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 :-) – Carrie
Dressed in a pair of clean sweats, Lex was lying on her stomach across the bed. She flinched as Rodney finished his ministrations and lowered her shirt.
“That's a very nasty laceration and contusion, Lex. You don't need any stitches, but I'd like you to meet me at my office tomorrow for x-rays.”
Lex struggled to a sitting position. “Come on, Rodney. I've been kicked more times than I can remember. It's fine.”
He shook his head and wiped his hands on a towel, before turning to Amanda, who sat on the bed behind her. “It's near her spine, and I don't want to take any chances. Watch for unusual swelling, tingling, or numbness in her extremities. And try to get her to take it easy for a few days.” Pointing at Lex, he shook his finger at her. “I mean it.”
Jeannie came into the bedroom and sat next to Lex. She brushed her hand along the other woman's leg in a light caress. “Thank you for what you did today, Slim.”
“How's Teddy? I didn't really think, just tossed him as far away as I could.” When Jeannie's fingers twined with hers, Lex gave a sad little smile. “I'm so sorry about that damned horse.”
“It's not your fault. Teddy knows better. When we get home, he's going to be losing some privileges.” Jeannie leaned into Lex. “I asked him why he climbed in the corral like that. He said he was tired of being teased about his fear of horses.”
Amanda walked on her knees across the bed and rubbed her sister's back. “Our girls are going to learn the consequences of teasing, trust me. But first, we've got another problem to think about.”
“Frank's parents,” Jeannie added. “I know.” She exhaled heavily. “What should we do? We can't expect Gramma and Grandpa to keep them occupied forever.”
Rodney stood. “I know it's not really my place to say, but I think you should tell Lorrie the truth. She's very smart, and probably has some of it figured out.”
“You're a part of the family, so of course you have a say.” Jeannie stood and went to her husband. “I just don't want her to think that I'm a horrible person, because of all of this. It almost broke my heart to give her up. I don't think I could handle her hating me, too.”
He pulled her close and kissed her lightly on the lips. “I'm going to check on Mike. Do you want me to find Lorrie and send her in?” They had coerced Michael into lying down in the guestroom down the hall, hoping to lower his stress. Lois was also there, keeping an eye on him.
Lex hated having these types of talks. “We might as well get it over with, I guess. She's most likely in her room, listening to music.”
“Good luck.” Rodney kissed his wife again before leaving.
A few moments later, Lorrie stepped slowly into the room. “I'm sorry.”
Amanda slid off the bed and came toward her, while Jeannie sat next to Lex. “Why are you sorry?”
“'cause I was s'posed to watch Teddy, and I didn't.” She stood in front of Lex and stared at the floor.
Lex lifted Lorrie's chin with her fingers so that she could look her in the eye. “And why didn't you?”
With a heavy sigh, Lorrie fought back the tears that threatened to fall at the disappointed tone in her mother's voice. “Mel was wanting me to push her in the swing, and Teddy wanted to play cowboy on the saddles. But Mel kept whining, so I told Teddy to stay in the tack room, while I got Mel started on the swing. But I was gonna go right back. He must have followed us out of the barn, ‘cause Mel had just started to swing when Momma saw Teddy in the corral.”
“Did you tease him about being afraid?” Lex asked.
“Nuh-uh, I didn't.” When her mother's eyes narrowed, Lorrie rushed out, “I swear! He's just a little kid. I wouldn't make fun of him, honest.”
Amanda knelt next to Lorrie. “We believe you, honey. But something made him decide to go into the corral. Do you know what it could have been?”
Lorrie was silent for a moment. Tattling usually carried a worse punishment than the original deed, but her parents were expecting an answer. “Mel kinda said something when we were leaving the tack room, but I didn't know Teddy heard.”
“All right. We'll talk to Melanie in a little while,” Lex promised. “Come here, sweetheart.” She held out her arms, ignoring the glare from her wife. The discomfort was worth holding her daughter. Once Lorrie was comfortably ensconced in her lap, Lex cleared her throat. “You know we have company downstairs, besides family, don't you?”
“Yep. Melanie told me they have a granddaughter with my name,” Lorrie supplied.
Amanda sat on the other side of Lex. “I should have known,” she mumbled. In a louder voice, she added, “That's what we wanted to talk to you about. Do you remember when we told you about your father, Frank?”
“Sorta. You said he died when I was a little baby.” Lorrie noticed the tears in Jeannie's eyes. “Why are you sad, Aunt Jeannie? Did you know him?”
Lex shifted so she could put her arm around her sister-in-law in silent support.
“Um,” Jeannie tried to think of a good way to start. She took a deep breath. “Yes, I did. Frank was my first husband.” At the confusion on Lorrie's face, she began to rub the little girl's leg. “You see, when you were born, there were complications. I became very ill, and couldn't take care of myself, move or even talk.”
Lorrie frowned. “You were my mommy? But, how come,” she looked up into Lex's face. “I don't understand.”
Amanda stood and once again knelt in front of Lorrie. “Jeannie was so sick, we didn't even know if she was going to be all right. Frank was driving you home from the hospital, and there was an accident. You weren't hurt, but your daddy,” here her voice broke, “died.”
“But, why are you my mommy, if Aunt Jeannie was?” Lorrie looked at Jeannie and started to cry. “Didn't you want me?”
“Oh, baby. Of course I did.” Jeannie was surprised when Lorrie climbed into her lap. She held her close. “I wasn't able to do anything for myself, for so long. Amanda and Lex took care of both of us, until I decided to move into a rehabilitation center so I could get well, faster. It took almost three years before I was healthy again.”
Lorrie's eyes widened. “Three years? That's forever.”
The adults laughed, and Jeannie brushed the hair out of Lorrie's face. “It certainly seemed like it.” She sobered. “But, when I came back, you didn't know me. Your moms were the only parents you knew. And, as much as it hurt me to do so, I signed papers that made you their little girl.” Jeannie shook her head and started to cry again. “It was the hardest thing in the world to do, you have to believe me. But, you were so happy here.”
Quiet for a moment, Lorrie considered everything that she had been told. “Do I have to come and live with you, now?”
Amanda looked at Lex, who appeared to be on the verge of panicking. “Do you want to live with Jeannie?”
