts her perverted hands on my granddaughter?"
Lex took a step back before passing Lorrie over to Rodney. She wanted her hands free in case Elizabeth did something rash. "As you can see, you're not welcome here. Get out before I have the pleasure of throwing you out."
"You wouldn't dare!" Elizabeth looked at Amanda. "Surely you're not going to stand there and let her speak to me that way?"
Amanda entwined her arm with Lex's. "I am. And if I wasn't in this condition, I'd help her. Go home. This is a family event, and you're not welcome."
Elizabeth turned to Jeannie. "Is that true? Don't you want your own mother here?"
"You haven't been my mother for years, Elizabeth." Jeannie put her arm around her sister in a show of support. "Please leave."
Lorrie didn't understand what was going on. She wriggled in Rodney's grasp until he had no choice but to let her down. Frightened over the adult's angry voices, she stood behind Lex and wrapped her arms around her leg. "Momma?" She pointed to Elizabeth. "Who's 'dat?"
It suddenly dawned on Elizabeth what Lorrie said. "Momma? That's impossible."
Michael quickly joined the group. He took Elizabeth's arm in a firm grasp. "Let's go, Elizabeth. You have no right to be here."
She jerked ineffectually at his hold. "Release me at once. I have every right. This is my family."
The excitement was becoming too much for Amanda. Her heart was pounding and she could feel the pressure building in her head. She swayed and would have fallen if not for the grip she had on Lex. "You don't have a family. Please don't ruin this day for Jeannie." She faltered and was thankful for Lex's support.
"Sweetheart?" Lex forgot all about Elizabeth when she felt Amanda sag against her. Although she wanted nothing more than to throw her mother-in-law out of the building, her wife was her first concern. "Let me take you home." Without another thought, she turned her back on Elizabeth and carefully led Amanda away from the excitement.
Lorrie, who had started to follow her parents, glared at Elizabeth. She pointed a bold finger in the agitated woman's direction. "Bad." Then, afraid she'd be left behind, she quickened her pace and grabbed hold of Lex's pants leg.
Michael waited until they were out of earshot. He pulled Elizabeth in the opposite direction, toward the back door. "Let's go. You've caused enough trouble for one day."
"Let me go, this instant! You can't treat me this way." Elizabeth's voice continued to rise as they left the building. "This isn't over, not by a long shot."
Jeannie watched them leave. She could feel the room's attention centered on the drama that played itself out. "Well, wasn't that exciting? Come on, everyone. Let's dance." She took Rodney's hand and led him back to the dance floor, earnestly hoping her sister was all right.
The weeks following the wedding were uneventful. Lex spent most of her time close to the ranch house, concerned about Amanda. Her partner had been uncharacteristically quiet after the wedding, even though Elizabeth had made herself scarce.
At the moment, Lex was searching for her missing daughter. Lorrie's disappearance was all her fault. She had gone inside the house earlier, and forgotten to make certain the latch closed on the back door. When she returned downstairs, the back door was wide open, and Lorrie was nowhere in sight. Lex had to find her before Amanda woke from her nap. She had Martha checking the house for the missing tot.
Lex stepped inside the horse barn. Nothing seemed out of place. "Lorrie?" She didn't think her daughter was strong enough to open the door, but she wanted to make sure. "Lorrie? Are you in here?"
She checked every stall, but there was no sign of her. A quick check of the tack room door showed it was locked. Lex headed through the back and toward the hay barn.
The side door to the barn was partially open, and Lex took that as a positive sign. There wasn't much inside that could hurt a small child, thankfully. The sweet smell of hay tickled Lex's nose as she crossed the threshold. "Lorrie!" A far off rustle alerted her to the child's presence. "Come on out, kiddo."
High pitched giggling was the only answer.
Lex moved deeper into the barn. The hay muted the sounds, so it was impossible to tell where Lorrie was hiding. "Lorrie, I'm not playing around. Where are you?"
Soft footfalls above surprised her. There was only one way to get upstairs, and that was by ladder. With her heart pounding, Lex jogged to the ladder and climbed as quickly as she could. As she reached the top, she saw a blur duck behind a bale of hay. "Lorrie! Stop running around." Lex hoisted herself up and went to where her daughter was hiding. Just as she reached the bale, Lorrie laughed and took off running again. "Damn it! Lorrie, get back here."
"Get me, Momma." Lorrie giggled and ran toward the ladder.
"Wait!" Lex chased after her. The twelve foot drop to the barn floor was getting too close.
