~ Taken ~

Part Two

by: C. E. Gray

Disclaimer: Please see part one for various disclaimers. Also, I have taken liberties with the state and people of Utah for creative purposes. As I have never been there, I apologize if I have anything down on paper that is not so in the state. J

Language Disclaimer: Gets a little strong…

Note: There is mention of abuse in this part. While it’s not too graphic, let’s just say it wasn’t fun to write, and leave it at that. If it bothers you, I suggest you skip that piece of the story. You’ll know when it’s there.

Any and all comments are welcome at: Y02Mustang@AOL.com Once again, the more comments, the better chance of a quicker third part! I LOVE hearing from you all!

Thanks! Here’s the story…


Sam slammed her palms against the steering wheel as she hit the second red light in a row. Tapping her fingers impatiently, she ignored the looks passing pedestrians gave her when she sped off, leaving a streak of rubber on the pavement. Praying she didn’t get delayed any further, she drove as fast as she dared, and arrived in record time.

It was hard not to know something was going on: The black and white police cars, big black SWAT vans, and dozens of uniformed officers kind of gave it away. Also, the big yellow caution tape roped off the scene to any onlookers. But Sam wasn’t about to be held back, not when she didn’t see Kayla safely outside.

Parking her white truck as close as she could without running over the curb, she jumped out, and rushed over to the edge of the scene. She was in the process of climbing under the yellow tape when a young officer stopped her.

"You have to stay back, ma’am," said the policeman.

Sam stood, and noticed she was at least three inches taller than the young man. "I need to get in there," she said, forcefully restraining herself from pushing the guy out of the way.

"I’m sorry, miss," he said, putting a reassuring hand on his holstered gun when he caught the look in her eye. "This is a very dangerous place to be. You can’t come past the tape," he insisted.

Sam looked around, anxious to find a way in. She could hear an occasional shot ring out, and she was becoming more and more concerned. Finally, she saw someone who might help her.

"Brandon!" she called. The broad shouldered man turned, spotted the rancher, and walked over, obviously surprised and yet pleased to see her.

"Sam? Samantha!" he exclaimed, shaking her hand and patting her on the back. "How’s my favorite Captain?" he asked, smiling. His brown eyes were warm and friendly, and his dark brown hair had been done in a crew cut, appropriate for an officer.

"I need to get in there, B," she said, urgently.

"Sam, you know this is a restricted police area," he said, but it was clear he didn’t want to deny her entrance; Sam could see it in his eyes.

"I know one of the hostages," she said, pleadingly. "Please, Brandon."

The Sergeant sighed. "All right," he said, lifting the tape for her. "Just promise me you’ll stay back here."

"Serge?" questioned the young officer.

"Go to your post, Johnson," said Brandon, fiercely, "and stop badgering the officer." At the word ‘officer’, Johnson sped off, for fear of offending the woman.

"I promise," she said, saluting her former officer - he had been her favorite, and she respected him. Brandon waved her off, but smiled as he walked away to talk to his men, and discuss strategies.

The rancher looked around, taking in the scene before her. A few officers spoke to the suspect through the CB radio in a patrol cars, trying to negotiate a deal with the man. Several uniformed men, SWAT, she assumed, circled the building, and got in position in case they needed to take immediate action.

Suddenly, the front door of the bank opened, and four people ran out, scattering like frightened horses. Sam scanned their faces quickly, but didn’t find the beautiful blond she was searching for. The police kept them together, and led them to the awaiting ambulances, while even more officers approached them for questioning.

Sam was getting antsy. Ten minutes passed, with nothing more than the occasional sound of an officer on the speaker, trying once again to make a deal with the armed suspect. The man never responded to any of their attempts; he would not budge.

The door opened again, and four more people were released. But Kayla was not among them.

Shit! Sam cursed, as she did some quick calculations. Eight have been released. That means Kayla’s in there with him alone!

The rancher, who was not known to curse, was muttering every cuss word she knew, pacing back and forth, her worry increasing with each passing moment.

Another five minutes went by, with no movement from within the building. The air was tense, and every officer was on edge, ready for anything. Just then, when all was quiet, a shot rang out, startling nearly everyone. The door opened once more, and out ran Kayla.

Sam thought her heart would surely stop when she saw the blood covering Kayla’s white shirt, and noticed her jacket was missing. The rancher took a few steps forward, as the officers charged into the building, and considered calling out to the woman she cared for more than anything, but didn’t want to scare her.

But, Sam didn’t have to worry. It was as if Kayla sensed she was there; she turned away from the officers, and ran straight into Sam’s waiting arms. Sam held her tightly, before pulling back, and placing a hand on Kayla’s right side, where the bleeding seemed to be the worst.

"Where does it hurt, baby?" she asked, urgently.

Kayla managed to mutter between sobs, "Not mine. Not my blood."

Sam looked Kayla in the eye. "You’re not hurt?" she asked, and Kayla shook her head, before she was swallowed in Sam’s warmth once more. "Thank God," Sam whispered, relieved.

The rancher took a deep breath, and a thought suddenly struck her. She smells wonderful, she thought, and realized what she had always heard was true. You don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone. She had almost lost Kayla, and now even the most minute detail was noticeable. Sam realized she loved the smell of Kayla’s hair, the feeling of holding the woman in her arms, and comforting her.

But she also realized there was one thing she didn’t like: the sound of Kayla crying. She made a vow to herself, then and there, that she would do everything in her power to keep Kayla from getting hurt. With that promise locked deep in her heart, she concentrated on finding a way to comfort the woman that was trembling in her arms.

A reporter looked over, and motioned to the cameraman to pan out and get a shot of the two women. As he did so, Sam tucked her hand under Kayla’s chin, and brought Kayla’s head up to give her a comforting kiss. Valerie Coleman was shocked, as was her cameraman Zeke, but he kept filming. They watched as a policeman approached the two.

Sam tasted the salty tears on Kayla’s lips, and hugged her tightly, knowing she would do anything to make it all better, as she eyed the officer who was walking towards them. He looked rather nervous, and a slight blush covered his cheeks, but he kept his fists clenched, as though convincing himself to keep moving forward.

Draw a straw, he mocked, replaying the recent conversation in his head. Don’t worry, Johnson, just pick a straw. If you get the short one, you have to talk to them.

"You guys owe me big," he muttered to himself. "I, uh, I need to ask you some questions," he said, speaking to Kayla.

Sam looked at the man with cold eyes, as Kayla continued to cry in her arms. "You’ve got other people to talk to, right?" The officer nodded. "The suspect is dead, right?" she asked, and felt Kayla flinch, so she tightened her grip. Another nod from the officer. "Then back off," she growled.

The man was about to object, despite the fact that Sam’s eyes were shooting daggers, when Brandon walked up.

"Let ‘em go, Johnson," he ordered, and the man obeyed. If his commanding officer wanted to handle… them, he wasn’t about to stand in his way.

"Thanks, Brandon. I’m gonna take her home, now," she said. Brandon nodded, saluted, and Sam slowly walked away, keeping arms around Kayla’s shaking shoulders.

Melissa watched the couple with curiosity. Taking a chance, she called, "Sam!" The woman with dark-hair turned, and scanned the crowd for whomever had called her name. Seeing a red-haired woman walking towards them, she eyed the stranger warily, and the woman was smart enough to stop in her tracks. "Take care of her," she said, and Sam nodded before turning away.

The ride home was silent, except for the sounds of Kayla’s muffled sobs. Sam didn’t know what to say, so she just drove. Pulling into the driveway, she got out, and hurried around to help Kayla. Opening the door, she held out her arms, and Kayla fell into them once more, her tears slowing.

She began to speak, and although her speech was punctuated with sniffles, Sam’s heart heard every word.

"He said I was like him," she said, "that’s why he kept me in there with him. I asked him how he knew, and he said he could just tell. Then, he told me nobody else understood him, and they all hated him. He put the gun in his mouth, and just pulled the trigger. There was so much blood…"

She shuddered at the memory, and Sam leaned down, wrapping her arms around Kayla’s waist, so the woman could bury her face in Sam’s neck and feel safe.

"I’m sorry, baby," said Sam, softly. "But it’s all over now. It’s okay. I’m here," she said, and Kayla pulled back, wiping at her eyes.

"Thanks," she said, and let Sam lead her into the house. "I think I’ll go take a shower."

"Okay," said Sam, gently, and Kayla walked down the hallway and into the bathroom. Minutes later, Sam heard the water start up, and sighed. Tilting her head to the side, she frowned when she noticed the light on her answering machine was blinking, indicating she had a message or two.

"You have nine messages," said the machine, and Sam was surprised. Hitting the play button, she listened to the messages. Most of them were left just a few minutes ago.

The first one was from a man, who uttered various expletives. "You whores make women look bad. You and your slut better not come near my wife, Martin!" he spat, and that was the better part of the message.

Sam was getting a little angry, and wondered how the man knew her last name, much less her phone number, but listened to the next one. It was from her mother.

"I want to talk to you, Samantha," said the woman. "I saw you on the news. We will talk tomorrow." That was it. No ‘Please call me’ or ‘Can we talk tomorrow’. Just a firm ‘We will talk tomorrow’. Just like her mother.

The rancher suddenly understood. While they were at the scene, one or more of the reporters must have seen her kiss Kayla, and then broadcast it live. With the prejudice world they were living in, Sam was surprised all she had was phone messages, not death threats.

This is perfect, thought Sam, as she scanned the rest of the messages. They were all from angry people, giving her a piece of their minds. Many had a very wide vocabulary of curse words, Sam noticed.

Shaking her head, she deleted them all, so Kayla wouldn’t have to listen to them. She had enough to worry about, without adding angry phone calls to the list, and Sam wanted to spare her any pain she could.

