Disclaimers: The characters in this story, and the two stories before, are mine. There may be some violence, and a general theme of two women who are in love with each other, but nothing more than PG-13. If it's illegal where you live, or you don't care for this sort of thing, hit the back button. This story can stand alone, but you may want to read the other two to find out what earlier trouble Lex and Amanda have gotten into.

I'd still like to know what you think, just drop me a note - cbzeer@attbi.com

This is dedicated to AJ, who holds my heart and inspires my thoughts. I love you!

Copyright December 1999


Hope’s Path

Part I

By Carrie Carr


Chapter 1

The brooding figure on the porch swing peered tiredly into the evening gloom. Blue eyes scanned the darkened road anxiously. She should have been home hours ago, Lex worried. Maybe I should jump into the jeep and make sure she didn’t break down on the road somewhere. The dark-haired woman groaned softly as she climbed to her feet. I should never have sat down, she thought disgustedly as she felt the ache of overused muscles.

"Lexie! What are you doing out here without a coat on? You’re gonna make yourself sick!" Framed in the doorway stood a short sturdy looking woman who fussed good naturedly at the rancher. Hands on her hips, the middle-aged housekeeper cocked her graying head at the tall form that had suddenly appeared in front of her. "Now get yourself into this house and go upstairs to get cleaned up for dinner." Her nose wrinkled in disgust. "Maybe you should soak in the tub for a bit. I don’t think a shower will get all of the…dirt…off."

Lexington Walters crossed her arms across her chest and glared down at the older woman. "Are you saying that I smell?"

Martha swatted the imposing figure with a dishtowel and grinned. "No…if you could smell, I wouldn’t have to tell you to take a bath," she tsked. "Is there any particular reason that you’re sitting out here in the dark in just your jeans and tee shirt?"

Lex bit her lower lip and released a heavy sigh. "My coat and boots are in the mud room, and I was just…umm…sitting out here thinking for a bit." She tried to look innocent, but failed miserably.

"Honey…Amanda will be home anytime now. She called about twenty minutes ago." Martha reached out and grasped a muscular forearm. "Good lord, child! You’re like a block of ice!" She pulled the tall woman into the foyer and closed the door behind them. "Now get upstairs before you catch your death." Martha continued to lead her charge through the house until they were at the foot of the stairs.

Lex pulled out of the housekeeper’s grasp. "I’m fine, Martha. I’m just worried about the problems we seem to be having with the fence." She had spent the entire day in the sleeting rain repairing yet another section of fence. Three sections in two weeks. There’s got to be something, or someone, causing this. What compounded the problem was the slow, near-freezing rain that had been falling off and on for the past week. No way of tracking whoever is responsible since the rain just washes the evidence away, she thought angrily. I’m just glad it hasn’t begun to freeze completely. That would make this damned uncomfortable to work in. Lex felt a warm hand on her chilled cheek absently wipe at a spot of mud. "What?"

Sympathetic brown eyes gazed into her own. "Go on and get into the tub, Lexie. I’ll send her up as soon as she gets home, okay?" Martha pulled the soaked black cowboy hat off the dark head.

"Am I that transparent?" the rancher asked as she wiped the damp hair away from her eyes. "She’s only been gone for one night." When Lex saw the knowing look on Martha’s face, she gave the older woman a wry smile and shook her head. "Never mind. I don’t want to know the answer to that." She gave the small shoulder nearest her a gentle squeeze and turned to trudge wearily up the stairs.

As she walked through the master bedroom, Lex glanced around and smiled at the subtle changes in the once spartan room. One month. She noticed the small knickknacks that now adorned the dresser and several bookshelves by the fireplace. And it already feels more like a home. A quilt that had been made by Amanda’s great-grandmother was spread out across the foot of the massive oak bed. The colorful covering gave the otherwise dark room a sorely needed splash of color. The two women had a long and thoughtful discussion and decided to just share the master bedroom. Amanda had been afraid of crowding Lex, and the dark-haired woman had thought that having separate rooms were a complete waste. The older woman was only able to sway her partner by pointing out that it would be less work for Martha this way. Lex also had argued that the master closet had more room than the guestroom closet, even with her clothes already inside. Damn, I miss her. She started her bath water with a heavy sigh.

Amanda Cauble shook her head as she walked up the stairs. She had just been thoroughly chastised by the feisty housekeeper for working too many late hours. Martha certainly has no trouble expressing her opinion, she marveled as she stepped into the master bedroom. Amanda ran her hand through her shoulder length blonde hair. I can’t help it if it’s taken me over three weeks to reorganize the office. But I think that the worst is over for now.

The young woman sighed deeply, sat down on the bed, and removed her high top sneakers. "Ooh…that feels great." She stretched her legs out and wriggled her toes. Amanda looked around the darkened room. Martha said Lex was upstairs, but I don’t see her anywhere. The only light was the flickering fire in the fireplace, and… "Ah-ha!" Green eyes sparkled mischievously when she noticed the light that peeked out from under the bathroom door. She rose from the bed and stepped quietly to the closed door. Amanda opened it slowly. She slipped in and smiled tenderly and the sight in front of her caused her to smile tenderly.

The rancher was slumped so low in the bathtub that her dark head was barely visible above the water. Amanda could see the dark rings that were prominent under Lex’s closed eyes. Her friend looked so peaceful that the young blonde almost hated to disturb her. She hasn’t been getting much sleep…or at least that’s what Martha told me. The housekeeper had confided to her downstairs that Lex had been up early every morning for almost two weeks.

"I’m so glad that you’re home." Martha greeted the realtor warmly as Amanda stepped into the kitchen. She happily accepted the strong embrace from the young woman. "Maybe you can help me get Lexie to slow down a little and take it easy."

"What are you talking about, Martha?" Amanda perched on the small step stool that sat next to the counter where the older woman was preparing dinner. "Is Lex all right?" She quickly grabbed a carrot from the cutting board on the countertop.

Martha slapped the hand away half-heartedly. Strange having someone here now that actually enjoys vegetables…the little imp has even gotten Lexie to try them. "She’s fine, so far. But I’m afraid that she’s been working herself almost to death around here lately." She continued to chop vegetables for the stew she was working on.

Amanda stopped her hand on the way to grabbing an enticing stalk of celery. "Are you sure about that? She’s been back at the house before me every night, and she doesn’t leave in the mornings until I do." She frowned slightly. Martha can sometimes be a little overprotective, I know. But…

"Oh, honey. You really don’t know, do you?" The older woman patted Amanda’s hand. "Roy told me that she’s up hours before daybreak, repairing fence by the headlights of the jeep. Then she comes back to the house before breakfast and gets cleaned up."

"I wonder why she hasn’t said anything to me about it?" Amanda mused aloud.

Martha rubbed Amanda’s arm comfortingly. "She probably just didn’t want to worry you, honey. We both know how busy you’ve been getting your office in shape." She scraped a pile of chopped vegetables into the large pot. "And you know how Lexie is, dear."

The blonde nodded. "I sure do, Martha." She stood up and brushed her hands down her black jeans. "And I plan on taking better care of her, starting right now." She hugged the older woman gently. "Thanks for telling me." Amanda stepped back and began to walk towards the door. "Is she…?"

"Upstairs. I sent her up almost half an hour ago." Martha smiled and turned her attention back to her stew.

Amanda felt bad. She knew that Lex was always up before her but never thought about how early. More than once, she had found herself being awakened tenderly from the attentions of the already dressed rancher. Which had its own perks, she remembered with a fond smile, I enjoyed helping her get undressed. But I should have realized something was going on with her before now.

"Hey…" Amanda murmured softly as she stepped closer to the tub. "Lex?"

Blue eyes blinked open slowly and a slightly dazed look appeared on Lex’s face. "Amanda?" she croaked, then cleared her throat. She sat up slightly and rubbed her eyes. "You’re home." Brilliant, Sherlock. What are you gonna do for an encore? Tell her you’re taking a bath?

"I sure am." Amanda knelt beside the tub. She reached over and placed her hand on a tanned cheek. "You look totally worn out, honey."

Lex leaned into the touch. "Been a long day." She turned her head and kissed the delicate hand. "God, I missed you." Her voice broke slightly on the last word as Amanda met her halfway. Small hands tangled themselves into her damp hair as the younger woman pulled her close. Lex accepted the kiss eagerly, needing the contact with her partner to reaffirm that Amanda wasn’t a dream.

Amanda could feel the almost electrical surge course through her as the older woman desperately deepened the kiss. She pulled back and inhaled deeply. "Why don’t you get out of the tub so we can continue this conversation in the other room?" She gasped as Lex raised her slender form out of the water. Six feet of combined softness and muscle stood in front of Amanda as water sluiced from the rancher’s well-toned body. God, every time I see her like this my knees go weak, her mind sputtered. Amanda found herself being lifted and then carried into the bedroom as insistent lips captured hers once more.


The ringing of the telephone beside the bed woke Amanda. She reached quickly to answer it as her eyes fuzzily tried to see what time it was. One-thirty in the morning? Who on earth…? "Hello?" she whispered quietly, trying not to disturb the still sleeping figure wrapped tightly around her body. Lex’s soft cheek nuzzled her belly gently.

"Who the hell is this?" an annoyingly nasal voice demanded. "Put my damn sister on the phone!"

Hubert. That figures. Amanda rolled her eyes. She really didn’t want to wake Lex up since the older woman seemed to finally be resting for the first time in almost two weeks. "She can’t come to the phone right now." Amanda winced slightly as her lover mumbled and snuggled even closer. "Can I take a message and have her call you back?"

The voice on the other end of the phone exploded. "You’re her little…piece…aren’t you?" Hubert practically screamed. "Put Lex on the goddamn phone, you worthless whore!"

Amanda held the phone to her chest for a moment. She didn’t want Hubert’s raving to wake her friend. As she forced her emotions under control, Amanda whispered into the handset, "You can either leave a message, or I can just hang up on you now. I’ll tell Lex in the morning that you called. It’s your choice, Hubert." She jumped slightly when the phone was slammed down from the other end. Jerk. She carefully turned off the ringer and replaced the handset. Amanda smiled as she felt Lex worm her way up her body until her dark head was nestled snugly under the younger woman’s chin.

She felt a sudden surge of emotion and hugged her partner to her tightly as she tried to hold back tears. I won’t stand by and let anyone hurt you Lex, she swore silently. Even your own brother. The young woman took a deep, shuddering breath and buried her face into the thick dark hair.

Lex woke up and lifted her head slightly. "Hey." She shifted her body until she was lying next to Amanda. The rancher raised a hand to turn on the lamp next to the bed. Seeing the tears on the blonde’s face, she pulled Amanda into a strong hug. "What’s wrong, sweetheart?"

"Nothing, really." Amanda sniffled, as she snuggled deeper into the embrace. A gentle kiss on her head caused her to lose her composure again. Damn…

"Amanda." Lex gently forced her lover’s face upward. "Look at me, please." The dark-haired woman felt her heart ache as she wiped the tears away with her fingertips. "Don’t tell me it’s nothing, love." She took a deep breath and tried to get her own emotions under control. "I can’t stand seeing you like this."

Amanda sucked in a huge gulp of air then pulled one of Lex’s hands to her face and kissed the palm. "Sshh…it’s just after I hung up the phone, I got to thinking." She smiled ruefully. "And I guess it’s getting close to that time of the month for me, because my emotions went completely off the scale." She leaned up a little and gave the older woman a tender kiss.

"Mmm." Lex returned the offering, then pulled back suddenly. "Wait a minute. What do you mean, you hung up? Did the phone ring?" Not giving Amanda time to answer she continued, "Who in the hell would be calling at…" she glanced at the alarm clock, "almost two o’clock in the damn morning?"

Oops. Should I…? "Umm…it was your brother. He thought that he had to talk to you right then, but I got him to think otherwise." Amanda braced herself for the impending explosion, which oddly enough didn’t come.

Lex chuckled. "Oh, really?" She reached over to turn off the light, then scooted into a more comfortable position on the bed. "Good for you." She pulled Amanda into her arms and placed a soft kiss on the younger woman’s head. "Thank you, sweetheart."

Amanda tucked the covers up around them to ward off the chill of the room. "You’re welcome. But aren’t you curious as to why your brother would be calling in the middle of the night?" She wrapped her arms tightly around Lex and snuggled closer.

"Not particularly." The older woman sighed as she felt sleep pull at her once again. "He used to do it all the time, because late at night is the only time I’d ever be in the house." She struggled to hold back a yawn. "It had gotten to the point that he was calling at least two or three times a week. So I turned off the phone up here and let him rant at the machine." The last few words quietly faded away as Lex dropped off to sleep.

"Goodnight, honey," Amanda whispered as she gently lay her head back on the rancher’s chest and joined her in slumber.


"I’m glad to see that you two are still alive," Martha teased as Lex followed Amanda into the kitchen the next morning. "I was about to send up a search party," she smirked as Lex stuck out her tongue.

The rancher pushed her companion into a nearby chair and grabbed two coffee mugs from the cabinet. "Good morning to you too, Martha." Lex kissed the housekeeper’s graying head and then swatted her on the rear.

"Aaaack!" The older woman spun around and waved a spatula. "You’re not too big for a whipping, young lady!"

Lex backed away and lifted her hands up to ward off any blows. "Now hold on, Martha. You wouldn’t want to break a perfectly good…umm…thingy-whattzit, would you?" She turned towards Amanda, who had a hand over her mouth to try and stifle her laughter. "You’re not helping, you know."

"Don’t blame me! You’re the one who can’t keep her hands to herself," Amanda snickered. She quickly wrapped her hands around the steaming mug that Lex had placed in front of her. "Mmm…thanks." The young woman leaned over the cup and deeply inhaled the rich aroma.

"I’ve never seen anyone enjoy their coffee quite as much as you do, sweetheart." The tall woman sat down next to Amanda and leaned back in her seat. The front legs of Lex’s chair rose a few inches off of the ground.

Martha walked by and slapped Lex lightly on the back of the head. "How many times do I have to tell you not to lean back in your chair?" She placed a full plate in front of each woman. "I swear, you haven’t changed a bit in fifteen years." Before the housekeeper could turn away from the table, she found herself sitting on the grinning woman’s lap. "What!?"

"I don’t think I could do this fifteen years ago, could I?" Lex stood up and lifted the older woman with her.

"Put me down, you little rat!" Martha quickly clasped her hands behind Lex’s neck. "You’re gonna hurt yourself. Lexie!" she squawked as she was tossed gently in the air and caught again.

Lex sat back down, but kept her hold on Martha. "That any better?" she asked, as the older woman climbed off of her lap.

"You!" Martha swatted her on the shoulder and then walked across the room. Neither woman at the table noticed when she reached into the sink.

The rancher gave Amanda a saucy grin. She completely missed the diabolical smile on the housekeeper’s face.

* Splat! *

There was total silence in the kitchen. The quiet was finally broken when Amanda began to laugh so hard that she fell out of her chair with a solid thump.

