~ Destiny's Bridge ~
by Cbzeer

Disclaimers: Uber Alert!!! The characters in this story belong to me. Although they do tend to favor (in looks, anyway) a couple of ladies who may seem familiar, no copyright infringement is intended.

Violence: There may be violence in this story, but not for a while, and not real graphic?I'm the squeamish type. So if you are into that sort of thing, go get your jollies elsewhere (sorry!).

Subtext: Yep. Nothing really graphic, probably PG-13 at the most, 'cause I ain't that talented. Two women meet and fall in love?if you can't handle it, get over it. If it's illegal where you live, I sympathize. If you're too young, grow up!

Quality Disclaimer: This is my first attempt at fanfic. If you don't like it, tell me why. If you do happen to like it, I'm glad I could amuse you for a while. Feedback is greatly appreciated. You can reach me at cb.zeer@worldnet.att.net

Chapter 1

Fighting the urge to cry, Amanda Cauble stomped angrily towards her car. The potholed asphalt had begun to resemble a lake, due to the constant rain that had fallen for the past several days. A few steps before she reached the Mustang, her left foot sank into a small hole, soaking her foot all the way up over her ankle. The young woman staggered sideways, dropping her briefcase into another puddle before she was able to get her balance. Grimacing, Amanda gingerly shook her foot, relieved to be pain free. At least I didn't sprain my ankle? that's all I need, she thought to herself. Picking up the now mud- splattered briefcase, she shook the excess water away as she opened the car door. Sitting behind the steering wheel, she gently laid the briefcase in the passenger's seat floorboard, and then proceeded to dig through her purse for her car keys. Good thing about small towns, you never need to worry about locking your car! Amanda smiled, leaning back in the bucket seat in relief. Releasing a heavy sigh, the young woman gently closed the car door, happy to be out of the rain. The classic Mustang was a graduation present from her beloved grandfather over five years ago?

"Oooooh!!! Grandpa Jake? you've got to be kidding!" The young blonde girl squealed in delight when her blindfold was removed. Directly in front of Amanda sat her grandfather's pride and joy? a 1967 powder blue mustang, fully restored, with a very large red ribbon and bow adorning it.

Jacob Cauble laughed. "What's the matter, Peanut? Would you rather have one of those new fancier sports cars?" he asked with a grin. "Is this car too old for Neiman High's valedictorian?"

Amanda turned suddenly serious. "No, Grandpa, that's not it at all?it's just that?" she stammered, trying to find the words to express what her heart was aching to say.

The older man put up a hand to forestall her argument. "Shhh? we worked together on this old clunker for almost three summers? and nothing would make me happier than for you to enjoy the end product." He smiled. "Besides, what's an old coot like me going to do with a car like this?"

Amanda wrapped her arms around him in an exuberant hug. "You are not an old coot, Grandpa. I think you're quite debonair!" this with a saucy wink.

Jacob Cauble was still a very handsome man, even in his early sixties. Tall, with thick salt and pepper hair, he still turned quite a few heads. Unfortunately for the ladies, he was completely devoted to his wife. He returned his granddaughter's hug. "If you say so, Peanut." He handed her a set of keys. "I hope you have as much fun driving her as I had rebuilding her with you!"

Amanda gently took the keys from his hand. "Well, what are we waiting for?" she used her other hand to capture his. "Let's go try this baby out! Ice cream's on me, handsome!" She laughed as her grandfather followed in her footsteps.

Amanda wiped a tear from her eye, saddened at the turn her thoughts had suddenly taken. We almost lost him. Jacob Cauble had been severely injured in a horrible automobile accident six months ago. Amanda had immediately moved from her parent's home in Los Angeles to her grandparent's house here in Somerville, to keep her grandmother company while Jacob was in the hospital, and also to help take care of him once he was released. Now the only outward signs of the accident that had nearly taken his life were a jagged scar on his forehead near his hairline, and a pronounced limp that Jacob himself swore would not be permanent. Taking a deep breath, Amanda pulled the rear view mirror towards herself, checking her reflection. Drowned rat, she sighed to the vibrant green eyes looking back at her. Running her fingers through her strawberry blonde shoulder length hair, Amanda turned her attention to the task at hand. "Sitting here feeling sorry for yourself isn't gonna get the job done, " she mumbled out loud. "Now get a move on and take care of business." She scolded herself, starting the car and backing out of the parking space.

Chapter 2

In a large ranch house nestled in the foothills a few miles away, someone else was cursing the continuing rain. Lexington Walters' long frame was sprawled comfortably on the porch swing; muddy boots propped up on the rail that outlined the large wraparound porch. While they always needed rain, she knew that storms such as this one tended to cause problems with the fence that surrounded the ranch.

At twenty-eight, Lexington Walters had been running the Rocking W ranch for ten years, since her father had left for a rodeo and never returned. Oh, they still received the occasional postcard and once in a great while he would actually use a telephone, usually asking for a "loan" until his next ride. Lex felt she owed the man something, since in her mind she was the reason he continued to travel. She knew Rawson Walters had trouble looking at his own daughter, since her face reminded him of what he had lost. Lexington was the spitting image of Rawson's beloved late wife, Victoria - from her electric blue eyes to her long midnight-kissed hair. The only features she had of her father were his temper and his propensity to get into trouble. Every time Rawson looked at his only daughter, he saw the woman that he lost when Lex was only four. Victoria died while giving birth to their third child, Louis. It wasn't noticeable when Lex was a youngster, but by the time she was a teenager, Rawson's heart ached each time he looked at his daughter. On her eighteenth birthday, unable to stand the pain any longer, Rawson Walters did the only thing he could think of - he turned over control of the Rocking W to Lex, and left to re-join the rodeo circuit.

Releasing a heavy sigh, the dark haired woman stood up, stretched her arms over her head, and grasped one of the supports above her. Using her arms to straighten her body out, Lex was gratified to hear the gentle popping as her spine slid back into place. Twisting her head first one way and then the other, Lex released the support beam and stomped into the house. She grabbed her long brown duster from its hook in the hallway, and then snatched a bedraggled black cowboy hat from the hook beside it.

"Martha!" she yelled down the hallway, "I'm gonna go and check the fence down by the creek." She crammed the dusty hat onto her head, and was almost back to the door when a heavyset woman in her mid-fifties came scurrying out of the kitchen.

