Copyright 2004 by Texbard

For disclaimers, see Chapter 1

Chapter 10

Kennedy lay stretched out on a doublewide leather chaise lounge, staring out the window in contentment at the view from their cabana window.  Before her were miles and miles of Lajitas Resort, a plush little hideaway tucked against the southwest side of the park, just on the edge of the Mexico border.  The resort had the best Big Bend had to offer -- green golf courses, man-made ponds, natural mountainscapes, horseback riding, wildlife, spa facilities, fine dining, shopping, and best of all, the peaceful pricey accommodations Carson had rented for them for the next three days.

They were in one of the "Cavalry Post Cottages," a stand-alone facility with a private balcony, kitchenette, and a tub she was certain Carson must be lost in at the moment.  Carson had insisted on a combination of both the romance package and the pampering package.  Next to the lounge on a sturdy antique oak table was a stoneware vase, painted with Native American designs and filled with a bouquet of fresh flowers, some local and some imported from elsewhere.  Next to the vase was a container of chocolate-dipped strawberries.

Kennedy plucked up one of the juicy red pieces of fruit and bit into it, closing her eyes in bliss as the combination of tart strawberry and sweet chocolate washed over her tongue.  One eye lazily opened and she noted she'd only eaten three of the dozen strawberries.  Heh.  She smiled.  That meant three more were hers for the taking.

She heard singing coming from the bathroom along with a splash of water, indicating that hopefully Carson was emerging from her bubble bath and would join her soon.  They'd tried to bathe together, but because of the need to keep her shoulder and left leg injury dry, she couldn't fill the tub very full.  It had become too complicated trying to keep her injuries above the water line and actually try to bathe.

They'd finally given up, admitting that really, sitting in four inches of water with her shoulder covered in saran wrap and her leg propped up along the rim of the tub wasn't the most romantic or comfortable way to get clean together.  Carson had gotten out and helped her bathe, washing her hair and treating her to a scalp massage.  After getting Kennedy situated on the chaise, wrapped up in a thick terry robe the resort provided, Carson had refilled the tub and added some agave bubble bath.  She'd been in there for twenty minutes that seemed much too long to her waiting companion.

It was surreal, after all they'd been through over the past few days, to find herself suddenly sitting in the lap of luxury, with a virtual plethora of culinary and carnal pleasure to look forward to.  A massage therapist was scheduled to visit them for two hours per day, and more fresh flowers and strawberries would arrive each morning, and a bottle of champagne each evening.  Carson had even convinced her to go for a manicure and pedicure treatment, and Carson had also signed on for something called an "Egyptian mud wrap."  Kennedy chuckled at that.  She wasn't sure about the wrap part, but she was looking forward to seeing Carson covered in the mud.  It was just oddly appealing, and she tried to remember if she'd ever actually watched any female mud wrestling.  Maybe.

It was easy, for the moment, to forget about shootings, dead men, drug dealers, and a burned-up truck.  A little less easy to forget about Pete, but Carson had told her he said he was sorry.  It was precious little consolation after what he'd done, and she still hadn't forgiven him, but … she sighed.  She knew that eventually, she would.  He was her brother after all, and she did feel responsible for him on a certain level.  Still, she decided it wouldn't hurt to let him stew for a few days, wondering, before she bothered to talk it out with him.

It hurt.  More than she really wanted to admit to herself, much less to Carson.  Little brothers were supposed to look up to their big sisters.  It was all so wrong.  The hatred in his eyes … she'd seen that look many times as a trial lawyer and as a prominent openly-gay figure within Austin's increasingly-conservative legal community.  She'd just never expected to see that expression on the face of a family member.

She plucked up another strawberry.  Somehow, warm and clean and wrapped up in that robe, consuming the taste treat and looking out on the mountains, it was hard to think about Pete too much at the moment, and so her thoughts drifted elsewhere.  Friends had taken her out to lunch and dinner on almost all her birthdays.  A few times Heidi had even traveled down from Dallas to take her out on the town.  But this was the first time a lover had ever swept her away for a weekend of decadent pampering.

She knew Carson's own birthday was now less than a week away, and she frowned, also remembering that Carson's parents had died only a few days before her birthday.  That meant … Kennedy did the math in her head.  It was probably only a couple of days before that anniversary.  She made a mental note to take extra good care of Carson that day.  Not to mention on her birthday, of course.

They'd both done a little shopping when they first arrived at the resort, just to unwind and wait while their room was being prepared, since Carson had called them only a little while before they drove down.  She'd secreted away a few items for Carson's birthday, assuming she could hold out that long before giving them to her.  In one soft suede leather bag, lined in satin, was a simple pair of diamond stud earrings, a quarter carat each, and set in platinum.  In another similar bag was a matching diamond tennis bracelet, also set in platinum.

She had a few other fun gifts tucked away, but the jewelry … she nibbled her lip, hoping it wasn't too much.  She sighed.  Things were moving so fast between them, it seemed, and yet at the same time, she'd never been more comfortable in her entire life, as if they'd known each other forever.  They had plenty of time, she knew.  It was just so hard, waiting for exactly the right moment.

Carson still had not asked about the buck.  It was a relief to have a little more time to think about how to explain that they shared the same spirit.  It made sense, given some of the intense emotions that ran between them.  She remembered how it felt, sitting on the rock outside the cave, watching the buck together.  Her body still tingled, remembered how close she had felt to Carson, as if they were one and the same.  If she closed her eyes, she could still feel Carson, as if she were breathing from Kennedy's lungs.

Both eyes popped open as she felt warm breath against the top of her head, followed by a brush of Carson's lips.  "Caught you daydreaming, didn't I?"  Carson's lips moved lower, capturing Kennedy's own willing ones and engaging her in a lengthy exchange.  Carson was leaning over her, her hands braced on the arms of the chaise lounge, and the angle offered Kennedy just the slightest peek at a couple of her favorite assets.

A bubbling throaty laugh escaped, and she reached across, giving Carson's robe ties a gentle tug, causing the front of the robe to spill open.  Carson also laughed, as Kennedy's hand slipped inside the robe, wrapping around her waist and pulling Carson forward until she was reclining against Kennedy on the lounger.

"Careful."  Carson gently touched Kennedy's left arm.  With a promise to be good and keep still, they'd left the sling off, with the robe only draped over her left shoulder, her arm inside it, but not in the sleeve.

"Don't wanna be careful."  Kennedy nipped at an earlobe, then moved lower, nibbling Carson's neck.  She slipped her hand inside the robe again, sliding up and finding sensitive spots that made Carson practically purr against her lips, as they met in another dizzying kiss.

