For disclaimers, see part 1.

Hope's Path

Part II

By Carrie Carr

Chapter 6

Ten minutes later, Amanda stepped into the kitchen with a tired but relieved smile on her face. She ran her hands through her shoulder length hair to give it some semblance of order.

"You look worn out, Mandy. Why don’t you come over here and sit down before you fall down?" Anna Leigh pulled out the chair nearest her. She watched with concern as the young woman dropped gracelessly into the seat. "Are you okay, sweetheart?"

Amanda smiled at her grandmother. "I’m fine. Just been a really long weekend." She gratefully accepted the cup of coffee offered by Jacob. "Thanks, Grandpa."

"Anytime, Peanut." He sat down on the other side of her and laid his hand on her arm. "Anything we can do to help? You look like you haven’t slept in days."

"I haven’t." Amanda concentrated on the mug in front of her. "Every time I close my eyes, I keep seeing Lex lying at the bottom of that ravine." Tears began to spill down her cheeks as she closed her eyes. "I thought she was dead…my entire world was gone."

Anna Leigh leaned over and wrapped her arms around the young woman. "Honey…" She pulled Amanda close to her. "You can’t think like that. She’s okay."

The small blonde spun and wrapped her arms around the older woman as she began to cry harder. "Oh, Gramma." She buried her face in Anna Leigh’s neck, unable to stop the tears. "I was so scared."

Jacob looked at his wife with understanding shining in his eyes. "I’m going to work in the office for a bit, and give you ladies a chance to have a little chat." He stood and placed a soft kiss on Amanda’s head before leaving. "I love you, Peanut."

After crying fitfully for several minutes, the young woman finally wound down. "I’m sorry I fell apart like that." She sniffled and wiped her eyes with the napkin that Anna Leigh had given her. "I guess it all finally caught up with me."

"Mandy, you have nothing to apologize for. I did the same thing once we got Jacob home from the hospital after his wreck." Anna Leigh assured her. Earlier in the year, Jacob had been almost killed when a drunk driver had hit the car he was driving. Amanda had moved temporarily from California to help her grandmother, but never went back after his injuries had healed.

"You did? I never knew." Amanda looked at the older woman with a new respect. "You always seemed so strong, so in control." She saw the remembered pain in the green eyes so much like her own. Her grandmother had been a source of strength for them all and spent every available moment with Jacob at the hospital. She had even held Amanda as the young woman cried in fear of losing the man who was more like a father to her than a grandfather.

Anna Leigh took a deep breath and smiled. "Poor Jacob. I think I scared him to death the night we brought him home from the hospital."

After sending Amanda out for Chinese food at Jacob’s request, Anna Leigh bowed to his good-natured complaints and helped him get comfortable on the sofa in the den. He had argued that she could not get him upstairs without their granddaughter’s help, and he was tired of lying around in a bed.

"My love…I can rest as well here as I can upstairs. I promise to take it easy." Jacob took Anna Leigh’s hand in his and kissed her knuckles. His left leg was incased in a cast from hip to toe, and lying down flat proved to be quite painful. "It feels really good to just sit up normally for a change," he teased.

Anna Leigh knelt next to him and covered Jacob with a soft quilt. "I’m sure it does, Jacob. But you know the doctor said for you to not overdo it, or you’d be right back in the hospital." She felt a tightening in her throat. "And I don’t think I could handle that right now." The weight of the past month came crashing down on the petite woman and crushed her spirit with remembered pain. "You almost…"A strangled sob broke from her chest as Anna Leigh fell forward onto Jacob’s chest.

Jacob wrapped his strong arms around his wife and pulled her close. "Shhh… everything’s okay now." He felt her bury her head deeper and cry harder. Without thinking, Jacob pulled Anna Leigh up into his lap and began to rock gently. "That’s it, sweetheart. Let it out. It’s all going to be okay now."

"I’m sorry for falling apart like that, love. I don’t know what came over me," Anna Leigh sniffled sometime later. She pulled her head back and looked down. "How did I end up in your lap?"

Her husband looked at her sheepishly. "I’m not real sure myself, sweetheart." Jacob scooted back to make more room on the sofa. "But I kinda like where you are." He winked at her. "Wanna make out?"

She felt a gentle hand run down her back. "You’re supposed to be resting, Jacob." Anna Leigh chastised, but she found herself not wanting to break the contact. "Well…I suppose a little snuggling couldn’t hurt." She huddled up next to her husband and kissed him gently. "I love you, dearest."

"And I love you, my beautiful wife." Jacob returned her kiss as he pulled her closer.


Amanda reached over and wiped a tear from the older woman’s face. She saw the strong determination and love that got her grandmother through the rough months of Jacob’s recuperation. "I don’t know how you did it, Gramma. I don’t think I could ever be that strong." She inhaled a shaky breath.

"Honey, you’re a lot stronger than you realize. I don’t know of many who could have gotten through what you have in the past couple of months. Don’t sell yourself short." Anna Leigh reached up and riffled the younger woman’s hair. "Besides, you’re MY granddaughter."

"Well, you do have a point there," Amanda agreed. She had always considered Jacob and Anna Leigh more than just her grandparents. The older couple had welcomed her into their home every summer of her life, giving her more love and support than her real parents ever had. "Thanks, Gramma."

Anna Leigh smiled. "Anytime, sweetheart. Now why don’t we go find out what kind of trouble your grandfather is into now?" She stood up and stepped away from the table. "I swear that man of mine can get into trouble walking through the house." Once the two of them reached the doorway the older woman put her arm around Amanda. "Nice to see you got something from him."

"Gramma!" Amanda chuckled as they walked out the door. "You sound just like Lex!"


A gentle touch on her head brought Lex out of a wonderful dream. "Mmm…" She opened her eyes slowly and saw the same face that she had been dreaming about. "Hey, there." Lex murmured her voice rough with sleep.

"Hey there yourself, blue eyes. Nice nap?" Amanda continued her gentle ministrations with the dark locks. I just love playing with her hair. It feels like silk on my fingertips. "How are you feeling, honey?"

"Okay…still a little woozy, I guess." Lex tried to sit up and dropped back to the pillow. "I guess I’m a bit more than a little woozy." She smiled at her friend.

Amanda studied her carefully. "I can tell…your eyes still look a little glazed. But Dr. Anderson called and told me that I needed to get you awake for a bit so that you can eat and take your medication."

Lex blinked a couple of times and lifted her left hand to the younger woman’s face. "Are you okay? You look like you’ve been crying." She struggled to sit up. "What’s the matter, sweetheart?"

"Nothing." Amanda leaned into the touch and covered the hand with her own. "Had a good talk with my Gramma earlier." She searched the older woman’s face with concern. "You doing okay?" she asked as she removed her hand and checked her lover’s forehead for fever.

"Fine." Lex gently batted the small hand away. "What kind of talk did you have with your grandmother that would make you cry?" She sat up a little more until she turned her arm the wrong way. "Damn!"

The blonde helped Lex until she was in a more comfortable sitting position. "You could ask me for help, you know. You don’t have to try to do everything yourself." She reached behind Lex and fluffed the pillows.

"I know…"

"It wouldn’t be admitting any weakness to actually let me help you every now and then…" Amanda continued as she fussed with the blanket covering Lex.

"Well, I…" Lex stammered as she tried to sneak a word in.

"You can just be so darn stubborn sometimes!" Amanda stood up and walked into the bathroom mumbling. "I love you, and that means that I don’t mind taking care of you when you need me to." She stepped back into the bedroom carrying a glass of water.


The young woman stopped next to the bed and sat down beside Lex. "So if I want to pamper you every now and then, you should just…what?" Amanda stopped in the middle of her tirade and looked at Lex.

The rancher smiled at her. "I don’t mind you fussing. I just don’t want you to wear yourself out, love." Lex smirked and held out her good hand. "You got something for me?"

Amanda sighed as she handed over the glass of water and a couple of pills. "You do that on purpose, don’t you?" She waited until Lex was finished with the water then took the glass back. "Just when I get a good rant started, you nip it in the bud by being agreeable."

"Well, there’s no sense in being too predictable, is there? You’d get bored, otherwise." Lex teased. "And since you so kindly offered…think I could get an escort downstairs?" She reached up with her good hand and waited until Amanda grasped it.

"I should bring your dinner upstairs, but I know how you are." She pulled the dark-haired woman into a sitting position. "Promise me that you’ll come back to bed after we eat?"

Lex grinned. "You gonna keep me company? I get awfully lonesome up here all my myself, you know."

The blonde chuckled as she helped Lex slip on a pair of sweat pants. "Yeah, I could tell when I came up here that you were pining away for me." She snapped the waistband gently.

"Do I get extra points since I was dreaming of you?" the rancher queried as Amanda adjusted the sling around her neck. She looked down into the green eyes that were a few inches from her own. "It was a really good dream. I could give you…Mrrumph!" a small hand covered her mouth.

"Hush. If you starting telling me about this dream, we’ll both be late for dinner." Amanda stood on her tiptoes and replaced her hand with her lips for a quick kiss. She felt Lex’s good arm snake around her back and pull her closer. "Lex…" she broke off slowly and tried to catch her breath. "You’re not helping matters much, you know." She snuggled her face into the older woman’s chest, being careful to avoid the injured arm. "And I think we’d better get you downstairs before those pills start to take effect…I don’t think that I can carry you back up here like you can me."

Lex allowed the younger woman to wrap an arm around her left side. "Heh. That would be fun to watch." She began to walk cautiously through the bedroom and down the hall. "At least I can walk now. Guess whatever that old quack injected me with has worn off," she mumbled as they worked their way down the stairs.

The doorbell cut off any reply that Amanda was about to make. The two women stood on the stairway and watched as her grandmother went to answer the door. "Hi girls. Let me get this, and then I’ll give you a hand." Anna Leigh waved at them as she passed by the stairs. She opened the door partially and then stopped. "What are you doing here?"

"I came to talk to you, Mrs. Cauble." A man’s voice called from the front porch. "If you’ll give me just a minute, I’ll be gone before you know it."

Amanda and Lex stood at the foot of the stairs a few feet away. "Who is it, Gramma?" The younger woman asked as she took a step forward. Lex followed her cautiously.

The door swung open wider and Rick Thompson stepped inside. "What are you two doing here?" He pushed by Anna Leigh and moved to confront the younger women.

"Mr. Thompson! Do not barge into my home and yell at members of my family!" Anna Leigh put a restraining hand on his arm. "I will be forced to call the sheriff and have you removed."

The large man looked down at her hand that was wrapped around his arm. His face softened slightly. "I didn’t come here to cause any trouble, Mrs. Cauble. I really did want to talk to you, though." He glanced back over at Lex who had casually placed herself between him and Amanda. "Damn, Kentucky…you look like hell."

"Thanks, Rick. Looks like that bruise on your chin healed nicely." The rancher smirked. The last time they had seen the angry man was during a confrontation at the real estate office where Rick used to be the manager. When Anna Leigh had found out that he had sent her granddaughter on a wild goose chase to Lex’s ranch, she immediately fired him and gave his job to Amanda. He had struck out in anger at Lex and Amanda used her kickboxing skills to knock him to the floor, unconscious.

Amanda stepped up until she was in front of the dark-haired woman. "Why don’t we all go into the den where it’s more comfortable?" She felt Lex’s hand rest gently on her shoulder and squeeze lightly.

"I came here to talk to Mrs. Cauble, not you." Rick pointed an accusing finger at the small blonde. He turned back towards Anna Leigh. "I can’t get a job in this damn town anywhere, thanks to you."

"Now wait a minute. Are you accusing my grandmother of blacklisting you? That’s ridiculous! She would never do such a thing, even if you did deserve it. Which you do." Amanda stepped away from Lex and moved closer to the seething man. "Have you ever considered that everyone in this town knows you?"

"Yeah? So what?" Rick crossed his arms across his chest and glared down at Amanda. What did I ever see in this little bitch? "It’s a small town."

Lex walked slowly until she was behind Amanda again. "What she’s trying to say Ricky, is everyone else in town knows what an ass you are." She smiled as Anna Leigh fought to keep the grin off of her face. "Why would anyone want to hire someone with a track record like yours?"

Rick stepped forward and jabbed Lex in the chest with a finger. "You’d better watch your mouth, Kentucky…or I’ll break your other arm!"

Anna Leigh grabbed his arm and pulled. "I think you’ve had your say, Mr. Thompson. It’s time that you left."

"I don’t need this shit from you…any of you!" He spun away from the older woman and stomped towards the door. "I’ll finish with you later, Kentucky." Rick stormed out of the house and slammed the door behind him.

"Jackass." Lex mumbled. "Are you okay, Anna Leigh?" She asked as the small gray-haired woman locked the front door.

Amanda wrapped her arm around Lex and hugged her gently. "I could ask you the same thing, honey. He didn’t hurt you, did he?" She closed her eyes in relief at her partner’s negative shake of the head.

"I’m just fine, Lexington. Why don’t we all go into the den and sit down? You’re looking a bit pale." Anna Leigh quickly stepped to Lex’s other side and helped her granddaughter escort the injured woman into the next room. "I don’t know what that man thought he could accomplish by barging in like that. Did he actually think I would give him his job back?"