The dark-haired woman stood up. A wet dishtowel hung off of her head and soapy water dripped down her face. "Martha…" Lex growled as she pulled the sodden clump from her head. She stalked slowly towards the older woman who had her hand to her mouth with a shocked look on her face.

"Oh, Lexie. I didn’t realize that my aim would be that good." Martha’s eyes widened when she noticed the look on the tall woman’s face. "Now, honey. Don’t do something that you might regret later." She began to back away slowly.

Halfway to her quarry, Lex stopped. As a slow smile spread across her face, she gently tossed the wet cloth back into the sink. "Paybacks, Martha." She glared at the housekeeper and wiped her face off with a sleeve.

Martha laughed. "Whatever you say, dear." She tossed a dry towel to Lex, then turned her attention to the stove. "Just remember who cooks your meals and cleans your clothes."

"Yeah, yeah…I’ve been telling you for years that I could do all that myself, you know." Lex sat back down at the table. She looked down at the young woman still in the floor next to her. "Are you going to sit down there all day?" She offered a hand to Amanda.

"Thanks." The blonde allowed herself to be pulled up off the floor. "You two are hazardous to my health." Amanda sat back down in her chair and shook a warning finger at Lex.

The dark-haired woman smirked over the rim of her coffee cup. "Not my fault you can’t control yourself," she chuckled. "But I’m not complaining."

Amanda blushed and directed her attention to the plate of food that the housekeeper had placed in front of her. "Thanks, Martha," she murmured as a small hand patted her shoulder gently.

"Don’t worry, honey. She’s always been sassy like that. I’m used to it by now." The older woman sat down at the table with a heavy sigh. She looked over at Lex, who still had a devious grin on her face. "Stop looking at me like that, or I’ll have to break a spoon on your backside for sure."

"Like what?" Lex was the picture of wide-eyed innocence. "I’m just eating breakfast." She took another large bite of food and winked at Amanda.

The blonde rolled her eyes. "Oh, please. Save it for someone that doesn’t know you like we do. Now behave yourself, or I won’t tell you who I saw at the office yesterday." Amanda began attacking her own plate with gusto as she ignored the blue-eyed glare from across the table.

"Well?" Lex asked patiently. She leaned forward until she could look into Amanda’s eyes. With a teasing note in her voice, she whispered, "You gonna tell me, or will I have to force you to talk?"

Amanda leaned forward and placed a quick kiss on her friend’s nose. "I’m sooo scared." She leaned back in her chair with a sweet smile. "But, I guess I might as well tell you. Do you remember the dinner party at my parent’s house?"

Lex rolled her eyes. "How could I forget? It was the most fun I’ve had in years."

"Smart aleck." Amanda slapped Lex lightly on the arm. "Now hush, or I won’t finish my story."

"Fine." Lex zipped her mouth shut and threw away the imaginary key. She raised her eyebrows at Amanda who shook her head and sighed.

"Thank you, I think. Do you remember the man sitting next to you at the table? Mark Garrett?"

Lex nodded, but didn’t say anything. She smiled at Amanda who gave her an exasperated look.

"Oooh, you!" Amanda threw her napkin and hit the smirking woman in the face.

"What is it that makes you two throw things at me this morning?" Lex asked as she tossed the napkin back to Amanda. She gathered more food onto her fork and began to eat again.

Amanda sighed. "You really don’t want an answer to that question, do you?" She took another bite of food. Swallowing hastily, she continued. "Anyway, Mark came into the office yesterday and said that he had quit his job."

"Really? Well, that doesn’t surprise me much…he seemed pretty tired of it all." The rancher stood up and started to carry her plate to the sink. Lex noticed that Martha had finished, so she quickly grabbed the housekeeper’s plate as well.

Martha sputtered and stood up. "I can do that, you know." She was about to continue when she noticed the serious look on the blonde woman’s face. "But, if you two will excuse me for a minute, I have a load of laundry that needs to be checked." She quickly slipped from the room, allowing Lex and Amanda some privacy.

Amanda smiled at the retreating figure, then sighed. "Where was I? Oh, yeah. Mark said that he’d quit about two weeks ago, but kept getting threatening phone calls and nasty letters – and he was becoming afraid for his family’s safety." Amanda put her fork down on her plate. She looked up at Lex, who was standing with her back against the sink. "And he thinks that my father is behind all the threats."

Lex crossed the room quickly, and knelt down beside Amanda’s chair. "What makes him think that, sweetheart?" She placed a hand on the younger woman’s thigh and squeezed gently.

Amanda looked down into concerned blue eyes. "Because Mark has a lot of inside information on my father’s company. Information that could do serious damage to him if it ever got out."

"I don’t think Mark is the type to do that sort of thing, do you?" Lex murmured, raising a hand to caress Amanda’s cheek. She smiled as the green eyes closed, and Amanda leaned into her touch with a soft sigh.

"Mmmm…" Amanda turned her head slightly and kissed the callused palm. "No, I don’t think so either." She opened her eyes again and gave her partner a sad smile. "But you know my father. He doesn’t trust anyone." She watched as her hand dropped to Lex’s head and her fingers slowly combed through the dark hair.

The rancher smiled again. God, I love the feel of her hands in my hair… one touch turns me into a quivering mass of jelly. "Umm…Amanda?" Lex blinked, trying to fight the lethargic feeling coming over her. "You were going to tell me why Mark was in your office yesterday, right?"

Amanda took a deep breath, then released it slowly. "Sorry…" she smiled down at the older woman. She captured the hand that still caressed her face and stood up. "C’mon. Let’s go sit in the den. You can’t be too comfortable kneeling on the floor."

"Oof." Lex grunted, as she allowed Amanda to pull her to her feet. "You’re right about that." She stretched and sighed with relief when several audible pops came from her back. "God, that feels better." The dark-haired woman grinned at the look she was getting from Amanda. "What?"

"That sounds so painful. One of these days you’re going to do that, and part of you is going to fall off." Amanda teased, pulling Lex out of the room by her hand. She led her friend down the hallway. "I swear, you pop and creak more than my old car."

Lex laughed. "Yeah, I guess I do. And it’s a hell of a lot older than I am!" She glanced through the large window in the den. "Damn…it’s nasty looking out there this morning." Lex guided the smaller woman towards the window, where they both could look out. "This is the coldest it’s been around here in years. It might even stay cold enough today or tomorrow to snow and have it stick." She looked down at Amanda, who was firmly attached to her side. "I’m glad you made it home last night before it started getting bad, sweetheart."

As she snuggled even closer, the blonde woman nodded. "Me too. I’d much rather be stuck out here with you than sitting at my grandparent’s house worrying about what kind of trouble you can get into."

"Me? Trouble?" Lex turned them away from the window and towards the sofa. "I don’t seem to get into any trouble unless you’re involved." She flinched as an elbow jabbed her in the ribs. "Ouch!" She sat down and suddenly found her lap full of a green eyed blonde. "Oh, so now I’m furniture?"

Amanda chuckled and wrapped her arms around the taller woman’s neck. "Yep." She leaned forward and kissed the tip of Lex’s nose. "Pretty comfortable too, I might add."

Lex slid her arms around the smaller woman’s back and pulled her closer. "Oh, yeah?" She captured Amanda’s lips in a gentle embrace. As she felt small hands tangle themselves in her hair, Lex moaned. She tried to pull back slightly. "I thought we were going to talk?" She whispered, just before those same hands pulled her closer to Amanda’s face.

"Later," Amanda breathed, just before she gently wrestled the older woman onto her back and continued her attack.


"Mmm…" Amanda sighed from her sprawled position on top of Lex. "Sorry about that." She idly played with a button on the older woman’s shirt. "I can’t believe I fell asleep like that."

Lex continued her gentle stroking down the smaller woman’s back. "Don’t worry about it, sweetheart. We didn’t get much sleep last night. A short nap didn’t hurt either one of us," she chuckled. "Besides, if we would have continued what we started, Martha would have gotten an eyeful. I didn’t close the door when we came in."

"Oh, god. That could have been embarrassing." Amanda raised up and peered over the sofa. "Although with the way the sofa is facing, she couldn’t see anything anyway." She was about to pick up where they left off when there was a frantic knocking at the front door.

"Who in the hell could that be?" Lex grumbled, as she worked her way out from under Amanda and started towards the door. She almost ran into Martha in the hallway. "I’ll get it." Lex assured the housekeeper who stopped and stared at her. "What?"

Martha stepped forward and began to button the dark-haired woman’s shirt. "You open the door dressed like that, and you’ll catch a chill," she teased.

"Oops," Amanda laughed from the doorway. "My fault. I was trying to find a place to warm my hands." She smiled sweetly at the rancher.

Lex glared at her, then turned to answer the door. "I’ll warm your…" she mumbled. Opening the door, she stepped back in surprise. "Ronnie? What are you doing out in this weather?" She opened the door further to allow the young man to step into the house.

"Sorry, Ms. Walters…but Roy asked me to come and get you." The teenager pulled a damp baseball cap from his head. Ronnie Sterling had been working for the Rocking W Ranch for only a few weeks – ever since Lex had signed the papers to be his legal guardian. His older brother Matt was sitting in the county jail awaiting trial for the theft of several thousand dollars worth of cattle, breaking and entering and the attempted murder of Lex.

Amanda stepped forward and grabbed the young man by his arm. "Come inside by the fire and get warm…you can talk to Lex in the den." She led Ronnie into the den and made him strip off his coat. "Sit down here…." She directed him to the chair closest to the fire, "…and Lex will bring you some hot chocolate." The young blonde gave her lover a smile.

"Hot chocolate…right." Lex turned around and almost knocked the housekeeper over. "Sorry about that, Martha."

Martha laughed. "Honey, you go on in there and find out what that young man has to say. I’ll bring enough hot chocolate for all of you." She patted the tall woman on the side and turned towards the kitchen.

Lex started into the den then stuck her head around the doorway. "Don’t forget the marshmallows!" she shouted out to the retreating figure. She turned back around and smiled at the two sitting in front of the fireplace. "Well? What good is hot chocolate without marshmallows?" The rancher stepped over to where Amanda was sitting across from Ronnie. She sat down on the arm of the smaller woman’s chair. "Okay, Ronnie…what is it that Roy wanted you to tell me?"

"Another section of fence was cut last night, Ms. Walters," the young man started then began to blush when he saw Amanda place her hand on the rancher’s thigh. He had heard from the men in the bunkhouse about the relationship between the two, but found it hard to believe that these two beautiful women could be ‘that way’. I thought that all gay women wore leather and chains, and had lots of tattoos. Maybe Matt was wrong… When Lester had explained to him about Ms. Walters and her friend, he told the cook that his brother said that those kind of people were sick and perverted. Boy, did I get yelled at that night. But, they don’t look like perverts… just like two people who care about each other. Hmm…

"Damn! This is getting ridiculous!" Lex jumped up and began pacing the room. Turning her attention back to the young man, she sighed. "Okay…which section?" She noticed the look on Amanda’s face and saw the young woman raise a hand to beckon her. Lex walked back over to the chair and grasped Amanda’s hand and allowed herself to be pulled back down.

Ronnie looked at their joined hands then quickly turned his eyes toward the fire. "Umm… he said it was the northwest corner. He’s moved the herd out of that section, because he was having trouble getting to the fence to repair it."

"Hot chocolate, with marshmallows, as requested!" Martha bustled into the room with a large tray. She carried it over to a nearby table and sat it down. "Well? Get yourselves over here before it gets cold! I’ve got a pot of chili cooking, so if you’ll excuse me." The small round woman scurried out of the room before anyone could say anything.

Lex laughed. "You heard the lady, Ronnie. C’mon." She stood up and grabbed a mug then handed it to the young man. She picked up another steaming cup and turned towards Amanda, who had stepped up beside her.

"Thanks, honey." Amanda accepted the warm drink gratefully. "Why is it so hard to reach the fence in that section, Lex?" She followed the tall woman over to the nearby loveseat and sat down. "Is it because of the weather?"

"No, not completely. Although with the weather being the way it is, it’s gonna be more difficult to reach." Lex watched with a smile as Ronnie sat back down in front of the fire, his attention directed towards the flames. "The fence blocks off a small canyon, which has a nasty little drop off to the adjacent property. About the only way to actually reach it is by horseback, because of the rough terrain and all the rain we’ve had. The jeep would just get stuck."

Amanda turned slightly, so that she could study the older woman’s eyes. "You’re going, aren’t you?" said as more of a statement than a question. "Isn’t that what you pay all those men to do?"

Lex sat her mug down on a side table. "Yes, I am." She reached over and grasped the small hand nearest her. "And yes, it is what I pay them for…but everyone except Lester, Roy, and Ronnie went into town yesterday for the weekend. They’ve been working themselves extra hard these past couple of weeks, so I thought they deserved a break." Lex looked into Amanda’s eyes with determination. "And I won’t ask them to do anything that I won’t do, sweetheart. You know that."

"I know that, Lex…it’s just that you’ve been working harder than any of them. When do you get a break?" Amanda pulled the large hand up to her lips and kissed the knuckles gently. "And don’t bother denying it, either. Martha filled me in last night." She saw the slight grin on the rancher’s face.

"Martha has a big mouth." Lex opened up her hand and ran her fingertips along the younger woman’s jaw. "But I had already decided that since you’ll be home a few days next week helping Martha get ready for Thanksgiving, I’d take the time off too."

Amanda smiled and leaned into the rancher’s touch. "I think I’ll like that. This past month has been so busy for us both; it will be nice to spend some quiet time with you." She allowed her eyes to leave Lex’s face for a moment and focus in on the young man near the fire. "I think we’re embarrassing our guest, love."

Lex glanced over at Ronnie. "Yeah, I think you’re right. Why don’t I go upstairs and get changed, and you spend a little time with our young friend? Maybe find out what his plans are for the holiday?"

"Good idea, honey." Amanda smiled as her lover stood up. She regretfully released Lex’s hand. "Please wear a warm shirt. I hate when you go out with just a tee shirt under your coat." Before Lex could open her mouth to argue, Amanda continued, "Hush. I heard about what you wore yesterday."

The tall woman lifted an eyebrow at that remark. "Damn that woman. Do I have no secrets left?" Lex shook her head. "I’ll take care of her later." She started for the door when Amanda’s voice stopped her.

"You’ll do no such thing, Lexington Marie Walters! All she did was answer my questions. So you leave that poor woman alone!" Amanda waggled a warning finger at the older woman.

Lex stood in the doorway and grinned. "Yes, dear!" She gave the blonde a mock salute and started for the stairway.


