Disclaimers: See Part one.
If you're interested in Amanda's Blog, go to http://rockingwmom.wordpress.com/ and check it out. My brilliant wife has been having a good time J – Carrie
The black limousine drove slowly past the park, its smoky windows blocking out the noise of children playing. One of the occupants, a middle-aged woman, sighed and stared longingly at the playground.
“What's your problem, Veronica?” her husband asked. He chewed on the unlit cigar that hung from his mouth and shifted so he could look through her window. “Well?”
She dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief. “Nothing, Harrison .”
“It must be something, for you to carry on like that,” he grumbled.
Reluctantly turning away from the view, Veronica Rivers gave her husband her full attention. “I can't help but think what might have been.”
Harrison jerked the cigar from his mouth. “For god's sake, woman. Our son has been dead for ten years. Why on earth are you crying about it now? You can't keep dwelling on the past.”
“I know. But, still, it's so difficult, listening to our friends talk about their grandchildren. They always have photographs, videos, plays and ballgames. Every year, it gets harder and harder, knowing that somewhere in Texas we have a grandchild. It's even worse now, since we're not traveling as much as we did before. Why haven't we talked to Jeannie about seeing Frank's daughter?” She turned toward the window once again. “I always liked Jeannie. She made our son so happy.”
“We never saw her because they hauled Jeanne and our granddaughter to some god-forsaken place.” Harrison tossed the soggy cigar onto a tray and took a fresh one from his breast pocket. He used a gold cigar cutter and snipped away the end. Within moments, a thick cloud of smoke hovered above them. “I don't know how Cauble stands it, his own daughter turning out that way .”
Veronica casually covered her nose and mouth with her handkerchief. “They seemed nice enough to me.”
He spit a tiny piece of tobacco onto the floor. “Bullshit. They're nothing but deviants, and they influenced Cauble to allow them to take our daughter-in-law and granddaughter halfway across the damned country. For all we know, they placed Jeanne in some sort of institution and spent all her money. God knows Frank left her well-off.”
“I don't think—”
“Enough! Whining about the past won't bring our son back,” Harrison growled. His expression softened when he saw the total look of defeat on his wife's face. “But maybe I can hire someone to look into where our granddaughter is, and go from there.”
She laid her hand on his leg. “Thank you, Harrison . Maybe she can come visit us for summer vacation. She's old enough.”
Harrison covered his wife's hand with his own. For all his bluster and bravado, he truly loved her. “She certainly is. I'll have an investigator look into finding her.”
The cold, November wind brought tears to Lex's eyes, as she cautiously moved closer to the spooked horse. She blinked to clear her vision, not wanting to make any sudden moves. “Easy, now,” she murmured, holding her hands out away from her sides. She had a lead rope dangling from her left shoulder in the hopes of catching the gelding.
Lorrie sat quietly on the top of the corral. Her legs jiggled impatiently, but she knew better than to disturb Lex while she was working. She held a bag that contained gauze pads and ointment, for whenever her mother caught the horse. Her legs stilled as it reared, causing Lex to take a step back. “Momma!”
Lex turned her head and winked at her daughter. “It's okay, Lorrie.” She turned her attention back to the horse, confident in her abilities.
The restless animal huffed at the human. It shook its head and kicked its rear legs into the air in an attempt to warn the person away.
“Sssh.” Lex got close enough to grab the halter, but didn't move. She stared down the horse, waiting until it calmed before reaching out and scratching the gelding's damp neck. “Easy.” She grinned as the horse leaned into her touch. “That's it. Good fella.”
Not far away, the back door of the house slammed, as Melanie raced across the yard. She was unable to open the gate on the fence, so she climbed over. It didn't take her long to get to the corral. “Lorrie, help me up.” When her sister ignored her, she stomped her foot. “Lorrie!”
The high-pitched voice startled the horse. It reared and unintentionally knocked Lex over with its front hooves. She landed hard on her back, stunned.
“Momma!” Lorrie started to jump into the corral, until she saw her mother roll out of the way of the horse.
“Stay back,” Lex ordered. She climbed to her feet and gingerly walked to where her daughters were. Rubbing her chest with one hand, she took off her hat and wiped her forehead. “Melanie, what have I told you about yelling around the animals?”
“I'm sorry, Momma. I just wanted to get up like Lorrie.” Melanie's lower lip quivered and tears welled up in her eyes. “I never get to sit up high.”
Lorrie watched her mother climb through the slates of the corral. “Are you okay? That looked like it hurt.”
“Nah. Scared me more than hurt me,” Lex assured her. “Why don't you two go see what Mada's up to? She's been back from church long enough to bake some cookies.” Lex never felt bad about sending the kids to Martha's. Sunday's after church service was one of the best times to get something tasty. She knew that there were always fresh cookies or pie.
“But who's gonna help you with the horse?” Lorrie asked, while she climbed off the corral. “You said you needed someone to hold the medicine.”
Lex removed her gloves and put her hand on Lorrie's shoulder. “How about you help me once you're out of school next week? Maybe by then I'll have him settled down enough.” She stopped and knelt in front of both girls. “I want you two to be very careful around that horse, okay? I need your help to make sure no one gets in there and gets hurt.”
Both girls solemnly nodded. “Yes, ma'am,” they echoed together. Giggles broke out when Lex tickled their stomachs.
“Good.” She took the bag of medical supplies from Lorrie and gave them each a kiss. “Now hurry over to Mada's, before your Grandpa Charlie eats all the goodies.”
With a squeal, two sets of feet took off toward the cozy cottage that Martha and Charlie called home.
Lex slowly stood and rubbed her chest. “Amanda's going to kill me if I come home with any more bruises.” She headed for the house, trying not to limp.
The back door opened before Lex made it up the steps. Amanda stood in the threshold with her hands on her hips. “What did you do?”
“What makes you think I did anything?” Lex asked. She stopped in front of her wife and kissed Amanda on the nose.
“Let's see. Could it be the fact that you're covered in dirt? Or maybe the way you're walking like an old woman.” Amanda lightly touched Lex's pale, blue shirt. “Or maybe it's the hoof prints on your chest that's a dead giveaway.”
Lex lowered her head and glanced at where Amanda's hands rested. “Hoof prints?” she couldn't help but grin when those same hands began to unbutton her shirt. “Uh, sweetheart?”
“As much as I'm enjoying the attention, do you think we could take this inside? I'm starting to feel a bit of a draft.”
Amanda gently ran her fingers over two u-shaped blemishes. Red and scraped, they would most likely be ugly bruises by morning. “Let's go upstairs and get you into the tub. You can tell me what happened while you soak.” She peeked around Lex. “Where are the girls?”
