Copyright 2004 by Texbard


These two characters were first introduced in The Bluest Eyes in TexasThe Bluest Eyes in Texas and Borderline are both available for purchase.  The online version can be found at The Royal Academy of Bards.

Setting:  Austin, Texas; Alpine, Texas; and Big Bend National Park, in west Texas, on the Texas-Mexico border.

Sex/Violence/Language/Drugs/Alcohol:  Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.  Rated R.

Animal Names:  Will be as in the published version of Bluest Eyes.

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Chapter 1

A red 4Runner topped the rise and the driver immediately slowed down, tapping her foot on the brakes in a steady motion, trying not to appear too obvious in her attempt to decrease her speed.  The truck passed the county sheriff's car at the side of the road, and the 4Runner's driver pumped her fist in the air, smiling at her companion in the passenger seat.  "Asleep at his radar."  She patted the border collie, giving a friendly scratch to the ruff of his neck before she resumed her grip on the steering wheel.  "Close call that time, Cody."  The dog nuzzled her leg and lay back down, resting his muzzle on her thigh.  He looked up at her with soulful brown eyes and sighed, placing one paw on her knee.

"What was a close call?" a sleepy voice replied from the back seat.  "Ouch."

"Ouch?"  Kennedy glanced in the rearview mirror, and spotting nothing amiss, gazed forward again at the long flat stretch of road ahead of them, noting a tumbleweed as it rolled across the highway way ahead of them, buffeted about by the stiff wind, until it lodged itself in a barbed wire fence.  "You okay?"

"Yeah.  Fine." Carson's face scrunched up as she worked the clasp on one of two seatbelts that had been holding her securely in place during her nap.  She'd forgotten about the entrapments, and had tried to sit up without undoing them first.  The seatbelts appeased her lover and so she complied, one of many concessions she was learning to make in their relatively new relationship.  It was a small sacrifice if it gave Kennedy peace of mind.

"Glad you're up."  Kennedy gestured toward a sign as they passed it, 'Welcome to Fort Stockton' emblazoned across it in bold western-style letters.  "Last chance for a decent bathroom break, and whatever else you might need to do before we get there."

"Already?"  Panic rose in Carson's voice and she sat up, shifting until she was sitting to the right in the back seat, where she could see Kennedy's face in profile.  She dutifully pulled the shoulder harness part of the seatbelt over her head and snapped it into place.  "How much longer?  I need to touch up my make-up, and comb my hair, and …"  She covered her face with her hands, shaking her head slightly.  "Oh, dear lord.  I am so not ready for this."

Talia, the dutiful Akita/Wolf mix picked up on her distress, and rose up from the floorboard below her, clamoring up onto the seat where she gave the alpha's mate a healthy lick to the cheek.  This earned her a kiss to her nose, and she panted happily, sitting down next to Carson and looking up at her with a goodly amount of adoration.  She snuffed at Carson's leg and then settled back, ears pointed forward alertly as she guarded the woman she considered to be her charge during the long cross-state drive from Austin to Alpine.

"Relax."  Kennedy pushed a map back toward her from on top of the center console, then leaned down just enough to turn down Shania Twain on the stereo, so she could hear Carson better.  "We still have over fifty miles to go.  Just that there isn't much between here and home, unless you happen to be terribly fond of roadside rest stops."

"Ewww."  Carson wrinkled her nose in disgust.  "No thank you.  I need hot water and some semblance of something sanitary, thank you very much.  How about a McDonald's?  They always have good bathrooms.  And good mirrors.  I must look a sight by now."

"That you do," Kennedy mused, studying her lover's disheveled hair in the rear-view mirror with an appreciative eye.  Blonde unruly locks stuck out appealingly in all directions, and Carson's purple fleece pullover was askew and partially unzipped, open just enough to offer a brief hint of curved flesh.  Kennedy realized Carson's shoulder harness was keeping her from having a better view, and briefly pondered her staunch stance on seatbelts.

"What's that supposed to mean?"  Carson dug frantically through her purse, searching for a mirror.  "Do I look that bad?"

"You're beautiful," Kennedy replied, receiving an uncertain smile in response.  "My folks are going to love you, sweetheart.  Quit fretting."

"It's just …" Carson's face reddened and she looked down, brushing dog hair off her faded jeans with agitated flicks of her wrist.  "Your mother …"

Ah.  Kennedy suppressed a grin, recalling a phone call from her mother the morning after she and Carson made love for the first time.  They were still cuddled up in bed when she took the call, and her mother had intuitively deciphered the situation and given her daughter a gently teasing hard time about it.  Carson, in turn, had figured out what being said on the other end of the line, and had been mortified.  "Carson, it will be fine.  Trust me.  Mama has been dying to meet you.  She called last night to check on when we thought we'd get there, and she was extremely excited about you coming home with me."

"Really?"  Carson ran her fingers back through her hair, ordering the pale waves.  "I'm just afraid I'll die of embarrassment when I see her.  It's so different from the way I grew up.  If my folks were still alive, they'd be assuming I'm still a virgin, because I'm not married."

Kennedy chuckled under her breath.  "See, and mine thought I wasn't one, when I still was.  Go figure.  Pa had 'the talk' with me about the heartbreak of teenage pregnancy and birth control and all that.  He sure was surprised when I told him that not only did I already know about all that, it wasn't applicable in my case.  Took some convincing too.  Besides drinking, drugs, and drag racing, sex was one of the main weekend pastimes at my high school.  Not much else to do in these parts.  There were too many girls who did get pregnant, and he wasn't taking any chances of it happening with me. I finally told him I wasn't interested in boys, and that led to a whole other discussion."

"Wow."  Carson's eyes widened in amazement.  "Your father had that talk with you?  I can't imagine having it with my mother, much les my father.  It was just assumed I wasn't having sex.  Which I wasn't.  At least not in high school.  I … Kennedy?"  Carson's attention was diverted out the window.  "What in the heck is that?"  A tiny creature was running along the grassy space between the road and the fence, a small brown blur just a little bit ahead of the truck.

"Roadrunner."  Kennedy slowed a bit, so they wouldn't pass the bird too quickly, giving Carson a chance to see it better.  "Fairly common around here.  Never seen one before?"

"No."  Carson pressed her nose against the window and fogged the glass, drawing back when she realized it was cold outside.  "Hey, are those mountains way off over there?"

"Yep," Kennedy gazed off to the distant left at the hazy-looking brown hills.  "We'll be driving through the Glass Mountains, once we turn off I-10 onto 67.  Be a nice change, huh?"

"Yeah."  Carson continued to look at the mountains, as they grew close.  She noted a large state flag on a tall pole in front of a ranch house as they passed it, with no American flag above it.  "Another Republic of Texas sympathizer."

"Lots of them in these parts, that's for sure."  Kennedy spotted a pair of golden arches as they entered the town, and exited, pulling up to the side of the building.  Carson hopped out and made a bee-line for the restroom, while Kennedy quickly clipped leashes onto the dogs' collars and took them around back of the building for a break. 

The unrelenting wind whipped around them as she walked them around in a circle, and she reached up, pulling her leather jacket collar up higher against her neck.  It was mostly clear, but cold, with only a few puffy clouds floating way up above them in the thin blue fall sky.  The air was much drier than what they were used to in Austin, and she briefly hoped her mother had remembered to put a humidifier in their room.

In a bit, Carson returned, bearing a white paper bag and two cups.  Kennedy eyed the bag and the cups, raising one eyebrow in question and peering over the top of her sunglasses at her lover as she waited for Carson to put them in the car, before she handed off the dogs.  "Back in a minute."  She gave a quick pat to a denim-clad backside, and took off, darting inside the fast food restaurant.