Lorrie shook her head. “No. I like it here.” She hurriedly added, “That's okay, isn't it? I don't want you to cry no more, Aunt Jeannie.”
Jeannie squeezed her tightly. “I'm glad you're happy, honey. And it's very okay with me. I'm your aunt, now. Lex and Amanda are your moms, okay?” She kissed Lorrie on the head and allowed her to slip into Amanda's arms. With her heart breaking, she watched as her daughter once again became her niece. She wiped at her eyes. “I need to take a little break, okay?” She went into the adjoining bathroom and closed the door.
“Are you all right, lil' bit?” Lex asked her daughter.
“Uh-huh.” Lorrie snuggled closer into Amanda's embrace. “You're still my mommy?” she asked quietly.
With Lorrie in her arms, Amanda stood so she could sit next to Lex. “We'll always be your parents, honey.”
“You promise you won't give me away?”
Lex had to clench her teeth together to keep from crying at the plaintive question. “Never, sweetheart. I will fight to my last breath for you, always.” She wrapped her arms around Amanda and Lorrie, and tucked her head next to theirs. “I swear it.”
Downstairs in the den, Harrison was fit to be tied. He took out a cigar and stuffed it into his mouth, chewing on the end. “I don't see why it's so hard for you people to understand. We came all the way from Los Angeles , to see our granddaughter. Why are you putting us off?”
Anna Leigh set her coffee cup down on the table in front of her. “Mr. Rivers, please. There are dynamics at work that even I don't fully comprehend.” She looked to her husband for help. She and Jacob were left with the task of keeping the Rivers' placated, while Martha and Charlie took over cooking the meal.
Jacob had his hand on Anna Leigh's shoulder. “My wife's right. I can see where you're coming from, but—”
“No, you can't,” Harrison snarled. “You've never been denied the right to see your grandchildren, have you?” He stood and paced toward the fireplace. Across the mantle were family photos, and he picked up a group shot of Lex, Amanda, and the girls. “This is her, isn't it?” He took the framed print to his wife, who touched the glass with a shaky finger.
“Yes. That was taken by our son, only a few months ago.” Anna Leigh's voice was soft.
Veronica shook her head. “If I didn't know any better, I'd swear she was Miss Walter's daughter.”
“She is, in so many ways,” Jacob asserted. “When we brought Jeannie home, none of us knew if she'd ever be able to take care of herself, much less a newborn. And when she realized that she needed more help than any of us could give, Jeannie did the only thing she could, and that was sign over Lorrie's care to her godparents.”
Harrison sat beside his wife, looking over her shoulder at the picture. “What idiot gave them that title?”
“Your son,” Anna Leigh said, a little too gleefully. “Along with our granddaughter, of course.”
“But Frank had plenty of friends, normal friends, which could have held that honor.” Harrison was truly confused. “Why on earth would he allow his own flesh and blood to be anywhere near people like that ?”
Jacob felt his wife tense beside him. He had to squeeze Anna Leigh's arm to keep her from going off on the man. “Did you know your son at all?” he asked. “Do you have any idea how close he was to not only Amanda, but Lex, too? He loved Amanda like a sister, you know.”
“I'd heard him mention her,” Veronica added quietly. She raised her head to look at the other couple. “I remember not long after they met. He talked about her so much, I just knew he'd bring her home to meet us, one day.”
Anna Leigh laughed. “We thought the same thing. All Mandy ever talked about was ‘Frank this,' and ‘Frank did that,' when she'd call or visit. I was completely surprised with Jeannie announced her engagement to him. We were afraid she had stolen him from Mandy, and were quite concerned about the consequences.”
“Not long after that, Amanda came for a visit. She was certainly not the heartbroken girl we had been expecting,” Jacob continued. “I think I said something like, ‘Aren't you upset at losing Frank?'. She told me that she was looking forward to having him as a brother.”
Harrison sagely nodded. “So, it was losing my son to her sister that made her that way. I see.”
“You're an idiot,” Anna Leigh said, her temper flaring. “Did you know that you son was the first person that Amanda came out to? Not us, not her sister, but Frank. He'd always been a brother to her.”
“Now, see here,” Harrison blustered. “You have no right—”
Anna Leigh had heard enough. “I have more right than you, mister. I'm sick and tired of listening to your bigotry. Either grow up, or shut up.”
The room became quiet, as Anna Leigh seethed and Harrison regrouped.
Veronica was the first one to break the ice. “Could you tell us about Lorraine , growing up? We've missed so much time.”
“She's always been quite a handful. Not in a bad way,” Anna Leigh corrected. “Just very rambunctious.”
“Sounds a lot like Frank, as a child.” Veronica turned to her husband. “Wouldn't you agree, dear?”
He grumbled something, but didn't elaborate.
Jeannie came into the den. “Hi, everyone. Sorry it's taken so long.” She sat next to her grandfather, who immediately put his arm around her.
“How are you doing, Pumpkin?” he asked. In a lower voice, he added, “Are you all right?”
She leaned into him. “It was rough, but we got through it.”
Harrison perked up at seeing Jeannie. “Does this mean we'll actually get to see our granddaughter?”
“Damn it, man. Can't you see Jeannie's been through a rough time? Give it a rest,” Jacob chastised.
“It's okay, Grandpa.” Jeannie sat up and ran her hand through her hair. “Lex and Amanda will be bringing her down a few minutes.”
Anna Leigh turned to her. “How is Lexington ?”
“I'm fine,” Lex answered from the doorway, where Lorrie stood in front of her. Beside her stood Amanda, who had her arm around Lex's waist.
“That's up for debate.” Amanda allowed Lex to go in front of her. But the look on her face wasn't a pleasant one. It was obvious they had disagreed on Lex coming downstairs.
For once, Harrison Rivers was speechless, as he saw his granddaughter for the first time. His eyes never left her as Lex led Lorrie around the sofa, finally taking a seat on the second loveseat.
In an unusual bout of shyness, Lorrie climbed into Lex's lap and had her head tucked against Lex's shoulder.
Veronica leaned forward, and in a soft voice, said, “ Lorraine ?” When she didn't get any response, she tried again. “Lorrie?”
Lorrie turned around and faced the two strangers. “Hi.” She looked at the well-dressed older couple. “Are you here for Thanksgiving?”
“Actually,” Harrison finally found his voice, “we're here to see you.”