"Honey."  Carson came up for air.   "Are you sure this is a good idea?  Your shoulder and leg -- I don't want to …"

"My arm and leg may be out of commission," Kennedy interrupted.  "But I can assure you all the body parts necessary for this are fully functional and standing at attention at present."  She waggled an eyebrow and took Carson's hand, pulling it inside her own robe.  Carson's fingers brushed over a hardened nipple, and Kennedy's eyes closed, as she groaned in appreciation.

"I see."  Carson continued to touch her, her hand sliding gradually lower and nudging Kennedy's legs apart.  "Yep."   She kissed Kennedy, her lips trailing across the upper swells of her breasts, as her hand continued to explore.  "I do believe you were telling the truth about them there body parts, Miz Nocona."  She withdrew her hand and Kennedy made a disappointed mewling noise.

"Please, baby."  She took Carson's hand, intent on dragging it back where it had been, only to have Carson pull away.

"Hold on."  Carson hovered over her, pushing back the robe from Kennedy's left shoulder.  She grinned wickedly and pulled the tie from her own robe, and quickly secured Kennedy's left arm to the wrought-iron arm that decorated the chaise on one side.  "Wanna make sure that arm stays still if we plan to take this any further."

"Why, Carson Garret, you little dominatrix."  Kennedy peered over at her lover's handy-work.  "How did you know I was fantasizing about you tying me up and taking advantage of me?"

"I just had a feeling you were that kind of girl," Carson teased back.  "Next thing, you'll be asking me to flail you or something."

"Oooo."  Kennedy's eyes glinted, testing Carson's reaction. Gray eyes grew wide in mild alarm.

"You weren't really fantasizing about me tying you up, were you?"  She felt Kennedy's right hand trail up her thigh, pushing her robe up in the process.

"No, sweetheart," the hand found her behind, giving her a sensual squeeze.  "At least not the tying up part, but I did have a nice daydream or two about you, while I was waiting for you to get out of that tub in there."

"Did you now?"  Carson's smile returned, and her hands began to wander again, pushing Kennedy's robe the rest of the way open.  She slid up the long body, finding Kennedy's ear and suckling it thoroughly, as her hand nudged the impossibly sexy legs apart again.  "What kind of daydreams, exactly?"  She whispered, before blowing over a spot she'd just tasted, watching chills raise up on Kennedy's skin.

"Oh, god."  Kennedy's eyes slammed shut as Carson began stroking her, teasing her lightly with her fingertips, while her lips performed a simultaneous assault on her neck and throat.  "Reality beats the daydream, every time, darlin'."

"Shhhh."  Carson found her lips.  "Too much talking."  She kissed her lightly, pulling back and gazing into sultry blue eyes that burned right through her.  "So damned beautiful," Carson whispered, not breaking their connection, her own eyes conveying the same passion.  "I love you," she whispered again, closing the distance and ratcheting up the heat, both with fingers and lips.

Kennedy closed her eyes again, getting lost in the sensation, until her body rose up, arching against her lover, before she crashed over the edge, her climax washing over her in waves that left her gasping for air, her heart pounding in her chest.

Carson kissed her again, light nibbles all over her face and lips, her own body just beginning to heat up.   Kennedy's hand was still splayed across an ass cheek, urging her closer, as Kennedy slid down from her partially-sitting up position, to a fully-reclining one.  They kissed again, Carson almost, but not quite, lying on top of her, as Kennedy's hand edged inward.

Full lips moved to Carson's neck, and then to her ear, before Kennedy released a sigh of frustration.  "I don't have enough hands."  She nipped Carson's nose.  "Can't hold you and touch you at the same time, and I sure as heck can't trade places with you, 'cause I'd need the one good arm to brace myself."

"It's alright.  We'll just do what we can.  This is really nice."  Carson soothed, kissing her soundly.  They got lost in the exchange again, Carson's own passion rising to a maddening level that demanded relief.  She felt Kennedy's hand slide up and over her hip, and warm breath against her ear.

"Flip around and over me, baby."  She bit down, taking a tiny fold of skin between her teeth, leaving a mark almost irrelevant at that point.  "Please," she whispered.

Carson kissed her again before she complied, nibbling her way down Kennedy's body in the process.  It was a new position for them, and a strange sensation at first, being unable to see Kennedy's face.  Carson felt the loss of their intimate connection for only a second, until the first warm breath brushed against her inner thigh.  She gurgled something unintelligible and simply dropped down, her cheek resting against Kennedy's belly.

She could smell Kennedy's warm musky scent, and feel her skin all up and down her body, not to mention what her mouth was doing.  It was hot and easily one of the most erotic sensations she'd ever felt.  She moaned softly, wishing she were just a little taller and could reciprocate.  A soft, insistent tongue eased inside her, and all thought vanished, save the physical sensations.  She cried out softly, burying her face into Kennedy's stomach, as wave after pleasurable wave washed over her.

Somehow she ended up turned around, cradled against Kennedy's side, while Kennedy kissed the top of her head and made little nonsense noises, talking her back down to earth.  "Better than any chocolate covered strawberries."  A husky voice burred into her ear, vibrating almost inside of her.  "Remind me to become incapacitated more often."

Carson slowly opened her eyes partway, peering up at Kennedy through pale lashes.  "No need for incapacity," she smiled.  "I can just tie you up."

Their eyes locked, before they both burst out laughing.

"Oh, god, I love you so much."  Kennedy pulled her to her as tightly as she could with one arm.  "I never knew making love could be as hot and as fun as it has been with you."  Her arm slid up and she pushed the hair back from Caron's face.  "I could stay right here like this forever."

"Mmmm."  Carson rubbed her belly in circles with the flat of her hand.  "Forever sounds good."  She closed her eyes, nuzzling Kennedy's chest as they settled into a blissful semi-conscious state.

Forever.  Yeah.  Kennedy looked down at the blonde head, kissing it tenderly one more time before she closed her eyes again.


Carson stretched, her body gradually coming back to life.  She slowly opened her eyes to find Kennedy missing, though the leather surface next to her was still warm, so she couldn't have been gone long.  The room was quite a bit darker than it had been when they'd fallen asleep, and a fire was now burning in the gas fireplace.  She blinked, looking around for a clock.

Instead, she saw an orange-red sky outside the window, and noticed the door to their private porch was open a few inches.  Ah.  Bet that's where she went.  She sat up, twisting her body from side to side before she stood, her feet hitting the cabana's cool hard wood floor.  Socks were in order, and she padded into the bedroom, and spotted Kennedy's robe hanging from one of the tall bedposts.