Cason merely shook her head and smiled, then circled the restaurant with the dogs, arriving back at the truck just as Kennedy returned, opening the back door and guiding  both dogs into the back seat.  "You joining me up front now?"  She noted a hint of freshly-applied perfume as Carson drew closer, and she placed a hand at the small of her back, while she opened the passenger door for her.  As Carson got situated, Kennedy leaned in, resting her hand on her knee.  "You smell good."  She leaned closer still, kissing Carson on the cheek.  "And you look great.  I think you'll pass muster with the folks, no problem."

"You're sure?"  Carson's eyes narrowed as three men passed in front of the truck, watching the two women with great interest.  "Careful, honey."  She nodded toward the men.  "We're in redneck country now."

Kennedy glanced over her shoulder, feeling her feistier side rise up.  "Screw 'em," she muttered under her breath  She observed the genuine concern in Carson's eyes, though, and backed off just a bit.  "Alright, I'll be good.  This time."  She patted Carson's leg and caught a whiff of French fries.  "Hey, what did you bring me?"

"Orange juice," Carson replied, picking up a chocolate shake she'd purchased for herself.  "And you can share the extra-large fries with me if you're in the mood to live dangerously."  She winked at her vegetarian lover.

"Alright."  Kennedy smiled.  "French fries sound kind of good right now."

"Yeah.  I always seem to crave junk food right before a holiday.  Guess it's to store up before eating all that home-cooked stuff."  She poked a straw into the designated slot in her shake cup lid and paused, looking up as Kennedy prepared to close the door.  A thought occurred to her.  "Kennedy, you don't eat turkey, do you?"

"Nope."  The tall woman gave a tug to Carson's seat belt.

"Then what do you eat for Thanksgiving dinner?"  She tossed the straw wrapper back into the paper bag.

"Tofurkey."  Kennedy closed the door with a solid thunking noise.

"Oh."  Carson sat back, watching as Kennedy rounded the front of the car.  She had the sexiest swagger Carson had ever seen.  "Tofurkey?"  She spoke aloud to the dogs, turning to face them.  "What in the heck is that?"


Carson pressed her nose against the window again, as the 4Runner cruised down Holland Avenue, the main street, in Alpine.  Every now and then she pulled back long enough to clear the fog from the window with the cuff of her pullover, making a spot so she could watch the town roll by.  It had proved to be more charming than other west Texas towns she could recall.  Just as Kennedy had said, there were several art galleries, and the streets and buildings just seemed cleaner and more cared-for than she had anticipated.  She noted a coffee shop and swiveled around toward the driver's seat, batting her eyelashes fetchingly.  Kennedy rolled her eyes and without a word, turned in and parked the truck, then followed her lover into the warm aromatic shop.

While Carson ordered up a large mocha latte, Kennedy shoved her hands into her pockets and meandered about, carefully looked around the shop.  A few people were scattered at small round tables, either reading or conversing in low tones among themselves.  She didn't recognize any of them and immediately felt a knot relax in her stomach that she hadn't realized was there.  Hmmmmm.  She stored that away to ponder later, smiling as Carson approached her with two cups.  "And what did you bring me this time?"

"Soy decaf," Carson handed over the hot paper cup and took a cautious sip of her own beverage, careful not to burn her tongue or the roof of her mouth.  She had a home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner to look forward to the next day, and had no intention of doing anything that might dampen the experience.

"Thanks, sweetheart," the endearment slipped out quite naturally, and earned her a frown from a woman seated behind her.  The expression was lost on Kennedy, but not on Carson, who briefly glanced at the woman before she deliberately tucked her hand in the crook of Kennedy's elbow.

"You're welcome.  It's cold out there."  Her eyes again flicked over the woman, who was pretending to read a book but in reality was scrutinizing them over the top of the pages.  Carson recognized the author's name on the book jacket as one from her Southern Baptist days.  "Thought you might need something to warm you up.  Besides me that is."  She quickly forgot her resolve to lay low in redneck territory, and bumped hips with Kennedy as they started toward the door.

Kennedy's brows rose in puzzlement, but her eyes sparkled with pleased mischief.  "Why Miz Garret, are you flirting with me?"  She tilted her head in surprise again as Carson held the door open and gave her an insistent push through it.

"No, I'm propositioning you," she raised her voice a little louder than necessary, and looked back over her shoulder once more, to see the woman openly scowling at them.  With a little wave of her hand in the woman's direction, and a perky smirk, she closed the shop door.

Heh.  Carson buffed her nails on her jacket collar.  Kennedy had missed the entire exchange.

"Al--rightttt."  Kennedy fished the keys out of her jacket pocket and opened Carson's door, feeling the tug of the wind as she held onto the handle.  "This might be the best trip home ever."  She closed the door and went around, climbing into her side, and pausing halfway in for a moment to take in Carson's expression.  "What?"   She slid into her seat and felt a light touch to her arm.

"I love you, that's all."  Carson's eyes misted over.  It hurt to think someone found something so beautiful to her to be abhorrent.  "Couldn't remember if I'd said that to you today or not."

A charmed smile lit up Kennedy's face.  "Well, you said it now."  She reached across, cupping Carson's cheek and brushing her thumb against her skin, before she leaned over and kissed her, taking a moment to savor the sweet contact.  "I love you too, sweetheart.  You ready to go meet my family?"

"Ready as I'll ever be."  Carson's hand dropped down, resting on Kennedy's thigh, enjoying the play of muscle as her leg moved from the brake to the gas pedal.  She suddenly felt braver and rejuvenated.  She'd just stood up to an obviously bigoted stranger.  How bad could a couple of parents be?

They drove to the end of the street, or at least what was the end of a continuous row of buildings, then passed a long expanse of open area between the edge of town and a large Victorian-style house.  It had three stories, and was painted pale blue, with white trim.  One corner was a rounded tower that went all the way from the ground level to the third floor, and an inviting wide covered porch appeared to go all the way around the house.  A few of the upper rooms had balconies, and several tall pecan trees graced the yard.

Kennedy turned into a long winding driveway and pulled up to the side of the house, parking under a long low carport that was big enough to shelter a half dozen vehicles.  Besides the 4Runner, Carson noted a navy blue Ford F150 extended cab pickup, a black Chevrolet Avalanche, another 4Runner, this one in forest green, and Pete's Ford Ranger.  Kennedy's younger brother had left Austin on Monday, two days earlier, having finished up all the class work he needed to prior to the holiday.

"This is where you grew up?"  Carson's eyes were wide with wonder.  "It's like a giant gingerbread house.  How cool."

"Yep, this be home."  Her eyes narrowed as they swept over the stately house, a dozen emotions flicking across her face, before she opened the truck door.  Before her feet hit the ground, three dogs came bounding around from behind the house, another Akita/wolf mix like Talia, a German Shepherd, and what appeared to be a Rottie-Mastiff mix.  "Whoa, whoa, hey!"  She found herself pressed against the side of the car, as three sets of paws pushed her back, and three lolling doggie tongues vied for the honor of licking her face.  "Ugh!!"  She tried to push them off, as Carson came around the side of the truck, laughing so hard she was almost doubled over.

Inside the truck Talia and Cody took up an incessant barking and whimpering, their claws clicking against the windows as they tried desperately to escape the confines of the truck and join the rest of the pack.  A screen door opened off the side of the house, and two more little dogs came running, a dachshund and a small terrier mutt that was so ugly he was cute.  "Awww."  Carson plunked down, as the two tiny canines both leaped into her lap, quite oblivious to her status of stranger.  "Kennedy, you didn't tell me your folks ran a kennel and a bed and breakfast.