"Lexington Marie Walters! Don't you be bellowing in this house? I raised you better than that!" she snapped, wiping her hands on a dishtowel.

Lex hastily removed her hat, looking properly chastised. "I'm sorry, Martha," she deferred to the housekeeper, "I just didn't know exactly where you were, that's why I yelled." She smiled charmingly. "It won't happen again, I promise." She finished, placing the disreputable hat back on her head.

Martha just shook her head and smiled. She'd been the housekeeper here at the Rocking W for almost twenty-five years, hiring on when Mrs. Walters became pregnant with little Louis. She treated Lex as she would her own daughter, since Rawson had no idea how to raise a little girl. As the child grew up, he spent less and less time with her, letting the rowdy ranch hands becomes her surrogate family. Although Martha had tried to show little Lex ladylike ways, the older she got, the more like the hired hands she became. Martha's heart had nearly broken in two when Rawson left behind the short note giving Lex complete control over the ranch, not even having the decency to ask the girl if that was what she wanted. Only Martha knew what young Lexington had wanted to do with her life - go to college and become a veterinarian. But, her father's desertion had nipped that dream in the bud, the housekeeper remembered. Lex only ran the ranch out of some misplaced sense of duty. Now ten years had passed, and the ranch was thriving under her leadership. The men respected her, and her only problem seemed to be her obstinate older brother, Hubert, who questioned her at every turn.

Martha reached out and began buttoning the duster closed. "Try not to get too wet, Lex." She said, smiling at the consternation that crossed the younger woman's face. "You know how long it took you to get over that last bout of the flu." She stepped back with a stern look. "And don't you dare be late for dinner? I'm cooking a big batch of chili, and I'm even making your favorite cornbread to go with it." With this, Martha turned around and headed back towards the kitchen. "And don't you be clompin' back in here with muddy boots? you're not too big for me to take my spoon to!" she bustled back through the kitchen doorway.

Lex looked after her with a fond smile. "Yes, ma'am," she muttered, then turned back around and headed through the front door.

Chapter 3

Squinting hard against the heavy rain pounding her windshield, Amanda's thoughts brought her back to the reason she was out in this horrible weather. "I don't know why I continue to let that jerk get to me," she grumbled out loud, once again using her hand to wipe the condensation from the inside of the window. "And I can't believe I'm actually out in this mess!" The jerk was her boss at Sunflower Realty, Rick Thompson. Rick had been the office manager since the owner of the business, Anna Leigh Cauble (Amanda's grandmother), retired two years earlier. When Amanda moved in with her grandparents last year, the older woman had wanted her to take over the family business. The younger woman declined, stating that she really didn't have enough experience yet to run the office. Now that decision is biting me on the butt, Amanda grimaced to herself.

Without taking her eyes off of the road, Amanda searched her purse for the directions that Rick had handed her. Having not actually lived in Somerville, Amanda was not real familiar with the area. She had spent a lot of summers at her grandparents' house, but her time was spent with them, not running around with kids her own age. So, here she was, driving in the pouring rain on her way to an appointment that she herself didn't make. The young woman was understandably nervous. Rick looked too smug when he handed her the appointment sheet.

"Look, it's a huge ranch. Just go and meet with the owner," he glanced at the appointment sheet, as if to verify the name. "The ranch is owned by L. Walters. Guess they're getting tired of the ranching business."

He smiled to himself. This was gonna be one sweet payback. Two for one, too!

He had been the captain of the football team, and considered the best catch by the girls at Somerville High School. It had been a dare by some of his buddies. "Ya think you're such hot shit, Ricky,"Tom had said, elbowing him in the ribs as they watched another cute girl smile their way. "You've had nearly every girl in school."

"Yeah," Amos agreed, leaning back against the lockers, "But I bet there's one girl who you couldn't get to first base with."

Rick smirked. "There ain't a girl in this school that I couldn't have."

Amos smiled back. "Wanna make a small wager on it?" He got right up into the bigger boy's face. "I'll pick the girl, and all you have to do is get her to go out with you on a date."

Rick laughed. "No problem, only a date? What's the stakes?"

Amos looked thoughtful (not easy to do with his pug nose and thick face. "If you win, I'll keep your car washed and waxed for the entire summer. If you lose, you do the same for me."

Rick put out his hand. "It's a deal?shake." After they shook hands, Rick leaned back. "Okay, genius, who's the lucky girl?"

Amos smiled an evil grin and waved his outstretched arm down the hallway. "Her." He said, his finger aimed at a tall, dark haired lanky girl in faded jeans and a denim shirt.

"Kentucky? She's just a sophomore - she'd probably jump at the chance to go out with a senior." Rick laughed. "This is gonna be way too easy!"

Amos shrugged. "I dunno. Rumor is she doesn't even like guys - spends all her time in the livestock barn with all the animals."

Rick ran his hands through his dark wavy hair. "Stand back, boys, and watch an expert show you the fine art of picking up girls." He said as he made his way towards his next 'victim'.

Not only did the quiet girl turn him down, she humiliated him too. "No, thank you." She said to his offer of dinner and a movie, then she just turned around to walk away.

Rick was furious! "Now just wait one damn minute, Kentucky," he growled, grabbing her arm and spinning her back around to face him, "Nobody turns me down!"

She looked down coolly at the hand gripping her arm. "I suggest you remove that hand before it gets broken." She stated in a quiet, menacing voice.

Rick laughed. "By who? You, little girl?" he yanked hard on her captured arm. "I don't think so." Rick snarled, his six foot four frame shaking with rage.

The girl grabbed the offending hand and twisted the wrist until he howled. "Hey! Cut it out!" he released his grip on her arm. The girl smiled, and quietly turned to walk away again. "Hold it, bitch!" he barked, reaching for the back of her hair. Before he could blink, the girl spun around and threw her elbow into his chin. As he was starting to fall, she slammed a well-aimed knee into his crotch. Rick fell to the ground whimpering.

"I said, NO!" she stated loudly as she looked down on his trembling form. "And my name is Lexington, you ass!" she finished, amid the catcalls and cheers from the large group that had gathered around them.

After that, no one bothered the quiet girl. Sure, several of the girls who had previously been 'conquests' of Rick's stopped her and thanked Lex for 'putting that arrogant beast in his place', but she never joined in any of the after school activities or clubs, and seemed content to study in the school library for hours instead. Even her brothers left her alone. Rick had been surprised when he ran into the Ice Bitch a few years later in the local supermarket and she had no recollection of humiliating him in high school. When he had walked up to her and asked, "Do you remember me?"she gave him a slight frown and replied, "No, should I?" He had been livid!

