To Hold Forever
By Carrie Carr
Disclaimers – See Part One.
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AS HE STEPPED through the door to the bunkhouse, Roy could hear the men talking amongst themselves. He ignored them for the moment and went over to the coffee maker and filled a mug. Before he took the first sip, he felt someone standing right behind him. “Hello, Lester.”
“Is that all you’ve got to say? We’ve been waiting all day for some news, and you come traipsing in here like you don’t have a care in the world. I figured you’d be up at the hospital.” The old cook moved in closer and lowered his voice. “How’s she doing? Chet told me she was hurting something awful.”
“I was at the house. I’m going to stay up there for a few days. Just came back to get a couple of changes of clothes.” Roy looked around to make sure no one else was listening in to their conversation. “Martha called me from the hospital. She’s got some bruises and sprains, but nothing broken, thank god. I swear, that woman has more lives than a cat.”
Chet came into the house and hung up his coat. He saw Roy with Lester and waved at the two of them. “Got the horses all taken care of, Roy. Is there anything else you need me to do?”
“Nope. Thanks for your help.” Roy turned back to Lester. “He’s a good man.”
Lester nodded. “Yup. One of the better ones, that’s for sure.” He heard Cleve’s voice. “That one, now, is pure trouble. I don’t know why he’s still around.”
“Hey, bud. You finished licking boots?” Cleve laughed as Chet’s face reddened. “I bet ol’ Lex keeps you busy, huh?”
“Shut your mouth.” Chet sat at the table across from the obnoxious man. “That reminds me.” He leaned forward and raised his voice so the men around him could hear. “It’s interesting to know that Lex was in the exact area where you checked, but didn’t see anything.”
Cleve shrugged his shoulders. “Not my fault.”
Ben, one of the older ranch hands, got up from where he had been sitting. “What are you saying, Chet?”
“After Cleve came riding hard from the north range, I followed his tracks back and ran right into Lex.” Chet stood also. “Funny, how that was.”
Cleve got up and kicked his chair away from the table. “You’re full of shit.” He started toward to the door. “Besides, she got out of it all right, anyway. No big deal.” He went outside for a smoke.
Several of the men, including Ben and Chet, followed him. “I think that son of a bitch needs to be taught a few things,” Ben announced. He nodded to Roy, who raised his coffee cup in salute.
“If I were twenty years younger, I’d join those boys,” Lester commented. “What are you going to do about it?”
“Not a damned thing.” Roy grinned over his cup and took another sip.
Cleve took a drag from his cigarette and turned when he heard footsteps behind him. “What the fuck do you guys want?”
“You know, we don’t much like you.” Chet knocked the cigarette from Cleve’s lips.
“Hey! What the hell did you do that for?” Cleve turned his head. He realized he was surrounded by four men. “Uh, guys. What are—ugh.” He bent over when Chet punched him in the stomach.
Ben grabbed one arm, and Jack the other. “Lex isn’t just our boss,” Ben explained, “she’s a damned good friend, too.” They stood Cleve upright so Chet could hit him again.
Raising his right fist, Chet slammed it into the side of Cleve’s face. “We’re tired of your damned attitude, asshole.” He punched him again, this time in the nose, causing a crunching sound and blood to spray everywhere. Another blow to Cleve’s cheek opened up a wide cut.
“Stop,” Cleve wheezed.
“I don’t think so.” Chet slugged him in the gut several more times. He stopped and rubbed his reddened knuckles.
Jack released his hold, which caused Cleve to drop to his knees. “Had enough, you prick?”
“Fuck you.” Cleve spat blood at his feet.
“You’re an idiot, boy.” Ben lifted Cleve by his shirt. “I think it’s time you moved on.” He shoved him into the wall of the bunk house. “Get your stuff and get out of here.”
The battered man knelt in the dirt with his arms wrapped around his middle. “I’m glad I left that bitch behind. She’s as pathetic as the rest of you.” He never saw Ben’s boot coming toward his face. Cleve was unconscious before he toppled forward into the dirt.
“THIS SUCKS!” LEX reached her fingers into the cervical collar in an attempt to loosen the constrictive piece. “Why won’t they take this damned thing off me? There’s nothing wrong with my neck.”
Amanda pulled her hand away. “Stop it. You’re going to pull out your IV if you keep that up.” She was on the verge of asking for a tranquilizer. Not for her partner, but for herself. Lex had been fidgeting for almost an hour and it was about to drive Amanda insane.