Carson shucked her own robe in favor of a pair of thick navy blue sweats and warm socks.  Over the socks she slipped on a pair of well-worn moccasins, then made her way into the kitchen, where their bottle of champagne sat in a bucket of ice.  She grabbed it up, along with two tall crystal flutes, and moved to the patio door.  She pushed it open and stopped, smiling at the sight before her.

Kennedy had donned a pair of white sweats, and sat at the very edge of the patio on a wide padded high-backed bench.  She'd pulled it around facing the sunset, and long golden rays of rich warm sunlight spilled over her, setting her hair afire with burnished mahogany highlights.  Her face was a study in utter serenity, her eyes closed, and her dark brown skin taking on a golden-red sheen.   Carson shook her head, wondering if a time would come when Kennedy wouldn't take her breath away.

She sure hoped not.  But if she ever did … she shook her head again, for a different reason.  As she continued to observe her lover, there was no longer denying that what had started out as a tiny spark of lust in a seminar conference room, had grown into a huge warm ball inside -- something she could barely describe, that filled her up and threatened to bubble up and spill out onto the flagstone patio before her.

Would it last?  This feeling that made her want to dance and sing and shout out to the mountains beyond the patio.  Was it realistic to expect to always feel the way she did at that very moment?  She pursed her lips inward, knowing the truth.  And the truth was that she was in love.  Not just lust anymore, and not infatuation, but a bone-deep love that had soaked into every fiber of her being.  Even if the overwhelming feelings of euphoria passed, it had knitted itself much too deep inside of her to ever go away.

She stepped the rest of the way out the door and as she closed it, Kennedy opened her eyes, raking them up and down her in frank appreciation.  "Hey, sleeping beauty.  You gonna join me for the rest of this gorgeous sunset?"  She eyed the champagne bottle.  "We celebrating something?"

"Maybe, birthday girl."  Carson set the flutes down and neatly popped the cork on the bottle, before pouring up two healthy measures of the sparkling bubbly liquid.  She took a sip and sat down next to Kennedy.  "Mmm.  Nice and dry and not too sweet.  Just like I like it."

"It is good stuff."  Kennedy took a long sip and swirled the champagne around her mouth, smiling at the tickly sensation of bubbles bursting against her tongue.  She felt Carson's fingers gently playing with her hair, and closed her eyes, deciding it just didn't get much better than that very moment.  "Feels nice," she murmured.

"It's all red and silvery-looking in the sunlight."  Carson continued to arrange the dark locks, running her fingers through it in idle pleasure.  "But no real silver ones, just yet."

Kennedy opened her eyes and studied her carefully.  "That'll take a long time," she repeated her words from their conversation in the cave, her gaze locked with Carson's.

"You'll be beautiful with gray hair," Carson repeated her own words from the cave, her eyes soft and shining, offering up her heart as a silent gift.  "Tell me about the white buck," she whispered.

"Alright."  Kennedy shifted, placing both feet on the stone and leaning forward slightly, her forearms draped loosely over her thighs, her right arm favoring her weight.  She looked away from Carson, out toward the lengthening shadows beyond the patio, and the warm, red and pink sky over the mountaintops.  "You know the buck is my spiritual guardian."

Carson nodded, remaining silent, as she continued to play with Kennedy's hair.

"He protects me and gives me guidance on the important things in life."  She swallowed and took a deep breath.  "It's supposed to be a very personal and private thing."

"Does it bother you that I saw him too?"  Carson's eyes stung with irrational tears.  She didn't feel sad or anxious, and she wasn't sure where the emotion was coming from.

"No."  A tiny smile tugged at Kennedy's lips, and she glanced over at Carson, before returning her gaze toward the mountains.  "It just surprised me.  That's why I had to ask Pa about it.  He said …"  She paused, closing her eyes as Carson moved closer and placed a single kiss against her neck, her fingers still combing through her hair.  "He said it's a very rare thing for two people to see a single spiritual guardian at the same time.  It can mean a few things, but in the case of two lovers …" she paused again to regard Carson, who blushed very nicely.

"He called us lovers?" she squeaked.

"God, you're adorable."  Kennedy kissed the top of her head, her eyes sparkling in the fading sunlight.  "Not us, specifically.  He was speaking in general terms about the buck.  But …" she smiled.  "Pa's not stupid, Carson.  I think he knows we're doing more than just sleeping in that bed we've been sharing."

Carson covered her eyes for a moment and sighed, slowly regaining her composure.  "I know.  I just don't like to think about him thinking about us … like that."

"It's what we are, isn't it?"  Kennedy took Carson's hand, brushing her thumb across her knuckles.  "Lovers?"

"Lovers.  Best friends."  Carson agreed.  "Soulmates," she added softly, watching Kennedy's eyes sparkle in surprised wonder.

"Funny, you should say that," Kennedy looked down at their joined hands.  "Pa said when two lovers see a spiritual guardian together, it most likely means they are bound so closely together, that they share the same spirit.  The spiritual guardian sees them as a single being, and protects and guides them both."

"Wow."  Carson sat back a bit, allowing the words to sink in.  "And I'm not even Comanche."

Was it too much?  Kennedy peered up through long dusky lashes, her face as wide open and vulnerable as a child's.  Carson appeared to be stunned.  Kennedy sighed unhappily.  Time to do the right thing.  "Carson, listen.  I had a pretty good fever going back in that cave, after I was shot.  I know we said a lot of things.  And Pa … he's full of the old ways.  I … I don't hold you to anything.  It was cold and dark, and we were both pretty miserable at the time.  I …"  A soft kiss to Kennedy's lips silenced her. 

"Do you believe your father?"  Carson peered anxiously into her eyes, reading the truth.

Kennedy broke her gaze, looking down, but not before Carson saw two large blue eyes brimming with tears.  "I do."  A thick lump in her throat hurt so badly, she could barely speak.  "But I don't want you to feel like you have to …"  Two fingers against her lips hushed her again.

"No one ever made me do much of anything I didn't want to."  Carson, twined their fingers.  " I remember reading somewhere that it takes a second to notice someone, an hour to like them, a day to fall in love, and a lifetime to forget them."  She inched closer.  "And I know if I walked away right now, I would never ever forget you."

"Is that what you're doing?" a pained voice asked.  "Walking away?"

"No.  Oh no, honey.  Not at all."  She tilted Kennedy's chin up.  "Oh, sweetheart."  Tears flowed down the dark cheeks, and Carson quickly brushed them away.  "I'm not doing a real good job of this, but please hear me out, will you?"

The dark head nodded uncertainly.  "Sorry."

"Don't be sorry."  Carson kissed first one cheek and then the other, and then briefly brushed Kennedy's lips, smiling against them.  "Better?"

"Some."  A charmingly shy uncertain smile appeared.