Lorrie continued to run. It was fun being chased by her momma. She turned and saw Lex getting closer. "Yay! Get me!" She didn't notice how close to the edge she had become.
"No!" Lex dove toward Lorrie, stretched out as far as she could reach. She was just barely able to get her fingers around a tiny arm, as Lorrie tumbled from the loft.
"Momma!" Lorrie squealed in pain and surprise. She swung through the air, crying. "Momma!"
Lex slowly lifted Lorrie back into the loft. "It's okay, sweetheart. You're safe." She pulled the screaming child into her arms. "Sssh."
Lorrie's cries grew in intensity. "Momma, hurts!"
"Let me see." Lex noticed the discoloration on Lorrie's lower arm, where she had grabbed her. "I'm so sorry, baby." She touched Lorrie's elbow, which sent the little girl into renewed screams. After a closer look, it was obvious that something was wrong. "Damn." As carefully as possible, Lex tucked Lorrie against her chest and slowly made her way down the ladder.
The emergency room doctor wrote in the chart before closing it. His dark eyes blinked behind the wire rim glasses he wore. "It's actually a very common injury among children, Ms. Walters." He had seen dozens of cases of "nursemaid's elbow", where the child's elbow becomes dislocated. It was a quick fix to pop the joint back into place. "She'll be good as new in a day or so."
Once her arm had been taken care of, the sudden relief of pain mixed with the mild sedative caused Lorrie to fall asleep. She lay peacefully snuggled against Lex, who rocked her gently. "Will she have any problems with the arm when she's older?"
"Probably not. At her age, the joint is mainly cartilage, so there should be no lingering effects." He showed her out of the examination room. "She'll have forgotten about it long before you do."
"You've got that right." Lex adjusted Lorrie in her arms and held out her hand. "Thank you." After shaking his hand, she maneuvered her way through the people milling in the hall and was met by Martha.
"Everything okay?" Martha brushed her hand lightly over Lorrie's hair. "Poor little tyke looks tuckered out."
Lex blinked back her tears. Now that the emergency was over, the shock of what could have happened to Lorrie hit her. "Yeah." She kissed her daughter's hair. "Thanks for driving us in."
"That's my job." Martha knew the look. She held out her hands. "Why don't you let me take her, so you can give Amanda a call?" It had taken all Martha's considerable negotiation skills to keep Amanda at home, instead of coming to the emergency room. Only the promise of a phone call immediately after seeing the doctor appeased her.
"Good idea." Lex was loath to give up her daughter, but it would have been too hard to juggle Lorrie and talk on the phone at the same time. She reluctantly passed the sleeping child to Martha. "I'll be right back."
Since she had left her cell phone at home, Lex headed for the bank of payphones close to the waiting room. She fished changed out of her pocket and placed the call. Amanda answered on the first ring. "She's fine."
"Was it broken?" Amanda was still peeved she was stuck at home. "Are they putting it in a cast?"
Lex turned so she could watch Martha with Lorrie. "No. He called it 'nursemaid's elbow,' and said it was pretty common. I did it to her when I grabbed her arm." The knowledge of being the one to cause Lorrie pain made Lex feel physically ill. "It's all my fault."
"Lex, you can't think that way. If it hadn't been for you, she could have fallen out of the loft."
"Yeah, right. And if I'd made sure the damned door was closed right, she wouldn't have gotten out at all." Lex slammed her hand against the wall in disgust. "Listen. I've got some paperwork to finish, and then we'll be on our way home. Is there anything I can get you?"
"Just the two of you. Hurry home."
After promising to return as soon as possible, Lex went back to relieve Martha of Lorrie. She held her daughter carefully, although Lorrie never stirred. "You ready to get out of here?"
"Sounds good." Martha placed a steadying arm around them as they left the emergency room. Neither noticed the woman who had just walked in.
Elizabeth Cauble was surprised to see the trio, and was extremely curious as to why they had been there. She had come into the hospital to get a physician's referral. As a condition of her release, Elizabeth had to keep in touch with a psychiatrist at least once a month. Since she planned on being in Somerville for a while, she needed to get the name of a local doctor. There was no way she'd go back to the "hospital" they'd lock her away in for over two years. She hurried to the admitting station. "Excuse me, but I'm looking for my granddaughter. She was brought in a short time ago."
The nurse raised her head. Her nametag identified her as Kelly. "What's her name, ma'am?"