The door opened and a nurse stepped into the room. “I’m sorry to do this, but visiting hours are almost over.” She held a needle and waved it in the air. “And it’s time for someone’s sedative.”
“I don’t need it.”
“Oh, I think you do.” The nurse gave a sympathetic look to Amanda as she inserted the needle into the intravenous drip. “You’ll have about five more minutes, and then you’ll have to leave, dear.”
Amanda waited until the nurse closed the door behind her. She leaned over the bed until she was close to Lex’s face. “Guess that’s my cue.” Placing a soft kiss on her lover’s lips, she pulled back and brushed the hair from Lex’s eyes. “Hopefully we can take you home in the next day or two. Are you going to be all right here, by yourself?”
“Sure.” Lex felt a lethargic wave wash over her. “Probably sleep all night, anyway.” Her eyes closed. “Love you.”
“I love you, too.” Amanda kissed her forehead. “Rest well, honey.” She slowly backed out of the room, and was startled when she almost ran into her grandmother.
Anna Leigh caught Amanda around the shoulders so they wouldn’t collide. “Careful, there. How’s Lexington?”
“She’s doing pretty well. The doctor is optimistic that she can go home tomorrow or the next day, if all her tests come back all right.”
“Wonderful.” Anna Leigh put her arm around Amanda’s waist. “Come home with me. Jacob took Lorrie there earlier, and I’ve been able to talk Martha and Charlie into staying the night.”
“I guess I’ll have to, since they won’t let me stay here.” Amanda followed her down the hallway. “Let me leave the number at the nurses’ station, in case they need me.”
They had just walked through the outside doors when they met Michael and Lois. He was wearing a plain white tee shirt with his dress slacks, which was unusual for him. “How’s Lex? I called the ranch to see how you were feeling, and Roy told me what happened.”
Amanda ran into her father’s arms and leaned against his chest. “I’m so glad you’re here.” She turned her head to smile at Lois. “Thanks for coming.”
“We came as soon as we heard.” Lois rubbed her back in a comforting motion. She had grown quite fond of Amanda over the past couple of years, and thought of her as a daughter. “How is she?”
Anna Leigh kissed Lois on the cheek in greeting. “She’s resting. I was just about to take Mandy home with me. Why don’t you two join us?”
Michael squeezed his daughter before releasing her. “That sounds like a great idea. We’ll follow you over.”
“Thanks, Dad.” Amanda released him and gave Lois a brief hug, which was gently returned.
“Let’s go, dearest. We can visit more when we get home.” Anna Leigh took Amanda by the hand and directed her to the car.
Once they were inside and buckled up, Amanda let her head drop back against the seat. She closed her eyes and released a heavy breath. “My god, it’s been a hell of a day.”
“It certainly has. How are you faring, Mandy?” Anna Leigh drove the car out of the hospital lot and headed toward her home.
“I’m a little queasy, and I have the worst headache,” Amanda admitted. “It took a lot of self control to keep from climbing into that bed with Lex.” She stifled a sob, as the day’s horrors caught up with her. Bending at the waist, Amanda covered her face with her hands and began to cry.
Keeping her eyes on the road and one hand on the steering wheel, Anna Leigh put her other hand on Amanda’s back. “That’s it, honey. Just let it all out.” She slowed the car down and brought them into a nearby parking lot. Unbuckling her seat belt, she quickly took her granddaughter into her arms and held her close. “Sshh. Everything’s going to be fine.” Anna Leigh ran her fingers through Amanda’s hair in an attempt to calm her.
Amanda didn’t know how long they sat there, but she was finally able to sit up. She accepted several tissues from Anna Leigh and gently blew her nose. “Thanks. I don’t know where that all came from.”
“We all have to give in and have a good cry, now and then. It cleanses the soul.” She used her fingertips to wipe the tears from Amanda’s face. “At least that’s what I’ve always been told. Personally, I think it’s the only way to stay sane.”
“I think you’re right. Although I don’t know how sane I am.”
Anna Leigh laughed. “I’m afraid that’s the Cauble coming out in you, my dear. We’ve never been known for our sanity.” She kissed Amanda’s cheek. “Are you up to going home?”
“Now, I am. Thanks, Gramma.” Amanda sniffled and sat up straighter. “Let’s go see what kind of trouble my daughter has gotten into.”