Lex chuckled as they helped her sit on the loveseat close to the fireplace. "He’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer." She groaned softly as she leaned back. "I’m guessing that he just felt like harassing someone, and you just happened to be convenient."

"Maybe we should call the sheriff. He did threaten you, Lex." Amanda snuggled down next to her friend. "For all we know, he could be the person behind what happened to you on Saturday."

Anna Leigh sat on the sofa across from them and curled her feet up under her. "I thought you said it was just thieves that you had stumbled across. What makes you think that Rick might be involved?"

"Did I hear you mention Rick’s name?" Jacob walked into the room and took the place next to his wife. "Hello, sweetheart." His kissed her on the cheek. "What has that fool done this time?" He looked over at the two woman wrapped up together on the loveseat. "Hi, girls. Are you feeling any better, Lex?"

"Much better, Jacob. Thanks for asking." Lex smiled. "We had a visit from Rick a little while ago, but your beautiful wife ran him off." She winked at Anna Leigh who blushed slightly. "The poor idiot thought that Anna Leigh had blacklisted him since he hasn’t been able to find a job around here anywhere."

Amanda poked Lex. "Be nice." She turned her attention toward her grandfather who was pulling his wife close to him. "Charlie thinks that whoever has been cutting the fences at the ranch was after Lex personally." She saw the shock on her grandparent’s faces and continued quietly, "Especially since several different people have threatened her over the past month or so." Amanda felt the arm that was wrapped around her stomach pull her closer.

Lex kissed the top of the blonde head under her chin. "We don’t know that for sure, sweetheart." She gave the older Cauble’s a wink. "Besides, Rick isn’t smart enough to pull something like that off without being caught. He can barely tie his shoes without help."

"I agree with you about the sense that boy has." Jacob nodded. "But he could just be the brawn behind the operation. Maybe someone else is calling the shots."

Anna Leigh gave both young women a glare. "Why didn’t you tell us that you had gotten threats, Lexington? Maybe we could have done something."

"We didn’t want to worry you unnecessarily, Gramma. There isn’t much that anyone can do until Charlie gets more evidence." Amanda answered for them both.

"She’s right. And, personally, I think that Charlie has just been reading too many mysteries lately and is trying to play detective." Lex joked, trying to lighten the mood in the room. "Although picturing him decked out like Sherlock Holmes is always good for a laugh." The tall thin sheriff was never without his silver cowboy hat and rumpled brown uniform shirt. The thought of him dressed in London gentleman’s clothes and a deerstalker hat made Lex almost laugh out loud.

Amanda didn’t have the same self-restraint. She giggled at the mental picture. "Oh, god. Charlie as Sherlock Holmes. Would that make Martha his Watson?"

The rancher lost her composure after that comment. The image of her housekeeper wearing a bowler and dressed as the famous detective’s sidekick was too much for her. "Oh god, Amanda," she chortled, "That’s a picture I really didn’t need in my head." She leaned back against the sofa and closed her eyes.

"That would be a sight." Jacob agreed with a chuckle. He watched as Lex fell back tiredly. "I almost forgot the reason I came in here to begin with." He stood and pulled his wife up next to him. "I brought dinner home."

Anna Leigh found herself wrapped in her husband’s strong arms. "And what great feast have you prepared for us this evening, darling?" She laughed as Jacob spun her around the room to imaginary music.

Jacob continued to twirl his wife from the room. "Only the best for our family, my dear. Take out from the Peking Palace!"

Amanda laughed as her grandparent’s waltzed into the kitchen. She glanced at Lex, whose eyes were still closed. "Honey?"

Lex opened her eyes slowly. "Hmm?" She struggled to sit up. "What’s up?"

"Grandpa brought home Chinese takeout for dinner." Amanda ran a hand lovingly down the older woman’s face. "You want me to just bring you some in here?"

"No…I’m fine." Lex raised herself upward. "I may need a bit of help getting off the couch, though." She smiled tenderly at Amanda. "Especially since I seem to have a lap full of cute realtor on top of me."

The young woman blushed and stood up. "Oops. Now how do you suppose that happened?" She reached down and carefully pulled Lex to her feet. "C’mon…let’s get in there before all the good stuff is gone." Amanda wrapped her arm around the taller woman and led her from the room.


The lone figure sat in the darkened room, the only light coming from a small lamp in the center of the desk. Impatient hands rifled through several stacks of papers as they searched for something. Photos were also strewn haphazardly across the desk, showing a dark-haired woman in many of the shots. Pictures on horseback, outside a large stucco house, or with a small blonde woman all had the same tall figure in each shot. It was one of the latter photos that the figure picked up and gazed at for a long moment. Angry eyes flashed as the hands ripped the photograph in half. "You will not get away with this," the impassioned voice growled. "I will see you burn in Hell before I allow this to continue."

One hand reached to the side of the desk where the phone sat and dialed a number from memory. The other hand angrily discarded the torn photo into a nearby trash bin already filled with similar victims.

"Yeah?" A man’s voice sleepily answered on the fourth ring.

"Have you done what I asked?" The brooding figure at the desk questioned without preamble.

The man on the other end of the phone became instantly alert. "Well…" he stammered, "It’s not as easy as you might think. I have to be really careful, you know."

A fisted hand slammed down on the desk. "Now you listen to me, you pathetic moron. I’m not paying you to think. Just do as you are told." Silence for a moment as they thought. "All right. Did you at least get the hospital reports?"

He sat on the edge of his bed and ran a trembling hand through his hair. "Yeah. She must be a goddamned cat. Not one broken bone – just a twisted arm, some bruises, and a concussion. Why?"

"Because, you idiot…if she’s not seriously injured, then she’ll quickly get back to business as usual. Which means…"

"Oh! I get it! Which means I can try again?" he interrupted as he tried to get back into his bosses’ good graces.

The voice on the other end of the line almost screamed in frustration. "No!" a heavy sigh. "It means that we’ll be able to tell if she suspects anything by how she goes about her daily business. I don’t want anything to happen to her…not yet, anyway."

He stood and paced the cluttered room. "What the hell do you want me to do, then? Follow her around and take more damn pictures?"

Dead silence from the other end of the phone for a long moment. "Don’t," the voice whispered menacingly, "Ever…take that tone with me!"

"Okay…okay…sorry." He whined as he kicked an empty beer can across the room. "But I hate to just sit around and do nothing!"

"Stop whining. I promised you that you’ll get your chance, just be patient. We just have to wait for the perfect opportunity."

He sat back down on the bed, then brightened. "I can always mess with her truck. The weather is kind of bad right now…no one would think anything of it."

"NO! I don’t want to take the chance of hurting…" The mysterious voice caught itself before it revealed too much. "No. I don’t want any more accidents right now. I’m looking into ruining her professionally and then personally. If that doesn’t work, THEN we’ll try something more… permanent."


"Jacob, that had to be the best Chinese food I’ve eaten in months!" Lex sighed as she leaned back away from the table. Of course the fact that almost every other bite was fed to her by the small blonde woman next to her had nothing to do with her enjoyment of the meal. Amanda had taken pity on the rancher as she tried to eat with her left hand, and gave her tidbits off of her own plate in fun. Oh yeah…definitely the best Chinese food I’ve had…period!

The older man looked up from where he was putting the leftovers in the refrigerator. "I’m glad you liked it, honey. I’ve been having a hankering for Chinese for over a week and I know it’s one of your favorites."

Lex smiled at him in appreciation. "Thanks. Don’t tell Martha, though. The last time she tried to fix stir fry she almost burned the house down." As proficient as the housekeeper was in the kitchen, she never mastered the use of the wok that Lex had given her one Christmas.

"That’s okay, sweetheart. Your secret is safe with us." Anna Leigh assured her. She watched as the injured woman tried to hide a yawn. "Mandy, why don’t you get Lexington upstairs before she falls asleep at the table? I’m sure she’d be more comfortable in bed than in that chair."

Amanda looked at Lex who shrugged sheepishly. "Guess that medication is really starting to get its hold on you, isn’t it?" She studied the slightly glazed eyes. "Yep. It sure is." The younger woman stood up and smiled at her grandparents. "If you’ll excuse us, I’ll escort Her Majesty to our room." She held her hand out to Lex. "C’mon, tough stuff. Nap time."

"Yes, Mother." Lex allowed herself to be pulled up out of her chair. "You gonna read me a story, too?" she teased as the blonde wrapped an arm around her waist.

"If you’re good, I will. I may even bake you some cookies later if you behave." Amanda teased as she helped her friend out of the kitchen. "I’ll be back to help with the dishes in a little bit," she called over her shoulder.

Anna Leigh waved her off. "No need, honey. Why don’t you get some rest too? We’re going to make an early night of it ourselves." She winked at her husband who grinned happily.

Lex chuckled as they walked back up the stairs. "Have they always been like that?" she asked the smaller woman.

"Oh, yeah. For as long as I could remember. I used to wonder what was wrong with my own parents. I rarely saw them in the same room, much less acting as if they actually cared for one another." Amanda felt her companion lean a little more heavily on her. "Are you going to be able to make it up the stairs? Maybe I should get Grandpa." The weight immediately eased from her.

"Nope. I’m fine." The taller woman looked down at her lover. "Guess I just got a little carried away with my leaning. Sorry about that." She stood up a little straighter and took in a deep breath. "Let’s go."

They walked the rest of the way in silence as Amanda was lost in the memories of a childhood spent with indifferent parents and loving grandparents. She wordlessly sat Lex on the edge of the bed and pulled her sweatpants off, leaving the rancher in her flannel boxer shorts and tee shirt. A gentle touch on Amanda’s face brought her back from her musings.

"Amanda? What’s the matter, sweetheart?" Lex was somewhat unnerved by her usually chatty friend’s reticence. She looked up into the soft green eyes and saw her partner come back to her.

The blonde shook her head and smiled. "Nothing. Just thinking." She helped Lex swing her legs back onto the bed and covered her.

Lex wasn’t giving up easily. "About what? You looked a little lost there for a bit." She blinked and struggled to keep her eyes open.

"Nothing important, really. I just remembered a time when I was younger. I asked Gramma why my parents weren’t like them." Amanda sat down on the other side of the bed and clasped the rancher’s hand. "She told me that different people show their love in different ways. And that Mother did love Daddy, but she just had a different way of showing it." She felt her hand pulled towards Lex as the older woman kissed her knuckles. "I guess Gramma just didn’t want to tell me that my parents had more of a merger, than a marriage." Tears of past hurt fell from her eyes.

"Oh, sweetheart." Lex pulled the young woman close. She felt Amanda curl up next to her and tuck her face into her neck. "Shhh…it’s okay." The rancher felt helpless as her lover continued to cry. She whispered quiet words of reassurance to the younger woman as she stroked the blonde head.

Amanda stopped crying after a few minutes and raised her head. "I don’t know what’s gotten into me today," she sniffled, smiling as Lex wiped her face with a corner of the sheet. "That’s the second time today. I’m sorry, Lex."

Lex smiled and stroked the soft cheek with her thumb. "You have nothing to apologize for, love. I think the past few days just caught up with you." She looked down at their tangled bodies. "Not that I’m complaining, but don’t you think you’d be more comfortable out of those clothes?"

"Probably." Amanda blushed. "But I want to go downstairs and tell my grandparents goodnight, first." She regretfully pulled away from the long form stretched out on the bed. "I’ll be back in a few minutes, okay?"

"Sure." Lex yawned. "Give them my love." She closed her eyes and quickly fell asleep.

Amanda stood at the doorway for a long moment and studied her sleeping lover. The scratches on her face were almost healed, and the bruises were already fading as well. Looks like she’s going to be just fine. I don’t know how Martha has survived this all these years. The housekeeper had confided to her one afternoon that Lex was always getting into some type of trouble. She shook her head and started back down the stairs.

She saw a light coming from the den and altered her direction. Poking her blonde head cautiously around the corner, Amanda saw her grandparents speaking to another person. She could only see the back of a man’s head where he was sitting on the sofa.

"Mandy! Come on in, we have a visitor." Anna Leigh saw her granddaughter standing at the doorway and beckoned her in.

The young woman stepped into the room and the guest stood up. He turned to face her and smiled. "Hello, Miss Cauble." Mark Garrett held out his hand. "I hope you don’t mind me dropping in unannounced like this."

Amanda took his hand and returned his smile. "Please, call me Amanda. I thought we had that settled in the office last week." She sat down and waited for him to do the same. "You’re always welcome, Mark. But what brings you here this evening?"

Anna Leigh answered her question. "He brought some flowers for Lexington. Wasn’t that thoughtful?" She pointed to a large arrangement of mixed blooms on a nearby table.

"Very." Amanda eyed the flowers appreciatively. "But that really wasn’t necessary, Mark."

"Well, I dropped by your office to leave some paperwork and one of the ladies there told me that your friend was hurt in an accident." He looked over at Jacob and Anna Leigh. "Lex and I got acquainted when we sat next to each other at the fall dinner party." Mark turned his attention back to Amanda. "I really enjoyed her company then, and I just wanted her to know that I wished her well."

Jacob decided to steer the conversation into a different direction. "That’s great, Mark. You were telling us that you used to work for our son?" He saw his granddaughter visibly relax. "Why did you quit?"