Unaware of the tension in the room, Lorrie slid from Lex's lap and moved to sit closer to them. She sat on the oak coffee table, not far from Veronica. “Really? Where do you live?”
“We have a house in Los Angeles . Have you ever been there?” Veronica's voice shook and she clinched her fingers together to keep from grabbing the little girl.
“I don't think so.” Lorrie turned back to Lex. “Have I, Momma?”
Lex shook her head. “Not since you were born.”
Seeing that things were under control, Anna Leigh took her husband by the hand. “I think we'll go see about helping Martha and Charlie in the kitchen.”
Lorrie scooted closer to Veronica and Harrison. “You're really my grandma and grandpa?”
“We are.” Harrison took the soggy cigar from his mouth and tucked it into his jacket pocket.
“How come I've never seen you before?” Lorrie was still trying to wrap her mind around everything. “Did you not want me?”
Veronica could no longer stop herself from taking Lorrie's hands. “That's not it at all, darling. We want you very much.”
“Then, how come you're just now here?”
Harrison took over. “It's quite complicated, young lady. My work took us out of the country for many years, until recently.” Now that he was faced with the reality of Lorrie, he wasn't certain how to interact with her. “You do understand the concept of work, don't you?”
“Yep. Momma works here at the ranch, and Mommy used to work in town.” Lorrie turned to her parents. “Right?”
“Very well.” Harrison straightened his tie. “My work was much more complex, but I'm glad you get the idea.”
Lorrie frowned at his words. “Do you not work anymore?”
“No, I've retired.”
“Does that mean you're going to come here to live? My Grandpa Travis moved here after he retired.” Lorrie's face saddened. “He died.”
Veronica rubbed Lorrie's hands. “We're sorry to hear that, honey. But we can't live here, because we have a home in Los Angeles . Would you like to come and visit, sometime?”
“I dunno.” Lorrie turned to her parents. “Can I?”
Amanda squeezed Lex's hand before answering. “We'll see, sweetie.”
“Perhaps you all would like to come,” Veronica offered. She ignored the sudden gasp from her husband. “Jeanne, that means you and your family, as well.”
Jeannie gave her a sad smile. “I think we'd like that, Veronica.”
Everyone turned toward the doorway when they heard Charlie announce, “Come on, folks. Lunch is ready.”
Lorrie gave Veronica a hug. “Come on. Mada's the best cook, ever!” She smiled at Harrison , and hurried across the room to take Charlie's hand. “Right, Grandpa?”
“You betcha,” Charlie agreed, leading her across the hall to the dining room.
Veronica watched her leave. “She's a lovely girl,” she addressed Lex and Amanda.
Lex slowly got to her feet, trying not to groan at the aches that made themselves known. “Thank you, Mrs. Rivers. We've very proud of her.”
“Please, call me Veronica.” The older woman stood and held out her hand. “After all, we're family, aren't we?”
Harrison had heard enough. “Now, hold on. I don't think—”
Veronica turned to her husband. “Hush. I'm not going to let you ruin this.” Her smile was genuine as she shook Lex's hand. “Right, Lexington ?”
“Yes, ma'am.” Lex saw a glint of Frank in his mother's eyes. She held out her arm. “Ready for lunch?”
“I am, thank you.” Veronica took Lex's arm, leaving her husband behind.
Amanda grinned at Harrison . “Guess that leaves you and me, doesn't it?”
His panicked look said it all, as Amanda took one arm and Jeannie took the other. “I, ah, well—”
“Might as well give up, Harrison ,” Jeannie teased. “I think you're outnumbered.”
After lunch, Lorrie was given permission to show her new grandparents around the ranch. She took Veronica by the hand and led them through the back door. “This is where we play most of the time,” she told them, sounding like a seasoned tour-guide. “Over there's the sandbox where I used to play, when I was a little kid. My sister still plays in it, sometimes, with my Momma and Mommy.”
Harrison looked around the fence-in yard. Besides the sandbox, there was an expansive swing set, all surrounded by a three-foot white picket fence. “Do you like it here, Lorraine ?”
“Sure.” She seemed confused by the question. “Don't you like it?”
“Well, um, of course. It's very, ah, nice.”
Lorrie expertly opened the gate. “You've got to hurry. If Freckles sees us leave, she'll want to come.” Once they were all through, she closed and latched it. “She's not allowed, because the horses don't like her very much.”
Almost as if hearing Lorrie, Freckles suddenly bounded out of the pet door and into the yard. She stopped at the gate and barked.
“Hush, Freckles. We'll be back in a little while.” Lorrie stuck her hand through the fence and brushed the rat terrier's head. “Be a good girl and go back in the house.”
The dog barked again, then sat by the gate.
Lorrie looked up at the adults. “She'll get tired of waiting and go back inside in a little while. She always does.” Once again she took Veronica's hand. “Can I call you Grandma?”
“I think I'd like that a lot, darling.” Veronica allowed herself to be led toward an impressive looking barn. “Goodness, that's large.”
“Momma says the horses have it better than she did, when she was a little kid,” Lorrie shared, as she opened the barn door. “Mommy says she's full of bull.”
Even Harrison snorted at that comment. When they stepped inside, he nodded his head. “Very nicely done,” he said under his breath. “How many horses do you have, Lorraine ?”
She turned to look at him. “You can call me Lorrie, if you want. I only get called Lorraine when I get into trouble.”
“Very well. And you may call me grandfather, if you'd like,” he offered.
“Okay.” Lorrie tugged on Veronica's hand until they were in front of one of the stalls. “This is Mine.” She climbed the wooden slats of the gate and rubbed the horse's nose.
Veronica took a step back. “What's its name?”
“Mine.” When Lorrie noticed the confusion on Veronica's face, she laughed. “Momma says when I was little, I thought everything was mine, so I sorta named her.” Lorrie sat on the top rung of the stall and faced her grandparents. “Do you have horses where you live?”
Harrison laughed. “Of course not! We live in a city with millions of people.”
“Oh.” Lorrie seriously considered his answer. “Do you like it?”
“Of course, we do.” Harrison turned to his wife. “Don't we, Veronica?”
His wife stepped closer to the stall and cautiously glanced at Mine. “It has its perks, I suppose. We haven't stayed there long enough for me to know. I'm sure you'd enjoy it. With your parents, of course.”