Well, what better way to get back at her than to send Miss Goody Two Shoes to try and place that dusty old ranch of hers on the market? The last time he tried that a few years ago, the menacing beauty nearly handed him his head on a platter. "Oh, yeah, this is gonna be great!!"

If this was such a great deal, why was he giving it to her? The office manager had been short to the point of rudeness since she'd turned down his last dinner offer. She couldn't quite say why, but anytime Rick came near her Amanda's skin began to crawl.

Okay, so I should be coming up to a small road on the left, anytime now, reading her directions. Seeing the road, she slowly steered the car towards it, grimacing at the mud that spattered along the side of the car. Up ahead, she could barely make out the shape of a large covered wooden bridge. "Oooh? how pretty," she exclaimed, "I'd love to see this when the sun is shining." as the car began inching across the bridge.

Chapter 4

Lex began filling up the hole around a post; thankful this was the last one. As she had suspected, a portion of the fence had been knocked down when a tree near the now raging creek had toppled. After clearing away the tree with an axe (it was raining too hard to use a chainsaw) Lex had spent the past hour rebuilding this last section of fence. Now all she had to do was finish stringing the wire, and she could go back to the ranch house for a much-needed cup of coffee. As she attached the last strand of wire to the post, a bright flash of lightning illuminated the creek, followed far too closely by a huge clap of thunder. That's it! Waaay too close that time! As she picked up the remaining tools, another flash of light caught her eye. "What the?" narrowing her eyes under her increasingly soggy hat. "Who in the hell would be fool enough to come out on a day like today?" she frowned. "I know we're not expecting anyone." When the car got about halfway across the bridge, a huge tree that had made its way downstream crashed heavily into the structure. The old bridge began to split in half, and Lex watched in horror as the small car fell into the creek and was shoved downstream by the tree.

Cursing, Lex ran to the nearby jeep and tossed her hat and coat inside, trading them for a long length of rope. She ran toward the creek and saw that the car had already been pushed about twenty yards downstream. Without another thought, Lex tied one end of the rope around a nearby oak tree, and the other end around her waist. Taking a running start, the tall woman jumped feet first into the creek, letting the violent current take her to the half-submerged vehicle. The car was being held in place by the same tree that had knocked it into the raging creek, and Lex wasn't certain how long it would stay in one place. The nose of the automobile was already under water, but she made her way up onto the trunk anyway, oblivious to any danger. Squinting through the rain and the debris littering the car, Lex peered through the rear window and saw a young woman slumped over the steering wheel, apparently unconscious. Thankful that she still had her boots on, Lex viciously kicked in the rear window, which popped inward in one piece.

As Lex slowly crawled through the open window, another tree, albeit smaller, slammed into the car, tossing the would-be rescuer over the back seat and into the floorboard face first. Grimacing, she pulled herself up slowly, hoping that the car would stay in place for just a few more minutes. Not feeling any more movement from the outside, Lex moved forward towards the still figure in the front seat. She reached over the seat and gently shook the woman's shoulder. "Hey." No response. The car lurched sideways again. "HEY!" this time with more force. Still no response. Knowing that time was running out, Lex thought quickly. I know you shouldn't move accident victims, but I don't think there's much of a choice here. Putting a hand on each shoulder, she gently pulled the woman back from the steering wheel. Checking for injuries, the only problem she could see was a small lump and gash on the young woman's left temple, which was bleeding sluggishly. As Lex moved to unfasten the woman's seat belt, she noticed the water level was rising inside the car, and was already up to the young lady's knees. With the seat belt unbuckled, Lex gently placed her hands under the woman's arms and pulled her between the seats. Sitting her upright in the backseat, Lex then backed out feet first through the rear window.

Trying to keep her balance on the slippery trunk, Lex reached back into the car and pulled the still form through the open window, setting her onto the trunk just as the nose of the vehicle began to slip more deeply into the water. Lex tried once again to awaken the young woman, to no avail. She quickly pulled off one leather glove and checked the girls' pulse. Nice and strong, think she'll be okay. She replaced her glove and wiped the wet hair out of her eyes. Untying the rope from around her waist, Lex pulled the slight form up onto her own back, draping the loose arms around her neck. Tying the rope back around them both, Lex positioned the girl's head beside her own, and slowly dropped into the racing water. She used her gloved hands to pull them across the churning creek. They'd made it over halfway across before Lex felt her instincts rise sharply. Looking upstream, she saw a large object rumbling right towards them. With no time to think, Lex turned her body so that she was able to get between what appeared to be part of a barn and her unconscious cargo. Taking a direct hit to the chest, Lex nearly passed out from the pain. She managed somehow to hang onto the rope, only to feel frantic arms wrapping tightly around her neck. Loosening one hand from the rope that had become their lifeline, Lex gently tried to pry the convulsive limbs from her throat before she was choked to death. Apparently the young woman realized what she had almost done, and she quickly released her death grip on her savior.

Chapter 5

Several minutes later, an exhausted Lex dragged herself and her passenger up the muddy creek bank as she untied the rope from around them with shaking fingers, her strength almost gone, the taller woman felt her erstwhile passenger slowly slide off, and with a groan Lex rolled over onto her back. She turned towards the young woman, who was on her knees trembling, rocking back and forth crying softly.

"Oh, God?..wha?. Who?"

Lex, trying to sit up, gasped in pain. "Damn?" she looked over at the smaller woman. "Hey-you okay?" grimacing, she struggled up to a sitting position. Ugh?it feels like someone pounded a spike in my chest?no time for that now. Turning her attention back towards the girl, "Shhh? everything's okay now." She gently laid a muddy gloved hand upon the distraught woman's shoulder. "C'mon. Let's get out of this damn rain, okay?" Holding an arm across her chest, Lex slowly rose to her feet. She offered her other hand to the still seated girl.

Amanda glanced up and made eye contact with her rescuer. Wow?what an incredible blue. "Uhmm?sure," as her upraised hand was grasped, and she was being gently pulled to her feet, Amanda felt her head spin and she proceeded to fall forward dizzily.

Lex caught her automatically. "Hey, take it easy there." The movement caused another sharp pain to her chest. Not good, she thought, fighting back the pain, not good at all. She quickly wrapped an arm around the smaller woman, ostensibly to assist her, but more to keep her own balance. The two of them slowly trudged up the muddy creek bank, as Lex directed her young charge to the waiting jeep.