"Ahhhhhh."  The tall woman finally managed to shove the larger dogs away.  "Nah, all of these are their dogs, but we do have some stables." She nodded toward the edge of a barn, which peeked out from behind the house.  "One of the perks of staying here are guided horseback riding tours in season."

"Are we in season?"  Carson stood, carefully setting the two dogs down, before she brushed yet more dog hair off her jeans.

"If the guests are willing to pay extra, we're always in season," Kennedy grinned at her, then turned, as the screen door opened again.  "Uh …"

"Shea!"  A bubbly redheaded woman approached them, her face shining like the sun.  Carson liked her immediately.  "My baby girl.  Get over here and give your Mama a hug."  The woman's arms opened wide, and Kennedy automatically moved into them, hunching over and kissing her mother on the cheek.

"Hi, Mama."  She stepped back, suffering her mother's attentions, as she fluffed her dark bangs, patted her cheek, and finally clasped her by the shoulders. 

"Introduce me to your Carson," she turned, and Carson suddenly felt self-conscious, hoping beyond hope that she would meet with the woman's approval.  "Oh, aren't you just lovely!"

"Th--thank you," Carson stammered, as she found herself engulfed in a hug similar to the one Kennedy had just received.  It lasted a lifetime, as her senses and emotions were overwhelmed.  Her hair was softly coifed in curls and waves, and her eyes were the same vivid blue as Kennedy's.  She was warm and solid, and her voice was melodic with just a hint of a drawl-twinged brogue.  Mrs. Nocona smelled … like a Mom … of flour, and sugar, and Estee Lauder perfume, and she wore a feminine lavender blouse, and a pair of pleated dark navy mom-style jeans, complete with white keds sneakers and white lace socks.  How long had it been since she'd received a mom-hug?

Finally, they parted.  "Welcome …"

"Mama, this is Carson," Kennedy cut in, her brows scrunched together in question at the mix of emotion on Carson's face.  "Carson, this is my mother, Aileen Nocona."

"Thank you," Carson smiled shyly.  "Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Nocona."

"Call me 'Aileen,' Carson."  She draped an arm over first Carson's, and then Kennedy's shoulders and steered them toward the house, with the dogs in tow.  "Come on in the house.  I just took a batch of peanut butter cookies out of the oven, and brewed a fresh pot of tea.  I don't think our weekend boarders will be back from their hike in time for afternoon cookies, so y'all can join Pete in the parlor."

"Alright"  Kennedy glanced over at Carson, whose head was bowed in silence as she listened.  "How many boarders for the holiday?"

"Just a young couple, not much to deal with, thank goodness.  Your father isn't here right now.  He road down toward the park on Shadow.  Took his sketching pencils and a fresh canvas with him.  We didn't expect y'all for a few more hours, so I imagine he'll be back in time for supper."  She gave a squeeze to her daughter's shoulder.  It was no secret Kennedy was a daddy's girl, something Aileen Nocona had accepted from her daughter's infancy.  She herself was hopelessly in love with the man, so it stood to reason their daughter would adore him as well.

"Oh.  Okay."  Kennedy stopped.  "Just a second.  I forgot about the dogs.  I'll be right back."  She lopped back toward the truck, releasing the crazed Cody and Talia, who immediately ran lickety-split toward the other dogs, where a great canine mixer ensued, with much tail-wagging, butt-sniffing, and a few healthy nips and yelps.  Within minutes, Talia had established herself as leader of the pack, effectively ousting the female Mastiff mix who usually held that position.  In no time at all, they were off, headed back toward the barn and the open field behind it, to do whatever dogs did to pass the time on a cold fall afternoon.

Kennedy returned from the truck, with their bags in hand, and all three women ducked inside the house.  The scent of fresh baked-goods wafted into the entryway, and Carson looked around, taking in the southwestern mix of furniture and décor.  It was strangely comforting, and she wandered over toward a painting similar to the one that hung over their fireplace back in Austin.  She recognized Kennedy's father's fine hand in the bold brush strokes and earth-toned pigments, and she smiled, as she felt Kennedy's hands clasp her shoulders from behind.

Aileen smiled at the sight, and prudently disappeared into the kitchen.  "I'll put the cookies on the plate, and bring them out shortly, and then I'll go roust out your brother.  I think he's upstairs."

"Thanks, Mama."  Kennedy rested her chin on Carson's head.  "You alright?"

"Yeah."  Carson patted one of the hands at her shoulder.  "Just a little overwhelmed.  Been a while since I've had mom-type contact, is all.   Kinda threw me off balance."

"Oh."  Kennedy drew in a deep breath, pondering her lover's words.  "This gonna be a tough weekend for you?"

"No."  Carson turned, placing her hands on Kennedy's hips, giving them a little pat.  "I think it's going to be the happiest Thanksgiving since …" she looked up, blinking hard for a minute "… since they died.  Your Mom's real nice."  She smiled.  "And to think I was afraid to meet her."

"She is a force of nature, no doubt," Kennedy mused.  "Seems like all the women in my life are."

"It's good for you."  Carson stood on tip-toes, pressing their foreheads together.  "Keeps you on your toes."

"Seems to me like I'm keeping you on your toes right now."  Kennedy picked her up until she was about a foot off the ground, and gave her a healthy squeeze before setting her back on her feet.

Carson felt her entire spinal column pop into alignment, and closed her eyes in relieved bliss.  "Lord, I needed that after that long drive.  I've got a severe case of fanny fatigue."

"Need a massage?"  Kennedy asked hopefully, as she raised both hands and wiggled her fingers in anticipation.

"I just might take you up on that later, honey."  Carson looked around, her eyes falling on a wide wooden staircase.  "Speaking of, where are we sleeping tonight?"

"I've got the both of you in Shea's room," Aileen answered, as she backed through the kitchen door with a large platter of cookies.

"Mama, in the twin bed?"  Kennedy's groaned in consternation.

"Not any more.  Took it out and put in a long antique queen a few weeks ago."  She set the platter down on a shadowbox coffee table.  "Figured it was time you had a grown-up bed to sleep in here."

"Oh."  Kennedy sat down on a dark brown leather couch, motioning Carson to do the same.  She picked up a cookie and nibbled at the edge.  "Cool.  A bed I can finally fit in without hanging over the end."

"Hopefully the both of you will fit," Aileen answered absently.  "I'll go get the tea and be right back."

Carson covered her face with her hands, trying to scrub the blush away.  "I'm never going to get used to a parental unit approving of their child sleeping with someone," she whispered.  "It's just not right."

"Better than having to do the sneak down the hall routine," Kennedy nudged her shoulder.  "I'd hate to have to crawl out of a warm bed early in the morning to sneak back, when I'd much rather be snuggled up with you."

"Hmmm."  Carson attacked a cookie with a healthy bite.  "You do have a point.  Oh … wow."  Peanut butter and sugar melted on her tongue.  "These are fantastic.  Peanut butter is my favorite, you know."

"Yeah, I do."  Kennedy's eyes twinkled at her.  "So does Mama.  She asked."

"Oh."  Carson retrieved another cookie, and looked around the room again as she savored this one more slowly.  So far, Thanksgiving was turning out much better than she'd dared hope.


Carson observed the interior of the barn with a somewhat-educated eye, as she wandered slowly through it, feeling the springy hay underfoot.  She'd lived with Kennedy in Austin for almost a month, and they'd squeezed in a week in Mexico, sailing and scuba diving, earlier in November.  The other two and a half weeks, she'd spent her fair share of time both feeding and caring for Missy and Storm, Kennedy's champion quarter horses.  It was normally Pete's job to take care of them, but she'd taken pity on him as he worked extra hard to finish up some research papers, and studied for tests prior to the Thanksgiving break, and since she had not started job-hunting, caring for the horses helped occupy her time.