"I may not follow much of my Southern Baptist upbringing anymore," Carson continued to hold Kennedy's hand, giving it a little squeeze.  "But there's one thing that stuck solidly with me, that one of the youth pastors said one time.  He said love is not a bunch of warm fuzzy feelings.  Love is a decision and a commitment.  He said that when you fall in love, if you want it to last, you'd best just decide it will.  Because there will be days when you don't always feel those warm fuzzies, and those are the days you commit to loving someone anyway.  Those are the days you just decide you will love them, no matter what."

Slowly, Carson slid off the bench and dropped to her knees, taking Kennedy's hand between both of her own.  "I think I fell in love with you the first time we danced."  She looked up hesitantly.

"Me too," Kennedy responded softly, her blue eyes shining warmly over Carson.

"Things happened so fast between us, it sometimes makes my head spin," Carson continued.  "And maybe it's too soon to be saying all of this, but I keep going back to that decision and commitment thing."

Kennedy reached up, stroking her cheek.  "Not too soon," she whispered.  "You've had my heart from the moment I first held you in my arms."

"I know."  Carson smiled sadly.  "And you've been so patient with me."

"How could I not be?"  Kennedy blinked, sending another scattering of tears down her cheeks.  "My heart gave me no choice."

"I knew I loved you," Carson continued, gently swiping at Kennedy's tears.  "I knew I felt all those wonderful feelings.  But during this trip out here, I decided to love you.  Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"Yeah."  A slight nod of her head, as Kennedy eased off the bench, joining Carson on her knees.  "Maybe we should do this together."

A happy little yelp escaped, and Carson found herself crying.  She carefully gathered Kennedy to her, mindful of her shoulder as she held her close.  "I made you a promise back in that cave, that I would hang around and grow old with you.  Remember?"

"I remember," a rich voice burred in her ear.

"Will you let me make good on that promise?"  Her lungs felt so tight she could barely draw a breath.

"Yes."  With a single word, Kennedy felt all the tension drain from Carson's body, and felt warm tears against her neck.  "You want to hear the rest of the story of the buck?"  Carson nodded against her, and Kennedy carefully guided them both back onto the bench, where they curled up together in a ball of pure happiness.

"Pa said when two people share the same sprit, it means they do not merely exist side by side, but are entwined."  She kissed Carson's head and pulled it down to her shoulder.  "He said it's a bond that cannot easily be broken, that it goes beyond the grave."

"I felt that, when I saw him, when we were sitting on that rock."  Carson closed her eyes, remembering feeling Kennedy as if she were inside her.  "I felt like we were one and the same.  Your father -- he said we had a higher blessing than his.  Now I understand what he meant."

"Is that what you were talking to him about?"  Kennedy's whispered in utter surprise.

"Yeah," Carson answered sheepishly.  "I … um … kind of went to him to let him know my intentions toward you are honorable, and to get his blessing on our relationship."

"Carson."  Kennedy sat back, just enough to look into her eyes.  "That means more to me than I can adequately express.  And I know it meant a great deal to Pa."

"You're his only daughter, and he loves you very much."  Carson shrugged, and snuggled back down against her shoulder.  "It was the right thing to do, to put his mind at ease.  At least I hope that's what I did."

"I know you did."  Kennedy ducked her head, finding her lips for a long while, feeling the same merging of spirits they had felt on that boulder in the park.  She deepened the contact, pulling Carson close against her, and getting lost in a warm euphoric wave.

When they finally broke apart, the sun had long since set, and a blanket of stars covered the dark blue sky overhead.  As they watched in companionable silence, a star shot across the sky, burning out somewhere beyond the mountaintops.  Two pairs of eyes closed for a moment, before they turned and looked at each other.

"Did you make a wish?" they asked in unison, then both smiled.

"Wow."  Carson rested her head on a sturdy shoulder.  "Wonder what your father would say about beginning your life together by wishing on a star?"

"Don't know."  Kennedy pressed her cheek against the soft blonde hair.  "Maybe it depends on what we wished for."

"Maybe."  Carson looked up at her again, and Kennedy found herself lost in a pair of shining gray eyes.

She kissed Carson again, and found her ear.  "Know what I wish right now?"  She nipped at her earlobe.  Carson smiled, and without a word, took her hand and led her inside to the warmth of the fire, glad that some wishes were easily fulfilled.


The fire crackled low in the stone fireplace, two figures stretched out lazily before it in a nest of blankets and comforter that had been dragged off the bed and into the sitting room.  Carson was fast asleep, curled into a ball under the down coverlet, her arm tucked under her head.  Her face was serene, her lips hinting at a smile.   Kennedy reached over, barely touching the top of her head, smoothing her hair back.

Next to the hearth were two mostly-cleared plates and a completely empty bottle of champagne.  Warm lassitude seeped into every pore, and it was difficult to muster up the energy to do anything other than observe Carson while she slept.  They’d made love, and ordered room service, then shared their meal, then made love again.   She couldn’t recall spending that kind of intensive time together since they’d gone to Fredericksburg. 

It was deliciously decadent, and she stretched, then curled herself around Carson, inhaling and drawing in her scent.  It sent chills tingling pleasantly across her skin, or maybe it was her full stomach, or way too much champagne, or maybe …

She shook her head and smiled, wiggling her toes and looking up at the ceiling for a long moment.  Maybe it was this amazing head-over-heals sensation of being completely in love for the first time in her life.  Maybe it was the wonder of that love reciprocated.  Maybe it was something too magical to explain.

Carson had proposed to her.  She knew they were getting very close to that line, knew there was that tension, the good kind of tension, when you are about to take something to a higher level.  They had been so close in the past few weeks, and during their time in the Big Bend area and with her family, despite everything that had happened, she had never felt more in tune with Carson.

Her heart was so full, she thought it might burst.  She’d been hoping for what seemed forever that Carson was ready to be in a fully-committed relationship.  True, it had really only been a few months, but Kennedy had known, almost from the start, that this was it for her – the love of her life.

Love had crept up and bitten hard and without mercy.   When she said she had no choice, she meant it.  It had become a bittersweet pain, loving someone as much as she loved Carson, waiting and hoping that Carson would find her way to that same place.

And now she had.

Kennedy’s vision grew blurry, and she reached up, swiping her hand across her eyes.  “Damn,” she murmured softly.   She sniffled, and nestled back down beneath the covers.  It was full dark outside, and probably close to midnight.  They really should drag the bedding back into the bedroom and take advantage of having a nice king-sized mattress to sleep on.

