New Beginnings

 

By:  Audra Sargent

 

Disclaimer:  The series ‘Walker, Texas Ranger’ and any recognizable characters are owned by CBS Productions, Top Kick Productions, etc…  The story is mine and is written for my entertainment only.  Thanks to Janis for beta-reading this, and thanks to everyone who reviewed.

 

Chapter 1:  Thursday

 

The Walker’s Ranch

 

            “Everyone, I would like you to meet…Angela Walker.”

 

            It had been less than an hour since Alex had spoken those words to the group of friends gathered around the porch of the ranch house.  In that time everyone had time to admire the baby and had started for home, except Jimmy, Erika, Sydney and Gage.

 

            Now Sydney sat on the living room couch holding the baby with Gage sitting beside her alternating between teasing her and making faces at Angela.  Walker, Alex, Jimmy and Erika talked to Connie Jensen as she was leaving for home.

 

            “Angela is just beautiful, Alex.”  Connie was saying as she made her way down the porch steps.

 

            “Connie, if you need anything just call us.”

 

            “I hate to bother you with just getting Angela home.  Besides Betsy’s sister, Meg, is staying with me.  I’ll be all right, there’s no need to worry.”

 

            “Well, you take it easy and we’ll see you tomorrow around one o’clock.”

 

            “Thanks for everything…all of you.”  Connie made her way to her car and left for home.

 

            Erika was the first to break the ensuing silence.  “Do you really think she’ll be all right?”  Jimmy wrapped his arms around her upon hearing the tears in her voice.

 

            Alex was the first to reply, “Connie’s strong, she’ll be okay eventually.  Tomorrow will be the hardest part of the whole nightmare for her.  After all, she’s not only saying goodbye to her husband but, also, two very dear friends.  After tomorrow, she’ll have to start a new life.”

 

            “Alex is right, and we’ll help her as much as possible.”  Walker reassured his wife and friends.

 

            Inside the house, Gage had stopped his antics with Angela & Sydney when they heard mention of seeing Connie the next day.  As Erika started talking, he slipped his arm around Sydney’s shoulders, both of them lost in thought, while listening to the conversation outside.

 

            The creak of the screen door brought the younger rangers out of their reverie.  Looking up, Gage unobtrusively slid his arm from around Sydney as he stood up.  Sydney looked down to realize Angela was asleep.  “Alex, someone’s ready for bed.  Gage and I should be going anyway so you can get some rest before she wakes up again.”  As she said this, Sydney stood handing the baby to Alex, while giving Gage a ‘don’t argue’ look.

 

            “Why don’t we do the same, Jimmy.  Angela will have Mommy and Daddy up several times tonight and Alex needs some rest before tomorrow.”  Erika suggested giving him the same look.

 

            “Sounds like a good idea.  You need some time alone especially with the funerals tomorrow.”  Jimmy was quick to go along as Gage nodded in agreement.

 

            Walker replied, “All right, we’ll see you tomorrow afternoon.  Gage, you and Sydney remember you’ve got the weekend off, I want you to be ready for work Monday morning, no earlier.”

 

            Alex and Walker watched their friends get in the girl’s cars, then drive down the lane heading back to town.

 

            “Well, since everyone seems to think we need our rest.  Why don’t we put Angela in the nursery and go snuggle up in our own room, Mrs. Walker?”  Walker asked with a sly, sidelong glance at Alex.

 

            “I can’t think of anything I’d enjoy more, Mr. Walker.”  Alex retorted back, both of them laughing as they headed into the house.

 

Erika’s car

 

            As Erika drove back to Jimmy’s apartment he suddenly asked, “Erika, how long are you going to stay with me before we’re married?”

 

            “Getting tired of me already?  It’s only been a couple of days, but I guess I could go back to my place anytime you want.”  Erika replied, trying not to show her hurt.

 

            “I’m sorry, Honey, that’s not what I meant.  It’s been nice having you with me and I was wondering if you’d like to keep staying or go back to your place until we get married.”

 

            “James Trivette, are you asking me to move in with you?”  Erika tried to sound shocked but was failing miserably, “What would my daddy say?”

 

            “I hadn’t thought about Fred, but I guess he would have my head on a platter, huh?”

 

            “Jimmy,” Erika decided to let him off the hook, “Daddy wouldn’t mind.  He really likes you and when I called him with the news of our engagement, Sunday, he actually teased me about not having my apartment for much longer.”

 

            “He did?  So how does that answer my question?”

 

            “Your answer is I would love to move in with you, if you’re sure I won’t be cramping your lifestyle being around all the time.”

 

            “Believe me, you won’t.  Since that’s settled, you want to go by your place and start bringing stuff over?”  Jimmy started with a large grin.

 

            “Whoa, you’re supposed to be resting and we’re already home.  This weekend and next week are early enough to get my things moved.  We could go upstairs and celebrate though.”  Erika replied while they got out of the car and met around front.  Putting his arm around her, Jimmy led her upstairs and into the apartment.

 

Sydney’s car

 

            Sydney pulled to a stop outside of Gage’s apartment, then turned to her partner saying, “Gage,” at the same time he said her name.

 

            “You first,” they both said.

 

            “No, you first,” again at the same time accompanied by laughter.

 

            When they finally stopped laughing, Gage held one hand up in the sign for ‘stop’ and signed ‘you go’ to her.

 

            Sydney replied, “I just wondered which of us was driving tomorrow.”

 

            “We were thinking on the same wavelength, do you think you’ll be up to driving or should I?”