Mark nodded at the older man. "Yes sir, I did. But I was ready for a change of scenery. I wanted to move my family somewhere that my children could grow up safe, yet educated. Lex had told me about Somerville and it sounded like a really good place to settle." He smiled at Amanda. "Especially since I know I can trust the local realtor."

"That’s true, you certainly can." Jacob agreed heartily. He gave his granddaughter a wink. "This town’s always had real good luck with the women from that office." His wife gave him a playful slap on the arm. "Hey!"

Amanda laughed at her grandparent’s antics. They never stop…just like two newlyweds. She smiled inwardly, Or like Lex and me. Cool. "Lex is going to be sorry that she missed you, Mark. She’s upstairs resting right now."

"Oh, that’s fine. I’m certain I’ll see her around sometime. It is a pretty small town." The young man stood. "I didn’t mean to stay so long, anyway. I’m sure you folks have things to do."

"And I’m sure you want to get back to your family." Amanda stood with him. "Where are you staying?"

He shook his head. "They’re still in New Mexico. I decided to come on ahead and find us a house first." Mark allowed Amanda to escort him to the front door. "Hopefully I can have them here for Christmas."

"That means you’ll be all alone at Thanksgiving." Amanda made a quick decision. Well, Lex did say the more the merrier, right? "Why don’t you join us at the ranch this Thursday for Thanksgiving dinner? We’d love to have you."

"Oh, I couldn’t impose on you like that." Mark stopped just outside the door.

Jacob and Anna Leigh stepped up behind Amanda. "If I know my granddaughter and Martha, there’ll be more than enough food to go around." The older man laughed. "Besides, it would help even things out some. I think it’s just going to be Charlie and me as the only men there. We could use your help."

"You love being surrounded by women, you nut." Anna Leigh poked her husband in the ribs. "But Jacob’s right. There will be plenty of food and you’ll be more than welcome."

Amanda reached out to shake Mark’s hand again. "Then it’s settled. I need to go into the office in the morning for a little while, so if you’ll give me a call there I can give you directions to the ranch." She stepped out onto the front porch with him. "Thank you so much for bringing the flowers by. I know Lex will appreciate them. It really was very thoughtful of you."

Mark ducked his head and smiled. "It wasn’t much. Just tell her I hope she’s feeling better soon, and I’ll see you all Thursday." He released Amanda’s hand and walked towards his car.

The Cauble’s stepped out onto the porch with Amanda and watched Mark drive away. "Such a nice young man," Anna Leigh commented. "Bringing flowers over for Lexington like that." She wrapped an arm around the younger woman’s waist and pulled her close. "How is she feeling, dear?"

"She was falling asleep when I left her a bit ago." Amanda answered as she returned her grandmother’s hug. "I just came downstairs to tell you and Grandpa goodnight."

Jacob moved to Amanda’s other side so that she was sandwiched between the two of them. "I’m glad you did, Peanut. We love seeing you but I hate for it to have been under these circumstances." He kissed the blonde head. "Are you going back to the ranch tomorrow? We’d love for you both to stay an extra day or so."

Amanda sighed happily as she soaked up the love from her grandparents. "Thanks. I think I’m going to try and talk her into staying an extra day. I’m afraid that if we go back to the ranch, she’ll try to work. There’s always something out there that needs her attention."

"That’s a good idea, sweetheart. You can go into the office in the morning, and we’ll keep an eye on Lexington for you." Anna Leigh looked her granddaughter in the eye. "But right now I want you to go upstairs and go to bed. You look completely worn out." Her tone brooked no argument.

"Yes, Gramma." Amanda kissed her grandmother’s cheek with a smile. "I’ll see you in the morning." She hugged Jacob and kissed his cheek as well. "Goodnight."

Anna Leigh linked her arm with her husband’s as they watched the young woman jog up the staircase. "It’s getting pretty cold, love. What do you say to hot chocolate in front of the fire before bed?"

"That sounds like a great idea, sweetheart. I’ll take care of the fire if you want to bring in the chocolate." Jacob followed his wife into the house and closed the door behind them.

Amanda stepped quietly into the bedroom and quickly changed into an oversized sleepshirt. It was actually one of Lex’s tee shirts that she had stolen, but the rancher didn’t have the heart to take it back. When she had offered to buy Amanda a nightshirt that fit, the younger woman had laughed. I keep trying to tell her it isn’t the size, or the style… it’s because it’s hers. Lex had given her a look like she thought she was crazy, but didn’t say anything else. Probably the same reason I find her snuggling my pillow when I’m not there. She looked at the bed and saw Lex lying flat on her back with a pillow hugged to her chest. Not like she’ll ever admit to it, though. Amanda smiled as she crawled onto the bed next to Lex.

"Mmm…Amanda." Lex murmured in her sleep with a smile. She squeezed the pillow to her tighter, then frowned. "Amanda?" Her eyes opened slowly to see the blonde woman leaning over her with a huge smile on her face. "What?"

"Miss me?" Amanda leaned down and kissed her gently.

Lex blinked a couple of times. "Sure. How’d you guess?" She lifted her head and returned Amanda’s kiss. "Have I been asleep long?"

The younger woman raised back up and looked first at Lex, then at the pillow she was still hugging. "Comfy?" She chuckled at the look the rancher gave her. "No, honey… you haven’t been asleep long. But you had a visitor earlier."

"Yeah? Who?" Lex watched with a fond smile as Amanda removed the pillow and took its place on her chest.

"Mark Garrett dropped by with some flowers. He heard that you got hurt and wanted to pay his respects." Amanda snuggled close with a happy sigh.

The older woman began rubbing Amanda’s back gently. "Really? That’s kinda strange, isn’t it? I don’t even know him that well." She felt her eyes slowly close against her will.

Amanda lifted her head up just enough so she could place a soft kiss on Lex’s jaw. "I think he appreciated that you were so nice to him at the dinner party." She burrowed back down on the rancher’s chest. "I invited him to Thanksgiving dinner since he’ll be away from his family. I hope that’s okay with you."

"You can invite whoever you want to, sweetheart. It’s your home too, you know." Lex yawned. "How did he know where to bring the flowers, though?" she asked as her eyes began to close. "Goodnight, sweetheart. I love you." She pulled Amanda close and kissed the top of her head.

"I love you too, Lex. Sleep well." Amanda whispered as she heard the even breathing of her lover. That is a good question. I know that the people in the office don’t make a habit of telling strangers any personal information. I’ll have to ask around in the morning. She mentally shook her head. Lord, I’m getting paranoid. They probably remembered seeing me talk to Mark and thought it would be okay, which it was. I’ve got to stop thinking like everyone is out to get us. Definitely need to quit watching those government cover up television shows. She allowed Lex’s steady breathing to coax her into sleep.

Chapter 7

"Good morning, Amanda." Wanda Skimmerly’s cheerful voice greeted as the young woman stepped into the office at Sunflower Realty. "We certainly weren’t expecting you in this week." The older woman stood up and embraced Amanda in a heartfelt hug. "How’s Lexington? Mrs. Cauble told us she had an accident."

Amanda returned the hug and stepped back. "She’s doing just fine, Wanda. Thank you for asking." She linked her arm with the curly-haired woman and led her into the office. "I just wanted to check in since I was already in town," she explained. Amanda sat down behind the desk and waited until Wanda sat as well. "We’ll be leaving for the ranch in the morning. If anything comes up, you can reach me at my grandparents until then."

The older blonde smiled. "Don’t you worry, honey. I’m sure we’ll be just fine. You just take care of Lexington." She stood back up and straightened her maroon wool dress. "Do you think she’d be up for visitors this afternoon? I baked some brownies last night for her and want to drop them by sometime today."

"I’m sure she’d love that, Wanda. Oh! That reminds me." Amanda stood and walked around the desk to sit on the edge. "Did anyone talk to Mark Garrett yesterday?"

"Isn’t he that nice young man who came in last week?" Wanda asked. She thought for a moment and then shook her head. "I don’t remember seeing him in here since last week. It was pretty quiet, and I suppose he could have come in when I went to the bank at lunchtime. But I didn’t talk to him." She saw the confused look on the younger woman’s face. "Is there something wrong?"

Amanda smiled and shook her head. "No, not really. Mark said that he had stopped by yesterday and was told of Lex’s accident." She stood and walked the other woman to the door. "He even brought flowers over to the house for Lex."

The older woman stopped and turned around. "How did he know where to find you?"

"That’s what I would like to know." When Wanda opened her mouth to speak, Amanda raised her hand. "Not that it’s a problem, I’m just curious. I guess with everything that’s happened, I’ve become a little paranoid."

"Why don’t I ask around? I really don’t think anyone here would give out that kind of information, but it never hurts to be sure." Wanda patted Amanda on the arm. "If it’s okay with you, I’ll bring those brownies by for Lexington when I get off work this afternoon." The rancher had quickly become a favorite of the women in the office since she would drop by unexpectedly with flowers or candy for Amanda. Her dark good looks and charming smile made many of them threaten to dump their husbands for her, much to Lex’s embarrassment.

"That would be sweet, Wanda. I know she’d really appreciate the company." Amanda had left her lover propped up on the living room sofa armed with a television remote control and a scowl. Lex had argued that she was ready to go back to the ranch today, but Anna Leigh had vetoed that notion immediately. The older woman had told Lex that she was going to lie there and relax, or she would call Dr. Anderson and have him give her another shot. Amanda left after the rancher made her promise to return as early as she could.

The older woman chuckled as she walked away. "I imagine she’s probably driving Mrs. Cauble half crazy by now. She doesn’t seem like the type who likes to sit around and do nothing."

Amanda crossed her arms across her chest and leaned against the doorway. I probably should call Gramma and see if she’s killed Lex yet…

"Amanda? You have a call on line two." Lisa Pratt called from her desk nearby. The young woman had just graduated from high school last year and was working part-time in the office while she went to the local commercial college. She idolized Amanda and harbored a secret crush on Lex.

"Thanks, Lisa. I’ll grab it in my office." She told the young redhead as she made her way back to her desk. "This is Amanda Cauble."

"And the latest conquest of my sister’s?" The man’s nasal voice questioned through the phone.

The blonde rolled her eyes and shook her head. "Hubert? Why are you calling my office? Lex isn’t here."

He released a heavy sigh as if talking to a child. "No shit. And she’s not at the ranch, either. She was supposed to drop by my office yesterday to sign some damn papers but never showed up." He softened his tone a little. "You wouldn’t happen to know where she’s hiding, would you?"

Amanda closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose with her forefinger and thumb to ward off the impending headache that his voice always caused. I can’t believe this man is related to Lex. "She’s not hiding, Hubert. Lex had an accident Saturday and is recuperating." Well, he is her brother. I’m sure he would want to know if she had been hurt.

"That’s her excuse for standing me up yesterday? I’m a busy man, you know." He paused for a moment. "She sounded fine Sunday. I think the bitch is just playing games with me." Papers shuffled loudly in the background. "These papers are important and they have to have her damn signature on them since she’s the owner of that stinking ranch. You tell her to get her ass over to my office immediately, or she could lose her part of the inheritance." His voice continued to rise until he was almost yelling.

"Inheritance? Does Lex know what these papers are for?" Amanda questioned him with concern. "Has someone passed away?"

Hubert laughed humorlessly. "It figures that the sound of money would catch your attention. Yeah…somebody died, and we get something out of it. The problem is, there are some papers that require both our signatures." He took a deep breath and spoke a little more calmly. "So if you’ll just get my high and mighty sister to take time out of her busy schedule, we can get this matter cleared up. Think you can handle that, honey?" he ended sarcastically.

The young woman bit her tongue to keep her comment to herself. Jerk. "What if I drop by and pick up the papers, have her sign them, and then drop them back off to you today? Will that satisfy you?"

"I’m not letting these damn papers out of my sight, sweetheart. Especially to a little floozy like you." Hubert snapped. "Now either get her over here, or tell me where to find her. Your choice."

Amanda winced. No good options here. Well, better on our terms than his, I suppose. And he’ll have to behave if my grandparents are there. "She’s at my grandparent’s house, Hubert. Why don’t you meet me there at…" the sound of the phone slamming down caused her to pull the receiver away from her ear. Crap. Now I’ve got to race him home. She grabbed her purse and briefcase and stood up. "Wanda!" she shouted as she left the office, "Call my grandmother and tell her I’m on the way home, and not to answer the door from anyone until I get there."

"Will do, dear. Is there anything I can do?" the older woman asked.

"Nope. That’s it. Thanks!" Amanda jogged out of the office in a hurry, leaving behind several questioning glances.


The small gray-haired woman was curled up in the overstuffed chair, deeply engrossed in a murder-mystery novel. The only sounds in the room were the crackling of the fire and the deep, even breathing of the sleeping woman stretched out on the nearby sofa. Poor Lexington. She tried so hard to stay awake until Mandy came home.

As they spent a large part of the morning talking, the older woman learned more about this person that her granddaughter had decided to share her life with. Anna Leigh had known the rancher for years, but had found to her chagrin, that she didn’t really know her at all. I had no idea that she played the piano. Lex had offered quite a bit of personal information about herself, as well as her thoughts on the future. The rancher had confided to Anna Leigh that she had considered selling the ranch and buying a house in town so that Amanda would not have the long commute to work.

