~ Taken ~

Part Five (Conclusion)

by: C. E. Gray

Disclaimer: Please see Part One for various disclaimers. This story is mine, the characters are mine, the plot is mine… mine, mine, mine! <grin> So, don’t borrow them without my permission. Thanks!

The songs used are: Love is Stronger Than Pride by Ricochet and What I Meant to Say by Wade Hayes. No copyright infringement is intended, they’re just very lovely songs that fit the purpose.

Oh, and the poem is copyrighted by me, folks. Sorry.

One more thing: the affections get a little more descriptive, but they still leave some to the imagination. (Yeah, yeah, I know - darn).

A quick note of thanks to those who have taken the time to send me their comments. It is greatly appreciated - the best thing an author can have is feedback.

Any and all comments are welcome at: Y02Mustang@AOL.com

Here’s the story:


Her plan all figured out in her head, Sam whistled again. Venus wandered over to her from the stream where she had been resting, and Sam mounted. Riding at a comfortable trot, Sam arrived back at the Ranch two hours later, at about one in the afternoon.

Removing Venus’ tack, she brushed the horse’s slick coat and made sure her sutures were tight and clear of infection, before entering the house. She heard the shower water running, and deduced that Kayla was getting ready for work. Although it was a little early, Sam’s sinking heart told her Kayla would probably leave as soon as she could.

Picking up the phone in the kitchen, she noticed that there were dishes that had been set out to dry on the counter. Apparently, Kayla had eaten lunch while she was gone. Turning her attention back to the phone, she dialed seven digits, and prayed her plan would go through as she hoped.


When she was out of the shower, Kayla got ready to leave for work. She took her time, however, since she usually didn’t leave until five-thirty, and it was only two o’clock. Then again, she normally didn’t want to leave Sam, and it was odd that she avoided her altogether.

And that had been a little hard on Kayla, having to give Sam the silent treatment. But it became easier each time she thought of what Sam had said to her the night before.

You can’t understand love until you’ve had a child. The words kept ringing in her ears. That phrase hurt her in two ways; one, she was not able to have children, her body just refused to carry the fetus after the first two months; and two, it felt that Sam was doubting their love. The idea that Sam could think she didn’t love her, and vice versa - that hurt.

What was worse was when Sam had said I don’t know what I ever saw in you! That had gone straight to the counselor’s heart. And that was enough to remind her of her anger.

She’d be leaving quite early, but maybe she could stop somewhere to kill time… Or maybe she could just bring her writing portfolio with her to the Community Center and work on her prose as she waited for the kids to arrive. Yes, that’s what she would do.

Once she was dressed, had her hair brushed - as well as she could for the short cut she was sporting, and made sure her room was spotless, the counselor walked out the door - without a jacket. The coat she wore was Sam’s, and getting that would mean being surrounded by the scent of the rancher, something the counselor didn’t need at the moment.

Climbing into her Blazer, portfolio in hand, she drove down the road, only to pull over five minutes later. Safely on the shoulder of the road, Kayla sobbed to herself as the cars whizzed by.


Sam, on the other hand, was busy setting her plan into motion. Hanging up the phone, after a twenty minute conversation, she checked the clock. It was almost three, and she had to leave by four. That gave her half an hour of spare time, giving herself thirty minutes to get ready to go.

Walking out to the horses, the woman fed them early, and then groomed them all. As often occurred when Sam was with her horses, she lost track of time. When Thunder’s coat was shining, she put the brush away, and happened to glance down at her watch: it was three-fifty-four!

Rushing in the house, Sam jumped in the shower to rinse the smell of horse, dust, and hay from her body. Then, she pulled on a clean pair of jeans and a T-shirt, and reached for her jacket. Surprisingly, her heavy Police jacket was still hanging in her closet.

Kayla didn’t take a jacket, Sam realized. She walked outside, in the snow, with nothing but a T-shirt, and it’s all because of me. She didn’t take my jacket because she’s angry with me, and doesn’t want to have a reminder of me.

Sighing heavily, Sam grabbed both her denim jacket and her Police jacket from their hangers. Putting the jeans jacket on over her shirt, she carried the black one in her arms, and headed out the door just as the clock changed its display to read 4:03.

Driving as quickly and yet as safely as she was able to on the snow-covered road, Sam pulled in the Community Center’s parking lot forty-five minutes later.

Shit, shit, shit! Sam cursed herself. I’m late. I can’t be late!

Pushing a button, she turned on her cell phone, and punched in seven numbers as fast as she could. Five agonizingly long rings later, someone picked up. "This is Samantha Martin, I called earlier. Go ahead," she said.

"We already started, Ms. Martin. You said 4:45," reminded the woman.

"All right. Thanks," said the rancher, and hung up. Barely remembering to lock her truck, the woman rushed into the building and, ignoring the strange look Jo was giving her, continued down the hall. When she came to the third door, she strolled quickly by, doing a quick inventory of who was there. Then, she slipped around the corner and into the restroom.

Kayla jumped when the phone rang. She had been listening to Dawn talk about how her ex-girlfriend was hinting that she wanted to get back together, and all the girls were interested.

Only the women were at the meeting - Peter had called Rachel and told her to let Kayla know he was sick with the flu. Kayla assumed it was some sort of intuition that all four girls were there, since it was not even five o’clock yet.

Frowning, and wondering who was calling, Kayla picked up the phone and said, "Hello?"

"Is Amy there?" asked the voice.

"Yes, may I ask who’s calling?" asked Kayla, hoping nothing was wrong. The voice sounded vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t place it - it was too deep to be Sam, and the rancher had no reason to call, anyway.

"Amy," the caller demanded, refusing to give their name.

"Amy, it’s for you," said Kayla, shrugging, handing the girl the cordless that sat on the corner of her desk.

"Hello?" asked the girl, wondering who would call her at Kayla’s office.

"Amy, it’s Sam," said the rancher, revealing her identity to the young woman, sounding anxious. "Take this outside."

"Okay," she said, and walked out the door, shutting it behind her. "Hey, what’s going on with you and Kayla?" she asked. "She’s really upset."

"I know," sighed Sam, feeling even worse. "We had a fight, and I said some things I didn’t mean, but they were really bad, and she won’t talk to me. I need you to do something for me, Amy," said Sam.

"Name it," said Amy, knowing it had to be really important since Sam was not known to ask for help.

"Kay has a radio in there, right?" asked Sam, praying her plan wouldn’t backfire when she was so close.

"Yeah," said the young woman, not sure why it mattered.

"Can you turn it on for me? Station 97.3," she added.

"Sure, that’s the station it’s on anyway," said Amy.

"And Amy?" called Sam, before the girl could hang up. "Crank it."

Amy grinned. "Okay," she said, and hung up. Walking back into the room, Kayla asked her if everything was okay. "Yeah," she replied, turning on the radio. It gained volume, and Amy sat back down next to Jack, taking her hand as the elder girl gave her a quizzical look. Amy just smiled.

"… a little unusual, Bob," said a DJ, his deep voice fading in. "We normally don’t do dedications this early, but this was a very special request. This is from Sam, and it’s going out to McKayla. Sam says she sorry, and wants McKayla to listen to the lyrics."

"Man, Sam must have really screwed up to play this one," said Bob.

"Well, let’s hope this works. Best of luck to you, Sam. Here’s Love is Stronger Than Pride by Ricochet," said Jim, the second DJ, and the music started.

Kayla frowned a little, and turned away from the radio, as if that would stop the music. She was determined not to let a simple dedication get to her, even though no one had ever done that for her before… Shaking her head, she focused on keeping her heart hard.

I saw your Mama and she said don’t call you

Talked to your best friend and she said no need to

But I had to tell you

I hate how I hurt you

And now I know how bad I hurt me, too

She wouldn’t let it get to her, she wouldn’t! Just because it was a sweet song, and Sam was obviously trying to make up for the things she had said, didn’t mean she was going to forgive her. Not after the horrible words that kept echoing in Kayla’s head.

If I gotta get down on my knees tonight I’ll do it

If you wanna see me cry, baby, let’s get to it

If I gotta beg and plead

To make you see

I need you in my life

Well, love is stronger than pride

I got no right to ask you to forgive me

You’ve got that right, thought Kayla, wryly.

But I’ve got no choice, ‘cause it’s about to kill me

Well I’ve been headstrong

And I was dead wrong

And one minute more without you is just too long

Kayla sniffled, but held back tears. Slowly, she turned her chair back around and faced the radio. The lyrics were pretty strong, she had to admit…

If I gotta get down on my knees tonight I’ll do it

If you wanna see me cry, baby, let’s get to it

If I gotta beg and plead

To make you see

I need you in my life

Well, love is stronger than pride

If I gotta beg and plead

To make you see

I need you in my life

Love is stronger than pride

Oh, if I gotta beg and plead

To make you see

I need you in my life

Love is stronger

My love is stronger

Love is stronger than pride

By the end of the song, everyone in the room had tears in their eyes. They were all staring at the radio, so none of them heard Sam slip into the room. The DJs began talking amongst themselves, wondering aloud if they had just gotten a request from the woman who was on the news, so Amy got up and shut if off before anything more could be said.

Coming up next to Kayla’s desk, Sam said, near tears herself, "I’m sorry, Kay." Kayla spun around, and threw herself into Sam’s waiting arms, tears streaming down her face.

"I’m sorry, baby. So sorry. I love you," the rancher whispered.

"I love you, too," sobbed Kayla. Amy started clapping, and soon all the girls were applauding as the couple embraced. After the applause died down, Sam pulled away from the hug only to lean down and place a soft kiss on the counselor’s lips.

The rancher then hugged the woman again, so glad to have her in her arms once more, and Melissa stormed in the door, eyes blazing.

Sam stepped in front of her, and said, "Hey, Melissa," offering her a hand.

The red-head surprised the rancher by shoving her roughly. Stumbling, the tall woman managed to keep her balance, and glared at the ex-banker for a moment, before straightening when she realized what it was all about.

"You hurt her," stated the woman, holding out her hand, as if waiting for Sam to give her something.

Reaching behind her, Sam withdrew her gun from it’s holster. Since the incident with Kyle, and the TRO by Hank, the rancher never went anywhere without it’s protection. Flipping the safety off, she handed it - handle first - over to Melissa.