Chapter 6

Once they had settled in the jeep, Lex handed her brown duster to the now trembling woman. "Here. This should help ward off the chill 'til we get back to the house."

Amanda took the coat shyly. "Thanks. But what about you?" she asked, as she snuggled under the too-big coat, sighing in relief. "Aaah? much better."

"Don't worry about me," Lex stated, impatiently wiping the wet hair out of her eyes again. "It's not that far." She buried her hand in one of the pockets of the coat. Removing her hand, Lex pulled out a dark blue bandanna. "Here," she said, gently applying pressure with the bandanna to the still bleeding gash on the girls' temple, "I promise it's clean."

Amanda smiled, moving her left hand to replace the one the beautiful stranger- Whoa! Where did that come from? had pressed against the wound. "Uhmm? okay." Then she smiled a little bigger. "Well, anyway?Thank you for saving my life." Tears welled up in her deep green eyes. "I don't?" she stammered with a frown, " I just?" she took a deep breath, " I'm sorry. Reaction, I guess." Another deep breath. "I don't even know your name." Her smile returned. "My name's Amanda."

The dark woman pinned her with a direct gaze. "Lex? and you're welcome," she finished, with a smile of her own. Lex turned the key in the ignition, and the jeep thankfully sputtered to life. The continuing rain pounded a loud beat upon the hard top of the jeep, which combined, with the grumbling of the engine, made normal conversation difficult, at best. Reaching for the gearshift caused a sharp stabbing pain to the older woman's chest, and Lex hastily bit off a groan.

This action did not go unnoticed by the smaller woman in the jeep. "What is it? What's the matter?" she used her right hand to hold the bloody bandanna in place, and placed her left hand gently on Lex's wrist, concern etching her lovely features. Amanda temporarily forgot her headache, as she studied the quiet form across from her.

"Nothing?just a little sore." Lex answered, throwing the jeep into gear and started towards what was left of the road.

Amanda turned slightly in her seat, so she could gaze fully at the quiet woman beside her. "Uh-huh? if you say so."

Lex gave her a raised eyebrow in response. Trying to get the subject away from herself, the older woman posed the question that had been bothering her since she'd first spotted Amanda's car. "So?what in the hell were you doing driving around deserted country roads on a nasty day like this?" she grimaced as the jeep hit a particularly deep rut in the road. "And why were you driving across my bridge?" she finished, straining to see the road through the windshield.

"YOUR BRIDGE????" Amanda squeaked, incredulous. Then, she began to giggle.

"Whaat?" Lex asked, drawing out the word.

Amanda giggled harder. "Sorry?but I just got this picture in my head." She continued her mirth at the other woman's expense.

Lex just glowered at her. "C'mon, let's hear it."

"No, really, it's not important."

Another glare from the driver of the jeep.

"Okay." The younger woman wiped errant tears from her eyes. "I just had this mental picture of you as a troll, waiting for the Three Billy Goats Gruff," she wheezed, trying unsuccessfully to contain her glee.

The dark haired woman couldn't help it. She smiled. "Cute, real cute." But part of her was relieved. The head injury couldn't be too bad if the girl was making jokes. Maybe everything would be all right, after all.

Chapter 7

They continued along towards the ranch house in silence. Amanda had worn herself down with the giggling fit, and was now quietly curled up in the passenger's seat, thankful for the warmth of the large coat. The thunderstorm was still raging, making it look more like late evening instead of late afternoon. The small blonde took the opportunity to study her erstwhile rescuer. The glow of the dash lights flickered across Lex's still face, caressing her features with an eerie glow. Amanda could clearly see the pain and exhaustion on the face across from her. Her own head was still aching, and she was still feeling a little bit sick to her stomach. As she took a breath to speak, Lex turned the steering wheel sharply to the right.

"Hang on!!!!" she ordered, her voice strong and assured. The jeep slid sideways in the mud as she valiantly tried to avoid a falling tree in the middle of the road. The front left tire hit what used to be the top of the tree, causing the jeep to tilt dangerously to the right. THUNK!!! The muddy vehicle slammed to an unexpected stop. "Dammit!" Lex growled, grinding the jeep into a lower gear. A high pitched whine answered her, as the tires spun helplessly in the mixture of mud and leaves. Lex laid her head against the steering wheel and closed her eyes. "Some days it just doesn't pay to get out of bed," she sighed. She turned her head and looked over at Amanda, who had one hand braced on the dash, and the other gripping a handle on the door. "Sorry? guess I'm not real good at this 'rescue' business, huh?" she gave a small smile. "Look? the house isn't that much farther, maybe a mile or so at the most." She looked out the windshield at the continuing rain. "Hard to tell in this weather, though? feel up to a little walk?"

Amanda returned her smile with one of her own. "Sure?" she looked down at her feet. "Don't think my shoes could get any wetter, anyway." Silently, Amanda thanked her grandmother.

"Why on earth are you wearing high heels and a dress on a nasty day like today?" Anna Leigh had asked her granddaughter as she came downstairs for breakfast. "All you are going to accomplish is catching a cold when your feet get soaked." She admonished. "Why don't you go back upstairs and put on those new black jeans? They'll go great with your black sneakers?don't you agree, dear?" she asked her husband, who reached across the table and squeezed her hand.

"You're absolutely right, my love." He looked at Amanda. "No sense in being miserable, Peanut." He winked at her. "Besides, young cuties like you look great in jeans!"

Anna Leigh removed her hand from his, and playfully slapped his arm. "You lecherous old goat!" but she smiled, and then looked over at her granddaughter. "Well?"

Amanda had laughed. "You're right, as usual, Gramma. I really don't feel like wearing a dress today, anyway." She hurried back up the stairs to change, her grandparent's laughter right in behind her.

Lex blew out a tired breath. "We'll cut through the woods? It'll shave some distance off the trip. Besides," this with a self-deprecating grin, "this road is obviously too muddy." She cautiously reached into the back seat, grabbing a large flashlight and her battered cowboy hat. Cramming the hat on her head, Lex reached for the door. "Hold on?let me go around and make sure your door is clear." Pocketing the keys, she opened the door and gingerly stepped out.