"It scares me, Anna Leigh." The younger woman admitted, "I’m afraid that she’ll get tired of being so isolated from her family and friends and decide to leave." Lex wiped a stray tear from her cheek. The medication that the doctor had prescribed brought her emotions closer to the surface, and she could also feel sleep pulling at her.

"Have you talked to Mandy about all of this, honey?" Anna Leigh sat down next to the injured woman and clasped her left hand. After Lex shook her head she continued, "I didn’t think so. Because if you had, you would have found out that she loves that ranch. Probably more than you do." The older woman ruffled Lex’s dark hair gently. "She was so thrilled when you asked her to handle the book work. She called me up the next day and said it made her feel like she was actually contributing to the running of the ranch."

Lex looked at her in surprise. "I had no idea," she whispered.

Anna Leigh smiled softly. "She loves the life she’s living, Lexington. I’ve never seen my granddaughter happier than she is now." She watched as the rancher fought to keep her eyes open. "Why don’t you take a little nap? Mandy probably won’t be home until after lunchtime." She pulled the quilt up over Lex and patted the younger woman on her uninjured arm. "Go on… I’ve got some reading to catch up on."

"Okay…that sounds like a pretty good idea." Lex yawned and closed her eyes.

Anna Leigh shut the book she was holding and sighed. Rawson Walters should be shot for deserting such a sweet girl. She studied the still form fondly. Although I can’t fault the way that Martha raised her. She turned out better than anyone ever expected. The shrill ringing of the telephone from another part of the house halted her musing.

"Sweetheart? Wanda from the office is asking for you." Jacob announced quietly from the doorway. He looked at the sleeping woman on the sofa and smiled.

"Thank you, love." Anna Leigh stood up and walked towards her husband. She kissed Jacob on the cheek and took his hand. "Why don’t you come with me? We can use the phone in the kitchen so Lexington won’t be disturbed."

Jacob allowed his wife to lead him into the kitchen and settle him on the chair closest to the phone. Anna Leigh picked up the handset and then climbed onto his lap. "This is Anna Leigh. What’s the matter, dear?" She knew that the realtor would only call her if there was a problem and Amanda could not be found.

"I’m really sorry to bother you, Mrs. Cauble," the younger woman apologized, "but Amanda asked me to call you." Wanda had worked at Sunflower Realty for over eight years, but could never bring herself to call the older woman by her first name. "She said for you not to answer the door for anyone until she got home."

Good lord. What kind of trouble has that girl gotten into now? Anna Leigh tensed and felt her husband wrap his arms around her and squeeze comfortingly. "Did she say why?"

"No, ma’am. She sure didn’t. But she had gotten a phone call from a rather rude man before she left. Or at least that’s what Lisa told me." Wanda sounded slightly breathless, excited by the bit of intrigue.

"Okay. Well, thank you, dear. I appreciate you giving us a call." Anna Leigh sighed and leaned back into her husband’s strong embrace.

"No problem, Mrs. Cauble. I’m glad I was able to help." Wanda hung up the phone quickly. She was anxious to call her own husband and tell him the latest news.

Jacob nuzzled his wife’s ear. "What was that all about, love? Is everything all right?"

The older woman hung up the phone and turned in his arms to link her hands behind his head. "Mandy asked her to call us. We’re not supposed to answer the door until she gets home."

"What has that child done this time?" He wondered aloud. "I swear, it’s always something with her."

"I’m not sure, but she should be home pretty soon and then we’ll find out." Anna Leigh leaned in and kissed Jacob tenderly. "But we have a few minutes to kill until she gets here."

He returned the kiss happily. "No sense in wasting a perfectly good opportunity, I always say." Jacob murmured.

The back door suddenly opened and Amanda burst into the kitchen, breathing heavily. "Did I beat him?" She was about to close the door when Charlie Bristol jogged in behind her.

"What in the hell is going on? Is Lexington okay?" he panted, then stopped dead in his tracks. "Oh. Sorry folks." He took off his hat and nodded at the couple in the chair. "Nice to see you Jacob…Anna Leigh."

Anna Leigh slowly climbed off of Jacob’s lap and stood to shake the sheriff’s hand. "Hello, Charlie. What are you doing here?"

The lawman glared at the young blonde woman, who had the decency to blush. "Actually, I was trying to catch up to little Miss Indy 500 over there…she broke nearly every traffic law on the way over here."

"Amanda Lorraine Cauble! What do you mean by driving like that?" Anna Leigh put her hands on her hips and scolded.

"I’m sorry, Gramma…Charlie. But I had to get here before he did." Amanda rushed out of the kitchen without any further explanation.

Charlie looked after the retreating figure. "Where on earth is she off to now?" He followed Amanda, curious. Never a dull moment around these girls, that’s for sure.

"Shall we, my dear?" Jacob gestured with his arm after the sheriff. "I’m getting a little interested myself." He allowed his wife to go ahead of him out of the room.

Amanda stood in the living room nervously peeking through the front curtains. She would momentarily turn and glance at the still form on the sofa then return to her vigil.

"Would you please tell me…" Charlie stepped into the room but silenced when he saw Lex sleeping.

"Sssh!" Amanda spun around and warned. She waved the lawman over to the window. "Come over here and we can talk," she whispered.

He joined her at the window and looked outside. "What are we looking for?" he rumbled quietly. Charlie couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary in the front yard - especially something that would cause the normally cautious Amanda to drive like a maniac all the way across town.

Anna Leigh and Jacob walked over and stood close to their granddaughter. "What’s the matter, Peanut?" Jacob asked in a low voice.

Amanda spared another glance at her sleeping lover, then turned her attention back to her grandfather. "Hubert is on his way over here."

"You’ve got to be kidding. What could he possibly want?" Charlie shook his head. He knew that there was no love lost between the siblings. The six-year difference in the ages didn’t help, but the sheriff felt that the animosity that Hubert had towards his younger sister would never change. That boy has hated her since she was born. When their daddy signed over the ranch to her instead of him, I thought for sure Hubert was gonna kill her.

"I’m the rightful heir to this ranch!" Hubert yelled at his father. "Lex is only sixteen! She’s just a damn kid!" He jumped out of the chair he was sitting in and stood tall over the older man.

Rawson leaned against the rock fireplace in the den. He refused to back down, even to his volatile son. "Sit down, Hubert Wayne Walters. I’m not finished talking, boy."

Hubert pointed an accusing finger at Lex, who was seated next to Charlie on the sofa. "This is all your fault! Always kissing up to the old man, you little brat." He spun back around and glared at his father. "I’ve gone to college and majored in business so that I could run this hell hole. I’ve put up with the dirt, the flies, and the stupid animals all my life because I thought that when you retired, it would be mine. And now you’re saying that SHE is going to be in charge? That’s ridiculous! What about me?"

Lex stood up. "I’m just going to be the foreman, Hubert. Dad’s still in charge." She looked over at Rawson questioningly. "Right?"

"That’s right." For now, anyway. Rawson smiled at his daughter. Let’s just see how she handles her brother – it’ll be a good test of her character.

"That’s bullshit!" Hubert crossed the room until he was face to face with his younger, and still smaller, sister. He tried to use his size to intimidate her. "You ain’t got the sense to run a business."

"And you do?" Lex crossed her arms and gave him an amused look. "Who did your homework during your final semester?" She held out one hand. "You still owe me two hundred dollars for that."

He grabbed Lex by the shoulders and shook her hard. "You little smartass! Always thought that you were better than me, didn’t ya?"

Charlie jumped up to intervene. As a favor to Rawson, the sheriff had driven out to the ranch to be a witness when he told his son about the ownership of the ranch. The rancher didn’t trust his eldest son, and thought that having the lawman present would prevent any violence on Hubert’s part.

Lex raised her hands and grabbed Hubert’s wrists. She twisted his arms until the angry man screamed in pain. "There’s no thinking necessary, Hube." She released her hold and stepped back when Charlie put his hand on her shoulder. "Back off, big brother…before I have to hurt you." She had been given self-defense lessons from the sheriff years earlier – and had only used them when absolutely necessary.

"Calm down, honey." The lawman whispered in the young woman’s ear. "Everything’s going to be okay."

Rawson laughed. "That’s enough, kids. Hubert, I expect you to still help out around here." He patted the younger man on the arm and left the room, still chuckling to himself.

Hubert glared at the rancher’s back as he left then cut his eyes around to his sister. "This isn’t over, Lex. I’m not going to let you take what’s rightfully mine." He shoved Lex out of his way and stomped out of the den.

The thought brought a chill down the lawman’s spine. Oh, lord…he wouldn’t would he? After all these years? Not even Hubert could be that cold-blooded, right?

Anna Leigh reached over and touched the sheriff’s arm with concern. "Charlie? Are you all right? You look like you’ve seen a ghost."

He blinked and then shook his head to clear it. "Uh, yeah. I’m just fine. Thanks, Anna Leigh." Charlie gave her what he hoped was a convincing smile.

"Hubert called me at the office to say he had some papers that required Lex’s signature." Amanda explained quietly. "He said that it had to do with an inheritance, and he had to get the papers back right away." She looked over at Lex’s peaceful profile. "If you’ll just give me a couple of minutes, I’ll wake her up and fill her in."

Jacob gave his granddaughter a hug. "No problem, Peanut. We’ll go make a fresh pot of coffee." He released her and put his arm around his wife and began to lead her away from the window. He turned to the sheriff and smiled. "C’mon, Charlie. I think we still have some coffee cake left."

"Sounds good to me." The lawman nodded and followed the couple from the room.

Amanda barely noticed when they left as her attention went to the still form on the sofa. She walked slowly over to where Lex was lying and sat down near the sleeping woman’s hip. Still loath to wake her lover, she knew that she didn’t have much time. "Lex?"

"Mmm?" The rancher turned her head and rubbed her cheek against the soft hand that was stroking it. "Amanda…" she murmured, a slight smile playing on her lips.

"Honey, c’mon. You need to wake up." Amanda leaned down and kissed the sleeping woman’s forehead. She continued to gently rub Lex’s face with her hand.

The dark-haired woman leaned into the kiss and slowly opened her eyes. "Amanda? What time is it? Did I sleep the whole day away?" She looked around the room and tried to get her bearings.

The younger woman smiled down into Lex’s face. "No, love. It’s just a little after twelve. I came home early." Amanda helped the rancher raise up into a sitting position. "We’re about to have an unwanted guest, I’m afraid."

"Yeah?" Lex rubbed her eyes with her left hand. "Damn, I gotta quit taking those pills. They really knock my on my butt." She blinked a few times and smiled at Amanda. "So, who’s this mystery guest, and how long do we have?"

Amanda found herself pulled up against the older woman’s chest as she looked into Lex’s sparkling blue eyes at close range. "Umm…well…" she stopped as insistent lips caught hers. A loud pounding intruded on Amanda’s thoughts as she began to melt into Lex’s arms. God, I can hear my heart beating…no…pounding…Wait! She pulled away regretfully. "I think he’s here."

Lex gazed at her lover with a confused look. "Who’s here?" Then she heard the loud thumping that was coming from the front door. "What the…?"

"Sshh. It’s Hubert," the blonde informed her regretfully. "He has some papers that he insists that you have to sign immediately. I thought it would be better to just meet him here and get it over with."

"Damn…I forgot all about that. Good thinking, sweetheart." Lex struggled with the quilt that covered her. "Help me look a little more presentable, would you?"

Amanda stood and removed the padding covering. "You always look presentable to me, honey." She brushed Lex’s hair out of her eyes. "Although right now you still look a little out of it."

The pounding continued and Lex smiled ruefully at Amanda. "You might as well let him in before he beats down your grandparents door." She closed her eyes and shook her head. "Or, better yet, maybe I should answer the door." Lex started to stand but was stopped by a firm hand on her shoulder.

"No! Please, Lex…just sit there and I’ll go get him." Amanda removed her hand and backed away from the sofa. "If you really want to get to throw Hubert off balance, make him come to you." She stepped into the hallway and almost ran into Jacob.

The older man caught her and chuckled. "Whoa, there. You want me to answer the door, sweetheart?"

Amanda took the opportunity to wrap her arms around her grandfather and give him a hug. "No, that’s okay. But I wouldn’t mind if you decided to keep Lex company in the living room." She smiled at Charlie and Anna Leigh who both slipped quietly into the room.

"All right, Peanut. But I’m standing right there in the doorway, just in case." Jacob stepped back and leaned against the doorframe to the living room, crossing his arms nonchalantly.

"Thanks, Grandpa." Amanda gave him a sweet smile then turned to open the door.

Hubert Walters was standing on the porch with his hand poised to pound on the door again. "It’s about damn time you opened the door! I almost froze my ass off out here!" He pushed by Amanda and stormed into the house.

"Gee, wouldn’t have been much left of you then, huh? Won’t you come in?" Amanda mumbled sarcastically.

"Where the hell is she?" Hubert stood in the hallway looking around impatiently.

Jacob moved forward and raised a warning hand. "Son, if you don’t calm down and watch your language, I’m going to have to ask you to leave."

Hubert stood and glared at the older man who was several inches taller than he was. Obnoxious old goat. He’s just as bad as his little tease of a grandkid. "Okay, fine. I just came to see my sister and then I’ll get out of your hair."

"All right. She’s in here." Jacob led Hubert into the living room. Charlie and Anna Leigh were already seated in opposite corners of the room and looked on curiously. Jacob walked over to the loveseat and sat down next to his wife. "Have a seat, young man." He pointed to a chair across from the sofa.