She still wasn't certain exactly what Pete was studying at The University.  He had kept to himself much of the time since she'd moved to Austin, and at first she'd though perhaps he was upset at her presence in the house.  Although he lived in the efficiency apartment over Kennedy's garage, he spent many meals in the main house, and used their washer and dryer for his laundry.  She'd also done a few loads of laundry for him, if she happened to be doing some for herself and Kennedy.  Between her and Pete, the two of them were beginning to change the contents of the refrigerator and pantry to a balanced mix of Kennedy's ultra-healthy fare, and their own more common tastes.

Oddly, it was food that they had begun to bond over, giggling together when Kennedy wrinkled her nose at their boxed macaroni and cheese, canned spaghetti o's, sugar-coated breakfast cereals, tuna helper, and other items foreign to her disciplined palate.  She'd expected Pete to come bounding down the stairs earlier, as they also shared a love of peanut butter cookies.  Aileen had gone to roust him out and come back downstairs, announcing she'd found him sound asleep and she hesitated to wake him, as he seemed to still be catching up after the hard week of tests prior to his drive home.

So they'd shared half a plate of cookies, and a pot of herbal raspberry tea, after which Kennedy's restless side surfaced with a vengeance, fueled by the large dose of sugar her system was unaccustomed to.  She'd decided a trip to the barn was in order, to visit her father's ten horses, two cows, and chicken coops.  The horses were all quarter horses, with the exception of two plucky mustangs.  Carson had willingly gone along for the tour, smiling as Kennedy practically dragged her across the back yard area in her exuberance to simply get up and move.

Carson took her time, stopping to look at each horse in turn, scratching a nose here, offering up an apple bit there, and occasionally stepping inside the stalls to get a better look, if a horse seemed amiable enough.  After fifteen minutes or so, she realized Kennedy had disappeared, and she emerged from a stall, carefully dropping the latch in place before she went in search of her missing lover.  The scent of hay, leather, and horseflesh was thick and pleasant around her, and further down, she heard the distinct moo of a cow, and beyond that, the continual clucking and scratching of the free-range chickens.

In addition to the indoor pens, the chicken coops had small doors that led to very large outdoor wire-enclosed pens, where the chickens had extensive room to run and flap about.  However, on the brisk windy day, most of the hens were sensibly inside the barn, roosting and keeping warm.  Carson nodded in approval at the nice arrangement for the chickens.  She'd seen a documentary on the conditions of the average chicken farm, and it had almost been enough for her to join Kennedy in the land of vegetarians.  Truthfully, she enjoyed most of what Kennedy cooked, and had secretly come to like many of the variations on tofu and veggie burgers they had shared together.

She smiled, humming under her breath, as she thought about the drastic turn her life had taken.  New lover, new city, and for all practical purposes, a new life.  She still had no new job, and she was not quite ready to call Kennedy's house her home, just yet.  The jury was still out on her decision to find a place of her own, or stay with Kennedy permanently.  Her independent side wanted a space of her own, but the part of her that was head over heels in love was slowly winning the debate to stay. 

Kennedy had done everything she could to encourage the move to be permanent.  She'd completely cleared one of the guest bedrooms so Carson could set up her computer desk and her bed there.  She had yet to sleep anywhere but Kennedy's bed, which was just fine with Kennedy, but she did understand her only-child lover's need to have a part of the house that was hers alone.  Many of Carson's boxes from the move were still packed, and she'd had to go digging for her winter clothing just prior to the drive to Alpine.

Carson was drawn out of her musings of Austin, as she rounded a corner, making a one hundred eighty degree turn into another whole room of the large structure.  She stopped, and let out an appreciative whistle.  Kennedy was seated on her red and black Harley Heritage Softail Classic, and had donned a pair of black leather riding chaps that perfectly matched the black jacket and boots she was already wearing.  As Carson entered the storage area, Kennedy turned and winked at her, and motioned her over with a crook of her finger.

"Nice."  Carson sidled up to her, running her hand up and down the buttery-soft leather that covered Kennedy's thigh.

"Thanks, I like her."  Kennedy trailed her fingertips along the chrome handlebars.

"Oh," Carson patted her thigh.  "The bike's nice too."  She watched, pleased to see a slight blush to Kennedy's cheeks at the compliment.  "So this is your baby, huh?"

"No."  Kennedy turned, snaring her closer.  "You're my baby.  This is my Harley."  She tilted her head and spent a moment indulging in a lengthy kiss.  "Mmmm."  She pulled back, just a little, but still close enough to feel Carson's warm breath against her face.  "Raspberries and sugar."  She licked her lips and raked her eyes suggestively over her lover's toned body.  "Almost as tasty as the rest of you."  She stole another quick kiss.  "Wanna go for a little ride?  I've got a couple of helmets over there."  She gestured toward a shelf that held five helmets, along with a variety of gloves, boots, and other items she assumed went with the bike.  A rack next to the shelf bore a few pairs of chaps in various sizes, along with a couple of jackets.

"That sounds like fun."  She looked down at her own black leather jacket, which almost matched Kennedy's.  "Got some extra gear for me over there?  Maybe some gloves and chaps?  It's gonna be cold in the open air."

"You bet."  Kennedy swung her leg over the bike and sauntered toward the rack, picking out a pair of chaps and holding them up to her lover.  "These should fit you.  Mama has worn them a few times, and they were mine back in junior high school, before I hit my full height.  I actually wore them for rodeo, but they'll do for the bike too."

"Cool!"  Carson stood still, allowing Kennedy to buckle the foreign garment in place.  She'd never worn chaps before, and spent a moment walking around a little, getting used to the weight of them, and the slight creaking noise they made when she walked.  Her own black Doc Martens complimented the ensemble, as Kennedy added a pair of soft leather gloves, and lastly, a sparkling bright blue helmet.

Kennedy herself snapped a red helmet in place, and held out her hand, leading Carson back to the bike, making sure they both had their sunglasses safely in place as well.  "We'll just go for a short ride down the road to start out, until you get used to it.  Once I get on, just climb up on that little higher seat behind me, and hang on.  I'll do all the work.  You should be able to feel me leaning into turns.   Just follow my lead and you'll be fine."

"I think I can do that.  You're a good lead."  Carson smiled, thinking of the few times they'd danced together.  She waited, following a safe distance behind as Kennedy wheeled the bike out of the barn, climbed aboard, turned the key, and with a loud rumble, brought the engine to life.  "Sweet."  She carefully climbed in behind her lover, pressing her body against her and wrapping her arms around her middle.  "Very sweet."  The extra height to the back part of the seat put her on a level with Kennedy, and she was able to see over the taller woman's shoulder, as they took off.

It was like flying, but without the protection of the body of the plane.  The wind was cold, but the leather and face shields on the helmets protected them from much of the icy breeze, as it whipped past them.  Kennedy felt an involuntary grin spread across her face.  She'd missed this greatly, and wondered if perhaps she should reconsider getting a bike to keep in Austin as well.  The smile grew wider as she got used to Carson's presence behind her.

That was something new, but her body quickly adjusted to the extra weight and altered balance, as she expertly steered the bike around the curves in the road.  Having Carson at her back was keeping her warmer than she usually was, and she laughed as she felt her lover snuggle closer, her cheek pressed against Kennedy's shoulder.  They couldn’t talk very well, so she settled back, enjoying the physical sensations as they shared the ride and the view together.