"You’re right, I did. Horribly," added Sam, and watched as Melissa’s eyes filled with disbelief. She hadn’t actually been expecting Sam to carry a gun, much less give it to her, loaded.

"What’s going on here?" demanded Kayla, taking Sam’s hand in her own, interlacing their fingers. Sam felt her heart skip a beat.

"Sam said that if she ever hurt you she’d hand me her own gun," voiced Melissa, dumbfounded, staring at the weapon now in her possession. "She did."

Kayla sighed. "Sam, take it back," she said, and the rancher replaced the gun in her holster. "Melissa, it’s okay. Sam’s apologized for the things she said."

The tall woman winced when she realized Kayla said ‘Sam’s apologized’, not ‘I’ve forgiven her’.

"Listen," said Jack, stepping in between the still angry red-head and the rancher, "I think you two should head on home. It sounds like you’ve got a lot to talk about. Kayla, we’ll be all right. If any of us need anything, we’ll call, okay? Now go," she insisted, giving the woman Melissa - whoever she was - a hard glare that told her not to interfere. The women, who had quickly become her best friends, needed time to work out their problems.

"Yeah," said Melissa, agreeing with the girl who could easily pass for a teenage Sam, "she’s right. Go on."

Unlatching their hands, Kayla led the way, with a heartbroken Sam following close behind. Sam knew that Kayla had only taken her hand to keep Melissa from hurting her, but that didn’t mean it was any easier on her when the counselor turned from her.

Kayla shivered in the cold air, and Sam practically leapt to her truck and retrieved the jacket. Handing it to Kayla, she winced when the woman shrugged it off.

This is gonna be harder than I thought, sighed the rancher, as she climbed in her truck. The drive home was spent in silence, Sam not knowing what to say, and Kayla still giving her the silent treatment. The counselor’s armor had a dent in it, and had suffered a momentary collapse after the song, but, unfortunately for Sam, it was back full strength.

As soon as the rancher put the Ford in park, Kayla climbed out and went into the house through the garage, since that was where Sam kept her truck when it snowed.

The rancher hurried to catch up to the blonde, who turned down the hallway, and commenced her trek to her room.

"Kayla, wait," called Sam. "Can I talk to you?" The woman kept walking. Sam caught up to her in two long strides, took her by the arm, and spun her around roughly to face her. For a moment, Kayla looked frightened, and Sam forced herself to be a little more gentle, but did not release her hold.

"Kayla, listen to me!" said Sam, not meaning to shout.

"Why?!" demanded Kayla, ripping her arm from the rancher’s grasp, green eyes blazing with pain and anger. "You said yourself you don’t know why you let me stay, so I’m leaving!" That clarified, the counselor stormed down the hallway and into her room, slamming the door behind her.

Sam was numb. She couldn’t believe what she’d just heard. Kayla was leaving? Kayla was going to leave her and it was all her fault!

"Kay, please," said the woman, knocking softly on the door.

"Go away!" said Kayla, and Sam’s heart broke as she clearly heard tears in the woman’s voice.

"Kayla, I need to talk to you," said the rancher. "Look, you don’t have to say anything, just hear me out, okay?" No response.

Well, at least she’s gonna let me speak. I don’t know if she’ll listen, but it’s worth a shot, thought the rancher.

"Kayla, all those things I said, I didn’t mean them, really I didn’t," began the tall woman. "I was just angry, and I had a migraine, so I wasn’t thinking straight. I know it’s no excuse, but I didn’t know what I was saying. I don’t want you to leave, please don’t go. I’m sorry, Kay," said Sam, taking a deep breath.

Nothing. Kayla had no response.

Closing her eyes, Sam sung from her heart…

Last night I told a lie

When I told you I could say goodbye

Here in the light of day

What a crazy thing for me to say

Sam still couldn’t believe that she had been so cruel as to say those horrible, hurtful things to the woman she loved. She had to make up for it somehow, she couldn’t stand losing her.

What I meant to say was I love you

What's been killin' me is I hurt you

What I didn't do was hold you when I saw the teardrops fall

What I should've said was I'm sorry

What I should've said was forgive me

What I meant to say was what I didn't say at all

Last night I had a dream

You were really walking out on me

I woke up scared to death

Please forget about the things I said

While the woman hadn’t had a dream the night before, her heart felt that Kayla was going to leave her then - and that was just as bad. The song was right - she was scared to death of losing the woman she loved.

What I meant to say was I love you

What's been killin' me is I hurt you

What I didn't do was hold you when I saw the teardrops fall

What I should've said was I'm sorry

What I should've said was forgive me

What I meant to say was what I didn't say at all

What I meant to say was what I didn't say at all

"Kayla, baby?" Sam asked, tentatively, wondering if the song had worked in the slightest.

"That was beautiful," murmured the counselor.

"Can I come in?" asked the rancher, softly. She needed to apologize, and it would be easier if she could beg in person.

"No," replied Kayla, sternly. "Just because you sing wonderfully doesn’t mean I’ve forgiven you."

Sam sighed, and flinched when she heard the snap of locks on a suitcase - Kayla was really packing!

"Kay, please, talk to me," she pleaded.

"I have nothing to say to you, Samantha," said Kayla, coldly, and swore for a moment she could hear the rancher’s heart breaking.

"Then will you at least listen to me?"

"I thought I already did that," uttered the counselor.

"You did, but I have more to say. Please, Kay?" begged Sam, actually dropping to her knees even though Kayla couldn’t see her.

"Fine," acknowledged Kayla, briskly.

"Kayla, I know you’re packing, I can hear you," said the rancher. She decided she would tell Kayla exactly how she was feeling - no use in holding back. "Baby, I wish you could realize how much I love you. You don’t know how much it kills me to know that I caused you pain. But, what’s worse, is I don’t know how to make it better.

"I don’t want to lose you, Kayla. I was out of my mind when I told you to leave, please believe me. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to keep you here with me. I love you with all my heart. Please, Kay, I need you in my life. I don’t want to live without you. I don’t know if I can," finished the woman, her voice a bare whisper as she lowered her head and felt warm tears run down her face.

There was silence that seemed to last forever. Sam thought for sure that Kayla was going to ignore her, and the tears flowed harder when she realized that she stood to lose the thing she loved most in all her life - and found she couldn’t bear the thought.

Finally, there was a voice from within, that said, softly, "Sam."

Sam’s head went up, and she asked, weakly, "Can I come in?" afraid of rejection.

"Yeah," was the whispered reply.

The rancher got shakily to her feet, and opened the door. Entering the room, she saw Kayla sitting on the bed, and went to her, carefully. Dropping to her knees in front of the woman, the rancher laid her head in the counselor’s lap, wrapped her arms around the blonde’s waist, and sobbed.

"I’m sorry. I am so, so sorry," she muttered, over and over again. Kayla did nothing, but Sam was thrilled that she allowed the contact.

Suddenly, Kayla asked, "Are you cheating on me?"

Sam lifted her head, looked into the sad green eyes that she had come so close to losing, and said, firmly, "No."

"Why did you say those awful things? Do you want me to go?"

"No!" cried Sam, quickly. "No, please, Kay. Oh, God, please say you’ll stay. Don’t leave me. I can’t stand the thought of losing you. Please, don’t leave me alone," begged the rancher, her words a flood of emotion as they began to slur together in her panic.

"I won’t," voiced Kayla, quietly. "Why did you say those things?" she repeated.

"I don’t know," said Sam, "but I’ll regret it for the rest of my life."


"Kay, I almost lost you! I can’t bear the thought of being without you," admitted Sam. "I am really sorry, Kayla. Can you ever forgive me?"

The counselor ignored the question for a moment. "Sam, can you tell me where you went?" she asked, and the rancher shook her head, slowly.

"No," she said, her throat suddenly dry, "I can’t. But, I swear to you, I would never cheat on you. Just trust… believe me on this one, please? It’s just something I need to do, and I promise you’ll find out soon enough," said the rancher.

"I know how bad I hurt you, and I hate myself for it. I’ll never forgive myself for the things I said, so I don’t know why I keep expecting you to," muttered the shattered woman.

The words that Sam had spoken outside her door filled her heart, and Kayla said, "Forgiven." Sam grinned with relief, and pulled the woman to her, so glad to have her in her arms again, she didn’t ever want to let go.

"Thank you. Thank you, baby. I never meant to hurt you," said the rancher, tears still streaming down her face, this time a mixture of joy and sorrow.

"I know," said Kayla, smoothing Sam’s jet black hair back from her face as she cradled her head in her lap. "I know you didn’t."

"So… we’re okay?" asked Sam, cautiously.

Kayla shook her head. "No, not yet. But we will be," she assured, when she saw Sam’s composure crumble once more. "It’ll take some time, but we’ll be okay."

"God, I love you so much," said Sam, squeezing her tightly.

"I love you, too," replied the counselor. "Thank you," she added, and Sam looked up at her, questioningly. "That dedication was really sweet, and so was the song you sung for me."

"I meant every word of both of them," she said, seriously. "I’ll do anything to make us okay, baby, and I am so sorry for the things I said."

"You want to help me unpack?" asked Kayla, and Sam smiled.

"Kay, can I ask you something?" asked the rancher, stopping the counselor in her tracks.

"Sure," she shrugged.

"You don’t have to answer if you don’t want, it’s just been bothering me for a while," began the rancher, and Kayla was instantly on edge. "Why… why can’t you have children?" she asked, softly.

"I’m not sure," replied Kayla. "My body just won’t carry the fetus past two months. I know, believe me, I’ve tried," she said. "I’ve miscarried three times."

"God, I had no idea," said Sam, gently. "I’m sorry."

"I think that’s another reason Hank didn’t love me," muttered Kayla, and Sam gave her a quick hug.

"It’s not your fault. I’m sorry I brought it up," said the rancher.

Kayla smiled, and tried to shake the depressing mood. "Are you gonna help me with these things or not?" she asked, motioning to the packed clothes.


The next afternoon, after a banquet of a breakfast, Sam announced that she was going shopping. Since she had never actually gone before, they were low on food, and a trip to the grocery was necessary.

"Really, Kay, I have to go. You can go with me, if you want," she added, softly, giving the woman a chance to follow up on her and make sure she kept her word about where she was going.