Just then, the phone rang. Sighing, Sam picked up the receiver.

"Hello?" she answered, tiredly.

"I want to speak with McKayla," said a woman’s voice, sternly.

"May I ask who’s calling?" asked Sam, out of habit.

"This is her mother," said the voice, obviously not happy at being questioned. "I want to speak with my daughter."

"She’s not available at the moment," said the rancher. "Can I have her call you back?"

"Is this Samantha Martin?"

"It is," responded Sam.

"You put these ideas in her head, I have no doubt. I want you to stay away from her," ordered Kayla’s mother, as if she had authority over Sam.

"Your daughter is with me because she wants to be," said Sam. "I will tell her you called," she said, and hung up before the woman could say anything else. Running a hand through her hair, Sam sighed again, before glancing up at the clock. It was only one o’clock.

Can it be? Sam thought. Is it true that Kayla left for work just a few hours ago? It seemed impossible.

Sam debated over whether or not to make the woman something to eat. Often, after a tragedy and the rush of adrenaline, you felt full until the shock wore off. But, with Kayla, Sam wasn’t sure. She decided to wait until Kayla got out of the shower and felt a little better.

As if on cue, the shower water was shut off, and a few minutes later, once the hair-dryer had been shut off, Sam heard the bathroom door open. She sat patiently on the couch in the den, and waited for Kayla to come to her when she was ready. She didn’t have to wait long.

No more than five minutes later, Kayla walked into the den. She had changed into jeans and a clean blue T-shirt. Her blond hair was completely dry and combed, and she padded around the floor in her bare feet. She gave Sam a sad smile.

Sam patted the sofa next to her, and Kayla sat down. The rancher was a little hesitant to put an arm around Kayla, but when she did, the woman leaned into the embrace, grateful for the support.

"Are you okay?" asked Sam, gently.

"I’m better," replied Kayla, taking a deep breath to calm her nerves.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Sam asked, after a small pause.

Kayla shook her head. "Not now," she said.

"Are you hungry?"


Sam was quiet for a while, thinking about what to say. "Your mother called," she said, at last.

Kayla looked up. "She did? When?"

"When you were in the shower," said Sam, suddenly wondering what she had gotten herself in to. Did she really want to discuss all the details?

"What did she say?" asked Kayla. And perhaps more importantly, she thought, how did she get your number, and how did she know I was here?

"She wants to talk to you. I told her I’d let you know she called," said Sam, making sure Kayla knew that she didn’t tell her mother she would call her back.

"I guess I’ll call her later," shrugged Kayla. Then, she asked what had been on her mind. "How did she get your number? How did she know I was here?"

Sam sighed. "Remember when I kissed you… earlier?" asked Sam, purposefully not saying ‘the bank’. Kayla nodded. "Well, I think some reporters got some video of it, and they were on live, so…"

Kayla sank deeper into Sam’s side. "Oh, God," she muttered.

"I’m sorry, Kay," said Sam, feeling like it was her fault. "I shouldn’t have kissed you when there were so many people around," she said.

"It’s not your fault," said Kayla, gently. "I appreciate that you’re able to show affection in public," she said, smiling a little. "And I know you were just trying to make me feel better."

Sam nodded. "Yeah, but I should have known something like this would happen with so many reporters and their cameras around. I’m sorry. I know you wanted to kind of keep it a secret," said the rancher.

"Don’t blame yourself, Sam, please," said Kayla. "It’s really not that bad. I’m glad you were there with me," she said.

There was silence for a moment. Then, Kayla said, "I didn’t know you were a cop."

Sam looked at her, curious. "How did you know?" she asked, surprised.

"I saw that cop salute you when we left. I just assumed," she said, offhandedly.

Sam nodded. "Yeah," she said. "I was only in for a few years, but I made it to Captain. Brandon was a fine officer; I’m glad to see he’s a Sergeant now."

"Did you like it?" asked Kayla. She’d talk about anything as long as it didn’t have to do with the shooting.

"Yes," said Sam, immediately. "I was in for about four years, right out of college, and I enjoyed it very much. I worked with the K-9 unit for three years, and was on Highway Patrol my last year."

"You weren’t an officer when I met you," said Kayla.

Sam shook her head. "No," she said. "When I first met you, I’d been out for about a year. I didn’t want to worry Ross with it, so I left before I was married."

"Were you ever hurt?"

"Twice." Seeing Kayla’s worried look, and the green eyes that sought an explanation, Sam sighed. "Once was in my first year as an officer," she continued. "I was working with a Shepherd named Champ, and we were reporting to a drug bust. Champ and I went in first, and cornered one of the men. Champ was holding the man in the corner, and I had just reached back to get my cuffs.

"A guy approached me from behind, I don’t know why I didn’t hear him, but I didn’t. At any rate, he had a knife, and lunged for me. I took the blade in my right shoulder," she said, choosing not to go into the gory details of how the men had ganged up on her until her backup arrived and she was transported to the hospital; but not before she had managed to cuff the one who stabbed her. That gave her a strange sense of accomplishment.

"And the second time?" asked Kayla, her eyes wide.

"The next time was two years later. I had just been transferred to the Highway Patrol. It was my first night on duty, and I was doing a routine stop. Some guy was driving without his lights on. When I got out of my car and started walking towards the vehicle, he leaned out the window with a pistol. I turned back to run to my car for cover, since drawing my gun would have done no good in the open, but he fired, and caught me in my right knee," she finished.

"Do they hurt?" Kayla asked. By this time, she was sitting up straight, and held Sam’s hand in her own.

"Just every once in a while," said Sam, shrugging it off. But the truth was, any time it was cold, those two joints bothered her - sometimes so much she could barely walk, or lift her right arm. And every once in a while, her knee would lock up on her. Plus, if she banged it into anything, the joint yelled bad names and dirty words at her, but she wasn’t about to worry Kayla with that.

"I’ll bet you made a great cop," said Kayla, truthfully. Sam smiled, and shrugged, modestly. "Hey, can we reheat that pizza?" she asked, and Sam nodded.

"Sure," said the rancher, and got up to prepare the food. A few minutes later, she returned, pizza and plates in hand. Kayla only picked at one piece of cheese pizza, but Sam was glad she at least ate something.

"Sam?" Kayla asked, suddenly, looking up to meet the rancher’s blue eyes.


"Do you think that guy killed himself because he was gay?"

Sam had to try hard to keep her expression controlled, as shock ran through her. How do you answer that one, she wondered. She was quiet for a moment, thinking of what to say.

"No," she said, at last. "He probably had problems in his life that he felt were just too much for him to handle. But, in truth," she said, gently, "there’s no reason for anyone to commit suicide. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem."

Kayla tilted her head at the rancher, curiously. "Where’d you hear that?" she asked.

Sam shrugged. "I’m not sure. Sometimes, that quote was the only thing that helped me through Ross and Brian’s deaths."

"You considered committing suicide?" exclaimed Kayla, quietly, taken aback.

The rancher nodded, slowly. "Once. On Brian’s sixth birthday," she admitted. "But then, I don’t know where, I heard that quote, and I somehow knew that while the pain I was feeling was horrible, it wasn’t forever."

Kayla pushed her plate away, so Sam took it and her own into the kitchen, along with the pizza boxes. Hurriedly putting everything away, she returned to the den, and found Kayla laying on the couch, staring at the ceiling.

"Kay? You all right?" she asked, sitting on the floor next to the woman.

Kayla nodded. "Yeah," she said, "just thinking. If something would have happened to me today, if -" she was going to continue, but Sam cut her off. The rancher leaned over, and pressed her lips against Kayla’s, drowning whatever words she was going to say.

At first Kayla was rigid, and surprised, but then she melted into the softness and security she found. Closing her eyes, she relaxed, and felt her skin suddenly come alive as Sam placed her hand on her waist.

The rancher pulled back. "Don’t think about that, okay?" she asked, smiling a little as she punctuated each syllable with a gentle movement of her thumb against Kayla’s waist, and watched the woman’s green eyes slowly turn darker. "It’s all over, you’re safe. That’s all that matters."

"I don’t know how you do that," said Kay, smiling one of the biggest smiles Sam had ever seen on her friend.


"Make me feel better so easily," said the woman, warmly.

Sam shrugged. "That’s my job," she said, and Kayla laughed. "Do that again," said Sam, and Kayla looked at her, strangely.

"Do what again?" she asked.

"Laugh." Just the look Sam was giving her was enough to make Kayla chuckle. Sam smiled, and kissed Kayla softly on the tip of her nose, making the woman laugh even harder. "I love that sound," said Sam, honestly, as she looked into Kayla’s eyes and watched her blush.

"You’re sweet," she said, trying to cool the heat she felt in her cheeks.

"I have my moments," Sam shrugged, and Kayla kissed her cheek, softly.

"Do you want to watch a movie?" asked Kayla, and Sam nodded.

"Okay," she said, "which one?"

"Well, what do you have?" Kayla asked, and Sam got up, and led her into the living room, gesturing for her to search the video titles herself. Kneeling on the floor, Kayla opened the cabinet door, and did just that.

A few moments later, she pulled one out that caught her attention. "How about this one?" she asked, pulling out a three-pack, and showed the first cover to Sam.

"The Warrior Princess Trilogy?" she said, and Kayla nodded. "Sure." Kayla put the first video, The Warrior Princess, in the VCR, and then curled up on the couch next to Sam. The two women watched as Sam’s ancient look-alike battled numerous foes, and made an enemy of the demigod Hercules by trying to turn his best friend and partner Iolaus against him.