The Big Bend area was different from the hill country they lived in.  These were real mountains, maybe not by Colorado standards, but compared to the hills west of Austin, they were huge.  The leaves on the deciduous trees were turning, lending a bright spectrum of red, orange, and yellow to the evergreens that also dotted the mountains in the distance.  The sky overhead was crisply blue, and the air smelled fresh and clean.  Carson looked up, and spotted a hawk circling way over head, before it suddenly dove quickly down behind a grove of trees, emerging again with some small creature in its claws.  It flapped its wings faster and faster, flying high above them, before disappearing behind the nearest mountain.  "Wow," she murmured as much to herself as to Kennedy.  "Awesome."

She felt a brief pat to one of her hands, indicating she had been heard.  She gave Kennedy a little squeeze in response, then dropped the hand in question, running it up and down Kennedy's leg.  Kennedy was all motion and warmth, and she could feel the energy rolling off her as they ate up the road ahead of them.  Even between two layers of leather, she could feel the subtle movement of her leg muscles as she compensated for the miniscule dips and turns they took.

It was an interesting combination of sensations, being so close to Kennedy that she could smell the leather and the clean unique scent of her skin, and even the herbal shampoo that lingered in her hair.  Despite the cold, she was very warm, and suspected Kennedy was too.  Her own legs were pressed tightly against Kennedy's hips, and she suddenly realized just how pleasant the vibration of the bike itself was.

It was almost a sexual sensation, and she recalled Kennedy speaking of it in those terms.  Hell, she acknowledged, it was a sexual sensation, and she was beginning to understand the underlying lure of the expensive powerful bikes.  They couldn't be much closer together, without removing their clothing, and she laughed out loud as she realized just how appealing that thought was.

Her hands were back around Kennedy's middle, and she received a questioning pat to her leg.  Ah.  Kennedy had heard her laughing and wanted to know what was so funny.  Alright, she laughed again.  Let me see if I can show her.  She pressed as close as she possibly could, giving Kennedy's behind a little bump with her own pelvis before she settled back down, again running one hand up and down Kennedy's leg, before it came to rest on her hip.  She allowed her other hand to snake inside the halfway-unzipped opening of Kennedy's jacket, giving her belly a rub before it sneaked higher, just below a tempting breast.  She grinned wickedly and cupped the breast in question, laughing again as she felt Kennedy jump just a little in surprise.

The taller woman glanced briefly over her shoulder, flashing a sexy smile before she pinned her eyes back on the road.  It was sweet torture, and Kennedy also became aware of the humming engine between her legs, and Carson's pleasantly-wandering hands.  The need to pull off the road was growing exponentially, and she slowed a bit, carefully leaving pavement for a wide open patch of land that led to a large outcropping of rock.  The rock jutted out from the side of a hill, which had been cut clear through to make room for the road.  Behind the outcropping, she recalled a sheltered spot where she had spent many a night in high school, partying with her friends and six-packs of pilfered beer.

She pulled into the hidden space, and with an economy of motion, shut off the engine, popped the kickstand in place, and jumped off the bike, turning only long enough to climb back on, facing backward.  "Grrrowllll," she purred, pulling Carson close until Carson's legs were draped over her own.  She wasted no time in removing both their helmets, tossing them to the ground before she located the zipper on Carson's jacket, anxiously tugging it down, watching as Carson did the same with her jacket.  With the barrier of leather removed, she pulled her lover still closer, pressing their fleece-clad bodies together.  She removed a glove, quickly running one hand under Carson's top, finding her sports bra and tracing the tempting curves there.  "Damn, you feel good."

Carefully keeping one foot planted firmly on the ground for balance, she laced the fingers of her other hand through the hair at the nape of Carson's neck, as their lips met in a hungry exchange, and they attempted to devour each other.  Soon both hands were under Carson's top, running up and down a smooth back, then down, lifting Carson slightly and engulfing her butt, guiding her in a slow grind against Kennedy's lap.  "Sweet Jesus," she gasped.  "If it weren't so damned cold, you wouldn't be wearing anything by now, Miz Garret."

Carson slowed, her chest heaving, and buried her face into Kennedy's neck, nipping at sweet salty skin, tracing an ear with her tongue, then finding full moist lips once more. She pulled back, teasing her lover with tiny nibbles, before she deepened the kiss again.  Her own hands were busy with a pair of perfectly-shaped breasts, and she could feel and hear Kennedy's groans of pleasure as she shoved her bra up, finding warm sensitive skin. "Wish we could .."

"Me too."  Kennedy pressed her forehead against Carson's, smiling as she looked down at the movement under her pullover.  "Chaps and stuff would make it kinda tough, not to mention the cold."  She kissed Carson again, closing her eyes in abandonment to the sensations coursing through her body.  "Lord, much more of that and the cold is gonna be irrelevant."

"Yeah."  Carson reluctantly slowed some more, sliding her hands down and rubbing Kennedy's stomach, before she engulfed her in a warm hug, laughing giddily as they both caught their breath.  "Cold?"  She raised her head up, her eyes sparkling in the late afternoon sunlight. "What cold?"

"That was deliciously hot, sweetheart."  Kennedy traced a flushed cheek with her fingertips.  She watched Carson's eyes flutter closed in response, and heard a catch in her breath.   "You okay?"

"Yeah."  Carson's eyes were still closed, and she drew in a deep breath.  "Yeah, fine.  I  .. just … I …I almost …"  Her cheeks flushed pinker, and she could feel the heat of it beneath her skin.  She hugged Kennedy again, pressing her lips against her ear, whispering into it, as if someone might hear them, something Kennedy found endearing in the extreme.

"Oh?"  She smiled and simply held her lover, listening intently.  One hand wandered down, toying with the buckles on Carson's chaps.  "You want me to help you out with that?"

"Ohhhhh."  Carson moaned in frustration.  "That is soooo very tempting, but no.  Thank you.  But later …"  She grasped Kennedy's teasing hand and lifted it, brushing her lips across it. "… later, I'm definitely going to need your helping hand, stud."

"Oooo.  'Need.'  I like it."  Kennedy cradled Carson's face with both hands, and gently kissed her lips, and then each closed eyelid.  She released a pleased chuckle.  "Riding back might be a little painful, huh?"

"Oh, yeah."  Carson scooted back as they got their jackets re-zipped, and Kennedy jumped down to fish their helmets off the ground.  "Definitely painful."

"Come on."  Kennedy gave her calf a squeeze before she climbed back on the bike, facing forward.  "Bet Pa will be home by the time we get there.  Can't wait for y'all to meet."

"Oh, dear lord." Carson buried her face in her hands.  "I am in no state for that.  He'll know.  I swear he will."

"Sweetheart."  Kennedy turned around as much as she could.  "No matter what you're feeling inside, I promise, you don't have 'I'm horny' stamped on your forehead."

"Promise?"  Carson was grateful for the face shield, hiding her return blush.

"Promise, because if that were possible, I'd not be able to go out in public very often."  Kennedy winked at her, before dropping her own face shield.

"Oh."  Carson pondered that, as Kennedy kicked the engine on.  "Ohhhhh."  She smiled, and snuggled closer, careful to keep her hands politely against Kennedy's stomach, as they began the fast ride back to the house.


"Pa home?"  Kennedy opened the back door, which led into a large kitchen that bore commercial sized appliances.

Aileen turned from the counter, where she was beating cornbread ingredients in a green ceramic mixing bowl.  "No.  Why don't you go get your bags put away, and see if you can get Pete to wake up?  He'll be up all night if he sleeps much more."

"Wouldn't be much different than his usual hours in Austin," Kennedy muttered.  She ushered Carson through the spacious room, and into the short hallway between there and the parlor.  Their suitcases were still sitting at the foot of the stairs, and she hoisted hers up.