WHEN SHE HEARD the front door open, Lorrie dropped the crayon she had been using, climbed down from her seat at the kitchen table, and raced into the entryway. Before her mother could even walk completely into the house, she attached herself to Amanda’s leg. “Mommy! Me ‘n Gamps clorled.”
“He did? What did you and Gamps color?” Amanda picked Lorrie up and hugged her. “I missed you, honey. Have you been a good girl?”
Jacob came out of the kitchen. “She’s been a little angel. We played with her building blocks, watched a video, and have been drawing and coloring for about half an hour. You’d have been proud of her.”
“I always am.” Amanda carried her over and kissed her grandfather’s cheek. “It sounds like you two have had a busy evening.”
“We have.” He followed her and Anna Leigh into the living room. Amanda and Lorrie sat on the sofa, while Anna Leigh and Jacob took their favorite place on the loveseat. “How’s our big girl doing?” He refrained from calling Lex by name, so as not to upset Lorrie.
Amanda nuzzled Lorrie’s soft hair and then kissed her head. “She’s in quite a bit of pain, but already wants to leave. The nurse sedated her right before I left.” She looked around and realized who was missing. “Where’s Martha and Charlie?”
“They’ve gone to pick up dinner. Lorrie had hers already, but the rest of us are getting deli sandwiches.”
“That sounds good.” Amanda shook her head at Lorrie’s antics when
the little girl slid off her lap and started dancing in front of her. “What
are you doing?”
Lorrie wiggled her rear end. “Me bubbet.”
Jacob laughed. “I think that it’s my fault. We watched a video with dancing puppets. So now she wants to be one.”
“Ah.” Amanda nodded and clapped as Lorrie danced. “That’s wonderful, sweetie.” Unable to control the yawn that escaped, she leaned against the back of the sofa.
Anna Leigh stood and picked up Lorrie. “I think it’s about someone’s bath time. Would you like to go play in the tub for a while?”
“Yep.” Lorrie gladly wrapped her arms around her grandmother’s neck. She looked around the room. “Where’s momma?” Lex was her favorite bath buddy.
Amanda felt tears sting her eyes. “Momma’s got an owie, and she’s at the hospital.”
“That’s right, darling girl. Your Momma’s at the hospital, but she misses you very much.” Anna Leigh turned her head when Michael and Lois stepped into the room. “Hello, you two.”
Lorrie struggled to get out of her grandmother’s arms. “Bampi!” She held out her hands to Michael, who immediately took her.
“How’s my sweet girl?” He kissed her cheek. “I swear, I think you’ve grown overnight.”
“Good.” Lorrie leaned to get her kiss from Lois, as well. “Mimi, tub?”
Lois gave Anna Leigh a questioning glance. “I’m assuming that it’s bath time?”
“Yep.” Lorrie wriggled to a tune in her head while she was in Michael’s arms. “Tub!”
He handed her off to Anna Leigh. “I think I’ll let you handle that bit of fun, Mom.”
“Yay!” Lorrie clapped her hands. “Gramma, me go!”
“The princess has spoken,” Anna Leigh announced. “Lois, would you care to join us?”
“I’d be delighted.” Lois took Amanda’s hand and squeezed it. “How are you holding up?”
Amanda wiped a tear from her face and tried to smile. “I’m doing all right, thanks.” She gestured to the doorway, where her grandmother held Lorrie. “You’d better go. Lorrie gets impatient when it’s time for her bath.”
Nodding, Lois squeezed her hand before releasing it. “If you need anything, just let me know.”
“I will.” After they left the room, Amanda exhaled heavily. “That child’s energy is exhausting.”
Michael sat next to her and put his arm around her shoulders. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you look completely worn out. Why don’t you go on to bed, and we’ll tuck Lorrie in?”
“You’re right, I’m beat. But she usually sleeps with me.”
“Let your grandmother and I take her,” Jacob offered. “I can move the crib into our room.”
The thought was tempting, but Amanda didn’t want to be alone for the night. “No, that’s fine. I’d really like her with me, if that’s okay with you.”
Jacob understood. He knew that without Lex, Amanda could feel lost. He felt the same way about Anna Leigh. “Of course. At least let us get her ready for bed, so after you eat, you can join her.”
“All right.” She leaned into her father’s embrace. “I’m glad this day is almost over. I’ve had about all of it I can stand.” She knew the next few days would be just as trying, and hoped she’d get through them without losing her mind.