“Martha's.” A diabolical grin covered Lex's face. “Probably having a nice, healthy snack.”
“Oooh.” Amanda wore a matching smile. “They usually fall asleep after one of Martha's ‘healthy' snacks, don't they?” Cake, cookies or pie and a large glass of milk were almost always guaranteed to bring on the need for a nap.
Amanda tugged on Lex's open shirt. “Good. We'll get you cleaned up, and then have a nap of our own.”
With a heavy sigh, Michael Cauble loaded the last of his equipment into the back of the black Ford Explorer. He checked his watch, relieved to see he'd get home at a reasonable hour. The wedding he had photographed hadn't taken as long as he had expected, so he was glad he'd get to see his wife before dark.
The drive home seemed to drag on forever, and by the time he pulled into his driveway, he could barely keep his eyes open. Michael hit the remote for the garage door and drove inside, so he wouldn't have to unload his gear. Before he could get out of the SUV, the inner door to the house opened.
Lois watched from the doorway as her husband sat silently in the SUV, unmoving. When he didn't get out of the Explorer, she went and tapped on the window. “Honey? Are you okay?”
Michael raised his head and gave his wife what he hoped was a decent smile. He got out and kissed Lois on the lips. “Hey, beautiful.”
She brushed her fingers across his cheek. “Are you all right?”
“It's been a long day,” he admitted, putting his arm around her waist as they walked into the house. “I've never seen so many bratty kids in my life.”
“Poor baby. Are you hungry?”
He sighed. “I don't think I have the energy to eat anything. Maybe I'll just take a shower and go on to bed.”
Lois touched his forehead. “Are you coming down with something? I could call Rodney. I'm sure he wouldn't mind—”
“I'm just tired, Lois. A shower should perk me right up.” He shuffled toward the bedroom, leaving his worried wife behind.
She waited until he was in the bedroom, before she went to the living room and picked up the phone. “Hello, Anna Leigh? This is Lois.”
“Well, good evening, dearest. It's so nice to hear from you. How is everything?”
Lois bit her lip while she considered her answer. “To tell you the truth, I'm worried about your son. He hasn't been himself, lately.”
“So, you've noticed something, as well? Jacob mentioned something at dinner this evening. I was going to call you tomorrow. He said that Michael looked a bit pale this morning, when he stopped by on his way to his studio.”
“He still is,” Lois admitted. “Pale, I mean. And he's been so tired. Tonight, he refused dinner.” She shook her head. “I just don't know, Anna Leigh. Even after a good night's sleep, he still looks completely worn out.”
Anna Leigh sighed. “He needs to go see Rodney.”
“Good luck with that one,” Lois muttered. “He about bit my head off when I suggested it.”
“He did, did he? Well, we'll just see about that. I'll call Rodney right now. I'm sure he'll—”
“No, wait. As much as I'd love to have Michael checked out, I don't think he'd appreciate being bothered tonight.” Lois paused and listened to see if her husband had left the shower, but there was still no sound coming from the bedroom. “But, I'll call you in the morning, and we can go from there.”
“That's fine, Lois. But, please, call me if you need anything, no matter what time it is. Try and have a good evening, dearest. I'm sure everything will work out fine.”
“I hope so. Goodnight.” Lois put the phone away and went to the bedroom. “Oh, Michael.”
Michael was stretched out across the bed on his stomach, still in his clothes. He had one shoe off and one shoe on.
Lois touched his shoulder. “Honey, wake up.”
He groaned and rolled onto his back. “Hmm?”
“You need to get undressed,” Lois gently chided. She removed his remaining shoe, while Michael fumbled with his tie.
“Stupid thing,” he growled, unable to undo the knot.
Lois pushed his hands away. “Quit fussing and let me help.”
“I can do it.”
She kissed his forehead. “I know you can. But I can do it,” she pulled the tie away from his collar, “much faster.”
“Showoff.” His smile belied the gruff tone. “Thanks.”
Within a few minutes, Lois had Michael undressed and under the bedcovers. Before she could turn out the light on her nightstand, he was snoring softly. “Goodnight, my darling.” She kissed his cheek and soon joined him in slumber.
The lights in the bedroom were dim as Lex stepped out of the bathroom. She towel-dried her hair with one hand while she searched through a dresser drawer with the other. After she found the sleep shirt she was looking for, she turned and noticed what her wife was doing.
Amanda was propped on her side of the bed, a laptop balanced on her legs. Her fingers typed away furiously and she was so engrossed in what she was doing she didn't notice Lex until she sat on the bed. “Oh, hi, honey.”
“Hi. Whatcha doin'?”
“Updating my blog.” Amanda squinted at the screen, frowned, and went back to typing.
Lex stretched across the bed until she could see what her wife was working on. “Your what?”
“Oh. Thought you said you were plating a frog.” Lex grinned. “Didn't know exactly why you'd need a laptop to play with a frog, though.”
Her head tilted, Amanda didn't pay any attention to what Lex was saying. “Mmm-hmm.”
With a sigh, Lex got comfortable. “So, what exactly is your blog about?” When she didn't get an answer, she started touching the edge of Amanda's ear, which always got a response. “A blog about a dog, wrestling a frog, in a bog. Maybe they took a break on a log, because of the fog,” she teased.
Amanda stopped what she was typing and turned to look at Lex. “What did you say?”
“Um, don't ask me to repeat it, because I don't think I can.”
“Nut. That's what you get for reading Melanie's Dr. Seuss books.” Amanda brushed her fingertips along Lex's cheek. “Give me another minute or two to finish this up, okay?”
Lex kissed the fingers. “Sure.” She quietly watched Amanda type, secretly enjoying the look of intense concentration.
Less than five minutes had passed when Amanda shut down her laptop. “There. All finished.” She packed it into its case and slid it under the bed. “Sorry about that. I thought I'd be finished before you got out of the tub.”
“Not a problem, sweetheart.” Lex turned onto her side so that she was facing her wife. “Can you tell me what you blog about? Or is it private?”
Amanda laughed. “Blogging is anything but private, honey. But it's something I've just started to do, as a bit of therapy, I guess.”
“Therapy? What's wrong?”
“Nothing's wrong. But I've been a little restless since the office closed, and Gramma suggested I try my hand at writing. And since I'm not going to write the Great American Novel any time soon, I thought I'd try something a little less strenuous.”
“What do you blog about?” Lex was charmed by the blush on Amanda's face. “Oooh. Is it dirty?”
Amanda slapped Lex's arm. “No! I can't even read erotica without being embarrassed. It's the last thing I'd ever write about, you know that.”
“I know. But it's always fun to tease you about it.” Lex tried to roll out of the way when Amanda pounced on her. “Hey, watch it!”
