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Chapter 17. Lex wandered back into the kitchen, a smile still gracing her dark features.

Lex wandered back into the kitchen, a smile still gracing her dark features.

Martha turned from the pantry, her eyes twinkling. "Did you enjoy your movie dear?" She began to carry an armful of items across the kitchen, only to have the tall woman cross the room and take them out of your hands.

"What do you mean by that?" Lex followed the housekeeper like a lost puppy. "Where do you want this stuff?" She was continually amazed at how Martha could take such an array of foodstuffs and turn them into wonderful meals. I would have starved to death a long time ago, if it wasn't for her.

"Just sit it on the counter there." She patted Lex on the back. "And I didn't mean anything by what I said - just asked a simple question. Why are you getting so defensive, honey?" She turned and studied the young woman.

"I'm not defensive!" Lex snapped, then sighed. "Yeah, I guess I am. Sorry Martha. You didn't deserve that." She leaned on the sink and stared out the window, vaguely noticing the rain had finally stopped. "This can't be happening…"

Martha walked up and wrapped an arm around her. "What's that, sweetheart?"

Lex turned and looked down at the slightly wrinkled features. "I'm not sure…but this feels so…so different."

The housekeeper nodded knowingly. "And you're scared?"

The rancher blinked, then swallowed hard. "Terrified," she whispered, "I don't think I could go through that again." She paused, "I don't know if I want to go though that again." Lex shook her head. "Mute point, anyway." She took a deep breath and audibly blew it out. "Anyway, I came to ask a favor of you. I need you to keep Amanda occupied for a couple of hours tomorrow - I'm working on a little surprise for her."

Martha accepted the change in topics, for now. "Okay, I'm sure I can come up with something, but you have to tell me what you're up to first." She stood back and placed her hands on her ample hips, trying to assume a threatening manner.

Lex almost laughed at the older woman's attempt at toughness. She cleared her throat. "Did she tell you about the car she was driving yesterday?"

Martha nodded. "My heart nearly broke in two when she realized that it was probably gone forever." She noticed the gleam in the rancher's eyes. "What?"

Lex smiled. "I don't know how, but her car is still in the same place it was when I pulled her out of it last night. By tomorrow the creek should be down enough for me to tie it to the jeep and pull it back to the house."

Martha smiled. "You're not…"

The dark-headed woman nodded. "Yep. Figure I can hide it in the maintenance shed until I get it cleaned up enough to run - then we can take it into town and have the seats and carpets cleaned."

The housekeeper smiled. "You are devious, aren't you? She'll be thrilled. But how long do you think you can keep this a secret? That little girl is pretty darn sharp."

"I know. That's why I'm going to need your help - she really wants to help you out around the house, maybe…"

Martha waved her arm. "Okay, I'll try to keep her busy. But are you sure it's a good idea to try and pull that car out alone? Broken ribs do not heal overnight, even for you." She had always been amazed at the girl's recuperative powers. Must be a high metabolism. "And that reminds me, you are going to go upstairs right now and let me re-bandage those ribs and put some more salve on that scrape, aren't you?"

She knew when she'd been beaten. Lex sighed. "Yes ma'am. Right behind you, ma'am. Whatever you say, ma'am."

Martha lightly backhanded her in the stomach. "Enough of your lip, young lady! You're not too big for me to use my spoon on, you know." They both laughed as they went upstairs.

Amanda hung the phone and stared at it. Both her grandparents seemed quite fond of the young rancher, and it appeared that they had known her for some time. She turned her attention to the desk - uncluttered, the only object that looked out of place was a u-shaped piece of metal. Amanda picked up the item and studied it. Looks like…a letter opener? She tried to straighten it out, but even with both hands the steel would not budge. I have a pretty good idea when this happened. The thought of that kind of strength mixed with anger should have frightened her, but for some reason Amanda felt strangely comforted. She heard footsteps above her and smiled. I wonder what those two are up to now. Then she heard a scream. What the… The small blonde was out of the office and running up the stairs in a flash. She skidded to a halt at the master bathroom door.

Lex was standing in the bathroom shirtless, her back against the wall. "Damnit, Martha! Have you been storing that mess in the freezer or something? That stuff is ice cold!" she whined, trying to fend off the determined housekeeper, who continued to spread the salve on her injured chest.

"Stop your complaining Lexie…I'm almost finished."

They both turned to see a breathless Amanda standing at the door. "I heard a scream," she puffed, "Is everything all right?" she leaned against the doorframe, trying to catch her breath.

Martha laughed. "Lexie was just being a big baby."

"Hey, you'd scream too if she was trying to turn you into a human popsicle!" the tall woman complained.

