To Hold Forever
By Carrie Carr
Disclaimers – See Part One.
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For over two weeks, everyone in the family had made it a point to stay vigilant, as far as Elizabeth was concerned. Charlie also had his deputies keep an eye on her while they were out on their rounds, but she went about her business as if nothing was wrong. As much as he hated to do so, he finally had to call them off and put them back on regular duty.
He sat in his office, reading over the latest reports from his men. The woman was maddening. She knew she was being watched, but didn’t seem to be bothered by it. In fact, Elizabeth made it a point to wave or speak to whichever officer came upon her. Charlie closed the folder and threw it across his desk. “Damned woman!”
“Everything okay, boss?” Jeremy came in and sat in the chair across from Charlie. He’d been the one who headed up the detail to watch Elizabeth, and knew how aggravating she could be.
“No, not really.” Charlie scratched his head. “Are you absolutely positive she hasn’t done anything wrong? Jaywalked, littered, picked her nose in public?” When he had first become sheriff, Charlie was amazed at the inane laws that were still on the books. Picking your nose in public was one of his favorites, as was the law that forbade anyone to serve a drink to a horse in a saloon. On Sunday.
Jeremy laughed at the mental picture of Elizabeth Cauble being caught for something so ridiculous. “No, I’m afraid not. And, believe me, we watched her for any infraction.”
“I know. Thanks, Jeremy.” Charlie leaned back in his chair and rested his hands across his stomach. “I’m getting too old for this crap. You know, you’d make a great sheriff.”
“Uh-uh. I’m perfectly happy letting you get all the glory.” Although he did aspire to go higher in the department, Jeremy was in no hurry to see Charlie leave.
With a heavy sigh, the sheriff scooted his chair away from his desk and stood. He was feeling too old. Maybe it was time to retire, while he could still enjoy his family. “You might want to reconsider. I’d be glad to put in a good word for you with the city council.”
“You’re not serious?”
“Damn right I am.” Charlie took his hat from the hook near the door and placed it on his head. “Hold down the fort. I’m going to take a quick drive around and then head on home.”
Jeremy stood. “No problem, Charlie. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He watched the sheriff leave, thinking about their brief conversation.
Amanda was comfortably ensconced on the sofa in the den, watching a television program Lex had recorded for her earlier. Several loud thumps overhead caused her to close her eyes and grumble. Lorrie had been rambunctious all day. It was the biggest reason she was now upstairs, playing with Freckles.
Another heavy thump, and then a high-pitched squeal, made Amanda regret sending Lex to Martha’s after lunch. She had been hovering nearby for the last couple of weeks, and Amanda finally got to her breaking point. When Martha decided it was time to clean out her kitchen cabinets, Amanda didn’t have to think twice about volunteering Lex to help.
Freckles’ barking caused Amanda to close her eyes and count to twenty. It didn’t help. The sudden silence from upstairs worried her. She was about to get up to check on them when she heard careful footsteps coming down the stairs.
Five minutes later, Lorrie and Freckles burst into the room. “Mommy, look. Fleckles is funny.”
The happy dog bounced to where Amanda sat and jumped on the couch next to her. She reeked of Lex’s cologne, and was wearing what appeared to be a necklace.
“Lorrie, what is Freckles wearing?” Amanda tried to catch her, but the dog bounded out of reach.
“She gots pretty.” Lorrie came around the sofa. “Smells pretty, too.”
Even though Amanda had always loved the perfume Lex wore, having it reek from their dog was almost more than she could handle. There was no way she’d be able to give Freckles a much-needed bath without help. She picked up the cordless phone and hit the speed dial for Martha’s house. “Martha, is Lex real busy?”
“No, honey. We’re finished. I’ve been keeping her over here to give you some peace. Is everything all right?”
“Not exactly. Lorrie covered Freckles in Lex’s cologne, and I need her to come home and give her a bath. Obsession and dog do not go together, believe me.” Amanda rubbed her nose in a feeble attempt to relieve her sinuses.
The humor in the situation didn’t escape Martha, who covered the mouthpiece with her hand and spoke to Lex. Before she could finish her sentence, the sound of her front door slamming could be made out. “She’s on her way.”
“So I gathered.” Amanda heard their back door open and close. Her wife apparently ran the entire way. “She’s here. Thanks, Martha.”
Freckles heard Lex come in the house, and jumped from the sofa to race from the room. Lorrie was fast on her heels. “Fleckles, wait for me.” In her excitement to greet her momma, Lorrie accidentally ran into an end table and knocked the lamp off onto the floor. The glass base broke, causing bits of glass to go everywhere. “Mommy!”
Lex ran the rest of the way down the hall until she was in the living room. “Lorrie, stay still.” She scooped up Freckles, tucked her under one arm, and walked cautiously to where her daughter stood. Squatting carefully, Lex opened her free arm and waited for Lorrie to climb into her arms. She stood slowly, carried Freckles to the office, and closed the door. Then she took Lorrie to the couch where Amanda sat. “Stay here with Mommy, while I clean up the broken glass.”
“Otay.” Lorrie snuggled against Amanda. Breaking the lamp had scared her and made her long for the safety of her mother’s arms.
It didn’t take long for Lex to clean up the mess. Giving Freckles a bath, though, was a more difficult chore. Not because the dog didn’t want to get wet, but because she thought it was playtime as soon as her feet hit the water. By the time Freckles was clean, Lex’s shirt and jeans were completely drenched. She went upstairs, changed her clothes, then joined her family in the den.