“Teach you to pick on me,” Amanda growled, tickling Lex's ribs. “Actually, I blog about us. Or more to the point, about things that happen around here.”
Lex pulled her closer. “Like day to day stuff, huh? Considering our kids, you certainly get enough material. What do you call it? I'd like to check it out sometime.”
“They're not the only ones, you know. And, it's called RockingWMom. Perfect, don't you think?” Amanda squirmed until she was comfortably resting across Lex. “I forgot about your chest. I'm not hurting you, am I?”
“Not a bit.” Lex wrapped her arms around the body across hers and nuzzled Amanda's hair. “What were we talking about?”
Amanda nibbled on Lex's throat at the same time warm hands slipped under her nightgown. “I haven't a clue.”
The usual ticking of the clock on the kitchen wall was drowned out by Amanda's pacing. She glanced at her watch, then the clock, and finally to her wife, who had an amused look on her face. “What?”
“You're going to wear a hole in the floor, sweetheart.”
Amanda glared at her. “I don't see how you can sit there so calmly.” She stomped to the refrigerator and opened it, peering inside. With a disgusted snort, she slammed the door shut and resumed her pacing.
Lex stood and stretched. When Amanda passed her, she wrapped her arms around her and held her close. “You know, I rode the school bus my entire life, and I think I turned out okay.”
“I know. It's just—”
“They're our babies, and you're not used to handing responsibility over to anyone else,” Lex finished for her.
Amanda turned in Lex's arms, so that her cheek rested against Lex's chest. “I'm going to lose my mind before lunch, at this rate.”
“Nah.” Lex kissed the top of her head. “I need to run out and check the live traps on the northern side. Want to go with me?”
“Are we riding, or driving?”
Lex's breath caught as Amanda's lips touched her throat. “You keep that up, and I won't be able to do either. But, let's ride. We've haven't been out together in quite a while.” She laughed when those same lips blew a raspberry on her neck.
Amanda stepped back. “All right. Let's go saddle up the horses, before I decide to drag you upstairs.”
“Not much of a threat, if you ask me. But, maybe we can come back to the house for an early lunch.” Lex helped Amanda into her coat, before donning her own heavy duster.
After a side trip to the office for a rifle, they left the house. As they walked toward the barn, Amanda watched Lex. “Are you up to a ride? You're still limping, a little.”
Lex held the barn door open for her wife. “Yeah, I'm just stiff. This cold air makes everything ache.” She left the rifle and scabbard on a bale of hay, away from the horses.
“You probably wouldn't tell me anyway,” Amanda mumbled.
“Sweetheart, I'd never talk about anything else, if I told you every time something hurt.” Lex carried out Amanda's saddle and blanket and placed it on the floor by Stormy's stall. “But I promise, if it gets too bad, I'll let you know.”
Amanda kissed her on the cheek. “I'll hold you to that, Slim.” She nudged Lex out of the way. “I can saddle my own horse, honey.”
“I know. But I like doing it for you.” Lex backed away slowly when Amanda playfully curled her fingers into claws, threatening to tickle her. “But, I think I'll let you handle it yourself, this time.”
“Chicken.” Amanda laughed at the exaggerated squawk that Lex gave out, as she ducked into the tack room. She stepped into Stormy's stall and patted the paint pony's neck. “Are you ready for a ride today?”
Lex came out of the tack room carrying her own saddle and blanket, as well as having both bridles draped over one shoulder. She hung Stormy's bridle across the top of the stall for Amanda. “What are you going to do if she says no?” she teased, opening Thunder's stall. “Hey, fella.”
“Probably the same thing you'd do if Thunder ever answered you.”
Amanda laughed and quickly saddled Stormy. “Takes one to know one.”
“That's real mature, Amanda. No wonder our kids are such smartasses. They come by it naturally.” Lex finished with Thunder and led him from his stall.
Stormy's stall opened, and Amanda stepped out. She lightly poked Lex in the chest. “Considering you're the Queen of the Smartass Remark, I'd say our girls were doomed.” Before her wife could retaliate, she put her horse between them.
Lex laughed. “You've got a point, sweetheart.” She attached the scabbard to her saddle, double-checking to make certain it was secure. Once they were outside, both climbed on their horses. “Wanna race?”
“I don't think so.” Amanda shifted in the saddle until she was comfortable. “Let's take it easy and enjoy the ride, okay?”
“Spoilsport.” Lex stretched in the saddle and inhaled the cool air. “God, it feels good to be out here.” She nudged Thunder until they were beside Stormy and Amanda. “I've missed our rides together.”
Amanda turned and looked at her wife. The winter's sun painted Lex in an almost ethereal glow and the sight took her breath away. “Me, too.” She loved how the light brought out the strands of silver in Lex's otherwise dark hair.
They rode along silently for the first ten minutes, each lost in their own thoughts. After Lex sighed for the third time, Amanda asked, “What's the matter?”
“Nothing.” Lex caught the look she was given and shrugged her shoulders. “Okay, nothing serious, I suppose.”
Amanda cleared her throat, but didn't say anything.
“I got a letter last week from Great Aunt Loretta. Did you know she's ninety-two?”
“Wow. I had no idea.”
Lex nodded. “Yeah. Anyway, she's been after me to go to the family reunion next year.”
Nodding, Amanda moved Stormy closer to Thunder, so she could touch Lex on the leg. “And? Where is it?”
“ West Texas .”
“Okay, so go. I mean, it's not like you've been in a while, right? At least since we've been together.”
Lex took Amanda's hand and squeezed. “No, I haven't been since I was about twenty-five, or so. They only come along every five years, and Melanie was too little during the last one.”
“When is it, exactly?”
“The second weekend in January. They learned the hard way not to have them during the summer.” Lex grinned. “There's nothing out there for miles, except cotton fields and sand. The last time I went, they had it in June.”
Amanda cringed. “Oh, god. I can just imagine.”
“Yep. And to top it all off, the community center air conditioner wasn't very good. Aunt Loretta told them if they wanted to keep the ‘old timers' around, they'd better come up with a different solution. Or she'd book a cruise to Alaska every five years, instead.”
Laughing, Amanda squeezed Lex's hand. “I'd love to meet her.”
“Of course. I know you write to her all the time and send her photos of the girls, but wouldn't it be nice to introduce them in person?”
Lex kissed Amanda's hand before releasing it. “Yeah, it would. Thanks, sweetheart.” She pointed up ahead. “It's not far to the first trap. We placed it up there, on the other side of our little pond.”
“It's gotten that close?”
“There were some tracks, so I figured better safe, than sorry.” Lex unsnapped the end of the scabbard, but didn't remove the rifle.