When that was over, they watched the next video in the trilogy, The Gauntlet, where Xena made a decision for good instead of evil that nearly cost her her life, and finally, Unchained Heart, where good prevailed and the Warrior Princess started on her path of redemption. Sam got up, knelt down in front of the TV, and ejected the tape, since Kayla was rather comfortable on the couch.

"Now what?" asked Sam, as she glanced up at Kayla. "What?" she asked, seeing the strange wide-eyed expression on Kayla’s face. Picking up the remote control, Kayla turned up the sound.

"Local ranch owner Samantha Martin and bank clerk McKayla Farr were involved in the shooting at the Second National Bank today," said a female reporter. Sam moved back to the couch so she could watch.

"I’d say they were more involved in each other, Mary," chuckled a deep-voiced male.

Mary laughed. "Right, Jim," she said, smiling that annoying tight-lip smile that made her face look fake. "The two women, who are apparently romantically involved with each other, were caught kissing on camera. Let’s take a look." The scene changed, and there was footage of Sam lifting Kayla’s head up and kissing her, at which point the film was paused to prolong the event.

Sam shook her head, and took the controller from Kayla, turning the TV off before anymore could be said or shown. The women stared at the black screen for a moment, Sam trying to cool her anger, and Kayla trying to understand how her personal life could suddenly become so… public.

"Romantically involved," repeated Kayla, quietly.

"It’s just talk," Sam assured her. "They’ll say anything for a good story."

"Then this is how everyone knows," said Kayla. "Everyone," she repeated, softly.

"I’m sorry, Kayla," said Sam. "If I could go back and change it, I would have paid more attention to where we were. But, I can’t, so we’ll deal with this together, all right?"

"Okay," said Kayla, smiling a little. "Together."

The phone rang, causing both women to jump. Sam raised a suspicious eyebrow, and picked up the receiver.

"Hello?" she answered, hoping it wasn’t some ticked off citizen, deciding to cuss her out.

"Hi. Is this Samantha?" asked the voice; a woman’s.

"Yes," said Sam, "who’s this?" So far, the woman seemed calm.

"May I speak to Kayla?"

Sam frowned for a moment, debating over whether or not to agree. While the woman seemed to be reasonable, she could blow up at Kayla the minute she was on the phone with her.

Still, thought Sam, she called her ‘Kayla’. Maybe she knows her…

"All right," said Sam, and handed Kayla the receiver. Kayla looked at her, curious, but took the phone.

"Hello?" she asked, cautiously.

"Kayla, it’s Melissa. Are you okay?" asked the woman, anxious.

"Yeah, I’m all right," she said, smiling in relief at the sound of her friend’s voice over the line. Sam got up from the couch, and walked into the kitchen when she knew the caller was more than likely friendly, to give Kayla some privacy.

"So, Sam is Samantha, huh?" she asked, and Kayla froze, not sure whether the tone she heard was kind or angry.

"Uh, yeah," Kayla said, hesitantly.

"Well," sighed Melissa, "when do I get to meet her? You know, check her out, make sure she deserves you. Stuff like that."

Kayla laughed. "Hey, go easy on her, Mel," she said, glad her friend approved. "She’s really great. I don’t know if I deserve her. Just out of curiosity, how’d you get this number?" added Kayla.

"They flashed it on the news," replied Melissa. "It was real quick, but they also said you could call the station and they would tell you."

"Great," muttered Kayla, and there was silence for a while, as Kayla and Melissa mulled over how inconsiderate the news people could be, giving out personal information like a home telephone number.

"By the way," said Melissa, forcing herself to act casual and calm, "who hit you?" She hadn’t said anything at work, because she didn’t want to upset her friend while on the job, but she had definitely noticed.

The bank clerk flinched. "Hank," she said, quietly. "I went over to get my stuff and we got an argument."

"What happened?" demanded Melissa, her blood boiling at the sound of the scum’s name.

"He told me I couldn’t divorce him, and I told him I was. He got mad and hit me. He was going to go after me, but Sam stepped in front of him and blocked his way. Then, Hank said some… nasty things, and Sam slammed him up against the wall," said Kayla, barely hiding a grin at the memory of the look of surprise on Hank’s face when he hit the wall. "She was ready to hit him, but I called her back."

"So she protects you?" asked Melissa, her respect for the woman going up a notch.

"Yeah," said Kayla, smiling. "She takes care of me."

Melissa was quiet for a moment. Then, she said, "Let me talk to her."

Kayla shrugged. "Okay. Sam, Melissa wants to talk with you," she said, when the rancher entered the room. Handing the tall woman the phone, Kayla looked at Sam with interest, wondering what Melissa was telling her.

"Yes?" asked Sam, raising an eyebrow as if the woman on the other end of the line could see it. But she was a little curious as to why one of Kayla’s friends would want to speak with her.

"Kayla really cares for you, and I care for her," said Melissa, sternly. "If you hurt her, I’ll kill you."

"Melissa," said Sam, her voice thick and serious, "if that ever happens, I’ll hand you my own gun."

Melissa smiled as her respect-meter rose some more. That was a better answer than she had been expecting. "Good," she said, a little kinder. "When would be a good time for me to come over? I’d like to meet you."

Sam thought for a moment. Placing her hand over the receiver, she turned to Kayla. "Melissa wants to come over. Is tonight okay?" Kayla nodded, and Sam spoke into the phone, "Tonight would be fine."

"How about four-thirty or so? I need to get some things done around the house, and then I’ll be on over. Where do you live?" asked Melissa, and Sam quirked a grin.

"Do you know where Helicon Drive is?" she asked, and Melissa replied that she did. "Meet me there at four-thirty, and I’ll take you up here. Otherwise, you’ll never find it," she said, and Melissa agreed. Relaying her good-byes to Kayla, Sam and Melissa hung up.

"Are you sure you’re up to it?" asked Sam, sitting on the couch next to Kayla.

Kayla nodded. "Yeah. Besides, Melissa wants to meet you, and I know she wants to check up on me. She’s a good friend," she added, and Sam nodded.

"Sounds like it," she remarked. "I’m gonna go take a shower, just to rinse off. Will you be all right?" she asked, wondering if Kayla felt safe. She knew that after a traumatic and frightening experience, being alone felt vulnerable.

Kayla didn’t respond right away, but after a pause to think about it, she nodded. Sam cocked her head at her, doubtingly.

"Do you want me to let the dogs in?" she asked, and received an enthusiastic nod. Sam walked outside, and opened the gate to the pen, before leading the dogs into the house. Arcadia went right up to Kayla and sniffed her, curiously, while Eurich stayed behind, a little cautious.

Sam snapped her fingers, and both dogs sprang to her side. She walked over next to Kayla, and said, "Stay." Arcadia proceeded to lie down on the floor, but Eurich remained sitting, still not too sure about this stranger. With a quick and reassuring wink to Kayla, Sam walked down the hallway and into the bathroom.

After rinsing the sweat from her body, and washing her hair, Sam dried her hair, and went into her bedroom to decide what to wear. Choosing blue jeans and a white sleeveless shirt, she pulled on a pair of socks and her boots, knowing she’d have to drive down and lead Melissa up to her property soon.

As she walked into the living room, she saw what had to be the cutest picture. Kayla was lying on the couch, with Arcadia at her feet, and Eurich was sitting on the floor right next to her, licking her hand as she petted him. To make things even more adorable, Eurich would reach his head over and lick her cheek, making her laugh.

"I wish I had my camera," said Sam, as she sat down in the chair. When she was seated, Eurich came over and decided to visit his master. Nudging her hand, he reveled in the feeling as Sam absent-mindedly scratched the dog’s ears, still looking at Kayla and Arcadia on the couch.

Kayla smiled, and sat up, at which point Arcadia felt it necessary to move over and put her head in the woman’s lap.

"Can you show me what they know?" asked Kayla, wondering how well the dogs were trained.

"Sure," said Sam, and stood up. She snapped her fingers, and Eurich moved to her right side. Arcadia left the couch immediately, and sat at her left side. They looked at her, expectantly.

She pointed down with her right finger, over Eurich, and he dropped to his stomach, head down. Looking at Arcadia, she said, "Down," and the female did the same.

"You can do either," explained Sam. "You can speak, or you can use hand signals. They know both." Sam showed her how, with a flick of the wrist, the dogs would moved in that direction. And how, with either a flat palm or a sharp "Stay!", the dogs wouldn’t move until they were told to do so.

Sam taught her that snapping your fingers meant ‘come’, and another snap while the dogs were facing you meant ‘shake’, which they could do with either paw. She told them to roll over, to beg, to find a piece of food she hid in a desk drawer, and even to speak.

"And, last but not least," she said, smiling, "there is the Hold command." Kayla looked at her, confused. "Tell them to hold," she said.

"Hold," said Kayla. The dogs suddenly went on full alert, watching Sam intently. She took a step to the left, and they growled. When she tried to go forward, they snarled and lunged and snapped, but did not attack.

"Now tell them to stop," said the rancher, as she stood still, and the dogs looked at her, still wary.

"Stop," Kayla said, and the dogs sat back on their haunches. Sam snapped her fingers, and they were by her side again, as if they knew they were only training.

"That’s it," shrugged Sam, stepping back two paces, letting the dogs know they were done. Finished showing off, the dogs returned to Kayla, apparently becoming attached to the blonde.

"That’s amazing," said Kayla, smiling at the show. "Were they police dogs?"

Sam shook her head. "Not these guys," she said, "but I trained them as if they were." Glancing at her watch, she stood. "I’d better go get Melissa. I’ll be back in a few minutes," she said, kissing the top of Kayla’s head as she left. Kayla watched her go, grinning as Eurich bathed her hand in dog slobber.