"No thanks. This will only take a minute." Hubert stood in front of the sofa and looked down at his sister. She was unusually pale, with a bruise covering her right cheekbone and several nasty looking scratches on her face. He glanced at her arm that was immobilized by the sling and smirked. "Damn, Lex…you look like hell. One of your stupid horses finally throw you?"

Lex refused to be baited. "Thanks for your concern, Hube." She leaned back and indicated the briefcase in his hand. "You got something that you want me to sign?"

He laid the leather case on the desk behind him and pulled out several papers. "Yeah… just sign on the dotted line on pages four, eight, and the last page." He handed her the papers and a pen.

The rancher took the papers and began reading the top page slowly. God, I hate all this legal mumbo-jumbo. Why can’t they just print this stuff in plain English?

"Just sign the damn things! You don’t have to read them, I’ve already checked over everything," Hubert blustered.

"Either sit down and shut up or leave and come back later. I AM going to read every word before I sign anything," Lex informed her brother coldly.

Hubert slammed his briefcase closed. "For god’s sake, woman! I told you I already read it! Haven’t you listened to a word I said?"

Blue eyes blazed at him. "Just how much could you have read? I don’t see any pictures here." Lex’s headache was back full force, and she was beginning to tire of her brother’s antics.

"You bitch!" Hubert stepped towards the sofa angrily. When he reached his sister, he leaned down and grasped her shirt with both hands and yanked her to her feet. "Just sign the goddamned papers!"

Charlie jumped up and grabbed the larger man by the shoulder. "Let her go, Hubert." He pulled Hubert away from Lex while Amanda wrapped her arm around the injured woman. "I think you should leave, son."

"Get your damn hands off of me, old man!" Hubert jerked out of the sheriff’s grasp. "And I’m not your son!" He grabbed his briefcase and stomped towards the door. "I want those papers at my office before five o’clock today, Lex." Hubert left the room and then the front door slammed shut. Jacob followed silently behind him.

Anna Leigh hurried over to where Amanda was helping Lex sit back down. "Goodness, dear…are you all right?" She knelt at the younger woman’s feet and placed her hand on Lex’s leg.

Lex smiled tiredly. "Yes, ma’am. I’m just fine." She looked around the room at the others. "I’m really sorry for that, folks," she apologized quietly.

Jacob returned from locking the front door. "Why should you apologize for him? He’s a grown man, although I’m afraid he doesn’t much act like one." He stepped behind the sofa and patted Lex gently on the shoulder.

"Are you sure you’re okay, Lex?" Charlie studied the rancher carefully. He wanted to chase after her brother and knock some sense into the man’s head. I need to find out where Hubert was on Saturday…although the thought of him tossing his own sister off that ledge makes my blood run cold.

"Relax, Charlie. He just caught me off guard that’s all. And I really didn’t want to start a brawl in the Cauble’s living room." Lex turned her head and winked at Amanda, who was looking at her with concern. "I’m fine, Amanda. Don’t look at me like that."

Amanda smiled weakly and stared down at her lap. "Sorry." She didn’t notice when everyone else left the room, leaving her alone with Lex. Her hand was gently grasped and then kissed. She looked up and saw the rancher smile at her tenderly. "What?"

The older woman studied Amanda’s face for a moment. "You are so beautiful," Lex murmured as she gazed into the blonde’s eyes. She released her grip and raised her hand to caress the younger woman’s cheek. "Thanks for looking out for me, sweetheart. I didn’t mean to sound unappreciative." Lex watched as Amanda leaned into the touch and closed her eyes. "I just hate to see you worry for no reason."

"Everything I do about you has a reason, Lex." Amanda opened her eyes and looked at her lover seriously. "Don’t ask me to try and change that, because I can’t. I told my grandmother that you are my entire world…but that doesn’t even come close to what you mean to me."

Lex used her thumb to wipe away the single tear that dropped from her partner’s green eyes. "Oh, sweetheart…I feel the same way about you." She leaned forward and kissed Amanda tenderly, then pulled back slightly so that she could make eye contact again. "I know I don’t talk about my feelings very often, but you are the most precious gift that I have ever been given." Lex kissed her lover again. "I swear by everything that I am to love and cherish you for the rest of my life." The rancher searched the younger woman’s face. "I love you, Amanda Lorraine Cauble… and I always will."

Amanda sat for a moment in silence. The older woman’s words echoed in her mind as she wrapped her arms around Lex’s neck. "I love you too, Lex," she murmured into the rancher’s chest as she closed her eyes and basked in the love that they shared.


Chapter 8

They sat tangled together for several minutes as Lex rubbed the blonde’s back with one hand comfortingly. "Why don’t we go see what your grandparents and Charlie are up to?" She whispered into the smaller woman’s ear. "They’re probably wondering what’s taking us so long." Lex kissed her head and leaned back slightly.

"That’s a good idea. But, aren’t you curious about those papers? Hubert said it was an inheritance." Amanda gestured to the stack of papers that Lex had dropped. She bent down and picked them up off the floor.

"Nah. He was probably just saying that so I would hurry up and sign them. For all I know, it could be another one of his get-rich-quick schemes." Lex barely spared the items in question a passing glance.

Amanda stood and offered the rancher her hand. "I don’t know; he seemed pretty adamant about getting them back in a hurry. I figured that it must involve money, knowing Hubert." She pulled Lex to her feet and wrapped an arm around her.

Lex chuckled. "I think I can make it to the kitchen under my own power, sweetheart. It’s really not necessary for you to be my crutch."

"I know," Amanda smiled. "But I enjoy it." She tightened her grip on the taller woman’s waist. "So just relax and let me have my fun."

"Seems like I’ve heard that line before," Lex teased. She enjoyed watching the blush creep across the younger woman’s face.

"Ooh! I can’t believe you said that!" Amanda laughed as they stepped into the kitchen. She fanned her face with her free hand. Geez…the things that she can do to me with just a few words.

Anna Leigh looked up at the smiling women when they entered the room. "Goodness, Mandy. You look flushed. Is everything okay?" She could tell by the smirk on the taller woman’s face that everything was just fine. I’d love to know what Lexington said or did that caused that one! My, she’s red! She winked at the sheriff who was sitting across from her at the table.

"Looks like someone could use a little cooling off," Charlie quipped. He raised his coffee mug at the rancher in salute. "You’re looking a lot better today, Lex."

Lex allowed Amanda to seat her at the remaining chair at the table. "Thanks, Charlie. I’m feeling pretty good." Which was true, she supposed. Although this damn headache is beginning to get on my nerves, and my arm is still killing me. But it could have been a lot worse, Lex thought tiredly. And damned if I’m not sleepy again.

"Why don’t you stay for lunch, Charlie? I just cooked up a big batch of stew and there’s more than enough." Jacob could see the indecision playing on the sheriff’s face. "It’s the least we could do since you haven’t arrested our granddaughter for her traffic indiscretions today." He got up and walked over to the stove to stir the simmering pot with a wooden spoon.

"Traffic indiscretions?" Lex glanced over at Amanda who had taken Jacob’s place at the table. "Exactly what kind of indiscretions are we talking about here?" she questioned her friend.

Charlie ignored the pleading look that the blonde woman gave him. "Seems like Amanda wanted to see how many laws she could break between her office and here."

Amanda rolled her eyes. "You’re exaggerating, Sheriff." She stressed his title. "I may have went over the speed limit a bit, but I don’t think…"

"Sixty-four in a thirty is more thank a little bit, honey. When I saw that little Mustang fly by me, I thought I was seeing things." Charlie shook his head. "You scared me to death, young lady." I thought something serious had happened to Lex…god, the thoughts that went through my mind at that.

"I’m really sorry." Amanda looked properly chastised. "I didn’t even see you behind me until I pulled up into the driveway."

Lex sighed heavily and braced her head with the hand she had propped on the table. "What am I going to do with you?" She closed her eyes and shook her head.

"We’ve been wondering that same question for years," Jacob chuckled. "Hope you have better luck figuring it out." He winked at his wife and returned his attention to the simmering pot on the stovetop.

"Grandpa!" The blonde woman huffed, although she couldn’t hide the smile that was sneaking onto her face. "You talk as if I was a lot of trouble growing up." She shook a warning finger at Lex, who had a silly grin on her face.

Anna Leigh laughed at her granddaughter’s antics. "Oh, honey…its not that you were trouble, it just seemed to find you." She saw the glint in Lex’s eyes.

"I knew it!" Lex chortled, raising her head and slapping her hand down on the table. "My life has certainly gotten more exciting since you dropped into it, sweetheart."

Amanda gave the rancher an incredulous look. "That’s not what Martha told me. Seems like you were always coming back to the house with something either scraped or broken."

Lex tried to look innocent. "I don’t know what you’re talking about." She gave Charlie an intimidating glare. Not one word, Charlie…

"Well, let’s see…" Amanda closed her eyes and began to count off on her fingers. "You rolled your truck and broke your leg."

"Not my fault – the weather was bad," Lex defended.

"Uh-huh. Okay," Amanda refused to let up, especially when she saw the daring glint in her partner’s eyes. "Broken ribs, which you unsuccessfully tried to hide from Martha?"

Charlie exchanged amused glances with the Caubles. These two are something else that’s for sure. I’m sure glad that Lex found someone who won’t take any bull from her.

Lex bit her lip in deep thought. "Umm…" Her face brightened. "Oh, yeah! The cinch strap ripped while I was breaking a new horse. Again, not my fault." She gave the group around the table a triumphant smile.

Amanda shook her head. "How about the broken arm you had when you met my grandmother?"

The rancher was quiet for a long moment. "I honestly don’t remember how that happened," she admitted ruefully. "But I’m sure it wasn’t my fault either." Lex grinned when Amanda struck her tongue out at her.

"That’s enough, girls." Anna Leigh admonished, then decided to change the subject. "Lexington, dear…if you don’t mind me asking, what exactly were those papers about that was so important?"

"To tell you the truth, I kinda forgot all about them." Lex looked at Amanda. "Did you bring them with you, sweetheart?"

The blonde smiled and handed the stack of papers to Lex. "Of course. I’m beginning to get a little curious about them, myself."

Lex took the papers and gave the younger woman a gentle grin. "Thanks, love." She began to study the papers carefully. "Hmm…"

Amanda stood up and went to the cabinet that held the dinnerware. "I’ll just get the table set for lunch." She grabbed a handful of bowls and spoons and brought them over to the table. When she placed a setting in front of Lex, she noticed that the dark-haired woman had placed the papers on the table and closed her eyes. "Lex? What’s the matter? Does it tell you what this is all about?"

The rancher felt a soft touch on her shoulder and opened her eyes. "Yeah. Says that someone died last week and left Hubert and me a rather large inheritance." She looked down at her hands and released a heavy sigh.

Anna Leigh reached across the table and patted the tall woman’s hand. "Honey, who passed away? Someone close to you?"

Lex looked up at the older woman with a slightly puzzled expression. "My grandmother."

"Victoria’s mother? But I thought you told me that she passed away when you were a child." Anna Leigh could read the hurt and confusion on the rancher’s face. She knew that both of Rawson’s parents were long dead, since they had left the ranch to their only son before Lexington was even born. When Anna Leigh first met the young woman, she felt sorry for her lack of grandparents, since the rancher had told her that they were all dead.

"That’s what my father had told me." Lex struggled to her feet. "If you’ll excuse me, I’m really not very hungry right now." She stepped away from the table and departed the kitchen, leaving the papers behind.

Amanda looked at the shocked faces around the kitchen. "Umm…I’m going to go see…" she hurried out of the room behind her apparently distraught friend. After a quick search of the downstairs, she found Lex on the front porch. The blue eyes were staring off into the distance, not focused on any one thing. "Mind some company?"

The dark-haired woman glanced back over her shoulder. "I’m afraid I’m not very good company right now." She turned her attention back to the passing traffic.

"Okay. Then I’ll just stand here with you for a bit, if you don’t mind." Amanda stepped over and rubbed Lex’s back. "And I always think you’re good company." She felt the tense shoulders relax slightly.

Lex turned around with a small smile on her face. "Thanks, sweetheart." She reached over and brushed the hair out of the smaller woman’s eyes. "Sorry I left like that. It just felt like the room was closing in on me." She leaned up tiredly against one of the support beams.

Amanda stepped closer and ran her hand up Lex’s unencumbered arm. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"There’s really not much to say." When Lex saw the determined look on her partner’s face, she relented. "When I was about eight or nine, I asked my dad about my grandparents. Seemed like all the other kids at school were always talking about theirs, and I was curious. He told me that they were all dead and not to bother him about it anymore." She remembered the conversation like it was yesterday…

Young Lexington came home from school excited about something she had heard in class. Her science teacher had explained that everyone received different characteristics from the people in their family, and that if they looked closely at their parent’s parents, they’d see their own features on their grandparent’s faces. She was curious about which family members she most looked like, and searched for her father to find the answers. "Daddy!" she went from building to building, yelling for the rancher.

Rawson Walters was in the hay barn, repairing several rotted planks in the loft. He heard his young daughter cry his name and peeked over the edge. "Up here, Lex. You want to bring me that can of nails?"