Chapter 2

Amanda stood at the back door fussing with Lex’s coat. "You have the radio, right?" She asked as the straightened the collar for the third time. "And the thermos of coffee that Martha poured up for you? And…"

Lex leaned over and captured the younger woman’s lips in a soft kiss. She pulled away after a moment, effectively silencing Amanda. "Yes, sweetheart. I have so much damn stuff that Cannonball is never going to speak to me again. Stop worrying. I’ve done this dozens of times." Cannonball was the horse that Lex had purchased last week at an auction. He was a couple of years older than her horse Thunder, but the black stallion had thrown a shoe yesterday afternoon. Lex knew that she could replace the shoe, but then would never hear the end of it from Dan, the man that she had hired specifically for that job.

"Maybe…but I’ve never been stuck at home waiting for you when you were out those dozens of times." Amanda lifted her hand and tilted the black hat away from Lex’s eyes. "You’ll be back by this afternoon, right?" She searched the tan face above hers, memorizing every inch. "Something just doesn’t feel right to me, Lex. Please be really careful?"

"I promise, love. I’ll be very careful." Lex assured her. She placed a gentle kiss on the blonde’s forehead. "I’ve got too much around here to stick around for." She stepped back a pace and grinned. "And, I promised to take you Christmas shopping next weekend. There’s no way in hell you’re gonna let me get out of doing that, is there?"

Amanda laughed. "You’re darn right about that, Slim. Who else can I wrangle into carrying all my packages for me?" She sobered when Lex reached for the doorknob. "Could you do me a big favor?"

Lex stopped, and gave the young woman a questioning look. "Sure, baby…name it."

"Well, since I was going to work in the office this morning, checking some stuff on the computer…" Amanda bit her lower lip, "…do you think that you could radio in every once in a while and let me know you’re okay?"

"Umm…okay. How about on the hour? That way I won’t be disturbing your work too much." Lex smiled. She’s just so damn cute when she looks at me that way. I just can’t tell her no. God, I’ve turned into a complete wad of mush!

The younger woman stepped up and gave Lex a bone-jarring hug. "How about every half hour, so I’ll be able to concentrate on my work and not worry about you so much?" She felt strong arms wrap around her and return the squeeze. Soft lips captured hers once more, and for an instant, the world around them melted away.

Lex finally broke off the kiss and took a deep breath. "Yeah. Okay. Thirty minutes. No problem." She let her forehead rest on Amanda’s. "You’re really good at that, you know." Lex took a deep breath and reluctantly released the smaller woman. "God, Amanda…I love you. But, I really gotta go, now."

"I know, sweetheart. I love you too. Every thirty minutes, right?" Amanda opened the door and shivered. "God! That north wind is horrible!" She pulled on Lex’s sleeve. "Come back sooner if the weather gets any nastier, okay?"

The rancher turned slightly. "Yes, dear." She winked and then stepped off the porch to where Cannonball was patiently waiting. Lex climbed up onto the saddle and adjusted the saddlebags that held the thermos of coffee. "Thanks for getting me a bag of stuff together, Amanda. Now get into the house before you freeze!" She waved and turned her prancing mount towards the north trail.

Amanda closed the door and then peered out the window until she could no longer see the horse or rider. "Be careful, love," she whispered as her hand touched the slightly cold glass.

"I take it that she’s gone?" Martha stood in the kitchen doorway, drying her hands on a dishtowel.

The blonde woman sighed and turned away from the door. "Yeah. I don’t know why she doesn’t just leave it for the guys to take care of tomorrow or even Monday." Amanda looked at her watch then followed the housekeeper into the kitchen.

Martha guided her over to the table and sat down in the chair next to her. "Honey, I asked her that very question before she went upstairs to change." She poured coffee from the nearby carafe into a waiting mug. "Here…you look chilled."

"Thanks, Martha." Amanda held the mug close to her body and took a cautious sip. "You did? What did she say?" She reached over and grabbed a cookie from the platter.

"Lex was afraid that even though Roy moved the herd from that pasture, some of the cattle or horses would get back in that area and fall off that drop off." The housekeeper shook her head. "We’ve never had this kind of trouble before. I sure would like to know why someone is doing this. It just doesn’t make any sense."

"I know; it’s so strange. Right now it’s only vandalism. Lex told me that there were no cattle hurt, or missing, that she’s aware of." Amanda looked at Martha with a worried expression. "Oh, god! What if this is my father’s way of getting back at Lex…and me?"

Martha reached over and patted the young woman’s hand comfortingly. "Let’s not jump to any conclusions, dear. There could be all sorts of reasons why this is happening." She leaned back in her chair with a smile. "I talked to Charlie yesterday. He’s going to have some deputy’s help patrol the fence line with the hands. We’ll get this figured out."

Amanda returned the older woman’s smile. "Did you invite Charlie to dinner on Thursday?" She knew that Lex had already invited the sheriff, but Amanda enjoyed making the housekeeper blush for a change.

"Well…as a matter of fact, I did. He said that the Wade’s were going out of town to her sister’s for the holiday, so he was just going to have a microwave dinner and watch football. I straightened him right out!" The older woman chuckled. Sheriff Charlie Bristol was Martha’s long-time boyfriend, and he had been trying for years to get the sweet woman to marry him. At the moment, he lived in a modest boarding house in town. But, if Lex and Amanda had their way, he’d be taking up residence in Martha’s comfortable home in the near future. The rancher had given Martha a modest home built near the main house once she began remodeling the ranch several years ago. Lex refused to let the woman go on living like a common servant in a small room behind the kitchen since the housekeeper had refused a room in the main house.

"Good. My grandparents will be here, and I hope to hear from my sister in the next day or so." Amanda had even extended an invitation to her parents, but her mother had called Anna Leigh and asked that she pass along their regrets. She wouldn’t even talk to me…I had to get the message from my grandmother. Which is just as well, I suppose. I have no idea where we’ll seat everyone as it is. "Umm…Martha? I hate to ask a silly question, but so far we have at least eight people confirmed for Thanksgiving dinner. Where on earth are we going to seat them all?"

The housekeeper laughed. "Oh, honey…don’t you worry. We have a huge table that we set up every year in the sitting room. Lexie always moves everything out of there for the day." She glanced around the kitchen. "Since the mudroom opens up to both rooms, we always haul all the food and goodies through there. It also keeps traffic in the cooking area down, so I don’t have quite so many feet to trip over."

"Good idea." Amanda glanced down at her watch. "Oh! I’ve got to get to the office – Lex should be radioing in anytime now." She refilled her coffee mug and stood up. "I’ve got some work to do on the computer, Martha. Just holler if you need me for anything." The young woman left the room before the housekeeper could say a word.

"I can’t believe that young woman actually got Lexie to agree to check in with her." Martha shook her graying head as she cleaned up the table. "That’s absolutely amazing."


The cold wind cut through Lex like a knife, which caused her to pull her hat down a little further over her eyes. Damn…I must be getting soft – this never used to bother me before, she sighed to herself. But at least the rain has stopped for now. Lex glanced at her watch, smiled, and pulled the hand-held radio from her coat pocket. "Amanda? This is Lex."

A slight crackle from the radio, then a breathless voice returned, "Hi, Lex. Is everything okay?" Amanda sounded slightly breathless.

"Everything is just fine. I’m almost there." Lex nearly dropped the radio when Cannonball stumbled on the path. "Easy there, fella." She patted the dun-colored gelding gently on the neck. A garbled message from the radio caught her attention. "What was that, Amanda? This gully I’m in seems to be blocking your signal."

"Oh! Well, I just asked if you’re warm enough. The wind seems to have picked up here at the house. And…the weather…a little later in the day." Amanda’s voice continued to break up.

Even though it was close to noon, the heavy cloud cover made visibility poor. Lex strained through the gloom to see her destination. The fence stood barely a hundred yards away from where she was. Another blast of cold damp air almost took her breath away. "Sweetheart, you keep breaking up. Can you read me okay?" She had to pull up on the reins as Cannonball started prancing sideways, obviously agitated. "Whoa, boy. Easy there."

Another burst of static came through the radio. "…ex? I can’t…you. Are you…yet?" Amanda was beginning to sound frustrated. "Can you…me? Lex?"

"Amanda? I’m in a bad spot, love. I’ll radio you when I get onto higher ground, okay?" Lex pocketed the radio and dropped effortlessly from the saddle. She led the nervous horse to a large tree near the broken fence and tied his reins loosely to a branch. "Stay here, buddy. These trees should block off the worst of the wind." The tall woman gave him another gentle pat, then grabbed her bag of tools and moved towards the break in the fence.

Lex pulled the collar of her coat tighter, trying to ward off the icy wind. "Damn! I think it’s getting colder. And those clouds look like they could break loose any minute now." She dropped to one knee and studied the strands of wiring lying on the ground. Not broken…definitely cut. A far off bawling sound from in front of her caught the rancher’s attention. What the… she climbed to her feet and stepped forward cautiously to investigate.

Up ahead, near the edge of the drop off, stood a small calf. It appeared to be tangled up in some small brush as it stood in one place and continued to cry. Rust colored with a white face, the young animal cried more plaintively when it spotted the tall figure walking it’s way.

"Hold on, little guy, " Lex tried to soothe, "I’ll get you out of that mess in no time." She held out her arms in a non-threatening matter as she tried to keep the animal calm with her voice. Glancing to her right, Lex noticed the drop off. "Now you try to stay calm, or we’ll both end up down there." She squatted down beside the calf and cleared the brush away with one hand. Leaning down to get a better look, Lex cursed. "How in the hell did you get a rope tied around…" A heavy weight slammed into the back of her head, and Lex felt a moment of weightlessness before everything went black.


The blonde woman paced frantically around the office mumbling under her breath. "I don’t like this at all…something just doesn’t feel right." Amanda stopped next to where the radio was stationed. She reached for the microphone then stopped. "She said she would radio me back as soon as she got to a better spot. It’s only been about ten minutes."

"Everything okay, sweetie?" Martha walked into the office carrying the carafe of coffee. "I thought you could use some more coffee." As she watched the young woman pace the floor in front of her, she amended, "Maybe not. Amanda?"

"Oh! God, Martha. You startled me." Amanda spun around suddenly. "Did you say something?"

The housekeeper sat the carafe down and walked over to stand by Amanda. "I asked you if everything was okay." Martha placed a small pudgy hand on the younger woman’s shoulder. "You look a little frazzled, honey."

Amanda patted the hand gently. "I don’t know, Martha. Something just doesn’t feel right. Lex told me that she would radio me right back, and that was almost fifteen minutes ago." She took a deep breath and shook her head. "I know…I’m probably just imagining things, but I can’t help it."

"Maybe not, child. Sometimes our hearts tell us more than we realize." The older woman steered Amanda to the chair behind the desk. "Sit down for a minute and try to relax." After the blonde followed her instructions, she continued, "Now tell me all about it, dear."

"It’s hard to describe, Martha. Like an ache in my stomach, and a heaviness in my chest." Amanda had a faraway look in her eyes. "And the longer I sit here, the worse this feeling gets." She jumped up and grabbed the microphone from the radio. "Lex? Honey, can you hear me?" Releasing the catch, all she heard was static. "Come in, Lex. Please?"

Martha stood next to her, a worried look creasing her face. "She should be there by now. And the reception from that part of the property has never been a problem in the past." She walked over and picked up the telephone. "I’m going to call Roy and get him over here." The housekeeper dialed a number on the phone and waited patiently for an answer. "Lester? This is Martha. Is Roy over there?"

"Yeah, he just finished up at the barn and is on his way to get cleaned up. What do you need?" The old cook grumbled.

"I need him over at the main house, pronto! And tell him to dress warmly. We’ve got an important job for him to do." Martha snapped, not in the mood for their usual good-natured fighting.

Lester stopped when he realized that something was wrong. "Right. He’ll be over in a couple of minutes." He paused for a moment, then continued, "If you need anything, Martha, you just let me know, okay?"

The housekeeper allowed a tiny smile to escape. "I will, Lester. Thank you." She hung up the phone and saw Amanda heading towards the doorway. "Where are you going?"

"Upstairs to change. I’m going with Roy when he gets here." Amanda left the room before Martha could stop her.


A throbbing ache in her head caused Lex to slowly open her eyes and try to look around. Ahh…bad idea, Lexington, she berated herself, closing her eyes as she took a shallow breath. Damn, that hurts! Lex tried to move but found herself partially buried underneath several large tree branches. If I fell, how did I end up under this stuff? The dark-haired woman searched her fuzzy brain for an answer. Wait a minute…I didn’t fall. Something or someone hit me from behind. Probably tossed this crap down on top of me afterwards. She tried to turn her body upwards, but the weight of the branches and several sharp pains stopped her. "Aaah…damn!" Lex groaned. Sounds of static coming from her right coat pocket caught the rancher’s attention.

"Lex? Honey, can you…me?" Amanda’s worried voice broke through the static.

"Amanda?" Lex tried to reach the radio in her pocket, but her right arm was pinned across her chest. "Shit!" Another sharp pain made her stop moving immediately. She closed her eyes and concentrated until the pain eased into a more manageable level. Okay…let’s just try to figure out what hurts so damn bad. She decided the best place to start would be her toes, so Lex tried to wiggle them inside her boots. "Ow! Wrong idea!" The movement caused more pain along her back.

The radio crackled again. "Come in, Lex. Please?"

The injured woman tried to reach the radio again, this time with her left hand. But her left arm was twisted up around her head, and the debris covering her had Lex completely pinned down. "Dammit!" she growled, then winced as the movement caused more discomfort. Her pounding head was beginning to lull the rancher into a dreamy haze. She tried to fight her heavy eyelids, but to no avail. Maybe if I just rest for a minute, I’ll have enough energy to get out of this mess before Amanda worries too much. The darkness pulled at her once again.


"Are you sure about this, Miss Amanda?" Roy questioned as he saddled the two horses in the barn. The young blonde woman was standing just outside the stall bundled up against the cold. "She probably just had some radio trouble because of the weather and stayed to finish repairing the fence." The ranch foreman glanced over at Amanda’s steadfast form. "We’ll probably meet her along the trail."

Amanda uncrossed her arms and sighed. "I’m sure, Roy. I’ve got to do this, okay?" She walked over to where a sturdily built brown and white mare was saddled and ready to go. "Hey there, Stormy." The paint pony had been a recent gift from Lex who constantly teased her about the gentle animal’s size. Amanda rubbed the horse’s nose and whispered, "You’re going to help me find her, aren’t you, girl?" A light nuzzle to her chest was the pony’s only answer.

Roy led his horse out of the stall. "Okay. But don’t look to me for protection when she catches us, okay?" he teased, trying to lighten the mood. Truth be told, the foreman was concerned as well. It wasn’t like his boss to be out of contact when she promised differently. But I’m not about to tell this young lady that…Martha would have my hide for sure!

"Don’t worry, Roy. I’ll protect you." Amanda smiled slightly as she pulled Stormy from her stall. "I’ll take full responsibility for this little trip, okay?" The small blonde and her horse followed Roy outside. Amanda mounted up and waited to see which direction the foreman would take. "Well? Let’s get this party started before the weather gets too nasty."

The older man sighed. "Yes, ma’am." He directed them towards the north trail without another word.