The rancher started up her truck, and drove the few miles down to the road where she was supposed to meet Melissa. From the paved blacktop it quickly turned to dirt, and was hard to follow, which was why Sam had to lead the way. A few minutes after she arrived, a green Toyota Camry pulled up to the corner, and stopped.

Melissa, not wanting to get her precious Trans-Am dirty, had decided to drive her husband’s car. Not that she worried, but she left him with specific instructions not to touch her ‘baby’.

Sam looked at the car, and noticed a woman with red hair sitting in the driver’s seat. Getting out of her truck, she walked over to the car, and the driver rolled down the window.

"You must be Melissa," said Sam, and the woman nodded. "Follow me," she said, and got back in her truck. Sam flashed her lights, as it was beginning to get dark, and turned around. She looked in her rearview mirror, and when she was sure the Camry was following, she continued down the road.

Kayla knew Sam had returned when Arcadia and Eurich suddenly leapt towards the door, and began barking.

"Quiet," she told them, and they fell silent. The door opened, and Sam entered, followed by Melissa, who rushed over to give her a hug as Sam closed the door. However, Arcadia and Eurich, wary of the stranger and protective of Kayla, growled at the woman as she approached Kayla.

Melissa stopped in her tracks, and looked to Kayla for help. Sam snapped her fingers, and the dogs went to her side, leaving Melissa free to go to her friend. Melissa hugged Kayla tightly, before pulling back, and smiling.

"Sam was right. I never would have found this place," she said, and Kayla returned the smile. Motioning to Sam, the rancher followed the two into the living room, where Melissa sat in one of the chairs, and Kayla sat on the couch. Sam hesitated for a moment, not sure if Kayla would feel comfortable with her sitting beside her, when the woman’s eyes locked with hers, and sent her a message, telling her it was all right.

Like she read my mind, Sam thought, taking a seat next to Kayla. Eurich and Arcadia followed her, each taking a place next to either woman’s feet.

Melissa eyed the rancher, now that she was closer, and couldn’t find anything to complain about. Her eyes were gorgeous, and it was clear she was very muscular; her biceps stood out with the sleeveless shirt she wore. Her face was expressionless, but Melissa guessed that she had a beautiful smile. All in all, Melissa could find nothing wrong in the physical sense.

Her eyes traveled back up, and she was met with an intense, cold, blue stare, as well as a raised eyebrow. Sam had been watching the woman as she looked her over, and wondered what she thought.

"Well?" she asked, tonelessly. "Find anything interesting?"

"You work out," said Melissa, in a tone that said she was not intimidated, although she was quite unsettled by the rancher’s stare.

Sam nodded. "Yeah," she said, wondering why it made any difference. She casually brought her arm around, and let it rest around Kayla’s shoulders, without even thinking. When she realized what she had done, and how Melissa looked a little uncomfortable, she pulled back, but Kayla caught her hand, and scooted closer. Sam’s heart skipped a beat as she wrapped an arm around Kayla, and knew it was okay for her to do so, even with someone present.

Melissa cleared her throat, shook her head, and continued. "So you must be pretty strong," she said, and Sam raised an eyebrow at her, unsure of where this was going.

She shrugged. "Yeah, I guess so," she said, getting a little confused by the woman’s questioning, and where it was leading.

"Strong enough to protect you and Kayla?" she asked, and Sam nodded.

"Yes," she said, with no hesitation.

Protect her? Sam thought. I’d die for her, if I had to.

"What would you do if someone hurt her?" asked Melissa.

"Hurt them," Sam responded, her hands clenching into fists at the remembrance of Aaron and Hank.

"And what about if she was sad, or upset? What would you do?" asked Melissa, not sure where the questions were coming from, just asking them as they popped into her head.

"Take care of her," said Sam, as if it was obvious. "Make her feel better." She felt Kayla shift, and then felt her heart flutter as the woman slipped an arm around her waist and gave her an appreciative grin.

"Well," she said, shrugging, "I guess that’s it. I’m still doubting about whether or not you deserve her," said Melissa, and Sam interrupted her.

"I know I don’t," said the rancher, and Kayla blushed.

"But I know you’ll take care of her, and watch out for her," finished Melissa.

"Is that all you came here for? To cross-examine me?" asked Sam, skeptically.

Melissa thought for a moment, and then nodded. "Yeah, actually," she said.

"Why don’t you stay? You’re welcome to have dinner with us. Would you like something to drink?" asked Sam, ever the polite hostess.

Sam decided she liked this woman. While she could ask a lot of questions, it was obvious she cared for Kayla, and was only concerned for her well-being. Granted, she made a long trip just to ask a few questions, but she meant well.

"No, thank you," said Melissa, standing. Sam and Kayla also stood, and Kayla gave her a friend a hug good-bye.

"I think she’s a keeper," Melissa whispered, as she gave Kayla a hug. Kayla smiled, and nodded. Sam and Melissa shook hands, and Melissa walked out the door.

"Can you find your way back?" asked Sam, ready to get in her truck and lead her back down to the corner.

Melissa nodded. "Yeah, I’ll be all right, thanks," she said, and drove away.

"Does she check everyone out like that?" asked Sam, as she closed the door, and followed Kayla into the den.

Kayla laughed, and nodded. "Yep," she said, "everyone. She wants to make sure they’re, as she puts it, ‘right for me’. She even does that with any new people I meet. She’s a good friend, though," added Kayla, sincerely.

"Seems like it," commented Sam, as she knelt in front of the fireplace, and started a small flame, which soon spread into a blazing fire that warmed the room quickly. Kayla smiled, and sat down next to the warmth, only to stretch out on the floor moments later.

Sam sat near her head, with one leg bent under the other, her right leg stretched out, as her knee was bothering her - that was another reason for the fire. The rancher was once again content to muss Kayla’s hair with her fingers, before smoothing it back out, and repeating the process, just needing to know that the woman was there in front of her, safe and sound.

"Sam, can I use your phone?" asked Kayla, choosing not to open her eyes, as that would ruin the relaxing feeling she was experiencing, due to the pattern of messing and fixing Sam was going through with her hair. Just knowing that the rancher was there with her made her feel better.

"Sure," said Sam, and stood, made sure her right knee would hold her, and then moved towards the phone. Taking the cordless, she returned to Kayla’s side, and handed her the receiver.

"Thanks," said Kayla, and she dialed the seven-digit number. It rang three times before someone answered.

"Hello?" asked a woman.

"Hi, mother, it’s Kayla," said Kayla, simply.

"So you finally decided to call, hm?" said her mother, Sarah, snidely.

"Yes," sighed Kayla, used to the attitude she was receiving. "What did you want to talk about?"

"About you and that woman -"

"Sam," supplied Kayla, her voice low, indicating she did not care for Sam to be called ‘that woman’.

"Yes, her," agreed her mother, and Kayla decided it wasn’t worth arguing over the phone. "Anyhow, I don’t want to discuss it over the phone, because I want to talk with you face to face. Come to the house around eleven tomorrow."

"All right," said Kayla, tiredly. She really didn’t want to go anywhere for a while, but knew her mother was serious, and didn’t feel like getting into an argument.

"Good," said Sarah.

"Is Dad there?" asked Kayla, before her mother could hang up.

"Here he is," said her mother, and Kayla waited patiently for her father, Jim, to get on the line.

"Hi, sweetheart," he said, gently. He waited until his wife left the room to speak.

"Hi, daddy," said Kayla, kindly. "I know how mother feels about this, but what about you? What do you think?" she asked, softly.

"Is she nice?" he asked.


"Do you care for her?"

"Very much," replied Kayla, honestly.

"Are you happy?" asked Jim, the care evident in his voice.

"Yes," said Kayla.

"Then, as long as she treats you right, it doesn’t matter to me whether she’s male or female, black or white, purple or green," he said, making his daughter laugh.

"Thanks, daddy," she said, smiling. She should have known her father would understand and accept it.

"You’re welcome, darling," he said. "I’ll try to talk to your mother. I love you, Kayla," he added.

"Thank you, dad. I love you, too," she said, and then hung up. "My mom’s not too happy about it, but she wants to talk to me tomorrow at eleven. Dad doesn’t seem to mind," she said, smiling again at the acceptance of her father.

"Good," said Sam, happy for her friend. "Well, I guess I’d better call my mother, now," she sighed, taking the phone from Kayla, who gave her an encouraging smile. Dialing, Sam waited with an impassive look on her face as the phone rang twice.

"Hello?" answered Rhonda.

"Mother," said Sam, tonelessly.

"Samantha," acknowledged her mother. "See me tomorrow at nine," she demanded.

"I won’t come until ten-thirty," she said, sternly.

"Very well," sighed her mother. "I will see you at ten-thirty tomorrow morning."

"Bye," said Sam, and she hung up.

"That was quick," commented Kayla, quietly, a little worried by the look on Sam’s face.

The rancher sighed, trying to get rid of the impatience she felt towards her mother. Looking into Kayla’s eyes, she saw the concern and care hidden there, and smiled. Someone cared for her.

"My mother isn’t one for long conversations," she shrugged. "At any rate, she says she wants me there around ten or so, so I’ll have to leave before you. Will you be okay?" she asked, worried about leaving her friend alone.

"Yeah," said Kayla, "just leave the dogs in." Sam nodded, and Kayla leaned over and gave her a hug.

"What was that for?" asked Sam, leaving an arm around Kayla’s shoulders as the woman pulled back.

"For being there for me today, and for taking care of me," replied Kayla.

"Always," responded Sam, smiling. "I’ve got to feed the horses, do you want to come with me?" she asked, but Kayla shook her head. "I’ll be back in a few minutes," said the rancher, as she walked out the door and into the corral.