"Sure, Dad." She dropped her backpack full of schoolwork and rushed to do his bidding. Lex would follow her father all over the ranch faithfully to help out as much as a nine-year-old possibly could. She hurried up the ladder to the loft, almost dropping the nails in the process.

"Careful, there! It would take all day to get those all picked up." The tired man admonished as he took the can from his daughter. "What are you running around hollerin’ about, Lex?"

Lex impatiently brushed her dark hair out of her eyes. "We learned some really neat stuff in school today, and I wanted to tell you about it." She held one end of the board that he was working on. "Well, I mean…I wanted to ask you something about it."

The ex-rodeo rider looked up from where he was nailing the board. "Okay, so ask." God, he hated having these kinds of talks with the youngster. She was too bright for her own good, and was always asking him questions he was uncomfortable answering.

"Well, we were talking about heredity today in science, and how we’re all made up of different parts of folks in our family." Lex’s eyes were bright with excitement. "Then Mr. Ramsey said that if we looked at our grandparents, we could figure out where our different features came from."

Rawson felt a cold chill start in his gut. Don’t ask me about them, please…he silently begged his daughter. "Yeah? So what’s your question, hon?"

The young girl didn’t notice the sudden loss of color in her father’s face. "Where are my grandparents, Daddy? All the other kids talked about theirs, and I didn’t know what to say." She saw an unusual look cross the rancher’s face, but continued, "I don’t remember ever hearing anything about them, and I was wondering why."

"Your grandparents are all dead, Lex. Not much to talk about." Rawson grabbed another board and started to hammer. "And I don’t talk about them because there’s nothing to say, so just drop the subject." He picked up a few more nails and looked his daughter in the eye. "Why don’t you get back to the house and do your homework, and we’ll go ride the south section of fence before it gets dark?" The rancher knew the best way to distract the young girl was by doing work on the ranch itself.

"Okay, Daddy. I’ll be back in no time!" Lex impulsively hugged her father before she took off back down the ladder, anxious to finish her homework. It wasn’t until much later that Lex realized what her father had told her.


God, that hurt when I finally figured out what he had meant. Lex took and released a deep breath. "Why would he lie to me about that? What purpose could it possibly serve?"

"I don’t know, honey." Amanda looked up into anguished blue eyes. "I’m sure he thought he was doing the right thing." A cold blast of air caused her to shiver violently. "Why don’t we go back into the house before you add pneumonia to your list of ills?"

The rancher nodded and allowed Amanda to lead her back inside the house and into the living room. "You’re probably right, as usual." Lex grinned at the young woman as she was guided to the loveseat near the fire. "Umm…sweetheart?" She watched as Amanda covered her legs with the quilt. "Amanda?"

Amanda looked up from where she was tucking the edges of the quilt around her lover’s legs. "Yes?" She was kneeling on the floor next to Lex’s feet. "Maybe I should stir up the fire." She stood up and started to walk away, when the back of her belt was grabbed from behind. "Urk!" Amanda suddenly found herself sitting in the rancher’s lap.

"Stop fussing, love. You’re gonna wear yourself completely out." Lex pulled the younger woman closer. "Besides, I have a better way to warm up." She leaned forward and covered Amanda’s lips with her own for a long moment. Lex felt her partner’s hands tangle themselves into her thick hair as she continued her loving ministrations. She pulled back regretfully to catch her breath. "God, Amanda…" she murmured, leaning her forehead against the blonde’s.

"Yeah…" Amanda gasped huskily, "Me too." She heard voices coming closer, as her grandparent’s tried to join them without embarrassment. "I think we’re about to have company, sweetheart." She slowly slipped from Lex’s lap to sit beside her. In a louder voice, Amanda asked, "What are you going to do about the forms, Lex? Do you want to sign them so I can take them back to Hubert?"

Jacob and Anna Leigh stepped into the room with large smiles on their faces. "Hello, girls." The older man chuckled, "Are you okay, Lex?" He and his wife sat down together on the nearby sofa. "Charlie sends his regrets, but he wanted to go and check into something. He said he would call you later."

Lex smiled at Amanda’s grandfather. "I’m fine, Jacob. Just needed to get a little air." She felt Amanda take her hand and squeeze it reassuringly. "Sorry about running out like that."

Anna Leigh waved her hand and scoffed. "Don’t you dare apologize, Lexington. We were just concerned about you." She saw her granddaughter nod slightly and smiled. "You just let us know if there’s anything we can do."

"Thank you, Anna Leigh." Lex acknowledged quietly. "I may just take you up on that." She looked sideways at her partner. "I need to find out more about my grandmother. Would you…?"

Amanda pulled their linked hands up to her lips and kissed Lex’s knuckles gently. "Why don’t I do a little investigating, and see what I can come up with?" She looked over at her grandparents. "Would you mind if I borrowed your computer?"

"Not a bit, Peanut. Why don’t I see if I can give you a hand?" Jacob stood up and followed the young woman out of the room.

Lex watched them as they left. She took a deep breath and looked down at her lap. My grandmother. I wonder why she never tried to get in touch with me? She felt tears burn her eyes as she thought about what she had missed. She had to know that I existed, didn’t she? Maybe she was ashamed of me…I’m no great prize.

"Lexington?" Anna Leigh’s gentle voice broke into the rancher’s musings. "Would it help to talk about it, dear?" She crossed the room to perch on the arm of the loveseat. "I’ve been told I’m a very good listener." Anna Leigh placed a comforting hand on the younger woman’s shoulder.

"I don’t…maybe…" Lex shook her head and blinked a couple of times to clear her vision. "I guess I’m just trying to understand why." She closed her eyes when she felt the older woman’s hand make soothing motions on her head. "Why would my father lie to me about my family? And why did they never make an effort to get in touch with me when I got older?"

Anna Leigh sighed. "I’m not certain, of course…but your mother’s father almost disowned her when she married Rawson. I didn’t know either of them terribly well, since both Victoria and Rawson were a bit older than Michael." She got up and sat down next to Lex on the loveseat. "I do remember the write up in the newspaper, though. They said it was quite…interesting."

Lex looked at the older woman quizzically. "Interesting? It was just a wedding."

"Well, it seems that there was a slight altercation at the reception." More like a brawl. The paper had mentioned it took hours to clean up. Several people, including the groom ended up in jail. Anna Leigh smiled gently at the younger woman. "I don’t think your father got along very well with Victoria’s parents."

"Just exactly what kind of altercation are we talking about?" Lex shifted slightly so that she could look directly at Anna Leigh. "And why was there a newspaper article on a simple wedding?"

The older woman shook her head. "It was so many years ago, and I may not remember the details very well."

"Please, Anna Leigh. I would really appreciate anything that you could tell me. I’m at such a loss here," Lex pleaded quietly. "Until today, I thought my grandparents had died before I was born. Maybe you can help me figure out why my father never told me about them."

Anna Leigh took a deep breath. "Okay…" She reached over to grasp Lex’s hand. "But bear with me, dear…it was quite some time ago, and I didn’t pay that close of attention to the gossip at the time." After the younger woman nodded, she began. "I know for a fact that the Edwards’ were not too fond of their daughter’s choice for a husband. Victoria was such a sweet and quiet girl, and I think that Rawson brought her out of her shell, so to speak. Travis, her father and your grandfather, was going to cut her off from the family completely, or so the gossips said." The older woman shook her head sadly. "Melanie, your grandmother, talked him into allowing the wedding to take place. At least that was the buzz around town at the time. Since they were not from around here, it was pretty big news for a girl of her social standing to marry a working man." When she read the pain in Lex’s eyes, Anna Leigh apologized. "Honey…like I said before, all of this is just hearsay. We don’t know what really happened."

Lex took a deep breath and tried to smile. "It’s okay. I guess it just sounded a little too familiar, that’s all." She saw the look of realization cross the older woman’s face. "I went through something similar with Amanda’s father just a month ago – hit a little too close to home."

"Oh, dear…I never thought of that." Anna Leigh gazed at the young woman sadly. "You know that Jacob and I love you as if you were our own granddaughter, don’t you?"

"Yes…and believe me, you two are the best grandparents I could have ever asked for." Lex answered with a watery smile. "But I really would like to know about my family. Maybe I have a great aunt or uncle out there…or even cousins." She suddenly smiled. "Or maybe my grandfather is still alive! Think he’d mind meeting me?"

Green eyes twinkled. "Mind? Good lord, child! If he is alive, he’ll probably be ecstatic…you are the spitting image of your dear mother." She reached up and wiped an errant tear from the rancher’s face. "Let me finish my little story, and then we’ll check on Mandy and Jacob’s progress in the office, okay?" She waited until Lex composed herself, then continued. "Where was I? Oh, yes. The wedding went off beautifully, they said…but things got a little…uncomfortable, at the reception. Travis had a little too much to drink, and accused Rawson of marrying his daughter for her money. Your father took that as an insult to Victoria and punched his father-in-law, which caused a large brawl to break out."

"Oh, boy. No wonder I never saw any pictures of my grandparents." Lex shook her head. "But I swear that I can remember a tall, dark-haired man at our house before my mother died."

"You probably did. I think they used to visit when your father would go out of town to the rodeos – although after Victoria’s funeral, I don’t believe we ever saw either one of them again. But we really didn’t travel in the same social circles as the Edwards’." Anna Leigh could see the exhaustion on the rancher’s face. "Why don’t you let me help you upstairs, Lexington? You look completely worn out."

Lex fought off a yawn. "That bad, huh?" She blinked several times and frowned. "I swear I’m gonna quit taking those dam…uh, sorry…darn pills that old quack prescribed. They knock me on my rear."

"Let’s go." Anna Leigh pulled Lex to her feet. "He prescribed those because he knew that there wasn’t any other way to get you to rest and get better. I’ll explain to Amanda where you are when I check on them, okay?" She wrapped a steadying arm around the trim waist. "Honey, you need to eat more…you’re nothing but skin and bones."

The rancher sighed as they made their way up the stairs. "You sound like Martha." She chuckled at the answering pat on her side. "Or Amanda, for that matter. She’s always on me about not eating right."

Anna Leigh tickled the taller woman’s ribs. "Hush. Or I’ll sic Jacob on you to fatten you up." Her husband took great delight in cooking, and was forever treating her to rich meals. "Thank goodness I still do my walking every day, or I’d be the size of a house by now."

"Now that’s a threat." Lex murmured as she sat heavily on the bed. "You’d never get rid of me then." She yawned again as the older woman covered her with a blanket. "Thanks, Gramma." Lex didn’t even realize what she had said as she closed her eyes tiredly.

"Any time, honey," Anna Leigh whispered, kissing the already sleeping woman’s forehead. "Pleasant dreams."


Amanda was sitting at the computer searching through county records as Jacob continued to peruse the legal papers left behind by Hubert. "Can you find anything that tells where Lex’s grandmother was buried?" she asked him as she surfed from site to site.

"I’m afraid not, Peanut." Jacob was sitting in the chair he had pulled around next to his granddaughter. "Although I do remember hearing that they came from Dallas at one time. Maybe you could try there."

"Good idea, Grandpa. Do you know what her maiden name was?" Amanda found yet another dead end and leaned back in her chair with an exasperated breath. "Is there anyone in this town we could call that might have known them? I really want to find something for Lex."

Jacob rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "I don’t…let me think…"

"How about Reverend Nelson? Isn’t he the one who performed the ceremony?" Anna Leigh answered from the doorway. "Perhaps he would know a little bit more about the Edwards’ than we do." She stepped into the room and leaned up against her husband, who promptly pulled her into his lap. "Jacob! Behave yourself!"

"Not a chance, my love." The chuckling man pulled his wife close and nibbled gently on her neck. "Now what were you saying about Reverend Nelson?" Jacob tickled her ribs.

Anna Leigh slapped ineffectually at his hands. "Stop that!" she giggled. "Mandy, tell your grandfather if he doesn’t stop this instant, that he’ll be sleeping in the guest room." She squirmed a bit more until her husband stopped his teasing.

Amanda laughed at her grandparent’s antics. That’s what Lex and I am going to look like in forty years or so, I bet. They’re so darn cute! "Oh, I dunno… I think I’m on his side this time."

"Traitor!" Her grandmother huffed with a smile. "Anyway, I was saying that Reverend Nelson usually keeps really good records, and if anyone knows anything about Travis or Melanie Edwards, it would probably be him."

"Great! I’ll just get Lex and we’ll…" Amanda had jumped up and was halfway to the doorway when she realized something. "Where is Lex, Gramma? Is she in the living room?"

The older woman escaped her husband’s loving grip and stood up. "I took her upstairs to bed, sweetheart. Her medication had about gotten the best of her." Anna Leigh crossed the room to stand next to her granddaughter. "She was in shock, I think. Finding out she had a grandmother that had been alive all these years really shook her up."

Amanda looked stricken. "Oh, no…poor Lex. I should have been there for her." She started to leave the room when her grandmother stopped her.

"She’s already asleep, Mandy. Lexington was fine, really." Seeing the look on the younger woman’s face, she continued, "She was just the sweetest thing before she fell asleep, calling me Gramma just like you."

Jacob sauntered up behind his wife and wrapped his arms around her, propping his chin on the top of her head. "That’s great, sweetheart. Hopefully we can keep her in the habit when she’s conscious." He winked at his granddaughter. "Why don’t you go upstairs to check on her, and we’ll see if we can’t hunt down Reverend Nelson."

