~ Taken ~

Part Four

by: C. E. Gray

Disclaimer: Please see Part One for various disclaimers.

Note: Any words like mutter, or whisper, or shout when used with a signing person is used to indicate how they were signing, not speaking.

Thanks once again to those of you who took the time to send me your comments. It really means a lot to me. Keep them coming! Send any and all comments or suggestions to:


Here goes:


Kayla began to get worried when Sam did not return in an hour and a half, but accompanied it to the fact that Sam loved her horses and wanted to let them run. By the time she had the idea for her third poem of the day down on paper, she knew something was wrong… she could feel it in her heart.

Maybe this is what Sam meant by a bond, she thought.

Walking outside, she was a little unsettled to see the snow had resumed its descent, layering the ground in an inch of cold white powder. Whistling, she frowned when Venus did not come to her. She tried once more, before deciding to take Silverbow out to find the rancher. Saddling the horse quickly, she glanced over at the dogs in the pen and suddenly got an idea. Arcadia and Eurich could find their mistress much faster than Kayla and Silverbow.

Letting them out, they seemed to sense something wasn’t right, and they remained quiet and subdued. "Find Sam," said Kayla, and pointed in the direction she had last seen the woman. "Go!" she commanded, and they ran off, leaving a set of footprints in the snow for her to follow. Mounting Silverbow, she went off in search of the rancher.

Half an hour later, the dogs let out a howl, and Kayla nudged Silverbow into a trot, following the noise. Going carefully through the trees, the blonde was shocked by what she saw: there, lying on the ground, too still for Kayla’s racing heart, was the crumpled snow-covered form of her love.

To make matters worse, Kayla heard growling and fighting, and realized the dogs were fighting off the mountain lion. Wishing she had thought enough to bring the tranquilizer gun with her, she got to her feet cautiously, and crept over to the fallen rancher, so as not to attract the attention of the large cat.

The blonde was surprised to see that Venus was still there, seemingly standing guard over her mistress. Although the snow covered the mare she refused to budge - and she seemed to be standing funny. Kayla approached slowly, and her eyes widened when she saw a large gash on her hind leg, apparently from an encounter with the mountain lion.

"Venus," whispered Kayla, stroking the mare’s neck gently. "It’ll be okay, girl. I’m going to help Sam, but I’ll be back for you." The mare snorted, and even nudged Kayla closer to the rancher with a bob of her head.

Kayla knelt next to the rancher, and brought her hand to her mouth as her breath caught in her throat. Running her eyes across the woman’s body, she scanned for any visible external or internal injuries, and although she didn’t find much, the things she did find scared her.

Blood from the cut on the side of Sam’s face was encrusted around the wound, down the side of her bronzed cheek, and even into her hairline, marring her beautiful jet black hair. Her right leg seemed to be at an odd angle, and Kayla hoped she hadn’t broken anything. Despite the fact that she was unconscious, the snow covered form shook; from cold, shock, or maybe even both, Kayla wasn’t sure.

Kayla reached out a shaking hand and cupped the rancher’s face. "Sam," she said, softly, trying to keep from crying, "Sam, come on. Wake up, Sam. Come on, sweetheart, wake up. You’re scaring me, come on," she said, her voice urgent as a frantic tone took over.

Arcadia came over to her side, and licked her mistress’ face with care as she whimpered. The lion had been chased away, deciding that the meal he had been anticipating wasn’t worth the effort of fighting off a horse and two dogs, and now the two Shepherds seemed to be pleading with their mistress as much as Kayla - anything to get her to respond.

"Sam, please, wake up. Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me!" she shouted, tears flowing - unnoticed, and then her voice quieted to a light trace as she said, "Don’t you leave me."

Kay? I can hear you, thought Sam, the fog in her mind clearing enough for her to recognize the woman’s voice. And the pain. Without the fog, there was the pain. Oh, God… It hurts. I really don’t want to wake up, but… it’d probably make Kayla feel better, so…

Blue eyes fluttered open as Sam groaned, and Kayla let a sob of joy escape her throat - Sam was alive. The rancher looked into sad green eyes, and rasped, "D… don’t cry." The cold made her teeth chatter, and it was hard to speak, but she had to let Kayla know she was all right. "I… it’s o… okay," she murmured, her eyes drifting shut again.

"No, Sam! Stay awake," said Kayla, compelling the rancher to obey. "Please, Sam, stay with me, okay?" At a weak nod from the woman, she asked, "Can you sit up?"

"I think so," said Sam, and she tried to do it on her own, but waves of dizziness caught her unaware. Kayla slipped an arm under her shoulders, and raised her into a sitting position, as easily as she could, wincing each time Sam gasped in pain.

"Where does it hurt?" asked Kayla, green eyes looking deeply concerned into cloudy blue pools that still had difficulty focusing.

"Name something," said Sam. All her muscles were tight from her shivering in the cold, so they were tense and unhappy about being so cramped, but the look Kayla was giving her told her she wanted something specific. Either that, or the woman was going to stay with her and find a way to get her home without moving her - Sam knew her too well.

"My head and my… knee, really," she said, clenching her teeth to keep them from gnashing together. "I can stand, nothing’s broken."

"Are you sure?" asked Kayla, and Sam’s only response was to lean on her for support and get shakily to her feet, favoring her right knee considerably. Calling Venus to her, she felt her heart constrict when she saw the large wound on the mare’s flank.

"Oh, Venus," she said, and patted the mare’s neck with tears in her eyes. "I’m sorry, girl. You should’ve left," said Sam, but the mare just snorted at her. Calling for Silverbow, Sam commanded her to kneel, and then carefully positioned herself over the saddle before Kayla got on behind her. Clicking her tongue, Kayla took the rancher home, the reins of the injured Palomino in her left hand as she led the horse back to the Ranch, dogs not far behind.

En route, Kayla did all she could to keep Sam awake and talking. Eventually, after what seemed like forever, the Ranch came into view, and Silverbow was told to kneel again. Kayla climbed off first, and then helped Sam to do the same, before leading the rancher to the house - against the woman’s objections.

"Venus…" she muttered, but Kayla led her away.

"She’ll be okay," said Kayla, "I’ll call the vet once we get you into bed and warmed up." The woman gave in, but it wasn’t like she had a choice. She couldn’t walk without the aid of the counselor, so anywhere Kayla wanted to go, Sam was forced to follow.

"Here," said Kayla, pulling down the covers and helping Sam as the woman struggled to climb into bed, "just take it easy." Supporting most of the rancher’s weight, Kayla waited patiently until Sam had her rear end on the bed, and then slowly swung her legs onto the mattress. Grimacing, she laid her head back, and closed her eyes.

"Thanks," said the rancher, grabbing the warm covers and bringing them as close to her as she could. The electric blanket was on high, and doing a good job of heating the rancher, but still the woman shivered. The cold had gotten to her, and Kayla could only hope she wouldn’t get sick - catching the flu or hypothermia or worse was the last thing she needed.

"Call Bill," she said, talking forcefully through her teeth as she willed them to stop chattering, "he’ll help Venus." Kayla nodded, and called from the phone by Sam’s bed, so she could keep an eye on the rancher while she talked.

"Bill, this is Kayla," she said, when the man answered the phone. "I’m calling for Sam. Venus was injured by the mountain lion, and we’d like you to come out and take a look at her." Bill agreed, and when he found out Sam had also been hurt, he said he’d be over in just a few minutes. Wishing the rancher well, Bill hung up, and Kayla glanced over at Sam, smiling when she noticed the woman didn’t look as pale as before.

"He said he’ll be here as soon as he can," relayed Kayla, and Sam nodded. She didn’t feel as cold now, but her knee was killing her, and so was her head.

"Kay," said the rancher, weakly, "there’s some Tylenol in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. Can you get it for me, please?" Kayla left the room, and returned shortly, with three capsules of the pain-killing medicine in hand, as well as a small glass of room temperature water - she didn’t want the water to be too extreme in either temperature, for fear of startling the woman’s frozen body. Cold water wouldn’t be any help, and hot water would be too much of a sudden change; warm was good.

Handing the woman the Tylenol, she gently helped Sam raise her weary head to meet the glass, and waited patiently as she swallowed the pills. When that was done, the rancher placed her head back on the pillow - holding it up took energy she wasn’t sure she had. Kayla left the bedroom once more, coming back with a wet washcloth in her hand.

Gently, and with as much care as was possible, Kayla cleaned the wound on Sam’s head, flinching each time the rancher did. "Sorry," she apologized, knowing it had to hurt, "but I need to see how bad it is."

"I know," said Sam, softly. As Kayla washed the blood from her face and hair, Sam was astounded by the concern in the woman’s green eyes.

No, concern isn’t even strong enough, she thought. It’s more like love. That made her smile slightly, but Kayla took it as a grimace of pain since she was cleaning the actual cut, and apologized again.

"Well," she said, finished, "I don’t think it will need stitches. But we really should get you to a doctor."

Sam shook her head; she hated doctors, and hospitals, and anything else that had to do with needles. "I’ll be okay," she said, "I just need a few days to heal. Trust me, I heal quickly."

"Are you sure?" asked Kayla, and Sam nodded. "Okay," she said, "maybe you should try and get some rest. I know you must hurt, and that Tylenol I gave you had Codeine in it; you should be out in just a few minutes."

Sam raised an eyebrow, but decided that hurt, so she lowered it and just smiled. "Thanks," she said, and Kayla kissed her forehead, before quietly leaving the room and shutting the door behind her.

Ten minutes later, she heard Arcadia and Eurich bark loudly, and made sure Sam was all right before heading out the door to see who it was. The old blue Dodge pick-up told her it was Bill Lennings, the vet/cowhand.

"Bill?" she asked, as the man stepped from the truck. Mr. Lennings had blonde-brown hair that touched his shoulders, deep brown eyes that showed worry for his friend, and large hands with calluses that proved his ranch work.

"Yeah, you must be Kayla," he said, and gripped her hand in a friendly handshake. "How’s Sam?"

"I’m not exactly sure," admitted Kayla, trusting the gentle man immediately, "she’s asleep right now. As far as I can tell, it’s just her knee and her head, but she doesn’t want to go to the doctor."

Bill shook his head and grinned a little. When he smiled, lines appeared on his round face, attesting that the man was a happy man who smiled often. "No," he said, "Sam and hospitals don’t mix; never have. So, where’s my beautiful Palomino patient?" he asked, and Kayla led him into the barn, where Venus was waiting, as the other horses nosed her wound curiously.

"Let’s have a look-see," he said, and prodded the mare gently, as Kayla patted her forehead softly, smoothing her mane from her eyes. Minutes went by as agonizingly slow as hours for the impatient counselor, who was worried for Venus, and for her sleeping friend that was now alone in the house.

"She’s gonna need quite a few stitches," he said, finally, "but I can sew her up. The gash is long, but not very deep, and she should be walking like normal in just a month or so. She’ll need to be exercised and walked everyday for the first two weeks, and then you can let her run," he said, and Kayla nodded.

"I need you to stay here with me while I do this," Bill added to the woman, "and hold her still. Do you think you can handle that?"

Kayla nodded. "Yeah," she said, taking a deep breath and gathering her courage, "I can handle it." Bill removed the equipment he would need from the large box in the bed of his truck, and went right to work. It took him nearly an hour and a half, and almost eighty small black sutures, but he did it.

"There we go," he said, stepping back and smiling to himself, satisfied with his work. "You all right?" he asked the blonde woman, who was looking a little pale.

"I’m okay," she responded, patting Venus and then stepping away. "I’ll give them their feed while I’m out here." Bill put away his tools while the counselor fed the horses, and made sure Venus was securely tied for the night so as not to go frolicking off and tear her stitches.

"You’re the one who was on the news with Sam, aren’t you?" asked Bill, making one last trip to his truck.

"That’s me," affirmed Kayla, and suddenly felt a little uneasy. What did the man think of her relationship with his friend and neighbor?

"Well, good luck," he said, shaking her hand as he broke into a large grin, "you’ll need it. She’s a handful. Just give me a call if you need anything, okay?"

"Will do," smiled Kayla, and watched as the man drove away. Sighing, she checked on the dogs, who were out of food in their feeder. Refilling it with bag of dog food she found in the garage, Kayla walked back into the house, and went straight to the bedroom to check on Sam.

The rancher was still sleeping, but she had turned on her side in her slumber, and was now curled up into as much of a fetal position as she could manage with an injured knee. Her left leg was brought up next to her chest, but the right leg was stretched out in an attempt to ease the pain in her knee.

Checking the woman for a fever, and relieved to find none, Kayla watched her sleep for a little while, before bringing her notebook into the room. Deciding that if she was going to do anything, she would try and do it where she could keep an eye on her patient, Kayla went back to writing her poetry, as she sat on a chair she had placed at Sam’s bedside.

"That Codeine must have really knocked her out," murmured Kayla, when two hours passed without a movement from the rancher. Her stomach deciding it was way past its normal dinner time, was growling incessantly, demanding that its hunger be quenched. Fixing a quick sandwich, Kayla ate it as she did up the few dishes that were in the sink, all the while keeping an ear out for anything form the slumbering woman in the next room.

Kayla managed to stay awake until eight o’clock, but then figured out that the adrenaline rush had gotten to her, also. She was exhausted, but didn’t want to sleep for fear of missing some development in Sam’s condition. Finally, she thought of a compromise - she would sleep, but in Sam’s bed, so if the woman needed her, she would be there right away.