Amanda watched nervously. “Are you expecting trouble?”
Giving her wife a wink, Lex grinned. “Considering both you and I are magnets for trouble, I didn't want to take any chances.”
They cautiously skirted the pond, which was half the size it used to be. Even though it was fed by an underground spring, the extended drought had hurt it. When they got close enough to the live trap, the scream of the bobcat startled both horses.
“Whoa!” Lex got Thunder under control with no problem, and watched helplessly as Amanda's mount bucked beneath her.
With one hand on the saddle horn and the other holding the reins, Amanda tightened her knees around Stormy. “Damn it, Stormy, calm down!” Once her horse was under control, she gave her wife a shaky grin. “That was fun.”
“Not.” Lex dismounted and stepped over to where Amanda held her horse. “Are you okay?”
“I'm fine. But I think we have a bigger problem.”
Lex hadn't taken her eyes off Amanda. “What?”
“How are we going to get that creature back to the house?” Amanda pointed to the trap, which held a live, and very pissed off, bobcat.
“Umm.” Lex tipped her cowboy hat back and scratched her forehead. “I guess I can always tie it on the back of my horse. I don't think it can get its claws through the cage.”
Amanda's eyes grew wide and she shook her head. “Like hell you are! I don't want that thing anywhere near you!”
Lex patted her leg. “Okay.” She tilted her head and studied the cage, then took her cell phone off her hip. Hitting a number from memory, she blew her wife a kiss. “Hey, Roy . We're out by the pond near the north pasture, and found a little friend.” She laughed at whatever her foreman said. “Yeah, I didn't think that far ahead. Would you mind bringing a truck out? Thanks.” Lex snapped the phone closed and returned it to her holster. “How's that?”
“Better, thanks.” Amanda got off her horse and ran her hands along Lex's arms. “So, now what do we do?”
Lex's hands gravitated toward Amanda's hips. “I've got a few ideas.” She tugged her closer, and grinned when Amanda linked her hands behind her head. Following the unspoken request, Lex lowered her head and kissed her.
Not quite eight o'clock in the morning, there were great smells beginning to come out of the kitchen. Amanda stood at the counter, chopping onions and trying not to wipe at her tearing eyes.
Martha peeked over her shoulder. “Honey, you keep whacking at those things, there ain't going to be anything left of them.”
“I wanted to make sure they're cut up small enough so that Lex doesn't notice them.”
“She definitely turns up her nose at any kind of onion, that's for sure.”
Melanie raced into the kitchen. “Mommy! Save me,” she yelled. She wrapped her arms around Amanda's legs, just as Lorrie and Freckles crossed the doorway.
Lorrie's shirt was wet, and she had had water dripping from her hair. “There you are!” she started for her sister, who squealed and tried to climb Amanda.
Freckles barked and jumped around Lorrie, who kept trying to catch Melanie.
“Come here, Mel. I'm gonna—”
Amanda put her knife down and lifted Melanie into her arms. She turned and noticed Lorrie's wet hair and shirt. “What's going on around here?”
“I didn't do nothin', Mommy,” Melanie professed.
“Liar!” Lorrie screeched, reaching for Melanie's leg.
Melanie kicked at her, almost hitting Lorrie in the face. “Am not!”
Martha put her hand on Lorrie's shoulder and moved away from Melanie and Amanda. “Hold it right there, young ‘un. You're going to get a knot on your head if you're not careful.” She touched Melanie on the nose. “And you, little miss, better behave yourself, or you won't get any dessert today.”
Amanda popped Melanie on the rear end. “You'd better not be telling us a story, Melanie Leigh Walters.” She put her face up to her daughter's, so close their noses almost touched. “Now tell me the truth. What did you do to your sister?”
“She dumped a glass of water on me for no reason,” Lorrie helpfully supplied.
“Nuh-uh! You did too do somethin'!” Melanie kicked at Lorrie again, then cried out when Amanda popped her gently on the rear again. “Mommy!”
After setting Melanie down, Amanda put her hands on her shoulders. “Why did you dump a glass of water on your sister?”
“'cause she's a baby!”
Martha stopped wiping Lorrie's hair with a towel and waggled her finger at her. “Lorrie, that's not nice.”
Lorrie's lower lip jutted out. “Well, she is.”
Amanda felt like screaming, too. “Girls, enough!” She pointed at Lorrie. “You! Go out to the barn and see what your momma is up to.”
“But I didn't do anything wrong,” Lorrie whined.
“You're not in trouble.” Amanda ruffled Lorrie's hair. “Yet,” she added, playfully. “Go on, now.”
Lorrie slowly marched out of the kitchen, mumbling under her breath.
Melanie had a very pleased look on her face, until her mother tapped her on the head. “I want you to go upstairs to your room and think about what you did today.”
“I don't know why you did what you did, but it's going to stop. The rest of the family will be here soon, and I don't want you and your sister going at it all day. I'll come up and get you when I think you've been up there long enough.”
Melanie started to cry as she left the kitchen. “Lorrie started it,” she sniffled.
Once the room was quiet again, Amanda sighed. “I don't think this house will survive their teen years.”
“Oh, honey. It's going to get a lot worse, before it gets better,” Martha sagely advised. “Especially since Lorrie is so much like Lexie.”
Amanda rolled her eyes. “God help us all, then.”
Martha laughed right along with her. “Welcome to my life.”
Slow and purposeful, the chauffeured Town Car cruised the residential streets of Somerville . From the back seat, Harrison Rivers glanced at the papers he held before he tapped the driver on the shoulder. “It's that one, with the yellow roses by the steps. Pull up in the drive.”
Once the car was parked, Harrison dropped the documents on the seat. He started to open his door, when Veronica put her hand on his arm. And voiced her concerns, again. “Maybe we should wait until after the holiday. I'd hate to disturb their family.”
“ We are part of the family, damn it.” He got out of the car. “Are you coming?”
Veronica tucked her purse beneath her arm and joined her husband on the front stairs of the house. She tried to peer into a window. “It doesn't look like anyone's home.”
“You don't know that.” Harrison rang the bell. Not even fifteen seconds had passed before he started pounding on the door. “Goddamn it! Where the hell would they be on Thanksgiving?”
“They could be at Michael's home.” Veronica followed her husband to the car and waited until they were inside to continue. “Didn't the report also say he lived here?”
Harrison took a cigar from the case inside his suit pocket and snipped off the end. He crammed it into his mouth, but didn't light it. “The whole damned bunch of them live in this rotten dump of a town.” He gave the driver the address for Michael Cauble and tapped his leg impatiently.
“I know you're frustrated, dear. But since the report only has their addresses and very little else, perhaps it would be a good idea to return to our hotel suite in Austin until after the holiday. There's no telling where they could be today.”