Kayla smiled - Sam was trying so hard. "That’s okay," said the counselor. "I trust you."

"Do you?" asked Sam, ducking her head to meet the woman’s green eyes.

"Yes," said Kayla, still smiling. "Now go."

"I’ll be back soon," promised the rancher, grabbing her denim jacket as she left.

Before going to the supermarket, Sam stopped at the police station. Walking up to the front desk, she asked if Officer Derek Thomas was in. He had been under her command when she was Captain, and was very good on the research end of the force.

The Cadet at the front said he was indeed in the station, and Sam wandered back to find the man sitting at his desk, resting his head in one hand, filling out papers - as always - with the other.

"Thomas!" she said, sharply, standing in front of his desk.

Glancing up at the sound of his name, the green-eyed man did a double-take, before springing to his feet and standing at attention. Saluting his former Captain, he heard her chuckle.

"Derek, I’m no longer your commanding officer. You don’t have to salute me, or even stand at your POA (Point Of Attention)," said the rancher.

"I still respect you, ma’am," explained Derek.

Sam sighed. "You always were a fine Cadet, Thomas. Glad to see you’ve made it up to Lieutenant. At ease," she said, and he relaxed. "I need you to do a background check for me."

"Ma’am, yes, ma’am," responded the officer, coming to attention again, clicking his heels, saluting, and then sitting down in front of his computer. "Ma’am?" he asked, looking expectantly at the woman.

"I need you to look up one Henry Earl Farr," said Sam, and Derek nodded.

"Yes, ma’am. I’ll get right on it. I can get you the results tomorrow, ma’am."

"Yeah, well, make sure you do whatever assignments your sergeant has assigned you first, okay?" Sam reminded him, since he seemed a little eager to help her.

He nodded, "Yes, ma’am. Ma’am, permission to speak freely?" he asked, after a pause.


"Is it true, ma’am? That you were with that woman on the news?" he asked. Upon seeing the startled look that crossed the woman’s face, he said, quickly, "I’m sorry, ma’am. I shouldn’t have asked. It’s really none of my business."

"You’re right, it’s not," said Sam, but then she smiled. The man had a kind heart, and she knew he didn’t mean any harm by asking. "To answer your question, yes, I am with her."

Officer Thomas grinned. "You have changed since you have met her, ma’am," he said, and Sam raised an eyebrow.

"That so? For better or worse?" she asked.

"For the better, ma’am," replied Derek. "You laugh and smile more."

"I wasn’t one for laughing before, hm?"

"Oh, no, ma’am!" cried Thomas, with such force that Sam chuckled.

"Call me with the results," she said. He saluted her as she turned to leave, and she returned the gesture, formally and with the ease of years of practice, before surprising the man and gripping his hand in a strong handshake. And then she was on her way out of the station, continuing on to the grocery store.

After spending an hour and a half shopping for groceries - Sam was sure to get all of Kayla’s favorites - the rancher started home. Two streets before the left turn that would lead her home, Sam noticed a homeless man standing on the corner, in the snow, selling roses for two dollars each. Smiling to herself, she beckoned the man over to her truck.

"I’ll take one," she said, and handed him a five dollar bill. The old man’s hands were shaking as he gave her the rose, which she laid carefully on the seat next to her.

"I don’t have any change," he said, trying to give her the money back. "You’re the only one who’s stopped."

"Keep it," said Sam. "Thanks, and Merry Christmas." The holiday was only two weeks away…

"God bless you!" called the man, clenching the money tightly, as she drove off.

As she approached the Ranch, Sam was concerned to see that Kayla’s Blazer was not there. Pulling into the garage and putting the truck in park, Sam ran into the house, searching frantically for the blonde.

What if she really didn’t trust me? wondered Sam, panicked. What if she got worried that I was seeing someone else when I didn’t come right back, and she left?

A thousand possibilities rushed through her mind, coming to a halt when the rancher noticed a piece of paper on the kitchen table. It was a note, in the counselor’s neat handwriting. It read:


Mrs. Collins called and said she

wanted to talk to me. I should be back

by dark. Don’t worry.



Sam grinned with relief at knowing the woman was safe, and still loved her. Moving the note aside, she cleared the table, and brought the groceries in. When they were all put away, the rancher wrote a note of her own. Taking the rose, she went into Kayla’s room, put the note on her pillow, and placed the fresh red rose on top of it.

The beautiful flower had been out in the snow with the old transient so long, the tips of the petals were crowned with ice - it made the rose look like it was frosted over. It enhanced its charm tenfold.

Smiling, Sam left the room, and started fixing dinner.

Just as she had said, Kayla returned at five-thirty, just before dark. She came in to find dinner set out on the table.

"What’s this?" she asked, motioning to the grand looking meal, as she took off her jacket.

"Dinner," declared Sam, cheerfully.

"Looks good. I’m gonna go wash up, and I’ll be right back," said Kayla, and Sam nodded. The rancher hoped that Kayla would stop by her room and see the rose - she was anxious to see her reaction.

The counselor came back in the kitchen, looking dazed, with tears in her eyes, clutching the note. Sam, worried that she had done something wrong, went to her side only to be enveloped in a hug.

"Thank you, Sam," murmured the woman. "That was sweet." The note that Sam had written read:

To the one who owns my heart


"I can’t tell you how much I love you," said Sam, holding the woman tightly. "I’ll do whatever it takes, for however long it takes, to show you that you can trust me again."

"I do trust you, Sam," said Kayla. "I might still be a little apprehensive, but I believe you. Now, how about dinner?" she suggested, pulling back and sitting at the table.

The food set before them consisted of ham, corn, green beans, and a salad. Kayla was glad she wasn’t the one cooking, because Sam’s food tasted much better - it was charcoal free! Better yet, she didn’t have to cook - which was something she not only couldn’t do but didn’t do very often. And not only for fear of poisoning her guests.

"This is great!" exclaimed Kayla, and Sam grinned.

"Glad you like it," she said, her smile widening when she noticed that Kayla had laid the note next to her plate, and that the counselor occasionally glanced down to it. She watched her eyes light up each time, and felt her heart skip a beat each time the bright green eyes met her own.

Kayla eventually realized that Sam was watching her, and the rancher knew what she was doing. "Sam," she began but tears filled her eyes, and she couldn’t speak anymore.

The rancher was instantly by her side, pulling her into a strong hug, trying to figure out what was wrong.

"Shh…" soothed Sam, deciding that Kayla would tell her what was wrong in her own time. "It’s okay. I’m sorry. Are you all right, Kay?" she asked, softly.

Kayla nodded, and smiled through her tears. "I’m fine, Sam," she said.

"What’s wrong?"

"Really, nothing’s wrong," insisted the counselor. "I was just thinking about how good you are to me. You give me so much and do so much for me. I love you."

"I love you, too," spoke Sam, still a little concerned about Kayla’s behavior. "Are you sure you’re okay?" she asked, and at Kayla’s nod, she kissed her forehead gently, and returned to her chair to finish dinner.

After dinner, Sam stacked the dishes, but decided to do them later.

"Kay, uh, I was wondering…" said the rancher, and Kayla looked up at her, puzzled. It wasn’t often Sam was at a loss for words, but, here was the woman, staring intently at the floor of the den where they stood.

"What is it?" prodded the counselor, softly.

"Uh, where are you gonna sleep tonight?" she asked, awkwardly.

"I thought I’d sleep in your bed, if that’s all right," said Kayla, and Sam nodded, breaking out into a large grin.

"I just wasn’t sure that you’d want to, I mean, if you were still angry, or upset, or whatever," blubbered the rancher, feeling very vulnerable and nervous all of a sudden. She didn’t want to force Kayla back into their normal routine if the woman wasn’t feeling comfortable around her again, for fear of driving her away.

"Sam," smiled the counselor, turning the rancher’s face towards her with a gentle hand on her chin, "relax. I know things were bad between us, but they’re getting better, okay?"

Sam nodded, and Kayla’s smile widened. "Well, then, if we’re okay…" she said, and gently brought Sam’s lips down to meet her own, in a soft, reassuring kiss. The simple gesture turned into a more passionate embrace, as Kayla’s hands went to the back of the rancher’s neck, pulling her closer. Sam pulled back for a breath, and then sought the blonde’s lips once more.

After a few more deep kisses, the two separated, out of breath but smiling.

"I think I like this making up stuff better than the fighting," joked Sam, and Kayla laughed as the woman took her hand and led her to the bedroom. Each woman changed into her PJs, and then climbed under the covers. Once there, Kayla curled up into Sam’s arms, and soon fell asleep. Sam stayed awake for a while, savoring the feeling of holding the woman she loved safely in her arms. Feeling very content, and immensely happy, the rancher too dropped off into the land of dreams.

Sam was startled the next morning by the sound of the phone ringing.

"Hello?" she asked. The sound hadn’t really awoken her, she had been awake, she was just watching Kayla sleep and listening to her breathing.

"Ma’am, this is Officer Derek Thomas," said the man. "Did I call to early, ma’am?"

"No, Thomas, you’re okay. What’s up?"

"I got that background report on Henry Earl Farr, ma’am," he responded, and Sam paid a little more attention.

"Shoot," she prompted.

"Well, ma’am, it seems that your man has quite a record. He has been convicted of two DUIs (Driving Under the Influence), two DWIs (Driving With the Influence), three charges of spousal abuse, and five unpaid parking tickets. He has no FTA’s (Failure To Appear), however. It says here he was in the Army for two years, but was released with a dishonorable discharge," he finished.

"Where’d you dig that dirt up, Thomas?" Sam asked, not happy with the results, but glad that Thomas was so thorough.

"I have my sources, ma’am. If you don’t mind my asking, ma’am, did you find what you were looking for?" he asked.

"Derek, does Henry Earl have anything on him for gambling?" asked Sam, evading the officer’s question for a moment.

"Uh…" there was the sound of pages being flipped. And then, "Oh, yeah, here it is. He has one charge with illegal gambling, including letting a minor gamble."

"Thanks, Derek, you’ve been a great help," said Sam, and the two hung up.

Green eyes watched her. "Who was that?" asked Kayla, and Sam just shrugged.

"Officer Thomas," she explained. "I asked him to do a background check on Hank for me."