“Hrumph. Parents, indeed,” Harrison grumbled.
“Not another word, Harrison .” Veronica glared at her husband.
He cleared his throat. “Are we about finished, Lorraine ? We really should be getting back to our hotel.”
“Sure, Grandpa, I mean, Grandfather.” Lorrie jumped from the top of the stall. “Will you be back tomorrow?”
“We'll see,” he hedged. Now that he had gotten his wish to see his granddaughter, Harrison was ready to move on. “We have things to attend to at home, I'm sure.”
Veronica ignored him. “I'm sure we'll see you again real soon, Lorrie.” She gave her husband another dirty look. “At least one of us will.”
Rodney folded the blood pressure cuff and placed it in his bag. He gave Michael and Lois a reassuring smile. “You seem to be doing better, Mike. Your blood pressure is down. But I'd still feel a lot better if we'd take a trip to the office for a more thorough checkup.”
“What do you think caused it?” Lois asked.
“I really can't say, without more tests.”
Michael sat up and rubbed his jaw with one hand. “It's my heart, isn't it?”
“That's one possibility,” Rodney agreed. “Perhaps a blocked artery. If that's what we have, we may be able to treat it with medication. But, I'll have to run some tests to be certain.”
Lois stood. “Then that's what we'll do. Should we go to the hospital?”
“I can do most of them at my office. Let me go tell Jeannie, and we'll leave as soon as we can.”
Michael started to argue, but the look on Lois' face kept him quiet. “Thank you, Rodney. Looks like we'll owe you one.”
“You can pay me back by getting better.” Rodney put his stethoscope in the bag. “And maybe a night of babysitting.”
“It's a deal.” Lois hugged him and kissed his cheek. Once Rodney had left the room, she lightly slapped her husband on the shoulder. “Next time, maybe you'll listen to me.”
Michael pulled her into his arms. “Where's the fun in that?” He cupped her face with his hands. “I'm sorry I worried you, Lois. I promise to do better.”
“See that you do,” she said, before kissing him. “We've got grandkids to spoil, and I don't want to do it alone.”
“You won't, I promise.” Michael kissed her again, enjoying the feel of her in his arms.
Amanda closed the front door and let out a heavy breath. She looked at her wife, who was casually leaning on the doorway to the den. “Why do we always have holidays like this?”
“Like what, sweetheart?” When Amanda came even with her, Lex put her arm around her waist.
Lex laughed. “It was pretty wild, wasn't it?” She bit off a groan when Amanda's arm came too close to her injured back.
“I'm sorry. Did I hurt you?” Amanda asked, leading the way toward the stairs.
As they trudged up toward their bedroom, they could hear the sound of their children's laughter. “I wonder which room they're destroying,” Amanda asked. She noticed Melanie's door was closed, which answered her question.
“Do you think we should put them to bed?” Lex stopped at their bedroom.
Amanda shook her head. “Not yet. They've had a pretty stressful day. Let them play for a while. There's no school tomorrow.”
“Sounds good to me.” Lex took Amanda's hand and led her into their bedroom. “That was nice of Lois to call after your dad's tests. Although plaque in the arteries is nothing to sneeze at, I'm glad they can control it with medication. I was really worried about him today.”
Carefully peeling Lex's sweatshirt off, Amanda tossed it in a nearby chair. “Turn around.” She checked the bandage for any seepage, and was relieved to find it clean. “I was pretty worried about you, too,” she whispered.
Lex turned and looked into her wife's eyes. “Hey, everything turned out okay. And once we catch the horse, it'll go into the corral up by the bunkhouse. Let the guys take care if it. How's that sound?”
“So much could have gone wrong. Teddy. You, even Lorrie.” Blinking the tears from her eyes, Amanda leaned into Lex's chest.
“I know, sweetheart. But it didn't. And we were finally able to tell Lorrie the entire truth about everything. That's got to count for something, right?”
Amanda nodded. “I was terrified. What if she wanted to go back to Jeannie?”
At this, Lex laughed. “You're kidding, right? Lorrie is so much our kid, I don't think there's anything that can tear her away.”
“Don't sound so smug. I saw the look on your face, too.”
Lex cleared her throat. “Uh, well—” her stammering was cut short by the feel of Amanda's lips on hers. All thought left her head, as she felt herself being tugged toward the bed.
The silver-haired man hummed along to the music that came from the office supply store's overhead speakers, as he dusted the display of computer paper. He seemed perfectly content at his job and nearly dropped the feather duster when he heard a throat clear behind him. He turned around and smiled at the well-endowed blonde who stood a few feet away. “Hi. Is there something I can help you with?”
“Oh, yeah,” she purred with a sultry grin. She made a point of eyeing his nametag. “What time do you get off, Hubert?”
He swallowed heavily and brushed a hand down the green uniform vest he wore. “Three, but, um, well, Miss, I'm afraid—”
The blonde winked a green eye at him. “There's nothing to be afraid of, hon.” She stepped closer and backed the nervous man into the shelves.
“No, really. I'm engaged. I mean, I'm flattered, but—”
She ran a finger across the buttons on his shirt. “Sssh.”
Hubert ducked beneath her hand and slipped away. Something about her was vaguely familiar, but he couldn't place her face. Not to mention she was at least twenty years his junior. “Do I know you?”
“Maybe.” She touched his close-cropped beard. “Although, I don't remember this.”
She laughed at his discomfort. “Meet me at the sandwich shop on the corner after you get off work, and I'll answer your question.” At his continued panic look, she kissed her finger and placed it on his lips. “Just to talk, I promise.” Before she walked away, she turned and pointed at him. “It really would be in your best interest to meet me, Hubert Walters.” She blew him a kiss and left.
Hubert watched as the woman left the store. “How did she know my last name?” He looked around to see if anyone had witnessed their encounter. “The last thing I need is for Larry to see me with another woman.” Larry Buchanan was his fiancée's father, and the owner of the store.
When Hubert was released from prison two years prior, he decided to stay in Oklahoma City , since he knew he had nothing in Texas to go back to. As a part of his parole, he was assigned to a church program that was designed to help non-violent offenders ease their way back into society, where he met Ramona Buchanan. Ten years his senior, she was a volunteer counselor at the program. Her gentle friendship slowly broke away at the chip that had always been on his shoulder.