Half an hour later, they came upon Cannonball. He looked uncomfortable and wet leaning under a large tree. Roy pulled his horse up near the jittery animal and dismounted. He stepped over to the horse that stomped and then glared at him. "Hey, there." The foreman ran his hand along the animal’s neck to check for anything out of the ordinary. Amanda climbed down from her mount and stood behind him. Roy turned to talk to her. "He’s tied to the branch, and everything looks okay." They both looked around the clearing for a glimpse of the missing rancher.

"Right. So that means she’s got to be around here somewhere." Amanda shivered as a strong gust of cold, wet air blew her slightly backwards. Great. Just what we needed. More rain. She followed Roy’s lead and tied her horse to a nearby tree. "Where do we go from here?"

The foreman pointed to the north. "If I have my bearings right, the fence line should be just over there." He pulled a rifle that had been hidden in a scabbard on his saddle. "C’mon. It’s less than a hundred yards this way." Roy led Amanda through the trees until they came to the fence. The broken strands of wire were still lying on the ground, and a large canvas bag was sitting nearby. "She made it to the fence okay." He knelt down and checked the ground near the fence. "Nothing unusual here."

Amanda stood next to him while she tried to see through the now misting rain. "Did you hear something?" she asked the kneeling man.

Roy looked up at the young woman. "Hear what?" he cocked his head to one side and listened intently. "All I hear is the damn wind and rain."

"Shh! There it is again." She held up a warning finger. "It sounded like a cry."

He closed his eyes and concentrated. "I don’t…Wait! Yeah…I think it’s coming from over there." The foreman pointed past the fence towards a pile of shrubbery. "Do you see that, Miss Amanda?"

The young woman nodded. "I think so. It looks like a small animal." She started towards the sound.

"Wait! That’s near the drop off!" Roy grabbed her arm and held her back. "Let me go first, okay?"

Amanda stopped and shrugged. "Sure." She helped him to his feet and gave a small smile. "Well?"

Roy shook his head. "Yes, ma’am." He picked up the rifle and started towards the brush. "Stay right behind me though, okay? That’s a really nasty drop off over there."

"No problem." Amanda placed her hand on his back and followed in his footsteps. "Lead on."

The small calf was standing in the chest-high brush crying. As the two people worked their way closer, it tried to step towards them but seemed to be stuck.

"Look like it’s tangled up in something." Roy turned to Amanda. "I’m going to check it out. Why don’t you stay here, away from the edge?" He waited until the younger woman nodded. "Could you hold this for me, please?" The foreman handed her the rifle.

Amanda held the gun and looked around nervously. "Is this thing really necessary?" she asked as he slowly crept towards the bawling animal.

Roy glanced at her over his shoulder. "Probably not. But I’d rather be safe than sorry." He turned his attention back to the calf. "Take it easy, little guy."

"Okay, I can see that." Amanda agreed, looking down at the ground under her feet. There were several pairs of footprints in the mud, and she noticed that one pair looked to be sneakers. She looked at Roy’s feet, then her own. They were both wearing boots. And Lex ALWAYS wears boots. Where did these tennis shoe prints come from? She bent down to look a little closer when she heard Roy curse.

"Damn! This little fella has been tied to the brush with rope! Who in the hell would do something like that?" He worked carefully to free the calf from its snare. "This was no accident." A few more flicks of his wrist, and the calf scrambled away, running towards the opening in the fence. "You’re welcome!" Roy yelled, looking up at Amanda with a smile. He could see the intense concentration on her face as she studied the ground around them. "What’s up?"

The young woman pointed to the churned up ground beneath their feet. "What does this look like to you?"

Roy peered down at the ground, touching the earth with his gloved hand. "Sneakers? And pretty recent, too." He watched as Amanda slowly stepped towards the edge of the drop off, leaning forward to look below. "Careful, now!"

Amanda dropped to her knees weakly. "Oh, no." she cried as she leaned her body near the edge. "Roy, look!"

The foreman rushed to her side to peer down the side of the overhang. "Jesus. How in the hell…" Due to the amount of branches and limbs that covered it, he could barely make out the sprawled figure below.

"Lex!" Amanda yelled, searching frantically for some way to reach the bottom. "Can you hear me?" She turned sideways to grab Roy’s arm. "We’ve got to get down there! She could be seriously hurt!"

"Hang on just a minute, Miss Amanda. Let me go get some rope, all right?" Roy jumped to his feet and raced back toward the horses.

The blonde woman continued to look for a way to reach her lover. "Lex! C’mon, honey. Let me know you’re okay, please?"

A familiar voice called to Lex and nudged her from unconsciousness. Amanda? The dark-haired woman slowly opened her eyes. God, I must be hallucinating. She struggled to take a deep breath, then gasped as the movement caused her extreme pain. Ah, geez…not good, Lexington. Lex listened carefully as she hoped to hear the voice again.

"Lex? God, please. Answer me, or move, or something!" Amanda half-shouted, half-cried. "Dammit! Listen to me!" she pleaded as she wiped tears from her face.

"Amanda?" Lex murmured quietly. It really is her! "Can you hear me?" she choked out as the pain became more intense. Gotta do something so she’ll know I’m okay. Lex took a quick inventory of what her physical condition was. Not much I can do, but maybe…

The small blonde practically lay on the edge of the overhang, looking for any sign that her partner was alive. Roy suddenly returned carrying a long coil of rope. "Okay…if I can find something to tie this off to, I can drop over the edge and check her out. We’re gonna have to get back to the house and get the jeep, though." He looked frantically around for something to anchor the rope to.

"The jeep? But I thought we couldn’t get it up here?" Amanda continued to keep an eye on the unmoving rancher below.

Roy tied one end of the rope to a small tree stump. "We can’t. But if we take the east road from the bunkhouse, we’ll end up on that path down there." He pointed to what looked like an indention in the grass below, not far from where Lex was lying. "It’ll take about and hour and a half to get to the ranch house and then drive back here. But we really need to check her out, first." He pulled on the rope to check its sturdiness. "I sure hope this damn thing will hold me."

Amanda grasped his hand with a fierce strength. "It probably won’t hold you, but I know it will hold me." Her green eyes blazed with determination. "You can hold it until I get down there, and then hurry back to the house for the jeep." When she saw him try to argue, Amanda held up a hand. "Wait. Listen to me, please." She nodded to the still figure below them. "I’m lighter, younger, and would be able to keep her calmer than you would. Besides," she flashed him a tired smile, "you know the way back up here…I don’t." They both looked down at Lex.

"Hey! Did you see that?" Roy pointed, excited. "I think I saw her hand move!"

Amanda bit her lip and stared at the unmoving form. "Are you sure? I don’t…" then she saw it. The fingers on Lex’s left hand wiggled slowly. "Yes!" She wrapped her arms around the startled man and laughed. "She moved!"

Roy blushed and pulled away slightly. "Umm…okay. Let’s get you down there so I can get back to the house, okay?" He tied the rope around Amanda quickly, making a harness. "Once you get down there, I’ll lower the supplies to you, okay?" he unloaded the rifle and handed her the cartridges.

"What’s these for?" Amanda gave him a funny look.

"However Ms. Lex got down there, it wasn’t an accident. I want you to have the rifle with you, just in case." He handed over the weapon and helped Amanda drape it over her shoulder using the attached leather strap.

Amanda took a deep breath and nodded. "Okay. I don’t like it, but you’re right." She shifted the gun around until it was somewhat comfortable on her back. "Be sure you get in touch with Sheriff Bristol before you leave, okay? He needs to know about this."

Roy nodded. "Right. C’mon…let’s get you down there, Miss Amanda." He stood up and coiled the rope behind him, using his right arm and back to brace the strands.

"Okay." Amanda slowly worked her way over the edge, sliding down until only her head was visible to the foreman. "See you in a bit, right?" She gave Roy a halfhearted smile.

"You sure will, Miss. Just sit tight, and I’ll be back in no time." Roy winked at Amanda as he lowered her from sight.

Moments later, Amanda found herself at the bottom of what appeared to be a ravine. She quickly untied the rope from around her and allowed Roy to pull it back up. The small woman stumbled over to where Lex lay unmoving. "Lex?" She began to remove the debris from her lover. "Honey? Can you hear me?"

"Amanda?" Lex gasped, as she felt small hands lightly touch her hair. "Are you really here?" Her voice was a bare whisper.

"I’m here, love. Let me try to get some of this stuff off you." Amanda began to carefully clear away the smaller limbs and brush. "What happened to you?" She leaned down to hear what Lex tried to say.

The rancher almost cried in relief when she realized that Amanda was actually with her. "God…I thought you were a dream." She felt a gentle hand on her face. "I…I don’t remember much." She felt another large limb being removed from her body, and groaned in appreciation.

Amanda heard the groan and stopped. "Oh, god! Did I hurt you?" She had removed enough to get a close look at Lex’s face. The rancher’s eyes were closed, and there were several still-bleeding scratches on her cheek and forehead. She was afraid to move Lex since she knew that the rancher had fallen almost thirty feet.

"No…didn’t hurt." Lex mumbled, fighting off another bout of unconsciousness. "Relief…"

A shout from above got Amanda’s attention. "Miss Amanda! I’m sending down all the supplies now. How is she?" Roy had tied the saddlebags to the rope and was cautiously lowering them to the ground.

Amanda looked up at the foreman. "She’s out again, but she seemed pretty coherent when she was awake." She untied the bags and carried them over to where the rancher laid. "Please hurry, Roy… I don’t know what kind of injuries she has."

The foreman waved at her. "On my way. I left the radio in one of the bags, in case hers is broken." He disappeared from sight.

"’manda?" Lex’s voice was a hoarse croak.

The younger woman dropped to her knees beside the still-pinned rancher. "I’m right here, sweetheart." She brushed dark bangs away from Lex’s scratched and muddy face. "Roy’s gone for help. He’ll be back really soon." She felt tears burn her eyes.

"Cold." Lex could feel the pain take over again. "Can’t feel…" her eyes closed slowly before she could say anything more.





Chapter 3

Amanda spent the next half-hour trying to make her partner more comfortable. She had a large majority of the debris cleared away from Lex’s body, but there were still several limbs that were just too heavy for her to move without risking more injury to the rancher. Inside one of the bags that Roy had left was an emergency kit that contained several shiny thermal blankets. Although Amanda was more than a little concerned about how well they actually worked since they were so thin, she had covered Lex the best she could with the flimsy material.

"Lex…can you hear me?" The young woman cleaned off Lex’s face with a damp cloth. "C’mon, honey. Wake up for me, okay?" The rain had stopped for the moment and it looked as if the afternoon sun was trying to make an appearance. "I wish I knew what happened. And if you fell, how did all this stuff ended up on top of you? It doesn’t make any sense." She began to run her fingers through Lex’s hair.

One blue eye blinked partially open. "I’m not real sure myself. I remember a calf…" Lex’s voice was hoarse, but stronger than before. She was able to look at Amanda without having to move, since the blonde was kneeling on Lex’s right. "How long have I been out?" When she saw the tears begin to fall from the younger woman’s eyes Lex almost cried herself. "God, baby…

please don’t cry. Everything’s gonna be okay."

"Sorry…" Amanda sniffed and wiped her face with the back of one hand. "It’s just that you were unconscious and I didn’t know how badly you were hurt, and I can’t get all of this stuff off of you, and…" she knew she was babbling but couldn’t stop.

"Amanda." Lex stopped her in midstream. "I’m fine. Just pinned down and sore. It doesn’t feel like anything is broken." Although I can’t feel my legs – but that may be due more to the cold than anything else. No sense in scaring her. "And even though I’m really glad you’re here, how did you find me?"

Amanda took a deep breath. "Are you sure you’re okay? You keep fading out on me." She continued to stroke the tangled dark hair.

Lex closed her eyes tightly, then reopened them. "Yeah…just got one hell of a headache. Now tell me how you got here, sweetheart."

"Well, when you didn’t radio back like you said you would, Martha and I got concerned." Try scared to death, but she doesn’t really need to hear that right now, Amanda thought to herself. "So she called Roy, and he saddled up a couple of horses. We found a calf tied to some bushes up there," she pointed with her free hand, the other still unconsciously stroking her lover’s dark hair. "And then I saw a lot of footprints near the edge. When I looked down I could see you lying here." Amanda stopped as her throat closed with tears. "I couldn’t tell if you were…" she couldn’t even say the word.

"Sshhh…" Lex struggled to pull her right arm out from under her body. She wanted to try and calm the younger woman somehow. The weight of the branch still lying across her back stopped her. "Damn."

Amanda stopped her quiet stroking and placed a gentle hand on the rancher’s shoulder. "Please stay still, Lex. Roy should be back soon with help."

The rancher stopped her struggle. Lex allowed her head to fall forward slightly until her forehead was resting against a sturdy limb. She had landed on top of a small patch of cedar, and the overwhelming fragrance of the tree was beginning to get to her. Damnit! I hate feeling helpless like this…god. She could feel the fuzzy feeling returning but was determined to fight it. I keep going out like that, and Amanda’s gonna be scared to death. "Amanda?" Lex whispered as she turned her head slightly sideways, "how long has Roy been gone?"

"A little over an hour, I think." Amanda glanced at her watch. She studied the glassy-eyed look on her companion. "You’re not looking too good, love. How are you feeling?" She began to play with the rancher’s hair again. When her hand grazed the base of Lex’s skull, the older woman gasped and flinched.

"Ow…think you found a sore spot, sweetheart." Lex tried to joke, but she could feel the sharp pain radiate all over her head.

The younger woman knelt down until she could look closely into Lex’s eyes. "Oh, Lex… I’m so sorry." She leaned forward and looked closely at the older woman’s scalp. "God… you’re bleeding!"

Lex closed her eyes as Amanda gently probed the back of her skull. "It’s not that bad. Just a little tender."

"Yeah, right." Amanda pulled a square of gauze from the medical kit and placed it over the wound. "This certainly explains the reason you keep nodding off. You’ve probably got a concussion, honey." She emptied one of the bags, then placed it under the rancher’s face. "Here. This should make you a little more comfortable." Amanda wiped Lex’s face again with a damp cloth.

"Thanks." Lex tried to swallow back the pain that was coursing through her body. She opened her eyes and gave the young blonde a grateful look. "I’m really glad you’re here."

Amanda stopped what she was doing and gave Lex what she hoped was a smile. "I’m really glad I’m here, too. Just wish I could do more." The honking of a horn cut off what she was about to say. Turning around slightly, Amanda could make out the form of Lex’s truck heading towards them. "Thank god. Roy’s here."

The dark green Ram pickup pulled to a stop just a few yards away from where the rancher was lying. Amanda almost cried with relief when the ranch foreman jumped from the vehicle. An older, bearded man slowly stepped from the passenger side and followed him. "Lester?" She turned back around and leaned down closer to Lex. "You’re not going to believe this, honey. Roy actually got Lester to leave the bunkhouse!"