“No, we're all ready here. There's not that many places they can be. I'll be damned if we don't get to see our granddaughter today.”
The sound of car tires on the graveled driveway caused Lex and Lorrie to make a detour. They stepped around the edge of the porch and saw two cars pulling up alongside of the house.
Lorrie took off toward the parked vehicles at a dead run. “Gramma! Grandpa!” she greeted the first two to get out.
“Hello, there,” Jacob Cauble embraced the child who was wrapped around his body. “What have you been up to?”
“Helping me at the barn,” Lex supplied, as she took a couple of bags from Anna Leigh. “Does Amanda know you're bringing half your kitchen?”
Anna Leigh laughed as she placed her arm around Lex. “Of course she does, dearest. It's really not much, just some of the girls' favorites.”
“Fruit salad?” Lorrie asked, gladly getting between her grandparents and getting a hand from each of them.
The other car door opened, and Jeannie, Rodney and Teddy joined the group. “I see how we rate,” Jeannie teased, pecking Lex on the cheek.
“If you had goodies, we'd have helped you, too.” Lex grinned at her nephew, who was dressed in his usual cowboy outfit. “You ready to take over the ranch, Teddy?”
Teddy took Lex's hand. “Do you still have horses?”
“Yep.” Lex released his hand and opened the back door for everyone. She took a deep breath and happily sighed. “I believe Amanda and Martha are already at it in the kitchen, if you ladies care to join them.”
Jeannie took the bag from Lex's hand. “I'll take this to them, Slim. I'm sure you and the guys have better things to do.”
“My wife has a point,” Rodney said, slapping Lex on the back. “Let's go turn on your beautiful big-screen TV and get some football hype.”
“Sounds like a great idea.” Jacob kissed his wife on the cheek. “Let me know if you ladies need any help in there,” he gallantly offered.
Anna Leigh patted his side. “I'm sure we'll manage, dearest. But thank you.” She followed her granddaughter into the kitchen, while the rest continued down the hall.
Teddy gave his cousin a bashful smile. “Can we go to the barn, Lorrie? I like the way the hay smells.”
“Um, Momma?” Lorrie didn't seem enthused about being his tour guide.
“Go ahead, Lorrie. But you're responsible for Teddy, remember?”
Lorrie nodded. “Come on, Teddy. We'll make forts out of the hay bales.”
He happily followed. “Cool!”
Harrison tossed what was left of his unlit cigar out of the car window. “Damn it all to hell! Cauble's not home, and his parent's house is deserted, too. Where the hell are they?”
“ Now can we go back to Austin ? It's obvious everyone's together today.” Veronica dabbed at her lips with a lace handkerchief. “All this cold air is really not good for my asthma.”
He flipped through the folder with a vengeance. “No! They've got to be around here, somewhere. I think I remember one other place,” his voice drifted off as he read. “Damn! They wouldn't be there , would they?” His face reddened as he tossed the report on the floor.
“That god-forsaken ranch,” He muttered. “Driver, head out of town. It can't be that hard to find.”
The driver nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“Do you think that is a very good idea, Harrison ? After all—”
“Enough!” he bellowed. “If they think they can have Frank's daughter anywhere near those, those, women , they've got another thing coming.” He took out another cigar, this time lighting it.
Veronica delicately waved her handkerchief under her nose. “But, Harrison, Amanda is part of their family. I'm sure—”
He held up his hand to silence her. “If Cauble wants to have a perverted daughter, that's his business. But if Jeanne thinks we'll sit by idly while her sister and that other thing corrupt our son's only child, she's in for a rude awakening.”
No longer exiled, Melanie sat at the kitchen table filling in a picture from her favorite coloring book. She had tearfully apologized to her mother, and would have to do the same to her sister, once Lorrie returned from outside.
Amanda watched as Jeannie gazed fondly at Melanie. She took in her sister's attire, which consisted of a colorful flowing top and black stretch leggings. Suddenly, something occurred to her. “Jeannie?”
“How are you feeling?”
Jeannie raised her head and met Amanda's eyes. Her mouth turned up into a playful grin. “Not too bad. I'm not nauseous at all.”
Anna Leigh and Martha looked at each other, then at Jeannie. They both clapped and cheered at the same time. “Are you—” Anna Leigh asked, hopefully.
“I am!” Jeannie stood and met the others in the middle of the kitchen, where they shared a group hug. “I wanted to wait until we were all together to make the announcement.”
“That's wonderful,” Amanda gushed, holding onto Jeannie and rocking from side to side.
Jeannie giggled. “We're so excited, Mandy. Rodney's been almost beside himself for the last few days, ever since we found out.”
“What does Teddy think of becoming a big brother?” Anna Leigh asked, once they had all calmed down.
“He doesn't know, yet.” Jeannie glanced at Melanie, who was studiously coloring, unaware of the ruckus around her. “We wanted it to be a secret, and you know how kids are.”
Amanda sighed. “All too well.” Her smile returned in full force. “I can't wait to host the baby shower.”
Martha nudged Anna Leigh. “Any excuse for a party, with these girls.”
“Isn't that the truth?” Anna Leigh agreed.
“That's got to be the turn, up ahead,” Harrison signaled the driver, who dutifully followed his instructions. The car passed beneath an ornate metal gate, proclaiming the Rocking W Ranch.
“ Harrison , please. We've been driving around for hours. Let's return to Austin and find a nice restaurant for lunch.” Just the thought of the dirt from the road they were traveling on caused Veronica to cough. “This is barbaric.”
He gave her a nasty look. “I can't help that the damned woman lives out in the middle of god-damned nowhere!”
Veronica bit off a retort as they crossed a wooden bridge. Her outlook changed as they drove closer, and her eyes were drawn to the weathered structure. “Oh, how lovely. It's almost like something out of a magazine.”
“It's a wonder the blasted thing doesn't collapse,” Harrison grumbled. He bumped his head on the side window when the car hit a rut. “Watch where you're going, man! I'd like to get there in one piece.”
The driver tried to keep the smile off his face. “Yes, sir.”
It wasn't long before the road ended in front of a two-story house. The lower half was covered in brick, and the first floor was surrounded by a wrap-around porch. On the second story, French doors opened out onto a balcony. Veronica tore her eyes away from the impressive sight. “It appears we may have found them,” she said, indicating the multiple vehicles parked beside the house.
“It's about damned time.” Harrison waved off the driver when he started to get out of the car. “Don't bother. Come on, Veronica. Let's see about Lorraine .”
With one eye on the road, Lois glanced over at her husband, who had been quiet for the entire drive. “Michael, are you sure you're up to this? It's probably going to be a madhouse at the ranch today.”