Not even bothering to change from her sweats she had put on earlier to bum around the house, Kayla climbed under the covers next to the rancher, made sure it didn’t bother her, and fell asleep in a matter of minutes.

Sam awoke the following morning at nine-thirty, and was glad to find that the pounding in her head had decreased to a tolerable amount. Her knee, on the other hand, was a completely different story. Even without attempting to move it, she knew the joint was still going to cause her severe pain throughout the day.

"You’re awake," commented Kayla, as she walked in the room.

"Yeah," croaked Sam, her mouth dry, "fortunately or unfortunately, I’m not sure which."

"Here," said Kayla, giving her a glass of water and helping her sit up, "drink slowly." The rancher obeyed, and although it hurt to swallow, the water felt soft as it trickled down her throat.

"Hm," murmured Sam, as she returned to her former position of lying comfortably under the covers, "that’s better."

"Do you want some more Tylenol?" asked Kayla, but Sam shook her head; the last dose knocked her out, and she didn’t want to take any more drugs than need be. "Are you hungry?" was Kayla’s next question.

Sam paused for a moment. "Yeah," she said, after a while to think about it, "a little."

"How about some dry toast?" suggested Kayla, and Sam agreed.

While Kayla went to fix breakfast, Sam experimented with her injured body. She found that her side and back hurt, from landing on the hard ground, and all of her muscles were sore. Plus, her right knee refused to even let her think about moving it without sending pain coursing through her leg, so she had some serious doubts about walking within the next twenty-four hours. And, as an added bonus, each time her heat beat, it sent a throbbing sensation down to her knee - but she’d be damned if she’d let Kayla know how hurt she really was, and worry the counselor needlessly.

"Here you go," said Kayla, bringing in two pieces of toasted bread on a paper plate, along with a small glass of orange juice, just in case Sam felt up to it. The rancher took the food from her and set it on her lap, as she pulled herself into a sitting position with her arms, careful just to slide her legs and not bend them at all.

The woman munched, and decided she could handle a little juice. Taking a few swallows, she finished the first piece of bread slowly. She took two bites of the second piece, before setting it down and shaking her head in an attempt to clear the sudden swimming feeling that attacked her.

Kayla looked on, worry evident in her eyes. When a green tint over came the rancher’s features, the counselor was quick to bring the wastebasket up on the bed, and hold Sam’s hair back as she vomited.

When there was nothing left in the rancher’s stomach for her body to throw up, she took a shaky breath, and pulled away from the disgustingly foul basket, lying down with her eyes closed.

"Are you okay?" she heard Kayla ask, and felt a refreshingly cool washcloth touch her face. "You’ve got a fever," the woman fretted, and when Sam was sure the world had stopped spinning enough for her to focus somewhat, she opened her murky blue eyes.

"I’m all right," she said. She was lying, and Kayla knew it.

"No, you’re not," said Kayla, "you’re sick. Now, what hurts? The truth, Sam," she pleaded.

"Everything," moaned the rancher, as the world closed in on her once more and she was forced to close her eyes. Kayla’s gentle ministration with the cool cloth on her face did not stop.

"I’m sorry, Sam," muttered Kayla, "I shouldn’t have let you go out there in the cold weather, especially when I knew your knee was giving you a problem."

Sam raised an eyebrow, even with her eyes closed. "You shouldn’t have let me?" she repeated, gently. "Kay, this isn’t your fault. Please, don’t blame yourself; there was nothing you could have done, all right? But you’re doing a great job of being here for me now, and taking care of me," added Sam. "I love you for it."

Kayla smiled at hearing Sam say the words, despite the seriousness of the situation, and her friend’s condition. "Thanks, Sam," she said.

The rancher opened her eyes, carefully, making sure the wild roller-coaster ride in her stomach had stopped, or at least slowed. "How’s Venus?" she asked.

"Bill says she should be back to normal in a few weeks," said Kayla. "He had to stitch her up, and he said she should be exercised daily; walking, because she isn’t supposed to run for at least a week or so."

Sam flinched at the diagnosis. "I’ve got to walk her," she said, "and keep her healthy." She attempted to sit up, but a firm hand on her shoulder prevented it.

"No, Sam," said Kayla, "don’t. You can hardly sit up on your own, much less walk out to the barn and care for an injured horse. I’ll take care of it," she said, her voice saying she would accept no argument.

Sam ignored the ‘no discussion’ tone, and said, "Kay, I appreciate it, but you can’t take care of me and Venus. I won’t ask you to do that; it’s too much for you to handle. Plus, you’ve got your classes to worry about. I’ll make it," she added, more for her own benefit than Kayla’s. For a moment, the rancher wasn’t sure which one of them she was trying to convince.

"Sam, please," said Kayla, her voice scared, "don’t try anything. I know you’re in pain, and I don’t want you to do anything that could injure you further. Please," she added, and Sam sighed; she knew she couldn’t deny Kayla anything when she gave her that look - the one that made her heart melt.

"All right," she said, to Kayla’s relief, "but if it gets to be too much, I want you to call Bill, and have him take care of it, all right?" Kayla nodded, and gave the woman a gentle hug.

"Get some more rest," she said, "it’s the best thing for you right now." The rancher agreed, and closed her eyes, falling asleep to the refreshing feeling of the cool water on her face - and the knowledge that she was loved.

Kayla kept running the cool cloth over Sam’s face until she was sure the rancher was sound asleep. Then, she put on Sam’s jacket, and walked outside to exercise Venus.

As she entered the barn, the Palomino greeted her with a loud snort. Kayla laughed, and was glad to see that the mare had finished her breakfast - Kayla had fed them earlier, before Sam awoke. The counselor hoped that was a sign that the horse was feeling all right.

"Hey, girl," she said, softly scratching around the mare’s halter, untying the lead rope that had been put around a round log - the hitching post - that ran around the inside edge of the barn. Kayla had had to tie up the mare, to make sure she wouldn’t go wandering around. She had kept the other five horses in their stalls, so they wouldn’t bother the Palomino. Apparently, it had worked, and she now took the end of the rope in her hand.

"Come on," she said, pulling the rope lightly, "you’ve got to walk around a little. Please, Venus," said Kayla, when the horse planted her feet and refused to budge. "Venus, come on!" The mare took a few careful steps, and allowed the woman to lead her out of the barn and into the overcast surroundings outside, but then stood still, relaxing her injured leg.

Kayla, rather frustrated, tried whistling when tugging on the lead rope didn’t work. She whistled once, one sharp note, and Venus’ ears perked up, as did her head. She snorted, but still refused to walk any further. Kayla pulled on the rope a bit, and then whistled again, a long whistle this time. Irritated by the noise, Venus tossed her head, and took Kayla along with the ineffective rope; both landed in the dirt.

The counselor was swung around, and lost her footing, falling onto her back and sliding a few feet on the ground, succeeding in getting Sam’s nice jacket all dusty, and scraping her knee even through her jeans. "Thanks, horse," muttered Kayla, as she got up and dusted herself off as best she could.

"Venus, you have to walk around," she said, retrieving the lead rope. "Doctor’s orders." Still nothing. "Listen, we won’t do it very long, just enough for you to stretch your legs, all right?" she offered, not releasing the pressure she put against the mare’s halter as she pulled steadily on the rope. Deciding it wasn’t worth the struggle, the mare gave in, and walked slowly around the barn.

Kayla took the horse around six times, before stabling her back in the barn, and tying the lead rope to the post again. Saying a few words to the other horses, she decided to leave the barn doors open for fresh air, and returned to the house.

There, entering Sam’s bedroom, Kayla took off the jacket, dusted it off, and returned it to its place in the closet, before sitting on the chair to continue her ever watchful vigil. Hoping the fever had broken, Kayla put a hand on Sam’s forehead, careful not to wake her, and smiled when she noticed that while the woman was still warm, her fever had definitely started it’s descent.

Just then, the phone rang, causing Kayla to jump. She reached over and picked it up quickly, before it could ring twice and bother Sam.

"Hello?" she asked.

"Hi, is this Kayla?" a voice asked.

"Yes," responded the counselor, unsure of the speaker on the other line.

"This is Marie," said the woman. "Luke just wanted me to call and see if it would be all right for us to stop by in a little while. He wants to surprise Sam," she added.

"Well, that’d be great," said Kayla, "except that she’s not feeling too well right now. Wait… it might be a good idea for Luke to come over. Maybe he can convince her to go see a doctor," added Kayla, as she thought about the possibilities of the visit.

"Doctor? Is everything okay?" asked Marie, genuinely concerned.

"She was injured in a riding accident," said Kayla, "and she won’t let me take her to the doctor. Do you think Luke would have any luck convincing her?"

"I don’t know, but I guess it’d be worth a shot," said Marie, lightly. "Are you sure she’s up to a visit?"

"Oh, I’m sure. As long as it gets her to the doctor, that’s all I’m worried about," said Kayla, and Marie agreed.

"Okay. We should be there in an hour or so," she said, and the women said their good-byes and hung up.

Sam opened her eyes as Kayla hung up the phone. "Who was that?" she asked.

"Did I wake you?" asked Kayla, concerned.

"No," said Sam. "Who was on the phone?" she repeated.

"Marie called," said Kayla, deciding that a surprise visit might not be best, "she said that she and Luke are on their way over to see you."

Sam groaned. "Now?" she asked. "Today? I don’t want them to see me like this," protested the rancher, and sat up - albeit slowly, she rose to a sitting position. She tried to move to the edge of the bed so she could stand, but the pain proved to be too much, and Sam had to be content with sitting.

"You don’t have much of a choice," smiled Kayla. "They won’t be here for about an hour. Do you need anything?"

"An amputation would be nice," said Sam, grimacing.

"Is it that bad?" asked Kayla, gently, and Sam instantly regretted her choice of words at the look of fear and concern that overtook the counselor’s face.

"No," lied Sam, "I’m okay. I think I’ll try some soup."

Kayla took the hint. "How about some chicken broth?" she offered, and Sam nodded, gratefully. The stomach monster was on a rampage, but whether or not it would digest the food properly was a different story. It could crave food only to refuse it as soon as it was received.

When Kayla left the room, Sam decided to try and move her leg again. Flexing her toes didn’t hurt that much, nor did moving her ankle. The next step was the knee. She managed to bend her knee two inches off the mattress before the pain became too intense, and she relaxed her knee again. Upon hearing Kayla’s return, the rancher cleared her face of any emotion, and tried to ignore the extreme throbbing that was centered in her knee.

"Here you go," said Kayla, giving the bowl and spoon to the rancher, who sipped the broth slowly, spoonful by spoonful. She ate half, and then refused anymore. Or, more accurately, her stomach refused.

"You need to eat," protested Kayla.

"I know, Kay, but I can’t right now," she said, gently. "Thank you, though." Kayla smiled a little, and then put a hand to Sam’s forehead, glad to find that the fever had diminished significantly. Not wanting her to get too warm, she turned the electric blanket down just a few notches.

With nothing else to do, and Sam being wide awake, having no desire to go back to sleep, the two worked on sign language. They were having a pretty smooth conversation when there was a knock on the door. Kayla got up and answered it, while Sam tried to fix her appearance so she didn’t look so ragged - it didn’t work.

"Hi, Marie," greeted Kayla, signing as she spoke for Luke’s sake. "Hello, Luke."

"Hi," signed the tall man, "where’s my sister?" He was concerned, especially since his wife couldn’t give him any definite details into Sam’s health. Kayla pointed down the hallway, and was about to tell him which door, but he was on his way. He’d try every door - he’d find it eventually.

"Did you have any trouble finding the house?" asked Kayla, and Marie shook her head.

"No, Sam gave very clear directions," she said. "How many horses do you have?"

"Six," replied Kayla, and motioned for the woman to follow her. "Come on, I’ll introduce you." Marie laughed, and let Kayla lead the way to the barn, closing the door behind her to keep the house warm, as it had begun to snow again.

Luke was surprised by the poor complexion of his big sister; her face was pale, there was an angry red gash on the side of her head, and she looked like death warmed over - at best.

"What happened?" was his first question.

Sam sighed. "My horse spooked and threw me," she explained.

"Okay, so why are you still in bed? How bad are you hurt?" he asked, and made sure she knew that he wouldn’t take anything less than the whole brutal truth.

"I can’t walk," she admitted, and he prodded her to elaborate. "My knee has been bothering me, and when I fell, I must have twisted it. I can’t get out of bed."

Luke looked sympathetic. "Do you need anything?" he asked, and Sam shook her head.

"No," she said, "I’m okay right now, and Kayla takes great care of me. I don’t want you to trouble yourself," she added, and Luke almost laughed.

"Sam," he signed, half-smiling, "I’m your brother. I’m supposed to take care of you when I can."

"I appreciate the offer, but I’m your big sister," she countered. "I protect you."

"That doesn’t mean I can’t do the same for you," he pointed out, and Sam sighed. She didn’t want to get into an all out argument about who protected whom.

"Point taken," she said, and then paused a moment. "Where’s the little one, Diane?"

"Baby-sitter," muttered Luke, looking away. It was clear the man was not happy about leaving his baby girl in someone else’s care. Sam guessed it was the first time they had been away from her.

"You want to help me with something?" she offered, trying to get his mind back on track so he wouldn’t worry about his daughter, who was more than likely asleep in her crib. "Come around to the side of the bed and help me up."

"Sam, I don’t know if you should be up and around trying to walk just yet. You even said yourself that you can’t walk," he objected. "Maybe you should see a doctor."