Lex chuckled, then winced. "You’re kidding me. The only time that old man ever gets out is to go to town and buy groceries. Martha can’t even get him up to the main house very often." Her headache began to worsen and Lex knew she didn’t have much time. "Amanda," she whispered, "I’m going to have to rest for a bit, okay?" The rancher closed her eyes and allowed sleep to claim her once again.

"Lex?" Amanda leaned down and whispered into the rancher’s ear. "Hang in there, sweetheart. We’ll get you out of here in no time." She left a trembling kiss on Lex’s scratched brow.

"How’s she doing, Miss Amanda?" Roy asked as Lester helped him carry a six-foot long plank of compressed wood. They put the door-sized piece down close to where Amanda was kneeling, and Lester went back to the truck to gather some more supplies. The foreman dropped to one knee next to the small blonde and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Martha said that she was conscious for a bit?"

The housekeeper had been waiting for Roy when he pulled the horses up to the back of the ranch house. Amanda had radioed ahead so that Martha was prepared, and she had everything organized so that he could return immediately. She had also contacted Lester and had him load up Lex’s truck with the supplies – the two of them were pacing the kitchen floor when the foreman finally arrived.

Amanda covered his hand with her own. "Yeah. She’s been in and out for the last half-hour. I think she has a concussion, Roy. There’s a nasty gash on the back of her head and her eyes look really out of focus." She looked back down at the unconscious woman. "Aren’t we going to wait for an ambulance?"

Lester stepped over to the other side and looked down at the remaining limbs that covered the rancher. "Only have the one in town, and it’s in the shop. Besides, I don’t think it could make the trip over that so-called road." He rubbed his thin gray beard with one hand. "But Martha sweet-talked Doc Anderson into making a housecall. I think she promised him pork chops for dinner." He gave Amanda a sly wink. "He should be there by the time we get back to the house."

"Great! Then let’s get the rest of this stuff off of her and get out of here." Amanda was about to stand up when Roy stopped her. "What?"

"Miss Amanda, I think Lester and I can handle the heavy stuff. But we’re gonna need you to keep her as still as possible, just in case her back or neck is hurt."

Amanda nodded. "Okay." She moved around until she was sitting in front of Lex, then placed a hand on each shoulder of the still woman. "How’s this?"

Roy smiled. "Perfect." He got a strong grip on one end of the branch that was lying across Lex’s back. "Let’s get this one first, Lester. It looks to be the biggest." The older man nodded and the two of them slowly lifted the large limb. "Damn…" Roy groaned, "this thing weighs a ton!" When he saw the upset look on Amanda’s face, the foreman could have slapped himself. "I’m sure she’s okay…the brush she landed on helped a lot."

The young woman looked up fearfully as Lex moaned and began to stir. "Sshh…stay still." Amanda leaned forward and whispered softly into the rancher’s ear. "Lester and Roy are here to help, but you have to stop moving."

Lex tried to wriggle free from Amanda’s grasp. "Hurts…" she mumbled as she attempted to turn her head.

"Honey, please!" Amanda released the rancher’s shoulders and gently held Lex’s head immobile. "Listen to me, Lex. We’re going to get you out of here, but you have got to keep still." She bent down until she could look into Lex’s face.

"God…" Lex muttered as she slowly opened her eyes. With the large limb removed, she was able to slowly raise her left hand and lay it on Amanda’s arm. "I’m okay, sweetheart. Just really sore." She started to turn her head, but Amanda’s firm grip held her immobile.

"Dammit, Lex! I said to stay still!" the blonde snapped, her nerves raw and on edge.

The one blue eye that was visible opened wider at the sharp tone. "Sorry." Lex stopped trying to move her head and sighed.

Amanda’s eyes widened also. "No, Lex…I’m the one who’s sorry." She leaned forward and dropped a light kiss on the rancher’s face. "Guess I’m still a little rattled. I didn’t mean to jump down your throat like that, love."

Lex smiled. "Well, I can’t say that I blame you, sweetheart. I should have listened to you the first time. I’m sorry you’ve had such a…Ow!" The last piece of wood had been removed from her lower legs, which caused a sharp pain to shoot across Lex’s back.

"What is it, Lex?" Amanda felt a surge of panic rise in her chest. She looked up at Roy fearfully. "What did you do?"

The foreman gave her a reassuring smile. "Just got the last of this mess removed, Miss Amanda." He walked up until he could kneel down and meet the rancher’s gaze. "Boss, do you have any feeling in your legs?" He hated to ask that question in front of Amanda, but Roy wanted to know just how careful they needed to be. He had seen enough serious injuries over the years to know when to be cautious.

"Oh yeah. Hurts like hell." Lex flashed him a pained smile. " Never felt anything hurt so good, though." She moved both feet slightly with a grimace. "Don’t think anything’s broken, but I bet I’ll be a solid bruise for a week or so."

"How about your neck?" Amanda asked in a shaky voice. She had released her hold on the older woman’s shoulders, and one hand had begun to stroke Lex’s cheek gently.

Lex turned her head slightly and kissed the small palm. "My neck is fine, sweetheart. I just have a headache – everything else seems to be intact." She looked at Roy. "But I could sure use a little help getting off this damn brush. Never did care for the smell of cedar."

Roy grinned. Oh, yeah…she’s just fine. "Sure thing, Boss. Just let us know if we start to hurt you any." He motioned to the still quiet Lester, who reached over and got a gentle grasp on Lex’s right leg. "Miss Amanda, if you’ll support her head, we’ll try to do this as easy as possible."

Amanda smiled down at Lex. "Let us do all the work, okay?" Her partner looked as if she were about to argue. "Please?"

Lex looked into the worried green eyes of her lover and sighed. "Yes, dear." She winked.

"Thank you." Amanda kissed the dark head. "Now, just relax." She braced Lex’s head with her hands and nodded to Roy.

The foreman looked at Lester as they began to slowly rotate the rancher’s body. When they had gotten Lex turned onto her left side, the injured woman bit off a pained groan. All movement stopped as Lex fought the urge to scream.

"Stop!" Amanda yelled to the men. "Oh, god…Lex!" she held the rancher’s head perfectly still as terrible visions played in her mind. We’ve paralyzed her! I knew we shouldn’t have moved her. Oh god…what if she has internal injuries? Moving her may have punctured a lung, or worse…

"Amanda." Lex’s quiet voice broke through her mental chastising. "It’s okay." Her jaw was clinched in an effort to control the agony she was in.

"No…you…" Amanda stuttered as she watched the dark-haired woman fight the pain. "We hurt you, didn’t we?"

Lex opened her eyes slowly. "No, baby. It’s just my arm. I must have landed on it wrong. I’m fine, really."

Lester grabbed one of the emergency blankets and cut a long strip from it with his knife. "No problem there, Miz Lex. We’ll just tie it down until the doc can take a look at it." He gently and efficiently tied Lex’s right arm across her chest. "That ought to help."

"Thanks, Lester." Lex took a cautious breath. Doesn’t seem like anything is broken inside, thank god. She offered Amanda a gentle smile. "Sorry about that, love…didn’t mean to scare you like that."

Amanda returned the smile gratefully. "It’s okay, honey. Guess my nerves are shot." She looked at the two men sheepishly. "C’mon, guys…let’s get Lex into the truck before she turns into a popsicle." A damp mist was beginning to fall once again, and the blonde thought she might have seen a snowflake come down as well.

Fifteen minutes later, a very grumpy Lex was lying in the bed of her truck. They had tied her down to the plank of compressed wood over her objections. After the earlier scare, Amanda had demanded that they not continue until the rancher was completely stabilized to the board.

"Are you sure you don’t want to ride up front with the heater?" Roy asked the young woman for the third time. "Lester can ride back there and help keep her still."

Amanda walked wearily up to the truck with Lex’s old hat in her hands. She had searched for several minutes to find it because she knew how much the battered Stetson meant to her lover. "No, thank you, Roy." She climbed into the back and sat next to the injured woman. "I’ll be more comfortable back here."

Lex smirked at the foreman, who was peeking over the edge of the truck. "Give it up, Roy. I haven’t won an argument with her yet." She gave the blonde a loving smile when her hat was placed by her head. "Thanks, sweetheart."

"No problem." Amanda twined her fingers with her friend’s, even though Lex’s arm was pinned in place by the restraints. "We about ready to go?"

Roy saluted. "Yes, ma’am." He climbed into the front of the truck and started it up. "I swear, Lester…it’s never a dull moment around this ranch."

The old cook shook his head. "You got that right. We need to get the boys back to the ranch, pronto. I don’t like the smell of this."


Amanda paced back and forth in the hallway next to the master bedroom. She stopped ever so often and listened at the closed door, then sighed and continued her march. "What could be taking so damned long?" she grumbled, angry that she had been asked to leave the room almost an hour ago by the kindly doctor. She was about to knock on the door when Martha appeared behind her.

"How’s it going, honey?" the housekeeper had a large covered tray in her hands. "What are you doing out here in the hallway?"

"He kicked me out, Martha." Amanda huffed incredulously. "He said that I was getting in his way and aggravating his patient!" She looked down at the tray. There’s more than one way to skin a cat. I think I just found my way back into the bedroom. "Do you want me to take that in for you?" She asked sweetly.

Martha shook her head. "Oh, no. You’re not getting me into trouble too, young lady. Dr. Anderson wanted you out here for a reason and I’m not about to cross him." She felt pity for the young blonde. "But you can open the door for me, and I’ll put in a good word for you, okay?"

Amanda took a deep breath and nodded. "Okay. But can you at least find out what’s taking so long? I’m really getting worried." She reached for the doorknob and almost screamed out loud when the door opened instead. "Oh!"

Dr. Anderson opened the door the rest of the way and smiled. "You can both come in now, ladies." He smiled apologetically at Amanda. "I’m sorry I ran you out like that, honey, but I really needed to get her calmed down before I could check her out. She was more concerned about you than her own injuries, so I had to remove the distraction."

Distraction? I’m a distraction? Good grief…if she hears that, I’ll never live it down! "That’s okay, I understand." Amanda started to move around him and stopped. "Is she okay?"

"She’s going to be fine, dear. As a matter of fact, I gave her something earlier and she’s resting comfortably right now. Just try to keep her in bed for a couple of days, if you can." Dr. Anderson opened the door wider for Martha so that she could carry the tray into the room. "I’m afraid she won’t know you’re here, Amanda…but you’re more than welcome to sit with her for a while."

Amanda stepped quietly up to the bed where Lex was peacefully sleeping. The rancher’s face had been cleaned, and the scratches that looked so bad earlier now appeared minor in the soft glow of the bedside lamp. Her right arm had been splinted and heavily wrapped with an elastic bandage, and was casually draped across her stomach. The young woman turned to face the doctor who had moved to stand beside her. "How is she, really?"

Dr. Anderson shook his head and chuckled. "Very lucky, actually. She has a concussion, and I had to put six stitches in the back of her head." Before Amanda could ask, he continued, "I know…but Lexington was so agitated, that knocking her out for a while was the lesser of the two evils." And the language that young woman knows…even made me blush a time or two!

"I certainly don’t blame you there." Amanda murmured, "She can be pretty bull-headed at times." She turned and brushed the dark bangs from the resting woman’s eyes. "What about her arm?"

"I think it’s just seriously sprained. But I need you to get her into the office first thing Monday morning so that I can take a complete set of x-rays on her arm and her back." The elderly doctor patted Amanda on the shoulder. "I swear, the girl must be part feline to fall that far and not break any bones."

She sat gently on the edge of the bed as her legs gave out in relief. "She’s really okay," Amanda mumbled, more to herself than anyone else in the room.

Martha put the tray down on a nearby table. "That’s really great news, Doc. Why don’t you come downstairs and I’ll fix you up a plate of that dinner I lured you out here with?" She took one last relieved look at the still form on the bed before ushering the older man from the room.

Amanda watched the door close then turned her attention back to the woman lying in the bed. "So much for our quiet Saturday, huh?" She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

"Not my fault," Lex mumbled as she opened her eyes, "at least not this time." She blinked several times as she tried to focus on Amanda’s face. "Umm…sweetheart?"

"What is it honey? Do you need anything?" Amanda looked worriedly down at her lover. "Are you warm enough? How about some water? Maybe…"

Lex lifted her left hand and covered the babbling mouth. "Sshh. I was just going to suggest that maybe you would like to get cleaned up and changed." She removed her hand and caressed the younger woman’s jaw.

Amanda closed her eyes and leaned into the touch. "Mmm…that’s a good idea. I’ve got to put some fresh sheets on the bed in the guest room anyway." She kissed Lex’s palm.

Did I miss something here? "Why? Is Dr. A hanging around for the night? I told him before he gave me that damned shot that I was okay." The rancher struggled to sit up. "Maybe I should just go down there and…"

"Stay still, honey." Amanda put her hand on Lex’s shoulder. "No, he’s probably going to be leaving right after Martha feeds him. I just thought that it would be better for you if I wasn’t bouncing around on the bed all night. You really do need to get your rest."

"You’re kidding, right?" The dark-haired woman leaned back against the pillows with a heavy sigh. "There’s no way in hell I can get any rest if you’re sleeping across the hall." She looked down at the quilt that covered her. "I didn’t get any sleep the night you were gone."

The quiet admission tore at Amanda’s heart. "Oh, Lex…I’m so sorry." She saw the light blush that covered the rancher’s face. "Can I tell you a secret?"

Lex looked up and saw the green eyes filled with unshed tears. "Sure, sweetheart."

"I didn’t get any sleep either. My grandmother teased me unmercifully yesterday morning." Amanda leaned down and kissed Lex tenderly on the lips. "Now…" she inhaled deeply to control her emotions, "if you’ll give me a few minutes, I’ll get cleaned up and we’ll see what Martha has brought up for dinner." She stood up, wiped her eyes with her hand, and walked into the bathroom. "I’ll be right out."

The rancher closed her eyes with a weary smile. Damn, she’s cute. How did I ever get so lucky? Must have done something right, sometime…


* THUD! *


Amanda woke up with a start and rolled over, only to find Lex’s side of the bed empty. "Whatzit?" she mumbled as she looked around frantically. Where is she? God, what time is it? She blinked a couple of times and peered through the darkness to focus on the alarm clock. Twelve-thirty in the morning?


There it is again. Where is that noise coming from? Amanda climbed out of bed and noticed the light from under the bathroom door. She slowly opened the door and peered inside. "Lex? Is everything okay?"

"Umm…" her lover’s sheepish voice was coming from the area around the bathtub. "Everything’s okay… sorta."

"What do you mean, sorta okay?" the blonde stepped further into the room. "Oh, Lex." She quickly covered her mouth with her hand. "Are you okay?" Don’t you dare laugh, Amanda Cauble, she sternly warned herself.

The tall woman was lying sideways, butt down in the empty tub, wearing only the boxer shorts that she normally slept in. Lex looked at her friend with a sheepish grin. "Yeah. I’m fine. But since I can’t use this arm," she waved her bandaged right arm around, "I seem to find myself stuck."