It took over a year before Ramona would even agree to go on a date, and she had declined the first two times he had asked her to marry him. “I'm not about to screw this up,” he muttered. Their romance hadn't always been smooth, but he was happier now than he could ever remember being. Hubert looked at his watch, wondering if he could last the two hours until he got off work to find out what the mysterious blonde woman wanted with him.
Hubert clocked out and removed his vest, draping it over one arm. He was almost to the back door when he heard his boss.
“Hey, Hubert? Do you have a minute?” Larry Buchanan was in his late seventies, and time had bent his frail body. He caught up to his future son-in-law and peered over his bifocals at the taller man. “Have you heard from my daughter?”
“She called me last night, and said she hoped to be back in a few days. Would you like me to have her call you, if I hear from her tonight?”
Larry shook his head. “Nah. She doesn't get a chance to see her mother that often. I'd hate to bring the wrath of the old biddy down on me, if she heard I'd asked.” His ex-wife lived in Tulsa , and even the distance hadn't softened their tempestuous relationship. “I just wanted to make sure Ramona was okay.”
Hubert loosened his tie and lightly patted the old man's shoulder. “She's great, but can't wait to come home.”
“That sounds like my Ramona.” Larry waved him off. “You'd better get on home, yourself. I'm betting that apartment you two share needs some cleaning, since she's been gone for a week.”
Laughing, Hubert nodded. “You know me too well, Larry. It's going to take me a couple of days to get rid of the pizza boxes.”
“Then I'll see you back here, day after tomorrow. I don't want my daughter to come home to a messy place.”
“You're a lifesaver, Larry.” Hubert saluted the old man as he stepped out the rear door.
He stopped at his truck to leave his vest and tie. The old Chevrolet had seen better days, but he was proud of paying cash for it. At first glance, a person would be hard-pressed to identify the original paint color. Whatever wasn't rusted, was either coated in gray primer or a different color altogether.
Unable to put off the inevitable, Hubert strolled across the parking lot to the sandwich shop. He opened the door and saw the blonde sitting in a booth at the back.
She stood and met him halfway. “I wasn't sure you'd come.”
“Me, either,” Hubert admitted. He stuffed his hands into his khaki slacks and tried to fight off his discomfort. “So, what did you want to talk about?”
“You really don't remember me, do you?”
He shook his head. “You look a little familiar, but no, I'm sorry. I don't.”
The blonde took his arm and pulled him toward the back booth. “Let me try to refresh your memory. My name's Dina.” At his blank look, she added, “Dina Hoglund.” He continued to shake his head. “Think back, about a year ago.”
“A year?” He blinked in confusion when they arrived at the booth. “Uh, isn't that—”
Dina hefted an oversized bag and handed it to him. “Your son,” she finished for him, gesturing to the sleeping baby in the portable infant seat.
“Mine? B…b…but how?” he stammered, holding the bag to his chest.
“You're a big boy. I'm sure you're familiar with the birds and bees.” When he frowned she continued, “Sugar Babies? I was a dancer?”
Hubert's eyes widened as clues fit into place. After Ramona had turned down his second proposal, he had driven to the nearest place that served alcohol and proceeded to try and drink himself into oblivion. He vaguely remembered a frantic groping session in the parking lot of the club, with a faceless blonde woman who had been more than eager to accept his drunken attentions. It escalated into a weekend of booze, sex and the worst hangover he'd ever had. “But, really? Mine? Are you sure?”
“Honey, I may have been a stripper, but I wasn't easy. You're the only man I was with in the past three years. He's yours, all right. I've been looking for you ever since I found out I was pregnant. It cost me a chunk of my savings, but the private detective I hired finally caught up to you.” Dina picked up her purse and dug through it, before handing Hubert an envelope. “There's his birth certificate, and a notarized paper giving you all legal rights to your son. I named him Edward Lee, and you're listed as his father.”
“But, I can't—”
She kissed his cheek. “Sure you can. I've got a job waiting for me a long way away from this shitty town, and a kid isn't part of my plans. Have a good life, daddy .”
Hubert watched as Dina walked out of the coffee shop. A quiet squeak from the baby carrier in the booth caught his attention. “Shit.”
Once Hubert got the child to his apartment, he placed the carrier in the middle of the bed he shared with Ramona. “What the hell am I gonna do with you?” he asked the baby. Blue eyes, lighter than his own, tracked to his face as the infant looked at him. “Ramona won't understand. Hell, I don't understand.” He brushed his hand through his hair, which had turned completely gray while he was in prison.
The baby cooed and kicked. It waved a tiny hand in the air.
“It's nothing personal. But I'm the last person who should be raising a kid, you know?” Hubert held out a finger, which the baby immediately grasped. “Hell.” He paused. “I mean, heck. I was thrilled to hook up with a woman who didn't want kids any more than I did. We're old enough to be your grandparents.”
With his free hand, Hubert picked up the birth certificate and looked at it. “Edward Lee Walters. What a kick in the pants, huh?” When the baby started chewing on his finger, Hubert couldn't help but grin. “Guess that means you're hungry. Hope your mom left instructions in that bag of hers.” He awkwardly lifted Edward and carried him into the living room, where he'd dropped the diaper bag.
One bottle and a nauseating diaper later, Hubert put his son back into the carrier. He glanced at the digital alarm clock on the nightstand and sighed. “It's getting late, and keeping you here isn't doing me any good. Guess I'll drop you off at the nearest fire station. I've heard that's the best thing to do.”
Hubert hooked the bag's strap over one shoulder, and lifted the carrier in his other hand. He picked up the plastic grocery bag that he had put the dirty diaper in, and locked the apartment door behind him. At the end of the hall, he dropped the smelly bag into a trash can. “Son, that was the nastiest thing I've ever smelled in my life,” he told the baby as they headed down the stairs. “And I grew up on a ranch.”
Half an hour later, Hubert cruised by the fire station – for the third time. He looked across the seat at his son, who was quietly chewing on a little fist. “I can't do it, Eddie. I can't just drop you off like that.” He pulled into a vacant parking lot and turned off the truck, to contemplate his next move. “You're family, son. Even I'm not that big of an assho-, I mean, jerk. There's no way I can just dump you with strangers.” He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel as he stared off into the night.