Lorrie was lying beside Amanda, sound asleep. Lex sat on the floor in front of them and rested her head against Amanda’s legs. “Freckles is clean, finally. I left her in our room, until she’s completely dry.”
“Good.” Amanda ran her fingers through Lex’s hair. The motion relaxed them both. “I’m sorry I was so grumpy this morning.”
“You have nothing to apologize for. I know I’ve been a little over-protective lately.” Lex closed her eyes as Amanda’s fingers began a deep scalp massage. “Damn, that feels good.”
They sat quietly for several minutes, both enjoying the peace. Finally, Lex turned slightly and removed Amanda’s slippers. She began to rub her feet, smiling at the low moans of pleasure from her lover. “I was thinking.”
“Mmm?” At the moment, Amanda would have agreed to anything, as long as the massage continued.
“Why don’t I take Lorrie to daycare tomorrow? Give you a chance to kick back and take it easy.”
“That’s all I do now, is take it easy. I’m not allowed to do a damned thing.” Amanda stretched her legs out as Lex’s hands began to caress her calves. “Oh, yeah. I’ll give you exactly ten years to quit doing that.”
Lex raised her head and winked. “If you’ll go upstairs, I’ll do even better than that.”
“I’m not.” Lex stood and hefted Lorrie into her arms. “I’ll put this one down for her nap, then I’ll give you an even better massage.” She left the room, smiling as she heard Amanda following close behind.
The next day, Elizabeth left the motel where she was staying and decided to drive around for a while to become more familiar with the town. She’d spent the last couple of weeks keeping a low profile, although it had been fun to tease the local law enforcement. She was parked at a light when she recognized the large, green truck which lumbered by. “What is that woman doing? I thought for certain she would be at her ranch at this time of day.” Her curiosity getting the best of her, Elizabeth turned at the light and followed at a discreet distance.
It wasn’t hard to keep Lex in sight. Even in a town as rural as Somerville, where every other vehicle was a truck, Lex’s was easy to spot. When she parked in the lot of the Methodist church, Elizabeth couldn’t have been more surprised. She watched as Lex took Lorrie inside. It was only then she noticed the sign, which told of the daycare facilities at the church. “I see.”
After a few minutes, Lex returned, alone. She got into her truck and left, never noticing Elizabeth’s car parked close by.
Elizabeth tapped the steering wheel as she considered her options. An idea came to her, so simple she didn’t know why she hadn’t thought of it before. A quick shopping trip was in order. She had things to do, and plans to make.
Barely two hours later, Elizabeth parked her car as close to the church entrance as possible. She quickly went inside and smiled at the heavyset young woman sitting behind the desk. “Good afternoon.”
The woman looked up from the magazine she was reading and pursed her lips. “Yes? May I help you?”
“Of course.” Elizabeth removed a paper from her purse and handed it to the woman, whose nametag showed her name was Katie. “My name is Elizabeth Cauble. I’m Lorrie’s grandmother.”
Katie took the folded sheet of paper and looked it over. “Lorrie?” She’d only been at the church for a week, and had no idea which child Elizabeth was talking about. “Oh. Lorrie Walters.”
Walters? Dear Lord, how dare they change my granddaughter’s name! Well, that’ll change soon enough. “Yes, right. Something has come up, and they’ve asked me to take little Lorrie to her doctor’s appointment this afternoon. I’m sure the note speaks for itself.”
“I suppose.” Katie pushed her glasses up on her nose and read the paper again, this time more carefully. “I’ll have to see some identification, just to be safe.”
“Oh, I understand completely. I wouldn’t expect anything less, as far as my granddaughter’s safety is concerned.” Elizabeth removed her wallet from her purse and showed her driver’s license to Katie.
After assuring herself that Elizabeth was who she claimed to be, Katie stood. “If you’ll wait right here, I’ll go get her.”
Elizabeth couldn’t keep a smile of triumph from her face. “You do that.” She crossed her arms and waiting impatiently, until Katie returned, with Lorrie in tow. “There’s my girl.”
Lorrie took one look at Elizabeth and balked. “No! Bad!”
“No, dear. It will be fine.” Elizabeth reached for Lorrie, but Katie held back.
“I don’t think she wants to go with you.” Katie wasn’t so certain letting Elizabeth take the child was such a good idea. “Maybe I should call her mother, just to make sure.”
Elizabeth took another step forward. “You can, if you like. But my granddaughter is only throwing a tantrum because she doesn’t like to go to the doctor, and I’m usually the one who takes her. She’ll be fine.” She took Lorrie by the arm. “Come along, Lorrie. We have an appointment to keep.”
“No!” Lorrie tried to squirm out of her grasp. “Don’t wanna.”
“See here, young lady. I won’t tolerate that sort of behavior.” Elizabeth jerked her forward. “Let’s go.”
“Mrs. Cauble, wait.” Katie picked up the phone. “Let me call Ms. Walters. I’m sure she can calm her daughter.”
“No, don’t! You can’t reach her right now.” Elizabeth struggled to come up with something. “She’s in a very important meeting at the moment. That’s the reason I have to take my granddaughter.” She pulled Lorrie closer to the door. “Trust me, this happens a lot. Once we’re in the car, she’ll settle down.”
Katie shrugged her shoulders. It’s not like she got paid much for this job. Certainly not enough to go to so much trouble. And if the girl’s mother was in a meeting, she didn’t want to be the one to disturb her. “Well, all right.” She knelt by Lorrie. “You be a good girl for your grandmother.”