“Hey.”  A pair of gray eyes blinked open and gazed across at her solemnly.  “You crying?  I hope those are happy tears.”   At Kennedy's affirmative nod, Carson reached over and touched her cheek.  “Who knew you were such a romantic softy?”  She brushed her thumb against the soft skin.  "Guess I should have been clued in when I started receiving a dozen roses every Monday morning after we met, huh?"

"I was so afraid it was going to be too much, that first time I sent them."  Kennedy smiled, the firelight painting her face in interesting shadows.

"No, it was wonderful.  No one ever did anything like that for me before." Carson continued to trace the high cheekbones, and leaned closer, finding Kennedy's lips and sampling them for a long moment, before she pulled back, and stretched and yawned.  “Oooo.  Sorry, honey.  I’d like to move this into the bedroom, but unfortunately, it's so we can get some sleep.  The fire is nice and all, but this floor is a bit hard, and I’m starting to feel it, even through all these blankets.”

“Read my mind.”  Kennedy carefully rolled up.  Her shoulder was feeling pretty good, but she didn’t want to take any chances.

They re-made the bed after a fashion, and tumbled into it, landing in the middle curled up in a happy warm tangle of arms and legs.  Kennedy sighed in utter contentment, as Carson extinguished the bedside lamp, leaving only the faint glow in the doorway of the remaining fire from the living room.  She had banked it and it would be cool ashes by morning.  She felt a series of tiny kisses to her jaw line, before Carson settled down, curled tightly against her right side.

“Love you,” Carson crooned softly.

“Love you too.”  She reached out in the darkness, twining their fingers.

“Shoulda had a ring for you,” Carson muttered.  “But I didn’t exactly plan on doing this when we came out here.”

“Ring?  Oh.”  Kennedy laughed lightly and lifted Carson’s hand, kissing it in the darkness.  “Kinda glad you didn’t actually.  Not that I wouldn’t love whatever you pick out.”

“Why glad?”  Carson felt another kiss to her knuckles, before Kennedy tucked their joined hands just under her own breast.

“I had this kind of silly notion that if we ever did take this step, we might pick out matching ones together.”  She chuckled a little bit nervously, wondering what Carson thought of the idea.

“I like your silly notion very much.  I … um … think it would be awesome to look down at my ring finger every day, and know that wherever you are, you are wearing a ring that matches mine."  She squeezed Kennedy's hand.  "I like the idea of belonging to you."

"Likewise," Kennedy kissed the top of her head.  Thoughts of rings led to thoughts of all that went with a ring, and she pursed her lips, staring up toward the ceiling.  "Did you want to have some kind of commitment ceremony?  I know we can't legally marry, but …"

"Can I just say how unfair that is?"  Carson pouted.  "I'd marry you in a New York minute.  I'd take your name, you know.  Maybe I'll change my name.  'Carson Nocona' sounds nice, don't you think?  I'd really like to be married to you."  She suddenly felt like crying, wishing more than anything in the world that their relationship could be the same as any other couple that falls in love and decides to spend their life together.

Kenney felt the slight tremor in Carson's body, and she shifted, rolling to her right side and carefully reaching out with her left, stroking Carson's head once, and letting her hand come to rest on her shoulder.  "Listen to me.  I will protect you with everything I have.  Everything I am.  We can draw up papers, Carson.  Wills … medical powers of attorney … joint bank accounts.  We'll do everything we can, sweetheart, and if the day comes when we can marry, you bet we will."

"I … just …" Carson rolled to her left side, peering into the darkness and seeking out blue eyes that were near silver in the low light.  "If we have kids, will they let us adopt them together?  And what about the kids' last name?"

"I'll check it out when we get home, and find out how the adoption laws are set up.  But we can draw up papers for that, too.  And how about we both change our last name to 'Nocona-Garret'?"  Kennedy felt Carson grow still for a moment.

"You'd do that?"  Her voice was full of wonder.

"Carson."  Kennedy laughed lightly.  "Don't you realize there's almost nothing I wouldn't do for you?  If you asked me to go get a Mohawk and dye it purple, I would."

"I appreciate the sentiment," Carson giggled.  "But I love your hair just like it is."  It felt good to lighten the mood, and she relaxed back against the pillows.  "Sorry to get all serious on you.  You asked me a question, and the answer is yes, I'd like very much to have a commitment ceremony.  Maybe somewhere in Austin, huh?  Invite our closest friends and your family?"

"I'd like that very much."  Kennedy leaned over, and kissed her thoroughly.  "We could do it just like a wedding, you know.  Have the flowers and cake and all."

"Mmmm.  Nice idea."  Carson trailed one fingertip down Kennedy's cleavage.  "Which one of us is gonna wear the white dress?  You, maybe?"

"Um … how about a white tux?"  She captured the wandering finger and nipped it.

"Ooo.  Bet you'd look nice in that, too.  How about we both pick out something we want to wear, and surprise each other at the ceremony?"  She traced a pair of full lips.

"Now that idea, I like."  She smiled then, an all-out flash of white teeth that Carson could clearly see, even in the darkness.  "You're amazing, you know that?"  Carson ducked her head, burrowing into Kennedy's chest as the brunette continued to talk.  "No, really.  I know we have a lot of stuff to deal with after this little interlude is over, but this is just what I needed, and somehow you knew that."

"Just wanted to get you into a happier place," Carson murmured.  "Proposals are extra."

Kennedy laughed for a long moment, ducking her own head until their foreheads were touching.  "If that was extra, then I look forward to a lifetime of extras."

"You got it."  Carson looked up, cupping her face and gazing into her eyes.  "Always."


The sun was just coming up over the mountains as Carson stepped outside on the patio with a steaming cup of coffee in her hands.  Kennedy was already out there, her own hands curled around a cup of hot herbal tea, its faint mint scent wafting up and mingling with the pine and sandy scent on the wind.  It was chilly, and Carson was grateful for the heavy sweats they both wore.

"Hey."  She sat down on the padded bench and smiled, nudging Kennedy to the side a little bit.  "You look awfully serious for this early in the morning."

"Mmm."   Kennedy sipped from her mug, inhaling the fragrant tea as she swallowed.  "Just trying to put together all the puzzle pieces."

"Puzzle pieces?"  The dark head shook affirmatively in answer, and Carson sat back, taking a giant gulp of her coffee.

"Yeah.  Dead people who died of a drug overdose they were trying to smuggle into the country.  People shooting at us.  Two guys shoot Tom, assuming Rick is telling the truth.  Forest fire they think started with a dropped joint.  Drugs in that raft.  Drug dealers mixing with my baby brother.  Drug dealers who were trying to scare us while we were backpacking."  She turned and curled one leg under her. "Drugs are involved in all of that, far as we know, except for the shooters, and that may be drug-related as well.  Just trying to figure out if it's all related otherwise, or if it's random.  It seems like too much all happened at the same time for it to be a coincidence."