Thunder still rumbled ominously, punctuated by the occasional flash of lightning. Lex slipped in the mud several times on her way around the rear of the jeep. Every slip brought renewed agony to her chest. I hope nothing's too badly broken in there. Reaching the passenger side of the jeep, Lex was gratified to see it relatively clear of debris. Opening the door, she cautioned, " Careful. Kinda slippery out here." She offered her hand to the smaller woman.

Amanda accepted the proffered hand as she eased her way out of the jeep. "Thanks," she said quietly. Trying to hand the coat to Lex, "Here? You're only wearing a tee shirt, at least I've got a long-sleeved shirt on."

The taller woman ignored the offer. "No, you wear it. I'm pretty hot blooded, anyway." She noticed that the head wound had stopped bleeding. "How's your head?" she asked, as she led the younger woman off the road and into a stand of trees. Amanda slipped the coat on, feeling like a small child wearing her daddy's clothes.

She considered the question seriously. "Not too bad," she said, "aches a little." She peered through the rain and gloom. "Is this safe?" she asked, gripping Lex's hand.

Lex looked down at her. "Safer than the road, actually. There's probably too many washed out places there, and with all the mud it would be nearly impossible to walk on." Another flash of lightning and rumble of thunder interrupted her. She felt the grip on her hand tighten. "Hey, it's okay. We should be back to the house before long. It's just a little rain."

Amanda sheepishly loosened her deathgrip on the other woman's hand. "Sorry." She apologized, but made no move to release the hand. "I've never really liked storms." She felt the hand holding hers tighten.

"No problem. I think the worst is over for now. That last blast sounded pretty far away." Lex tried to reassure her.

They reached the top of a slight rise, and Amanda could see the trees give way to open fields. "Is your home much farther?" she asked, looking up at the woman beside her.

Lex shook her head. "Not too much? 'bout another hour or so and we'll be in front of a nice warm fire." She met the slightly foggy green eyes looking at her. "Unless you'd rather sit for a few minutes and rest. You're not looking too good." This with a worried frown.

Amanda thought about waving off her new friend's concern, but then realized that the older woman was becoming increasingly pale and drawn herself. She looks worse than I feel, she thought, And she's been keeping that one arm really still across her chest. Amanda smiled inwardly. Maybe SHE needs a short rest Out loud she said, "The thought of getting out of this rain is tempting, but I'm afraid if I don't rest for a few minutes I'll be falling flat on my face." She didn't miss the fleeting look of relief that passed over the other woman's features.

"Yeah, you're probably right. Might as well take advantage of these trees for a short break. The rest of our walk will be out in the open, and the rain doesn't look like it'll be slowing down any time soon." Lex slowly dropped to the ground, then leaned up against an old oak tree.

Amanda released her hand and sank down beside her. "Ahhh?" she exhaled, "I never realized how wonderful sitting in the mud could be." She joked, leaning up against the same tree. "I know this stuff is supposed to be good for your complexion," she grinned, flicking a blob of mud off of her knee, "but I think I'll just take my chances without it." She wrapped the huge overcoat tightly around herself. "Are you sure you're warm enough? I feel really bad that I'm hogging your coat."

Lex waved off her concern. "No, really. I'm fine. I only had it with me because Martha threatened to spank me with a wooden spoon." She smiled. Besides, my chest hurts too much to try and put my arms in a coat.

Amanda was about to continue this line of questioning when she realized what Lex had said. "A spoon?!?" she grinned widely. "Who's Martha?" she hazarded a guess, "Your mother?"

Lex chuckled. "Nah?more like my nanny." She looked pensive for a moment. "She's actually our housekeeper? but she's just about the only mother I've ever known." She smiled again. "And believe me, she can sure swing a mean spoon!!!"

Amanda laughed. "Remind me to be on my best behavior, then." She laid her hand on the older woman's knee. "Maybe I should give you this coat back? I'd hate to get you in trouble."

The dark-haired woman smiled at her again. "Nah? I'd probably get into more trouble if I brought you home without it?'sides, I think she'll be okay. Just be prepared to be clucked over, big time."

The younger girl took a deep breath and slowly released it. The longer they sat there, the worse Lex looked. "Hey?maybe we should get started again." She strained her eyes in the coming darkness. "I think the temperature is beginning to drop? it's starting to feel colder, anyway." She had noticed the taller woman trying to repress a shudder. "I think I'm rested enough to go on."

Chapter 8

The duo slogged through the mud in silence, each lost in her own thoughts. Lex was moving slower and slower, in deference to the sharp stabbing pain in her chest, definitely something broken in there, as she found it harder and harder to breathe normally. She spared a glance at her companion. Amanda was moving fairly well, although she kept tripping over the heavy coat she had wrapped around her body.

The taller woman didn't realize it, but Amanda was keeping a close eye on her as well. The young woman noticed her rescuer was finding it more difficult to breathe with every step she took, and that her pace continued to slow by the minute. This is ridiculous! We both know she'll never make it much farther this way, but she's too stubborn to ask for help. I gotta do something! Amanda purposely stumbled and then stopped.

Lex stopped as well, looking at her with concern. "What's the matter? Is your head getting worse?" She managed to ask, drawing a shallow breath.

Amanda grinned inwardly. Gotcha! "Look. I hate to bother you, but do you think I could kinda hold onto you? It seems like I'm having a little bit of a balance problem." She looked up at the older woman innocently.

Lex frowned slightly. She had a feeling that the little blonde was not being completely honest, but was too tired and hurting too badly to call her on it. "Sure," she agreed, gingerly raising one arm and draping it around Amanda's shoulders.

The younger woman eased her way under Lex's arm, wrapping one arm gently around the tall woman's waist. Amanda giggled.

"What?" Lex asked, not seeing anything particularly funny about their situation.

Amanda peeked up from her position under Lex's arm. "You are really tall," she laughed. "I feel like a little kid next to you."

Lex smiled down at her. "Well," she drawled, "In that coat, you kinda look like one, too." Without realizing it, Lex began to lean more on the smaller woman.

Amanda felt the pressure, and smiled inwardly. There's more than one way to skin a cat. With her head so close to the older woman, she could hear Lex struggling for every breath. That doesn't sound good at all? hope we have some way to get her to a doctor once we're back to her house.