"I don’t need to go to any doctor," said Sam, forcefully. "You going to help me or not?" she demanded, and Luke sighed. His sister was so stubborn! Walking around the bed, he went to her side, and she slipped an arm over his shoulders as he put an arm around her waist. Grimacing, she stepped down with her left foot, and managed to stay upright as her right leg followed suit, only to connect with the side of the bed with a thump that sent pain down to the tips of her toes.

Motioning to her brother, she told him she wanted to go down the hallway. With his help, she hopped to the doorway, before the rancher was forced to lean against the frame and catch her breath. Every jostle caused more pain in her knee.

Suddenly, she heard her name. "Sam!" cried Kayla, and the rancher looked into hard green eyes. "What do you think you’re doing?"

Busted, Sam thought, wryly.

"Walking?" she tried, her face as guilty as a kid with his hand caught in the cookie jar, and Kayla put her hands on her hips in an irritated gesture.

"Wrong answer," smirked the counselor.

"Not walking?" she tried, again, and even added a pleading expression to her face. She was caught, and she knew it.

God, I feel like a kid who just got caught making out on the couch by her parents, sighed Sam.

Kayla shook her head, it wasn’t going to work. "Back to bed," she ordered, and pointed towards the bedroom.

"Kay, I need to move around," said Sam.

Kayla sighed, and gentled her voice. "Sam, I don’t want you hurting yourself. I can tell how bad your knee feels right now, and I know you’re in pain. Please, go back to bed," she said.

"At least let me go to the bathroom," she said, exasperated. Kayla nodded, and Sam disengaged her brother’s arm; she could make it to the bathroom herself. The rancher took two steps down the hall, and collapsed on the floor, her face contorted in pain as her knee gave out and she fell hard.

Kayla was beside her in an instant. "Sam," she said, anxiously, smoothing the rancher’s hair from her face. "Sam, are you okay? Sweetheart?"

Luke kneeled down and tapped his sister on the shoulder. Sam opened her eyes, and Luke signed one word. Making his left hand into a fist, he turned it so his wrist was facing up. Then, forming the letter ‘d’ with his right hand, he placed it on the upturned wrist of his left hand: Doctor. The rancher shook her head, and the deaf man very clearly captured the word No from her lips.

"Sam, please," said Kayla, tears in her eyes at the sight of her love in such excruciating pain, "just go. Please." Marie tapped Luke on the shoulder, and they decided to inspect the kitchen, and give Sam and Kayla some privacy.

"Kay, I hate going to the hospital," explained Sam. "And, besides, like I told you, I heal quickly."

"You can’t get over this on your own, Sam, and you know it," said Kayla, tears falling freely. "I hate seeing you like this. I’ll go with you," she added, and placed a soft kiss on Sam’s forehead. "Please go."

Sam sighed; she didn’t like seeing Kayla cry, and knowing that she was the cause of the tears was even worse. "All right," she said, "I’ll go."

"Thank you," said Kayla, and gave the woman a hug. "I’ll call and make an appointment for tomorrow." She was sure she could get the rancher in the next day; if not, she would call around until she found one that would take her at such short notice. Kayla would drive as far as she had to if it meant Sam wouldn’t hurt anymore.

"I… I need help," muttered Sam, and Kayla gave her a loving smile. Somehow, with strength that the rancher didn’t know the counselor possessed, Kayla brought Sam to her feet and helped her the rest of the way to the bathroom, supporting nearly her whole weight.

"Call me when you’re done, and I’ll help you back to bed," said Kayla, and Sam nodded. "I mean it," added Kayla, "no heroics. I don’t want you trying to walk without help."

"I promise," said Sam, and Kayla nodded, satisfied. True to her word, Sam called for the woman when she finished her business, and allowed Kayla and Luke to help her to bed.

Kayla made sandwiches for all except Sam, who downed the last of her broth, and then they all had a very quiet conversation in sign language. Sam and Luke exchanged jokes, and Marie and Kayla enjoyed the entertainment. Kayla was quite proud of herself, since she found she could follow along with the discussion easily.

"How many mice does it take to screw in a light bulb?" asked Sam, with an evil grin.

Luke frowned. "Mice?" he repeated. "I don’t know. How many?"

"Two," replied the rancher. "The hard part is getting them in the bulb." Luke was silent for a moment, and then he burst out laughing as he realized the implication. Marie and Kayla joined in the laughter, and even Sam had to laugh at her own joke, as the happiness proved to be contagious.

"How do you know if a blonde has been at your computer?" asked Luke, and Sam shrugged, casting a glance at Kayla who had a suspicious look on her face. "There’s white-out on the screen!" Luke finished, and felt a tap on his shoulder. Turning, he noticed an angry and offended looking blonde glaring at him.

He was about to apologize, when the woman proved to be a good sport and laughed at the joke. To make sure he knew it was okay, Kayla told a few blonde bashing jokes of her own, and Luke felt better. Offending his sister’s girlfriend was not something he wanted to do.

After a few more jokes, Luke and his wife left, wishing Sam the best of luck, and making Kayla promise to keep them up to date on her condition. Saying their good-byes, Kayla watched them drive away, and returned to Sam’s bedroom to check on her.

"See? That wasn’t so bad, "she said, and Sam had to agree.

"I guess not," she said, and stifled a yawn. While the visit had indeed been fun, it had worn her out, and the rancher was left feeling tired.

"Get some rest," said Kayla, "and I’ll call to make an appointment." Sam nodded, and closed her eyes as Kayla picked up the phone. Luckily, the first doctor she called had time available to see the rancher around nine the next morning. As she hung up, Kayla smiled; Sam would get the medical attention she needed.

Morning came all too soon for the rancher, who dreaded having to go the hospital. Waking up at the usual time of five o’clock a.m., she decided that she desperately needed a shower, since she hadn’t taken one in a few days. Slipping from bed, careful not to wake Kayla who was still sleeping in her bed, she slowly made it down the hallway and into the bathroom, limping heavily and doing her best not to cry out in pain.

Once she had the door shut behind her, Sam sat down on the lid of the toilet, giving herself time to regain her breath. Stripping down to nothing but her pants, she removed her left leg first, and then took her right leg from the jeans by moving the material around her leg, rather than having to shift her knee.

When she was completely nude, she concentrated on not falling as she got in the shower, and pulled the shower door closed behind her. As she waited for the water to get hot, she examined her wounds. Her knee was swollen and incredibly sensitive to touch, she had a bruise on her right side, and a burning sensation as shampoo entered the cut told her she still had an open gash on her head.

The warm water felt good on her sore body, and the rancher enjoyed an hour long shower, just soaking in the warmth and relaxation. Deciding it was time to get dressed, Sam stepped out of the shower carefully, and dried off. Grabbing a robe that hung on the bathroom door, Sam wrapped it around her body, and twisted her hair into a towel, resting it atop her head like a turban.

Walking slowly, Sam made her way back to her room, having to put a hand on the wall for support. Quietly, she got dressed, wearing a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt, and then decided she had been on her feet long enough, as her knee was calling her bad names and saying dirty words.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, she took the weight off of her knee, and felt a little better. Sam jumped when she felt a hand on her shoulder, touching her hair.

"Your hair is wet," observed Kayla, now wide awake. "Sam, you’ve been up and in the shower by yourself. Why didn’t you wait for me to help you?"

"I didn’t want to wake you," said Sam, softly. "I’m all right."

"Sam, you promised," Kayla said, and it was obvious to Sam that the woman was hurt.

"Kay, I’m sorry," said the rancher, turning to face the woman she loved. "I just didn’t want to bother you. I did it on my own, and I’m okay. But you’re right, I did promise, and I shouldn’t have gone back on my word. I just wasn’t thinking about it, and I didn’t want to wake you," she finished.

"Well, all right," sighed Kayla. "I may as well get ready, too, and then I’ll fix breakfast. We need to leave about eight o’clock," she added.

Suddenly, Sam thought of something: it was Saturday. Kayla had to work! "Kay," she said, gently, "don’t you have to work today?"

Kayla paused a moment, and then sighed, shaking her head. "I completely forgot. I’ll call Jo and let her know I won’t be in today," she said, but Sam didn’t like how disappointed she sounded.

"You can go, Kay," said the rancher. "I’ll be okay here."

"Sam, you have an appointment to see the doctor, and you need to go. I can schedule the counseling session for another day. You’re more important," she said, and Sam knew it was no use arguing with her, so she stayed quiet.

Kayla got dressed while Sam sat on the bed, brushing her hair and putting on her left boot; Kayla insisted on doing the right one, so Sam wouldn’t have to move her knee. As it was, the pressure it took to slip the boot on was enough to cause the rancher pain, but she kept it to herself.

After a breakfast of cereal and toast, Kayla put on her jacket - which just happened to be the one she had ‘borrowed’ from the rancher - and helped Sam into her own. Then, wrapping an arm around her waist, she helped her out the door.

As Sam climbed into the passenger side of her truck, she stretched her knee out, and tried to relax. The walk out to the truck had been excruciatingly painful, even with the bare whisper of steps she had taken with her right foot, and for a while, the pain was so intense she thought she might lose the light breakfast she had eaten. Sam actually began to look forward to the hospital - if it meant her knee wouldn’t hurt anymore.

Kayla started the truck, and drove down the road, turning on the radio for some sound since Sam was being very quiet. Kayla knew the woman was just trying to keep her from knowing how much agony she was in, but it wasn’t doing any good. The fact that her features were rock still only proved her point - the rancher was in horrible pain.

"We’ll be there in about ten minutes," said Kayla, trying to keep the woman’s spirits up.

Sam knew what she was trying to do, and realized that by being so quiet and melancholy, she was dragging Kayla down with her, which was the last thing she wanted to do.

Even though she didn’t feel much like singing, the rancher knew it would make Kayla feel better, so she went along with the music. To her pleasant surprise, both of their dispositions were lifted, and as Kayla pulled into the parking lot, Sam felt a little better about the impending visit.

"Let me help you," said Kayla, and she rushed over to the passenger side, helping Sam step out of the truck.

"I never thought I’d hear myself say this," muttered Sam, "but I wish this damn truck wasn’t so high." She loved her truck, but it was hard to get in and out of, especially with an injured leg that didn’t like it when you bent the knee or put weight on it - two very essential things in walking.

"Come on," encouraged Kayla, and the two walked inside, Sam leaning heavily on Kayla, wincing each time she was forced to step down on her right leg. "You sit down, and I’ll fill out the papers," said Kayla, and Sam didn’t argue.

In the time it took Kayla to fill out all the necessary information, and ask Sam the answers to the questions she didn’t know, Sam’s knee felt like it had quadrupled in size and pain. The rancher wasn’t sure why it had suddenly increased, but the pain seemed to engulf her, and there was no way she could keep it from Kayla. She leaned her head back, and closed her eyes in agony.

"Samantha Martin," called the nurse, and Sam cracked one eye open.

"Sam? Baby, the doctor’s here," said Kayla, and Sam drew her head up from it’s former position of leaning back against the wall. "Can we get a wheelchair?" asked Kayla, but Sam shushed her.

"It’s okay," insisted the rancher. "I can make it." She didn’t need a wheelchair - she wasn’t a cripple. With Kayla’s help, Sam made it into the examination room.

A few moments later, the doctor came in. She was a brunette, with soft light brown eyes, and a height of no more than five-foot-seven-inches. Sam guessed her to be in her late twenties or early thirties - about the same age as her patient.

"My name is Dr. Heidi Patterson," she introduced, and shook hands with each woman. "I’m sorry, who are you in relation to Ms. Martin?" she asked, upon realizing that Kayla intended to stay.

"She’s my girlfriend," said Sam, eyeing the doctor, daring her to make anything of it.

To her surprise, the doctor merely nodded. "Okay, Ms. Martin, I see here that it’s your right knee that’s bothering you. Is that correct?" she asked, and Sam nodded. "How long has it been giving you trouble?" was her next question.

"I was a police officer a few years ago, and I was shot in the line of duty," explained Sam. "The bullet was taken out, but I’ve never really been completely free of pain."

"When did it start getting bad enough for you to come to the hospital?" asked Heidi Patterson.

"About a month ago," said Sam.

"Plus, she was injured in a riding accident a few days ago," added Kayla, and Dr. Patterson nodded, thoughtfully.

"That where you got that nasty gash?" asked the doctor, and Sam nodded. "We can take care of that with some ointment, since it won’t need stitches," she said, after examining the cut, which was only beginning to scab over.

"You’re going to need to put on this hospital gown, and then we’ll take some x-rays, and see what’s going on with your knee, all right?" she said, handing the said gown to the rancher, who eyed it with contempt. If there was one thing she hated nearly as much as needles, it was hospital gowns.

"I’ll be back in a few minutes to take you down to the x-ray room," said the doctor, and then left Sam to change. Kayla helped the rancher as best she could, holding her clothes for her and giving her an arm to lean on if she needed support. Five minutes later, Sam sat down on the cot, clad only in the gown and her undergarments, and Kayla laid her folded clothes beside her.

"Kay, this might take a while," said Sam. "Why don’t you go on to work? I’ll be okay here."

"I don’t want to leave you," protested Kayla, and Sam smiled at her, eyes full of love.

"I know," she said, "and I don’t want you to leave me, either. But I know you love your kids, and I don’t want to keep you. There’s really not a whole lot you can do here, because I know they won’t let you go into the x-ray room with me, and I don’t know how many tests they might have to do," she finished. "Please, go. I’ll be here when you get back," she smiled.