"You think maybe Tom and Rick are mixed up with the guys who shot you?"  Carson's eyes darkened in anger.  The thought had certainly occurred to her, more than once.  "If Tom weren't dead, I could easily have assumed it was Tom and Rick shooting at you in the first place, considering they were trying to scare you."

"Yeah. I would've thought the same thing too, but I think we can be certain our shooters weren't them.  At least those two guys you saw on the bank right before we got off the river weren't them, because Tom was already dead by then."  Dark brows furrowed, and Kennedy unconsciously rolled her injured shoulder just a little.  She'd been lax in wearing the sling, and decided her arm felt better when she could move it around and keep it from getting stiff.

"I saw two guys standing on the rim overlooking the river when we first went in."  Carson couldn't remember if she had shared that part with Kennedy or not.  "But they were so far away.  I think they were the same two guys we saw near the landing, but I can't be certain."

"So."  Kennedy stood and began pacing back and forth across the flagstone, her socked feet making a sliding shuffling sound each time she turned.  "Why were those guys shooting at us?  They obviously didn't want us there, but why?  Maybe they were connected to those two women they found further up river, and didn't want us to find them, but you know, that just doesn't make sense, because it seems like if that were the case, they wouldn't want to draw attention to themselves."

"Something had to be at stake, you think?"  Carson closed her eyes, trying to remember any detail she could think of.  Suddenly, her eyes popped open.  "Honey, how much do you think that brick of heroin was worth?  Hundreds?"

"Thousands," Kennedy automatically answered.  She stopped.  "That raft got away from someone.  Or else something happened, they got distracted, and forgot to take it out."

"That has to be it, don't you think?  Maybe those guys were trying to snag that raft?"  She frowned, trying to piece it all together.  "Except that raft -- it was going too fast on the water for someone who was trying to chase it to get down river of it.  I couldn't catch it, and they can't be that much faster than me."

"True.  There's something else missing."  Kennedy nibbled at the rim of her tea mug.  "Something else we can't see.  I think we need to talk to Ranger Smothers and see if they have any leads on our mystery men."

"And she said the FBI will be involved, since there was a drug-related death and drugs found on National Park land."  Carson finished her coffee and stood.  "Going back in for a refill.  You want more tea?"

"Nah."  Kennedy sidled up to her.  "I'll come in with you, and we can order up breakfast."

"You wanna take it easy today?"  Carson touched her arm.  "I've had about all the hiking I care for for a while, and it probably wouldn't be a good idea for you to try anything that might compromise your arm."

"Actually, I feel pretty good except for some twinges from the stitches.  Maybe we could rent a four-wheeler and go tooling around for a while."  Kennedy picked up the room-service menu and leaned against the counter, her stomach growled in anticipation.  "You want the egg, bacon, and hash browns?"

"I'll have whatever you have," Carson answered absently.  She drizzled honey into her coffee, followed by a generous helping of real cream.

"Sweetheart, you don’t have to become a vegetarian just because I'm one."  The taller woman moved to the snack bar that separated the living area from the tiny kitchen, and straddled one of the leather-covered bar stools.

"Not becoming one, but can I make a confession?"  Carson stood across from her on the other side of the bar.  "I've discovered I feel a lot better when I follow your eating routine.  I just have more energy, and I've lost some fat, but my muscle tone has improved with all the running around we do taking care of the horses and the boats and stuff."

"Funny."  Kennedy smiled lazily in her direction.  "I feel a lot better too, and my diet hasn't changed.  I figured it was all those love-induced endorphins dancing around in my bloodstream."

"Oooo."  Carson leaned over until they were almost nose-to-nose.  "Then I must be feeling extra good, 'cause I've got those and this new healthy lifestyle."

Kennedy closed the distance, and pecked her on the lips several times in succession, before tilting her head for a more lasting contact.  They separated and she smiled, smacking her lips together as she identified the taste of Carson's lips.  "Coffee."  She shook her finger at Carson in a mock gesture.  "That is not part of a healthy lifestyle."

"It's for darned sure part of your healthy lifestyle," Carson grabbed the finger and squeezed it.  "Because living with me would be hell without it."

"Good point, shorty. Hey!"  She shook her finger as Carson released it, after another strong squeeze.  "Fine.  One order of warm mixed grain cereal, fresh fruit, and organic yogurt for you."

"Sounds great."  Carson turned, and picked up her second steaming mug of the morning.  "Where do we take the four-wheelers?"

"They have some trails off-road that aren't part of the park.  Much as I'd like to do some of the rougher ones, we can stick to the easy ones this time around." She sighed.  "Next time I bring you home I'll show you how to really have fun on a four-wheeler."

"I've no doubt," Carson answered demurely.  "You gonna order breakfast.  I'll hit the shower first if you do."

"Or I could order it and then join you."  Blue eyes sparkled mischievously.

"I'll get the saran wrap for your shoulder."  She finished off the coffee and set the mug in the sink, and sashayed toward the bathroom, swaying her hips suggestively.  She looked back over her shoulder and grinned, her eyes roaming all over her partner.  "Don't be long with that breakfast order, and tell them to take their time."

A sexy low growl was her response.


Kennedy revved the engine on the four-wheeler, going much faster than she probably should, but it felt so good to be moving, and to be out in the sunshine and fresh air after being indoors for three days.  She followed a path that zigzagged steadily down toward an overlook that would give them a magnificent view of Santa Elena Canyon.  Carson was a safe distance behind her.  She heard a little whoop, and smiled, glad she'd found something fun for them to do, despite her injuries.  So far her shoulder was doing well enough, and she was able to handle the vehicle relatively well, as long as she took the turns slowly.

It was a beautiful day with a clear blue sky, and warmer than usual, with almost spring-like temperatures that brought out all manner of wildlife.  A few butterflies fluttered among the vegetation to the sides of the trail, and she'd seen more than one hawk circling lazily in the sky overhead.  A small group of deer gathered off to one side, scattering away and over a rocky ridge at the roar of their engines.

She slowed and maneuvered her way through a turn, and the canyon overlook came into view.  They motored into a gravel-covered parking area and cut the engines, sliding off the bikes and removing their helmets.  Kennedy sidled up to Carson and ruffled the top of her head, laughing as Carson stuck her tongue out at her.  "Don't show me that unless you plan to share."  She winked, and touched Carson's nose briefly, getting a lick in response.  "Come on." She shook her head and smiled, and draped her right arm across Carson's shoulders.