"I'll get mine," Carson grabbed her own smaller red duffle bag, and followed her lover up the wide oak staircase.  Along the walls were more small art prints with "Joseph Nocona" signed in a bold hand.  The southwestern décor extended to the second floor, and she climbed a bit slower than normal, just taking it all in.  A rich rust and forest green mixed rug ran down the second floor hallway, and led them to a third staircase, which Kennedy took at a brisk pace.

"Second floor is the guest rooms, third is where we actually live," she looked over her shoulder, slowing a bit when she realized Carson was almost at a stand still.  "Oh," she grimaced.  Carson was studying a hodge-podge of family photos, which covered the wall going up to the third floor.  "I'll tell you about all of those, later, if you want."

"Oh, how cute!"  Carson stopped completely, smiling at a naked brownish-red baby, stomach-down, on a fuzzy sheepskin rug.  The baby had a big blue bow wrapped around its thick head of black hair, her only clue it was a girl.  The baby's eyes matched the bow.  "This is you, isn't it?"

"Uh, yeah."  Kennedy cursed internally at whatever led parents to think it was fun to capture their children naked when they were too young to know to protest.  She ran the rest of the way up the stairs and dropped her bag, then hustled back down.  Carson had moved on to another photo a little further up.

"You  again?"  The girl in the photo was probably around 15 or so, not smiling, arms crossed, chin jutted out in a defiant manner.  Her hair was wild and long, and she wore jeans that were ripped out at both knees. Her feet were bare, and she wore a black tank top that showed off muscles that were already developed very nicely.  Next to her on the floor in the photo was a 2-foot tall trophy.  "What was that for?"

"State archery championships."  Kennedy touched the wooden frame for a moment, remembering the contest.  "I was grounded, and they only let me out of the house that day for the competition.  It was held up in Odessa.  We'd just gotten home and I'd changed clothes.  They snapped the picture and sent me back to my room."  She remembered a quiet ride home, with her pressed against one window in the back seat, Parker against the other, and a very small Pete strapped into a car seat between them.  "I was so mad at them," she recalled.  "I thought winning should have gotten me off the hook.  No such luck."

"What did you do?"  Carson looked over, noting the slight twitch in Kennedy's jaw, and a swallow, as her sight turned inward in memory.

"What hadn't I done?"  Kennedy smiled sadly for a moment.  "I'd beaten up a boy at school -- Roger Bradley.  Beat him up good, too.  Caught him behind the school cafeteria and broke his nose, and a rib, I think.  Then I ran away from school and skipped the rest of the day, 'cause I knew I was in trouble.  He'd been mean to me for so long, always calling me names when none of the teachers could hear him, half-breed, squaw, you've heard those stories.  He tried to trip me in the hallway too, stuff like that.  He'd asked me out and I turned him down, so I think that had something to do with it.  He wasn't mean to me until after I turned him down.  He spread some stories about me too, and that was the last straw."  Her cheeks turned red in shame.  "Remember, I said I didn't mind if I went out with boys and they told stories in the locker room, saying I'd slept with them, when I hadn't?"

"Yeah," Carson's eyes grew sad.  "'Cause it kept people from finding out you were gay?"

"Yep.  One boy at a time was one thing."  Kennedy looked away, back at the picture.  "The stories Roger told were different.  He started telling guys that I'd gang-banged some of the football team at a party up in the hills.  Of course I hadn't, but it didn't stop some of them from believing him, especially since I really had been at a kegger the night he said it happened.  I don't think that particular story every completely blew over.  I never told my parents why I'd beaten him up.  I was too ashamed of the story, so I just told them about the name-calling."

"I'm sorry," Carson reached out, rubbing Kennedy's arm through her fleecy soft top.

"Thing is, I'd hurt him bad enough that his folks called the sheriff to press assault charges against me.  Sheriff found me at a bar out on the edge of town -- little dive.  I was too young to be in there, but the owner was soft on me, he'd let me come in and drink a coke in the afternoons, if no one else was there."  She pressed her lips inward, her forehead scrunched up as she remembered her younger self.  "When he walked in, he caught me smoking.  Then he sniffed my coke.  I'd snuck some whiskey in there when the bartender was in the back room.  My folks grounded me for three months, and made me work off Roger's medical bills.  I ended up in county juvy court and the bartender got fined for serving alcohol to a minor, even though he hadn't really served me.  The judge kept the charges off my record, because I was a straight-A student and because I was headed to the state championships."

"Oh, my lord." Carson studied the photo more closely.  "Is that the worst thing you ever did?"

"Mmmm.  Maybe worst thing I did that year," Kennedy glanced at her lover, and found no judgment in her eyes.  "Carson, I was a mean, angry, cocky kid in high school.  I don't have many nice stories from then, other than my grades and sports achievements.  Outside school I was a terror.  I was almost always in trouble for something.  Just so angry …" she trailed off.

"I know.  But honey, it sounds like you had reason to be."  Carson had heard about her lover's troubled childhood, especially the prejudice she suffered for her Comanche background.  "Still wish we had known each other then."

"Me too," Kennedy finally smiled.  "You ready to see my room?"

"I'd love to."  She took Kennedy's hand and they rounded the top of the staircase and went to the end of the hallway, to the last door.  Kennedy opened it and dropped her bag inside the doorway, taking Carson's and depositing it next to it.

"Kinda crowded in here with the queen bed," she remarked.  "The twin one took up a lot less room."

"What a cool room," Carson looked around, her eyes darting everywhere.  The bed did indeed fill much of the space, but tucked against a sloping outer wall was a desk that bore a very old computer and a stack of reference books.  On the other side of the bed, next to the interior wall, was a dresser and a tall bookcase.  The bookcase was half filled with books, the other half filled with trophies of various sizes.  A door led to what she assumed was a closet, but the far corner was what drew her eye.  "Oh, wow, this is so awesome."  She moved to the corner, which was part of one of the rounded towers she'd seen from outside.  It was an alcove, a large round bench of sorts, covered with a thick navy blue cushion.  Matching navy blue curtains were drawn back, revealing a view of the mountains in the distance.  The sun was starting to set behind them, painting the sky in bright rich reds and oranges.

"Yeah," Kennedy joined her, as they scooted up on the cushion until they were next to the window.  "Spent a lot of time sitting in this window, figuring out how to get out of this town."  She picked up a very tattered old stuffed black and white horse, unconsciously hugging it to herself in a way that led Carson to believe the horse had received and given a lot of love in its day.  "Funny," she turned.  "Now that I don't live here, I always like coming home, at least to the house itself, and down in the park.  The town …" she sighed.  "I don't know.  Folks still see me as that young punk, I think.  Kinda tough sometimes, if we actually go into town for anything."

"Nah.  It would be different now, because  I'll have you by my side, and I can't think of anything that would make me prouder."  She rubbed noses with Carson, and found her lips, dropping the horse as she held her close.  "Damn them all," she came up for air, her smile almost outshining the sun behind her.  "Because somehow, despite all the hell I raised, I was lucky enough to find you."

Carson hugged her tightly, her chin pressed over her shoulder, as they rocked back and forth in the window.  "I'd be proud to be seen with you anywhere," she felt Kennedy's embrace tighten, and the puff of air next to her ear as she released a long shaky breath.  Kennedy was trembling, and for a moment Carson thought she was crying, but when she pulled back, she saw only a huge smile.