“No!” Lorrie struggled to break free.
Elizabeth practically dragged her from the church. “Behave. I’ll most definitely have to teach you better manners.”
Lorrie continued to scream and balk as she was taken to the car. “I want momma!”
“Too bad. You’ll do much better with me.” Elizabeth buckled her into the car seat she had purchased earlier. “Once we’re at the motel, we’ll see about getting the next flight to California. Private school will do you a world of good.” She started the car and left the parking lot, pleased with her plans.
Inside the church, worried about her decision, Katie watched through the front door. She became even more concerned when she saw how Elizabeth struggled to get Lorrie into the car.
“What’s going on?” Another woman came into the office and stood next to Katie.
“I think I may have screwed up,” Katie confessed. She turned and had trouble looking her boss, Delores, in the eye. “What’s the policy for family members picking up children?”
Delores had been running the preschool for years, and didn’t like the tone in employee’s voice. “Why?”
“A little girl’s grandmother came in, and I don’t think the girl wanted to go with her. But she had proper identification.”
“Was she on the approved list?”
Katie frowned. “What list? No one ever said—”
Delores pushed by her and opened the bottom drawer of the desk. “What was the child’s name?”
“Um, Lorrie. Lorrie Walters.” Katie looked over Delores shoulder as the older woman flipped through the files. “What’s that?”
“Her file. Any time someone comes in and wants to pick up a child and you don’t know who they are, you have to bring out the file and check for instructions.” Delores used her index finger to follow the information on the page. “Damn!”
Delores picked up the phone. “Only the parents are authorized, unless they call and tell us otherwise.” She dialed the contact number on the paper. “This is not good.”
Business slowed at the diner. The lunch crowd was thinning out, and only a few stragglers were left. Lex sat at the counter, working on her third cup of coffee. The newspaper that rested beside her empty plate had kept her occupied for quite a while, but now that she was finished with her meal, it only served to distract her.
Francine came by with the coffee pot. “Another refill?”
“Nope. I’ve been goofing off long enough.” Lex took out her wallet and laid several bills on the counter. “Has Monty been in today? I was supposed to meet him about some horses he had for sale.”
The waitress picked up the ticket and cash, and was about to give Lex her change, when she was waved off. “Thanks, hon.” She pocketed the generous tip and winked at her benefactor. “Actually, I haven’t seen him around in a couple of days.”
“Damn. Guess we’ll get together some other time.” Lex folded the paper up neatly and set it on the next barstool. She had just stood when her cell phone rang. “Hello?” She only had to listen for a moment before understanding that something was very wrong. “I’m on my way.” Lex raced out of the diner, almost knocking down a man as he came inside. She muttered an apology, but didn’t slow down.
She was in the truck in seconds, with her cell phone tucked between her ear and shoulder. “How long ago did they leave? What was she driving?” Lex didn’t bother to buckle her seatbelt as she started the vehicle. “What idiot let that woman leave with my daughter?” She slammed the truck into reverse and wheeled away from the diner. “I am calm, Delores.”
A horn blasted to the left of her, making Lex realize she ran a red light. “Do you know which direction she went?” The truck fishtailed as she turned the corner. “Dammit! No, not you. I’m on my way. Call the sheriff.” Lex tossed the cell phone into the seat beside her.
The streets were fairly deserted, so Lex felt comfortable in speeding up. As she headed toward an intersection, the light began to change. She gunned the engine and raced through, ignoring the siren that soon followed. The flashing lights she saw in her rear view mirror were merely an annoyance, and the congested intersection ahead was the only reason she stopped. Lex slammed her hands on the steering wheel. “Get out of my way, dammit!”
Jeremy had been surprised by the vision of Lex’s truck racing by, until he heard the bulletin come across the radio. He got out of his car and walked toward the truck. Once he reached the window, he tapped on it. “Lex, I need to talk to you.”
She rolled the window down. “I don’t have time, Jeremy. Write me a ticket if you want, but that crazy bitch—”
“I know.” The radio on his belt crackled.
Another officer’s voice came through loud and clear. “This is Oscar. The suspect just passed me, going west on Fillmore. I think she’s heading toward the Sunset Lodge motel.”
Jeremy clicked his mike that was positioned on his lapel. “That sounds about right, Oscar. From our recent surveillance, it’s where she’s been staying. Are you still in your personal car?”
“Yeah. Do you want me to follow her?”
“Only from a distance. I don’t want her spooked.” Jeremy knocked on the truck’s door. “Don’t worry, Lex. We’ll get her back.” He jogged to his car.
Lex looked in her side mirror. “Not without me, you’re not.” She glanced to the right, and drove her truck onto the sidewalk. There was no way she’d sit back and let them go after Elizabeth alone.
The motel where she had been staying was billed as the nicest in town. To Elizabeth, it was still a dump. She did consider it fortuitous how she was able to park right in front of her room, instead of having to go through a lobby. Especially now that she was saddled with a screaming child. She took Lorrie out of the safety seat. “Would you shut up? I’ve had about all I can stand of your whining.”
“No! I want my momma!” Lorrie kicked at Elizabeth, who dragged her out of the car and into the room. “Momma!”
Elizabeth pushed her into the bathroom and closed the door. “Stay in there until you can calm down, you ungrateful little brat. I’ve got plans to make, and your nasty little attitude isn’t helping.” She picked up the room phone and was about to dial out when she heard sirens in the distance. “That’s impossible.”