Michael held back the sharp remark that was on the tip of his tongue. “Of course I am. Just because I didn't sleep very well is no reason to skip a holiday dinner. I'll be fine.”
Feeling chastised by his tone, Lois sighed and turned her attention back to the road.
“I'm sorry, sweetheart. I shouldn't have snapped at you.” Michael rubbed his wife's back. “I hate to see you worry.”
Lois smiled at him. “Does that mean you'll go see Rodney next week? Because you know I'll keep worrying until you do.”
His laughter was a balm to her heart. “I think I've just been set up.”
“I'll make the call on Monday,” Lois offered.
Lex handed the television remote to Jacob. “Don't let Rodney change the channel to some goofy documentary while I'm getting us some coffee.” She stood and laughed at the indignant sound coming from her brother-in-law.
“Hey, I like football, too. But I can't stand those morons on the pre-game show.” Rodney playfully reached for the remote, which Jacob held over his head.
Charlie, who had been sitting quietly, joined in the laughter.
“Oh no you don't,” Jacob teased. He tossed it to Charlie. “Here, you take it.”
Rodney laughed. “You guys are nuts.”
“Yeah? What was your first clue?” Lex made it around the couch when there was a knock on the front door. “That must be Michael and Lois. Be right back, guys.” She was still smiling when she opened the door. “What have I told you about knocking? The door was—” Her voice trailed off when she saw the vaguely familiar couple standing in front of her. “Uh, hello.”
Harrison pushed by Lex and forced himself into the house. “Is Jeanne here?”
“Who?” Lex noticed the quiet woman still standing on the porch. “You might as well come in, ma'am.”
“Thank you. Miss Walters, wasn't it?” Veronica held out her hand. “I'm not sure you remember me. I'm Veronica Rivers.”
Lex shook the older woman's hand automatically. “Rivers?” Suddenly she remembered where she had seen the couple before. “Frank's parents?”
Veronica nodded. “That's right.”
Harrison barged into the living room. “Where's Jeanne?” he asked the men, who had all turned quiet.
“Mr. Rivers, I don't know what you're doing here, but why don't you sit down and I'll get us all some coffee?” Lex offered.
He turned and glared at her. “I don't want any damned coffee, I want to see my granddaughter!”
Amanda stood in the doorway, with Jeannie, Anna Leigh and Martha right behind her. “What's going on in here? We could hear you all the way in the kitchen.”
Lex turned and shrugged her shoulders. “I'm not sure.”
Footsteps could be heard coming up the front stairs, as Michael and Lois arrived. Michael edged around his daughters, took one look around and his face started to redden. “Harrison Rivers? What are you doing here?”
“Looking for my granddaughter, that's what. Where is she?”
Jeannie came into the room. “Harrison, Veronica. It's good to see you.” She held out her hands, which Veronica took.
“You look wonderful, dear. The last we had heard, you were still recuperating from your illness.”
“Thank you. I've been recovered for years.” Jeannie nodded toward her husband. “All thanks to the great care I received from my doctor. Honey? Could you come over here?”
Rodney stood and brushed the wrinkles off his slacks before he joined his wife. “Mr. and Mrs. Rivers? I'm Rodney Crews.”
Harrison pushed Rodney's hand away. “Whatever. We've come to see our granddaughter.”
“Why now?” Michael asked.
Jeannie drew strength from her husband's arm around her waist. “You've never tried to reach me before, Harrison . Why now, after all this time?”
With her husband's mouth moving silently, Veronica was the one who answered. “I've never stopped thinking about her, Jeanne. Neither of us have. But, it's just been in the last year, since we retired, that we thought we'd finally be able to see Lorraine and spend some quality time with her.” She dabbed at her eyes. “She's the only link we have with Frank. I'm sure you've raised her well, but, we just can't help but wonder how she's turned out.”
Everyone in the room was silent.
“Well? Where is your daughter, Lorraine ?” Harrison asked Jeannie.
“Mommy?” Melanie peeked around the corner of the living room doorway. “Momma?”
Amanda and Lex both turned at the sound of their daughter's voice. Lex was the first to get her wits about her. “Hey, kiddo. Come here.” She held out her arms and Melanie quickly jumped into them. “Where have you been?”
“In the kitchen. But nobody was there no more, so I got lonely.” Melanie snuggled against Lex's shoulder.
“I'm sorry, sweetheart. I'll go back there with you, how's that?” Lex kissed her cheek.
Harrison had heard enough. “For god's sake, who gives a damn? I want to see our granddaughter, Lorraine !”
Melanie turned toward the loud man. “My sister's named Lorraine , too. Where's your granddaughter? Can she come play with us?”
Before Harrison could say anything else, Michael stepped forward and pointed a warning finger at him. “Not another word.”
“What? Why not?” Harrison softened his voice and grabbed Lex's arm to keep her from leaving the room. “Are you Jeanne's daughter, too?”
“That's enough.” Amanda got between Lex and Harrison . “Everyone sit down, please, while we try to sort this out.” She gently pushed her wife toward the door. “Please take her to the kitchen, Lex.”
“Sure. But holler if you need me, okay?”
Melanie's eyes were wide as she peered over Lex's shoulder, on their way out of the room.
Once her daughter was safely away, Amanda joined the group on the other side of the living room. She sat on the arm of the sofa, next to her sister. “Mr. and Mrs. Rivers, things are a little complicated.”
“Is our granddaughter here, or not?” Harrison bellowed, then paused. “Wait.” He turned to Jeannie. “Was that little girl yours, too? What did she call that woman?”
“ That woman,” Amanda ground out, on the verge of standing and tearing into Harrison , “is my wife . And Melanie is our daughter.” Only Jeannie's hand on her leg held in her place.
Harrison frowned. “Yours? But, she said—”
Jeannie jumped in. “ Harrison , please. As you recall, I was not fit to raise a child after Lorrie, um, Lorraine , was born. Amanda and Lex were here for me, and for her, when we needed them.”
“That still doesn't explain,” Harrison argued.
“For god's sake, Harrison , would you please shut up and let my daughter finish?” Michael yelled, his face almost purple. He jumped to his feet. “You couldn't be bothered at the time, so our family took care of Jeannie and Lorrie.”
Veronica held up her hand. “Excuse me, Michael, but I don't understand what you're trying to say. Your family took them away. We never got a chance to help.”
Michael looked at Harrison . “You didn't tell her?”
“Tell me what?” Veronica touched her husband's arm. “Dear? What is he talking about?”