Amanda chuckled. "Looks like it." She stood directly in front of Lex and crossed her arms across her chest. "And just what were you planning on doing at this time of night?"

"I thought I’d take a bath…Dr. A told me not to get the bandage on my head wet, but I felt so damn dirty that a nice soak sounded good." She raised an eyebrow at Amanda. "Well? You gonna help me get out of here, or do I need to just wait until Martha comes in to clean?"

"Hmm…" Amanda appeared thoughtful. "I dunno…I ought to make you sit there for a while and suffer, since you didn’t have the sense to wake me up and ask for help."

Lex sighed. "Okay. What’s this gonna cost me?" She tried her best pitiful look. "You shouldn’t pick on me, you know. I’m injured."

Green eyes sparkled with glee. "Uh-huh. Are you saying that your bad judgment was brought on by the head injury?" Amanda could barely contain her laughter. Does she have any idea just how adorable she looks right now? Probably not…

"Would it get me out of this mess with my dignity intact?" Lex bargained.


"How about I throw myself at your mercy? Do any penance that you see fit?"

Amanda brightened at that offer. "Really? You’d do whatever I asked?"

The rancher looked at her friend with suspicion. "Yeah…okay."

"Cool." The younger woman offered her hand to Lex. "Here. Be careful now." She slowly pulled the tall form from the tub, but didn’t release her grip until Lex was steady on her feet. "You got dizzy and lost your balance, didn’t you?" Amanda accused as she wrapped an arm around the naked torso. "Good grief, Lex…you feel like a block of ice!"

Lex leaned into Amanda gratefully. "Well…it’s the dead of winter, what did you expect?" She looked down at the blonde. "I really would feel better after a bath."

"Oh, really?" Amanda steered Lex back into the bedroom and guided her onto the bed. She leaned down and nibbled on the rancher’s ear. "How about a nice warm sponge bath? That way you won’t get too chilled, and I get to have a little fun too?" She raised her head as she felt a strong hand begin to glide up her back under her nightshirt.

"That sounds like a pretty good idea to me." Lex continued to explore the younger woman’s back with her left hand. "Although I could think of something else that we could do for fun." She tried to lean up for a kiss but was stopped. "What?"

Amanda dropped down and kissed the strong chin below her. "Not tonight dear, you have a headache." She laughed. "I’ve always wanted to say that."

A pitiful groan was her only answer.


"Good morning, honey." The housekeeper cheerfully greeted Amanda as she walked into the kitchen the next morning. "How is Lexie doing?"

Amanda reached into the cabinet for a coffee mug. "She’s really hurting this morning. I didn’t even have to force her to stay in bed." She peeked over the older woman’s shoulder. "You want me to take that tray up for you?"

Martha covered the tray and smiled. "That would be really sweet of you, Amanda. I was just about to bring it upstairs."

"I don’t mind…you have enough to do around here without waiting on me hand and foot." Amanda gathered up the tray and started for the door. "Is there anything I can do to help you around here today? I’m going to make sure Lex takes her pain medication, so I’ll be free pretty much all afternoon."

"Well, I…" A knock on the front door interrupted Martha’s answer. "That must be Charlie. He told me on the phone yesterday that he wanted to have a talk with Lexie." She hurried to the door and opened it. "Charlie Bristol! Get in this house!" Martha grabbed the sheriff’s arm and pulled him inside. "What have we told you about knocking around here? You’re family."

The tall thin man took off his hat and grinned. "Hello, honey. Nice to see you too." Charlie winked at Amanda, who was standing at the foot of the stairs with the tray still in her hands. "Good to see you, Amanda. How’s Lex doing?" The housekeeper had briefed him on the rancher’s condition yesterday. Since the lawman thought of Lex as the daughter he never had, he had personally driven over to Dr. Anderson’s home earlier this morning to get a complete medical report. If I find the son of a bitch that did this to her I’ll wring his neck myself and save the taxpayers a load of money.

"She’s okay. Just really sore." The young woman began her trek up the stairs. "And probably hungry." Halfway up, Amanda called over her shoulder, "Give me a minute to get this stuff settled, then come on up. I know she’d love to see you."

"Well? Are you gonna stand there in your coat all morning, or will you be joining me in the kitchen for some coffee?" Martha winked at Charlie before she made her way back to the rear of the house.

The lawman stood silently for a moment with a silly grin plastered on his face. I think I fall deeper in love with that woman every time I see her. Maybe Amanda has an idea on how I can get her to say yes. Charlie had proposed to the housekeeper at least once a month for the past ten years. Even though Martha returned his love, she gently continued to turn him down time after time. I’ll just keep asking her until she says yes just to shut me up, he vowed as he followed her slightly rounded form into the kitchen.


"Please, Lex. Just take the darn pill." Amanda had cleared the dishes away and was now trying to convince her stubborn friend to take something for the intense pain she was now experiencing.

Lex took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "It’s not that bad." She leaned back against the headboard of the bed, sweating from the exertion of putting on a nightshirt.

Amanda sat down gingerly to the left of her. "What’s the big deal? You’re supposed to rest for a few days anyway."

"I just don’t want to spend our only day together sleeping when I’d rather be spending the time with you." Lex admitted. "I’ve…uh…really missed you lately." She opened her eyes and searched the younger woman’s face.

"Oh, honey…" Amanda framed Lex’s face with her hands. "Do you really think that I could leave you when you’re feeling like this? I’ve already called my grandmother and she’s agreed to take care of things at the office for a few days." Amanda’s grandmother, Anna Leigh Cauble, was the retired owner of Sunflower Realty. She had recently turned the management over to her granddaughter after she had to fire the previous manager for misconduct.

Lex smiled. "Really? You’re going to stay home for a day or two?" Her blue eyes lit up like a small child’s at Christmas.

Amanda returned her smile. "Try for longer than that. Gramma told me to take the entire week off. She says someone has to keep their eye on you, and poor Martha needs all the help she can get." She leaned forward and captured the rancher’s lips gently with her own. She felt Lex tangle her left hand in her hair as she deepened the kiss.

"Ahem." Martha stood at the doorway with a blushing Charlie right behind her. Since her head only came up to his chest, the sheriff had a very good view of the activity on the bed. "I don’t think that’s what the doctor had in mind when he said for you to stay in bed, Lexie," the housekeeper teased as she stepped into the room.

"Oh, god." Amanda laughed as she buried her head in the dark-haired woman’s chest.

Lex smirked at the older woman as she ran her fingers through Amanda’s hair. "You got a better way to keep me in bed?" She felt her lover laugh again.

Charlie choked as he tried to stifle a chuckle of his own. "She’s got a point, sweetheart." He closed the distance between himself and Martha and wrapped his arms around her.

"Don’t encourage her." Martha playfully slapped the arm that was settled around her ample waist. "She’s hard enough to live with as it is."

"I can imagine she is." Charlie kissed the top of the older woman’s head, then walked over to the bed and kneeled next to it. "How are you doing, sweetheart?" He placed his hand lightly on Lex’s leg. "Doc tells me you were pretty damn lucky out there." Scared me to death when I heard…poor kid.

Lex grimaced at the older man. "To tell the truth Charlie, I hurt like hell." She looked down at her right arm, which was still wrapped heavily. "And I feel like a total idiot, letting someone get behind me like that."

Amanda sat back and ran a hand through her hair. She then turned around and snuggled up on her lover’s good side. "Why don’t you two pull up a seat and get comfortable?" She grabbed a medicine bottle and a glass of water from the nearby table, and handed Lex a pill. "And you…take one of these before I have to get tough with you."

"Yes dear." The injured woman took the offering meekly as her eyes twinkled. Lex swallowed the pill with a frown. "Yuck!" She continued to drink from the glass until all the water was gone. "Nasty stuff."

Charlie stood up and brought two chairs closer to the bed. "This is a semi-professional visit, honey." He waited until Martha sat down before he continued. "I sent a couple of men out to check the area out. Is there anything you can tell me that might help?"

Lex felt Amanda grasp her uninjured hand. "It was definitely a set up; that much I know for sure." She squeezed the smaller hand and sighed. "The fence was cut, and a small calf had been tied to some brush near the edge of the drop off. When I went over to cut him free, I felt something slam into my head, and then everything went black." She pulled the younger woman’s hand up and kissed the knuckles. "Next thing I knew, I was lying at the bottom of the ravine covered by a bunch of limbs and branches."

"Have you gotten any threats lately, Lex? Something that might explain why someone would do this to you?" Charlie had pulled a small notepad from his shirt pocket, and was busily taking notes.

"No…not that I can think of." Lex was already feeling the effects of the medication that she had taken. "And if someone wanted me dead, why didn’t they just shoot me?" She heard a sharp intake of breath as Amanda realized where these questions were leading.

Amanda looked up at her friend with a serious expression. "That’s not completely true now, is it? You’ve had two separate threats in the last month." She saw understanding in the blue gaze. Turning her attention to Charlie, Amanda bit her lip. "Rick Thompson threatened her at my grandmother’s office last month in front of several witnesses."

The lawman nodded. "That’s right. I’d forgotten all about that." He added Rick’s name to his notes. The ex-manager of Sunflower Realty had been fired when it had become known that he had sent Amanda on a wild goose chase to the Rocking W ranch. She was supposed to talk to Lex about selling the large piece of property. On the way to the meeting her car was washed off the old bridge that led up to the ranch and the dark-haired woman jumped into the raging creek to pull her from the water. Rick had thought Lex was involved in his dismissal, and had made several threats to get even when he was arrested at the office later on that week.

"That little turd," Martha muttered. She had never liked the man, and made a mental note to ask Roy to have some of the boys keep a closer eye on the ranch house until Lex was back on her feet.

"And then there’s my father," Amanda uttered quietly, looking down at their linked hands. "He made some nasty threats when we were in California."

Lex struggled to keep her eyes open. "Sweetheart, I honestly don’t think that your father would resort to something like this. Besides, how did they know I’d be the one checking the fence? I think it’s more like vandals that were afraid I’d catch them, so they did what they could to give themselves time to escape." She felt her eyes grow too heavy to keep open.

Amanda released Lex’s hand and kissed her cheek. "Rest well, love." She looked at Charlie and Martha with a quiet smile. "Why don’t we go downstairs and discuss this a little more? She’ll be out for hours." She rose carefully from the bed.

Martha nodded and stood up. "Good idea, honey." She stepped over to the bed and placed a light kiss on the sleeping woman’s forehead. "Foolish child. She’s gonna drive me crazy before this year is out, that’s for sure." She grabbed the discarded food tray and headed for the door. "You two coming downstairs with me, or do I have to drink that whole pot of fresh coffee all by myself?"

Charlie looked at Amanda and grinned. "Gotta love a woman like that." He offered her his arm with a bow. "Shall we?"

"Yes, I do believe we shall." Amanda accepted his arm with a curtsy. "Thank you."

Chapter 4

"You idiot! I’m paying you to keep an eye on her, not kill her!" He had to pull the phone away from his ear to protect his hearing. "Good god! Have you no sense? What if they figured out that you did it?" the voice continued to rant.

The victim of the tirade sighed. "Look. I WAS keeping an eye on her. And I really had intended to just cut the fence and then leave. But when I saw that SHE was the one there, I couldn’t resist." He chuckled. "After I saw her lying at the bottom of that ravine, I honestly thought I’d killed her. So I tried to throw some stuff over the edge to hide the body."

There was a short silence from the other end of the line. "It’s somewhat of a shame that you didn’t succeed – it would have certainly made things a lot easier for me." Papers shuffled in the background. "Okay, here is what you’re going to do. I want you to keep a high profile – make a nuisance of yourself. That should come easily for you."

"What?!? Are you out of your mind? They’ll lock me up for sure!" The underling’s voice was incredulous. "You don’t pay me enough to go to jail for you!"

"Listen to me, you fool. If you go into hiding, you’ll be the first person that they will suspect. You’re probably already on top of their list. Trust me…the best place to hide from these backwater bumpkins is right under their noses," the intelligent voice commented. "You might even try threatening her in front of some of them…they’ll never figure you to be that stupid." Although I could vouch for your lack of intelligence. Where did I go wrong? I should have hired a professional when I had the chance.

The man looked around his cluttered living room. He noticed, not for the first time, the empty food cartons lying around. I really should get someone in here to clean this place up sometime. He took another deep swallow from his beer. "Okay…but if they bust me, I’m taking you down with me."

"Don’t…even…try to threaten me, you worthless little pissant. I can make you disappear in a heartbeat…permanently."

"Umm…yeah. Sorry about that. I wasn’t really threatening you, honest. I’m just a little nervous about getting caught, you know?" He ran a trembling hand across his forehead. "I didn’t mean nothing by it."

"Just remember who’s in charge, and you’ll be fine. I want you to make yourself VERY visible for the next few days, got it?"

"Yeah, I got it." Once his ‘boss’ had hung up the phone, the man threw his can of beer across the room. He proceeded to throw things around the living area until he wore himself out. "Damn you, Lex Walters!" He stood in the middle of the destruction panting heavily. "I can’t wait until you get what’s coming to you."


The rest of the morning and afternoon went by peacefully at the ranch. Amanda would go upstairs every so often to check on her friend, but spent most of the day sharing stories with Martha and Charlie. The sheriff left in the late afternoon because he wanted to get back into town. He needed to organize the reports his men would be turning in after their investigations. Martha allowed him to leave only after getting his promise to be back at the ranch early Thursday for Thanksgiving dinner.

The young blonde looked at the computer screen and sighed. She had decided to work on the ranch finances for Lex. The older woman tended to get overly stressed whenever she tried to handle the paperwork. Amanda had always enjoyed working with numbers, and Lex had happily handed over the bookkeeping duties to her. It happened after one especially trying night of attempting to balance the ledger.

Amanda had rolled over in her sleep only to find herself alone in bed. She glanced over at the alarm clock and saw that it was almost one o’clock in the morning. The sleepy blonde slipped on the colorful robe that had been a gift from Lex and padded quietly down the stairs in search of her lover.

The young woman had spotted a light coming from the den and moved toward it. Amanda stepped into the den and found that the light was actually leaking out from the attached office. She stood in the doorway for a moment and watched the dark-haired woman. "Lex?"

The rancher looked up from the computer screen and rubbed her eyes. "Amanda. What are you doing out of bed?" She pushed her chair back from the desk with a sigh.

"I got cold." Amanda smiled as she stepped into the room.

"I’m sorry, sweetheart. I should have checked the fire before I came downstairs." Lex didn’t notice the glint in the green eyes when she apologized.

Amanda approached the desk slowly. "It wouldn’t have helped," she stated as she stepped in front of Lex and stopped. "I missed you." The blonde climbed into the older woman’s lap facing her and straddled her legs. She put her arms around the rancher’s neck with a sultry smile. "You can’t honestly tell me that you’d rather play on the computer than come upstairs and play with me." Amanda bent down and gave the startled woman a passionate kiss.