Lex sat on the edge of the bed and gingerly pulled on her boots. It had been a week since Thanksgiving, but she was still sore from the hit she took to her back. She tried to ignore the irritated look she got from her wife, who stood by the French doors with her arms crossed. At the sound of a heavy sigh, she fought back one of her own. “Go ahead and say it.”
“What?” Amanda snapped. She turned away and looked out the doors into the hazy morning.
Slowly standing, Lex brushed her hands down her jeans to settle them over her boots. She moved to stand behind Amanda. “I wouldn't be going if it wasn't important.”
Amanda felt Lex's hands on her hips and relaxed in spite of her anger. She leaned back into Lex's body, causing Lex's hands to slip around her waist and rest on her stomach. “I know. But do you understand how I feel? I've spent the last week watching you try to move around. The thought of you doing more damage to your back scares the hell out of me.”
“I won't,” Lex vowed. She kissed Amanda's head and closed her eyes. “ Roy hired a few extra guys for the day. I'm only going to supervise. Since this is the first shipment of cattle to Houston , I really want to be there to make sure things go right.”
“God, I hate when you're reasonable.” Amanda turned and linked her hands behind Lex's neck. “How am I supposed to stay mad at you?”
Lex grinned. “You're not.” She lowered her face and kissed Amanda, who tightened her grip. Once they separated, she kissed the tip of Amanda's nose. “The guys and truck will go directly to the loading pens off the south road. We should be finished before lunch, as long as the weather holds.” The local news had predicted a winter storm for the day, but so far, the skies were only overcast.
“That's fine, love. Just remember your promise.” Amanda straightened the collar on Lex's denim shirt.
“I don't think you have anything to worry about. I'll be good. Walk me downstairs?”
Amanda put her arm around Lex's waist. “Of course. Someone has to make sure you remember your coat.”
As they walked slowly down the stairs, Amanda tightened her grip. “You sure you're up to this?”
“Yep. I'm mainly stiff. Once I move around a little, I'll be fine.” Lex headed for the back door. She stood patiently as Amanda helped her with her coat, and placed her black cowboy hat on her head. She stopped the helpful hands from buttoning her duster. “It's okay, sweetheart.”
“Sorry.” Amanda looked into Lex's eyes. “Too much?”
“Never.” Lex kissed her. “I've got to go.”
Amanda sighed. “Be careful.”
“I promise.” Lex opened the back door and started down the steps. She straightened her back and walked with purpose, to prove to her wife she was feeling all right.
“Smartass,” Amanda mumbled. She waited until Lex drove away before she closed the back door. With the girls in school, the house was eerily quiet. “Guess this would be a great time to get caught up on the laundry and housework.” Amanda paused at the foot of the stairs. “Or my blog.” She grinned and jogged upstairs to get her laptop.
The grocery store was practically empty at such an early hour, for which Hubert was thankful. He was scouring the aisles, pushing a cart with one hand, while trying to comfort his crying son in the other. “Sssh. Come on, now, Eddie. Give your old man a break. I'm doing the best I can.” He arrived at the baby aisle, stopped, and stared at the huge selection of products. “How in the hell am I supposed to know what to get?”
“You sound like my husband,” a female voice said behind him.
Hubert turned and saw a petite woman, wearing a shirt with the store's name across one breast. “Um, yeah. Most of us guys are pretty clueless when it comes to stuff like this,” he admitted, with a wry smile. “My, uh, girlfriend went to visit her mother, and this is the first time Eddie and I were left alone.”
The younger woman nodded. “Let me guess. You lost the instructions she left for you.” She stepped closer and held out her hands. “Here, let me try.”
“Sure. Thanks.” Hubert handed the screaming baby to the woman, and was completely amazed when the infant silenced. “How the hell did you do that?”
“It's the Mom gene. How long has your girlfriend been gone?”
“Since around four yesterday afternoon. Why?”
She patted Eddie lightly on the rear. “I'm betting this little guy is missing his mommy.”
“Probably so.” Hubert scratched at his beard. “Um, you wouldn't happen to know what kind of baby milk and diapers I should use with him, would you?”
The woman smiled at him. “Ran out, huh?”
“Completely.” With his hands stuffed in the front pockets of his khaki slacks, Hubert tried his best to charm the woman. “I'd really appreciate any help I could get.”
“No problem.” She wrinkled her nose when a putrid odor assailed her senses. “Just in time, I think.”
Hubert laughed. “If you'll help me figure out what diapers to buy, I'll get him changed.” He watched as the woman opened the one-piece cotton jumper and looked at the front of the diaper. She pointed to a brand on the shelf, which Hubert grabbed and tossed in his cart. “What about the milk?”
“I used that one with my kids and it seemed to work well,” she said, gesturing to a large display. “Follow the directions on the back, and you shouldn't have any problems.”
“Thanks.” He picked up several cans. “Anything else?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “Do you have enough baby wipes, diaper cream, powder?”
“Do you at least have a diaper bag?”
He nodded. “It's in my truck. Should I go get it?”
“I just got off work a few minutes ago. Once you get checked out, I'll follow you outside, okay?”
“Thanks. You're a lifesaver.” He held out a hand. “I'm Hubert.”
She propped Eddie onto her shoulder and shook his hand. “Tonya.” Eddie started to fuss. “I think he's tired of wearing a smelly diaper.”
“Oh. Right.” Hubert turned his cart around and headed for the front of the store.
Lex arrived at the holding pens in time to see her foreman giving last-minute instructions to a group of men. She parked her truck on the opposite side of the pens. The cold, damp wind caused Lex to shove her hat down tighter on her head and walk as quickly as she could to where the men were standing.
Roy noticed her arrival and nodded. “Hey, boss.”
“ Roy ,” Lex acknowledged. She dipped her head toward the rest of the men. “Thanks for coming out this morning, guys.”
Several voices answered at once, all seemingly glad to be there. Roy tugged his western hat lower over his eyes in an attempt to block the wind. “We're missing one guy, but since he's coming from town, I figure he'll get here soon.”
The rumbling of a large truck and trailer halted their conversation. Roy looked to Lex, who nodded. “Chet, you want to guide the truck to the loading chute? The rest of y'all, you know what to do.”