Amanda laughed and shook her head. "I thought something horrible had happened." She couldn't help but notice the strong body still leaning against the wall.Down, Mandy…you'd just give her another reason to scream. But then something her grandparents had hinted about drifted into her mind. Hmmm…Maybe…? She realized belatedly that someone was speaking to her. "Sorry, what?" Amanda turned her attention back to Martha, who had directed a question to her.

"I was just wondering if you were still interested in helping me around the house. I've been wanting to re-arrange the cabinets and pantry, and I was going to draft Lexie into helping me, but I don't want her putting any strain on those ribs."

The person in question snorted, then gasped as Martha pulled the bandage tightly against her chest. "Ouch! You trying to kill me?" she grumbled.

The housekeeper gently slapped her on her good side. "Hush! I'd be finished a lot faster if you didn't squirm so darn much." She pulled the material tight again, getting a groan. "There. Amanda, could you hand me the safety pins on the counter, please?" she held out a hand.

The young blonde stepped further into the room to pick up the requested items. She handed them to the heavyset woman, and then picked up the flannel shirt that had been lying next to them.

"Stay still, or I'll end up poking you, Lexie." Martha admonished her patient. "I swear, you're worse now than when you were a child!" she finally completed pinning the bandage and stepped back.

Amanda moved forward and held out the shirt to Lex. She was trying very hard not to smile, but by the look on the tall woman's face, she had failed miserably. "Here, put this back on, it'll help warm you up." Although it feels pretty warm in here right now, to me anyway.

"Thanks." Lex took the shirt with trembling hands. I gotta grip a grip, here… She slowly pulled the shirt on, but her hands were shaking so bad she couldn't seem to get it buttoned. What's going on with me? This is ridiculous!

Amanda noticed the difficulty Lex was having, but assumed it was due to pain or the aftereffects of the cold salve. "Here," she stepped closer, "Let me give you a hand." She took over the buttoning duties, finishing the job quickly.

Martha smiled to herself and left. Mute point, eh Lexie? I don't think so. Neither woman noticed as she slipped quietly out the door.

Lex looked down into Amanda's face. Being this close, she could see golden flecks sparkling in those bright green eyes. She almost stopped breathing when the young woman edged closer.


Both women jumped. Amanda stepped back, startled by what she had almost done. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Where's your head, Mandy?

The tall woman was berating herself as well. Great! Probably scared her to death, just look at her face! She moved past the little blonde, heading towards the bedside table. "Excuse me…I'd better see who that is." The phone had only rung once, and she was reasonably certain that Martha had picked it up. Saved by the bell - if I'd stayed in there much longer, I would have scooped her up and tossed her on the bed. She ran a shaky hand through her hair as she picked up the phone.

Martha was speaking calmly to…Hubert…figures. He's always had impeccable timing. "Hello, Hubert. What do you want now?" Lex could hear the housekeeper release a soft sigh. "It's okay Martha, I've got it." The other phone clicked quietly. "Well? Did you call for a reason, or are you just trying to piss me off?" She growled, her nerves on edge.

"Nice to talk to you too, sis. Do I have to have a reason to call?" his nasal tones oozed insincerity.

"You always have. Now what have you called to complain about today?" She could feel her body clench up, causing her newly wrapped ribs to ache.

Her brother laughed. "You are such a hardass, dear little sister. Okay, as a matter of fact, I do have a reason for calling."

"Are you going to tell me sometime tonight?" her teeth ground together.

"Chill, sweetie…I just came across some property on the county books, and I think we could pick it up for a song. I just need a little extra capital to get the ball rolling."

Lex was about to let him have it, when she felt a gentle hand on her arm. She took a steadying breath. "Why would I give you money for another one of your real estate schemes? I told you months ago I wasn't going to lend you any more - what makes you think I'd change my mind now?"

Amanda led her gently to the bed and sat her down. She slide her hand down the tense arm gently prying Lex's fisted hand open placing her own hand in it.

"I just thought you would help me out, since I was willing to help you out." He wheedled.

Lex's voice trembled with suppressed rage. "And just how are you supposedly helping me out?"

"Well, since you've got a 'houseguest' out there, I'm offering to try to keep it quiet for you. No sense in your little 'friend's' reputation getting damaged, right?"

Lex shot off the bed. "You sonofabitch!!!" she exploded, "If you cause any trouble for Amanda or her family, I will personally take care of any aspirations you may have about fatherhood, brother or not!" she paced back and forth across the room, her face flushed with anger. "So don't you dare try to blackmail me for your idiotic little schemes, you little shit!" She turned off the phone and slammed it onto its base, then turned and looked over at Amanda. "Sorry about that."

The small woman was sitting on the bed, eyes wide. "What was that all about?" She was about halfway afraid of the answer.

Lex walked over and sat down in one of the chairs by the fireplace, defeat in her posture. "Why don't you come over here and sit down - it's kind of a long story."


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