The open field was thankfully carpeted with some sort of grass, Amanda noticed. It was too dark for her to see much, but it was still more pleasant than the nasty mud they had waded through on the main road. Amanda estimated that over two hours had passed since she had fallen into the raging creek, and if the sun had been shining, it would be close to dusk by now. Her head still ached, although it was more like a dull throb now. She frequently cast her gaze at the tall woman whose weight she continued to support, amazed that Lex hadn't completely collapsed by now. Through the infrequent flashes of lightning, she was able to see just how exhausted her companion had become. Something was nagging at the back of her mind, though. What was she doing out in this weather? And just how did she get hurt? Guess I could just ask. Amanda cleared her throat. "Lex?" she felt the older woman flinch slightly.

Damn. Almost dozed off there, Lex chastised herself. "Yeah?" she asked, bringing her attention back to the conversation at hand.

Amanda tightened her grip slightly, trying to comfort the dark woman. "You haven't told me why you were out in this nasty weather - or do you usually hang around raging creeks waiting to rescue women who happen to float by?" She felt Lex stifle a laugh.

"No, not usually." Lex was thankful for the distraction. "I was repairing a break in the fence when I saw that tree smash into the bridge." She gave a slight shrug. "Then, when I saw your car fall in, I really didn't even think?" She looked down at the young woman snuggled close. " Right place, right time, I guess. "

Amanda looked up in surprise. "You jumped into a creek feeling the way you do?" her voice raised incredulously.

Lex shook her head. "No. I was okay, then. A little tired from chopping up a tree and digging a few post holes, but okay." She glanced away from the younger woman's gaze.

"Okay, then?. what happened? And don't try and tell me you're okay?" she tightened her grip. "You're about to fall over, I can tell." Amanda wasn't real sure where this sudden protective streak for a virtual stranger came from, but at this point, she really didn't give a damn.

Lex looked down at the grass they were walking through. "Ah, well?" another squeeze from her companion. "When I was pulling us back across the creek, right before you came to, I kinda got hit by some sort of debris." She suddenly stopped, because the arm that was wrapped around her pulled her back.

"Debris? What kind of debris? Where did it hit you?" Lightning flashed, giving Lex a clear view of the deep concern etched on the face across from her.

Trying to change the subject, Lex turned to start walking again. She must have twisted wrong, because she collapsed to her knees in pain. " Damn?" she exhaled, trying to get past the black spots swimming in her vision.

Amanda had followed her to the ground. "Lex!!" she exclaimed in a shaky voice. "What's wrong?"

The older woman was leaning forward, her left arm wrapped tightly around her chest, her face hidden by the hat pulled low. "Just give me a minute," she gasped, trying to remain conscious.

Amanda gently eased Lex onto her back. "Here? just lie back for a few minutes and catch your breath." She pulled the battered hat off of the dark woman's head.

Lex tried in vain to get back up. "No, I'm alright. We're almost to the house." But she couldn't seem to gather the energy needed to defy the small blonde.

Amanda tried another tactic. "Well, if we're that close, then a short break can't hurt now, can it?" She looked up and tried to see the house in the distance. Unfortunately, between the oncoming darkness and the still driving rain, she could barely see a few feet in front of them. "Look, if you'll just point me in the right direction, I'll go and get some help." She glanced back down at Lex, whose eyes were now closed. "Lex?" She gently touched the older woman's face. "Hey." Gratified to see the woman's eyes slowly open.

"Sorry." Lex whispered. "Guess I musta moved the wrong way." She took a cautious breath.

"Please - let me go and get some help." Amanda pleaded.

"Can't." Lex stated. "Only person at the house is Martha. My brother and the ranch hands are in town for the big rodeo and livestock show this weekend." She attempted a smile. "Thought I could handle things until they got back on Sunday."

Amanda smiled back at her. "I'm sure you could have, if you weren't playing hero for me."

Lex choked back a laugh. "Yeah, right. I should have been paying closer attention." She reached up with her right hand. "Wanna give me a hand up? I'm really getting tired of this damn rain."

Chapter 9

Twenty minutes later, the lights from the big ranch house came into view.

"Wow." Amanda breathed. "It's huge!" Even in the rain and darkness, Amanda could tell that the home was impressive. Two story, with a lovely wraparound porch and a balcony on the second floor, the stucco structure would be equally at home in the high rent district of Somerville.

Lex pulled her around to a side entrance. "We'll go in through the mud room," she said, opening a plain looking door," No sense in tracking in half the ranch through the house." She motioned the small blonde inside. "Martha would probably break her best spoon on my rear end." She closed the door behind them and flipped a light switch.

The soft light was almost blinding after being in the rain and darkness, and it took Amanda a moment to adjust. Small, with a bench along one wall and hooks for hanging items by the door, the little room was plain, yet clean.

Lex sat wearily down on the bench, and Amanda followed right behind her. "Well, it sure feels great to finally be out of the rain." The young blonde brushed her dripping hair out of her eyes. Her companion was leaning back against the wall, eyes closed.

"Oh, yeah. Gimme a second and I'll get you something dry to change into."

Now, with decent light, Amanda took the opportunity to study the quiet woman sitting next to her. Tall. Gotta be at least six foot. Long dark hair still gathered in a loose ponytail, broad shoulders and a very muscular build. That tee shirt can't disguise a body like that. Then Amanda noticed something else - the light blue tee shirt had a dark stain that started just below her breasts, and spread down her right side.

"Lex!" she cried, placing her hand on the silent woman's arm.

Lex slowly opened her incredible blue eyes and turned her head towards the other woman. "What's the matter?" she mumbled, trying to focus her eyesight on the young girl.

"I?I? th..think you're bleeding," Amanda stuttered, at a loss for words. "Why didn't you tell me?" she asked, wanting to help, but not quite sure how.

Lex groggily looked down at her chest. "Didn't know," she said, trying to reassure the stammering woman. "C'mon. Let's get our shoes off, and go find Martha. She'll get you something dry to wear." She was about to reach down and remove her boots, when Amanda slid off the bench to squat on the floor below her.

"Here, let me." She gently tugged the muddy boots and socks from the taller woman's feet, then pulled off her own mud encrusted shoes and drenched socks as well. "Yuck." She stood up and removed the heavy coat. "That thing must weigh fifty pounds!" she joked, as she hung it up on a hook next to the door. "You were saying something about dry clothes?" She slowly pulled Lex to her feet. "Think I can sweet talk Martha into something to eat? All this exercise has made me hungry." This with an impish grin.

Lex allowed Amanda to help her to the door. "Oh, I think that can be arranged. She'll probably stuff ya like a prize hog."