Anna Leigh nodded. "You look like you could use a little nap yourself, honey. Get some rest, and we’ll call you down for an early dinner, alright?"

"That sounds like a wonderful idea. I’m beat, even though it’s only," she looked at her watch in amazement. "Two o’clock? Good grief!" Amanda embraced both of her grandparents and planted kisses on their cheeks. "I’ll see you both in a little bit, okay?" she turned and practically raced out of the room.

"She reminds me so much of you at that age, my love." Jacob chuckled in his wife’s ear. "Never walking anywhere, always in a hurry." He ran his hands along her side in a teasing manner. "It has been a busy day…maybe we should take our own advice and get a little nap in ourselves?"

"Hmm…" Anna Leigh took her husband’s hand and led him from the office. "That’s the best offer I’ve had all day, Handsome." She pulled him up the stairs and into their bedroom, closing the door behind them quietly.

Amanda shut the bedroom door and tiptoed across the room silently. She studied the still form on the bed as she pulled on a tee shirt and a pair of shorts. Lex had rolled over on her left side, draping her injured arm across Amanda’s pillow. Quietly so as not to disturb the sleeping woman, Amanda slipped under the covers and gently raised Lex’s arm, slowly rolling her over to her back.

"Amanda…" Lex sighed. "Love you…" she murmured in her sleep.

"I love you too, sweetheart." Amanda snuggled up next to the rancher and kissed her softly on the jaw. "Sleep well, my love. We’ll get all of this mess figured out soon, I promise." She closed her eyes and joined her lover in slumber.


Chapter 9

Sheriff Bristol leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. Several file folders were strewn across the desk in disarray. Okay…so now we know that Rick Thompson has no alibi for last Saturday, and Hubert was ‘missing’ for about four hours that day. "Great. Two suspects, two motives." He was about to search the folders again when his phone buzzed.

"Sheriff? I have Mrs. Cauble on line two for you, as you requested," his secretary informed him.

"Thanks, Lydia." Charlie picked up the receiver and pushed line two. "This is Sheriff Bristol. May I speak with Michael Cauble?"

The woman’s voice on the other end of the phone released a heavy sigh. "As I told the woman who called, my husband has been out of town on business since last Thursday. I do not expect him back until Wednesday evening, at the earliest. What is this all about?"

"I’m sorry to disturb you, Mrs. Cauble…but I’m investigating a crime." He pulled a notepad close and began taking notes. "Where can I reach Mr. Cauble? It’s imperative that I speak with him on this matter as soon as possible."

"Are you insinuating that my husband is guilty of something criminal?" Elizabeth Cauble’s voice turned icy. "Perhaps you should just contact our lawyer."

The sheriff closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead to try and postpone the inevitable headache. "No ma’am, I’m not insinuating anything. But a crime has been committed, and I’m pursuing each and every lead until I catch the person responsible."

Elizabeth sounded very irritated. "If this crime happened there in Texas, what makes you think that Michael had anything to do with it?"

"Because your husband had recently threatened the victim, ma’am. I’m following every lead, no matter how small or off base it may seem." Charlie felt like pounding his head on the desk. Damn stubborn woman! I can’t believe sweet little Amanda is even related to her.

"Who is he supposed to have threatened? Were there witnesses? When was this alleged threat placed?" Elizabeth’s voice continued to rise until she was almost screaming. "How dare you!"

Charlie took a deep breath as he tried to think of how much he could safely say. "Your husband threatened Lexington Walters last month, Mrs. Cauble. It seems that he also attacked her in front of your youngest daughter."

The cultured woman’s tone practically shook with rage. "That…pervert…said my husband threatened her? That’s the most ridiculous thing that I have ever heard!" She paused for a moment to get herself back under control. "She has my daughter brainwashed to think like her too. You can’t believe a word either of them say." Elizabeth laughed humorlessly. "Do you even know this…woman, Sheriff? She can’t be trusted, you know."

"Mrs. Cauble." The lawman almost bit his tongue in two trying to control his temper, "I have known Lexington Walters since she was born. You can’t find a more upstanding citizen, or kinder person." He waited a moment to let his words sink in. "And I swear to you…I WILL get to the bottom of this. No one hurts my family and gets away with it! Good day, ma’am." He slammed the receiver back down on the phone and covered his eyes with a shaking hand. God…what a hateful woman. Poor Amanda. And now her father doesn’t seem to have an alibi either. This damn thing just keeps getting more and more complicated.

The knock on his office door caused Sheriff Bristol to glance up expectantly. "Come in." Charlie smiled at the young woman who stepped into the room. "Amanda! Hello there. Come on in and have a seat." He stood and waved her into a nearby chair. "What can I do for you this morning, honey?"

Amanda sat down with a serious look on her face. "Lex and I were talking last night. We thought that we should tell you about someone else, even though he hasn’t made any threats or anything." She had been awakened before dinner by gentle kisses from the rancher. The attentions led them to being late for the evening meal, much to her grandparent’s delight. I thought they’d never quit smirking, Amanda thought with an inward grin.

"Okay…at this point, I’ll take any help or ideas I can get." Charlie grabbed his notepad and turned to a clean sheet of paper. "Go ahead."

"Like I said, he hasn’t threatened her or anything, and maybe it’s just a coincidence, but…" Amanda raised her hands helplessly. "With the way things have been lately, we figured it would be better safe than sorry. Mark Garrett used to work for my father, but he quit a couple of weeks ago." After the sheriff nodded, she continued. "Anyway, last week he showed up at my office saying that he wanted to relocate to Somerville. And, he showed up at my grandparent’s on Monday with flowers for Lex."

Charlie scratched his head. "If he’s new in town, how did he know where to find you?" Understanding dawned on his weathered features. "Damn…do we know where this Mr. Garrett was on Saturday?" He began to write furiously on his notepad. "Do you happen to know where he’s staying?"

The young woman shook her head. "No…he never said. Which is kind of strange since I’m supposed to be finding a house for him. Mark didn’t leave me any way to get in contact with him." Amanda stood up and walked over to the window to glance outside.

"How’s Lex feeling today, sweetheart?" Charlie looked back at the door. "Is she still over at your grandparents?"

"No. She’s over at Dr. Anderson’s getting a checkup." Amanda turned away from the window with a sheepish smile. "He ran me off and said that he didn’t want to see me for a least two hours." She crossed back toward the desk and leaned up against one corner. "Lex is hoping that he’ll give her the okay to unwrap her arm, since it’s not bothering her anymore."

The sheriff chuckled. "She’s always healed up quickly. I remember that it caused some interesting arguments between her and Martha." Charlie stood up and grabbed his hat. "Why don’t you let me buy you a cup of coffee? The diner across the street also has a great cheese danish."

Amanda smiled and followed him out of the office. "Sounds good, but only if you’ll let me pay for it."


"Ow!" Lex jerked away from prying hands. "Are you trying to kill me?"

The gray-haired doctor chuckled good-naturedly. "Calm down, Lexington. We’re almost done." Dr. Anderson finished removing the wrap from her injured arm. "I thought that it wasn’t hurting you anymore?" He looked up into her wide blue eyes.

Busted. Okay, I can talk my way out of this. "Umm…it wasn’t." Lex stopped to think. "But with all your twisting and jerking, it’s a little sore now," she finished with a triumphant smile.

"Uh-huh." He turned the arm slowly and used his thumb and forefinger to test for swelling. "Can you make a fist?"

Lex closed her hand slowly. "Isn’t that a dangerous thing to ask me?" She grinned down at the older man. "Especially with you in that position?" She flinched as he turned the still-bruised arm.

Dr. Anderson laughed as he slowly bent her arm at the elbow. "Easy now. The x-rays show that there was no permanent damage done, but it’s going to be pretty sore for another week or so." He could feel her muscles tense when the young woman tried to keep from reacting to the pain. "It’s looking a lot better, honey. You can leave it unwrapped and I’ll give you a list of exercises that will strengthen it properly." He handed Lex her shirt that lay on the table.

"Does this mean that I can go back to the ranch and not have to come back here anytime soon?" Lex asked as she tried to button up her shirt. "Damn." A knock on the door stopped her fumbling.

A tousled blonde head poked in the door. "Are you about through, or do I have to try and find something else to occupy my time out in the waiting room?" Amanda asked as she edged her way into the room. She noticed Lex standing by the examining table with her shirt unbuttoned. "Need some help?" she asked as she made her way across to the rancher.

Lex smiled at her young friend. "Yeah…my hand still doesn’t work too well."

"I’ll just let you finish getting dressed, Lexington." Dr. Anderson stood in the doorway. "Stop by my office before you leave and I’ll have some papers for you to sign, okay?" He closed the door behind him.

Amanda finished buttoning the rancher’s shirt and then wrapped her arms around Lex. "I missed you." She mumbled into Lex’s chest. The blonde leaned back until she could look the older woman in the eye. "What did he say?"

"I’m fine. Gonna be sore for another week or so, but no permanent damage." Lex raised her right hand and slowly ran her fingers through Amanda’s hair. "Dr. A said he was going to give me some exercises to strengthen my arm. But I need to take it easy for another week or so."

"That’s great." Amanda found herself lost in the rancher’s blue gaze. She slowly raised up and met Lex halfway, their lips gently touching. "Mmm…" Amanda reached up and clasped her hands behind the taller woman’s neck as she deepened the kiss.

Lex wrapped her left arm around Amanda’s back and pulled the smaller woman closer. She ignored the pain in her right arm as she continued to thread her fingers through the blonde hair. "Amanda…" she felt the young woman turn slightly to run her hands down Lex’s arms. "Ow!" Lex gasped as Amanda inadvertently grabbed her sore arm.

Amanda jumped back as if she had been burned. "Oh god, Lex! I’m so sorry." She could see the pain in the blue eyes above her. "Are you okay?" The blonde took a tentative step forward and touched the clenched jaw. "Honey?"

"It’s okay." Lex closed her eyes and took a deep breath through her nose. "Just a little tender, that’s all." She opened her eyes and forced a smile on her face. "See? No harm done, sweetheart." The sharp pain in her arm slowly receded. "C’mere, beautiful…" Lex pulled the younger woman close and wrapped her arms back around Amanda. They stood quietly for several minutes lost in each other.

"Is everything all right in here?" Laura, Dr. Anderson’s nurse, poked her red head into the room. "The doctor said that he was ready for you in his office." She smiled at the rancher, who still had her left arm wrapped around Amanda.

Lex gave the nurse a wry grin. "Just great. We were just on our way out." She allowed Amanda to leave the office before her, winking at the young woman holding the door. "Thanks, Laura."

"Anytime, Lex." Laura assured her. Oh, how the mighty have fallen – and hard, too. She certainly deserves the happiness. Congratulations, my lucky friend.


"Did you get everything on Martha’s list?" Amanda questioned her friend. Lex was scowling at the road ahead of them and fighting the rising wind to keep the truck on the road. They had just spent the last two hours fighting the crowds at the local supermarket, much to the rancher’s discomfort. "Lex?"

"Hmm?" Lex turned her attention from the road for a moment. "I’m sorry…did you ask me something?" She looked down at the small hand that rested on her thigh.

Amanda lightly ran her hand up and down the denim-clad leg. "I was just wondering if you got everything that Martha had asked for at the store." She studied the sharp profile beside her. "What’s wrong?"

Lex released a deep breath and then smiled at Amanda. "Nothing’s wrong, sweetheart. I was just thinking." She gingerly grasped the younger woman’s hand with her own. "I think that we got everything that Martha wanted," she smiled ruefully, "I hope." Lord knows I don’t want to make another trip to town tonight or in the morning. She brought Amanda’s hand up to her lips and kissed it tenderly.

"What’s on your mind? You seem a million miles away." Amanda could tell that something was bothering her lover and was determined to get to the root of the matter. "I’d like to help, if I could."

"I know, love." Lex shook her head. "I was just wondering if Martha might know more about my grandparents. I’ve never really talked to her about them." She squinted as the afternoon sun came out from behind some clouds. "Guess it can’t hurt to ask, right?"

Amanda nodded. "That’s right. And I’ve got a few leads to follow up on the computer when we get back to the ranch." She smiled broadly when the truck traveled across the old bridge that had been completely rebuilt by the ranch hands recently. They had asked Lex and Amanda to ride down to the structure a week ago, proud of their accomplishment. It seems like a lifetime ago when my car was washed into the creek from here…not just a month. So much has happened – I nearly drowned, was rescued by the most incredible woman in the world, and fell in love. Sounds perfect to me.

Lex watched her companion’s face as Amanda’s thoughts drifted. "Now you’ve gone off somewhere. Want to share?" She privately loved when the younger woman would get distracted like this. The look in her eyes when she’s thinking turns me to mush. Geez! Do I need to get a grip, or what? But she couldn’t help but smile as she watched Amanda gaze off far into the distance.

"Hmm?" The blonde turned her attention back to Lex, who was smiling at her. I love that grin…she looks like a little kid that knows a secret. "Sorry. Just reminiscing." She scrutinized the way the light chased across the older woman’s face. "So much has happened in a month, hasn’t it?"