"I think it was my daughter-in-law that brought her in. Lexington Walters?" Elizabeth had no idea what last name Lorrie would be listed under. Rivers? Cauble? There were too many variables.
"Oh yes." Kelly's fingers tapped quickly on the computer keys. "I'm sorry, they've already checked out. You must have just missed them."
In an acting performance that would have made the Academy proud, Elizabeth put a shaky hand to her mouth. "Oh, dear. And I promised I would be here."
Kelly nodded sympathetically. "That's all right, ma'am. According to the records, she only had a minor elbow dislocation. She'll be fine. Maybe if you hurry, you can catch them before they leave."
Elizabeth fought to keep the satisfied look from her face. "I'll do that, thank you." She tapped the counter with a red-tipped finger and strolled from the emergency room, her earlier quest forgotten.
It was the most annoying feeling in the world, causing Amanda to open her eyes and grimace. Half-asleep, she rolled out of bed and staggered to the bathroom. She hated these middle of the night excursions. It seemed she had just gotten to sleep, when the baby pressed against her bladder and made her get up again.
Blissful moments later, Amanda staggered into the bedroom and climbed into bed. She then realized the other side of the bed was empty, and by the coolness of the sheets, had been for some time. "Dammit, Lex." After a heaving grunt, she got out of bed again and stepped into the hall.
Muted light spilled from Lorrie's bedroom. The nightlight gave up just enough illumination so Amanda could see her partner's form slouched in the corner rocking chair. She stepped quietly into the room until she was next to the chair. With the lightest of touches, she stroked Lex's face.
Lex jerked awake. "What's wrong?" She looked around the room, her vision lingering on a peacefully sleeping Lorrie.
"Nothing's wrong. I woke up and you weren't there." Amanda didn't bother to struggle when Lex pulled her onto her lap. It wouldn't have done any good. So she sat and enjoyed the feeling of her partner's arms around her. "I'm going to squish you."
"Yeah, right." Lex kissed Amanda's neck. "What are you doing up?"
Amanda was too busy luxuriating in the feelings Lex's touch brought. She tilted her head back and closed her eyes. "Did you say something?"
Lex's hands moved to rest against Amanda's stomach. "Junior wouldn't let you sleep, huh?"
"No. She seems to think it's fun to dance on my bladder at two in the morning. Stop trying to change the subject. What are you doing in here? Did Lorrie have a bad dream? She looks like she's sleeping fine, to me."
"She is. I came in to check on her, and I guess I fell asleep." Lex tried to fight off a yawn but failed.
Amanda grabbed one of Lex's hands and stood. "Come on. You'll sleep a lot better in our bed, and so will I." With a tug, she brought Lex to her feet and pulled her from the room.
Once they were both comfortably settled in bed, Amanda could tell that Lex was troubled by something. "Want to talk about it?"
Flat on her back with her hands behind her head, Lex stared at the ceiling. "About what?"
"You've been brooding since you got home this afternoon."
"No, I haven't."
Amanda yanked Lex's hair. "Have too."
"Have too." Amanda chuckled. "I think we've spent too much time with our daughter. We're beginning to sound like her."
Lex couldn't help herself. "Are not." She laughed when her arm was swatted. "Hey!"
"You're a brat." But Amanda relented and instead wriggled until she was lying as close as she could. "Are you still upset about what happened today?"
"Yeah." Lex rolled onto her side and propped her head up on her hand. "She could have been seriously hurt, or worse, today. If I hadn't caught her—"
"But you did. And she's going to be fine." Amanda took Lex's free hand and laid it on her stomach. "I was scared to death, and I wasn't even there when it happened." The baby kicked. "You're a great momma, Lex. Our kids are probably going to turn us gray before our time, but I won't regret a minute, as long as you're here with me."
With a heavy sigh, Lex lay down on her stomach, but didn't lose touch with Amanda. "I love you."
"I love you, too." Amanda lifted the covers and tucked them around her wife and settled down for the rest of the night.
Hubert tossed another box into the trunk of his rental car. He couldn't believe how lucky he'd been. His sister hadn't bothered him for weeks, and he was sure she had forgotten all about their arrangement. But he knew his luck wouldn't hold. It never did, where she was concerned. The woman was relentless in finding new ways to harass him. He went into the house and looked through each room. Other than the broken down furniture, the only thing he was leaving behind were piles of trash. "Don't say I never gave you nothing, Lex."