"Listen, do you remember when I told you in the hospital that I had time to think?" The counselor nodded, not sure where the conversation was going. "Well, I thought about a lot of things.

"I’ve been thinking about how there may be a connection between Kyle, Aaron, Hank, and the man who held up the bank," said Sam, waiting for Kayla’s reply.

"What do you mean?" asked the woman, still half asleep.

"When Aaron took the horses, and we got them back, he said ‘I will have you’. Do you remember that?" Kayla nodded; she did, vaguely. "And then Kyle shouted something similar, right?" Another nod. "What’s more, Kyle knew you were going to become the counselor at the Community Center - you said he told you that’s why he was there. For you, and not because he was gay," said Sam, leaving it off for Kayla to affirm.

"Right," she said. "Listen, Sam, I’m not seeing where you’re going with this."

"Let’s start from the beginning," said the rancher. "It’s been bugging me that the guy at the bank knew you were gay. I doubt he could tell that just by looking at you. I think someone told him," said Sam.

"But, no one knew," protested Kayla.

"Hank knew," she said, simply. "That day we went to get your things, you told him you left him for me, basically. I think he got the idea then. You’ve mentioned before that he plays Poker every Monday night, so what if he told his card buddies?"

"He does tell them everything," mused Kayla.

"Exactly. He tells the guys, and one of them happens to be gay. Hurt by Hank’s obvious dislike for homosexuals, he decides to end his life - maybe he’s had trouble before, and it’s worse when his own friend hates him. He does it at the bank. Another card buddy, Aaron - and I know for a fact he loves to play Poker. When we were together he always used to say that we could go out on a date every night except Mondays, that was his card night. I don’t know why I didn’t put it together before now," muttered the rancher.

"Anyway, Aaron now knows that you’re gay. And, he figures that since he saw you with me, and that remark I made about you being taken at Mike’s, that I’m gay, too. Angry, he comes and steals the horses," said Sam, still feeling anger herself at the remembrance.

"Somehow, the story of his arrest gets to Kyle, who knows him from somewhere - I haven’t figured out where - and decides to go for you, since I’m out of bounds, so to speak." The rancher spoke of her age, as well as the fact that some men were intimidated by her.

"He said he saw me on the news and knew he had to have me," shuddered Kayla. "How did he know I was a counselor there?"

"I’m not sure about that one yet," admitted Sam.

"Wow, you did have a lot of time on your hands, didn’t you?" laughed Kayla, after a pause to reflect over all the hypothetical situations Sam had brought up.

"Sure did," said the rancher. "I’ll have to think about this some more, but I’m gonna solve this mystery…" she said, in a hushed tone that made Kayla laugh. After a fit of giggles, an enticement of a hash-brown breakfast got the counselor out of bed.

The next two weeks were spent with hectic shopping for both women. Sam was staying out late at night, again, but so was Kayla. They had to shop for relatives, friends, and, of course, each other. It got so the only time they saw each other was at night, at a time when they were too tired to talk.

Two days before Christmas, Sam decided to call a stop to the sparse together-time the couple had been experiencing. She hated not being able to come home and find Kayla waiting for her - call her spoiled, but she had come to expect it. She missed the quiet times together.

"We’re going to a movie," she announced, and Kayla looked up from her breakfast, startled by the sudden declaration.

"What?" asked the counselor, not sure she heard correctly.

"Kay, for the past few weeks, we haven’t seen much of each other. It’s about time we go out and do something together," explained the rancher.

"You mean like a date?"

"Yeah," said Sam, suddenly afraid that Kayla would reject the idea. Perhaps she had other plans, or…

"That sounds great, Sam," said the woman, smiling. "That’s a good idea. What movie?"

The rancher shrugged. "I think that movie Return To Me is supposed to be good. You know, the one with Derek Duchovny," added Sam, and Kayla nodded.

"Okay," she agreed.

"Well, I checked the papers, and there’s a showing around two today, if you want to go then," suggested the rancher, and Kayla grinned.

"I can do some shopping, and then come back here, and we can go together. How does that sound?" she tried, and Sam smiled - she liked that idea.

"We can both get some last minute shopping done, and then meet back here by one-thirty," she finalized. Now that the day was planned out, Kayla hurried to get ready, because the sooner she got her shopping done, the sooner she could head home and meet Sam for their date!

The day flew by, and before Sam knew it, it was one o’clock. Paying for her purchase, a device for Luke that would alert him when the phone rang, since he only had one for his doorbell, she jogged out through the snow to her truck. Driving carefully down the road, she arrived at ten minutes ‘til two, cursing as she got out of the vehicle.

Entering the house, she was met with an impatient looking counselor. "Kay, I’m sorry," she said, ready to apologize profusely, when the counselor grinned.

"It’s okay," she said. "But we’d better get going, or we’ll be late." Taking Kayla by the hand, Sam led her out to the truck, and drove the snow-covered ten mile stretch of road that brought them to the local movie theater.

Sam paid for a tub of popcorn, as well as two packages of Milk Duds and a large Dr. Pepper, and Kayla helped her carry them into the theater. Finding a seat, Sam let Kayla choose, and was surprised when she chose the love-seat of a chair at the very top of the seating area. Shrugging, the rancher happily sat beside her, taking the counselor’s right hand in her own, as the woman’s left was occupied with Milk Duds.

Throughout the movie, the two were careful of the amount of affection they displayed, even in the darkened movie theater. They limited themselves to holding hands and an occasional arm around the shoulder, nothing more. When the movie ended and the lights came back on, Kayla took the empty containers to the trash, and followed Sam outside.

"Wait a minute…" said the rancher, frowning, as she approached her truck. Something wasn’t right…

"Oh, shit!" she exclaimed, when she realized what was wrong - the frame on the passenger’s side door was bent, indicating forced entry. Her truck had been broken in to! Doing a quick inventory, she discovered that the thieves had stolen her radio, police scanner, and CB.

Climbing in, she angrily slammed the door, putting her head in her hands as she took a deep breath. Hearing Kayla get in beside her, she glanced over to the woman, who was watching her, concerned.

"Sam?" asked Kayla, softly.

"I’m sorry, baby," said Sam, reaching for her. "I didn’t meant to ruin our date. Let’s go home, okay?" Kayla nodded, and kissed Sam’s cheek encouragingly before the rancher started the truck.

The ride home was spent in complete silence, Sam concentrating on the road, since a heavy snow storm made it hard to see, and Kayla trying not to be scared out of her mind by the bad weather.

Sam parked in the garage, and would have done a more thorough inventory of her truck’s belongings, but realized that Kayla was trembling. The snow had begun to fall even harder, and was now almost six inches deep. Sam knew the counselor hated storms, so she led her inside, and started a fire in the den, unable to stop a smile from crossing her face as she glanced over at the Christmas tree.

That had been Kayla’s idea, putting a Christmas tree up, even though it was just the two of them. Upon her insistence, Sam bought a false one, and put it in the corner of the den, since that’s where they decided they would open gifts. There were currently seven packages under the tree: two for Luke, two for Marie, one for Diana, one for Sam, and one for Kayla. There was more to come - the rancher would be sure of that.

"Are you all right?" she asked, seriously, sitting down on the couch next to the blonde, who shook her head.

"I just don’t like snow storms. When I was little I got caught in a blizzard and almost had to have three of my fingers amputated due to frost bite," she said, and the rancher was shocked - she’d never heard any of this. "Luckily, I recovered, and didn’t need to have them removed, but snow storms have scared me ever since. Kind of stupid, huh?"

"Not at all," said Sam, gathering the woman into a strong and secure hug. "That’s a perfectly understandable reason to be worried. But we’re safe now, okay? You don’t have to be afraid," she soothed, and Kayla wrapped her arms around her, feeling a little better.

"I’m gonna go check on my truck and see if anything else is missing," said Sam, standing. "I’ll be right back." The rancher left, and after a few minutes of staring into the fire, Kayla decided she’d better get up and do something. Walking into the kitchen, she glanced at the answering machine, and noticed the light was flashing. Hitting the PLAY button, she listened to the machine replay the two messages.

Sam came in ten minutes later, thoroughly upset. Whoever had broken in to her truck had stolen not only her CB, radio, and scanner, but her flashlight and registration information, which had been stored in the glove-box.

Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to calm down, and headed into the kitchen to make some hot chocolate for her and Kayla. As she walked in, she was surprised to find Kayla sitting at the table.

"Kay?" she asked, concerned. The blank look on the blonde’s face worried her. "Are you all right?"

Kayla shook her head, but moved away from Sam’s touch when the rancher went to comfort her. "Sit down," she said, tonelessly. Sam obeyed; she had no idea what was wrong, but knew she was in trouble for something.

Reaching over, the counselor played the messages from the machine for Sam to hear.

The first one, calling in around two o’clock, just after they left, was a male. He said: "This message is for Sam. Samantha, this is Mark. I just wanted to call and see where you’ve been. We haven’t seen you in a few days, and I’ve got a cute little girl here who misses you. She keeps asking for you; I think she likes all the attention you give her. Give me a call when we can arrange another meeting. You still owe me a few dollars for this past week," he added, and then hung up.

Sam looked up, meeting Kayla’s eyes, and was about to explain, when Kayla held up her hand. Keeping Sam quiet, she waited for the next message to play.

This one was left at about three o’clock, and it was a female’s voice. The woman said: "Sam, this is Lily. I was just wondering when our next appointment was. I’m anxious to finish our job, and Kevin is getting impatient. Everything seems to be going pretty well, so one more get-together should do it. If you can meet me here at Mike’s around six, that’d be great." A man’s voice cut in, "Hey, blue eyes. Let’s get this thing done. I’m rarin’ to go!"

And then the messages were over. A thick silence followed.

"I can explain," began Sam.

"You’d better," said Kayla, coldly. "Who the Hell are Mark, Lily, and Kevin?"

"They’re acquaintances," started the rancher. "They’re all helping me put something together. Listen, Kay, it’s a Christmas present, that’s all."

"A Christmas present? Yeah, I’ll bet. I’ll bet that girl Mark says is missing you makes a real fine Christmas present for you!" shouted Kayla. She was hurt, and angry. Sam had lied to her - and, apparently, cheated on her, as well.