They walked through the door to find themselves standing in the kitchen. Amanda spotted a short, heavyset woman talking on the phone, obviously very upset.

"No, Mr. Hubert, she's not back yet, and I'm really beginning to get worried. It's been almost four hours since she left?" she turned around and stifled a gasp. "Oh, my lord! Lexie, what have you done to yourself, child?" she hung up the phone without another word, and rushed over to the two women, who were now dripping puddles in her kitchen.

"Hey, Martha? picked up a friend today? think you could find her some dry clothes?" Lex smirked, still leaning heavily against the smaller woman.

Amanda gave the heavy woman a large smile. "Hi, I'm Amanda. Lex rescued me out of the creek today when my car got tossed in."

Martha laughed. "My goodness, Lex always did have a habit of bringing in strays." She quickly closed the distance between them. "You both look like you could use a warm bath and a cup of hot cocoa." She gently placed her hand on the taller woman's face. "Honey, think you could take your friend upstairs, while I fix something warm to drink?"

Lex smiled. "Sure, Martha." She pulled the younger woman through the kitchen and into the hallway. "C'mon?. let's go upstairs and I'll find you something to change into after you've had a hot shower." She gently guided the younger woman through the hall, and up the oak staircase.

Halfway up the stairwell, Lex stumbled. She would have fallen except for the tight grip Amanda was keeping on her waist.

"Okay, that's it." The young blonde gently guided Lex to a sitting position on one of the steps. "Now you sit right here and don't move! I'm going to go get Martha, so she can help me get you settled."

The older woman was about to protest, but was stopped by a soft hand covering her mouth.

"No." Amanda said, shaking her still damp head. "Please don't try and argue with me." She removed her hand and patted the sitting woman on the head. "I'll be right back." She quickly turned and hurried back down the stairs, disappearing into the kitchen.

Lex leaned back against the banister, her eyes following the lithe body. Quite a little spitfire, eh? She closed her eyes and sighed softly.

Amanda burst back into the kitchen, a little breathless. Martha spun around from where she was stirring something on the stove. "What's the matter, dear? Did you get lost?" a twinkle in her smiling brown eyes.

The young woman shook her head. "No, nothing like that. I need your help." She reached for the older woman's arm, and began pulling her out of the kitchen. "Lex is hurt, and I need some help getting her upstairs. She won't tell me what's wrong, but she practically collapsed on me!"

The two women reached the foot of the staircase and promptly looked up.

"Oh, my!" Martha exclaimed, practically running up the stairs. She stopped at the slumped form. "Lexie, honey? Can you hear me?" She gently turned the quiet face towards her.

Blue eyes slowly opened at her entreaty. "Hmm?" they blinked. "Sorry," Lex reached up with one hand and rubbed her eyes. "Guess I am a little tired." She tried to sit up, but the pain in her chest pushed her back down. "I suppose a little help would be good." She smiled up at Amanda, who had been standing there with a worried look on her face. "And I bet you could use some aspirin, right?"

The young woman returned her smile. "Yeah, for some reason I seem to have the darndest headache."

Lex chuckled, as Martha pulled her slowly to her feet. The housekeeper gently wrapped an arm around her charge, and Amanda moved to support her other side. The three of them moved slowly up the remaining stairs quietly.

Chapter 10

Martha led them down the hallway and into the master bedroom. Amanda couldn't help but glance around in awe. The room was huge - a large rock fireplace took up one entire corner, a cheerful fire already blazing with two comfortable stuffed chairs in front of it. On the side wall opposite the door stood a huge bay window, complete with padded windowseat. The front wall had beautiful french doors, which opened up to what looked like a balcony. But the thing that most caught Amanda's attention was the enormous king-sized bed that almost took up a quarter of the room on its own. Four poster oak with a massive carved headboard, Amanda thought that an entire family could sleep on it.

Lex noticed where the younger woman's attention was. "It was my mother's." She explained softly. "Dad had it made for her as a wedding present." She bit back a groan when her two 'nurses' gently placed her on the object in question. The dark woman laid back and closed her eyes.

Martha noticed the stains on Lex's shirt for the first time. "What happened here?" she asked Amanda, who had sat down on the edge of the bed by Lex's feet.

"I'm not real sure," she started, her eyes taking in the exhausted woman. "I was driving across this beautiful wooden bridge, when all of a sudden something hit it, and sent my car crashing into the creek. I must have hit my head, because the next thing I remember is she's got me tied to her back, and is using a rope to pull us both out." Her hand touched the damp denim leg next to her. "She told me she had gotten hit by 'some debris', but I never did find out exactly what that was."

The housekeeper rolled her eyes. "Some things never change." She looked down at the dark woman, who was obviously asleep. "Let's get you some dry clothes, and you can help me with her." She walked over to a large oak dresser, which by design must have been made by the same person who made the bed. Opening the bottom drawer, the older woman pulled out a pair of maroon sweat pants with matching sweatshirt, a Texas A & M logo on each. "Here? go hop in the shower and then put these on. Lexie hasn't worn these since high school, but never could seem to get rid of them. Just leave your wet clothes on the floor by the shower, I'll get 'em washed up for you." Amanda was about to protest when the housekeeper shook her finger at her. "Now, don't you be giving me any lip - that's my job around here." She gently shoved the blonde towards the bathroom. "Hurry up? I'll probably need all the help I can get with little Lexie. She hates when I fuss over her." This with a wink and a smile.

Amanda returned the smile as she walked into the bathroom. "I'll be right back." She closed the door and then turned around. Good grief! It's almost as big as my bedroom at home! The young woman walked past the large dressing area complete with a huge gray marble counter with two separate sinks, one at each end. Opening another door, she found the bathing area; a huge jacuzzi tub in one corner, and a very large free standing clear glass shower. Another door showed her a comfortably sized lavatory. She opened the shower door, noticing a built in bench and two different nozzles, one on either side of the shower. A whole team could shower in here, she mused. Turning on the water, Amanda quickly removed her still-dripping clothing and piled them as neatly as possible by the door.

Stepping into the steaming water, Amanda couldn't help but moan. Aaah, bliss! Never thought standing under more water would feel so good! She quickly finished her shower, hoping to get another chance to use this wonderful contraption again. Having two sprays hitting from two directions was great! She dried off hurriedly then slipped into the sweats. Wow, she was pretty good sized even in high school! Amanda ran a comb through her hair, not bothering to dry it. Walking back into the bedroom, Amanda spotted the housekeeper trying to pull Lex's jeans off.