THE ROOM WAS dark and quiet. Although it was after visiting hours, Travis had charmed one of the evening nurses into allowing him access. He moved hesitantly to the bed and looked down at his granddaughter’s face. The nurse had explained her injuries, but it was still a shock when he saw her for himself. Lex’s eyes were closed, but he could still make out the faint lines in her face that showed her discomfort. Travis brushed the hair away from her eyes, and was surprised when they opened.
“Gran’pa?” Lex squinted at his shadowy figure. “What time izzit?”
“I’m sorry, Lexie. I didn’t mean to wake you.” He continued to stroke her hair. Her eyes were glassy from the medication she was on, and Travis could feel the heat coming from Lex’s fever. “It’s pretty late. I just wanted to see how you were doing.” He silently cursed himself for not being home when Amanda called to tell him of Lex’s accident. He and Ellie had traveled to Austin to settle some old business of his, and he couldn’t get to the hospital quick enough after finding the unsettling message on his answering machine.
“S’okay. M’glad you’re here.” She blinked several times, but he was still fuzzy to her. “Didja see ‘Manda?”
He couldn’t help but smile at her speech. Every word sounded like a great effort. “No, honey. It’s well past visiting hours, and she’s probably home in bed by now.”
A goofy look covered Lex’s face. “I mish her. Hey, we’re gonna have a baby, ya know.”
Travis’ eyes widened. “You are?”
“Yep. Well, ‘Manda is. I’m jus’ gonna help.” Her eyes closed, although Lex struggled to stay awake. “She’s such a good momma.” One lid partially opened, but only for a moment. “I love her.”
Travis bit his lip to keep from laughing at her. “I know you do. She loves you too, you know.”
“Uh huh.” Lex opened her mouth again, but only a soft snore came out.
He chuckled and shook his head. “Rest well, Lexie.” After placing a kiss on her forehead, Travis left the room.
UPON WAKING, CLEVE tried to take a mental inventory of his aching body. First and foremost, the pain was almost unbearable. There wasn’t a muscle or body part that wasn’t in agony. From the fetal position he had fallen asleep in, he slowly rolled onto his back. He stared at the ceiling, which was the roof of the hay barn.
The previous day, after he regained consciousness, he left the yard of the bunk house and pulled himself up into his truck. Unable to drive very far, Cleve ended up parking behind the barn and crawled behind a tall stack of hay, only to pass out again.
It was all her fault. He was certain of that. The more he thought about his situation, the more Cleve hated his half-sister. She had everything he always coveted – a home, the respect of her peers, and a woman to share her life. He closed his eyes and smiled. Amanda. Her gentle smile, her soft hair, and the way she carried herself, was what attracted him to her. He considered the last time he saw Amanda. Those once-friendly eyes blazed with anger, and she never looked more beautiful. He believed that if he could spend more time alone with her, he could get her to forget all about his controlling sibling. With very little effort on his part, Cleve knew in his heart he could have her. She was beautiful, and he fancied himself as quite the ladies’ man. It would be a piece of cake.
With a pained grunt, he sat up. Once again, he cursed Lex. She probably paid the men in her employ to knock him around. It would be just like her. Maybe Amanda mentioned an interest in him, which made his sister so jealous that she wanted Cleve out of the picture. Yes, that was probably it.
He cautiously prodded his side. It didn’t feel like anything was broken, just bruised. His nose was a different matter entirely. It was bent to one side, and impossible to breathe through.
“Damn bitch. I hope she hurts like hell.” He thought back to the look on her face right before he rode away. The pain, and the anger she showed brought another smile to his face. It would have made him happier if Lex had never been found. Maybe then he could have taken is rightful place as head of the ranch, and in Amanda’s bed. Cleve was determined to make her his, and not even his sister’s interference would stop him.
RELIEVED TO HAVE finally been able to remove the cervical collar, Lex scratched determinedly at her throat. The constant itching drove her nuts. She could already feel the places where her skin was raw, and there didn’t seem to be any relief coming in the near future. She shifted slightly in the bed and bit back a moan. Even though she wanted to leave the hospital, her body had other ideas. Shooting pains down her back made Lex consider hitting the call button for another dose of pain killing medication. The only drawback was not being coherent, and she was looking forward to visiting hours.