True to her word, five minutes later, after giving each horse their flake of hay and cup of oats, Sam returned to the house, and found Kayla in the den, practicing commands with the dogs. Arcadia was the subject of her attention for the time being, while Eurich sat by, patiently awaiting his turn.

"Sit," said Kayla. "Down." After going through a few more, she did the same with Eurich, making sure she had the commands down pat.

"Good job," Sam praised, and Kayla smiled. "They work well with you."

"They’re good dogs. Aren’t you? Yes, you are," cooed Kayla, scratching the ears of both dogs, which they thoroughly enjoyed. Sam just grinned, and shook her head. While she often praised the dogs, she very rarely talked to them as Kayla was doing, but she realized she liked seeing Kayla getting along with the dogs, and vice versa.

Sam was about to say something, when there was a knock at the door. Wary, the rancher opened the door, and was surprised to see two police officers standing on her door step. One was Brandon, and the other was his partner, Officer Paul Davis.

"We dropped off the Blazer," said Brandon, and Sam nodded.

"Thanks," she said. She had almost forgotten that the car had been left behind at the bank.

"Take care," said Paul, and they both shook her hand. Saluting, she watched them as they left, before returning to the den.

"It was Brandon," Sam explained. "He and Paul brought your Blazer over." Kayla nodded, but said nothing. "Do you want something to eat?" asked Sam, and Kayla shook her head. Sam went off to the kitchen to prepare herself a sandwich, and maybe one for Kayla, just in case.

The phone rang, and Sam heard Kayla pick it up as she finished making the first sandwich.

"Hello?" she asked, and then was silent for a while. Curious, after several seconds of silence from her friend, Sam went back out into the den, and saw Kayla, the phone still against her ear, and tears streaming down her face.

Angry, Sam took the phone from her, and put it to her own ear, in time to hear the last of the man’s speech.

"… and I still say you should have died along with that bank robber. You don’t belong in our society, so why don’t you just leave, and keep what small scrap of dignity you might have left," he said.

Sam was gripping the phone so hard her knuckles were turning white. "Listen, you rotten bastard, if you ever call here and insult her again, I’ll reach through the damn phone and rip your tongue out, got it?" she demanded, deadly calm. "Oh, it’s possible, I assure you." Click, she hung up on him.

Turning her attention back to Kayla, and feeling her heart wrench at the sound of muffled tears, Sam went to her side, and put an arm around her.

"He won’t call again," she assured her, holding her tightly until her tears subsided. "Are you okay?" she asked, gently.

Kayla nodded. "Yeah, I think so," she said. "I just didn’t think people were against it so forcefully."

"Remember what I said? Those are the people we ignore. They aren’t the only ones," said Sam, trying to make her feel better. "Your dad is all right with it, Luke doesn’t mind, Brandon and Melissa don’t care one way or the other."

"I know," she said, "it’s just hard to ignore the bad things and recognize the good things when there’s so many angry people out there."

Sam nodded, but said nothing. Standing, she went to the kitchen, and returned shortly with two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, not hungry for anything else. Handing one to Kayla, she smiled when the woman accepted.

As Kayla swallowed the last bit of her meal, Sam looked up in time to catch a large yawn from the woman, who suddenly looked completely exhausted.

Well, there goes the adrenaline, Sam thought.

"Are you ready to go to bed?" Sam asked, softly.

Kayla paused, and then nodded. "I know it’s early, but I’m really tired all of a sudden," she said, stifling yet another yawn.

"That’s all right," said Sam, taking the paper plates in her hand and throwing them in the kitchen garbage, only to return to the den as quick as she could. "Come on," she said, taking Kayla by the arm and leading her to the guest bedroom.

"Will you be all right?" asked the rancher, when Kayla was under the covers and warm. Kayla nodded, and Sam kissed her forehead, before giving her a reassuring smile and walking down the hallway into her own bedroom. Climbing under the covers, she sighed, and fell asleep quickly.

Later that night, Sam was awakened by an insistent cold wet nose nudging her hand. Eurich was trying to wake her up so he could go out, and Arcadia was busy licking her master’s face.

"All right, all right," said Sam, reluctantly getting out from under the blankets. Slipping on a long T-shirt and some sweat pants, Sam led the dogs to the front door, and then walked in her bare feet over to the paddock. Opening the gate, the dogs went in, and she shut it behind them. Walking back to the house, she reminded herself that the next time she decided to walk around outside, she’d put on shoes, as the ground was very cold, and a cold ground is hard on the joints.

Sam was almost to the door of her bedroom, when she heard a noise coming from the guest bedroom. Peeking in the room, Sam found Kayla tossing and turning in bed, suffering a terrible nightmare, judging by the tear marks on her face.

"Kay," whispered Sam, as she knelt next to the woman, and put a gentle hand on her forehead. She didn’t have a fever, Sam was relieved to find. "Kayla, wake up. It’s okay," she said, and a few moments later, green eyes opened with a start.

"Sam?" whimpered Kayla, and Sam drew the woman to her, holding her close, wishing with all her heart she could take away the fear.

"It’s okay," repeated Sam, softly, into her ear, as Kayla cried into her shoulder.

"I was at the bank again, but this time it wasn’t the same man; it was Hank, and you were there, too. And he didn’t shoot himself, he shot you, and then Melissa, and then, after he had made me watch you all die, he shot me. And he laughed," she finished, sobbing again.

"No, it was just a dream," soothed Sam. "I’m all right. You’re safe, now. It was a dream," she insisted, and was glad to hear the cries ebb.

Sam pulled back, and wiped a tear from Kayla’s cheek with a callused and yet gentle thumb. "Are you okay?" she asked, kissing her forehead.

"Yeah, I’ll be all right," said Kayla, trying to convince herself as well as Sam.

"Okay," said Sam, "I’ll be in my room if you need me." She left the room slowly, in case Kayla called her back, but the woman had her eyes closed and was trying to go back to sleep, so Sam returned to her room. Deciding not to take off her sweats and shirt, she climbed under the covers fully dressed, in case Kayla had another nightmare and she had to get out of bed quickly.

Moments later, Sam heard the door to her room open, and saw Kayla standing there. The blonde’s long T-shirt went to her knees, and Sam only assumed she was wearing boxers underneath. Her eyes were red and puffy, and she sniffled as she stood at the door.

"Kayla?" asked Sam, gently, and sat up. Sam pulled back the covers, and Kayla walked across the room, and joined Sam under the blankets. She had her back to Sam, and Sam wrapped her arms around the woman’s waist, pulling her close and keeping her safe.

"Are you okay, sweetheart?" she asked, and Kayla shook her head. Sam moved back, and gave Kayla enough room to turn, so she was once more able to bury her tears in Sam’s shoulder.

"He took the gun… and the blood… and the sound," she murmured, incoherently stringing words and phrases together that made no sense. Sam held her tighter, and made sure she was covered with the blankets so she wouldn’t be cold.

"It’s okay," soothed Sam, her voice soft and warm. "I’m here, you’re safe. I’ve got you," she whispered. As if those were the magic words, Kayla’s sobs quieted, until they finally ceased completely. "I’ve got you," she repeated. Just as Kayla was drifting off, she whispered, "I love you," and kissed the top of her head, before closing her eyes and falling asleep.

The next morning, Sam awoke to the sunlight in her face, and a pleasant weight on her chest. Sometime during the night, she had rolled over on her back, and Kayla had followed. The woman now rested with her head under Sam’s chin, and her feet by the rancher’s ankles. Sam smiled, and put her arms around Kayla’s back, clasping them together.

Content, she was about to go back to sleep, when she glanced at the clock. It was eight-thirty, and the horses were whinnying impatiently.

Now, she thought, how in the world am I gonna get up without waking her? Do I really want to get up… she wondered. When she was about to try and slide out from under the snoring form that rested comfortably above her, groggy green eyes opened.

"Sorry," Kayla said, sheepishly, and tried to move, but Sam held her tight.

"That’s all right," she said. "I don’t mind waking up like this. Unless it bothers you," she added, but Kayla’s bright smile was enough to prove otherwise.

"The horses are a little miffed at not being fed yet, but I’ll be right back," she said, and Kayla rolled over, only to grasp Sam’s vacated pillow, and go back to sleep. With a fond smile, Sam pulled on her boots, and left the house.

Walking out to the corral, she rose a surprised eyebrow when all six horses stood at the gate, Thunder stamping his foot.

"Well, excuse me," said Sam, smiling as she climbed through the pipes. Giving each horse their breakfast, she watched as they ate hungrily, Silverbow still managing to give her an evil look. "Hey, give me a break!" she laughed. "I’ve got to go and see mother today, but when I get back, I’ll brush you all down, all right?" Venus and Thunder snorted their approval when she left, and Silverbow went back to her food.

Entering the house, Sam went into her bedroom, only to find the bed empty, and the shower water running. Sighing, she decided she’d better get ready to go, also, and turned the water on to the shower in the second bathroom. Letting the hot water run over her, she tried not to think about how upset she knew her mother would be, and found herself worrying about Kayla’s confrontation with her parents, instead.

Shutting off the water and drying herself with a towel, Sam wrapped it around her and walked down the hallway to her bedroom. Once the door was shut, she dropped the towel, and tried to decide what to wear. Choosing black jeans and a black sleeveless T-shirt, she ran a brush through her hair, and then pulled on a pair of boots.

Sam walked into the kitchen, and set out the bowls for cereal, since she really didn’t have enough time to fix a better breakfast, as it was already past nine.

"Morning," said Kayla, as she entered the kitchen. The bank clerk was wearing beige pants, and a white T-shirt, but didn’t have her shoes on yet. Breakfast was more important, she decided.

"Morning," replied Sam, setting the three different brands of cereal on the table. Adding the milk, two spoons, and two glasses of juice, she joined Kayla at the table.