She went to the window and peeked through the curtains. There were several cars in the parking lot, but nothing stirred. “I think I’ll go see what’s happening.” She opened the door and raised her voice. “Grandmother will be back soon, dear. Be good.” Elizabeth walked calmly to the end of the building and looked around the corner. She saw several police cars, and realized her plan was unraveling. “Damn! Will nothing go my way?” She hurried to the room and grabbed her purse. A fast retreat seemed the best course of action. She left her car keys on the dresser and left.
It wasn’t hard to leave unnoticed. Elizabeth used the parked vehicles as cover, and watched in amusement as several deputies ran into the motel’s office. “Idiots.” She knew there was a car rental office across the street, and decided it was time to move on.
Martha hung up the phone and closed her eyes. Charlie had told her everything he knew, including how Lex was out somewhere “in vigilante mode”. He promised he’d call as soon as he knew anything. She only hoped it would be good news. The thought of telling Amanda what was happening worried her. The last few wweks had been rough on the pregnant woman, and Martha feared the toll this would take on her health.
The day-to-day stresses of living with an energetic three-year-old were wearing Amanda down, no matter how she tried to convince everyone to the contrary. Her blood pressure was up, and it almost impossible for her to get any rest. It was one of the main reasons Lex took Lorrie into daycare earlier.
“Who was that on the phone?” Amanda came into the kitchen and sat at the table. Her feet and back were taking turns at which hurt the most. “Is Lex on her way home?”
Martha turned from the counter and tried to paste a smile on her face. “No, that was Charlie. I haven’t heard from Lexie today.” She hoped she could get away with the little white lie. Unable to keep still, she poured a glass of milk and placed it in front of Amanda, then sat next to her.
“That’s sweet he still calls you during the day.” Amanda took a sip and loved at the feel of the cold beverage sliding down her throat. “Oh, that’s good.” A strong kick from her unborn child caused her to wince. “Someone’s active today.” She placed her palm on her stomach. “I think she misses her sister. Lorrie’s been talking to the baby a lot, lately.”
The mention of Lorrie brought tears to Martha’s eyes. “Oh, that sweet angel.” She turned her head away.
“Martha?” Amanda touched her on the back. “What’s the matter?”
“Nothing.” But Martha sniffled and wiped her face with the ever-present dishcloth.
That was more than enough to alarm Amanda. “It wasn’t a social call from Charlie, was it?” She waited until Martha turned around. “Is it Lex? Oh, god. Not Lorrie? Please, tell me what’s happening.”
Martha took Amanda’s hands in hers and tried to impart all the strength she had into their connection. “As far as we know, she’s fine. But your mother took Lorrie from the daycare.”
“Oh, no.” Amanda’s heart began to pound. “When? Where’s Lex?”
“A little over an hour ago. But they called Lexie immediately, and the entire sheriff’s department is looking for her.” Martha rubbed her thumbs across Amanda’s knuckles. “Evidently, Lexie is out looking for her, too.”
Amanda lurched to her feet. “I’ve got to get to town. What if something happens? I need to be there.” She started to leave the kitchen, when a sudden cramp seized her and caused her to double over. “Oh, god.”
Lex was in a panic. Although she knew where the motel was, she made several wrong turns in her haste to get there. The truck skidded through a patch of water, and she was barely able to keep it on the road. With a curse, Lex turned onto Fillmore Street.
She could see the flashing lights of several sheriffs’ department cars, and was so focused on them she didn’t see the person run in front of her truck, until it was too late. She slammed the brakes and turned the wheel sharply, but the vehicle was still moving fast when it hit the body. The airbag deployed, causing Lex’s head to snap back with enough force for her to see stars. A thin trickle of blood ran from one nostril, although she was too stunned to realize it.
Once her vision cleared, Lex got out of the truck and stumbled to the front, where she saw the crumpled form of Elizabeth Cauble partially under the vehicle. She dropped to her knees and fought the urge to throw up. Blood was beginning to pool around the unconscious woman’s head, and her left leg was twisted at an unnatural angle. Lex was about to check for a pulse when a deputy knelt beside her.
“You’d better not touch her, Lex. The ambulance is on the way.” Russell put his hand on her arm and turned her to face him. “How about you? Are you okay?”
Still in shock, Lex continued to stare at Elizabeth’s motionless body. “It happened so fast. She came out of nowhere.”
“I know. I saw the whole thing. There was no way you could have avoided her. She ran from between two cars. I didn’t even see her until I heard—”
“Heard me hit her. Yeah.” Lex rubbed her face with one hand.
Russell helped Lex to her feet as several firemen moved in. They stood nearby while the men worked to save Elizabeth’s life. “Come on. I’m going to have to get your statement.”
Lex brushed his hand away. “Later. Have you found my daughter?”
“I’m not sure. We’ve got guys searching the area, but—” Russell was speaking to an empty space, as Lex ran toward the motel.
Her boots pounded against the pavement of the parking lot, and Lex’s lungs began to burn from the lack of oxygen while she ran as fast as she could. As she got closer, she saw Jeremy open one of the rooms and go inside. Lex headed toward him, fighting off the men who tried to stop her.
Oscar grabbed her arm. “You can’t go in there, Lex. We have to secure the area.”
“Back off, Oscar.” Lex jerked away and shoved him, which brought three other deputies over to subdue her. “Dammit, let go of me.” She kicked one of the men, and elbowed another in the ribs.
Wayne, one of the older deputies, brought out his heavy flashlight and slammed it into the middle of her back, dropping Lex to her knees. He pulled it back to swing again, but had it taken away by Oscar.