The door opened, and Amanda, carrying a large bouquet in one hand and a piece of paper in the other, stepped into the room. “Hi honey.” She walked over to the bed, put the flowers on the adjustable table, and gave Lex a kiss. “How are you feeling this morning?”
“A lot better. Do you think you can talk to the doctor and maybe get me out of here today?”
Amanda ran her fingers through Lex’s hair. “We’ll see.” She held up the paper she was holding. “Lorrie colored this for you.” It was a picture from a coloring book, with a cow eating grass. Scribbles of different shades of crayon were scratched across the page.
“It’s great.” Lex closed her eyes at the gentle head massage. “I really want to go home.” She caught Amanda’s hand and held it close to her chest. “I missed you last night.” At least she did whenever the pain would wake her, and she lay in the darkness waiting for relief. That quiet time, when no one stirred in the halls, and it took what seemed like forever before the nurse arrived to assist her. It was the loneliest part of the night.
“I missed you, too. Lorrie keeps asking where her Momma is. Do you feel up to a visit?”
Lex’s heart swelled at the thought of seeing their daughter. Knowing that she was missed made her aches fade, and she found herself looking forward to seeing Lorrie. “I’d really like that. Do you think it would scare her, seeing me laid up like this?”
“I don’t think so. As long as I explain it to her, she should be fine. She’s pretty sharp.” Amanda brushed her thumb across Lex’s cheek. “You’re hurting, I can tell.”
“Some,” Lex admitted. “But I don’t want to stay hopped up on drugs all the time. I’d rather be able to talk to you.”
Amanda smiled at that. “I’d rather not see you in pain. But, I can appreciate where you’re coming from.” She gestured toward the vase of flowers. “Lorrie helped me pick these out. She liked the ivy, but it was too big to carry.”
“I love them, and the picture.” Lex brought Amanda’s hand to her lips and kissed the knuckles. “I love you.”
“I love you, too. Were you able to get any sleep at all?”
“A little bit.”
“Yeah, I didn’t, either. Lorrie kept singing the new song Gramma taught her in the tub last night. I thought she’d never settle down.”
Lex grinned. “Really? What song was that?”
Amanda held out both hands, twisting them so that her pinky fingers were pointed in opposite directions. She touched the tips of her thumbs together. “Well, at least that’s what Lorrie called it. Itsy, bitsy, spider.” She moved her hands up and down, so that her pinky fingers waved in opposite positions.
Rolling her eyes, Lex mentally pictured the little girl’s antics. “She really got into it, huh?”
“Oh, yeah. I may have to do some serious harm to my grandmother
for that one. Old MacDonald is bad enough.”
“As I can see from the artwork you brought, she still has that thing for cows, doesn’t she?” Lex remembered Lorrie’s excitement every time she saw one of the animals.
“Uh-huh. And now, she’s also going on about dogs. One of the kids at the church brought pictures of his new puppy, and I think she’s a bit jealous.”
Lex considered that. As a child, she was never allowed to have a dog. The times she would ask, her father would refuse. He claimed it would upset the cattle, but Lex thought it had more to do with his fear of the animals. He had mentioned one time that when he was a child, he had been bitten by a neighbor’s terrier. She mentally shook off the thought. “What do you think? Should we get her one?”
“I don’t know. I just thought I’d mention it to you, so that you’d know.” Amanda propped one hip against the bed. “It might give her something to concentrate on, besides the baby.”
“Maybe so.” Lex touched Amanda’s stomach. “How are you feeling? Still nauseous?”
Covering Lex’s hand with her own, Amanda sighed. “A little bit. But it’s a lot easier to tolerate now that I know what’s causing it.” A rueful smile touched her face. “Although I’d gladly give up the constant trips to the bathroom. And, speaking of which, I’ll be right back.” She rolled her eyes and went into the adjoining washroom.
As the outside door opened, Lex looked up to see Charlie and Martha walk in. “Hi.”
“Hey there, kiddo.” He lightly squeezed Lex’s good leg. “Aren’t you about through lazing around?”
Lex laughed then grimaced. “Ow. Don’t make me laugh, Charlie. Hey, why aren’t you at work?”
“Like he could stay away from here,” Martha tsked. She straightened the bedcovers. “You’re looking a bit better than yesterday.”
“Thanks. I’m doing all right.” Lex grabbed her hand. “Stop fussing.”
Amanda came out of the bathroom. “Who’s fussing?”