"What time do you have to go?" asked Kayla, quietly.

"I need to leave in about a half hour," responded Sam. "I’ll let the dogs in before I go." Kayla nodded, but said nothing as she finished off the last few bites of her cereal, and drained the rest of her orange juice.

Sam cleared the table and collected the dishes, while Kayla went into her room to finish getting ready. Sam quickly washed the dishes, and then went outside to let the dogs out. Leading them inside, she put her hair up in a loose ponytail, before looking in the mirror and deciding against it.

Kayla walked out of her room and met Sam at the front door, absentmindedly petting Arcadia as the German Shepherd nudged her hand.

"I should be back by noon," said Sam, giving Kayla a hug and a quick kiss on the cheek before she left. "Will you be okay?" she asked, and didn’t leave until Kayla insisted that she had to go or she would be late - once more, the rancher didn’t want to leave Kayla.

Sam drove the forty miles to her mother’s house, and took a deep breath as she pulled in the drive. Her mother’s station wagon was parked in the driveway, underneath the protection of the garage. Checking her watch, she saw it was only ten-twenty; she was early, which was good, because it meant her mother couldn’t fuss at her for being late. Sighing, Sam made sure her truck was locked, and then walked up to the door.

Sam knocked once, before the door was opened. Her mother had been waiting for her, Sam realized.

"Come in," said Rhonda, and she turned abruptly, expecting her daughter to follow. Sam closed the door behind her, and reluctantly trailed behind her mother.

Rhonda Phillips was not as tall as her daughter, standing at only five-seven, but it was clear where Sam got her jet black hair. No one was sure how she acquired her piercing blue eyes.

Rhonda was wearing a flowing red dress, with elegant print, and her hair was done in a regal bun atop her head. The woman wore jade earrings that matched her eyes; in short, she looked like she was greeting the Queen of England, not bumming around the house waiting for her daughter. Her clothes were in direct contrast to her daughter’s jeans and a T-shirt, the rustic look completed with boots.

Mrs. Phillips sat down on the couch, being very ladylike and crossing her legs at the knee, while Sam joined her, sitting in a comfortable position: her left leg tucked back next to the edge of the sofa, and her right stretched out to its full length.

"I’m not going to beat around the bush," said Rhonda, and Sam turned to face her mother. "I know what you’ve done."

"And thanks to the reporters, so does the rest of Utah," said Sam, earning her an impatient look.

"But unlike them, I don’t believe it," said Rhonda.

"Mother, you saw the news reports," said Sam. "You know it’s true. How can you doubt it after what was on TV?"

"I don’t believe everything I hear."

"Mother, I’m gay," sighed Sam.

Rhonda’s eyes turned darker. "You’ve disgraced the Phillips name once more, Samantha. First, your brother was born deaf, and now I have a daughter who’s a lesbian," said Rhonda.

"I never could please you, could I?" said Sam, tonelessly.

"Your poor father must be rolling over in his grave," said Rhonda, sadly.

Sam stiffened. "Don’t talk to me about my father," she said, almost pleading.

"I don’t see why you hate him so," said Mrs. Phillips.

"Because he liked me too much," sighed Sam, running both hands through either side of her hair.

Rhonda just shook her head. "I’d hoped you would have gotten over that," she said.

"Oh, that’s right," said Sam, sharply. "You still don’t believe anything happened. It was just the overactive imagination of a little girl; his story against mine," she said.

"If he’d have done as you said, I would have noticed something," insisted Rhonda.

Sam exploded. "When did you notice anything? When were you home? Did you know that when Luke was seven he liked Jill next door? Did you know that when I turned sixteen I ran away from home for three days?" demanded Sam. "Do you even know when Luke’s birthday is?!"

"Watch your tone, young lady," quipped her mother. "Those are different issues entirely. It just proves you were crying for attention."

The rancher stood with so much force, she pushed her end of the sofa back a few feet. "You think I made it all up, don’t you? Just a little girl’s cry for attention; nothing ever happened, right? I am thirty-one years old, mother. I am a grown woman who no longer needs the approval of her mother, nor do I want your attention. But I can tell you right now," she said, spinning around to pin her mother under a blazing fire of icy blue, "that he raped me."

Before her mother could attempt to object, Sam continued, saying what she had never been able to tell her mother before. "I was twelve years old, mother. He forced me on the bed and told me he’d hurt Luke if I told anyone, because he knew Luke was more important to me than anyone. Then, he tore my clothes off, and started touching me. I left, then, and tried to imagine myself in another place.

"But I’ll never forget the feeling when he put himself inside of me. God, it hurt. I was only twelve, mother. I wasn’t even a fucking teenager yet! And I lost my virginity to a sick, sick man. But the man was my father."

Her mother started to say something, but Sam wasn’t done yet. "Do you know that he’s the reason I never had any dates? I was scared to death of all men. Ross was my first and only boyfriend. We were together three years before we even kissed. But he knew, and he understood. You’ve never done either," finished Sam.

Rhonda refused to accept it. "That’s not what I asked you here to discuss," she said, as though she had already put the whole thing behind her.

And she probably has, thought Sam, tiredly. No matter what happened, she knew her mother would never listen.

"Then what, mother? What did you want to talk about?" asked Sam, sitting back down.

"Let’s discuss your relationship with that woman," said Rhonda.

"McKayla," supplied Sam.

"Her," agreed Mrs. Phillips. "Why, Samantha? You had Ross," she said.

Sam interrupted her. "Ross is dead, mother. Please leave him out of this," she said. Why did her mother insist on bringing up the past?

"Don’t you think he’d want you to find some nice young man to be with?" she insisted.

"I believe he’d want me to be happy," said Sam, evenly.

"Well, yes," agreed Rhonda. "And that means moving on, and continuing with your life. You should find a successful man, get married, and maybe have another child. I’d like to have a grandchild," said Rhonda. "You need to fall in love again."

"I am in love, mother. I love Kayla," she said, truthfully.

"B-but, you can’t," stuttered her mother, finally losing her composure for a moment. "It’s not right. To love a woman… like that… it’s just unnatural," Rhonda said.

"Why, mother? Why should it matter as long as I’m happy?" asked Sam.

"Okay, let’s say it doesn’t," said Rhonda, hypothetically. "Let’s just pretend for a moment it doesn’t matter that you’re in love with another woman. Why her? Why McKayla?"

"Why not?" countered Sam.

"Samantha, listen to me. I’ve heard about her. You do know she’s married, don’t you? Well, not for long, because she’s getting a divorce," Rhonda corrected. "Do you really want to be with someone who can’t even keep a marriage together for five years?"

"Mother…" warned Sam. She didn’t like where the conversation was going.

"I just want you to think about this, Samantha. I want to make sure you’re doing the right thing," she said.

"No, you want to make sure I’m not doing anything to damage your reputation," amended Sam. "You don’t want people to say, ‘Oh, look, there goes Rhonda’s daughter the lesbian’. You’re worried about what people will think of you. You don’t give a damn about me or whether I’m doing what’s best for me," she spat.

"Samantha, do you know anything about this woman? I mean, her father is a truck driver, and her mother stays at home all the time," she said, condescendingly, "she comes from an abusive relationship. Samantha, if you have to be in love with a woman, of all women, why her?"

Sam stood up; she’d heard enough. "You know what, mother? Fuck you," she said, and walked out. She ignored her mother, who was demanding that she turn back around and show some respect, and closed the door with a slam. Jumping in her truck, she turned down the road, and drove away without looking back.


Kayla looked herself over in the mirror one more time, before heading out the door, Eurich and Arcadia trailing behind her. She opened the pen, and let them back inside, before climbing in her Blazer, and heading towards her parents’ house.

Jim and Sarah Anderson only lived fifteen minutes from Sam’s house, so Kayla arrived a few minutes early. Her father was there to meet her, and she threw her arms around him in a strong hug.

"Hi, daddy," she said, and he smiled.

Mr. Anderson was a good-looking man, with soft green eyes, and dark brown hair that, more often than not, hung around his eyes. He stood at almost six feet, and so dwarfed his daughter, and his broad shoulders made him look like the very rugged trucker that he was.

"Hi, sweetheart," he said, ruffling her hair. "I like it," he complimented.

"Thanks," she said, and walked with him in the house, where her mother was waiting. "Mom," she said, and gave the woman a polite hug.

"Sit," motioned Sarah, and Kayla sat next to her father, across from her mother. "Well, McKayla," started Sarah, tucking a strand of blond hair behind her ear, "your father’s talked to me quite a bit about what’s going on. He says that you really like this woman. Is that true?" she asked.

Kayla nodded. "It’s true," she agreed.

"And she takes care of you?" Another nod. "She doesn’t hurt you?"

Kayla shook her head. "No, mother. Sam would never hurt me."

"What does she think on Hank?" voiced her father, softly. Jim had never liked the man, but refused to stop her daughter from marrying him, if it was what she really wanted. He was extremely proud of her when she told him she had filed for divorce. Even Sarah had been pleased.

"She doesn’t like him," said Kayla.

"Did he do that to you?" asked Sarah, her hazel eyes turning loving, touching her daughter’s fading bruise, gently.

Kayla nodded. "Yes," she said ,"and Sam was ready to kill him."

"Well, I can’t say I completely approve of it," sighed Sarah, "but if she treats you right, and you really feel for her, I guess I can accept it." Kayla’s grin spread quickly from ear to ear, and she hugged her mother tightly.

"Thank you, mother," said Kayla, tears in her eyes. She hadn’t realized just how much she needed her mother’s approval until she almost didn’t have it. "Well, I’d better get going. Here’s the address," said Kayla, writing down the information for her mother, "in case you need anything. I’m sure she won’t mind."