“Hold it.” Oscar knelt beside Lex, who had her head bowed and was breathing heavily. “You okay?”
Lex got to her feet. “Yeah.” She glared at Wayne. “Touch me again, and I’ll shove that flashlight up your ass.” Her attention moved to the motel room door, when Jeremy came out, carrying a hysterical Lorrie. Lex pushed through the group of deputies and took a Lorrie in her arms. “It’s okay, sweetheart. I’m here.” She quickly checked her daughter over, to assure herself she was all right.
A fireman started to take Lorrie, but the look on Lex’s face caused him to take his hand away. “Ma’am, we need to take her to the hospital, just to be sure.”
“I’ll do it.” Lex cradled Lorrie to her chest, stroking her hair and whispering words of comfort. In moments, the exhausted child was asleep in her arms.
Charlie, finally arriving on the scene, moved through the crowd. “Lex, I’ll take you.” He put his arm around her waist and led her to his car. “I don’t want you to get any more upset, but Amanda’s there.”
Someone had removed the child seat from Lex’s truck and placed it in the backseat of Charlie’s squad car. Lex buckled Lorrie in and sat beside her. “What do you mean, she’s there? How’d she know to—”
“She didn’t. Martha brought her in.” Charlie started the car and eased it through the crowded parking lot.
Lex leaned over the seat and grabbed his shoulder. “What? Dammit, Charlie, what’s going on?”
He flipped on the siren and sped through the streets. “She collapsed. I don’t know all the particulars, yet.” Charlie glanced at her reflection in the rear view mirror. “The doctors were checking her out when I left.”
“God, no.” Lex ignored the tears falling down her cheeks as she struggled to keep from completely losing her composure.
Voices and machinery came together in a frenetic symphony, as the emergency room doctors and nurses worked together. Their focus was on a frail form, which was barely recognizable beneath their hands.
One leg was immobilized in an air cast, and every inch of uncovered skin was covered with something. The patient’s left arm hung limply from the table, dried blood covering the painted red nails.
“I’m not getting a pulse,” a nurse announced, her gloves stained with blood.
The doctor looked at a monitor, where a long tone and flat lines told him all he needed to know. “We’ve done all we can do.” He raised his eyes to the clock on the wall. “Time of death, four twenty-six.” His gloves were quickly snapped off before he was out the door.
The hospital staff tried to take Lorrie from her, but Lex wouldn’t let go. The little girl slept fitfully, and Lex was afraid of her waking up alone. She had been torn between letting the doctors examine Lorrie, and hunting for Amanda. Charlie had gone off earlier, promising to find out any news. She sat on the edge of the stretcher, while the doctor listened to Lorrie’s lungs.
“She seems fine, Ms. Walters. I don’t see any indications of abuse.” The doctor removed his stethoscope and let it hang freely from his neck. He snapped off his gloves and tossed them in the nearby trash. “You may want to have her pediatrician give her a more thorough exam, though.”
“I’ll do that.” Lex looked down at the sleeping child in her arms. “Are we done here?”
He nodded. “Give us a call if you need anything else.”
“Thanks.” Lex stood and left the room, anxious to find where Amanda was staying. When she saw Charlie leaving the elevator, she picked up her pace to meet him. “Did you find out anything?”
He lightly grasped her arm and guided Lex to the elevator. “She’s upstairs, and the doctor’s with her.”
They rode the elevator in silence, both too caught up in their thoughts to speak.
When the doors opened, they were quickly met by Martha. Her reddened eyes spoke volumes. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
“How is she?” Lex wanted to brush by her, but Martha placed her hands against her hips.
“Dr. Vaughn is still in there.” Martha touched Lorrie’s head. “How’s this little angel doing?”
Lex swallowed hard and bit her lip. “The doc said she’s fine, just exhausted.” Her legs shook when the day’s events finally hit her. Only Charlie’s strong grip kept Lex from falling.
He guided her to a chair in the nearby waiting room. “Might as well take a seat. There’s no telling how long the doctor will be in with Amanda.” He sat on one side of her, while Martha took the other.
“I should be in there with Amanda.” Lex was about to stand again when Lorrie opened her eyes.
“Momma?” Lorrie touched Lex’s cheek. “I wanna go home.”
Lex blinked the tears out of her eyes. “I know, baby. We will, later.” She turned her head and kissed Lorrie’s palm. “How are you feeling?”
“Love you, Momma.” Lorrie giggled when Lex nibbled on her fingers. The earlier terrors had already begun to fade from her memory.
The door to Amanda’s room opened, and Dr. Vaughn stepped out. She brushed one hand through her hair and glanced around. When she saw Lex, she took a deep breath and went to stand in front of her. “I’m glad you’re here.”
Lex quickly stood. “How is she?”
“I’m not going to lie to you, it could have become very serious.” Dr. Vaughn held up her hand to stop Lex from replying. “Thankfully, your mother got her here quickly, and we were able to stop the contractions.”
“Contractions? You mean she went into labor?” Without being aware of it, Lex allowed Martha to take Lorrie, who went willingly into her arms. When her hands began to shake, she tucked them into her pockets. “Is the baby okay?”
Dr. Vaughn finally smiled. “They’re both fine. But, I’m going to have to insist she stay here with us until the baby’s born. Her blood pressure worries me, and if we don’t get it under control, I don’t see any way she can deliver this baby without a caesarean.” At Lex’s pale look, she patted her arm in reassurance. “I plan on doing everything I can to make this as smooth a delivery as possible. Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.”