Kayla sighed. "All right," she said. "I’ll go. I’m not happy, but I’ll go. I guess you’re right. Call me if you need anything," she said, jotting the number down on a piece of paper and handing it to Sam, who gripped it tightly in her hand. "I love you."

"I love you, too," said Sam, and they kissed softly. A voice made them jump.

"Sorry to interrupt," said a rather red-faced doctor, "I just came in to check on my patient."

"I was just leaving," said Kayla. "Take care of her," she added, as she walked past the doctor.

Dr. Patterson smiled at the young woman who obviously loved Samantha Martin. "Promise," she said. "She’s in good hands." Satisfied, Kayla gave Sam one last look, and then walked out the door, leaving her love in the care of the hospital’s competent staff.


"Well, Ms. Martin," began Dr. Patterson, but Sam cut her off.

"Sam, please," said the rancher, tired of being called ‘Ms’ all the time.

"Sam," obliged the doctor. "Well, Sam, these are your x-rays. Let’s see what they found." Holding the film up to the light, she peered at them, intently.

The rancher sighed. The x-rays had been hell. All that moving and twisting, taking what must have been dozens of pictures, trying to find the right angle. Each new attempt brought a new level of pain to the rancher’s body. At least it was finished. Now she could see the results.

Sam immediately recognized her knee cap and the space between it and her femur and tibia bones. She didn’t like the white flecks she saw there. She didn’t like it at all.

Apparently, neither did Dr. Patterson. "Do you happen to know what kind of bullet you were hit with?" she asked, and Sam shook her head.

"I took the time to look through your record of the last time you were here, when you had the bullet removed. You were hit with a reload, 200gr lead bullet," she said, and Sam’s eyes widened.

"Shit," she cursed, under her breath.

"As you probably know, the bullet breaks apart on impact, leaving fragments behind once the actual bullet is taken out. See these? The white specks here, here, and here?" she asked, motioning to the said spots on the x-ray with the point of her pen.

Sam nodded, her heart sinking as she knew what was coming.

"Those are the fragments left behind. Actually, those are the bigger ones. You’ve got numerous small shards moving around in there," added the doctor.

"When you had the first surgery, the fragments were not found, and x-rays were not taken at the right angle, so they’ve been hiding in there for a while. When you had that accident, along with the natural growth of your bones, they must have moved around, and that’s why your knee has been causing you such pain lately," explained Dr. Patterson.

She turned and faced her patient, saying the words Sam dreaded most. "They have to be taken out." Surgery…

"When?" asked Sam, trying to keep her voice calmer than she felt.

"As soon as possible," was the response. Pointing to a spot on the x-ray that looked like it was embedded into the back of Sam’s knee cap, Dr. Patterson said, "This is the one that’s probably giving you most of the trouble. Each time you move, the metal fragment grinds against your bone. To be honest with you, I find it hard to believe that you walked in here without the aid of a wheelchair," said the doctor, and Sam knew it wasn’t a good sign when the doctor expected her to be in more pain than she was, much less unable to walk.

"We need to remove it before it does any permanent damage to your bone or the cartilage around it, if it hasn’t already," she added.

That sounds hopeful, thought Sam. Well, let’s get this over with…

"How soon can it be done?" sighed Sam. If that was the diagnosis, she wanted it fixed - and fast.

"Well, since you’re right here at the hospital, we can do it as soon as you’re ready. How about later today, around two? That way the surgeons can have time to look over your x-rays," she said.

"Sounds good," said Sam, her heart suddenly beating fast. All the talk about surgeons and x-rays had made her quite nervous.

"Okay. We’ll get you ready for the operation in just a little while." With that, the doctor turned to leave.

"Whoa, whoa, wait a minute," called Sam, and Dr. Patterson looked startled. "What do you mean ‘get me ready’?"

"You have to be taken to Pre-Op, and prepped for surgery," explained Heidi. "It can take up to an hour and a half. That’s where we run tests to make sure you’re not allergic to any of the medication, especially the anesthetic, and so on. Also, the doctor’s take this time to prepare themselves," she added.

"Then that’ll happen in about half an hour, right?" asked Sam, doing some quick calculations, seeing as it was already half past eleven, and the doctor nodded. "Can I make a phone call first?" Dr. Patterson smiled, and nodded, handing her the phone. As she dialed, Dr. Patterson left, giving Sam some privacy.

"Hello?" answered a voice. Sam knew it wasn’t Kayla.

"Hi, is Kayla there?" she asked, beginning to wonder if she had dialed the right number.

"Is this Sam?" asked the voice.

"Yes," said the rancher, drawing the word out uncertainly.

"It’s Amy. Kayla came in here, but she was so distracted and so worried, we told her to go home, and not to worry about it," she said, chuckling at the stubborn counselor’s determination. "She mentioned something about going back to the hospital to check on you."

"What time did she leave?" asked Sam.

"About twenty minutes ago. She shouldn’t be much longer. Are you okay?" asked Amy, concern evident in her voice.

"Yeah, I’ll be all right. Thanks," said Sam, and the women hung up. Sam sat deep in her own thoughts for a few minutes, trying not to let her thoughts wander to the possible outcomes of the upcoming surgery.

"Sam?!" cried Kayla, and she rushed in the door, looking very upset and flushed. "Are you okay? I heard they were going to take you in for surgery!"

Sam smiled reassuringly, and took Kayla’s hands in her own, trying to calm her down. "Relax, Kay," she said. "I’m all right. They just have to go in and make sure everything is okay."

Kayla raised an eyebrow at her, skeptical of her prognosis. "Then what’s that?" she demanded, pointing at the white specks that appeared on Sam’s x-ray.

The rancher sighed; Kayla was smarter than she gave her credit for. She should have known the counselor would notice the x-ray right off the bat. "They’re bullet fragments from when I was shot," she admitted. "The doctor said they have to be removed before they cause permanent damage."

"When?" asked Kayla, trembling.

"In just a few hours," said Sam, breaking the news to the sensitive counselor, who had tears spring to her eyes. Kayla feared for the safety and well-being of the rancher, and the grim diagnosis frightened her.

"Hey," soothed Sam, noticing the tears and pulling Kayla into a strong hug, "it’s okay. I’ll be fine."

The tears flowed freely onto Sam’s shoulder, and Kayla gripped the rancher tightly, needing the security. "It just sounds so painful," she said, and Sam pulled back, wiping a tear away with her callused and yet gentle thumb, kissing the woman she loved softly on her forehead.

"It’s okay," she repeated.

"Do you need anything?" asked Kayla, and Sam smiled, shaking her head.

"No, I’m all right. Thank you, though," said the rancher. "Kay, I’ll be fine. It’s just a minor operation."

"I’ll be right here when you wake up," Kayla said, and Sam felt her heart go to her throat.

"Thanks," swallowed Sam. It felt good to know that she had someone who cared for her, who loved her, and who was there for her. Especially at a time when she felt so vulnerable.

"I’ll be right back, okay?" asked Kayla, and Sam nodded, a little confused. A few minutes later, Kayla returned with Dr. Patterson trailing behind her. "I just had a few questions. Dr. Patterson says you’ll probably be here for at least two or three days," said Kayla, and Sam did not look at all happy about that fact.

"We’ll keep you here to make sure you don’t have any side effects to the medicine, and to be sure the operation was a success," explained Dr. Patterson, responding to Sam’s unasked question of ‘why’. "You’ll be on crutches for two or three weeks, and you’ll come in once a week or so for a follow up."

Crutches? Lovely, thought Sam, unhappily. She hated having to use crutches.

"Okay," sighed the rancher, and the doctor checked her watch.

"Well, we should probably get started," she said, and allowed the women a few minutes to themselves before returning to get her patient.

"I’m going to head home to get some things, but I’ll be back as soon as I can," said Kayla, muttering into Sam’s shoulder as they embraced. "I love you."

"I love you, too," said Sam, tears in her own eyes. "Take care of the horses and dogs for me, okay? Tell them I’ll be home soon," added the rancher, and Kayla smiled at her.

"I will. I’m sure they’ll miss you, but I’ll make sure they’re okay," said the counselor, and Sam grinned, pulling back.

"I know you’ll take good care of them. Love you," said Sam - she just had to repeat it. She needed to hear it for her own benefit. She was feeling scared - something she wasn’t used to.

"Love you, too," said Kayla. "Bye."

"Bye." With that, Kayla left, and the doctor walked in, a nurse with a wheelchair not far behind. Motioning, she helped the rancher in the chair, and she was on her way to Pre-Op.


Groggy blue eyes opened to meet a white-tiled ceiling. And a throbbing in her wrist. Glancing down at her arm, Sam realized what was causing her pain.

IV, she thought. Well, my knee doesn’t hurt, so it must be some kind of morphine. Trying to sit up, she was hit with a wave of dizziness. Oh, yeah, definitely morphine…

Lifting the sheet, she saw that her knee was bandaged, with a large pad of cotton gauze on the underside of it, preventing her from bending the joint. At least it didn’t hurt… Maybe she could sit up, if she went slowly. She decided to try it again.

"Hey, hold on there," said a nurse, and made sure she was laying back down. "Don’t try to move too much. I guess you learned that the hard way," she added, smiling, when she saw the cloudy appearance of her charge’s eyes. "If you want to sit up, push this button," she said, and demonstrated. The back of Sam’s bed rose slowly, until she was at a forty-five degree angle.

"Are you all right? There’s some juices here," said the assistant, gesturing to a small carton of apple juice and another of grape juice that were on the side table, "if you get thirsty."

"Thanks," said the rancher, and after checking the monitors, the nurse left Sam alone in her room.

Alone. Where was Kayla? Sam suddenly felt very insecure, scared, and most of all - lonely. The counselor said she’d be there - where was she? It wasn’t like the woman not to follow up on something she’d promised. Had something happened? Was she hurt?

Panic started setting in, and Sam was ready to hit the call button so she could ask the nurse for a phone, when the blonde walked in, carrying a bag from the gift shop.

"Sam? You’re awake?" she exclaimed, setting the bag down on the chair. "I’m sorry, sweetheart. I wasn’t here when you woke up like I said I’d be. I just stepped out for a minute. I knew it," she said, under her breath, and Sam caught it.

"It’s okay," said the rancher. "You’re here now. That means a lot."

"How do you feel?" asked Kayla, and Sam smiled a goofy grin.

"High as a kite," she joked. "This morphine stuff works good. No, really, I’m fine. My knee doesn’t hurt, but this IV is really starting to bug me," she added, and gave the said intravenous tube an irritated look.

"Well, I can’t stay much longer, but I’ll be back first thing in the morning," said the counselor, and Sam frowned.

"Why can’t you stay?" she asked, and immediately regretted it.

Idiot, she thought. Selfish, selfish idiot! She probably has other things to do, and here you are whining like a child, her mind scolded her.

"I wish I could," she said, smiling softly, "but visiting hours are over soon, so I have to leave. They’re not supposed to let anyone in any earlier than about three, but I convinced them to let me in at nine," she said, her eyes flashing with pride.

"Great," Sam smiled.

"Before I go, I want to show you something," said the counselor, and she withdrew two books from the gift shop bag. Handing them to the rancher, she smiled when she saw a grin come to the woman’s lips.

"Thank you," said Sam, as she set the books on the side table next to her bed. The novels were the newest ones from her two favorite authors: Dean Koontz and Stephen King, and Kayla had remembered.

Just then, a nurse came in, and announced that visiting hours were over. Giving Sam a gentle hug and a quick kiss, Kayla wished her well, and reluctantly left the woman she loved.

The counselor visited the rancher every day for as long as she was possibly permitted, and three days later, Sam was released from the hospital. A nurse came in while the rancher was clearing out her things, and making sure she didn’t forget any of her belongings.

"Ms. Farr is waiting for you," she announced, and Sam grinned at her. Nancy was her name, and she had been the nurse Sam saw most often, so they had become acquainted. While they were not close enough to be considered friends, they enjoyed each other’s company, to some extent, and bantered back and forth with each other.

"Well, I’ll miss you, Nance," said the rancher, towering over the five-foot-seven frame of the brunette assistant.

"Get out of here, Blue," she said, smiling. "I don’t want to see you back here for a long time."

"Was I that bad?" questioned Sam, seriously.

"You are the most stubborn patient I’ve ever had," declared Nancy, but the smiled. "You take it easy on that woman of yours; don’t give her no trouble like you did me. Take your medicine, and stay on those crutches until the doctor says you can walk without ‘em, okay?" offered Nancy, and Sam nodded, looking solemn.

"Yes, ma’am," she said, and mock saluted the woman, who looked like she would have hit her if she wasn’t balancing awkwardly on one leg and two crutches. The crutches were something that would take the rancher a while to get used to.

"Go on, Blue. She’s gonna get worried about you," said Nancy, and watched as her charge walked down the hallway with the aide of her so-called ‘sticks’. Bidding her good luck, and hoping she could stay out of harm’s way, Nancy walked two doors down to her next patient.

Exiting the hospital, Sam was not surprised to find that Kayla was indeed waiting there to pick her up, since the rancher’s knee made it impossible for her to drive on her own - at least, for a little while.

"I should’ve brought my Blazer," muttered Kayla, opening the passenger door of Sam’s truck, and watched her struggle to get in with her crutches, and rest her knee comfortably.

"No, it’s okay," said Sam, as she let her crutches lean against the seat beside her, wishing her back seat wasn’t so small. If getting in the truck was torture, the ride home was hell. Each bump and dip in the road went straight to her knee, and by the time they arrived at the Ranch, Sam was near tears.