Smiling, Jim and Sarah waved good-bye to their daughter as she drove away. When she was out of sight, Jim put his arm around his wife, and said, "Thank you. She needed to hear that." Sarah returned the smile.


Kayla arrived back at the Ranch, and was surprised to see that Sam’s truck was not back. Going into the house, she decided not to let the dogs back in, since she thought she would only go in and read. As she entered the house, the phone rang.

"Hello?" answered Kayla. She hoped Sam wouldn’t mind her answering the phone while she was out.

"McKayla?" asked a male voice.

"Rick?" Kayla recognized the voice of her boss. She heard Sam open the door, and was glad the woman was home.

"How are you doing?" he asked, and Kayla thought he sounded a little nervous.

"I’m okay, thanks," she replied. "What about you?"

"Fine," he responded. "I, uh, just called to tell you not to come in tomorrow."

"Well, I was planning on taking a few days off," said Kayla, with a small laugh that said, ‘duh’.

"No," he said, firmly. "I mean don’t come in at all. You’re fired, McKayla."

"What?!" exclaimed the woman.

"You’re fired," he repeated.

"You can’t do that! Damn it, Rick, I’ve been working for you longer than anyone!"

"I know, but I have to let you go," he insisted. "I’ll make sure you get unemployment."

"Fuck it," spat Kayla, and she hung up on him.

Sam rose an eyebrow, and approached her, cautiously. "Who was that?" she asked.

"Rick," she said, "I just got fired." The reality of the situation finally sunk in, and Kayla began to cry.

"Oh, Kay," said Sam, gathering the woman into her arms and rubbing her back, "I’m sorry."

"How’d it go with your mother?" she sniffled, wiping her eyes.

"Not so good," said Sam, with a dry laugh. Kayla sensed Sam didn’t want to talk about it, so she just gave the woman an understanding hug.

Just then, the phone rang. Sam reached over and picked it up. "Hello?" she said.

The voice on the other end of the line was a woman’s, and it was angry. "Freaks like you give women a bad name," she said.

Sam sighed, and then got an idea. "I’m sorry, there’s no one available to answer the phone right now," said the rancher, and Kayla stifled a laugh. "If you’ll leave a message, I’ll call you back when Hell freezes over." That said, Sam hung up on the confused woman.

As soon as the phone was back on the base, Kayla burst out laughing. "We should do that to all of them," she said.

Sam smiled. "Maybe they’ll get the idea that it doesn’t bother us and they’ll quit calling," she said, hopefully.

Kayla sat down on the sofa in the living room, and as soon as she did, the phone rang again. She looked at Sam, and the woman shook her head. The answering machine picked it up, but the caller hung up. A few moments later, the phone rang again.

Sam sighed, and clenched her hands in frustration. "Okay, now they’re starting to bug me," she said, angrily.

"Hey," said Kayla, gently, putting a hand on Sam’s arm, "let’s go somewhere and get something to eat. I think we both need to get out of the house for a while." Sam nodded, and put an arm around Kayla’s shoulders as they walked out the door, letting the phone ring as they left.

"Where do you want to go to eat?" asked Sam, as she drove her truck down the dirt road towards Helicon Drive, and then the freeway.

"How about Taco Bell?" asked Kayla. She was in the mood for a burrito or two.

Sam nodded, and made a left turn, her destination: Taco Bell. They arrived ten minutes later, and decided to eat inside, rather than order To Go and eat it on the road.

Walking into the restaurant, the two women were met with silence, as all talking stopped when they came in. Every one who stared at them was met with Sam’s stern glare, and the eyes dropped.

"A bean burrito and two soft tacos, and a medium drink," ordered Sam, and knocked on the counter when the cashier made no move to take her order. Repeating it, the woman behind the cash drawer finally pushed the right buttons on the machine.

"Two tacos, a large soda, and a bean burrito," said Kayla, and the cashier hurriedly placed the order.

"Number 147," said the woman, handing Sam the receipt. Kayla grabbed a handful of hot sauce packages and two straws while Sam took care of the drinks. Choosing a table, Kayla waited patiently, trying to ignore the strange looks as Sam joined her.

"What?" demanded Sam, and the people quickly turned back around.

"147," called the cashier. Sam stood, and retrieved the tray of food. A hard glare at the woman, and she quickly went back about her business. Sam took the tray over to the table, Kayla having decided that a booth would have been pushing it, and distributed the food. Then, placing the tray above the trash bin, she returned to the table, where Kayla was already starting on her first taco.

"So, what do you want to do after this?" asked Sam, taking a large swallow of her cola.

Kayla shrugged. "Can we stop by Mike’s?" she asked, surprising Sam.

"Sure, I guess," said Sam.

"We don’t have to if you don’t want," said Kayla, quickly.

"No, it’s not that. Just kind of surprised me, that’s all," said Sam, swallowing the last of her burrito. "We can go." Kayla drained the last of her Sprite, and then crumpled the paper that had been around her burrito. Making all the trash into a ball, she walked over and threw it in the garbage, before coming back to refill her soda.

Sam led her back out to the truck, and headed towards the bar. Kayla reached over and turned the radio on. A song was fading out as another started, just as Sam pulled into the parking lot of Mike’s.

"I like this song," commented Kayla, and Sam turned the key so the truck was running auxiliary so Kayla could still listen to the song.

"Just turn it off and come on in when you’re ready," said Sam, as she left the truck. Kayla nodded, and the rancher walked inside.

As she entered the bar, she was met with loud shouts of profanity.

"Fuck you!" and "Get out of here!" could be heard the clearest.

"Hey, knock it off!" shouted Mike, coming out from behind the bar. The patrons quieted down, but did not stop their shouts.

"Mike, do you agree with them?" asked Sam, her hands clenched by her sides in anger.

"As far as I’m concerned, you’re the same person who came in here last week, except you’ve got a girlfriend," said Mike, kindly. "You’re no different to me."

"And Jason?" asked Sam, noticing her Mexican friend in the back of the room. He approached her slowly.

"You know how I feel, chica," he said. "You’ll always be my friend, no matter what."

"Thanks," she said, and walked over to her table. There, various curse words and threats had been carved. In black spray paint, over the Karaoke banner, Faggot had been written. Sam’s anger rose to boiling. "Jason," she said, "Kayla’s outside in the truck. Make sure she doesn’t come in here and see this." Jason nodded, and walked outside to preoccupy the blond.

Six of the men closed in around her, and Sam spun around to face them. "Hey, Martin, have you seen the papers?" asked one man, who wore a torn flannel shirt. A newspaper was shoved in her face. There was a freeze-frame photo of Sam and Kayla kissing on the front, with the caption: Local Lesbians.

Sam slammed the paper on the table, and turned to glare at the men. "Listen," she said, "I don’t care what you do or say to me, but if Kayla comes through that door, and she sees this, and it upsets her, I’ll hurt you. Do you understand me?"

"Oh, is the lesbian concerned about her girlfriend?" mocked a man with a motorcycle jacket, while the others laughed.

Sam wrapped her hand around his throat, and hissed, "Yes, I am." The man clawed at her grip, but she didn’t let go. The man with the flannel shirt grabbed her shoulder and pulled her back so she slammed into the table. Sam rolled out of the way to avoid a punch to the face, and stood, facing the men, anger evident in her eyes.

One guy tried to kick her in the stomach, but she caught his leg and pushed him backwards. Another came from the side, and socked her hard across the face. She jabbed her elbow into his stomach, and he doubled over. Ducking to avoid another punch, Sam dropped to one knee, and brought her hand up as hard as she could between the man’s legs. He dropped to the floor, holding his injured manhood.

By this time, the others were starting to wise up, and they backed off a little bit. Sam had her back turned, and a guy came up behind her, kicking low and hitting her right knee, causing her to collapse in a heap on the floor. The man then kicked her in the side, before she could clear her head, and kick him in the groin with her good leg.

Standing took an immense effort, but she did, and limped out of the bar.

"Sorry," called Mike, but she waved him off.

"Sam!" cried Kayla, when she saw the rancher leaning on the wall for support. "What happened?"

Jason stalked off into the bar, ready to clean up the mess he was sure Sam had left, and maybe have a little talk with some of the ‘guys’.

"Just a little argument," said Sam, wincing as she pressed a bruised rib with her fingers. Nothing was broken, but she was sure to be sore for a while.

"How bad are you hurt?" asked Kayla.

Sam looked in her eyes, and knew she couldn’t lie to her. "Not bad," she said. "You should see the other guys."

"Guys?!" repeated Kayla. "They ganged up on you?" The furious blonde was about to go into the bar herself, but Sam stopped her.

"Don’t worry about it," Sam insisted. "I’ll be fine. My side is a little sore, my face might bruise, and I got hit in the knee. It’s really not that bad," she said. Kayla wrapped a gentle arm around the rancher’s waist, and helped her to the truck.

"We’ll stop by the drug store and get a wrap for your knee," said Kayla, as she climbed in the driver’s seat. She knew Sam had to be really hurting when she didn’t object to Kayla driving her truck.

Sam only nodded, leaned back against the seat, and closed her eyes. Kayla reached over and gave her hand a quick squeeze. A small smile went across Sam’s face, and she returned the gesture.

When Kayla pulled in to the parking lot of John’s Drug Emporium, Sam opened the door, and slowly got out.

"Are you sure you want to go in?" asked Kayla, hurrying over to help her. Sam nodded; she didn’t want anyone to bother Kayla while she was in the store, and her presence would surely deter any attempts, injured or not.