Lex wrapped her arms around the smaller woman. "Mrrumph…" she pulled away regretfully. "God, baby…you sure make it hard to say no." She trembled slightly when Amanda started placing gentle kisses on her neck. "But I’ve been…ah…" Lex put her hands on the voracious woman’s shoulders and gently pushed her back. "Please, Amanda. I’ve got to get these damn ledgers to balance. I have a phone conference with Mr. Collins first thing in the morning to discuss the next quarter."

"Okay." Amanda sighed, somewhat heartened by the genuine regret in the blue eyes across from her. "What seems to be the problem?" She chuckled as Lex spun the chair around to allow them both to see the computer screen without unseating Amanda.

"See right here?" Lex used a long finger to point out a number on the screen. "This figure should match that one." She touched another part on the display.

Amanda twisted around until she had a clear view of the computer. "May I?"

Lex lifted Amanda until she was facing the screen completely, but still situated on her lap. "Be my guest." She rested her chin on her friend’s shoulder and wrapped her arms around the small waist. Lex closed her eyes as she listened to Amanda type.

"There you go."

"How did you…?" The rancher opened her eyes and looked at the screen. "Damn." The figures matched. "I’ve been working on that for well over an hour. How did you figure it out so quickly?"

Amanda leaned back into the warm body she was cradled against. "Guess my college years weren’t a complete waste of time." She tilted her head as Lex began kissing her neck. "Mmm…I’ve always loved playing with numbers." The young woman smiled as she felt insistent fingers loosen the tie on her robe.

Lex placed her lips near her lover’s ear. "What would it cost me to have you help with the book keeping around here?" she whispered as she gently bit Amanda’s earlobe.

"Oh, god…" Amanda almost melted onto the floor. "For this kind of payment, I’ll do just about anything you ask." She felt herself being lifted as Lex carried her into the den and placed her carefully on the sofa. "Oooh, yeah. You’ve just hired yourself a bookkeeper," she growled and welcomed the tall woman into her arms.

"Are you okay, sweetie?" Martha asked from the office doorway. "You look a little flushed."

Amanda looked up guiltily. "Umm, yeah. I’m great. Just going over the books for Lex." She ran a hand over her face to try and dispel the blush. "Do you need my help in the kitchen?" She had told Martha earlier to come get her whenever she needed help starting dinner. When she had first moved in they had made a truce as far as the household chores. Martha would let Amanda help with the laundry and the cooking and the younger woman wouldn’t get in her way when she did the rest of the housework.

Martha shook her head. "No, nothing like that, dear. I just came in to tell you that your grandmother called a few minutes ago."

"She did? I didn’t hear the phone ring." Amanda looked at the offending item. "Is everything okay?"

"That’s because Lexie keeps the ringer turned off in here so it won’t disturb her. Mrs. Cauble was just checking in to see how our patient was doing." The housekeeper moved into the room and sat down. "Are you real busy?"

"No, not at all. What’s wrong, Martha?" Amanda could see that something was on the older woman’s mind.

"That business yesterday scared the living daylights out of me," she admitted. "Do you really think that someone is out to get my Lexie? Who would do such a thing?" Martha looked down at her lap, then lifted her head and met Amanda’s gaze. "I’ve alerted the boys down at the bunkhouse, and they’re going to keep a close eye on the house until she’s back on her feet." She leaned forward with an intense look on her face. "My little girl has finally found happiness, and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let some low life ruin that. They’ll have to go through me to get to her."

Amanda stood up and stepped around the desk, then knelt at the older woman’s feet. "I know, Martha. I feel the same way." She gripped both of the housekeeper’s hands tightly. "When I look at you, I can see where Lex got her beautiful heart from. I wish that I would have had half as good a mom growing up as she did."

Martha pulled Amanda towards her and enveloped the smaller woman in a fierce embrace. "Honey, I thank the good Lord for you each and every day." She stood and helped the young woman to her feet. "Now let’s stop all the serious talk, and go check on the cookies that I left baking in the oven. They should almost be ready."

"Oooh, cookies." Amanda followed her dutifully out of the room and down the hallway. "What kind?" She asked as she took a deep sniff of the air.

"Brown sugar." Martha stepped into the kitchen and made her way to the oven. "Be about another minute, dear. Why don’t you go ahead and get yourself a glass of milk?"

Amanda smiled. "Mmm…my favorite. But I think I’ll run upstairs real quick and check on Sleeping Beauty. Maybe she’ll be awake and I can take her some cookies, too." She stepped out into the hallway and suddenly screamed. "Aaaah!"

Martha rushed out of the kitchen in a panic. She found Amanda back against the wall with one hand over her heart. Lex stood a few feet away dressed in gray boxer shorts and an unbuttoned black nightshirt. "What are you doing out of bed?"

"You scared me half to death!" Amanda chastised as she willed her heart to stop pounding. "Martha’s right. What ARE you doing out of bed?"

Lex was propped against the banister with her injured arm held closely against her body. "I was bored and tired of lying in bed." She inhaled deeply. "Cookies? Smells like brown sugar!" She pushed away from where she had reclined against the stair post and slowly limped into the kitchen.

The blonde looked over at Martha and shrugged. "You raised her."

"Good lord! Just had to toss that one in my face, didn’t you?" the housekeeper joked as they followed Lex into the kitchen.

"I hate to break up your little gabfest, but could one of you come over here and help me with the milk?" Lex was standing at the cabinet holding a clear container of milk. "I can’t get the damned lid off."

Amanda shook her head and smiled. "Poor baby." She walked over and grabbed another glass. "You want one too, Martha?"

The housekeeper laughed. "No, thank you, dear." She pulled the tray of cookies out of the oven. "I bake them… I don’t usually eat them."

"Really?" Amanda was intrigued. "Are they safe?" she teased as she poured two glasses of milk. After she returned the bottle to the refrigerator, she gently began to button the rancher’s shirt. "Looks like I get to pamper you a lot for the next few days, huh?" The blonde looked up into Lex’s eyes with a tender smile.

Lex returned the smile. "I guess so. Thanks," she whispered and kissed the shorter woman on the forehead.

Amanda grabbed both glasses and ushered the rancher to the table. "Sit down, tough stuff." She watched with concern as her friend moved stiffly to a chair and sat down. "You look like you’re completely miserable."

"It’s not that bad, sweetheart. I’m just really stiff from lying around for so long." Lex shifted around uncomfortably in her chair as she picked up her glass with her left hand. "Although I think I’m more sore today than I was yesterday."

Martha stepped up beside her and touched the top of her dark head. "Honey, there was a good reason the doctor told you to stay in bed for a few days. You have to give your body time to heal." She waited until Lex looked up into her eyes. "After you eat I want you to go back to bed, okay?"

Lex wanted to argue, but she relented when she saw the concern on the older woman’s face. Besides, she thought, I really do feel like hell. "Yes, ma’am." Maybe I can talk Amanda into joining me…this might not be so bad after all!

"Thank you, Lexie." Martha leaned down and kissed her charge on the cheek, and then moved away from the table with purpose." Don’t fill up on cookies. I’ll heat you up some stew."

Amanda chuckled. "She’s got you pegged, sweetheart." She reached for another cookie. "But don’t worry, the stew is really good."

The housekeeper cleared her throat from across the room. "That goes for you too, young lady. You barely touched your lunch today."

"Ha!" Lex grinned triumphantly. Then she realized what Martha had said. "Are you feeling all right?" She covered Amanda’s hand with her own. "You’re not coming down with something, are you?"

"I’m fine, love. Guess I’m just a little tired." Amanda squeezed her lover’s hand. Of course, I spent the entire night watching her sleep. No wonder I’m a little tired. The younger woman didn’t even lie down for most of the night; for fear that she would try to snuggle up against the injured woman in her sleep.

Lex sighed. "Amanda. What am I gonna do with you?" She looked down at the bowl of stew that Martha had put down in front of her. "Mmm…you’re right. This smells fantastic." She began to eat, then paused to yawn. Damn…hope I don’t fall asleep in my bowl.

"That settles it then. After you finish your dinner, it’s off to bed for you both." Martha settled into another chair. "You girls will need your rest since you have to be up early in the morning."

Amanda looked at her quizzically. "We do? What’s going on, Martha?" She began to eat her stew hungrily.

Martha gave Lex a no nonsense look. "You’re going into town first thing tomorrow so that Lexie can get a complete checkup." She raised a hand when the rancher opened her mouth to speak. "No arguments. You can barely walk, and you’re hurting so bad that you’re not even trying to hide it."

Lex decided to concentrate on not spilling her stew. She was still shaky and her vision had not completely cleared up. Probably a good idea. Then she grinned to herself. Oooh…Martha won’t expect me to agree with her. This will be good for the shock value alone. "I think you may be right, Martha," she murmured quietly while she kept her attention on her bowl.

"What?" The housekeeper dropped her spoon in shock. "Lexie? Oh, honey. If you’re feeling that bad, maybe we should go this evening." She started to get up and clear the table. "I knew we should have taken you to the hospital yesterday…"

Lex looked up with a sneaky grin and then tried to look innocent. "Maybe I’d feel better if you would bake me more cookies."

Amanda almost choked on a mouthful of stew. "Oh, god! That’s funny!" She coughed a couple of times and took a large drink of milk. "She got you that time, Martha."

Martha sat back down with a sigh. "I swear you’re gonna be the death of me one of these days, Lexie." She shook her head and began to eat again.

"Sorry, Mada. I just wanted you to relax a bit. You worry too much." Lex smiled again. "But if it would make you feel better, you can tuck me in tonight and read me a story."

"Just wait until you get better, young lady. I’ll take a spoon to your backside!" the older woman threatened, but she couldn’t keep the smile from her face.

Lex was stopped from making another sarcastic remark when the phone rang.

"I’ll get it!" Amanda practically leapt from the table and raced across the kitchen. Thank god…I think Lex was about to get herself into more trouble. "Walter’s residence, Amanda speaking." She saw the rancher frown out of the corner of her eye. Lex had asked her several times not to answer the phone that way. She had stressed that it was just as much Amanda’s home as it was hers, but the blonde stubbornly refused. We’re going to have to come up with a compromise before Martha ends up being a referee. The voice on the other end of the line caused her face to scrunch into a frown. "Hold on just a minute, I’ll see if she’s available." She held the receiver to her chest.

"Who is it, Amanda?" Lex tried to turn around in her chair, but a sharp pain in her back stopped her. "Dammit…"

"It’s your brother. Do you want me to just take a message?" Amanda whispered. She didn’t want to see Lex get upset, which was always a good possibility when her brother was involved.

The rancher slowly climbed to her feet, barely able to hold back a pained groan. "No… he’ll just keep calling until I talk to him." She held her hand out for the phone. "Let’s see what he wants now." Lex allowed Amanda to drag a chair from the table and help her sit down. "Thanks," she whispered. "Hello, Hubert. What can I do for you this time?"

"For one thing, you can tell your little…girlfriend…to drop the damn attitude. I’m not amused." Hubert’s nasal tone whined. "She thinks she’s better than me, and I’m tired of it!"

Lex sighed. "Hubert, you’re imagining things. And, for the record," she looked over at her lover with a smile, "she IS better than you. Now what do you want?"

Hubert was livid. "Now you listen to me, you perverted bitch! Don’t you dare talk to me that way! I’ll…"

"SHUT UP!" Lex barked, then instantly regretted it. She fought back a wave of dizziness and continued, "You’ve got exactly one minute to tell me what you want before I hang up." She closed her eyes and leaned back in the chair.

"Fine. I got some papers in the mail Friday that require your signature. I left a message on your damn machine yesterday, but you didn’t bother to return it." The older man sounded like a petulant child. "Do you want me to bring them out to the ranch, or will you be in town sometime this next week? I need to send them back as soon as possible."

The rancher opened her eyes and caught Amanda’s worried look. "I’ll be in town tomorrow, Hubert. We’ll drop by the office then, okay?" Lex winked at her friend.

Hubert laughed humorlessly. "My, oh my. Miss High and Mighty is actually going to sully herself and grace the little people with her presence. Why I ought to…"

"Goodbye, Hubert." Lex hung up the phone in the middle of his sarcastic speech. "Asshole." She muttered, then glanced over at Martha. "At least he won’t be bothering you anymore tonight."

The housekeeper stood up and walked over to where Lex was sitting. "Sweetheart, let’s get you back upstairs and into bed. You’re looking a bit pale."

"She’s right, Lex." Amanda reached down and helped Martha pull the dark-haired woman to her feet. "C’mon. If you’re a good girl, I’LL tuck you in and read you a story."

Lex released a tired chuckle. "That’s the best offer I’ve had all day." She draped her left arm over the blonde’s shoulders, and felt Martha wrap an arm around her from the right. "I must be doing something right." She joked.

"What makes you say that, dear?" Martha asked as they helped her slowly up the stairs.

"I’ve got the two prettiest ladies in the state of Texas hanging all over me!" Amanda tickled her ribs while the housekeeper lightly slapped her rear end. "What?"


Chapter 5

"Oh, stop pouting! You’re not going to win this one, so don’t even try." Amanda glanced at her friend out of the corner of her eye. She was straining to see over the dash of Lex’s truck and was afraid to take her eyes off the road for more than a moment. The temperature had dropped during the night to around twenty degrees, and the blonde woman was worried about hitting patches of ice on the road to town.

Lex continued to stare out the passenger window. The early morning sun was glinting off of the frost in the passing fields and she had to squint in deference to her headache. "I’m not pouting." Her heavy sigh caused condensation on the inside of the window. The rancher used her good hand to idly draw a small circle on the glass. Her right arm was still wrapped heavily with the elastic bandage, and Martha had made her wear an old sling to keep it close to her body. Stupid doctor…I’ve been banged up worse than this before. Why do I have to go all the way into town for a couple of bruises and a damned headache?

As the truck reached the outskirts of town, Amanda tried again. "Honey, you can’t really blame him for wanting you to go to the hospital instead of his office. Especially when you told him about the headache and the pain in your back." She knew that Lex did not like being fussed over, and she thought that her friend was probably a little frightened over what the tests might show. "He said it was just a precaution."

"If it’s just a precaution, why did you make me pack an overnight bag?" Lex turned away from the window to study the younger woman’s profile. "What did he say to you?’

"Doctor Anderson asked me to have you pack a bag in case the tests took longer than he thought. I guess he was afraid to ask you." Amanda reached over and patted the nervous woman’s leg. "Now just relax. I promise that I’ll be there with you the whole time, okay?"

Lex moved her hand away from the window and placed it on top of Amanda’s. "You must think I’m acting like a child. I’m sorry, sweetheart." She raised their hands and kissed the young woman’s knuckles. "Forgive me?"

Amanda smiled. "Oh, I don’t know. How do you plan to make it up to me?" She felt a small thrill chase down her back as the rancher began to nibble on her fingers. "Okay. You win."