"Sam, I’m sorry, sweetheart," said Kayla, helping Sam out of the truck, and seeing the pain etched on her face. "Let’s get you in bed."

"Kay, I’ve been in bed for nearly a week," Sam protested.

"You really feel like walking around?" asked Kayla, skeptical.

Sam paused for a moment, before shaking her head, looking at Kayla with chagrin. "No, I guess not," said the rancher, and let Kayla help her into bed, where she kept her crutches nearby. She was able to walk on crutches, but her knee was still sore, so she decided to wait a little while.

"I’m all right," said Sam. "Kay, wait," she called, when the woman turned to go, "I need to talk to you."

"Okay," said Kayla taking a deep breath, a little unsettled. It wasn’t the rancher initiated a talk, and certainly not one so obviously serious.

"While I was in the hospital, I had time to think about some things," began Sam. "I was wondering how much longer you plan on staying here."

Kayla’s face fell, but she hid it well. "Not much," she said. "I was looking in the paper for another place to go."

"I noticed," muttered the rancher.

"Well, I’m not going to leave you now. I’ll wait until you get back on your feet," explained the counselor, resisting the urge to add "Excuse the pun". "Then I’ll be out of your hair," she said, smiling a little, although she felt like crying - she didn’t want to go.

No, don’t be selfish, Kayla scolded herself. You’ve been imposing on her for three weeks now. How much longer did you expect her to let you stay? I’m sure she’s tired of you by now… You can’t cook, you can only be a distraction.

"Stay," said Sam, and Kayla looked surprised.

"But -" she protested, and Sam cut her off.

"No," she interrupted, realizing what Kayla must have thought, "I didn’t ask because I wanted you to leave."

Gods, no! she thought, her heart beat increasing at the mere idea. Kayla, leave? She couldn’t stand the thought, and quickly pushed it away.

"I just saw you looking in the Real Estate section of the newspaper, and I started wondering if you wanted to go. I don’t want you to feel like you have to stay because of me," she said, quietly.

"Kay," continued the rancher, taking a deep breath to find the courage she needed to press on, "will you move in with me?"

Kayla’s mouth hit the ground. "W-what?" she stuttered. She wasn’t sure she had heard correctly.

Did she just ask me to move in with her? wondered Kayla, as her heart went to her throat. Gods, is this real? This means she doesn’t want me to leave!

"You don’t have to," hurried the woman, afraid of scaring off the woman she cared for more than anything, "I’d just like it if you would. You won’t even have to get anything from Hank’s, you can use all my stuff, and we can go shopping for clothes."

The counselor’s face lit up, and her eyes shone. "Yes," she replied, smiling, and gave the rancher a big hug, tears in her eyes. "Thank you, Sam. I love you."

"I love you, too, Kay," murmured Sam.

"Are you sure you want this?" she asked, and the rancher nodded.

"Yes," she said, finally, "I’m positive. I wasn’t sure how to ask you, because I didn’t know if you’d want to stay or not. The last thing I wanted was for you to leave, but I saw you looking through the paper, and I had to find out. I don’t want you to be unhappy," she added, and Kayla smiled at her.

"I’m not when I’m with you," she said, and Sam grinned.

"Good," she said, and kissed Kayla softly on the forehead.

"I just figured you were getting tired of me," admitted Kayla, "that’s why I was looking through the paper. I thought I’d pretty much worn out my welcome, come the three weeks mark."

"Never," stated Sam, evenly. "Kay, don’t ever think that, okay? I will always need you."

The rancher looked up just as the words slipped from her mouth, and tried to gauge the counselor’s reaction, wondering if it would startle or frighten her. The woman had a strange look on her face, and Sam felt her heart stop.

Damage control, damage control, she thought, anxiously.

"Kay," she began, but wasn’t able to finish her sentence, as her lips were captured by Kayla’s own. The counselor knew what the rancher was thinking, and wanted to reassure her that the statement was okay. In fact, she loved hearing it.

Sam was a little surprised, but quickly recovered, bringing her right arm around to pull Kayla closer. Both mouths parted, and tongues met in a careful dance of love. Kayla’s soft moan was barely audible, and Sam felt the vibrations travel through her throat. Bringing her left hand up, Sam caressed Kayla’s cheek, as the counselor deepened the kiss.

There was a bond that they both felt, and it traveled through their bodies simultaneously, making each woman’s heart skip a beat. Now they both realized the meaning of soul mates.

They withdrew, and their eyes met, as they each tried to calm their breathing, which was fast and shallow as heart beats raced. Thoughts ran along the lines of:

WOW! Oh, my God. Why did we wait to do this? That was intense!

for both women.

Sam cleared her throat, and looked at Kayla with an eyebrow raised. "Well," she said, trying to hide her grin, "that was… uh, wow." What could she say? Words failed her.

Kayla blushed a deep red, and Sam couldn’t help it - she burst out laughing; and received a slap on the arm in return.

"Be nice," complained Kayla, and Sam tried to calm her fit. It took a while, but she was finally able to keep a straight face.

"I’m sorry," she said, "it’s just you look cute when you blush."

"You’re laughing ‘cause I’m cute?" demanded Kayla, and Sam shook her head.

"No," said the rancher, quickly. "I was laughing because I can make you do it so easily."

"You have way too much fun at my expense," said Kayla, but she was smiling. "That’s okay, though. You know why?" she asked, and Sam shook her head. Kayla leaned forward so their foreheads were touching, and whispered fiercely, "’Cause pay backs are a bitch."

Sam’s eyes widened, and for a moment she thought Kayla was really upset, but then the counselor did her best to raise an eyebrow, and the rancher burst out laughing again at her attempt.

"That so?" she asked, between spells.

Kayla nodded. "Yep," she said, grinning.

"Can’t wait," said the rancher, raising an eyebrow, and Kayla snickered, burying her head in Sam’s shoulder as she giggled.

"You’re terrible," murmured Kayla, and she felt Sam shake underneath her as the woman laughed.

Sam had a response, but it was cut short as she gasped in pain, and Kayla instantly sobered.

"Sam? Sweetheart, are you okay?" asked Kayla, and the rancher frightened her by shaking her head ‘no’. "Do you want to take some of that pain medicine? The doctor sent some home," she added, and Sam nodded, eagerly.

Kayla returned quickly with a glass of water and two pills in her hand. Giving them to the rancher, the woman swallowed the capsules as quick as she was able, and then sank back into the pillow.

The counselor set the glass on the table, and brushed Sam’s hair back from her face, cupping her cheek softly.

"Sam, are you okay? What happened?" she asked, her face full of concern.

Sam’s pain-filled blue eyes opened and met Kayla’s worried green ones. "Just moved wrong," she said, through clenched teeth. "Oh, God," she muttered, and closed her eyes again, her face contorted in severe pain.

Kayla tried her best to soothe the rancher, and felt horrible when she couldn’t do anything to ease her pain. Her heart felt like it would burst as she watched tears of torment stream down her love’s face, as the woman tried her best not to cry out.

The counselor placed a soft kiss on the woman’s forehead, and whispered to her, "It’s okay, sweetheart, it’ll be all right. I’m here. I love you," over and over again, and the rancher eventually relaxed as the pain eased.

"I’m sorry," said Sam, when she recovered, and noticed the look of fear that covered Kayla’s face. "I didn’t mean to scare you. I’m okay, now," she added, trying to reassure the counselor.

"Are you sure? Is there anything I can do?" asked Kayla, and Sam smiled at her, but shook her head.

"No, but thanks," said Sam, making sure Kayla knew she appreciated the gesture. "So… you feel like working on some more sign language, since I don’t feel up to walking around at the moment?" she offered, and Kayla agreed.

The two talked back and forth, one teaching and one learning, until Kayla’s stomach monster was on full charge, and refused to be silenced until it was fed. The counselor decided it was time for dinner, since they had both missed lunch, and it was approaching five o’clock.

Kayla got up to fix dinner, and Sam decided to get out of bed, for two reasons: one, she didn’t feel like lying in bed any longer, and two, she wanted to make sure Kayla didn’t burn the house down in the process of cooking dinner. Grabbing her crutches, the rancher slid out of bed, and walked towards the kitchen.

She had just reached the living room, when there was a knock on the door. As Kayla was busy in the kitchen, she answered it, and was surprised to see a uniformed police officer standing on her doorstep.

"May I help you?" she asked, since she didn’t recognize him, and couldn’t call him by his name.

"Are you Samantha Martin?" asked the officer, his deep voice reverberating off the walls of the house, and Sam nodded. He handed her an envelope, made sure she had it in her hand, and then left.

A little startled by the abruptness of his departure, Sam opened the envelope, curiously. Her eyes scanned the first page of the large document, and she laughed so hard she had trouble supporting herself with her crutches.

Kayla went to her side, wondering what had the rancher in such a fit of laughter.

"What’s that?" she asked. "Who was at the door?"

"I just got served… with a TRO, a temporary restraining… order, from… Henry… Earl… Farr," she said, between snickers. "Hank put a restraining order against me!" Sam found it absolutely hilarious that the man was frightened of her so much he had a restraining order issued for his protection.

"What?!" exclaimed Kayla, and read the papers for herself. She found nothing funny about it, and told the rancher as much.

"Kay, this means that I can’t go within one hundred feet of him or his house, and he can’t go within one hundred feet of me or the Ranch. He can’t come up to the house," explained the rancher.

Kayla’s face turned very serious, and she looked the woman in the eye. "This also means that you can’t go after me like you did last time," she pointed out, and Sam felt her heart drop to her feet - the woman was right.

Muttering a few curse words under her breath, the rancher tried to think of a way to go around it. If the man were to take Kayla as he had done before, Sam - by law - would not be able to go after her, because it would mean getting within range of the man, and violating the TRO.

"As long as you stay around the house, he can’t do anything," said the rancher. "And if he breaks it, and comes up here to bother you, I won’t hesitate to break him," growled the woman.

Kayla smiled at her, and took the rancher’s larger hand in her own. "Sam, you can’t protect me every minute of every day," she began, and the rancher interrupted her.

"I can try," she muttered.

Kayla continued, "And I can’t stay in the house every minute of every day. I’ll be okay, Sam, really I will. I know this is going to bug you, but don’t worry about it, like I know you will," she smiled. "I can take care of myself."

"Yeah, but I like knowing that I can take care of you, too," mumbled the rancher, and Kayla felt her heart swell with love.

"I know you do, and I love you for it," said Kayla, standing on her tip-toes to give Sam a peck on the cheek. "So, what do you want for dinner?"

"Anything," said Sam, following the woman into the kitchen.

"How about…" she muttered, and shifted through the contents of Sam’s refrigerator and cabinets, "hamburger casserole?" she suggested, holding up a box of Hamburger Helper triumphantly.

Sam shrugged. "Sounds good to me," she said, and decided to let Kayla cook, since it was the woman’s idea. Unless, of course, she didn’t want to… "You want me to cook?" offered Sam, and Kayla shook her head.

"No, I’ve got it," she said, so Sam decided to leave her be. "I’m gonna go see the horses," she called.

"Be careful!" responded Kayla, as the woman headed out the door. Sam just smiled to herself, and walked outside, with the aide of her crutches. Once outside, she whistled shrilly, and five horses peered out from the barn. The rancher frowned when she didn’t see Venus.

Ambling over to the corral, the horses looked at their mistress strangely, when she came in through the gate instead of slipping through the pipes. They exchanged glances - what was wrong with her? And what were those funny things she was walking with?

They wandered over to her and sniffed her, curiously.

"Hey, guys," said Sam, patting her horses affectionately. "Yeah, I know. I smell like a hospital, huh? It’s still me!" she insisted, when Thunder nudged her suspiciously.

"How are you doing?" A few snorts were her response, and she laughed. Going into the barn, she saw Venus struggling against her bonds. The mare had heard the whistle, but was unable to go to her mistress due to her tether - she was nearly pulling the hitching post down on the ground she was pulling so hard.

"Easy, girl," soothed Sam, and went over to her horse, stroking the Palomino’s silver mane, who immediately calmed down once her mistress was near. "It’s okay. How are you feeling? Better?" she asked hopefully, and Venus replied by nibbling on her shirt.

"I’ll take that as a yes," she laughed, and managed to feed the equines their dinner while she was in the barn, without falling. Inspecting the Palomino’s wound, she was glad to see that it was healing well, and seemed to be free of infection.

"Take care, all right? I’ll be out to see you in the morning," she promised, and then walked back into the house, where dinner was cooking.

The scent of cooking hamburger filled the house, and Sam inhaled deeply.

"Smells good!" she called, and entered the kitchen.

Kayla was busy stirring the meat so it wouldn’t burn, but she took the time to look back and smile at the woman. "Thanks," she said, and turned her attention back to the meal.

Minutes later, she announced that dinner was ready, and the two women ate silently at the table. Silently, that is, until Kayla decided that it was too quiet.

"Marie called while you were outside with the horses," she said, and Sam looked up.

"What’d she have to say?"

"She just wanted to check up on you. I told her you were out of the hospital, and home, but you had to use crutches. She wants me to tell you that she and Luke want you go get well soon," she said, relaying the couple’s good wishes.

"So, how are you feeling?" asked Kayla, and Sam shrugged.

"I’m all right," she said. She was sitting at the table, with her right knee stretched out, and her crutches leaning against the back of her chair. "This is really good," she complimented, and Kayla beamed.

"Thank you," she said. "The meat got a little burnt, but other than that, I think it turned out okay."