Kayla and Sam went straight back to the first-aid section, and managed to ignore the strange looks, as well as the few mothers who pulled their children out of the way. Picking out an Ace Bandage Knee Wrap, Sam paid for it at the counter, and was a little pleased to see that the cashier made no rude comments or gesture. In fact, he smiled as he gave her the item. She returned the smile, before letting Kayla lead her back out to the truck.

Kayla drove back to the Ranch, and was surprised to see various vans and cars parked outside, with Eurich and Arcadia going crazy, barking and snarling at the strangers who stood outside. Many had cameras, and Kayla could only guess they were from the news stations or newspapers.

"What the hell?" asked Sam, stepping out of the truck.

Immediately, like a pack of waiting dogs, or a flock of vultures more accurately, the reporters rushed to the truck, and surrounded the two women, bombarding them with numerous questions.

"What kind of responses have you gotten?" asked one woman.

"How does it feel?" asked another.

"When did you realize you were gay?" questioned a man, shoving a microphone in Sam’s face.

She pushed him out of the way. "Back off," she snarled, but the questions didn’t cease. "I said, knock it off!" They suddenly fell quiet, as she pinned them with The Look.

"I want all of you off my property in sixty seconds," she ordered. "And don’t come back! If you’re not gone by the time I let my dogs out… You’ve been warned." Nobody moved, until Sam walked over to the paddock where the dogs were trying their best to get out. It worked; the vultures scattered, and left trails of dust as they sped down the road.

Kayla shook her head, smiled at the rancher for the way she had handled the situation, and then helped Sam into the house and to her bedroom. Closing the door to give her some privacy while she put on the bandage, Kayla went to the living room to watch TV. Unfortunately, there was nothing on but soap operas and the news, and neither one was interesting, so she turned the monitor back off.

Minutes later, Sam came back out, her limp not quite as noticeable.

"Does it help?" asked Kayla, as Sam sat down on the couch and stretched her right leg out, covering the length of the sofa.

"A little," replied the rancher. The phone rang, and she rolled her eyes. "I don’t believe it. Do they never stop?" she asked aloud, before picking up the phone.

"Hello?" she answered.

"Hi, Sam, it’s Melissa."

Sam was glad to hear a friendly voice on the other end of the line. "Hey," she said.

"Is Kayla there?" asked the woman, and Sam handed Kayla the phone.

"Hello?" said Kayla, and smiled when she heard her friend’s voice.

"Hi, it’s Melissa," said Melissa. "I heard about Rick firing you. I’m sorry."

"That’s okay," sighed Kayla. "How’d you find out so soon?"

"I asked him when he was going to tell you to come back to work, and he said never," she replied. "When he explained it to me, and told me why, I quit."

"Oh, Melissa!" exclaimed Kayla. "Don’t do that, not for me."

"It’s okay, Kayla. I have another job to fall back on," said Melissa. "In fact, that’s why I called. Do you remember when I told you that I work at the community center downtown?"


"Well, that’s where I’m working full time now, not just on weekends. But, we have a counseling group here, with no counselor. The counselor quit just last week, because she was getting married, and I was wondering if you’d like the job."

"Me?" asked Kayla, surprised.

"Yeah," said Melissa. "It’s a group of six or seven kids, and they have meetings every Saturday."

"Oh, but Melissa, I’m not good with kids," protested Kayla.

"They’re teenagers," Melissa clarified. "And besides, it’s a counseling group for gay kids, and I think they need to know that it’s all right. The last counselor wasn’t gay, and it would have helped if she was. I’m not pressuring you into anything, I just want you to think about it. My boss, Jo, said you could come down tonight for an interview," she added.

"I guess so," said Kayla. "Thanks, Melissa, I appreciate it."

"No problem. Tell Sam I said bye," said Melissa. "I’ll talk to you later."

:"Bye," said Kayla, and she hung up. Sam was giving her a curious look. "Well, Melissa just offered me a job."

"That’s great," said Sam, smiling.

"She says I can come down to the community center tonight for an interview with her boss," said Kayla.

"What kind of job is it?" asked Sam.

"I’d be counseling a group of teenagers. It’s a gay counseling group," she added, and Sam nodded her approval.

"That might be nice," she said. "I’m sure you’ll do fine. Do you want to go now?" asked Sam, noticing the antsy and anxious look Kayla had on her face.

"Okay," said Kayla, eagerly. Sam smiled and sat up, standing slowly to make sure her knee would support her. Then, reaching an arm out, she grinned as Kayla walked over to her and slid under her arm, wrapping an arm around her waist as they walked out.

Kayla drove Sam’s truck again, without any objection from the rancher, which made Kayla’s concern increase. Sam wasn’t known to let her pain be known to others. So, with the rancher silently saying that her knee hurt her too much to drive, Kayla’s worry magnified. If she let the little bit of pain be known, that meant it had to be really bothering her, and Kayla could only imagine the amount of pain the rancher was hiding inside.

It took half an hour to drive downtown to the community center, and Sam spent the entire ride with her head against the seat, working on blocking out the pain, since she knew her silence was worrying Kayla.

"Are you okay over there?" asked Kayla, as she turned onto the off ramp, and glanced at Sam, who was now trying to sit up straight.

"Yeah," said Sam, "I’m all right." And she did feel better, just not as good as she knew she should.

"Well, we’re here," she sighed, pulling into the parking lot. She put the keys in her pocket, and then went around to help Sam out of the truck, but the rancher refused; she would do it on her own if she could. Struggling with every step, but managing to hide the pain from Kayla, Sam walked into the large building, with Kayla not far behind.

They walked up to the front desk, where the two saw Melissa speaking to another woman. Both were seated behind the counter.

"Hi," said Kayla, as she and Sam approached them.

The women jumped. "Oh, Kayla, it’s you!" said Melissa, holding her hand over her heart. "You scared me! Don’t you ever do that to me again!" she said, smiling with relief.

"Sorry," said Kayla, giving her friend a hug.

"Jo, this is Kayla," introduced Melissa, "Kayla, Jo." Jo was a woman who couldn’t have been more than thirty-five or thirty-six, with long brown hair, and dark brown eyes. She was a little taller than Kayla; about the same height as Melissa.

"Nice to meet you," said Jo, shaking the woman’s hand. "Come with me." Kayla followed the woman, and Sam and Melissa followed Kayla.

"I do the interviews alone," said Jo, when she noticed the others were behind her. "You two can wait here." Sam sat down on a nearby bench, grateful to rest her knee. She gave Kayla a hopeful look as she trailed behind Jo, and the door was shut behind them.

Two hours later, Melissa was pacing the hallway, and Sam was drumming her fingers on the bench. If her knee would handle it, she’d be pacing, too, but since she couldn’t, she was content to drum her fingers impatiently.

By this time it was getting dark, and Sam was wondering what was going on. She was about ready to get up and go in herself, when the door opened, and Jo and Kayla walked out. Both were smiling, and Sam took that as a good sign.

"Thank you, Jo," said Kayla, shaking her hand as they left. "I’ll give you a call in a few days and let you know what’s happening."

"Sounds great," Jo said, obviously pleased. "Nice to meet you, Kayla."

"Nice to meet you, too," responded Kayla, as she and Sam walked back out to the truck. She waved to Melissa, and then turned her attention back to Sam.

"So, how’d it go?" asked Sam.

Kayla practically jumped up and down. "I got the job!" she said, brightly.

"Terrific," smiled Sam, giving Kayla a hug. "I knew you would."

"Do you think you can drive home?" asked Kayla. It’s not that she didn’t want to, she’d be more than willing, but the fact that Sam hadn’t said anything about being able to drive was really beginning to worry her.

"Sure," said Sam, and she climbed into the driver’s seat, however slowly. Kayla tossed her the keys, and she started it up.

"So, tell me all about it," said Sam, as she got on the freeway, and swerved to miss an idiot driver who decided he just had to get in her lane.

"Well," began Kayla, and Sam knew it was going to be a while before she could get a word in edgewise, knowing how ecstatic Kayla could be, "Jo says that they meet every Saturday, from eight in the morning until about eleven, but it’s possible for them to set up appointments later during the day.

"And there’s seven or eight people, ranging in ages from teenager to adult. Jo seems to think there’s about five girls and two or three guys; they’re all either gay, or trying to figure out whether or not what their feeling is right. And I’m supposed to talk with them, and let them know it’s all right," finished Kayla, taking a breath.

"You’ll be a great counselor," said Sam, wincing as she pressed the brake. She drove a little slower the rest of the way, so she didn’t have to press on the accelerator as hard, but if Kayla noticed she said nothing.

They pulled into the drive twenty minutes later, and Sam had a feeling something was wrong. She frowned, but didn’t say anything, so as not to upset Kayla.

"Sam," said Kayla, as Sam parked the truck, "it looks like there’s a note on the door." Sam got out and walked towards the house, trying not to limp. Sure enough, a white piece of paper was taped to her door. She hoped it wasn’t from some annoying reporter or rude citizen. But it wasn’t, it was worse.

It read:

Hey baby,

Love the new mustang.


"No," whispered Sam, so low Kayla could barely hear her, as the blonde slowly approached the rancher. "No!" she shouted, pushing back from the door and running full force towards the corral. Somehow, even with the pain in her side and knee, she jumped the pipes. Her leg almost gave out on her, but she caught herself, and ran into the barn.

It was empty. No stamping horses, impatient at not having eaten yet.


"Sam?" called Kayla, still standing next to the front door, a little unsettled by the rancher’s sudden reaction.

Sam ignored her. She walked out of the barn, and, just in case the horses were out roaming around the property, she whistled.

No response.

The rancher waited a few moments, and when she didn’t hear the galloping hooves that always came right after she called, Sam whistled again. But it was no use; they were gone.


Continued in Part Three…

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