"Oh, honey. Am I ever glad to see you." The older woman wiped her brow with the back of her hand. "I'm having the darndest time with these blasted jeans. They normally fit like a second skin, and now that they're wet, well?" she shook her graying head. "Lexie was trying to help, but it got to hurtin' her so bad that she passed out."

Amanda stepped towards the bed. "Well, between the two of us, we should be able to handle it." She grabbed the bottom of the jeans. "I'll pull from here, and you try to work them from her hips." Martha nodded.

It took the two of them over five minutes to rid the unconscious woman of her jeans. During that time, Lex never stirred. Martha was brushing the drying hair off her forehead while she and Amanda caught their breath. "Well, that was fun." She muttered, taking another deep breath. "Now, I guess we go for what's left of this shirt!" She gently began peeling the shirt up, and stopped. It was stuck to Lex's skin - and she was afraid of the damage she would find. "Amanda, honey, could you go and bring me a few warm washcloths from the bathroom?" she noticed that the younger woman was looking frighteningly pale, and was worried that she was about to faint.

Amanda looked up gratefully. "Sure." She rushed out of the bedroom to do the older woman's bidding.

A few moments later, Amanda returned to the bedroom with a couple of damp washcloths. What she saw made her gasp, and she nearly dropped her cargo. Martha had removed Lex's shirt and was looking at the damage with a clinical air. She had draped a quilt over the unconscious woman's legs, and kept the shirt draped across her breasts. She looked up as Amanda came over and handed her a washcloth.

"Thanks, honey. It looks a lot worse than it actually is, I believe." The large gash started just below her breasts, and edged down her ribcage as well. "Just scraped up a little, but I think she's got a couple of busted ribs too." Martha reported while cleaning the injury. She pointed to the other washcloth that Amanda was still holding. "Why don't you wash her face and arms while I go get something to put on this?" She stood up and left the room. "I'll be right back." She called out as she went downstairs.

Amanda sat for a moment looking down at her rescuer. "Why do I feel such a strong connection to you? Have we ever met?" she smiled quietly. "No? I don't think I'd forget meeting you, although I feel as if I've known you forever." She patiently wiped the older woman's face, not realizing she was speaking aloud.

The housekeeper crept back into the room, smiling as she noticed the tender care the young woman was giving Lex. Ah, she's a sweet one, that girl. I wonder what business she had that brought her to us. Out loud she said, "I told you I wouldn't be long," she stepped over to the bed. Martha had a jar of something, as well as some strips of cloth in her hands. "I didn't have enough gauze, so I cut up an old sheet instead." She traded the stained shirt for a towel, and began to gently dab the cream onto the still bleeding scrape. Once all the injury was covered to her satisfaction, she motioned Amanda forward. "Could you climb up on the bed on her other side, and help me sit her up?" She waited until the younger woman complied. "Now, let's lift her forward, slowly now." The dark woman moaned softly, but didn't waken. Amanda sat behind her, holding her upright while the housekeeper wrapped the strips of sheet around her. "This should keep things in place a little better, anyway." She said, using safety pins to finish the job. They slowly laid Lex back against the pillows, Martha covering her completely with the quilt from her legs, making certain she wasn't lying flat, in case of internal bleeding.

Amanda eased herself off the bed, and walked over to the housekeeper. "You act like you've done this before." She commented, awed at how calm the woman stayed.

Martha laughed. "Oh, goodness, yes. That little mite was always coming home with some sort of scrape or bruise." She eyed the small blonde carefully, and then grasped her arm. "Now, you come on in the bathroom, and I'll check out that bump on your head." She began to lead the younger woman out of the bedroom.

"Oh," Amanda reached up to touch the spot. "I'd forgotten all about it." She followed dutifully. "It hardly hurts at all, now." She said, as Martha motioned for her to sit on the dressing table. Amanda complied, feeling like a small child.

Martha looked her in the eye and smiled. "Don't worry, honey," she assured her, "This won't hurt."

Amanda smiled back. "I know, I trust you."

The housekeeper gently used a cleanser on the small gash, put some of the same cream on it that she had used for Lex, and then covered it with a large Band-Aid. "That should keep it from getting infected." Martha reached behind her and grabbed a bottle and glass. She poured out two white tablets from the bottle, and filled the glass up with water. "Here." She handed the girl the tablets and water. "These should help with your headache."

Amanda snickered, but took the offered pills and glass. After she drank the water, she jumped down from the counter and laughed. "I feel like a little kid playing dress up in her clothes." She pulled the material away from herself, showing how baggy they were.

Martha chuckled. "Don't feel too bad, dear. You look just fine." She went into the bathing area and returned with the wet clothes. "Now I'll just go take care of these and Lexie's wet things."

Amanda put out a hand. "No, really. I can take care of those, just point me towards the laundry room."

Martha moved around her. "No, honey. I'll take care of this. You just go lie down and rest." When the young woman began to argue again, Martha placed a hand on her shoulder. "You could help me by keeping an eye on Lexie. Watch to see if she develops a fever. I'll just get these started and bring you both something to eat."

Amanda acquiesced. "Okay, I'll do that. But shouldn't we get her to a doctor?"

Martha shook her head. "That bridge that you came over on is the only way on or off this ranch. And until this weather lets up, they can't even bring a helicopter in."

Amanda froze. "You mean, we're trapped here? What if she's hurt worse than you think? What can we do? What?" her babbling was stopped by a gentle hand on her shoulder.

"It's going to be okay. Yes, it's true it's just the three of us here for now, but we've got more than enough supplies, and we do have a telephone. So we can always call a doctor for advice if we need it. So don't you worry." Martha gathered up the rest of the wet clothes and headed for the door. "It would be easier to keep an eye on her if you laid down beside her. It's a big bed." She walked out the door, with a confused Amanda staring after her.

She watched the housekeeper leave, then switched her attention to the bed. She's right, that thing's huge. And I am worn out - maybe I'll just lie down for a few minutes. She walked over to the other side of the bed and lay down. Oooh? I could be in serious trouble here - this is waay too comfortable. Amanda rolled over onto her side and gazed at the still form next to her. She seems to be looking better already, she mused, noticing the returning color to the sleeping woman's face. Moments later, Amanda joined Lex in sleep.

To be continued in Part 2

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