He slammed the front door behind him and didn't bother to lock it. He didn't care what happened to the house. Not anymore. Hubert was in debt up to his neck, and the two mortgages he had on the house guaranteed that he'd never break free. It was definitely time for a change of scenery. He climbed into the car then took an envelope out of his interior jacket pocket. It was addressed to his sister, and inside was a note thanking her for taking the old house off his hands.
It hadn't been hard to get a fake driver's license for one of his old girlfriends from Austin, who he'd sweet-talked into passing for Lex. When it was time for the mortgage closing, she flashed her fake idea and forged Lex's signature on the loan papers. There was no other way he could have gotten a loan. The local banks were on to him, but the mortgage companies that advertise on the Internet had no idea they were dealing with an unscrupulous deadbeat. However, "Lex's" credit was stellar and the mortgage companies were more than happy to accept her as his "cosigner".
He kissed the envelope. Revenge was so sweet. "Thanks, Sis. Not only have you paid off my legal debts, you get to pay off my mortgage, too. That should set you back some, bitch." He chuckled and dropped the key in before sealing it closed. A quick run by the post office on his way out of town, and he'd leave this sorry town behind him for good. Things were finally looking up for him.
To Elizabeth's eyes, the small, albeit neatly kept house was not much larger than a cracker box. She found it hard to believe anyone lived in such squalor, especially her ex-husband, Michael. After seeing what Somerville had to offer, she knew he'd have to lower his standards. But the address she found in the telephone directory appeared even beneath him. "I wouldn't allow a dog to live in this dump." She stepped from her leased car and strode primly up the walk. After a tug on her glove, Elizabeth rang the doorbell.
The door opened, and a surprised Lois stood silently with her mouth hanging open slightly.
Elizabeth tucked her handbag beneath one arm. "Well? Aren't you going to invite me inside?"
Lois frowned before she stepped back. "I suppose so." Her ingrained good manners took the most inopportune times to slip out. She led her uninvited guest to the living room. "Can I get you something to drink?"
"Tea would be nice." Elizabeth perched daintily on the edge of a wing-backed chair. "Thank you." She gave her hostess a civil smile.
"Of course." Lois left the room, more confused than ever. She hurriedly put the tea service together and brought it back into the living room. There was no way she trusted Elizabeth Cauble any further than she could throw her, and was loathe to leave her unsupervised in her home. Once the tea had been poured, she took her own place on a floral patterned sofa. "This is an unexpected surprise. What brings you by?"
Elizabeth took a sip of her tea and nodded her appreciation. The woman was a hick, but she could at least make decent tea. "This is purely a social call. I thought since I would be settling down here in Somerville to be closer to my family, you and I should get to know each other better."
Tea almost went through Lois' nose, and she coughed and sputtered for over a minute. "You're not saying you want to be friends, are you?"
"Heavens, no. But since we have our family in common, it is practical, don't you think?"
"Uh, well. I'm not sure." Lois was not prepared for a reasonable Elizabeth, although what she said did make sense.
With a slight clatter, Elizabeth placed her cup and saucer on the coffee table that was between them. "I've realized, belated I'm afraid, that I've allowed my family to slip away from me. I miss my daughters, and I'm hoping it's not too late to reconnect with them." She sniffled and removed a lace handkerchief from her purse, dabbing at her eyes. "I want to be more involved with my grandchildren. Is that so wrong?"
"Of course not."
Elizabeth continued on, as if she hadn't heard Lois' reply. "I feel like such a failure. When I found out that little Lorraine had been taken to the hospital, I was beside myself with worry."
Lois scooted forward and patted Elizabeth awkwardly on the knee. "There, there. Everything turned out fine. I think Lex took it harder than Lorrie did."
"But her poor little arm." Elizabeth hid her face with her hand, as if to disguise her tears.
"Well, I happen to think it could have been so much worse. And Lex certainly didn't mean to dislocate her arm."
The front door opened, and they were interrupted by Michael's accusing voice. "Elizabeth? What the hell are you doing in our house?" He stormed over to where his ex-wife sat and reached for her arm.
"Michael, wait." Lois stood and stopped him. "It's not what you think."
"I seriously doubt that." He shook off Lois' touch and yanked Elizabeth to her feet. "I don't know what scheme you've cooked up this time, but you leave Lois out of it."
Elizabeth staggered helplessly against his grip. "Please, Michael. I only—"
"Shut up. I'm not going to fall for any of your games." He opened the door and shoved her out onto the steps. "Stay away from my family, Elizabeth. Your bullshit isn't going to work around here, anymore." Not waiting for her to respond, Michael slammed the door closed.