"Not for me, Kayla," said Sam. "It’s a present for Mike. Listen, Lily and Kevin are helping me set up a surprise for him. As for Mark and the girl, they’re in on it, too. Lily and Kevin help me get the decorations put up and stuff, and the others make them," said the rancher.

Kayla raised an eyebrow. "I’m not buying it. What money do you owe Mark?" she asked.

"I told you, he and the girl make the decorations, and I pay him for doing it. They do a really fine job on the banners," added the rancher.

"Let me see them."

"What?" asked Sam, startled.

"I said, let me see the banners. If they’re so good, I’d like to see Mark’s work," she said, knowingly pulling Sam into a trap.

"I, uh, I don’t have them here," stuttered the rancher.

"Where are they?" demanded Kayla, positive that Sam was lying to her about who the people were and how she knew them.

"They’re down at Mike’s," said Sam. "Speaking of which, I need to get going if I’m gonna make it down there by six," she added, standing.

"Don’t go," said Kayla, sternly.

"I have to," countered Sam, reaching for her jacket.

"Sam, you know I don’t believe what you say. If you walk out that door, I can pretty much assume you’re seeing Lily or Kevin or, hell, all of them!" she shouted, her anger building.

"McKayla," said Sam, evenly, "if that’s how much trust you put in me after I swore to you that I would never cheat on you… I’ll be back by nine," she said, and walked out the door.

Once inside her truck, Sam started it, turned on the heater, and grabbed her cell phone. Dialing quickly, she spoke quickly when the man answered.

"Mark, it’s Sam. What the hell did you think you were doing? I told you never to call my house!" she said.

"Sorry, but I had no choice. I need that money soon, and Christmas is the day after tomorrow," Mark said.

"Listen, I’ll find a way to get it to you, I promise. I appreciate you doing this for me," she added, and heard the man sigh.

"All right," he said. "But you’ll be here Christmas morning, right? With my money?"

"As far as I know. Wait, scratch that. I’ve invited some people over for Christmas morning, so that means Kay and I will probably have our time later in the afternoon. I think I can sneak out around three or so," she guessed, and the man agreed.

"Okay," he said, "see you then."

"Bye," said the rancher, hanging up the phone with a push of a button. Sighing, she put her truck in gear, and drove towards Mike’s.


Kayla stormed around the house, feeling the need to hit something, preferably something that wouldn’t hit back. Going into Sam’s weight room, she let loose on the punching bag, succeeding in working out some of her frustration.

"Damn her!" she shouted, to the empty house. "She lied to me, I know it! Wait, I know what I can do!" she exclaimed, talking aloud to herself. "I’ll call Mike’s and talk to Mike! He should know what’s going on."

That decided, the counselor went into the den, and picked up the phone. She chose to talk where she would be warm, and the fire fit the purpose. Picking up the phone book, she found the number, and dialed carefully. A voice answered after three rings.

"Mike’s Place, this is Mike speaking," said the man.

"Mike, this is Kayla," said the woman, not sure if the bartender would remember her.

"Kayla, hi! I haven’t seen you in a while, how have you been?" he asked, sincerely.

"Oh, pretty good," she fibbed. "Listen, I was wondering if I could ask you something and get your honest answer."

0AL8y"D<X?ZnH)=yU/'UZ3ȡX_;D>T1B<+WsIEos;n:P2z@+$~˙ZJ>>) :>3n:kI5-]u+~Ɂ"P^ x⠐frɶ{Zv٤&~W!t)cMHɤf.]:h}q,Bߖ &i'J:{F` =< "uץxg) 5 "&)ʘ踏:)ʘ踏h3IP6 k]sked, her throat dry.

"Of course not! Kayla, Sam loves you with all her heart! She would never cheat on you!" exclaimed Mike, fiercely.

"Thanks, Mike," she voiced, and hung up before the man could say another word.

God, I am such an idiot! Kayla scolded herself. How could I have sat there and told her I thought she was lying? Why didn’t I believe her? I know she’d never hurt me, she told me as much. But I didn’t listen, and now she’s probably mad at me. Not that I blame her…

I’ve got show her I’m sorry, thought the counselor. I have to tell her I was wrong.

With her mind made up, Kayla concentrated on cooking dinner. She would make sure the rancher knew that she had made a horrible mistake, and was sorry. She didn’t want them to go through another fight, especially so close to the holidays.

Sam was home at eight-thirty, and she walked tiredly through the door. She was exhausted, but also relieved. Both of her loose ends, that had foolishly called her house, had been tied up - she had nothing more to worry about. All was taken care of.

"Sam, I need to talk to you," called the counselor, when she heard the door open. Sam followed the sound and found the woman in the kitchen, preparing dinner. "I know what you were doing."

Sam froze.

She knows? Shit!

"What do you mean, you know?" she asked, trying to keep the fear from her voice.

"I called Mike, and he told me you really were working on a project with Kevin and Lily," she said. "I’m sorry, sweetheart. I should have believed you."

The rancher grinned. "It’s all right," she said, giving the blonde a hug. "As long as you know that I’d never cheat on you, and you trust me, then it’s okay."

"I won’t question you again, okay?" offered Kayla, and Sam kissed her nose, gently.

"No, you can ask me, if you want. It shows me that you care, and that you’re worried about where I go," said the rancher. "Now, what smells so good?"

"Beef stew and rice," proclaimed the blonde, and Sam smiled. Sitting at the kitchen table, the two women enjoyed their dinner - which, to Kayla’s delight, was not burned in the slightest.

"Maybe you’re rubbing off on me," she said, as the rancher commented on the quality of the food. Sam’s only reply was a shrug and a grin.


Christmas morning arrived quickly, and Sam was surprised when she found Kayla setting up snack foods on a long table in the den when she came back inside from feeding the horses.

"What are you doing?" she asked. "What’s all the food for?"

"I invited some people over, I hope you don’t mind," replied the counselor.

"That’s okay. So did I. Who’d you invite?" asked the rancher, and the blonde was about to reply, when there was a knock at the door. "Hold that thought," she said, as she answered the door.

The guest looked nearly as pleased to see Sam as the rancher did her. "Mother," spoke Sam, dryly.

"Well, Samantha, are you going to invite me in, or do I freeze to death out here in the snow?" sneered Rhonda.

After some hesitation at that slightly tempting offer, Sam stepped aside, and let her mother enter. Leading the way, she took her mother into the den, and then continued on into the kitchen, needing time to collect herself.

"Hello, Mrs. Phillips," said Kayla, politely. She had invited the woman over in hopes of giving the rancher and her mother a second chance at a good relationship.

The woman gave the counselor no reply. Kayla wasn’t sure she had heard her. "Hello," she repeated. The woman looked up at her, her eyes cold.

"Good day," she spoke, her words sounding angry already. "You must be McKayla."

"Yes, but everyone calls me Kayla," said the blonde, offering Sam’s mother her hand. After a moment, she let it drop, when it was clear the woman was going to make no attempt at being civil.

"It’s nice to meet you," said Kayla.

Not, she thought, sourly.

"Listen, McKayla, you may think I don’t care for my daughter, but that’s not true. I love her very much," said Mrs. Phillips, and Kayla felt a smile at the corner of her mouth. Maybe there was hope after all!

"It’s you I don’t care for," she continued. "You’ve turned my daughter against me."

"What are you talking about?" asked Kayla, confused.

"Before she met you, Samantha and I were close. We spoke on the phone often, and I sent her cards for her birthday," spoke Rhonda. "The last time we spoke to each other was over a month ago."

"I’m sorry to hear that," said Kayla, "but I don’t see what that has to do with me."

"You come into her life, burdening her with your problems," spat Rhonda, "with your divorce. You can’t even hold your marriage together; how do you expect to stay with my daughter?"

Kayla was getting angry. Who was this woman? She hardly knew her, and here she was, spouting out information, shooting her down before she even had a chance to really talk to her!

"Mrs. Phillips, I don’t know what you think happened between myself and my ex-husband," she said, forcing herself to stay calm, "but I tried desperately to make it work. There just wasn’t any love left. Here, with Sam, I know that we love each other."

"Samantha doesn’t love you, she pities you!" said Rhonda, getting to her feet, towering over the blonde woman. "She feels sorry for you, because you’re worthless, and have nothing!"

The counselor was having a hard time keeping her tears back. "Why did you agree to come here?" she demanded, fuming. "If you hate me so, why are you here?"

"I wanted to see just what kind of woman my daughter brought home," she said, evenly. "Needless to say, she could have done better."

"You’re wrong," came a voice. Kayla looked over to see Sam standing in the doorway, obviously ticked. "I don’t know what I did to deserve Kayla.

"As for you, apologize," said Sam, approaching Kayla and putting an arm around her as she spoke to her mother. "You have no right to speak to her that way."

"I will not apologize. I don’t owe any useless fag who converted my daughter into one of her own filth anything!" she said, shouting.

Sam was taken aback by her mother’s vehemence. "Get out of my house," she ordered, having to restrain herself from physically harming her mother. "Now! You’re not welcome in my house, ever again!" Rhonda gave Kayla one last hard glare, and then turned on her heel, and walked out.

"Kayla, baby, I’m sorry," said Sam, immediately taking the woman into her arms. "She was just being a heartless bitch. Don’t pay any attention to what she said. Why did you invite her?" asked the rancher, softly, after a pause.

"I thought you might be able to make amends," admitted Kayla. "I love being close to family, especially around the holidays, and I just wanted you to have the same chance."

"Well, thank you for trying, Kay, but I could have told you that it’d be no use," said Sam, pulling back. "My mother and I have never really gotten along, and I see no reason to start now. What do you say we get this place ready? We’ve got company!" she exclaimed, as the doorbell echoed through the house.

Within twenty minutes, the people Kayla had invited arrived. Luke and Marie showed up, holding their infant daughter, Diana. Sam was instantly in love with her niece. She carried her everywhere, and her brother and his wife were glad to get a break, knowing that their daughter was in good hands.

"This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home," the rancher said, playing the age-old child’s game with her beautiful young niece. The girl had a patch of soft brown hair, and piercing green eyes. She was small for eight months, but absolutely adorable. Then, she opened her mouth, and let out a wail that was impressive, considering her tiny size.

"Nice lungs, kid," commented Sam, laughing as she handed Diana over to Marie. The rancher was ecstatic when she noticed early on that Diana turned her head to every sound - she was not deaf, like her father, but hearing like her mother.