More sounds of agreement, as each man moved to his position. Roy waited until he and Lex were alone, before speaking. “I wasn't sure you would be here this morning, Lex.” The way she had walked up this morning told him all he needed to know about how sore she still was.
“Me either,” she admitted quietly. “I knew you could handle things, but you know how I am.”
He laughed. “Yeah. Did your boss give you much trouble?”
“Yep. But you know all about that sort of thing now, don't you?” Lex chuckled at the chagrined look on Roy 's face. “Your wife is almost as bad as mine.”
Roy lightly clapped Lex on one shoulder. “Uh huh. I'm going to make sure Chet doesn't let that truck knock over the fence. Take it easy, Lex.”
She flipped the collar of her duster up to block the cold air. “Damned nanny goat,” she grumbled, good-naturedly. But decided to stay right where she was, unless she was needed.
Amanda was comfortably ensconced in one corner of the leather sofa, her feet stretched out across the cushions. She typed passionately on her laptop, the words flowing easily. The ringing of the doorbell caused her to look up in irritation. “Damn.” She looked up at the clock on the mantel of the fireplace and frowned. Lex had only been gone an hour.
When the doorbell rang again, she placed her laptop on the coffee table and stood. “I'm coming,” she called out. Figuring it was one of the new hires, she grumbled, “I don't know why men can't follow simple instructions.” She opened the front door, seeing a gray-haired man with a matching beard, holding something in his arms. “I'm sorry. You need to go farther west on the highway, to the holding pens.”
The man lifted his head and gave her a cautious smile. “Um, Amanda?”
Amanda blinked and tried to make sense of what she was seeing. The slender, quiet man was a world apart from her memories. “Hubert?”
“Uh, yeah.” He held the bundle tighter to his chest. “I wouldn't blame you for saying no, but can I come in? It's colder than a well-digger's ass out here.”
His gentle request caught her off guard. “Sure.” She stepped back and allowed him to come inside. “Go into the den. I have a fire going.” Belatedly, she noticed a denim bag slung across one of Hubert's shoulders.
Amanda stared at his back as he walked into the den. “Lex, I hope you get home soon,” she murmured. When she saw Hubert open the blanket he had been holding, Amanda almost stumbled. “Is that—”
“Yeah.” Hubert removed the diaper bag from his shoulder and let it drop onto a chair. “This is my son. He was a pretty big surprise to me, too.” When Amanda moved closer, he held out the sleeping infant. “Do you mind if I use your bathroom? It's been a long drive.”
Amanda took the baby. “Um, sure. Down the hall to the right.” She couldn't help but smile at the feel of the child in her arms. With one finger, she lightly brushed the small amount of dark hair. “You sure are a precious one.” She carefully rocked him in her arms for several minutes, before a tiny squeak was emitted.
The baby frowned, then slowly opened its eyes. The grayish-blue orbs tracked to Amanda's face. He kicked his legs and smiled.
“Oh, you're definitely going to be a heart breaker,” she whispered.
Hubert returned and watched as Amanda was charmed by his son. “He's something, isn't he?”
“Yes, he is,” she agreed. When she made a move to hand the baby to Hubert, he shook his head.
“I think he's happy, right where he is.”
Amanda didn't argue, but moved to sit on the sofa. “If you're looking for Lex, she's not here right now.”
“That's okay.” Hubert sat in the chair to the right of the sofa and leaned forward. “I'm sorry I just showed up unannounced, but I was afraid of the reception I'd get.”
“Considering everything that's happened, could you blame us?”
He shook his head. “No, not at all. As a matter of fact, if it hadn't been for Eddie there, I'd have probably stayed out of your lives forever.” Hubert looked at the floor and weighed his words carefully. “I got out of prison a couple of years ago, then was placed in a work program as a condition of my parole.” He raised his head and met Amanda's gaze, before reaching into his back pocket and removing his wallet. “I met this woman, Ramona.” He dug out a photo, stretched across and handed the picture to Amanda.
Amanda studied the photo. In it, Hubert stood with her arm around a sturdily built, slightly older woman. “You both look very happy,” she commented, returning the picture.
“Yeah. She's done a lot for me.” He tucked it safely away and put his wallet in his pocket. “About a year ago, I asked her to marry me – for the second time. She told me no, and I kinda lost my mind. I went on a drinking binge for the weekend.” Hubert nodded toward the baby. “He's the result of that.”
“Oh.” Amanda grimaced. “And Ramona?”
“She doesn't know.” Hubert stood and put his hands in his front pockets. “Hell, I didn't know until yesterday afternoon.”
“What about Eddie's mother?”
Hubert shook his head. “She took off.”
“What?” Amanda glanced down at the baby. “How could anyone desert their child?” She struggled to keep from crying at the injustice of the situation.
He sat on the end of the sofa and turned to face Amanda. “She told me that a baby wasn't in her plans, and she'd hired a private investigator to find me.” He sighed. “Ramona finally agreed to marry me about six months ago. But neither one of us is wants kids.”
“I don't think you have much of a choice, now.”
“Well, see, that's kind of what I wanted to talk to you and Lex about.”
Amanda frowned, then started to shake her head. “You're not talking about—”
He quickly interrupted her. “Look. You know as well as I do, that I'm the last person who should be a father. Hell, I'm almost fifty years old!” He stood and started to pace. “I was going to drop him off at the nearest fire station, but I just couldn't do it. It's not his fault that his father is a worthless piece of shit. He shouldn't suffer, just because of me.”
“But, maybe,” Amanda got to her feet, “maybe you and Ramona would be good parents, together. She's obviously made you a better man.”
“No. We've already discussed kids. Ramona's a recovering alcoholic, and well, you know what I'm capable of.” Hubert pointed to his son. “Eddie deserves a much better life than what I could give him. Do you think you and Lex could consider adopting him?”
Struck mute, Amanda could only stare at Hubert. The sound of the back door opening broke her from her trance. “Looks like you're about to find out.”
After seeing the old pickup truck in the front drive, Lex parked beside the house and hurried inside. She only had a moment to wonder why Amanda hadn't called about their unexpected guest, when she heard voices in the den. She stepped around the doorway and stopped in surprise. “What's going on here?”
Amanda turned and gave her wife a welcoming smile. “Hi, honey. I'm really glad you're back.”