"It’s fine," assured the rancher, and proved it by taking a second helping. When dinner was finished, Sam’s knee decided it had been comfortable long enough, and demanded that it be put back to bed by throbbing and sending pain signals to Sam’s brain with every move she made. Sighing, she grabbed her crutches, and hobbled back to bed.

Kayla came in a short while later, after washing the dishes. "Are you okay?" she asked. "You left kind of suddenly."

Sam nodded, and then felt bad. "Yeah, I’m all right. Sorry I left in such a haste, but my knee was acting up again. I just needed to lie down. Dinner was great," she added, and watched as Kayla’s eyes lit up with the praise.

"Thanks," she said, and they settled down for some sign language tutoring for the rest of the night, until Kayla was too tired to keep her eyes open. Crawling in next to the rancher, she curled up into the woman’s side, threw an arm over her stomach, and fell sound asleep.

Hours later, Sam was still awake. Glancing over, she watched her clock go from 12:43 to 1:00. For seventeen minutes she stared at her clock, and watched the minute display change with each sixty seconds that passed, uneventful.

Oookay, that’s enough of that, she thought, and forced herself to turn away from the clock. Maybe I should take the sleeping pills the doctor gave me.

Glancing down at the woman who snored softly in her sleep, she realized that getting the medicine would mean getting up, which would mean waking the counselor, and the rancher knew the woman had been exhausted.

Wondering if she could distract herself enough to fall asleep, and maybe take her mind off the pain, the rancher grabbed the Dean Koontz novel that Kayla had bought her in the hospital gift shop, the one she was almost done with, and decided to read it until she fell asleep.

Sixty-two pages and an hour later, the rancher still didn’t have any luck. She was wide awake, as was the pain in her knee, and she knew she had to get up. It was either that, or stare at her clock for another five hours or so until Kayla woke up.

Of course, I could always watch her sleep. I could do that forever, Sam thought, and smiled to herself. Face it, Sam. You just like knowing she’s safe. That, and her snoring is kind of cute, she added. I wonder if she knows she does that…

I am such a sap, she thought, and grinned to herself.

Her knee suddenly decided that it was not happy about being ignored, and made itself known. Gently moving out from under the arm of the blonde, Sam reached for her crutches, and got out of bed. Grabbing the prescription bottle and reading the label quickly, she removed two pills, and swallowed them with a glass of water. Returning to bed, she was surprised to see two green eyes staring at her.

As she climbed back into bed, and returned her crutches to their former position of leaning against the wall, Kayla asked, "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," said Sam. "Just had to get some medicine. I didn’t mean to wake you. Go back to sleep, baby," she said, kissing her gently on the forehead.

Kayla smiled at her, sighed contentedly at the loving nickname, and dropped back down into the pillows. Draping an arm over the rancher’s middle once again, she fell asleep once more. The woman she loved was not far behind her.

The next morning, Kayla was the first one up. Stretching, she was a little worried to see that Sam was still asleep. Quickly checking her for a fever, since the only time she was known to sleep past dawn - much less seven thirty - was when she was sick, the counselor deduced that the woman was just tired, and needed her rest.

I’ll let her sleep, thought Kayla, as she got up and entered the shower. She was up until two, so she’s probably exhausted. I’ll make breakfast and surprise her with breakfast in bed. That decided, the counselor hurried with her shower.

Blue eyes opened to find the spot beside her in the bed empty. Panic set in, in finding that the blonde was gone, until she heard the counselor enter the room. Looking up, she was surprised to notice that the woman was carrying a tray full of food.

"What’s this?" she asked, as the tray was set before her and she sat up so it settled over her legs.

"Breakfast in bed, sweetheart," said Kayla, and Sam looked like she was going to protest. "Don’t say a word," she ordered, "I wanted to do this." Sam let it go with a thank you kiss, and gingerly tried a bit of the food - it was delicious!

"I must be rubbing off on you," she joked, "your food is tasting better and better!" Kayla grinned, but slapped the rancher on the arm for the first part of the comment.

"Did you eat?" asked Sam, and Kayla shook her head. The rancher immediately insisted that the woman eat, and offered her food to her. Kayla sat cross-legged on the bed next to Sam, and shared her toast and fruit until she was full. Well, full enough to tide her over - she didn’t want to eat all of Sam’s breakfast, after all, and decided she could wait for lunch.

"Thank you, baby," said Sam, and gave Kayla a soft kiss on the lips, which quickly deepened. Sam’s hand moved to the counselor’s cheek once more, and Kayla covered it with her own, making sure it stayed there, even after the kiss had ended. She loved just being in contact with the rancher.

Sam leaned into another kiss, when the phone rang, startling both women. The rancher pulled back long enough to growl, "Maybe they’ll get the point and go away," before reaching for Kayla once again, but the woman put a restraining hand on her chest.

"Sam, it might be one of my kids," she reminded the dejected looking woman, who nodded, and picked up the phone.

Stupid, Sam, the rancher scolded herself. You know the kids have the number, why didn’t you think of that? She cares about her kids and so do you - remember these things!!

"Hello?" she answered, and was met with silence. "Hello?" she repeated, with a little more force.

Great, she thought. I lost a kiss to a damn prank phone call!

The rancher was about to hang up, when she thought she heard something - faint crying from the other end of the line.

"Who is this?" she asked, wondering if someone was hurt.

"Is Kayla there?" sniffled a young woman’s voice, quietly, and Sam immediately recognized it.

"Amy?" she asked. Beside her, Kayla was instantly alert, eyes worried as she begged Sam for an explanation. Holding up a hand, Sam motioned that she would tell her in a moment.

"Yeah, can I talk to Kayla?" the girl asked.

"Are you all right?" asked the rancher, concerned for the young girl.

"I just… No, I’m not. I need to talk with Kayla. Please, Sam," she added, in a voice that gripped Sam’s heart.

"Okay," she said, "just a second." Handing the phone over to Kayla, Sam watched as the woman held it like it was her only life line.

"Amy? Amy, what’s wrong?" asked Kayla, gently, and yet it was obvious she was frightened.

"I, uh, I told my parents," she began, and nearly broke down into tears again.

"Take it easy, Amy. I need to know what happened," said Kayla, in her most soothing voice. "Talk to me."

"I told them that I’m gay, and that I’ve been seeing Jack for the past seven and a half months," said the girl. "My dad started yelling at me, cursing me, and my mom just walked out of the room in tears. Dad hit me, but I stood up to him, so it was his turn to leave the room.

"When my mom came back in, she told me to get out of the house, and that I was no longer her daughter," she sobbed.

"Amy, I’m sure they said some things they didn’t mean. It must be a little awkward for them, and you’ve got to give them some time to think it over. Give them a chance to cool off, and then you talk to them about it more reasonably," suggested Kayla.

"No," said Amy, tears evident in her voice, "they’re serious. They wouldn’t even let me take anything with me, and I used my last change for this phone call. I’m at the pay phone at the corner of Hudson and Leick. I really, really hate to do this to you… God, I’m sorry… I don’t want to do this… I’ll understand if you say no," she said, blubbering.

"What, Amy? Go ahead, it’s okay," said Kayla. She noticed that Sam had set the breakfast tray aside and was now listening intently, concerned etched all over her face. Taking her hand, she felt the rancher squeeze it gently, and gave her a small smile.

"Can I stay with you for a few days?" she asked, and quickly rushed on before Kayla had a chance to respond. "Normally I’d go to Jack’s, but I don’t want her parents to know about me or her, and she’s not ready for them to know about us yet, so I don’t want to put her in a position where she’d be uncomfortable. I’m really, really sorry about this," she added, and was going to continue, but Kayla cut her off.

"It’s okay, Amy. I’m sure Sam won’t mind if you stay with us for a few days," said Kayla, and heard the girl’s sigh of relief over the other end. The rancher met her eyes and nodded her approval of the apparent arrangements with no hesitation.

"I’ll be there in just a few minutes, okay? Hang tight, Amy," said Kayla. The women said their good-byes, and as soon as the phone was out of her hands, Kayla was out of bed and searching through the closet where her clean clothes were hung for something to wear.

"What did she say?" asked Sam, although she had caught the gist of the conversation, and could make a pretty good guess as to what had happened.

"She said she told her parents, and they kicked her out of the house. She’d go with Jack, except Jack hasn’t told her parents yet, so she didn’t want to put her in an awkward situation," explained Kayla, as she hurriedly got dressed. Throwing on Sam’s jacket, (her old, black, warm Police jacket) which she had adopted as her own, Kayla gave the rancher a quick kiss on the lips and promised to return shortly, before rushing out the door.

Fifteen minutes later, Kayla parked her Blazer at the far end of the local supermarket’s parking lot, since that was as close as she could get to the corner of Hudson and Leick without blocking traffic by parking in the street. Even against the curb, that was a busy intersection, and the flow of traffic was heavy. Parking on the side would have been dangerous.

Kayla found the girl she sought in an instant - the girl was seated on the ground, leaning against the metal stand of the pay phone. Her knees were raised, and she sat with her head in her hands, obviously crying as her body was racked with sobs that shook her shoulders. She was clothed in only a thin, worn out denim jacket, white T-shirt, and blue jeans that had holes at the knees. Kayla knew the girl had to be freezing, as a light rain had begun to fall, hinting at an approaching snow storm - or so the TV forecast had said.

The young girl’s brown hair looked unkempt, and Kayla wondered just how long she had been on her own. It wasn’t like the young woman to go anywhere if her hair was a mess - she wasn’t vain, but she was concerned with the way she looked.

"Amy?" asked the counselor, and the girl’s head jerked up. Her soft brown eyes were tearful and her face was so tearstained it made her look bedraggled. Something else caught Kayla’s attention - a fading bruise on her cheek. If the mark from her father’s anger was fading, how long had she been without a home?

Amy sniffled as she got to her feet, and, when Kayla gave the girl a strong hug, she returned the gesture for all she was worth.

"Thanks, Kayla," murmured the girl, as Kayla led her to her car. The young woman was shivering, so the counselor turned on the heater, and gave her Sam’s jacket to wear.

"I’m really sorry," said Amy, and she was - she felt horrible, having to inconvenience her friend and counselor in such a way.

"We’ll talk about this more when we get home," said Kayla, softly. "Until then, you just rest and get warm, all right?" Amy nodded, sniffled, and dried her tears as best she could, trying her damnedest to stop crying, and failing miserably. The affect of being turned away by her own parents at sixteen was too much for the girl to handle, much less the humility of having to ask for a place to live.

As the two walked in the door, they were met with mugs of hot chocolate, handed to them by Sam, who was up and about - with her crutches, of course. She wasn’t about to get caught without them, and get herself in trouble. The rancher had already been out to the barn and fed the horses, so she could divide her full attention to the problem at hand.

"Sit down," she said, and led both women to the couch in the den, where a fire was roaring in the fireplace. Taking a seat in the recliner, Sam leaned her crutches against the side table, and raised the foot rest on the chair, so she could rest her knee.

"Amy, how long ago did you tell your parents?" was the first question out of Kayla’s mouth.

"Three days ago," came the girl’s response, making Kayla gasp.

"You were out there on your own for three days?!" she exclaimed, and Amy nodded, sipping her hot chocolate carefully. "Does Jack know?" asked Kayla, softly, and Amy shook her head, before breaking down into tears again.

"No," she sobbed, "I haven’t told her. I don’t want to upset her, and I don’t want her to do anything. I’m afraid that she’ll be angry and say something to my parents - I don’t want her or my father to get into a fight, and I know they will. She protects me, and he hates me, now," she said, and tears overcame her for a while.

When she was able to speak, she continued, "She doesn’t even know that I told them. I’m sure she’s worried, and probably hurt, since we had a date two days ago, and I didn’t show. I couldn’t. She would’ve asked about my bruise, and I would’ve had to tell her," explained Amy.

Kayla picked up the phone. "Call her," she said, handing the girl the phone, "let her know where you are. Tell her to come over, if she can. Wait, don’t you guys have school?" asked the counselor, the realization that it was Wednesday finally hitting her, and Amy shook her head as she dialed her girlfriend’s number.

"Thanksgiving break," she explained, talking quickly as the phone was ringing on the other end. "We get a whole week off."

"Hello?" Amy heard Jack say, and she was glad Jack was the one to pick up the phone. She didn’t want to have to go through any adults, because that would mean explanations.

"Jack?" asked Amy, just to be sure.

"Amy? Is that you?" demanded the woman, and Amy affirmed that it was. "Are you mad at me?" she asked, meekly. Jack was worried that since the woman hadn’t returned her phone calls and had not shown up for their movie date, that she had done something wrong.

"No, Jack," said Amy, and she sniffled. Jack caught it.

"You’re crying? Are you okay?" asked Jack, concerned. "Where are you?"

"I’m at Sam’s house," said the girl. "Kayla said you could come over. I need to talk to you."

"I’ll be right there," said Jack, and Amy gave her quick directions. "Hang on, babe," she said, and then hung up the phone.

That done, Amy returned the phone to Kayla, who replaced it on its base.

"She said she’s on her way," said Amy, to answer Kayla’s unspoken question.

"Do you want to wait and tell us the story when she gets here, or go ahead and tell us first?" asked Kayla, giving the girl the option, who chose to wait until she was with her girlfriend, so she only had to relate the tale once.

"So, Sam, what happened to your knee?" asked Amy, and the conversation turned to other things.

Amy finished her cup of hot chocolate as she and Sam spoke, and Kayla was quiet, letting the girl gather her thoughts. Sam got up and answered the knock that came at the door twenty minutes later.