They made their way over to an outcropping edged with railing.  Kennedy eyed the ground, noting no other tire tracks on the trail, and realized she'd seen none on the rest of the trail either.  She shrugged a bit, figuring tourist traffic wasn't all that high in Lajitas around the holidays, and most visitors came to play golf, hike, or ride horses, while many others never even made it past the resort's spa facilities.  "Over here."  She guided them down a marked path to the southeastern section of the railing, and smiled as Carson's breath caught.

"Oh.  How beautiful."  The canyon stretched out before them, while the river rushed by below the high rocky walls.  Way up on the other side she spotted a mountain goat, tripping along a narrow rocky ledge, followed by a half-grown kid.  "Look!"  She pointed at them and received an indulgent smile.  "How cute."

"Yeah.  Don't see too many of those around here."  A light breeze lifted dark bangs, and the sunshine reflected off Kennedy's mirrored wraparound shades.

They stood there a while, just watching the river roll by, and enjoying the bright blue sky.  It was nice to feel peaceful again after all the turmoil they'd suffered, and Carson closed her eyes, feeling tension drain from her body as she purposefully tried to let some of it go.  She smiled into the wind, thinking about the days ahead, and the plans they would be making toward taking that final step to join their lives permanently.  "Feels great to be out here, doesn't it?"

Kennedy reached up, lifting her sunglasses and making eye contact.  "Feels great to be out here with you."  She pulled Carson closer to her side and kissed the top of her head.  "I love seeing my family, but I can't wait to get back to Austin.  Plus, we have your birthday to celebrate next week, and I have a place in mind I'd like to take you for dinner."

"You gonna surprise me?"

"Why, of course."  Kennedy remembered the hidden gifts back in the cabana.  "Hey, we can go ring shopping too."

"We could even do that here, honey.  They have some great jewelers in Alpine, and even right here in Lajitas.  I looked them up on the internet the other day while you were sleeping."

"Thought you weren't planning this."  Kennedy teased her, her face warming with a smile.

"Not exactly, but it's crossed my mind enough that I did do a little on-line ring shopping, just in case."  She grinned, wrinkling her nose.  "Didn’t know I'd get the courage quite so soon, but the possibility has been around for a while."

"For me, too," Kennedy leaned over and kissed her briefly.  "You wanna head back and take advantage of the spa facilities for a while?"

"That sounds great."  Carson took her hand and twined their fingers, swinging their arms as they hiked back uphill to the parking area.  As the four-wheelers came into view, they spied a Hispanic man leaning down next to one of them, apparently tinkering with it.  Kennedy had pocketed the keys, but feared he might be hot-wiring the bike.

"Hey!" She shouted.  The man popped up, his eyes wide with fear.  He edged away from the four-wheeler, his hands in the air and palms outward in an attitude of surrender.  Huh?  Mental wheels spun suspiciously.  The man didn't run, as she had expected him to, and was in fact slowly approaching them.

"Senorita, por favor."  He gestured in supplication, and spouted off a long string of words Carson didn't understand, though his tone was one of worried alarm.  She listened, as Kennedy shot some rapid-fire questions at him, her own face going through a series of emotions and reactions that Carson decided couldn't be good.

"What's up?"  She gently tugged at Kennedy's sleeve when they paused in conversation.

"Um."  She rubbed the side of her neck.  "He says his wife is hiding under an outcropping a ways down the way here, and she's gone into labor.  "He asked me if I had any midwife skills."

"Uh-oh."  Carson mouthed.

"You can say that again."  Blue eyes rolled dramatically.  "Remind me next time I'm injured to just rest like I'm told."

The man led them down a craggy narrow trail along the canyon wall.  There was very little space between the wall itself and a drop-off directly into the river several hundred feet below, that is if one missed ricocheting off the sheer rock face on the way down.  Kennedy took her time, aware of every step she took with her left leg, which began to ache again with the effort of making sure she didn't lose her footing.  The man said little else, and she realized they might be willingly following a bandito.  He seemed genuinely frightened, however, and as a large outcropping came into view, they heard the moan of a female in obvious pain.

The man peered back over his shoulder at them, his face lined in anxious worry.  He gestured toward a large dry bush, pushing into the middle of it and leading them into the hidden space beneath the rocks.  Kennedy ducked into the narrow passage, feeling Carson's hand at the small of her back.  She became acutely aware of just how enclosed the space was, and the dry dusty sensation she could feel, grainy against her teeth, along with a stench of body odor that made her nose wrinkle in reflex.

Back against one wall, propped sitting halfway up against a rather dirty blanket, was a young woman, great with child.  Her eyes darted at them in fear, until her husband said something, and she merely nodded, pushing back sweaty hair that was plastered to her forehead.  She allowed Kennedy to move closer, and the two women had a brief exchange of words, before the woman lifted her skirt and Kennedy knelt closer to determine if she could help.

"Damn," she cursed softly.

"What is it?"  Carson edged in as close as she dared, averting her eyes out of respect for the woman.

"I think the baby is turned around.  See there -- I think that's a little baby behind, rather than a head, although this really is a new experience for me."  She nibbled her lower lip in consternation.  "Out of my league.  We need to get her to a hospital, or else get a helicopter with paramedics in here."

"I could ride on the four-wheeler out to the nearest ranger station," Carson offered.  "Maybe they could get someone down here quickly enough."

"We do need to at least try," Kennedy agreed, "and with my bum arm, you'll be able to ride faster than I would, plus I can communicate with them, in the event she moves along too quickly and we have to take action."

She talked to the man briefly, her face sober as they finished.  "He says she's been straining for hours, and it's clear she's lost a lot of blood.  See the ground there, and look at her face, pretty pale, considering her skin tone.  I think you should go, sweetheart, as quickly as you can, but be careful."

"Okay."  Kennedy handed her the keys, and Carson stood up as best she could, still hunched over in the low space.  She gave Kennedy a little pat on the arm.  "I'll be back as soon as I can."  She took off out the way they came in.  Daylight permeated the area very briefly, before the bushes made a whooshing noise behind her as the branches snapped back into place.

Kennedy signed and sat down, talking softly to the woman who was in a great deal of pain.  As they continued to talk, the man mentioned the woman had not yet passed her baggie.  "Excuse me?"  Kennedy repeated the question in Spanish, and the man confirmed they both had swallowed a bag of very important powder that they were supposed to bring across the river for a man who had promised them a home and a job in the states in exchange for them transporting the powder.

"God dammit!"  Kennedy sat back against the wall and lightly pounded it with her right fist.  The real possibility now existed that if the baggie burst internally, both mother and child would probably die of overdose, and rather quickly.  She scrubbed her face with both hands and raked her fingers back through her hair, feeling the beginning of a tension headache at the base of her neck.