“All right.” Lex exhaled heavily. “Can I see her now?”
“She was resting when I left, but as long as you don’t upset her, I think it’ll be okay.”
“Thanks.” Although she felt like hugging the doctor over the positive news, Lex settled for shaking her hand. She gave her a bashful smile and hurried to Amanda’s room, where she stood at the door for a moment, before straightening her shoulders and going inside.
Charlie was left by himself, while Martha took Lorrie to the bathroom to get cleaned up. He stood and stretched, and was caught off guard when he heard Wayne’s voice behind him. “What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be guarding Elizabeth Cauble. I don’t want that woman to have any opportunity to get loose.”
“Uh, well. That’s kind of what I came up here to talk to you about.” Wayne looked around to verify they were alone. “She didn’t make it.”
“Yeah. The doctors tried, but they told me that even if she’d lived, her brain was so messed up she’d be a vegetable for the rest of her life.”
It sounded like poetic justice to Charlie. “Too bad.”
Wayne didn’t seem to be in agreement. “I guess. So, do you want me to do it?”
“Do what? Notify the family? No, I’ll take care of that.”
Wayne hitched up his duty belt and settled it more comfortably on his hips. “Okay, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I meant I’ll be glad to bring in Walters.” He’d never liked the woman, his animosity going back all the way to high school.
“Excuse me? What exactly do you mean by that?”
“Well, vehicular homicide isn’t something you can just write a ticket for.”
Charlie glared at him. “That’s the last time I want to hear you utter that phrase, boy. Russell saw the entire thing, and he told me there was no way in hell Lex could have avoided hitting her. So get that thought out of your head.”
“No buts. You go on back to the station and write your report. I’ll be here for a while, so turn it in to Jeremy when you’re finished.”
Properly chastised, Wayne shrugged his shoulders and stomped away. He wasn’t about to argue with the sheriff. He got into the elevator and jabbed the button to take him to the first floor.
With a shake of his head, Charlie watched him leave. “Kids.” He turned when he felt a presence behind him.
Martha had returned, with Michael and Lois in tow. She still held a restless Lorrie. “Look who I found.”
Michael shook Charlie’s hand. “We got here as soon as we heard from Martha.” He was alarmed by how shaken Charlie appeared. “Are you okay? Has something happened to Amanda?”
“No, no. Lex is still in with her, so I’m sure she’s fine.” Charlie debated on whether to talk to Michael in private, but realized they’d end up telling Martha and Lois, anyway. “I hate to be so blunt, but do you know who would be your ex-wife’s next of kin?”
Michael frowned. “I don’t know. Her family pretty much washed their hands of her years ago. I guess it’d be me or the girls. Why? Is she screaming for bail, already?” He had been given the entire story of the kidnapping from Martha.
“I’m afraid she won’t be doing any more screaming. She’s dead.”
All three of them talked at once. “What?”
Charlie didn’t want to get into all the details. “She was hit by a truck when she tried to get away from the motel. She died earlier in the emergency room.”
“She’s dead?” As many times as he had wished death upon his ex-wife, it still came as a complete shock to Michael. “Has anyone told Amanda?”
“No. I just found out, myself. I was just about to call you.”
Lois took Michael’s hand. “Maybe we should keep this from her, for now. She doesn’t need the added stress.”
Her husband agreed. “I should tell Jeannie, though. And I’ve got to see about making arrangements, I guess.”
Martha put her arm around him. “There’ll be time enough for that, later. I’ll help you, if you like.”
“Thanks.” Michael traded looks with Charlie. “I’m going to go see Jeannie. Let Amanda know we’ll be back, all right?”
“Are you going to tell Lex?”
Charlie paled, knowing what the news would do to Lex, who felt wholly responsible for the accident. No matter how many times he’d already told her it couldn’t have been avoided. “Uh, no. Not right away. Let her focus on Amanda.”
Lex stood inside the door of Amanda’s room and stared at the sleeping figure in bed. Her lover looked more peaceful than she’d seen her in weeks. She decided to keep as many of the details of Lorrie’s abduction quiet, at least for now. Lex only hoped Amanda wouldn’t ask too many questions. She moved slowly to the bed, and wasn’t surprised to see her partner’s eyes open. “Hey, sweetheart.” Lex took Amanda’s hand and kissed the knuckles. “How’re you doing?”
Tears dampened Amanda’s eyes. “Much better, now.” When Lex sat beside her, Amanda squeezed her hand, as if to reassure herself Lex was there. “What happened?”
Lex swallowed heavily. “Your mom picked Lorrie up at the church, saying she was supposed to take Lorrie to the doctor. She took her back to her motel, and locked her in the bathroom. We still don’t know why she did that.”
“But Lorrie’s okay, right? She didn’t hurt her, did she?”
“No, I don’t think so. Lorrie kept crying, but I think it was more because she didn’t know your mother, than anything else. She’s with Martha, now.”
Amanda noticed a few crimson spots on Lex’s shirt. “Is that blood?”
Lex looked down at her chest. “Uh, yeah. It’s nothing.” Her eyes rose when Amanda touched her chin.
“Is it yours?” At Lex’s nod, Amanda looked at her more carefully. She could see some swelling and bruising on Lex’s face. “Who hit you?”
Lex blanched. In her relief to get Lorrie back, she’d put the accident in the back of her mind. The last she heard, Elizabeth had been rushed to the emergency room. She didn’t even know if charges would be filed against her for the accident. “It’s not important.”
“It is to me.”