"You can use my bedroom, if you’d like," offered the rancher, just in case the child was hungry and Marie needed to breast feed her.

"Thanks," said Marie, and took her sister-in-law up on the offer.

Luke was snacking on the foods when Sam tapped him on the shoulder. "Merry Christmas," she said, and he returned the greeting. "You have a gorgeous little girl," she said, and Luke grinned, beaming like the proud father he was.

"Yes, she is beautiful," he agreed. When Marie returned, they opened their gifts from Sam and Kayla. Luke smiled when he watched Sam’s joy as she gave her niece a stuffed teddy bear, along with a few other toys. The tall woman received a hug when he opened his gift, and another when Marie opened hers, a set of walkie-talkies so she could keep a closer watch on Diana, and not panic if she wasn’t in the room with her.

Kayla gave Luke a set of books that he mentioned he enjoyed - the series by J.R.R. Tolkien, beginning with The Hobbit. He gave her a hug, thanked her profusely, and was thrilled to see how well her sign language was improving.

Marie was opening her gift from Kayla, a beautiful wool sweater, when there was a knock at the door.

"I’ll get it," said Sam, expecting her guests to arrive. Sure enough, when she opened the door, there stood the whole lot of them: Amy, Jack, Peter, Dawn, Rachel, and Tina, Dawn’s girlfriend.

"Hey, guys," she said, showing them in. "Thanks for coming, she’ll be thrilled."

"Thanks for inviting us," said Amy, and the others echoed her sentiment.

Kayla looked up as Marie pulled back from her hug, and her face lit up when she saw her kids standing in the doorway. She stood up and met them all with a hug, except Tina, whom she greeted with a handshake as she was introduced.

"Hi! It’s great to see you all!" she said, and then introduced everyone to Luke, Marie, and, of course, Diana. After the introductions, the kids insisted that Kayla open her gift. They had all chipped in to buy her the present.

Removing the wrapping paper, Kayla was awed by what was revealed - a leather-bound notebook to keep her writing in, as well as a leather bag to keep the notebook in, with pockets for extra pencils and such.

"Thank you," she said, graciously, and made the rounds with her hugs again. Luke and Marie then insisted that the women open the gifts from them, and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Sam received a beautiful Stetson black cowboy hat, making a nice contrast to her white one. Kayla’s gift was a sign language dictionary, with which she was completely enthralled.

"Kayla? Earth to Kayla," said Sam, laughing as she waved a hand in front of Kayla’s face, between her eyes and the book.

"Oh, sorry. What?" asked the counselor, sheepishly.

"I said, Luke and Marie have to leave now," said the rancher, and the two women wished the couple and their child good-bye. Just as they were leaving, a green Ford Explorer pulled up, and out stepped Jason.

"Sam," he called, "feliz navidad, amiga!"

Sam laughed, and beckoned him in. "Merry Christmas to you, too," she replied, and waved to Luke and Marie before closing the door to keep the heat in. The snow was nearly eight inches deep, and still falling. All the visitors had chains on their tires.

"Jason, hi!" said Kayla. Well, that took care of her guests.

"Hello," he responded, giving the woman a hug. "Who are all these people?" he asked, and was introduced to the kids, who liked the man with the accent immediately.

It was eleven thirty, and Sam was expecting two more people to arrive. Sure enough, ten minutes later, she saw two of them drive up, and greeted them as they stepped out of their car.

"Mr. and Mrs. Anderson," she said, shaking their hands.

"Jim, please," said the broad man, and Sam nodded.

"I’m Sarah," said the woman. "You must be Samantha."

"Yes," said the rancher. "Thanks for coming. Come on in and join the ever growing crowd," she said, smiling.

However, the ‘ever growing crowd’ was rapidly diminishing. Jason was in the process of leaving, because he had to go to his parents’ house for Christmas supper, and the kids left not long after that, all claiming to have an appointment at one place or another.

It was just Sam, Kayla, and Kayla’s parents. Sam was seated on the couch next to Kayla, her arm around her waist, feeling a little awkward.

"So, you’re a rancher?" asked Jim, suddenly.

Sam nodded. "You could say that," she said. "The Ranch really isn’t up and running, but I take care of the horses."

"And you care for my little girl?" he asked, a twinkle in his eye as he winked at his daughter.

"Very much," responded Sam, truthfully. "I love her with all my heart."

Sarah couldn’t hide her smile. "Why?" she asked.

Sam was startled. "Why what?" asked the rancher.

"Why do you love her?" clarified the woman.

Sam grinned as she looked into Kayla’s green eyes. That question was easy. "Because she’s the most beautiful, gorgeous, smart, funny, kind, loving…" her list was cut off as Jim interrupted her.

"All right, all right," he said, laughing, "I think we get the idea." Sam looked away, both women turning a light shade of red. "I hear you protect her," he said, and Sam nodded.

"I do my best," she said, and Kayla spoke up.

"She does protect me," added the counselor, squeezing Sam’s hand.

"I’ll do anything for her," admitted Sam, and Kayla grinned.

"Yeah, you’re just a big softy," she said, playfully. Sam raised an eyebrow at her, but smiled.

The Andersons stayed for a few hours, chatting with their daughter and the woman she loved, deciding that Samantha was a very nice woman, worthy of their McKayla.

Before they left, Kayla made sure they had their gifts, and they promised they’d open them at home. Giving them each a kiss good-bye, Kayla followed them to the door, and Sam parted with a handshake. As she reached her hand out to Jim, however, he pulled her forward into a strong hug.

"Consider yourself part of the family," said the man, smiling. "And you may call me dad, if you’d like."

Sam had to fight back tears - she’d never really had a good male role model. "Thanks, Dad," she said, and received another hug.

"Call us later, Kitten," said Jim, giving his daughter a hug.

"Love you, sweet-pea," said Sarah, giving both of her daughters a hug and a kiss on the cheek, which both returned.

Shutting the door behind them, Sam said, "They’re nice people."

Kayla agreed, and led Sam to the den, by the Christmas tree. It was their time to open the gifts they had gotten each other. There were two under there for Kayla, and three for the rancher.

"You first," said Sam, handing Kayla her first package. The woman opened it carefully, and smiled when she saw what it was - a pair of beautifully made leather cowboy boots. Her former pair had worn out a few weeks ago, and she hadn’t had time to get a replacement.

"Thank you," said Kayla, giving the rancher a hug. "Your turn."

Sam picked up the package, and tested its weight - it was fairly heavy. Quirking an eyebrow, she tore off the wrapping. There, in front of her, was an even better CB system than she had previously owned.

"Kayla, these are very expensive. Where’d you get the money for this?" she asked, gently. She knew the woman didn’t get paid at the Community Center, and she never asked the rancher for money, so Sam hoped she hadn’t sold anything to be able to pay for the merchandise.

"I sold the rights to a few of my stories on-line," she replied.

"Oh, so that’s why you’ve been raiding my computer lately," smiled Sam, not that she minded any - she didn’t know how to use the thing anyway. "Well, thank you. I’ll put it in later tonight."

Her turn again, Kayla opened the last package under the tree that was addressed to her. She grinned when she saw what it was - a black jacket much like Sam’s Police jacket, except without the big white letters POLICE on the back.

"Not that I mind you taking mine, I just thought you’d like to have one of your own," said Sam, and got another hug from the counselor.

"You open those other two, and I’ll make us some hot chocolate," said Kayla, getting up from the floor and heading into the kitchen. Sam reached for one of the gifts, and was surprised to find that it was actually two boxes inside a bigger one. They contained a scanner and a radio - the last two things she was missing. Her flashlight had already been replaced.

The last package was small and light. Removing the wrapping paper, Sam found a small box. Opening it, she saw a heart-shaped locket lying on a piece of cotton. Taking the necklace out, she opened the locket, and didn’t notice when a tear made it’s way down her cheek.

On one side of the locket, was a picture of Kayla. On the opposite side, cut with care, was a picture of Ross and Brian. Sam remembered the picture, even with the small amount she could see. It was taken on Brian’s fifth birthday.

The rancher didn’t even put it on, she just held it to her chest and remembered. Kayla came in and touched her shoulder, gently.

"Sam? Is that okay? I used a picture that I knew you had copies of," she said, thinking the rancher was upset about her gift. She was about to continue, when the woman pulled her down on the floor and gave her a strong hug.

"It’s perfect," she said, before pulling back and placing a gentle kiss on the counselor’s lips. "I love it."

Just then, the alarm on her watch went off. It was three-thirty. "I’ve got to go," she said, standing, as she fastened the clasp of the necklace. "There’s one more gift for you," she said, taking a small package out from behind her back and handing it to the blonde. "You can open it now, if you want. I’ll be back in a half an hour, okay?"

The counselor nodded, wished her love a safe drive to wherever it was she was rushing off to, and then saw her to the door. When she could no longer see the white truck against the snow, she turned back from the window, and went back into the den.

She frowned slightly when she opened the package, and found a CD in a blank case. The disc was simply labeled ‘Christmas to Kayla’. Slipping it in the CD player, Kayla hit the button marked PLAY, and wondered what she would hear. To her surprise, the sound of a man’s voice filled her ears.

"You ready, blue eyes?" asked the voice.

"Let’s go, Kevin," said the rancher.

"And… go ahead," signaled the man.

"I do this for Kayla, the woman I love more than anything in the world. This is her Christmas gift. I hope you like it, baby," finished the rancher. Then, the gentle sound of her singing floated through the air. The rancher had recorded several songs, some with music, some without. She sang a variety, but they were all beautiful.

When the rancher returned, Kayla was still listening to the CD. Hearing the door open, she ran to the woman, and hugged her for all she was worth. Sam had never seen a bigger smile on her friend.

"Thank you, Sam. I love it!" she exclaimed, and Sam grinned, kissing her on the forehead.

"I’m glad," said the rancher. "You heard Kevin’s voice, didn’t you?" At the counselor’s nod, she continued, "That’s what I was doing for the past few weeknights. I had to do take after take of the songs, until I was satisfied with them," she explained. "I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you, but that would have ruined the surprise."

"I’m sorry I got so upset," said Kayla. "But, hey, that’s in the past, and you’ve got one more gift to open!"