"God, I love you."  Kennedy sat back, her arm around Carson, as they watched the sun continue its journey behind the mountains.  Off in the distance, a charcoal-colored horse rounded the bend, a tall proud rider on its back.  Kennedy bolted up, crawling across the cushion and flipping the latch on the window, before she flung it open.  "Pa's home," she looked over her shoulder, then leaned out the window, bracing herself on the windowsill a she waved wildly.

Carson scooted in next to her, partly to hold on to her for fear she'd fall out the window.  She smiled, as Kennedy's father waved back.  He was too far away for them to hear each other.  She saw the man crouch low over the horse's neck, and they began galloping toward the house, eating up the space on the road.

"Let's go down stairs!"  Kennedy closed the window and leaped off the cushion, dragging Carson with her.  "When I was real little, I always used to meet him at the barn door when he came back from a ride."

"Alright."  They made their way quickly back down to the first floor, and sped past Aileen, who was bent over the oven.

"Your father must be home," she looked up, her hands covered with two peach colored oven mitts.

"Yeah," Kennedy hurried out the back door and took off at a run for the barn.  Carson stopped short on the back porch, somehow sensing that maybe her lover needed this moment to herself.  Aileen joined her, wiping her hands on her apron.

"Took a long time for her to feel that way about him again," she remarked, as she clapped Carson on the shoulder.  "Oh, she adored him as a child, but they clashed as she got older.  She was almost ready to leave for college up in Santa Fe, when they finally made their peace with each other."

"Glad to see they've patched things up."  Carson watched, as the horse rounded the side of the house and continued galloping toward the barn.  It pulled up in a cloud of dust, and Joseph Nocona jumped down, pulling Kennedy to him and lifting her slightly, spinning her around in a circle once before he let her down.  They spoke low enough that the women on the porch couldn't hear them.  Finally, after an animated conversation, they walked arm in arm back toward the house, identical expressions of adoration etched on their faces as they spotted Aileen and Carson.

It was too cute for words, and Carson smiled as Joseph mounted the back steps and pecked Aileen on the cheek, before he turned to study her.  She felt vaguely like a prize steer at the state fair, as his eyes fell on her face, his gaze piercing right through her as if he could see into her soul.  Finally, he smiled.  "Welcome to our home, Carson."  He took her hand, leading her into the house.  "Come in by the fire, and tell me all about yourself. Aileen, have you any coffee made up?  I believe I recall hearing Carson is as fond of it, as I am."

"I'll brew up a pot," Aileen turned toward the counter, where a triple coffee maker sat in a corner next to the stove.

Carson felt Kennedy fall in beside her, her long arm automatically draping across her shoulders in a comforting gesture.

"Shea," he addressed his daughter.  "Why don't you go roust your lazy brother down here, while your Carson and I have a nice long chat over our coffee?"

Oh boy.  Carson looked up at Kennedy in panic.  Kennedy smiled at her and bent over, whispering in her ear,  "It'll be okay, I promise.  I'll hurry back down."


Kennedy knocked softly on the door at first, then stood back and waited a reasonable amount of time, before she rapped her knuckles against the stained wood a bit more forcefully.  She leaned against the doorframe and crossed her arms, tapping one toe impatiently, as she listened for any sound indicating Pete had heard her.  She frowned and looked at the door speculatively, then shrugged.  "Hell, if he's naked, it's not like I haven't seen him that way before.  Just been about sixteen years is all."  Cautiously, she grasped the cool brass knob and turned it, poking just her head around the edge of the door first.

Pete was still crashed diagonally across the bed, clad in his jeans and a t-shirt.  The covers were rumpled and shoved toward the footboard, and he was facing away from the door, stomach-down, with one foot hanging off the side of the bed.  The room was a wreck.  "Figures," she mumbled.  "He's been here all of three days and already managed to trash it, just like he does at home."  She tiptoed across the room, intent on tickling her brother's exposed foot to wake him, when she stopped short, wrinkling her nose.

She frowned and looked around for the source of a subtle old familiar scent.  It wafted up around her, brushing across her memory and stirring up long-forgotten emotions and a sudden sadness at what she didn't want to believe.  Pete's heavy denim jacket was tossed haphazardly over the back of his desk chair across the room, and she slid silently across the thick braided rug, lifting it and pressing it to her face.

Damn.  Two things struck her at once -- strong, stale whiskey, and the sickly sweet odor she'd dreaded to find there.  Dammit, Pete.  She glanced at her sleeping brother, and without further thought, felt the jacket all over, her nimble fingers locating the slight bulge in the hip pocket.  Dipping inside, she retrieved a small baggie of pot, with one joint rolled and ready, stashed inside with the loose weed.  A box of matches fell out with it, hitting the floor with a muted rattle.

Her blood boiled to the surface, faster than she could stop it, and she shot across the room, grasping Pete by the shoulder and roughly rolling him over with one swift jerk of her arm.  She tossed the bag in his face and stood back, her hands on her hips and her feet at a wide stance.  "Wake up, dammit!"

"What!?"  Pete's eyes flew open and both hands fumbled around at the bag that was now on his chest, his mind trying to catch up with his shocked and shaking body.  "What the hell?"  He looked first at the bag and then at Kennedy, and dropped the bag as if it had burned him.

"Exactly."  Kennedy crossed her arms.  "How long have you been smoking, Pete?"  She knew her face was red -- she could feel the heat all over, especially in her cheeks and neck.  "You got a stash back in Austin, too?  I could lose my law license if we ever get raided!"  Her voice rose with each word, and the veins in her neck and forehead bulged out in vivid relief.

"Shhhhhhhh."  Pete started to stand and thought better of it.  It had been a long time since he and Kennedy had come to actual blows, but from the expression on her face, it was a definite possibility if he got too close.  "Damn, Shea.  Do you go looking through my stuff very often?"

"No."  She began pacing back and forth next to the bed, her eyes trained on the dusky mountains outside the window.  "It didn't take rocket science to find it.  Your room stinks of the stuff.  I'm surprised Mama and Pa haven't found it before now.  And don't try to turn this back around on me.  I don't give a damn about your right to privacy.  It's wrong and it puts more than just you in jeopardy, and you know it."

"You did it, back when you were in school."  He sat up and raked his fingers through thick tousled dark hair, still trying to order his thoughts.

"Yes, I did, 'did' being the operative word.  I thought you were smarter than that."  She strode toward him and grabbed his face, tilting his chin up as she turned on the bedside lamp.  "Your eyes look like roadmaps."  She let him go and snatched up his stash, where it  had landed next to him on the patchwork quilt.

"Ouch."  He rubbed his jaw and blinked at the harsh light.  "Hey!"  He watched her as she disappeared out the door, baggie in hand.  "Where are you going?"  He ran after her, trotting down the third-floor hallway in his bare feet, catching up just in time to have the bathroom door slammed in his face.  The lock clicked from the other side.  "Let me in, Shea.  I mean it!"

The toilet flushed and he bumped his head against the door in frustration.  "Shea!  That cost me half a day's pay.  Let me in!"  He pounded on the door and almost fell on his face as Kennedy suddenly yanked it open, grasping him by the collar and hauling him inside.

"You want in here, fine!"  She bodily picked him up and tossed him into the tub, fully clothed.  "Come on in."  She turned on the shower full blast and stood back.  "Take a shower.  You stink."

"God dammit, Shea!"  He scrambled around, sliding on the smooth enameled surface.  He glared up at her, his fists balling as she moved closer.  "Don't you come any closer."

"Save it, Pete.  I can still kick your ass and we both know it."  She sat down on the toilet lid and leaned forward, her forearms on her thighs, ignoring the droplets of water that were hitting the top of her head, and the water beginning to pool on the floor.  "Listen to me, because I'm only going to say this once.  If I ever find any drugs in Austin in the house or your apartment, anything stronger than ibuprofen, you're out.  No more free rent, no more free meals, no more help with your tuition.  If you ever get arrested for possession or use, don't bother calling me until you've been locked up for a night.  Are we clear?"