“Really, I’m fine.” Lex fussed with the blanket covering Amanda, then placed her hand on her stomach. “How’s Junior treating you?”
Amanda shook her head at the name. “Our daughter is going to come into this world answering to that name, if we’re not careful. We really should think of something else.”
“Okay. I promise we’ll find something before she’s born. Although I think Junior is a fine name.”
“You would.” Amanda swatted her. “I guess Dr. Vaughn talked to you, huh?”
“Yep.” Lex played with Amanda’s hair. “Looks like you’ll be having room service for a while.”
“I’d rather be home with you and Lorrie. Think you can break me out?”
Lex shook her head. “Not a chance, sweetheart. But I’m going to be right here with you, until our daughter is born.”
“But, Lex, it’s going to be weeks! I don’t want to be stuck here for that long.” Amanda felt like ripping the IV from her hand and climbing out of bed. “Please, talk to the doctor? I’ll go crazy stuck in here. There’s got to be some kind of compromise we can work out.” She fought back a yawn. With all the excitement, she was completely worn out.
“I’ll see what I can do, okay? Until then, why don’t you try to get some rest?”
“I’ve been resting.” Amanda’s eyes closed against her will. Her lips barely moved, but her words were clear. “Don’t leave me.”
“Never.” Lex kissed her lightly on the lips. “I love you.” She brushed her fingers along Amanda’s cheek. “Sleep well, love. I’ll be here when you wake up.” Lex hooked her foot around the leg of a nearby chair and dragged it over. Without releasing Amanda’s hand, she sat, closing her eyes to join her partner in sleep.
A light touch on her shoulder jarred Lex out of a deep sleep. She struggled to stay upright in the chair and glared at the intruder. “What?” A quick glance at the bed showed her partner still sound asleep.
The nurse smiled kindly at her and spoke in a low voice. “I’m sorry to disturb you. I’ve got to get Ms. Walters’ vitals and then the doctor will be in to run a few tests. I’m afraid you’ll have to leave.”
“I’m not leaving.” Lex stood slowly as various aches made themselves known. “I promised her.”
Amanda yawned as she woke. “It’s okay. Why don’t you grab something to eat?”
“I’ll be fine.” Amanda squeezed Lex’s hand and pulled her closer. She was rewarded with a kiss. When they broke apart, she lowered her voice. “Bring me back a chocolate shake?”
Lex glanced at the nurse, who had found something beyond the window very interesting. “Sure.” She dropped another quick kiss on Amanda’s lips and left the room.
Out in the hall, she almost ran into Jeannie, who immediately engulfed her in a fierce embrace. Lex looked at Rodney, who gave her a reassuring smile. “It’s okay.”
Jeannie stepped back and wiped at her eyes. “How is she?”
“Doing good. I’ve been sent on a quest for a chocolate shake.” Lex tucked her hands into her back pockets. “You should be able to go in to see her after they finish all their tests and stuff.”
Rodney appeared anxious, and he gestured down the hall with a tilt of his head. “I’ll run down and get a shake from the cafeteria, if you’d like.” He knew Jeannie wanted to talk to Lex alone, and it gave him a perfect excuse to leave.
“Sure.” Lex reached for her wallet, but he waved her off.
“Don’t worry about it.” He squeezed Jeannie’s arm. “I’ll be back in a flash.”
Lex watched him leave, before turning her attention to her sister-in-law. Jeannie’s eyes were puffy and red. “Are you all right?”
A heavy sigh was Jeannie’s answer. She sniffled and pasted on the best smile she could muster. “I will be. It’s going to take a little time, though. Even though she was a thorn in everyone’s side, she was still my mother.” In her grief, Jeannie hadn’t listened when she was asked to keep Elizabeth’s death a secret.
The past tense Jeannie used while referring to her mother caused Lex to pale and stumble back until she hit the wall. “Was? She’s dead?”
“Yes. I thought you knew.” Jeannie didn’t understand Lex’s reaction. She knew there was no love lost between the two. “She passed away a few hours ago, in the emergency room.”
“No.” Lex felt lightheaded. “I’m so sorry.” Bile rose in her throat. “Excuse me.” She stumbled past Jeannie and rushed down the hall toward the restroom.
Stunned, Jeannie watched Lex go. She didn’t hear Martha come up beside her.
“Where’s Lexie going? Is everything all right with Amanda?” Martha had feared the worst when she noticed Lex’s abrupt exit.
“I don’t know.” Jeannie turned to Martha. “According to Lex, Amanda’s doing okay. But she seemed upset when I mentioned Mother.”
Martha cupped Jeannie’s elbow with her hand. “What do you mean?”
Tears welled in the younger woman’s eyes. “I can’t believe she’s gone.” She gave a watery smile. “I always thought Mother was too tough to die.”
“You told her?”
“I thought she already knew.” Jeannie shrugged her shoulders. “It’s not like they got along, or anything.”
Martha released her arm. “I’m sorry, honey. I know it’s a terrible shock to you.” She was torn between giving Jeannie comfort, and checking on Lex. Her maternal instincts quickly won out. “I’m going to go check on Lexie. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” She hurried off without another word.
Lex cupped another handful of cold water and splashed it over her face. She raised her head and studied her reflection in the mirror, the haggard face almost unrecognizable. Her stomach had been empty, and the dry heaves had left her weak. She rested her elbows on the marble countertop and buried her face in her hands.
The bathroom door opened and the shuffle of soft-soled shoes echoed in the otherwise empty room. Martha put her arm around Lex’s waist, offering her silent support. They stood there for several minutes, until Martha finally spoke. “I’m sorry you had to hear about it that way, honey.”