Giving the rancher a brief hello, Jack breezed through the house, found Amy quickly, and rushed to her side. Kayla got up and allowed the girl with black hair to sit beside her girlfriend.

As soon as Amy was in Jack’s arms, she lost it again, and sobbed into her shoulder.

"Are you okay? Amy, are you okay, babe?" asked Jack, earnestly. "I’ve been going out of my mind with worry! I tried calling, but there was no answer, and no one returned my messages. Are you hurt?"

"I’m sorry, sweetheart. I’m all right, J," reassured Amy, clinging to Jack tightly.

"What’s wrong? Who hit you?" demanded the girl, upon seeing Amy’s bruised face for the first time. "Amy-girl," said Jack, as was her pet name for Amy, "what happened?"

Kayla stood next to Sam’s chair, and was silent, as she let the two talk, and yet listened to Amy’s story.

"I… I told my mom and dad that I’m gay. And that you and I are together," added Amy, and cringed when she felt Jack flinch. "I’m sorry, J, I knew I shouldn’t have told! I just wanted to get everything out, and now I’ve gotten you in trouble!" started Amy, but Jack stopped her.

"Hush," said the girl, showing a soft and gentle side that most, upon seeing the tough and muscular young woman, who was currently donning a leather motorcycle jacket to fend off the cold, would not have thought existed. She drew the sobbing woman towards her, and held her in her arms while she soothed her.

"It’s all right. Don’t worry about it, sweetie. What happened?" she asked, softly, taking the brunette’s hands in her own, holding them tightly. Bringing them towards her, she kissed Amy’s knuckles gently, looking her in the eye as she did so, letting her know she cared for her.

Amy took a deep breath, and began her tale…

"Mom, Dad, I need to talk to you both," she said. Sitting on the couch, her mother sat beside her, and her father took a seat in the large recliner.

"What is it, honey?" asked her mother, Linda, her green eyes worried.

"You’re not pregnant, are you?" demanded her father, trying to lighten the tense mood, and yet get his worst fear out of the way at the same time. Relief filled his heart when his daughter shook her head.

"No, daddy," said Amy, sighing, "I’m not pregnant. But there is something I need to tell you." Her mother urged her to go on. "You know how I’ve told you I’ve been seeing Jack, right?"

Her father nodded, his shaggy blonde hair moving into his eyes. He brushed it away and said, "Yes. Has he done something to upset you?"

"No, Jack would never hurt me!" proclaimed Amy. "She cares for me." She looked up to gauge her parents reactions.

Derek, her father, let a small nervous grin come over his face. "You mean he," he said, and Amy shook her head.

"I said what I meant," said Amy. "Daddy, Jack is a girl. I’m gay."

Her mother’s hand flew to her mouth, as tears sprang to her eyes. Without a word, Linda ran out of the room into the kitchen, where her sobs could be heard through the door.

Derek, on the other hand, glared at his daughter. Could it be? His daughter, who had her mother’s brunette hair, her grandfather’s smile, and his own hazel eyes? Could it really be true? No! He wouldn’t let it be!

"You slut," were the first venomous words out of his mouth. Amy looked up at him, surprised and scared at the same time. Her father had never spoken to her in such a way.

"You no good fucking fag! How could you do this to me?! Do you have any idea what people will think? What they’ll say? Or did you even take time to think about how this would effect us, huh? You stupid bitch," he spat. "You’ve ruined our reputation, and all you can do is sit there and cry."

Her family’s reputation was well known and respected, it was true. Her father worked at a John Deere company - he was Vice President, and her mother went to all the ladies’ clubs and social events. The Campbell name was a famous one around town. And now, according to her father, Amy had sent it all down the drain in one sentence.

"This can’t be happening," Derek muttered. Towering over his daughter, he commanded, "I forbid you to see that girl."

Amy got to her feet, looked her father in the eye, and told him, "No."

"What?" asked Derek, a little startled by the stern tone of Amy’s voice.

"I said, no. You won’t stop me from being with Jack," she said, simply.

She didn’t see the blow coming, didn’t expect it. But, boy, did she feel it! The backhand across her face left a throbbing sensation, and not long afterwards, a dark bruise that was painful to the touch.

Amy was stunned. Her father had never beat her. They had had a good relationship; but now she had screwed it all up. Perhaps she shouldn’t have told them.

As the girl sat, frightened, on the couch where she had landed after the force of the blow sent her backwards, Linda reentered the room.

"I disown you," said her father, looking at her as if he couldn’t stand the sight of her, and was disgusted, before he walked out. "Get out of my house."

"Amy," said Linda, and Amy looked to her mother, pleading for help and understanding, "do as your father says. You’re no longer my daughter. You no longer live under this roof. Get out," she ordered, pointing to the door.

When the young woman crept up the stairs to get some of her things, and to pack, she was told that nothing in the house was hers - it would be sold. She’d have to start over with nothing to call her own.

Tears streaming down her cheeks, she had walked out, not knowing where she would go or what she would do. All she knew, was she was alone, and it was her fault…

So ended Amy’s narration, which left tears in her eyes and anger in Jack’s.

"It’s not your fault," insisted Jack, pulling the girl into a strong hug. "Don’t think like that, Amy-girl. I can’t believe your father said those things," she muttered. "You can come stay with me, if you want."

"Oh, but your parents!" exclaimed Amy, worried.

"It’s all right, I was gonna tell them anyhow," said Jack, gently, tucking an errant lock of brown hair behind Amy’s ear. "May as well tell ‘em with you by my side."

Amy smiled through her tears, and nodded. "Okay, if you’re sure you don’t mind. I don’t want to be a burden," she fretted.

"Never," said Jack, forcefully. "I think my parents know, or at least suspect, and I don’t think they’ll have much of a problem with it."

"But, I don’t have anything," protested Amy.

"That doesn’t matter," persisted Jack. "I work, remember?" She smiled - a rare sight when it came to Jack. "We can go shopping later. My mom wants me to pick out a dress for my Aunt’s wedding, anyhow, and you can help," she added, so Amy wouldn’t feel like she was making Jack take an extra trip to the mall.

Amy couldn’t help it, she snickered. "A dress?" she asked, and Jack rolled her eyes.

"Ugh, don’t mention the D word," she moaned, but was glad to see Amy smile. "Kayla," she said, turning to the counselor for the first time, "can I use your phone?" The woman nodded, and Jack picked up the phone, dialing quickly.

"Mom? Hey, it’s me," she said, when the other end was answered.

"Jack? Where are you, honey? You left in such a rush. Is everything okay?" asked her mother, Janet.

"Yeah, Mom. Well, kind of. Listen," she said, deciding to talk to her parents about Amy and Amy’s situation once she could sit them down, "I need to talk to you and Dad. Is he home, or did he leave for work already?" asked the girl.

"No, dear, he’s still here. His boss said he didn’t have to go in until late," added Janet.

"Well, I’m coming home, but I’m bringing Amy with me. We both have something to tell you," added Jack, and saw Amy’s eyes light up with the prospect of being included, and yet she noticed some fear at the upcoming meeting, as well.

"Okay. Drive safely, Jacqueline," said her mother, and the two said their good-byes.

"You ready to go, baby?" asked Jack, and Amy nodded, but then held up a hand.

"Wait," Amy said, and Jack stood, waiting patiently.

Amy walked over to where Sam was seated, and Kayla stood beside her. Giving them both a hug, she said, "Thank you for taking me up on my offer. In a way, I’m glad you didn’t have to fulfill it, but it’s good to know you’re here for me. Take care, Sam. Bye, Kayla," she finished, and she and Jack walked out the door, hand-in-hand.

"Thanks for taking her in," called Jack, as she closed the door behind them.

Kayla just smiled, and grinned to herself. Young love, she thought.

The days passed by quickly, and Amy made sure that Sam and Kayla were kept informed. From what they had been told, Jack’s parents had indeed accepted their daughter’s choice, and were allowing Amy to stay with them as long as she needed or wanted. Jack was thrilled, and she and Amy looked very happy and very much in love at the meeting on Saturday.

The meeting which Sam insisted Kayla attend. The counselor missed her kids, and Sam knew it. After nearly half an hour, Sam was able to convince the woman that she would be fine for a few hours on her own, and that she should go; if for no other reason than to check up on Amy and Jack. That enticed her, and Kayla left Sam alone on Saturday afternoon, albeit reluctantly.

Monday came and went, during which Sam was relieved of her crutches. The doctors were amazed at how quickly she was healing.

"Well, Blue, I see you’re on your own two feet, again," said Nancy, peeking in for a few moments when she heard Samantha Martin was a patient, again.

"Yep," stated the rancher, happily.

"There’s a young lady asking about you in the waiting room," said the nurse. "I think she wants to see you."

"Is she cute?" asked Sam, a twinkle in her eye.

"Sure is, "affirmed Nancy, and laughed when Sam shot out the door.

Back at home, since Sam was now able to get around on her own, the rancher was kept busy. When she wasn’t working with Venus or the other horses, she was fixing something around the house. When she wasn’t doing that, Mrs. Collins called with something for her to do. She was busy - but she loved it. It meant she was healthy.

"Where are you going tonight?" asked Kayla, not even trying to keep the hurt from her voice this time. It was Thursday night, and for the past four nights in a row, Sam had been staying out late, due to one thing or another that needed fixing.

"I’m sorry, baby," said Sam, giving Kayla a quick kiss as she turned and slipped her coat on. "You know I’d much rather be here with you, but I have to finish up Mrs. Collins’ plumbing."

"You said it would only take you two days," protested Kayla. "It’s been four."

Sam sighed. "I know, and I’m sorry, but I have to get this done. I’ll be back as soon as I can, all right?" Kayla nodded, and Sam rushed out the door, leaving a dejected counselor to watch her go.

With the rancher gone, Kayla set to work on her poetry. She hadn’t written in a while, since Sam’s injury she’d been too busy, but it had been nearly two weeks since then, so she decided to try. Sitting down on the couch in the den, she made sure the fire was set for a few hours, before settling down with her pen and paper.

Three hours and five poems later - she’d had inspiration - Kayla glanced up at the clock, only to see it turn nine o’clock. Realizing by the crick in her neck that it was time for a break, she got up, stretched her legs, and walked into the living room.

Flipping on the TV, she listened absently for a few minutes to the depressing stories that the reporters had to tell. When the weather came on, however, she perked up.

Snow for the next few days, and maybe even a bad storm by Monday, thought Kayla. Winter sure is hitting us late. Here it is, December 8th, and we’re just now getting the bad snow storms. It’s gonna be a long snow season, she sighed.

That was just lovely. Kayla hated storms, especially ones that made a lot of noise, like thunder storms. But the worst, for her, were snow storms. Once, when she was a child, she had gotten lost in a blizzard. While she was found a few hours later, she had nearly lost a few fingers of her right hand. That was enough to carry the fear of storms through her childhood and into her adult life.

Suddenly, the idea of being alone in Sam’s house without Sam during a storm was very frightening. Although there was no storm in the forecast for that night, the chance was still there - that’s all Kayla needed. Picking up the phone, she dialed the number of Mrs. Collins.

"Hello?" answered the elderly woman.

"Hi, Mrs. Collins. This is Kayla," said the counselor, as calmly as she could.

"Well, hello, dear. How are you doing?" asked Edna Collins, kindly.

"I’m all right, thank you. Is Sam there?" she asked, wondering if, by miracles of miracles, Sam might already be on her way back.

"Sam? Why, no, dear," responded Mrs. Collins, sounding surprised. "I haven’t seen her since… oh, let’s see… Monday. Yes, Monday was the last time I saw her, when she fixed that awful plumbing leak. Oh, she’s such a dear!" exclaimed Mrs. Collins, and was going to continue with her praises of the woman, but Kayla cut her off.

"Monday? Are you sure, Mrs. Collins?"

"Yes, dear, I’m positive. Are you sure you’re all right?" questioned the woman, hearing the tremble in Kayla’s voice.

"Yes, thank you. Take care, Mrs. Collins. Good-bye," said Kayla.

"Good-bye, Kayla, dear," replied Edna, and hung up. Kayla let the phone linger against her ear for a while longer, before she dropped it on it’s base in a daze.

Sam hadn’t been to Mrs. Collins’ for three days? Then, where had she been? And why had she lied? What was going on? Was she seeing someone else? There were times Kayla had thought she smelled men’s cologne on Sam’s clothing, but she couldn’t be sure. Suddenly, she was positive.

The counselor was hurt, but she decided not to confront Sam just yet. She would see if the behavior continued. Then, once she was sure, then she would trap the rancher in her lie.

Half an hour later, Kayla heard Sam’s garage door open, and heard her pull her truck inside. She always put in under the shelter when it snowed.

"Did you finish with Mrs. Collins’ plumbing?" asked Kayla, as soon as the rancher entered the house, as if nothing was wrong.

There was a slight pause, after which Sam said, "Yeah. Yeah, I’m all done. Why didn’t you go on to bed? You didn’t have to wait up," she said.

Kayla shrugged. "I just wanted to make sure you were okay," she said. Sam smiled and went to her side, giving her a hug. The counselor involuntarily flinched, there was cologne on Sam’s shirt, she was sure of it! If the rancher noticed her reaction, she didn’t say anything.

"Well, thank you," said Sam, giving her a quick kiss. "I’m gonna go change, but you can go ahead and get in bed, all right?" At Kayla’s nod, Sam left to find a pair of sweats to sleep in, while the counselor climbed under the covers. When the rancher joined her a few minutes later, she feigned sleep.