He snorted, rubbing water out of his face, and continued to glare at her.  "You going to tell Mama and Pa?"

"Are we clear?"  She sat back, grabbing a hand towel from a rack and patting her face dry.

"Are  you?"  His demeanor slowly shifted, from defiance to petulant child, and eyes as blue as her own silently pleaded with her for mercy.

"Are … we … clear?"  No mercy was forthcoming.

"Yeah."  He looked completely miserable and was starting to shiver.  He stood up, holding the side of the tub for balance, and began stripping off his t-shirt.  He was taller than her now, and she was glad he hadn't challenged her on her ability to best him in a fight.

Kennedy also stood, turning her back on him, leaving him to bathe in privacy.

"Are you …?"

She stopped, her back still turned, and held up one finger above her shoulder, next to her head, where he could see it.  She heard his jaw click shut and slowly dropped her hand, and continued on her way, slamming the door behind her.  At the top of the stairs she stopped, feeling her knees go weak, and she leaned against the wall for a moment, drawing in deep breaths until the sensation passed. 

She had no answer for his question, just yet.  Telling her parents seemed to serve no real purpose, other than to upset and worry them, and she figured she could be upset and worried enough for all of them.  She certainly understood what he was dealing with better than they would, having been in his shoes herself.  Her face reddened again, this time in shame, remembering all the pain she'd caused her parents at the height of her own partying days.  With quiet resolution, she continued down to the second floor.  There was no need for them to go through that again.  Pete would simply straighten up, and that was the end of it.

As she rounded the top of the banister and headed for the first floor, she heard two voices rising up to greet her ears in companionable discourse.  Carson.  She chastised herself, remembering her promise to return quickly.  Oh, well, she mused.  At least the third floor was far removed enough that most likely no one had heard her and Pete shouting at one another.  As she reached the bottom of the final staircase, she stopped again, as her father's words washed over her.

"… I was always proud of her,"  his voice sounded clear and deep, and she smiled, and sat down on the stairs just out of sight.  She didn't intend to eavesdrop, but felt even more awkward at the thought of walking into the middle of the conversation.  "…. But never more proud than when she decided to move to Austin and start that firm she runs, helping people.  That was when I knew Aileen and I had done something right.  She turned things around by sheer force of her own will."

It was a revelation and it took her breath away.  She felt the sting of unshed tears, as her vision rapidly blurred, and she blinked, feeling the moisture on her eyelashes.  "I have some stories," she heard Carson's voice pipe up, "that I think might make you even prouder."

Uh-oh.  Kennedy stood.  Time to make my appearance.  She quickly swiped at her eyes and rolled her shoulders, then stepped down and rounded the corner into the parlor.  Her father and Carson were seated on the edge of the wide stone hearth, their heads close together in conspiratorial discussion as they shared coffee and enjoyed the roaring warm fire.  "Hey."  She smiled, thinking of their conversation.  "Sorry I took so long.  Pete … will be down after he showers."

"Ah, my cha-nawoonit ecka-peta*," come join us."  Her father patted his leg and she blushed, but complied anyway, sidling up and taking a seat, draping an arm across his shoulders.  He shifted his coffee cup from one hand to the other, and wrapped an arm around her waist, bouncing her slightly.

"I'm going to squish you," she laughed in protest.  "And make you spill your coffee.  And I’m your only daughter, but thank you for the 'beautiful' part."

"You won't squish me.  I can still lift you up, can't I?"  Joseph sat down his coffee cup and made a muscle, a rather nice one, much to Carson's surprise, visible even through the long-sleeved Henley shirt he was wearing.  "But it would be a shame to waste your mother's good coffee, so scoot."  He nudged her toward a leather-covered footstool near the hearth.

She pulled the stool over and wriggled in as close as she could get, looking over and catching Carson's eye for a long moment.  Her lover smiled back at her, a genuine expression that lit up her face, and she felt a matching one grace her own lips.  Pure sweet love sparkled back at her from the gray orbs, and she got lost in them for a bit before she realized her father was watching them.  She felt the blush all over again, and looked down, scrubbing her hand against the side of her neck.

He made no comment, but picked up his cup and took a long thoughtful sip, giving her time to compose herself.  He swallowed and looked from Carson back to his daughter.  In less than thirty minutes he'd come to like his daughter's blonde companion, but his final question had just been answered.  It was one thing to see Carson's eyes light up when she spoke of  his daughter, but to see both their faces when they looked at each other, the love between them was obvious, an honest emotion neither one seemed to be able to hide.  He smiled and looked over the rim of his cup.  "I believe you were about to tell me a story."

"Oh.  Yes."  Carson glanced at Kennedy in question and saw resignation … and permission … in her eyes.  "Alright.  Let's see.  It's about a real hero, something rare these days.  It started a few months ago, when I discovered I was working for some very bad men …"

Kennedy half-listened, the words rolling over her, as she watched her father taking in the story of her rescuing Carson when Nick Giovani had kidnapped her.  She sighed in silent relief when Carson left out the part about her shooting Nick, and her brows rose in surprise in a few places.  It was interesting, to see herself through Carson's eyes, and to hear the genuine awe in her voice as she told the story from her viewpoint.  It was the first time she had heard Carson talk about it to someone else, and she found herself drawn in, as if she were hearing a story about someone else.

Not until Carson had finished, did she realize that her mother had been listening quietly from the kitchen doorway, and Pete from the stairs.  Pete's eyes met hers in question, and she turned away, choosing to let him sweat for a while longer.  He was a smart boy.  The fact that their mother wasn't screaming at him should have been clue enough that for now, his secret was safe with her.  As she turned back to the fire, she felt Carson's' eyes on her and looked up.  Carson's brow was scrunched in worry, and her face was one big unspoken question.

'Later,' she mouthed quietly, and received the slightest nod of recognition.  "Well," she stood and stretched.  "Guess it's about to time to rustle up dinner, huh?"

"It'll be ready shortly," her mother answered softly.  Kennedy studied her and realized she was still overwhelmed from hearing the kidnapping story.  "Guess Parker didn't share that part, did he?"

"No," Aileen drew her into a quick hug.   "He didn't, and I’m a mind to turn him over my knee when they get here in the morning."  She squeezed Kennedy again and released her.  "I'm proud of you, Shea," she whispered, and gave her a swat on the behind.  "Now go give Carson a proper tour of the house, while I check on the cornbread."

"Shea," Joseph's voice beckoned her, just as she was starting up the stairs.

"Hold on," she placed a hand on Carson's shoulder.  "I'll meet you up top in a minute, okay?"

"Okay."  Carson gave her a little pat on the side, and trotted up the stairs.

"Pa?"  She shoved her hands in her pockets and looked down, as she approached him.

"I'm proud to call you my daughter."  He looked at her, his face shining in pride.

"Thanks, Pa," her voice caught, and she kicked at the floor with the toe of her boot.

"Shea, whatever is between you and your brother," he glanced toward the kitchen where Pete had followed Aileen.  "Is it under control?"

Her eyes widened in shock.  "Never could hide anything from you, could I?" She cocked her head to one side and flashed him a half-hearted smile.  "I don't know, Pa.  I just don't know.  Is it enough for now that I promise to ask you if I decide I need help?"

"More than enough."  He pulled her forward and kissed her on the forehead.  "Now go.  My new daughter is waiting for you."  He laughed quietly at her startled expression.



Continued in Chapter 2

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