“Does Amanda know?” Lex still hadn’t raised her head.
“No, not yet. We thought it would be best to wait, until the doctor says it’s okay.” Martha rubbed Lex’s back. “Michael offered to speak to her.”
Lex raised and turned to face her. “No, let me. It’s my fault, and I think I should be the one to tell her.”
“You can’t blame yourself. The deputy who witnessed the accident told Charlie she ran right out in front of you. There was no way you could have avoided her.” Martha shook her head. “God forgive me for saying this, but I can’t muster up any sympathy for that woman. I’m just sorry for what this is doing to you.”
Her stomach rebelling, Lex spun and raced to the nearest bathroom stall. She dropped to her knees and began to retch again violently.
Martha came in behind her and lifted her hair back. Only after Lex was left gasping for air, she helped her to her feet and wiped her face with a damp paper towel. “It’s going to be okay, baby. Don’t tear yourself up over this.”
Lex took the towel away and exhaled heavily. “I don’t see how I can’t. This is going to devastate Amanda, and things will never be the same.” She went to the sink and washed her face. After rinsing her mouth out, she blotted her face with a dry towel and leaned against the counter.
“No, they won’t. But all you can do is put this mess behind you, and move on.” Martha pulled Lex into her arms. “Have faith, Lexie. I truly believe it will all work out.”
“I hope so.” Lex held on to Martha as if her life depended on it. She had no idea how she would tell Amanda that she was the cause of Elizabeth’s untimely death.
Amanda wore an extremely satisfied look on her face when Lex came into her room. “Hi. The doctor gave me permission to leave tomorrow.”
“That’s great, sweetheart.” Lex tried to make her smile sincere, but her heart wasn’t into it.
“What’s wrong? I thought you’d be happy.”
Lex swallowed heavily and nodded. She sat on the edge of Amanda’s bed. “I am. Really.” She took one of Amanda’s hands into her own. “I, uh, have something I need to tell you.”
“Is it Lorrie? Is she okay?” Amanda shook her head. “I thought you said she was all right.”
“No, she’s fine.” Lex lowered her eyes to study the blanket. “It’s about your mother.”
Amanda frowned. “What has she done, now? I thought she’d be in custody. Did she escape?”
Lex shook her head. “No.” She looked into her lover’s eyes. “There was an accident.”
“What kind of accident?” Amanda read the intense sorrow on Lex’s face, and it scared her. “Lex?”
“I’m so sorry. She’s gone, sweetheart. They did everything they could for her.”
The frown on Amanda’s face grew and she shook her head slowly. “No. That’s not possible.” She started to breathe heavily. “It’s another one of her tricks.”
“I’m afraid not, love.” Lex brought their linked hands to her chest. “She was trying to get away from the deputies, and ran out in the middle of the street.” Here she inhaled deeply to gather her courage. “It happened so fast.” Lex blinked away the tears that filled her eyes. “I never saw her. One minute I was driving along, the next,” she lowered her head, “the next second she jumped right out in front of me.”
The words slowly registered to Amanda. “You hit her with your truck?”
“I couldn’t stop. I tried.” Lex felt her heart break when Amanda pulled her hand away.
“You killed my mother?”
Lex reached for her, but was rebuffed. “I swear, Amanda. I did everything I could to avoid her. I’m so…so, sorry. Please forgive me.”
Amanda closed her eyes and raised a shaky hand to cover her mouth. The moment felt so surreal. “I think I need some time alone.”
Her head bowed, Lex swallowed a sob. “I understand.” She tripped over a chair as she backed out of the room. “I’ll be right outside, if you need me.” She stumbled through the door, her grief at what she’d done overwhelming her.
Michael handed his daughter another tissue. He’d been with Amanda for the past couple of hours, holding her hand. Jeannie had left earlier, promising to return with dinner, although none of them had felt like eating.
Amanda blew her nose. “Thanks.” She dropped the used tissue on the mounting pile in her lap. She couldn’t remember when she’d cried so much. “It’s so hard to believe that she’s gone.”
“I know. I keep expecting her to barge in here any minute, making some ludicrous demand.”
She smiled at his comment. “She was something, wasn’t she?”
“Yeah.” Michael rubbed her knuckles with his thumb. He felt it was time to broach another subject with her. “Lex is devastated, you know. She’s taken the responsibility entirely on her own shoulders.”
“She would.” Amanda watched their hands then raised her eyes to his. “It’s not her fault. If it hadn’t been Lex, it would have probably been someone else. It was just a shock, you know? I needed some time to come to grips with the whole situation.”
He tightened his grasp for a moment before standing. “Let me go get her.”
Moments after Michael left, the door opened slowly. Lex stepped inside the room, but stood close to the door. “Hey.”
The grief-stricken expression on her partner’s face was more that Amanda could bear. She held out her hand, and in seconds Lex dropped to her knees beside her.
“I’m so sorry.” Lex held Amanda’s hand to her cheek. Her tears quickly dampened their fingers.
“Shh.” Amanda pulled Lex to her and tucked her head to her chest. She used her free hand to stroke her lover’s head. “It’s going to be all right.” Amanda hadn’t been as upset with Lex as she was with herself. At the news of her mother’s death, all she could think about was the relief of knowing they’d never be bothered by Elizabeth again. It was her guilt at that revelation that engulfed Amanda, and she knew it would be a long time before she would be able to forgive herself.
To be continued in part 18
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