“I personally asked Harrison if he'd like to help us figure out Jeannie's and the baby's care. But he made some excuse about a business venture he was working on.” Michael used a shaky hand to wipe the sweat out of his eyes. “I believe his exact words were, ‘she's your problem, not ours,'. Wasn't it, Harrison ?”
“Well, I may have,” Harrison stammered. He faced his wife, whose disappointment was evident. “Veronica, you remember. It was that deal in Sidney . We left the country almost immediately after Lorraine was born.”
She turned away from him. “And you kept us there, and all over the world, for almost six years, Harrison . Yes, I remember quite well.” She shook her head. “So much time, wasted. Please continue, Jeanne.”
Jeannie exchanged looks with Amanda, who nodded. “It took me almost three years to recuperate from the stroke. By that time, Amanda and Lex were the only family Lorrie had known. As much as I loved her, I knew that she was happy, here.” She held out her hand to Rodney, who took it automatically. “I signed over all my parental rights to them, close to her third birthday. As far as she knows, they are her parents.”
“You gave up our granddaughter to them? But they're,” Harrison fished for a word that he could use, and not get pummeled over. “Queer,” he finished in a whisper.
Lex returned to the room, alone. “Don't worry, we're not contagious,” she told the disgusted man.
“Where's Melanie?” Amanda asked her wife.
“She's gone out to play with the other kids.” Lex purposely avoided the children's names. She put her arm around Amanda, much to Harrison 's dismay. “Mr. Rivers, Lorrie knows all about her father. We told her years ago, about the great man that Frank had been.”
Veronica's eyes misted over at the mention of her son. “Thank you,” she whispered, lowering her eyes.
“I want to see her.” Harrison jumped to his feet.
“That's for her parent's to decide.” Michael stepped in front of him. “For god's sake, man. You can't just barge in here and start making demands. This is a child we're talking about.” He frowned and rubbed at his chest. “I—” His knees buckled, and he would have hit the floor, if not for Lex catching him.
Lorrie brushed the hay off of Teddy's back as they left the barn. “Hold still. You've still got some back here.”
“Ow,” Teddy whined. “That's too hard.” He dodged out of her way.
“Come back here.” Lorrie chased after him, laughing when Teddy jumped away from her again. “Don't go in the house with hay on you. My mom hates to sweep,” she informed him. They rounded the corner of the corral, when Lorrie saw her little sister climbing over the picket fence by the house. “Mel! You're gonna get in trouble for doing that,” she yelled. No matter how many times she tried to show her how to operate the gate latch, Melanie would much rather climb over the fence.
Melanie landed on her feet and ran to them. “Whatcha been doin'?”
“Making play forts in the hay barn,” Teddy bragged. He held his hand over his head. “Mine was this tall.”
“Cool.” Melanie tugged on Lorrie's arm. “Will you push me in the swing?”
Teddy's lower lip stuck out. “We was going to go to the tick tack room. I was going to get to sit on a real saddle.”
“Tack room. And you can still do that, Teddster.” Lorrie took him by the hand. “Come on. I'll help you on the saddle, then I'll push Mel on the swing. Okay?”
His face quickly brightened. “'kay.”
Melanie stomped her foot. “Me first.”
“Company first, Mel. You know the rules.” Lorrie led their little band toward the main barn. “Is everybody here, yet? I'm getting hungry.”
“Uh-huh. But there was some grumpy people here, too. They were all yelling in the living room.”
Lorrie stopped at the barn door and turned around. “What kind of yelling?”
“I dunno. Something about their granddaughter. She has your name.”
“Her name's Lorrie? Cool.” Lorrie opened the door. “Remember, Teddy. Stay away from the tools, and the horses.”
He ran ahead of her. “Okay.”
“No running in the barn,” Lorrie reminded him.
Melanie walked behind them. “No, the grumpy man said her name was Lorraine . That's your real name, right?”
“Uh-huh.” Lorrie followed a jubilant Teddy into the tack room. “That's cool, ‘cause I'm the only Lorraine in our school. Do you think she's going to come here?”
“I dunno.” Melanie climbed onto her saddle, that was draped over a small barrel. “But everybody was doing a lot of yelling.”
Lorrie helped Teddy onto Lex's saddle. “Hang on, cowboy.”
“Yeehaw,” he yelled, rocking back and forth.
“Will you push me now?” Melanie asked. “Please?” She slid off her saddle and hopped from one foot to the other.
Lorrie bit her lip while she thought. “Teddy? Do you promise not to wander off?”
“Uh-huh.” Teddy continued to rock, then pointed his finger at the wall. “Pow, pow! I'm a real cowboy, Lorrie!”
“Yep. You sure are.” Lorrie started to leave the room, with Melanie following behind.
Melanie laughed at her cousin. “He won't never be a real cowboy, ‘cause he's scared of horses and cows.”
“Hush, Mel.” Lorrie took her sister's hand and led her from the room. Neither of them noticed the tears that fell from Teddy's eyes.
As soon as Michael collapsed, the living room erupted into bedlam. Rodney immediately took control and directed Lex to lay Michael on the sofa. “Everyone, please calm down.” He touched Michael's neck, which caused the older man's eyes to open. “Michael? Can you hear me?”
“Of course I can.” Michael tried to sit up, but was stopped when Rodney put a hand on his chest.
“Rest easy, Mike. Do you remember what happened?”
Michael frowned. “Why are you asking me all these stupid questions? So, I got a little dizzy. I'm fine.”
Lois sat on the footstool next to the sofa and took her husband's hand. “Honey, tell Rodney how you've been feeling, recently.”
On the verge of denying it, Michael was stopped by the concern not only on Lois' face, but his parents, as well. “I guess I've been a little tired, lately.”
“And?” Lois prompted.
Seeing that his patient was reluctant to speak with a room full of people around, Rodney turned to Lex. “Would you mind going to our car and getting my bag? I think it's in the back seat.”
“Sure.” Lex patted Michael on the shoulder. “Hang in there, Dad.” She walked quickly down the hallway, toward the back door.
Rodney tipped his head toward Jeannie, who nodded. She took Amanda's hand. “Mandy and I will bring coffee to the dining room, if everyone will head across the hall. Right, Mandy?”
One by one, the group cleared out, leaving Rodney, Lois and Michael. Once they were alone, Rodney tapped Michael on the chest. “Now, tell me the truth, and don't leave anything out.”
Lex hurried to Jeannie and Rodney's car, and easily found his medical bag. “I didn't know anyone actually carried one of these anymore,” she mused, as she headed back to the house. She was almost to the kitchen door when she heard Melanie's squeal of delight.
“Higher, Lorrie,” Melanie demanded, kicking her feet in the air as she swung forward. She was careful not to kick Freckles, who would dart back and forth in front of her.