"Yep." Lex fought the truck as a gust of wind tried to blow it from the road. "Best month of my life, if you ask me." She maneuvered the vehicle down the recently renovated road. "Damn. I think it’s gonna get nasty later on tonight, sweetheart." The sudden jerk of the steering wheel brought renewed pain to her healing arm. I’m going to soak in the tub for hours tonight. Lex glanced over at her lover with a devilish smile. And I bet I can get some company, if I ask nicely.

Amanda watched as Lex grinned at her. "What?" She glanced down at herself and then back up to meet the rancher’s smirk. "That’s a sneaky look you have. What are you up to?"

The rancher pulled the truck up to the house next to the mudroom entrance. "I was thinking about how good a long soak in the tub would feel tonight." She got out and hurried around to open the door for Amanda. "And I was wondering if you would care to join me." Lex reached into the back seat of the truck to grab a bag of groceries, only to have her hand gently slapped away by the younger woman. "Hey!"

"Dr. Anderson said for you to take it easy for the next few days. Martha and I can bring in the supplies," Amanda chastised. When she saw the older woman’s face begin to cloud, she added, "Why don’t you go upstairs and get the bathwater ready? I’m feeling a little ‘dirty’ myself."

Lex laughed. "Ooh. That’s a good one!" she whispered into Amanda’s ear. "I’ll save you a spot, cutie!" She swatted the blonde on the rear and raced into the house.

"I’ll get you back for that, Lexington!" Amanda shouted to the retreating figure, trying to keep a straight face. Just when I think I have her figured out, she acts like a little kid. Big tough rancher… NOT!

Martha stepped into the kitchen and was almost bowled over by a quick moving form. "Aaah!" She jumped back into the hallway holding one hand over her heart. "Lexie! I didn’t even hear you drive up! Are you trying to give me a heart attack?"

"Sorry ‘bout that, Martha." Lex grasped the older woman by her elbows. "Are you alright?" She led Martha into the kitchen and helped her to a chair. "Here…sit down for a minute."

"Stop that!" Martha swatted at the tall woman. "I’m not that old." She studied Lex carefully. The rancher had squatted next to her chair with her hands braced on the arms. "You certainly look a world better, honey."

Lex allowed the older woman to stroke her hair softly. She unconsciously leaned into the touch and closed her eyes. "I feel one hundred percent better, too. Guess a couple of days rest was just what I needed." A noise from the mudroom caused her to stand up and open the adjoining door. "Dammit, Amanda," Lex grabbed one of the three bags that the younger woman was struggling with, "I thought you were going to wait for help."

"I was…but there was no sense walking in empty-handed." Amanda carried her two bags over to the cabinet. Lex placed her bag beside the others and turned to leave the room. "Don’t even think about it, Slim." The blonde grabbed the back of Lex’s belt to stop her progress. "You’re going upstairs, remember?"

The dark-haired woman glared at Martha, who was snickering from her seat at the table. "Not one word out of you," she warned. Lex turned around and enclosed Amanda in her arms. "Why don’t you let me help you with the groceries, then we can go upstairs together?"

Amanda kissed Lex on the chin then ducked under her arms to get to the mudroom door. "Nope. I’ll get the rest of the groceries and then bring the overnight bag upstairs with me." She slipped out of the room before the rancher had a chance to argue.

"Damn. I lost again, didn’t I?" Lex asked the housekeeper, who had begun to put the groceries away. "I used to be a lot tougher than that."

Martha laughed. "Not really, honey. You just used to be a little bit better at hiding it, that’s all." She stopped what she was doing to give the rancher her undivided attention. "I’m really glad that you’re feeling better, Lexie. You scared me pretty good this time."

Lex stepped forward and pulled the older woman into a powerful hug. "I kinda scared myself, Mada." She found herself calling Martha by the long-forgotten childhood name more and more, recently. She kissed the top of the graying head lovingly. "I’ll try to do better in the future, okay?"

Tears burned the housekeeper’s eyes. "See that you do, sweetie. I have too many years of hard work invested in you." Martha teased as the rancher released her. "Now get yourself upstairs before we both get into trouble." She gently patted Lex on her hip.

"Yes, ma’am." Lex playfully saluted the older woman and swiftly left the kitchen.

Martha wiped her eyes with one corner of her apron. I’m glad your good luck is still holding, Lexie. I’d never survive if anything ever happened to you.


Later that evening the three women were enjoying coffee in the den, when Lex decided that it was time to ask the housekeeper for her help. "Martha? Do you remember my mother’s parents?" She felt Amanda’s hands tighten on her own where they rested casually on the blonde’s stomach. The rancher was comfortably seated in one corner of the sofa, with Amanda tucked securely between her legs. Lex rested her chin on the younger woman’s shoulder as she looked questioningly at Martha.

"Well…yes, honey. I certainly do. Although I believe that the last time I saw them was at your dear momma’s funeral." Martha shifted slightly in the oversized chair she was sitting in so that she could look Lex directly in the eye. "Why do you ask, Lexie?"

"Hubert received a letter and some legal papers this past Friday. Seems that we were named in the will for Melanie Edwards, our grandmother." Lex sighed. "Dad told me years ago that all of my grandparents were dead. Do you have any idea why he would lie to me like that?"

Martha’s heart nearly broke at the anguished look on the young woman’s face. "Oh, honey. I don’t rightly know what your daddy was thinking. I hadn’t been here that long when your poor momma passed away, but I do remember that Mr. Walters and his in-laws didn’t get along very well. After the funeral, they took separate cars from the cemetery and I never saw or heard from them again."

"But why would they not at least try to contact their grandchildren? What kind of people were they?" Amanda wondered aloud. She gently stroked Lex’s left arm, careful to stay away from her injured one.

"Well, from what little contact I had with them, I can tell you that Mr. Edwards was a quiet, dignified man. Tall, dark hair, and very handsome." Martha smiled at the young couple on the sofa. "I do believe that’s where your good looks came from, Lexie. Mrs. Edwards also had dark hair, but she was very small and had fair skin." She slapped her leg and jumped up suddenly. "I wonder…" She hurried to the doorway then turned. "Well? Aren’t you two coming?"

Amanda stood up and offered a hand to the still reclining rancher. "Where are we going, Martha?" She pulled Lex up and started for the door without releasing her hold.

Martha blushed slightly. "Oh! Just look at me! Must be getting old, or something. I thought that we’d check upstairs in the storage room, where Mr. Walters had Miss Victoria’s things packed away. She probably kept photographs and letters from her family."

"I don’t know," Lex balked at the door and pulled Amanda back with her. "It doesn’t seem right – going through her things like that."

"Honey…" Martha walked back over to Lex and cradled the younger woman’s face in her hands, "I truly believe that she’d want you to see anything she had. I’m just sorry we waited so darn long to do this."

Lex blinked back tears. What is wrong with me? It’s not like I ever really knew her. Martha has been more of a mother to me. "It’s not your fault, Martha. I should have asked about this long before now." Get a grip, Lexington. You’re worrying her for no reason, the rancher chided herself. "C’mon. Let’s go exploring." She kissed the older woman’s cheek and left the den, pulling a somewhat startled Amanda behind her.

The storage room was actually an old bedroom, part of which had been recently converted into the guest bedroom. Lex opened the door and flipped a switch that activated a large fluorescent light in the center of the room. Martha stepped by the rancher and opened the dark curtains to allow the early evening light inside.

The housekeeper made her way over to the far corner of the room and opened a box. "I believe this is where Mr. Walters put everything. He boxed most of Miss Victoria’s belongings up the day of the funeral. He never stepped foot into this room again." She pulled a couple of faded scarves from the top of the box. "C’mere, Lexie…Amanda. This is the right box, all right."

Amanda gently led her lover over to where Martha stood. She leaned over and peered into the box curiously. "Oooh. Those are pretty." She watched as Martha reverently folded the items and continued her search.

"Wait! This looks like letters." Martha pulled the tied bundles from the box and handed them to a still-silent Lex. She dug a little deeper. "Ah-ha! Bingo!" The housekeeper pulled several large photo albums from the bottom of the box.

"Alright! Good job, Martha!" Amanda didn’t notice when Lex quietly slipped from the room. "Hopefully these will shed some light on the mysterious Edwards family. Maybe I can check those notes and letters and find an address. Right, Lex?" She turned to ask her lover, who had left the room. "Honey?"

Martha looked towards the open door. "I’ll gather this stuff up and bring it downstairs. Why don’t you go find Lexie? I think all of this shook her up more than she cared to admit."

The younger woman bit her lip and followed the housekeeper’s gaze. "You’re right. I’ll meet you back downstairs in the den, okay?" She gave Martha’s arm a reassuring squeeze and hurried from the room.

A search of the upstairs rooms turned up empty, so Amanda continued her search downstairs. She finally found Lex in the sitting room staring at a small photograph on the far wall. All of the regular furniture had been moved out yesterday. In its place were a long formal dining table and ten chairs. There had originally been twelve chairs until Amanda’s parents had not so politely declined their invitation.

The rancher turned towards the doorway and met Amanda’s eyes. "Umm…hi." Lex dropped her gaze to the floor. "Sorry I left like that…I just needed to get some air."

Amanda crossed the room until she was standing directly in front of the taller woman. She grasped the rancher’s chin and gently forced Lex to look her in the eyes. "Hey…this is me that you’re talking to." She waited until blue eyes sharpened and focused on her. "Please, honey…let me help. Tell me what’s bothering you."

"I’m not sure," Lex whispered as she put a long arm around the smaller woman’s shoulders and led her back to the wall. She pulled the photograph down and handed it to Amanda. "Even looking at this picture, I can’t remember anything about her."

"She’s beautiful." Amanda took the framed portrait from Lex and studied it carefully, then looked up at her lover. "Sweetheart, you could be her twin…"

The woman in the picture was sitting in a lush garden wearing a white beaded wedding gown. Her waist-length dark hair practically shimmered in the sunlight. Blue eyes sparkled with undisguised happiness into the camera. There was a rugged looking young man standing behind her with his hand gently placed on her shoulder. He seemed uncomfortable in the black tuxedo he was sporting. His hazel eyes were tired and weary although he appeared to be barely out of his teens.

"Yeah…I kinda think that’s one of the reasons he left home. I remind him too much of her." Lex peered over Amanda’s shoulder at the picture. "I feel bad, not being able to remember my own mother. I wish I could have known her."

The blonde turned and looked up into Lex’s still face. "But don’t you see, love? You have a perfect chance to do just that. I’m sure that’s why she saved all of those things – so that when you were older, she could share them with you." Amanda reached up and touched the clenched jaw. "She just had no way of knowing that she wouldn’t be here with you, that’s all."

Lex wrapped her arms around the smaller woman and buried her face in the soft blonde hair. "God…" she gasped as the walls that she had erected so long ago around her heart begun to fall.

Amanda felt the heavy sobs shake the normally strong body in her arms. "It’s okay, love. Let it go." She held on tightly to her lover as Lex released emotions that she had held in control for so many years. "That’s it, sweetheart." She continued to gently stroke the dark head until the convulsive tears slowed.

The older woman had practically crumbled to the floor, which forced Amanda to sit down in a nearby chair. Lex looked up from her kneeling position and drew in a large lungful of air. "I’m sorry, Amanda…I didn’t mean to fall apart on you like that." She began to wipe her face with her shirtsleeve when a small hand halted her movement.

"Please don’t apologize, honey." Amanda looked around until she saw a linen napkin on the table. She picked it up and began to gently dry the rancher’s face. "How are you feeling?"

"A little foolish, to tell you the truth." Lex stood up stiffly and sat in the chair next to her friend. "I don’t usually do that…but it seems you bring out that part of me."

"Do you have any idea how good it makes me feel when you share yourself with me like that?" Amanda asked quietly. She grasped one of Lex’s hands and pulled it into her lap. "It’s like you’re trusting me with something very special, honey. And I’ll try to always be worthy of that trust."

Lex sniffled slightly and stared at their linked hands. "Worthy? Good lord, Amanda…" The rancher lifted her free hand and brushed her knuckles against the blonde’s cheek. "Of all the people in this world, you are the last one that should ever worry about being worthy of anything."

"Is everything okay in here?" Martha struck her head in the room and looked around. "I hate to bother you both, but there’s a phone call for Amanda." She stepped the rest of the way into the room and noticed the picture now lying on the table. "I think it’s your sister, honey."

Amanda smiled at Lex and stood up. "I love you." She kissed the rancher on the lips and started for the door. "Are you okay? I can call her back later, you know."

"Never been better, love." Lex returned the younger woman’s smile. "Tell Jeannie hello for me, alright? Martha and I will be in the…" She looked up at the housekeeper with a questioning glance.

Martha laughed. We’ll be in the kitchen. You can keep me company while I get some things ready for tomorrow." She ruffled the rancher’s hair. "Let’s go, sweetie. I’ll even give you some cookies."

"Sounds like fun. I’ll see you both in a few minutes." Amanda waved as she left the room.

The dark-haired woman sighed as she climbed to her feet. "Yes, ma’am." Lex startled Martha by wrapping her arms around her and squeezing the housekeeper tight. "Thanks for putting up with me, Mada," she whispered quietly. "I love you." Lex kissed the older woman’s forehead and then released her.

"C’mon, brat. I may even put you to work." Martha grabbed the front of Lex’s khaki shirt and pulled the grinning rancher from the room.

To be continued in part 3

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