"Yeah?" Lex murmured as she continued her gentle assault. "So, I’m forgiven then?" She looked up as the truck pulled to a stop. "We’re here?"

They were in the parking lot of Somerville Community Hospital. The older brick structure was only four floors, since a majority of the people went into the larger cities for most of their medical needs. It did have all the newest medical technology mostly due to private donations from the town’s citizens.

Amanda had parked the truck near the side entrance as Doctor Anderson had requested. He had told her that he didn’t want Lex walking any further than necessary, and that they’d be able to check her in at the nurses’ station just inside the door. "Yep. We’re here." She switched off the truck and turned sideways in her seat to look at the dark-haired woman. "You want to stay here while I go inside and get someone to help you?" She knew it was probably pointless, but she had to try.

"Nah…I’m fine." Lex smiled at her and unbuckled her seat belt. "Let’s just get this over with, all right?" She watched as her friend climbed out of the truck and hurried around to open her door. "Thanks."

"Anytime." Amanda smiled as she helped her partner from the vehicle. "Lean on me, okay?"

Lex wrapped her good arm around the shorter woman’s shoulders. "I always do, love." She smiled to herself when Amanda began to walk very slowly to the hospital entrance. "Sweetheart, I won’t break, you know."

"I’m sorry…I just…" Amanda stammered, embarrassed at being caught coddling her lover.

"Don’t be. I just don’t want you to worry. I’m fine, really." Lex assured her.

Amanda chuckled. "Don’t worry? Why not ask me to do something easier? Like eat your cooking?" she teased as she tried to steer the conversation away from serious matters.

They had almost reached the side entrance when Dr. Anderson met them outside with a wheelchair. "Good morning, ladies." He exchanged amused glances with the small blonde. "Hello again, Amanda." He focused his attention on Lex. "Lexington, have a seat. I’m not going to let the hospital gossips say that I don’t treat my patients right."

Lex eyed the contraption warily. "I really don’t think I need that, Dr. A."

The smaller woman had already maneuvered the rancher near the chair. "Consider this another one you’re not going to win." She met Lex’s stubborn glare. "Don’t try that look with me, Slim. I’m not intimidated."

She released an aggrieved sigh, but Lex allowed Amanda and the doctor to assist her into the chair. "This is ridiculous. I’m just a little sore."

"Uh-huh…tell me another one." Amanda patted her on the shoulder then began to wheel her into the hospital. She leaned down until her mouth was right next to the rancher’s ear. "Behave yourself and I’ll give you a nice hot oil massage when we get home." Amanda kissed the ear before moving away.

Dr. Anderson laughed at the blush that colored the injured woman’s face. "Well now, Lexington. I was going to get onto you for being so pale, but it looks like you’ve developed quite a bit of color in your cheeks." To escape the possible wrath of the dark-haired woman, he quickly led them through the automatic doors and to the nurse’s station.

"Good morning, Dr. Anderson." A middle-aged nurse greeted them. "I see you found your patient." She smiled at the woman in the wheelchair. "Good morning, Lexington."

Dr. Anderson nodded. "That’s right, Gina…didn’t even have to send out a search party."

Lex waved at the petite woman with her good hand. "Nice to see you again, Mrs. Fowler. Have you heard from William lately?" The gray haired nurse’s son had worked at the ranch the summer before he graduated from high school three years ago. After graduation the lure of adventure called him into the Army. The last postcard that Lex had received from him had been postmarked Germany. The young corporal had hastily scrawled a teasing note about the beautiful frauleins much to her amusement.

Nurse Fowler laughed. "Just last week, as a matter of fact. He has leave next month and will be coming home for Christmas."

"That’s great. Tell him I said hello." Lex gestured over her shoulder. "Mrs. Fowler, have you met Amanda Cauble? She’s living at the ranch now."

"It’s nice to meet you, dear." Understanding dawned in the older woman’s gray eyes. "You’re Anna Leigh and Jacob’s granddaughter, aren’t you?"

Amanda smiled. "Yes ma’am. It’s nice to meet you too." She unconsciously placed her hands on Lex’s shoulders. "Do you know my grandparents?"

The nurse nodded her head. "Oh yes, I certainly do. I’m on the historical committee with Anna Leigh." She smiled at the closeness between the two younger women. Anna Leigh was right. Looks like Lexington finally found what she’s been missing all this time. And such a nice girl, too.

"I hate to break up this little chat, but I’d really like to get started on those tests." Dr. Anderson gently took control of the wheelchair. "C’mon, young lady. Let’s get you settled and changed into one of our fancy gowns."

"Can I…?" Amanda started, but was stopped by a raised hand.

The nurse sat a clipboard down on the counter. "Why don’t you and I take care of the paperwork first, then I’ll show you where the cafeteria is and you can grab a cup of coffee?"

Amanda watched as Lex was wheeled down the hallway. I’ll be right there, love. Hang in there. She looked at the kindly nurse and smiled. "I promised Lex I would stay with her while the tests are being run."

"Honey, she’s a big girl. I’m sure she’ll be just fine." Nurse Fowler patted her arm. "All we really need is her signature on the bottom of this form – everything else we already have on file." She glanced up as Amanda began to sign the paper.

"It’s okay. She gave me power of attorney a couple of weeks ago," Amanda assured her. And what a surprise that had been too, Amanda remembered fondly.

Lex had worked late with the ranch hands that day, not coming back to the house until almost midnight. Amanda was beside herself with worry because she had heard that they were searching for lost cattle in remote areas of the ranch. The rancher hadn’t been seen or heard from in over five hours, and all the hired help had returned to the bunkhouse hours earlier.

Amanda had fallen asleep on the sofa in the den while she was waiting up for any word of Lex. She was startled out of a sound sleep by the sound of the back door closing and heavy boot steps treading slowly down the hall. The worried young woman jumped off of the couch and peered around the doorway. "Lex? Is that you?"

The boot steps moved towards her slowly in the darkness. "Amanda? Sweetheart, what are you doing up this time of night?" Lex kept her distance, however, allowing only the barest glimpse of her profile in the dim light.

"I was worried about you. Are you all right?" Amanda took a step closer, only for the rancher to step back. "What’s the matter?"

Lex held her hands up to ward off any contact. "I’m a mess. No sense in you getting all nasty because of me." She took another step back, moving nearer the staircase. "Why don’t we go upstairs? I can get cleaned up, and you can get to bed. I’m sorry for keeping you up, but I lost the radio I was carrying."

The younger woman closed the distance between them. "You haven’t answered my question. Are you all right?" The closer she got the more she could see…and smell. Lex was covered from head to toe in dark and reeking mud.

"I’m fine. Just tired and really stinky." Her white teeth shone from a gunk-covered face. "I’m really sorry you were so worried. I was kinda stuck for a bit." Lex turned and motioned for Amanda to precede her.

After the rancher had gotten out of the shower she had told Amanda about her day. The first part of the afternoon was spent tracking. She finally caught up with the missing cattle after dark. They had somehow fallen into a pit of mud, and Lex had worked for the next several hours to dig them out. She figured that the radio was lying somewhere at the bottom of the pit since she couldn’t find it in any of her pockets.

"I’m sorry that I worried you." Lex was lying on her left side with her hand propping up her head.

Amanda mirrored her friend’s posture. "I think it was more the uncertainty than anything else. Not knowing if you were okay." She looked deeply into Lex’s eyes and whispered softly, "I wouldn’t be able to survive without you, Lex. You’ve become such a part of me."

They had settled down to sleep after a long talk. Lex tried everything she could to assure the younger woman that she wasn’t going anywhere, and that Amanda would always have a home on the ranch.

Two days later, Amanda woke up alone. She rolled over towards Lex’s side of the bed and saw that lying on the rancher’s pillow was a large manila envelope with her name on it. She opened it and began to cry softly. Inside were signed and notarized papers giving Amanda Lorraine Cauble complete power of attorney of the Rocking W Ranch and Lexington Marie Walters. The note on top of the papers said it all: ‘This just makes it legal. Forever yours, Lex.’


"See? I told you I was fine." Lex grumbled as they drove towards Amanda’s grandparent’s house. Dr. Anderson had put a sturdy splint on her right arm and instructed Lex to keep it immobile for at least a week. The test results showed considerable bruising and swelling along her back and shoulders, but no permanent damage was detected. Lex took great enjoyment over her condition and continued to harass the younger woman. "Spent half the damn day proving my point, but I think it was worth it." Her last words were slightly slurred since she was fighting the effects of the sedatives she had been given earlier.

Amanda cut her eyes over at her jubilant friend. "God…you can be such a poor winner sometimes." She stuck her tongue out at Lex. "Be nice, or I’ll tell Martha that the specialist said for you to stay in bed for the rest of the week."

Lex glared at her. "You wouldn’t." She noticed the smirk on the younger woman’s face. "You would!"

"Yep. My silence is not cheap." Amanda continued to watch the road in front of her. She could almost hear the wheels turning in Lex’s mind. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

"Not cheap, huh? Are you saying that you can be bought? Just at an inflated price?" Lex was enjoying this conversation. Her mind was fuzzy, and seemed to be getting worse. Damn medication…feels like I’m about half-drunk.

Amanda turned the truck onto her grandparent’s street. "Well…" She pulled up in the driveway and shut off the engine. "I’m just saying," She unbuckled her seat belt and leaned towards her friend, "that for the right price, I’ll keep your secret."

The rancher raised her left hand and tangled it into the blonde hair to pull Amanda closer. "You will, huh?" she whispered, their lips only a breath apart.

"Yeah." Amanda growled as she covered the older woman’s lips with her own. "Wanna hear my price?" she asked after they broke apart breathlessly.

"Uh…" Lex had to clear her throat, "Uh-huh. I sure do."

Amanda kissed her again. "You have to promise me," She dropped a quick peck on Lex’s lips, "to stay," another one, "in bed until Thursday. I promise to make it worth your while."


The knocking on the passenger window caused both women to break apart quickly. An older man was standing outside the truck with a big smile on his face. "You two gonna play kissy-face all day, or are you coming inside to visit?" Jacob Cauble teased.

"Hi, Grandpa." Amanda wiggled her fingers at him as she blushed. She regretfully pulled herself away from Lex and climbed out of the truck. The small woman circled the vehicle and almost knocked her grandfather to the ground. "I’ve really missed you."

"Hello there yourself, Peanut." The tall man wrapped his arms around Amanda and spun her around. "I’ve missed you too." He dropped her gently to the ground and studied the young woman carefully. "How are you doing, sweetheart?"

Amanda gave him a relieved smile. "Much better now." She stepped around him and opened the passenger door on the truck. "You ready to be social, Lex?"

Lex grudgingly accepted Amanda’s help to climb out of the truck. "Thanks." She leaned a little shakily against the truck. "Hey, Jacob. How’s everything going?" She was really starting to feel the tranquilizer Dr. Anderson gave her before they left. Sneaky old goat…he slipped an extra one in, I’ll bet.

Jacob tried to hide the grin that threatened to break out over his face. "Never been better, honey. Would you like some help getting into the house?" He winked at Amanda who pulled a duffel bag from the back seat of the truck.

"That would be great." Lex took a wobbly step towards the older man. "I seem to have a little problem with my legs right now." Not to mention how blurry everything is.

"Watch out, Lexington. I think my husband is putting the move on you." Anna Leigh’s voice warned from behind him.

Amanda closed the truck door and turned around. "Gramma!" She stepped over to the petite woman and enveloped her in a hug. "Long time no see," she teased.

Lex and Jacob stepped around them as the older man supported most of her weight. "I think Jacob needs to be the one who watches out." Lex chuckled. "I may just run off with him myself." He was the grandfather that Lex never had and she adored him. She allowed him to lead her into the house as Amanda and her grandmother stared in surprise after them.

"Sorry, Gramma. The doctor gave her another sedative before we left so she’d get some rest this afternoon." Amanda linked her arm with the older woman’s as they followed the pair into the modest home.

Anna Leigh laughed. "Oh, honey. She’s priceless!" She sobered and slowed their walk momentarily. "How is she really, Mandy? She looks so pale."

"Her arm is severely sprained and she has a couple of nasty bruises on her back, but Dr. Anderson said that all of the tests came back negative." Amanda followed her grandmother into the house. "He was pretty concerned about the head injury and wanted to keep her overnight, but I promised to get her to rest here instead. That’s why she’s acting so goofy. He gave her a shot of something before we left the hospital."

The two Cauble women watched in amusement as Jacob escorted the tall woman up the stairs. "Almost there, honey." He encouraged her. "Just a few more steps."

"Did y’all add a few extra steps since the last time I was here?" Lex questioned. "It sure seems like it."

Amanda exchanged grins with her grandmother and jogged up the stairs. She stepped in behind Lex and put her hands on the unsteady woman’s hips. "How about an extra set of hands?"

"Good idea, Peanut. I think we’re running out of steam." Jacob was standing on Lex’s left side with her good arm wrapped securely around his waist. "Think you can make it now, Lexington?"

Lex kissed him on the cheek. "Piece of cake, Jake!" She turned her head slightly to wink at Amanda who was supporting her from the other side. "And you’d better watch those hands, Blondie. I could get the wrong idea," she giggled as they guided her to Amanda’s old bedroom. "Damn, that’s a hell of a walk. I’m pooped!"

Jacob gently lifted Lex’s legs and swung them up onto the bed after she had sat down. He patted her knee gently. "You get some rest, sweetheart. I'll see you later." He walked over and met his wife at the door. They watched for a moment as their granddaughter fussed over the extremely groggy rancher. "C’mon, love…let’s go downstairs and give these girls a little privacy. The coffee should be ready by now." He kissed Anna Leigh on top of the head before they turned and made their way back down the stairs.

"C’mon, honey. Stay awake for a few more minutes and help me get your comfortable." Amanda gently eased the sling off of Lex as the older woman fought to keep her eyes open.

"Mmm…you tryin’ to take advantage of me, cutie?" Lex murmured with a sly grin. "I gotta warn you; my girlfriend is the jealous type." She opened one eye as small fingers began to unbutton her shirt. "You’re pretty good at that."

Amanda helped ease Lex into a sitting position so that she could remove her shirt. "Honey, this is going to hurt when I try to pull your sleeve over that splint." Dr. Anderson had wanted Lex to keep her arm immobile so he put an extensive splint on her. The metal and foam brace covered her arm from her elbow to her knuckles. He told them both not to remove it for a week, when he expected Lex back for her follow up exam.

Lex sighed. "No problem." She reached up with her good hand and took a firm grip on the right shoulder of her blue cotton shirt. Pulling hard, she ripped downwards until the sleeve was lying down by her wrist. "There…no more sleeve." She grinned and closed her eye.

"Oh, boy." Amanda shook her head and removed the rest of the shirt. She’s gonna be upset about that later. "Okay, sweetheart. Let’s get this tee shirt on you now."

To be continued in part 2

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