Seeing her two girls, Lex wondered where Teddy had gone. “Lorrie? Where's your cousin?” She yelled from the porch.
Lorrie pointed toward the barn. “He wanted to play cowboy, so I let him stay in the barn.”
“You know you kids aren't supposed to play in there.” Lex stood on the edge of the porch. She saw the new horse race around the corral in a panic. “Damn it.” She started running toward the corral. “Lorrie, take this bag to the den and give it to Uncle Rodney right away.”
Lorrie took the bag and held it against her chest. “Momma?”
“Do as I asked, Lorrie. I don't have time to explain.” Lex hurdled the short picket fence and continued to run.
Melanie dragged her feet until she came to a stop. “Are we in trouble, again?”
“Probably.” Lorrie looked at the house, then back toward the direction her mother took. “Can you take this to Uncle Rodney? I'm going to go help Momma.”
“Okay.” Melanie skipped to the house, swinging the black bag.
Once she was certain her sister took the bag inside, Lorrie opened the gate and hurried through it. She closed it in Freckles face. “I'm sorry, Freckles. You know you're not allowed by the barn unless Momma says it's okay. ‘specially with that new horse. He's really scared of you.”
Lex stopped outside the corral, where the horse continued to pace restlessly. Teddy stood in the middle, holding a lead rope in his hand. “Teddy? You need to stay really still, okay?”
“I'm not afraid,” he blustered, startling the horse even more.
Lowering her voice, Lex started to walk slowly toward her nephew. “I know you're not. But you also need to be very quiet, to keep from scaring the horse. Can you do that?”
Lex took very deliberate steps, keeping her eyes on the horse at all times. When she was within a few feet, the horse shook its head and started running in frantic circles, getting closer and closer to Teddy. “Easy.” She only hoped she could get to him before the horse did.
Lorrie stood at the outside of the corral, watching as her mother tried to get Teddy out of harm's way.
Teddy had been brave as long as he could. With the horse getting closer, he began to cry. “Aunt Lex, I'm scared.” His breathing became heavy as he started to hyperventilate.
“Damn.” Lex hurried as quickly as she dared. “It's going to be okay, Teddy. The horse doesn't really want to hurt you, but he's scared. Just stay very still, okay?” She was within five feet of him when the horse started to snort and wildly sling its head. In a sudden burst, Lex lunged forward and wrapped her arms around Teddy, twisting so his body was away from the horse. She felt a hoof hit her in the back, and threw Teddy as far away as she could. “Run, Teddy!” She yelled, as she crumbled to the ground.
In the kitchen, Amanda heard the back door slam, and saw Melanie come inside. “Melanie, come here, sweetie.”
Melanie swung the black bag. “Lorrie told me to give this to Uncle Rodney.”
“I'll take it to him, honey. Thank you.” Jeannie took the bag and left the kitchen.
“Where's your momma?” Amanda asked her daughter.
Shrugging her shoulders, Melanie climbed into a chair and picked up a crayon. “I dunno. She jumped over the fence and was running to the barn.”
Amanda knelt by her chair. “What happened in the barn?”
“I dunno. But Teddy was playing there, while Lorrie swinged me.”
“Oh, god.” Amanda quickly stood. “You stay here and color, okay? I'll be right back.”
“Okay.” Melanie opened up her coloring book, already lost in her art.
Torn between waiting to see how her father was, and needing to know what was going on with Lex, Amanda went through the back door and jogged toward the barn. She had just closed the gate behind her when she heard Lorrie scream for Lex. Not needing any more incentive, Amanda broke into a full run.
Lorrie pulled Teddy through the fencing of the corral, and was about to climb inside to help Lex when Amanda arrived. “Mommy, the horse kicked Momma,” she cried, unable to control her tears.
“It's okay, baby. I'll take care of your momma. You two run to the house, and go inside.” Once the children were safely away, Amanda unlocked the corral gate and opened it wide. Lex had fenced off the barns years ago, so the horse was in no danger of getting near the main road, but it would be hell to catch. She headed for Lex, who lay on her stomach, unmoving. When the horse started to get too close, Amanda waved her arms and started to yell. “Hyah!”
Snorting, the horse raced around the corral until it saw the open gate. It kicked its heels and galloped away.
Amanda dropped to her knees beside Lex. Her hand shaking, she brushed the hair away from Lex's face. “Lex, honey. Can you hear me?”
With a groan, Lex moved her arms. “Amanda? What are you doing here?”
“Saving your ass,” Amanda snapped.
“It's not safe,” Lex got out. “Horse.”
Looking around the corral and surrounding area, Amanda shook her head. “That horse is probably halfway to the north pasture, by now.”
Lex opened her eye to look at her wife. “It got out?”
“I let the damned thing out.” Amanda wiped dirt off of Lex's cheek. “Are you okay?”
“I think so.” Lex cautiously stretched, grimacing at the pain in her back. “Ugh. Help me up?”
Amanda didn't bother to argue with her. “You let me know if it gets to be too much. We've got a houseful of people—”
“Damn. What about your dad? How is he?” With Amanda's help, Lex rolled into a sitting position.
“As far as I know, he's okay. After you left, he woke up, and told Rodney he had gotten dizzy. How about your legs? Are they tingling or anything?”
Lex stretched them out and wiggled her feet. “No, I think they're okay. Why?”
Amanda pulled Lex's shirt away from her back. “Because you've got a bloody spot on your back, where it looks like you were stepped on, or kicked.”
“Kicked, I think.” Lex tried to look over her shoulder. “How bad is it?”
“Ruined your shirt.”
Once Amanda stood, Lex allowed herself to be tugged to her feet. “Ow. That stung.” She put her arm around Amanda's waist. “Thanks for coming to my rescue. I was having the damndest time catching my breath.”
“I bet.” Leading them toward the house, Amanda sighed. “Is Ronnie coming out today?”
Lex shook her head. “Not until this evening. He's having lunch with his girlfriend's family.”
Amanda kicked a pebble. “Because if he were here right now, I'd probably whack him on the head with something, for bringing that horse out here.” She opened the gate. “Wait a minute. Girlfriend?”
“Why didn't you tell me he has a girlfriend?”
Lex grinned. “Because you didn't ask?” She flinched as her stomach was poked. “Hey, watch it.”
“Teach you to keep secrets from me.”
“I didn't mean to. It slipped my mind.” Lex grunted as they slowly took the stairs. “Hey, Amanda?”
“Ronnie has a girlfriend. Ouch!” Lex rubbed her stomach. “Think we can sneak in without anyone noticing?”
The back door opened. “Momma! You're okay,” Lorrie yelled.
“Probably not,” Amanda answered, as they stepped into the house.
To be continued in Part Six
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