Sam raised an eyebrow as Kayla took her by the hand and led her back into the den. "So do you," she said, "but I’ll do mine first."

Kayla shrugged as she handed her a piece of paper. "It’s not much," she said. "I just thought you might like it."

Sam took the sheet from the counselor, and realized what she held in her hand - it was a poem. As she read it, she was unable to keep the smile from forming on her face.


The One I Love

The one who makes me laugh

The one that I have to have

She is the one I love

The one who dries my tears

And the one who eases my fears

She is the one I love

The one who possesses my heart

And tells me we will never be apart

She is the one I love

The one who holds me tight

Who tells me it’ll all be all right

She is the one I love

The one true love of my life

You are the one I love

Sam glanced over at Kayla, who was biting her lip nervously.

"Kayla…" she tried, the words not coming to her. "Kay, this is beautiful," she said, at last.

"You really like it?" asked the blonde, hopefully.

"Are you kidding? I love it!" corrected the rancher, pulling the woman into a strong hug. Pulling back, she kissed her nose, and added, "You are very talented, baby.

"Now, are you ready for your gift?" asked the rancher, and Kayla nodded. "Okay. Stay here, I’ll go get it. I think this will explain everything, Kay," she added, leaving Kayla standing confused.

Going out to the garage, Sam put on her jacket, and walked to her truck. Opening the door, she reached in, and pulled something small and gray out. Putting it in her jacket, she walked back inside.

Meeting Kayla’s eyes, she said, "This little ball of fluff is the reason I almost lost you." Taking her hand out from under her jacket, she revealed a small gray kitten, who mewed softly at the counselor.

Kayla couldn’t help it. She burst into tears and took the animal in her arms, petting it lovingly, and even kissing it on the top of it’s head. The feline licked Kayla’s cheek, making her laugh.

"Sam, this is wonderful! She is absolutely adorable!" cried the counselor, and Sam knew that the kitten was worth all the trouble when she saw Kayla smile. "But, I thought you didn’t like cats."

Leading the woman to the couch, Sam sat beside her as the counselor held the kitten in her arms.

"Yeah, well, I don’t," she said. Just then, the feline pranced across her lap, curled up, and decided to bathe itself.

"Yeah, sure you don’t," chuckled Kayla.

Sam shrugged. "Anyhow, Little Miss Fluff-Ball over here just kind of became attached to me," she said, smiling down at the kitten as she went to sleep.

"A friend of mine, Mark, kept her for me. His cat had kittens a while back, and he asked me if I wanted one. I told him no, but he kept one for me anyway. She was not the one he had in mind to give me, though. When I went to see him a few weeks ago, just to say hi, this little one caught my attention. He said she was the pick of the litter and he wasn’t gonna sell her - I talked him out of it," she said, proudly.

"He let me keep her at his house, since I couldn’t exactly keep her a secret around here," added the rancher, smiling. "I went back quite often to check on her, and she became rather fond of me. I had to go, to make sure Mark didn’t sell her to someone else. Well, that covers it. This fur ball and the CD are the reasons I was out late."

There was one more gift for the counselor, hiding in a box in a drawer in Sam’s room, but the rancher decided to wait with that one. She wasn’t sure what the counselor’s reaction would be.

"Thank you, Sam. I love them both," said the counselor, leaning over and covering Sam’s lips with her own. The kiss deepened, as had most of their pecks lately, and Sam made an attempt to move closer to Kayla, but a loud protest from her lap prevented it.

The two women pulled back, and Kayla couldn’t help but laugh at the expression on Sam’s face.

"What do you want, loudmouth?" the rancher asked, feigning irritation. "You, my little ball of mischief, are going to be a damper on my love life, aren’t you?" The cat meowed her response.

"So, what are you going to name her?"

"I think I’ll call her Misty," said Kayla, and Sam approved.

"That’s nice. As long as I can call her Mischief," she added. "I’ve got her things out in my truck. Litter box, litter, food, all that fun stuff."

After settling Misty, and showing the two-month old where the litter box was, Sam announced she was going to make dinner.

"You don’t have to cook," said Kayla. "We can snack on what’s left over." Sam enthusiastically agreed, and helped herself to the smorgasbord of food that Kayla had set out for their guests.

"This has been a great Christmas," said Kayla. "Thank you."

"You’re welcome. I enjoy having someone else to shop for," said Sam, smiling. "Thank you for sharing it with me."

A sudden blast of wind startled both women, but frightened Kayla. "Did they say how bad the storm was supposed to get?" she asked, trembling.

Sam pulled her into a strong hug, trying to comfort her. "I guess it’s supposed to be pretty bad," she said, kissing the top of the blonde head she loved. "But, don’t worry. We’re inside, and it can’ t hurt us."

Kayla grinned up at her, and stood on her tiptoes to give the rancher a kiss. As Sam leaned down, she murmured, "If that cat says a single word, I’ll send her outside to sleep with the dogs." Their kiss turned more passionate, and Sam reached down to put her hands on Kayla’s waist, earning a soft moan that the rancher swallowed into her own body.

The two women kissed their way to the hallway, where Kayla pulled back to place soft kisses on the tall woman’s neck, sending tingles down the rancher’s spine.

"Kay," muttered the woman, "are you sure this is what you want?" She didn’t want them to give into their sudden passion only to regret it later.

"Yes," responded Kayla, her knees suddenly weak as Sam nuzzled her earlobe. The rancher caught her with ease, and carried her to bed. Laying her down, the woman climbed up next to her, and covered her in soft butterfly kisses. Kayla shivered as Sam continued southward.

And, well… I think you get the idea of how the two women spent the evening, as the cat slept quietly in the den, and the snow howled, unheard.

Sam awoke the next morning, feeling an unusual weight on her chest. She quirked an eyebrow when she noticed that Misty was asleep on top of her. To her left, a snoring blonde made her smile.

Glancing up at the clock, she saw it was past eight, and decided to wake her lover. Kissing the woman softly on the cheek had no effect, so Sam moved to her eyelids, nose, and forehead. Gently, the rancher kissed the sleeping woman’s lips, and she awoke with a smile. Sam wasn’t sure if she woke up after she started returning the kiss, or before.

"Morning," said Sam, smiling into sleepy green eyes.

"Morning," replied Kayla. Then, she noticed the sleeping cat. Taking the kitten into her arms, she put her against her chest, and grinned. An uninterested golden eye opened, and Misty decided to get up, since she had been disturbed. When the feline stretched, Kayla was instantly aware that she was not wearing any clothes - claws went straight through into skin.

"Claws, Misty, claws!" she cried, and Sam mercifully came to her rescue, placing the cat on the covers in the center of the bed.

"Come on, Misty," she said, picking the small cat up with one hand, "let’s go make breakfast. See you in a bit, love," said Sam, kissing Kayla softly. Misty rolled her eyes, and detested the fact that she was still suspended in air. Mewing loudly, and digging in a claw into Sam’s bare shoulder, she quickly ended the chance for an encore of the night before.

"Ouch! Darn cat," muttered Sam, walking out of the room. Holding the cat up so they were eye-to-eye, she said, "Listen, little one. It’s not ladylike to interrupt a nice moment, okay? And certainly not by a claw in the shoulder!" Misty just purred, and pressed her nose against Sam’s, melting the rancher’s annoyance away.

The rancher decided to fix ham and eggs for breakfast. As she was cooking, Misty was constantly meowing and rubbing around her ankles, pleading for a bite. Sighing, Sam placed a plate with a small piece of ham that she had cut into bite-sized morsels on the kitchen floor. The cat ran to it, and purred loudly as she ate the meat.

"You know, your Mom will kill me if she knows I spoil you like this," she said.

"Too late," said a voice, and Sam looked up, guiltily.

"Hey, she said please," said the rancher, and Kayla laughed.

"It’s okay. Uh, Sam?" asked Kayla, gaining the rancher’s attention.


"You do realize that you’re still naked, right?" she asked, and the woman nodded.

"Yeah, so?"

"Just thought I’d point it out," laughed the counselor.

"Hey, you stole my Eeyore shirt!" exclaimed Sam, upon seeing that the blonde was sporting her long white T-shirt that had a picture of the Disney donkey on it.

"You want it back?" asked Kayla, mischievously.

"No, that’s okay. Looks better on you," she said, leaning down to place a kiss on the bridge of her love’s nose. "Besides, modesty’s never been an issue with me."

"So I see," commented Kayla, with a smile. "Hey, those eggs smell good!"

The two had just sat down to eat breakfast, Sam still buck naked, save the necklace Kayla had given her - upon her own insistence - when there was a knock at the door. Sam raised an eyebrow, quickly threw on a robe, and answered it. To her surprise, Aaron stood on her doorstep.

"Hey," he said, softly. "Listen, can I come in? I need to talk to you."

Sam noticed he was wearing a white T-shirt and blue jeans, with a black jacket. "Are you drunk?" she asked, wondering when the change in wardrobe had occurred. Also, he was clean shaven and had lost the sideburns.

"No," he said, quickly. "I got help, Sam. Look," he said, displaying two tokens proudly on the palm of his hand, "I’ve been sober for one month, two weeks, and three days."

"What do you want?" she asked.

"I just want to talk to you. I figured you might be wondering about some things, and I’m here to clear them up for you," he said.

The rancher nodded, and stepped aside to let him in. She knew he couldn’t pick up the chips anywhere, they had to be given as a reward for staying sober from a clinic. And maybe he could give her the information she needed that would clear up the ‘mystery’.

"Have a seat in the den," she said. "I’ll be there in a minute." He obeyed, and sat rigidly on the couch, while Sam went into her room to change. Slipping on a pair of sweats and a T-shirt, she returned to the kitchen, first, to explain to Kayla what was going on.

"Kayla, Aaron’s here," she said, and the woman looked up, sharply. "He says he needs to talk to me. He’s sober, love," added the rancher. "You can stay here, if you want. I’ll be in the den if you need anything," she said, kissing the blonde’s forehead before leaving the room.

"Talk," ordered the woman, as she sat down in the chair, after starting a fire to warm the room.

"I came because I had to tell you something, if you don’t know already. Kyle is my nephew," he said, and the surprise must have shown on Sam’s face, because he added, "I guess you didn’t know. At any rate, I heard about what he did to Kayla, and I have to apologize.