“Martha.” Lex soaked up the love from her family. She looked up into Martha’s eyes. “I’m fine, really.”
“Damned kid.” Martha sniffled. “Don’t you dare scare me like that again, you hear? I’m getting my gray hair fast enough, without you helping.”
Lex clasped her hand tighter. “I’m sorry. I’ll try to do better.” She looked over at her lover. “Have you given them the news?”
Charlie turned his gaze back and forth between Lex and Amanda. “What news? Are you getting released?”
“Nope. Better.” Lex grinned at Amanda. “You haven’t told them?”
Amanda shook her head. “No, I wanted to wait until we were together.” She stood on the other side of Lex and placed her hand on her shoulder. “I’m pregnant.”
Martha raised her hands and clapped them together. “I knew it!” She turned to her husband. “See? I told you.”
“You sure did.” His smile almost covered his whole face. “Congratulations, you two. That’s wonderful news.”
“Wait a minute. What do you mean, you knew it?” Amanda asked Martha. “How did you know?”
“Please, honey. Even I knew that you had all the classic symptoms. Surely you had some inkling.” Martha hurried around the bed and hugged Amanda. “You’re just so cute.”
Amanda returned the embrace and pulled back slightly. “No, really. There has been so much going on lately, that I didn’t realize how long it was since we had seen the doctor. I had to have Gramma tell me.”
Lex turned to look at her. “Your grandmother figured it out?” She started laughing. “I would have loved to have heard that conversation.”
“Hush.” Amanda crossed her arms over her chest, then chuckled herself. “It was pretty funny. I can’t believe, after wanting this baby so badly, that I didn’t realize what was going on in my own body.”
“Don’t you worry about it.” Martha shook her finger at Lex. “And don’t you be giving her a hard time. Just because you’re stuck in that bed, it doesn’t mean I can’t take my spoon to your behind.”
Holding up her good hand, Lex surrendered. “I’ll behave, I promise.” She turned her eyes to Charlie. “Are you going to just stand there, or are you going to help me?”
“Oh, no. Don’t get me involved in this.” He backed away from the bed. “I’m afraid you’re outnumbered this time.”
“Gee, thanks.” Lex tried, but was unable to keep the grin from her face. She was too excited about Amanda’s pregnancy to care.
THE BANDAGE COVERED his nose, and close to half of his face. Hubert grimaced at his reflection, and straightened his tie. He had one more idea to make some quick money. Picking up his jacket from the bed, he left the house. Hubert looked in the driveway and cursed. Losing the car upset him more than the loss of his wife. He took off down the sidewalk, still grumbling under his breath.
It took him almost half an hour to reach the small café. When he stepped inside, he looked around and noticed his old friend sitting in a corner booth. Ted Hotchiss only lowered his newspaper when he realized someone had sat in the booth across from him.
“Hubert? I heard you were back in town. What on earth happened to your face?” Ted laid his paper on the seat next to him. He wasn’t too surprised to see his old friend. Once he heard Hubert had returned from prison, Ted figured it was only a matter of time before he looked him up.
“Long story.” Hubert waved to the waitress, who took her time coming over to the table. “Hey, babe. Get me a coffee.”
Francine wrinkled her nose and shrugged. “All right.” She checked the table. “Would you like anything else, Ted?”
“No, I’m fine. Thanks.”
With another disdainful look at Hubert, she turned and left.
Hubert stretched against the back of the booth. “So, how are you doing, old friend?”
“Not bad. Business has been pretty good.”
“Uh-huh.” Hubert leaned forward. “Listen, buddy. I’m in a bit of a bind. Someone closed up my old office while I was gone, and now the damn place is a sewing shop.” He took the coffee Francine placed on the table and brought the cup to his lips. Blowing on the hot liquid, he took a cautious sip. “Since your business is so good, what do you say to having a partner?”
Ted felt a sudden chill at those words. The last thing he needed was trouble, and he knew the man across the table from him was chock full of it. He had been trying to distance himself from Hubert for a couple of years for just that very reason. “I don’t think I have enough clients to justify that, Hubert. Wouldn’t it be better for you to just reopen somewhere else?”
Slamming his coffee mug onto the table, Hubert cursed as some of the drink spilled onto his hand. “Dammit!” He sucked on the skin between his thumb and index finger in an attempt to squelch the pain. “Are you saying you’re not going to help me? After all I’ve done for you?”