After one last look at the door, Elizabeth straightened her jacket and readjusted her gloves. "We'll see about that, Michael. I haven't even gotten started, yet." She picked up her dignity and left as regally as she came.
Once in her car, she made another decision. "Perhaps I've gone about this all wrong." She started the vehicle and drove across town, another idea blooming. It took her less than ten minutes to find her goal. Another house, even smaller than the previous one, appeared neglected and uninhabited. Had she not followed Jeannie earlier in the week, Elizabeth would have thought she had the wrong address. The driveway was empty, but she could see lights on inside. With a satisfied smile, Elizabeth climbed out of her car and headed up the walk.
Jeannie lightly rubbed her son's back. He had been fussing ever since her mother arrived, and she couldn't help but wonder if he could sense something was wrong. "Mother, please. You don't know what you're talking about."
"And you do? Jeanne Louise, you're the one who gave her baby away. I don't think you should have an opinion, one way or another. What ever made you do such a thing?"
"I had no choice!" When her son began to cry, Jeannie lowered her voice. "I had just lost my husband, and I couldn't do anything for myself. Lex and Amanda were there for me when you weren't."
Elizabeth took a deep breath and released it slowly. "I wasn't given a chance. That woman has poisoned my whole family against me. Because of her—"
Jeannie quickly cut her off in mid-tirade. "Because of Lex, Amanda is happier than she's ever been. Lorrie is thriving, and I couldn't ask for a better person to raise her." Another quick dig popped out of her mouth before she could stop it. "And, if anything happens to me and Rodney, we've made arrangements for them to take care of Teddy, too."
"What?" Elizabeth jumped to her feet, her purse hitting the floor with a load thump. "Have you lost your mind? That pervert has no right to be near my grandchildren!" She took several steps toward Jeannie, who stood and tucked her son even closer to her chest.
"That's enough, Mother."
"No, I don't think so. You have no right to make any kind of decisions, where my grandchildren are concerned. I should take them both and raise them properly." Elizabeth held out her hands. "Give him to me. You obviously can't be trusted."
Jeannie turned away slightly, to keep Teddy away from her mother. "Get out of my house." When her mother came closer, Jeannie reached for the telephone. "Don't make me call the police."
"You wouldn't dare."
It was obvious that Elizabeth wasn't going to get her way. She picked up her handbag and stiffened her spine proudly. "There's no need to be nasty, Jeanne Louise. I was only trying to help you. It's quite apparent you have no intention of listening to reason. Perhaps I've wasted my time."
"That's the first thing you've gotten right today." Jeannie strode purposely toward the front door and opened it. "Please don't come back, Mother. I have nothing else to say to you."
Elizabeth breezed by Jeannie, her head held high. "We'll just see about that." She sniffed haughtily as she left the house, never looking back.
The discussion had been going on for over an hour, and yet nothing had been resolved. Lex and Amanda were alone in the kitchen, since Lorrie was spending the day with Martha at the cottage. Lex had been unsuccessful in getting Amanda to regain her composure. The phone call from Jeannie, telling them about Elizabeth's visit, had sent Amanda into a rage, which turned into tears soon after. She sat at the table with her head resting on her arms. Nothing Lex said could allay Amanda's fears.
"Sweetheart, please. You need to calm down." Lex touched Amanda's back in an effort to comfort her.
Amanda raised her head and glared at her. "Don't tell me what I need to do. You obviously aren't taking this very seriously." She stood as quickly as her bulky body would allow and left the room in a huff.
"Damn." Lex followed her to the den, where she saw Amanda staring out the front window. "Hey."
Not bothering to turn around, Amanda continued to look across the front lawn, not really seeing anything. "How do we know she's not up to something?"
Lex walked up behind her and put her hands on Amanda's shoulders. "I'm not going to let her near you, I promise."
"You can't stop her." Amanda rested her cheek on one of Lex's hands. She felt defeated, as if nothing they did would matter. "No one can. She's been able to get away with whatever she wants to, and we haven't been able to do a damned thing."
There weren't any words Lex could find to refute that statement. Instead, she stepped closer and put her arms around Amanda. They stood quietly for several minutes, until the phone rang. Lex kissed Amanda's cheek. "Guess I'd better get that."
"Don't." Amanda nestled against her. It was the only place she felt safe. "Please, just hold me."
"I'll never stop," Lex whispered in her ear. She rocked Amanda in her arms, determined to keep Elizabeth away from her family, no matter what it took.
To be continued in Part 17
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