"Alright."  She shoved aside fear, anger, and lack of knowledge, and focused in on what she did know.  After another exchange, she sent the man off in search of firewood, water, and Kennedy's own extra sweatshirt which was tucked into a compartment on the four-wheeler back in the parking area.  She fished out a pocketknife and realized she had nothing to start a fire with, not even Carson's flint and striker from the Renaissance Festival.  She hoped the man had matches or a lighter.

While she waited for him to return, she helped the woman get situated closer to the area where she planned to build the fire, and then began tugging at bits of dried bush to use for tinder.  Next she piled rocks in a ring, and used a stick to dig a shallow pit in the middle of the rocks.  The woman continued to groan each time a contraction overcame her, her cries of "Dios Mio," making Kennedy wince in sympathy.  She'd never given birth, never even been with a man, but just the thought of what the woman was going through made her hurt right along with her.

The baby was determined to be born, breech or not, and the more the woman strained, the more she bled.  Kennedy assessed the situation, and made a quick decision, speaking low and clearly to the woman, making her intentions plain.  The woman's features were etched in fear, but she timidly nodded her agreement.

The woman's husband returned, and she spoke to him in Spanish, explaining her intention to try to turn the baby.  She started, trying to manipulate it by pressing against the woman's abdomen in an attempt to get the baby to shift, with no luck.  Her lips a thin grim line, she talked to the woman again, and then reached down, touching the part of the baby's bottom that was showing, once again gently pushing and trying to get it to turn.

She succeeded in getting one leg to straighten out, which wasn't her intention, but she decided to go with that and see if she could get the other leg to straighten out.  It would mean going inside the woman enough to find the leg, and she talked to her again.  Tears streamed down the woman's face, but she bravely gave permission, and her husband slipped over next to her to hold her hand.

Kennedy said a quick prayer to whatever god might be listening, and began her task, her own forehead breaking out in a sweat as she worked.  The woman cried out in pain, but otherwise didn't move unless Kennedy instructed her to do so.  At last, two tiny feet were free, and Kennedy told the woman to push with her next contraction.

Before she had time to think, a tiny baby boy slipped into her hands .  He didn't breathe spontaneously, and she began infant CPR, massaging his little chest and clearing his nose and mouth before she blew tiny puffs of air into his lungs.  She'd had no time even to build a fire, and she instructed the man to do so, grateful when he indicated he smoked and did indeed have matches.  As soon as there was flame, she grabbed up her knife and ran it through the flames, then used it to cut the umbilical cord.

She worked frantically at CPR, and just as Carson stepped back inside the space, the baby gave a great cry, wailing loudly as Kennedy wrapped him up in her sweatshirt, and handed him over to his father.  The woman wasn't doing well, that much was clear.  She'd lost a lot more blood and was still bleeding profusely, her breathing very shallow and uneven.  Kennedy checked her wrist, and found a weak fluttering pulse.

"Damn," she cursed quietly, as Carson moved in next to her.  "Are they on their way?"

"Paramedics are in flight and should be landing next to the four-wheelers shortly," she replied.  "They knew exactly what lookout we were at when I described it for them, but I probably need to go back up and lead them down here."

"Go on," Kennedy's eyes met hers.  "I'll do my best to keep her comfortable until they get here, but tell them to hurry."  Her expression was one of frightened anguish, and Carson merely nodded, giving her hand a brief squeeze before she disappeared again.

The man sat in stunned silence off to the side, holding his new son and watching his wife with large terrified eyes.  He talked to Kennedy and she told him of the paramedics.  He appeared at first to panic, until she explained that the baby had been born on American soil and was therefore an American, and that because of that, the hospital would automatically treat both mother and child.  Panic turned to resigned sadness.  He was well-aware his wife's life hung in the balance, and he occasionally asked questions as Kennedy cradled the woman's head in her own lap.  She'd gotten her feet propped up on a rock in an effort to help stop the bleeding, but the woman was fading way too fast, her eyes fluttering before they simply closed.

"No."  Kennedy shifted, and began CPR yet again, her mind racing with fear.  "Don't you dare die on me."  She kept at it for what seemed forever, before two paramedics showed up, followed by Carson.  "Hi."  Kennedy moved aside as one of the men took over the CPR.  "When you get her to the hospital, test her first for heroin overdose."

The man glanced at her in confusion.

"Remember the two dead women found earlier this week?"

"Yeah."  The paramedic helped lift the woman onto a portable stretcher, then continued the CPR as they all began the trek up the path.  Carson assisted with one end of the stretcher, while Kennedy talked to the paramedic at the other end.

"This woman and her husband both ingested bags of drugs, just like those two dead women had.  I don’t think either of them has passed them yet, but I don't know from her symptoms if it's just blood loss, or if that baggie burst while she was giving birth.  Just check her out, and the baby as well."

They reached the helicopter and soon the little family was on their way.  Kennedy watched it leave, ducking as the wind from the rotating blades practically blew them over.  As soon as it was out of sight, she stumbled toward a boulder and sat down, her face in her hands and her forearms resting against her thighs.  "Oh, god," she mumbled softly.  "I didn't even get their names."

"Honey."  Carson knelt down next to her, touching her arm and stroking it as she talked.  "You just delivered a baby.  I don't know if you've ever done that before, but …"

"No," she answered quietly.  "Can't say as I have."

"Well, I wasn't there for that, and I'm sorry I wasn't, but the baby looked like it was healthy," Carson soother her.

"But the woman," Kennedy practically wailed.

"But the woman would have died," Carson finished.  "You turned the baby, didn't you?"

"Not exactly, just got the feet free."  Carson's presence began to seep in, calming her, and she finally looked up, taking a deep breath of the cool clean desert air.  "Just did what I thought should be done, but what if it wasn't enough?"

"You saved at least one very tiny life today," Carson answered firmly.  "I have no doubt of that, and you probably saved the woman as well.  She couldn't have given birth the way she was when her husband brought us to her.  At least now she has a chance.  We'll check later, and see how she's doing.  Alright?"

"Alright," Kennedy looked like she was about to cry, and Carson took her by the hand.

"Come on.  Let's go back to the cabana and order up some room service, and get you cleaned up."

"Cleaned up?"  Kennedy looked down at her blood-soaked t-shirt and jeans.  "Oh.  Sorry."

"No apologies necessary," Carson continued to lead her.  "Hop on back, honey, and let me drive us back.  We can have someone come down and get your bike."

Kennedy mutely agreed, wrapping her arms around Carson's waist and resting her chin against her shoulder, as they tooled back to the cabin and some much-needed rest.


Continued in Chapter 11

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