“Give me a break.” Ted had heard enough from his former friend. “You never do anything for anyone else, unless it suits you. Now if you’ll excuse me,” he picked up his paper and opened it, “I’ve got things to do.”
Hubert glared at him. He waited several minutes for Ted to say something, but all he got was a rustling of the paper the other man held in front of himself. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” He grabbed the paper from the top and yanked it down. “Hey, dammit. I’m talking to you.”
Ted shook out the paper and resumed his previous position. “Goodbye, Hubert.”
“God dammit!” Hubert slapped his hands on the table and stood. “This is bullshit. You haven’t seen the last of me, asshole!”
Watching him leave, Ted shook his head. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
Lex’s grimace turned into a smile when Anna Leigh stepped into her room, balancing Lorrie on one hip. The little girl squealed and held out her hands.
“Momma!” Lorrie wriggled in her grandmother’s grasp. She continued to struggle, until Anna Leigh brought her next to the bed.
“Hold on there, lil’ bit.” Lex raised her good arm and caught Lorrie’s hand. “Put her here next to me.”
Anna Leigh continued to hold the squirming child. “Are you certain that’s a good idea, Lexington? She’s quite rambunctious today.”
“Please.” Lex bit back a groan as Lorrie joined her on the bed. She was glad Amanda had left the room a few moments earlier, otherwise she might not have gotten away with having Lorrie with her. “How’s my girl? Have you been good for Gramma?”
“Yep.” Seeming to sense her mother’s pain, Lorrie lightly touched Lex’s injured shoulder. “Momma’s owie hurt?”
Lex nodded. “A little.” She kissed the tiny hand that touched her lips. “But it’s feeling a lot better since you’re here.”
“I brought back—” Amanda came into the room, holding a paper bag. Her words died on her lips while she watched Lex with their daughter. She stood next to her grandmother, and kept her voice low so as not to disturb them. “Thanks for bringing Lorrie in, Gramma. Lex has been dying to see her.”
Anna Leigh leaned closer to her. “It was my pleasure. I did try to explain to her that Lexington wasn’t feeling well, and that she had to be easy on her. And from the looks of it, I believe she understood.”
Lorrie lay against Lex’s side and propped her head on her uninjured shoulder. She closed her eyes and snuggled as close as she could. In no time at all, she was asleep.
Lex put her arm around Lorrie to keep her from falling. Once she realized the child had fallen asleep, she looked up and noticed Amanda in the room. “Oh, hi.”
“Hi, yourself.” Amanda put the paper bag on the small table beside the bed. “I brought you something to eat.”
“Please tell me it’s barbequed ribs.”
Amanda shook her head. “I’m afraid not. But I did think about it. I didn’t know how you would have handled eating them.” She took a wrapped sandwich from the bag. “You’ll have to settle for a barbeque brisket sandwich, instead.” She used the controls to raise the top of the bed, until Lex was upright. Lorrie never stirred, showing just how tired the little girl was. Amanda unwrapped the top portion of the sandwich and handed it to her lover.
After the first bite, Lex rolled her eyes in ecstasy. “Mmm. That’s fantastic.” It didn’t take her long to finish her lunch, and she wadded up the paper the best she could. She exchanged it for a paper napkin from Amanda, and wiped her mouth and chin. “Thank you.”
“You’re very welcome.” Amanda tossed the trash into a nearby receptacle. “Has the doctor been by yet?”
“No, not today. I’m hoping that means I’m getting out of here today.”
Anna Leigh placed her hand on Lex’s uninjured leg. “Please don’t rush things, Lexington. I know you are probably tired of being here, but you need to follow the doctor’s orders.”
“Don’t worry, she will.” Amanda pinched several strands of Lex’s hair and tugged. “Isn’t that right?”
Bending over to kiss her lover’s lips, Amanda whispered, “Good.” She straightened up and looked down into Lorrie’s peaceful face. “She’s been going nuts without you.”
Lex stroked the sleeping child’s hair. “I’ve missed her, too. You never realize how much you love and care for someone, until you almost lose them.”
“Yeah.” Amanda brushed her knuckles across Lex’s cheek. “Let’s keep that from happening, okay?”
“You bet. I plan on being around to see her kids graduate from college.” Lex put her hand behind Amanda’s head and pulled her forward. “Come here, beautiful.” Their lips touched, and neither of them noticed when Anna Leigh slipped quietly from the room.
To be continued in part 10
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