Sam frowned, knowing it was unusual for the woman to go right to sleep, rather than stay up and talk a little. Shrugging it off, she gave the woman a soft kiss on her temple, before rolling over onto her back and falling into a dreamless sleep.

For the next few nights, since Sam’s excuse of fixing Mrs. Collins’ plumbing problem was void, Sam claimed that the woman’s heater needed repairs. Still wanting to trust the rancher, Kayla called Mrs. Collins again, on the first night Sam went out with the new alibi, hoping against hope that Sam would be there, working on the heater as she’d said.

But no, Mrs. Collins informed the young woman that not only was her heater working perfectly, Sam had not spoken to her in many days. Kayla thanked her for her patience, hung up the phone, and cried.

Three days passed, or nights, rather, and Kayla let the rancher get away with whatever it was she was hiding. Each night, she came home later and later. The first night, she was gone for only two hours, returning at eight o’clock. The next night, she was gone four hours, until nine. The following night, she was out for nearly six hours, and did not climb into bed until past midnight.

On the next night, Tuesday, as it was, Sam said she needed to go grocery shopping. And it was true, the two were low on food and other supplies.

"When will you be back?" asked Kayla, and Sam shrugged, giving her a nonsense answer. "What?" demanded the counselor.

Sam sighed. "I don’t know. It’s, what, six now? I should be back by eight," she guessed, giving herself two hours to finish what she needed. "Don’t wait for me, though. You can eat dinner whenever you’re ready."

"Be careful," said Kayla, and she meant it. Hurt as she was, she still cared for the woman. "The snow storm is supposed to be bad tonight. You know I hate them," she added, and Sam nodded, giving her a strong hug.

"I know, Kay. I’ll be back, soon, okay? Don’t be afraid," she said. Glancing at her watch, she hurried out the door, as if she was late.

Yeah, scoffed Kayla, once the woman was gone, she’s afraid the grocery store will be empty by the time she gets there.

While Sam was gone, Kayla went through all the possibilities in her head, wondering where Sam was really going.

Maybe she is seeing someone else, Kayla thought, as she argued with herself.

No, would Sam really do such a thing?

I don’t know anymore. She’s been lying, and staying out until midnight, and then rushing out the door so fast… it’s like she’s late for an appointment… or a date…

The idea struck her hard. What if Sam really was cheating on her? What would she do? Perhaps more importantly, what had she done to cause the rancher to run to someone else? And could she fix it? Would this end their relationship, their love?

She found that she didn’t like any of the answers she came up with. Surrendering the rest of the evening to tears, Kayla cried herself to sleep, and then woke up a few hours later, hungry.

The counselor merely picked at her food, before pushing her plate away. She was too angry, hurt, and sad to eat. Looking at the clock, she saw it was already eight-forty-five. Sam was late. She wondered how much longer it would be before the rancher returned.

Doing dishes, she tried to keep herself occupied, but it only worked for a little while. Even then, she wasn’t able to get the depressing thoughts out of her head. Sam didn’t love her. Sam had found someone else more worthy of her love.

These thoughts and more invaded the counselor’s mind, nearly making her sick. Having nothing else better to do, she watched Xena movies until she knew the lines to ‘Sins of the Past’ by heart. The Warrior Princess did not improve her mood, however, due to the striking resemblance she bore to Sam.

Just as the credits rolled for the umpteenth time, Kayla heard the truck pull in.

Time to get this over with, she thought. Remember, Kayla, you’ve got to act as if you were worried, and everything’s okay. Then you can spring it on her.

"Where were you?" demanded Kayla, when Sam walked through the door at eleven-thirty. "I was worried sick!"

"Sorry," the rancher mumbled. It had been a long night; things hadn’t gone as she would have liked, she had a headache, and now Kayla was mad.

What a night, she sighed.

"Sorry? You could have called, Sam," said Kayla, her voice a little softer. You said you’d be back by eight. It’s almost midnight. It does not take five fucking hours to go grocery shopping!" she said, the anger returning. "And where are the Goddamn groceries?"

"Kay, can we talk about this later?" asked Sam, after recovering from Kayla’s surprising use of language. Oh yeah, the girl was mad. No, mad wasn’t a strong enough word… Livid was more like it.

The rancher had a killer headache and a fight wouldn’t help.

But Kayla was upset. Her imagination had been tugging at her heart, and the things it had come up with were not pretty.

"So you can think up an alibi? I don’t think so," said Kayla. "I know you haven’t been to Mrs. Collins’ house in over a week, so you lied to me. Where did you really go, Sam? Talk," she ordered.

"I can’t tell you where I was," admitted Sam, wearily. She really didn’t want to have this conversation when she felt so lousy, but Kayla was hell-bent on discussing her whereabouts.

Kayla’s heart did a flip-flop. "Why?" she shouted. "Tell me, Sam. I want to know," she added, quieter.

Sam shook her head, and started walking to her bedroom, so she could at least lie down while she got her butt chewed, but Kayla blocked her path. "I can’t, Kay," insisted the rancher. She wasn’t sure if she was referring to telling Kayla where she had been, or remaining upright, as the pain in her head was so bad.

"You didn’t run around on Ross, did you?" asked Kayla, and then her eyes widened when she realized what she had said. The question had just slipped out.

To Hell with acting like nothing is wrong, thought the counselor, bitterly. I’m coming out swinging!

Sam’s eyes hardened, and she stood a little straighter. "Never," she said, firmly. "But I think I’ve figured out why Hank drinks," she quipped. Kayla was angry and in a fighting mood, Sam felt terrible; both were rather edgy.

"Just answer me, Sam. Where were you?" demanded the counselor.

"I can’t tell you," repeated Sam, tiredly. She really didn’t want to get in a fight, but if her headache didn’t die down, she was afraid it would cloud her thoughts, and she wouldn’t realize what she said until after she said it. It was readily approaching that point.

"Why? Why can’t you tell me?" asked Kayla, nearly shouting.

"Because I can’t, Kayla. Just trust me on this," pleaded the rancher.

"Trust you? Trust you??" repeated Kayla, hotly. "How in the Hell am I supposed to trust you, huh? When you go out at night, stay out late, and then come home, smelling like men’s cologne," here Sam flinched, and it did not go unnoticed by Kayla, who narrowed her eyes at the rancher.

"Then you lie to me about where you’ve been, or refuse to tell me at all! How am I supposed to trust you when you act like that?" she screamed, and stepped towards the rancher, glaring at her, ignoring the fact that the pain in the woman’s blue eyes intensified when she shouted.

"Stop it!" shouted Sam, yelling right back. "I do not have to check in with you everywhere I go!"

"Why should you? It’s a lie anyway," quarreled Kayla.

Sam knew when her headache went from the tolerable point to the torturous, unbearable, excruciating point. It was right then - that moment. Her mind switched off, and she no longer had control over what she said. All she was aware of was the pounding in her head.

"This is getting nowhere," she said. "If you believe I tell you nothing but lies, why does it do me any good to stand here and yell at you? We’re acting like a bitter old married couple. I never fought like this with Ross," she mumbled, but Kayla caught it.

"Oh? Well, maybe it’s because he didn’t care enough to ask. Maybe he let you slide in late at night without asking any questions," she said, although she knew it was not true. Sam would never have cheated on her husband.

"Hank always asked, he always wanted to know where I was. At least I have a husband," said Kayla, coldly. She wasn’t sure where that one came from, either. All she knew was that it was their first fight, and it was a doozy.

"That’s right," said Sam, her voice suddenly twenty degrees below zero. That remark had hit home, and it stung. "My husband and son are dead. But I had a son. You’re still a child," snarled Sam, knowing she was hurting Kayla, but she felt unable to stop herself. "I don’t know what I saw in such a child!"

You don’t make a stab at my late husband and baby boy and expect to get away with it, thought Sam, angrily. If she had any amount of restraint left, it flew out the window.

"Tell me, little girl, do you go whining to Mommy when something goes wrong? I don’t know what I ever saw in you! I don’t know why I let you stay here, why I put up with you!

"Are you going to cry to Mommy about our fight? Will she love you and make everything okay? You can’t understand love until you’ve had a child. How can you say you love me when you’ve never really experienced it?" she finished, and watched as Kayla’s eyes filled with tears and her lip quivered in anger.

"I can’t have children," she spat, and then stalked off to her room, slamming the door behind her.

Sam stood where she was, shocked out of her pain-induced stupor. Her headache had made her so damn irritable that she had hurt Kayla - horribly. Sure, Kayla hadn’t been exactly kind, but she had reason to be upset. Sam had to admit, her actions over the last week or so had been suspicious. But she couldn’t tell Kayla about it, not yet.

With the headache aside, her words came flooding back to her.

They had gotten into a fight; one hell of a quarrel. The insults and remarks had been mean, but none so harsh as Sam’s last one. She had called Kayla a child, something she knew bothered the woman, due to her height as well as their difference in ages. Telling her she didn’t know what she ever saw in the counselor? Sam nearly collapsed from the weight of realizing that she had said such a thing to the woman she loved.

But there was more her mind was telling her she had said - it just got worse. To say the counselor didn’t know love until she had a child of her own - that was worse; albeit Sam didn’t know Kayla was unable to have children, she still felt terrible. Now the woman would feel like she would never experience love!

The pain in Sam’s head was now overcome by the searing pain in her heart.

Trudging off to bed, she crawled under the covers, and slept; trying desperately to block out the sound of Kayla’s tears as the counselor sobbed into her pillow, and to keep from crying herself, at the thought that Kayla was hurt because of her. But her heart felt the pain, and her heart wept.

Morning. Sam wasn’t sure if it came too soon or not soon enough. All she knew was her headache was gone, she felt horrible about the night before, and she would try to make it up to Kayla. Stepping out of bed, she saw it was only seven o’clock. Slipping a white T-shirt over her head, and pulling on a pair of dark blue jeans, she didn’t bother with shoes just yet.

Padding softly down the hall to Kayla’s room, Sam prayed she wouldn’t find the woman packing - or worse, already gone. To her relief, Kayla was still in bed, snoring softly. Deciding that cooking Kayla breakfast was a good way to start her groveling, she headed off to the kitchen, a banquet in mind.

Sam was just finishing with the scrambled eggs when she heard the door to Kayla’s room open. The rancher had toast, bacon, pancakes, and hash browns all set out on the table, complete with butter, jelly, salt, pepper, and the eggs were on their way. Kayla walked right past her.

"Kay," she called, as if it wasn’t obvious, "I made breakfast!" Kayla said nothing, she just headed out the door. Sam ran after her, only to turn back and take the eggs off the stove and turn off the burner before continuing outside.

The woman was petting Silverbow gently on her velvet nose.

Trying to find comfort in the horses, no doubt, since she can’t turn to me, thought the rancher, sadly.

Sam came up beside her, and Kayla entered the corral. Each time Sam got close enough to touch her, Kayla went in the other direction. After feeding the horses, Kayla went back inside, all without a word to Sam. But the looks Sam was receiving were enough to send daggers: Kayla was thoroughly ticked, and very hurt.

Sam felt bad enough without getting the silent treatment. Sighing, she went back in the house, and found Kayla sitting at the kitchen table eating breakfast. When Sam touched the back of the chair opposite Kayla, to pull it out and sit down, Kayla rose from her seat.

"All right," said Sam, stepping out of the room. "You eat, I’ll stay out," she said. Kayla still said nothing, but sat back down in silence.

Sam kept her word, and only entered the kitchen to clear the table, which caused Kayla to go off into the living room. The rancher finished whith the dishes, and then decided it would be best if she left Kayla alone for a while. Picking up the Dean Koontz novel she had laid on the small table, Sam sat in her chair, and opened the book.

And she turned the pages; but she couldn’t read. Her thoughts were too jumbled for her to focus on the words. Shutting the book, she put her head in her hands, and sighed. She knew she’d be miserable until Kayla forgave her, if she forgave her. But she couldn’t even beg, since Kayla would have absolutely nothing to do with her, apologies or otherwise.

Standing, she walked to the edge of the living room. "I’m going to ride for a while," she said. "I should be back in a few hours." Kayla said nothing, so Sam walked out the door, and whistled. Venus approached the gate of the corral obediently.

While the stitches from her encounter with the mountain lion had yet to be taken out, Bill had assured her that Venus was able to go for a ride without tearing her sutures or injuring herself.

The rancher swung the saddle across the horse’s back, and tightened the cinches, before fixing the bridle and mounting. Nudging the horse, and clicking her tongue, Sam enjoyed the freedom as she rode across the land at a full gallop, dust trailing behind her as she gave the horse her head, and let her lead.

Sam pushed the mare to go as fast as she could for a full hour. Then, sensing that Venus was tiring, she pulled her up to a walk, not wanting to wear the mare out on her first real ride since the accident.

Looking around, Sam realized she was near the waterfall, and dismounted. She sat down next to the creek to think, and tried to let the soothing sounds of the gentle nature around her clear her mind.

After half an hour of sitting and thinking about how bad she messed up, how miserable she’d be without the blonde counselor in her life, and how hard it would be to fix her mistake if Kayla wouldn’t talk to her or listen to her, it came to her. The answer; the way to get her apologies through to Kayla!

The only thing was, it meant going behind Kayla’s back, doing exactly what had gotten her in trouble. If it worked, she was sure Kayla would forgive her. If it didn’t… well, she preferred not to think about it…

Continued in Part 5…

(I know, I know, bad place to stop, huh?)

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