"I guess I’d better start from the beginning," he sighed. "Here goes. I’ve been taking care of Kyle for the past few years now, since his father, my brother, died in a car accident. His mother died in childbirth, so I’m the only family he has left. I took him in, of course.

"As you know, I play Poker. I’ve played every Monday night for the past ten years. Well, I stopped a month ago, but that’s beside the fact," he muttered. "At any rate, I’d go over to Hank’s house to play. We’d play cards, drink beer, stuff like that. Every once in a while, I’d take Kyle over with me, just for kicks, you know?

"He was a pretty good Poker player, too. One night, I took him over there to play cards, and Hank was all upset. He said that Kayla had left him for you, and that he couldn’t believe he married a lesbian, and on and on and on," said Aaron, noticing that Sam looked angry. "Well, I know for a fact that our friend Tom was gay. I say was, because that’s the guy who robbed the bank and killed himself. I know this because he told me so.

"I was the only one Tom trusted to know that he was gay, and I took it heart. We were very close friends, and when he told me he was going to kill himself, I begged him not to. But, once his mind was set, there was no telling him otherwise. I wish I could’ve gotten through to him!" he said, and shook his head, clearing his thoughts.

"Back to the topic at hand," he told himself. "Like I said, Kyle was there, so he knew about you and Kayla as well. And then, he saw you on the news, and he said he instantly fell in love with Kayla. I told him to get his head out of the clouds, because I knew that not only would the woman not go for him, but you wouldn’t let her go without a fight," he said, and Sam smiled at how well he knew her.

"You know Jo, don’t you?" he asked, and Sam nodded, a little surprised by the sudden name drop. "She’s my ex-wife, and Kyle’s Aunt. He’s never met Beth, my daughter, but he used to be very close to Jo. When he talked to her, she mentioned something about the woman on the news becoming her new counselor at the Community Center.

"She didn’t know what she did," said Aaron, sticking up for his ex-wife. "She thought she was helping her nephew. Jo knows about all he’s done, though, and she hasn’t talked to him in weeks.

"I… I just thought I’d let you know," said Aaron, as he finished his narrative.

"Thanks," said Sam, awkwardly.

"Hey, Sam? How are the horses? I was drunk when I took them, and I don’t remember much about it. I didn’t hurt them, did I?" Sam took pity on the man, because he looked genuinely afraid.

"No, they’re all okay. Venus, the Palomino, was injured a month ago, but she’s okay now. Thank you for asking," added the rancher.

"I know we used to go together, but we became enemies. I’d like it if we could be friends again," said Aaron.

"It’ll take some time, Aaron, but maybe we can," said Sam.

"And I’m sorry for anything I ever did to hurt you or Kayla," he added. "I really have no problem with whom you choose to love. Thanks for hearing me out."

"Thank you for shedding some light on the subject. I’d been wondering about those things myself. Oh, do you want your brother’s gun back? I took it from Kyle," added the rancher.

"No, you can keep it. Kyle doesn’t need to have any within his reach anyhow. I’ll talk to you later, Sam," said Aaron, and left.

"How’d it go?" asked Kayla, as she reheated the rancher’s food in the microwave.

"Really well, actually," she said, and proceeded to tell Kayla all about what Aaron had told her as she finished her breakfast.

"I’m glad he’s trying to clean up his act," said Kayla, sincerely. Sam nodded, and jumped when a gray ball of fur jumped up on her lap.

"Wait a minute. I’m confused," said the counselor, suddenly. "Explain to me all the relatives of Aaron again?"

"Kyle is Aaron’s and Jo’s nephew. Beth is his daughter, and Amy is Jo’s niece, with Jo’s current husband as her uncle," finished the rancher. Misty mewed and pawed at her, relentlessly. Feeding the kitten a piece of her meat, she shooed the cat away, and Misty immediately went crying to her mother.


The days passed quickly, with the holiday hubbub over. New Year’s Eve was spent in much the same fashion as Christmas night. Our two ladies were, uh, occupied.

Kayla enjoyed coming home and knowing that she had Sam and Misty waiting for her. The cat followed her around the house, and it felt good to have a pet of her own again. The counselor spoiled the cat almost as bad as she spoiled the rancher.

Valentine’s Day approached quickly, and it fell on a Sunday, so the two women spent the entire day together. Sam took Kayla out to a movie, and made breakfast for her, while Kayla gave the rancher a much needed back massage, fixed dinner, and washed the dishes.

When the meal was over, and dishes were done, Sam slipped into her room. Opening her dresser drawer, she withdrew a small box, and put it in her pocket. Joining Kayla, who was lying on the couch in the den reading a book, Misty curled up by her side. Sam gently took the book from her and laid it on the table.

"Sam, what are you doing?" asked Kayla, slightly exasperated.

"Kayla, I need to talk to you," said the rancher, and Kayla was instantly alert. The woman seemed upset, or nervous, about something.

"Is everything okay?" asked Kayla, sitting up, and Sam nodded.

"Yeah, yeah, everything’s fine. Okay," she said, taking a deep breath, "here goes. Kayla, you know I love you, and I would never do anything to hurt you."

"Sam…" said Kayla, softly, and Sam held up her hand, meeting Kayla’s eyes with her own.

"Kay, please, just hear me out, okay? This is kind of hard," admitted the rancher, and Kayla nodded.

"You know I love you with all my heart. You are the best thing that’s ever happened to me, love. We’ve shared our deepest feelings, our deepest fears, our bodies, our souls, and our minds. I don’t know what I’d do without you by my side. We share everything with each other, but I want us to share our lives, too.

"McKayla," she said, clearing her throat as she got down on one knee in front of the awed counselor and withdrew the box from her pocket, opening it slightly so the counselor could see the contents within, "I’ll love you forever. Will you marry me?"

Kayla was floored. Her mouth hit the ground when she saw the gorgeous diamond ring that was encased in the velvet box that Sam held in her hand. Tears welled up in her eyes and it was all she could to nod her head ‘yes’. When Sam slipped the ring on her finger, the tears spilled over, and she cried with joy as the rancher gathered her into a strong hug.

"I love you," said the woman.

"I love you, too," echoed Kayla, finding her voice. "But, Sam, how can we? It’s not legal."

Sam smiled up at her love. "It’s not that it’s not legal, it’s just not recognized. We don’t need a piece of paper to prove our love. I know of a priest who will marry us," she said. "I can get it arranged for Saturday, how’s that?"

"Oh, Sam, that’s wonderful!" said Kayla, kissing the rancher soundly on the lips. Misty meowed her protest at being ignored, so Kayla picked her up and kissed her on the nose. Satisfied, the kitten remained quiet as the women kissed again.


Saturday came quickly for the two lovers, who had butterflies fluttering around in their stomachs by Friday night. They decided that the wedding would be small and casual, and that the only people invited would be Melissa, Kayla’s parents, Luke and his family, and the kids. Everyone else could find out on their own time.

The preacher met them at the church at nine o’clock in the morning. Kayla had slept at Melissa’s house, since the woman insisted that you weren’t supposed to see your spouse on your wedding night. Sam was not too happy about that, but reluctantly agreed, and spent what had to be the loneliest night ever, alone in her bed.

"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today, to join these two women," began the priest, and the said women tuned him out as they focused on each other.

Kayla was wearing a white dress that wouldn’t quite qualify as a wedding dress. The fabric was cut so it rested just above her breasts, with long sleeves, and it was so long it nearly covered her toes.

Sam, on the other hand, was also wearing a dress - voluntarily, no less. Her gown was a blue that blended beautifully with her eyes. It was long, with short sleeve, and a low V-neck as well. The heart-shaped locket rested on her chest - the rancher never took it off.

God, she looks beautiful, thought Sam, as her heart skipped a few beats. Is it just me, or do her eyes look more green?

She is drop-dead gorgeous! Kayla thought, as she stood facing the woman she loved, their hands clasped. It’s a wonder I don’t have competition!

The preacher interrupted their thoughts. "The ladies have prepared their own vows, which they will now read," he said, looking towards Kayla.

Kayla smiled a little, and took a deep breath, removing a slip of paper from the strap of her bra.

"Sam," she began, "you came into my life many years ago as a friend, and you came into my life as more than that at a time when I needed you most. You’ve led me through good times and bad, and stood by my side through it all. You’re more than I could ever ask for, and I am so happy to stand here with you now. You’ve led me to the rest of my life," she finished, and smiled at the rancher, who had tears in her eyes.

"And now you," prompted the priest.

"McKayla," began the rancher, taking a deep breath to calm her racing heart. She had no vows written down, she wanted to speak the words as they came. "The road I’ve traveled in my life is not the straightest, I know. I’ve had plenty of hard times in my life. But they led me to you, and I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. I love you, Kayla, with all that I am," concluded the rancher, smiling through her tears.

"Well, now that that’s taken care of," said the priest, sniffling himself. "I now pronounce you… married. You may kiss each other." The women leaned close, and kissed each other passionately. Pretty soon, the preacher tapped Sam on the shoulder, and reminded her with a nod of his head that they had company.

"Congratulations!" said Amy, running up and giving the two a hug. "Oh, this is great!" she said. Everyone lined up for their chance to congratulate the newly weds, and a reception was held at Sam’s house after the wedding.

As guests filled the Ranch, mostly crowding around the fireplace or the food, Kayla and Sam sat in the midst of it all. The world seemed to fade away as they held each other. Misty climbed up in her two mothers’ arms, and purred happily as they both petted her fur.

Jim walked up and said to Sam, "I guess you can honestly call me Dad now, huh?" Sam just smiled and gave her Dad a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

"Thanks for walking us both down the aisle," said the rancher, and Jim went back to his mingling.

Kayla smiled as she looked around. Surrounded by her friends, family, her cat, and her wife, she knew it couldn’t get any better. Smiling at her wife - she loved that word, she squeezed her hand, and felt her heart skip a beat when the rancher squeezed back, softly.

The counselor knew that they could handle whatever lay ahead - together.

The End

Let me know what you think!

Also, if anyone is interested in a sequel (not sure it would be a series), send me an email and let me know. If I have enough responses, I’ll go ahead and continue with the story of Sam and Kayla!

Candice Y02Mustang@AOL.com


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