Lex took a moment to try and reconcile the friendly greeting, especially since Amanda was standing so close to Lex's estranged brother. “Um, yeah. Roy and the guys got the truck loaded with no problems, so our first shipment of cattle is on the way to Houston .”
“That's great.” Amanda moved around the furniture and advanced on her wife. “Believe it or not, Hubert's asked us for some help.” She moved the baby toward Lex. “Meet your nephew, Eddie.”
“My what?” Lex looked down at the sleeping infant. She automatically took Eddie when Amanda handed him to her. “Uh—”
Hubert joined the women near the fireplace. “Like I was telling Amanda, this little guy should have a good life.”
Lex looked at the baby, who was the spitting image of both Hubert's and her baby pictures. “And what does that have to do with us?”
“Look. I found out about this baby yesterday, and his mother's no longer in the picture. I'm not parenting material. I'm sure you'd be the first to agree. And I tried to give him up, but I just couldn't.” Hubert cleared his throat when his emotions started to get away from him. “He's a Walters, Lex. And I know, more than I've known anything in my life, that you and Amanda could give him the kind of home he deserves. Would you, please, raise my son as your own?”
Amanda watched as Lex stared at Hubert for a long moment. She couldn't read the look in her wife's eyes, and she held her breath as the only sound that could be heard was the crackling of the fire. She knew what her own answer would be, but she didn't want to influence Lex in any way.
“Let me get this straight. You got a baby dumped on you, and now you want to dump him off on us? What's to keep you from taking him back, once he's older?”
“I'll sign whatever you want. Give up all rights. Hell, I'll even promise to never step foot in Texas again, if that's what you want. You name your price, and I'll do whatever I can to pay it.” Hubert stared into his sister's eyes. “I know I'm the last person in the world who should ever ask a favor of you, Lex. And, believe it or not, I've changed.” He glanced at Amanda with a quick smile. “Love can do that to a person. You of all people should know that.”
Lex smiled and nodded. “Yeah, I do. But, are you really sure about this? Because, if we take Eddie, he will be our son. And we'll raise him with our values.” She remembered all too well how hateful Hubert had been in the past about her sexuality.
“If he turns out half as well as you, then I think he'll grow into a good man.” He grinned at his sister. “We both know you'll be a lot better father than me.”
“True,” Lex quipped. She met Amanda's gaze. “Well, sweetheart? I know this is kind of sudden, but what do you think?”
Amanda moved to stand beside Lex. She put her arm around her wife's waist and exhaled heavily. “Hubert, if you're really serious about this, I think I'd better make a call to our lawyer.”
“Whatever it takes,” he agreed. “Um, can I hold him for a little while, Lex?” He swallowed hard as Lex placed Eddie into his hands. “Thanks.”
Lex nodded. “Why don't you have a seat, while we go to the office and make that call? We'll be back in a few minutes.” She guided Amanda out of the den, giving Hubert a chance to tell his son goodbye in private.
Sleet pellets hit the roof, as Lex and Hubert stood on the front porch. She had her hands tucked under her arms, while her brother zipped his coat. “Are you sure you don't want to stay for dinner?” Lex asked.
“Nah. I need to get back home. My girlfriend will be back either today or tomorrow. Just overnight the paperwork, and I'll get it back to you as soon as I can.” In a surprise move, Hubert put his arms around Lex. “I know it probably doesn't matter, but for what it's worth, I'm sorry about how I've treated you.”
Lex returned the embrace. “I think we've both grown up in the last few years.” She cleared her throat and stepped back. “Don't be a stranger, big brother. And be expecting a Christmas card from us this year, okay?”
He laughed, then sobered. “I don't know how to thank you and Amanda. After everything I've done, you still bailed me out.”
“Well, it wasn't completely unselfish. We'd talked about having another baby, so I think I should thank you. Because as much as I love my kids and my wife, I really didn't want to go through another pregnancy with Amanda.”
“She have a rough time of it?”
Lex's smirk widened into a full smile. “ She didn't, but I did. I was a total wreck the entire time.”
Hubert chucked her on the shoulder. “Well, I'm glad I was able to help.” Their eyes locked for a silent moment. “Don't let him turn out like his old man, Lex.”
She nodded in understanding. “Drive safely, Hubert. You've got my number if you need anything.”
“Yeah.” He flicked a finger away from his forehead in salute. “Take care, little sister.”
Lex waited until Hubert's truck was out of sight, before she went into the house.
Amanda, holding Eddie, met her in the hall. “Are you okay?”
“Sure. It's a lot to take in though, isn't it?” Lex lightly wiped her hand over the dark fuzz on Eddie's head. “He seems to be a good baby.” She walked alongside Amanda, as they headed toward the stairs.
“I know. Do you remember how fussy Melanie was at this age? He's the complete opposite.” Amanda suddenly stopped. “What are we going to tell the girls?”
Lex put her arm around Amanda's waist. “I guess it's too early to tell them Santa brought him, huh?” She grunted as a well-placed elbow hit her in the stomach. “Um, well. It's not like we have a cabbage patch to find him in.”
“ Lexington —”
“Okay, okay. How about the truth? We were planning on having another baby, and Eddie's natural parents were unable to take care of him, so we adopted him?” Lex rubbed her stomach as they made it up the stairs. “But I still like the idea of Santa bringing him.”
“You're asking for it, Lexington Marie Walters.” Amanda tried to keep the smile off her face. “And since you're so frisky, you can go look around in the storage building for the crib. But don't you dare try to bring it into the house by yourself.” She crossed the threshold to their bedroom and placed the sleeping infant on their bed.
Lex kissed Eddie on the forehead, then kissed Amanda lightly on the lips. “Yes, dear. And how will the crib make it into the house?”
“I'm sure one of the guys will be more than happy to help. We'll set it up in our room for now, until we can figure out what to do.” Amanda frowned. “I know we can convert the guestroom across from Lorrie's, but I hate having him so far away from us.”
“We'll figure something out,” Lex assured her. “I'll be back soon.”
Once Lex left, Amanda sat on the bed beside Eddie. “Your new sisters will go crazy over you, little man. Not to mention all the grandparents you're going to meet.” She picked up the phone beside the bed and hit the speed dial. “Hello, Martha? Are you and Charlie very busy? No, everything's fine. But there's something we'd like to show you, if you have the time.”
To be continued in Part Seven
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