 

            Syd replied hesitantly.  “Do you mind driving?  I have no idea how I’ll be feeling by the time the funerals are over.”

 

            “Sure Syd, I’ll pick you up about 12:15, okay?”  Gage asked climbing out of the car.

 

            “Sounds good, see you then.  Good night, Gage.”

 

            “Night, Syd.”  Gage watched her drive away wishing he could’ve asked her to stay with him.

 

 

 

Chapter 2:  Friday

 

The Walker’s Ranch

 

            Friday morning dawned bright and clear; by noon Alex & Walker were ready to go to the funeral service for Ranger Cliff Jensen, Ranger Wade Harper and Wade’s wife, Betsy.

 

            “Josie’s not working at the HOPE Center today and said she’ll be glad to watch Angela.  We need to get going, so we’ll have time to drop her off and get to the cemetery.”  Alex was saying as she got Angela’s diaper bag ready.  “All she’ll do is eat and sleep, anyway, besides Josie handles babies every day,” Alex continued unnecessarily.

 

            “Alex, you’re getting yourself worked up before we even leave.  I know you trust Josie with Angela, so do I.”  Walker put his arms around his wife from behind, “I, also, know the reason you’re going on about Angela is to keep from dwelling on today.”

 

            “Think you know me pretty well, Cowboy?”  Alex asked with a smile.

 

            “If I don’t by now, I never will,” Walker returned her smile kissing her cheek at the same time.

 

            Alex finished getting the bag together and picked it up while Walker got Angela.  They walked hand in hand to the truck knowing together they could make it through the coming day.

 

Jimmy & Erika’s apartment

 

            “I love you too, daddy.  Jimmy’s ready to leave.  I’ve got to go now, talk to you later.  Bye.”  Erika hung up the phone as Jimmy came out of the bedroom.

 

            “Could you do this tie for me, honey?  This sling doesn’t allow me to move much.”  Jimmy raised his left arm slightly while talking.

 

            “Now Jimmy, you know the doctor just told you to wear it through today.  You can start using your arm this weekend and go back to work Monday; he just wants you to take it easy for a few weeks.  So, if I hear you’ve done anything strenuous, you’ll be dealing with me not the doctor.  There, all finished, let’s go.”  With those words Erika kissed his cheek as Jimmy realized she had his tie fixed and was taking his arm ready to leave.

 

Sydney’s apartment

 

            The doorbell rang just as Sydney was finishing her makeup.  She went to let Gage in, hoping no signs of her sleepless night showed.

 

            “Hi Gage, come on in.  I’ll be ready in a minute.”

 

            “Hey Syd.”  Gage watched her get a jacket from her bedroom with a slight frown on his face noticing she wasn’t acting quite normal.  “Are you okay?”  He asked as she came back into the living room.

 

            “Yeah, what makes you ask that?”  Sydney tried to laugh off the question.

 

            Gage noticed her laugh was forced, at the same time focusing on the dark smudges under her eyes that makeup couldn’t quite hide.  He replied, “You don’t seem your usual perky self today.”

 

            “There’s nothing wrong, Gage.  Can you say that you’re looking forward to this afternoon?”

 

            “Point taken, you ready?”

 

            At Sydney’s nod they headed to the car.  Sydney breathed a sigh of relief at successfully stopping her partner’s train of thought; not knowing Gage decided to drop the subject but keep a close eye on her that afternoon.

 

At the funerals

 

            Sydney stood between Jimmy & Gage during the graveside service.  Walker stood on Jimmy’s other side, while Alex and Erika stood together behind them.  While the priest delivered the combined eulogies, Sydney thought about Cliff being shot right beside her and Gage.  Seeing Connie and Margaret’s grief, Sydney’s dreams from the night before of Monday morning with the bullet hitting Gage on her right side instead of Cliff on her left began filtering through her mind.  As the Rangers saluted, Sydney took some comfort in her partner’s presence beside her, but with that comfort the thought of how much losing Gage would hurt became more acute in her mind.

 

            Gage threw a sidelong glance at Sydney as he noticed her breathing heavier and trembling slightly.  Worried he thought, “Man, I’ve got to talk to Syd and find out why she’s so upset.  Could be, it’s just everything that happened this week.  I know it spooked me when Cliff got shot right beside us.”  Thinking of Cliff, Gage recalled images from Monday, only this time the image was one that had been haunting Gage all week where the bullet hit Syd instead of Cliff.  Gage realized how alone he would feel if he lost Syd, while also, wondering if she was upset over something similar.  With these thoughts, Gage decided to get Syd out of her apartment over the weekend and, hopefully, get her to talk about what was bothering her.

 

            As the service ended and the rangers dropped their salutes, Connie and Meg, as Betsy’s sister was called, stepped forward to place flowers on the coffins.  Sydney, unable to watch their tears without crying herself, turned toward where Alex and Erika were standing only to see them crying, also.  Watching Walker and Jimmy go to comfort them, Sydney felt somewhat lost until her partner’s arm went around her shoulders offering silent support.

 

At Connie’s house

 

            About an hour after family and close friends had gathered at Connie’s house, only Connie’s family, who had gone upstairs, and her Ranger friends were still there.  Connie and Meg, finally, settled down in the living room with Alex, Sydney and Erika for a relaxing chat, while Walker, Gage and Trivette were in the dining room talking.

 

            Upon feeling Syd’s gaze on him for the third time in the last half hour, Gage decided to set a plan in motion that he’d come up with earlier.

 

            “Walker…I was wondering if Syd and I could borrow a couple of horses tomorrow?”

 

            “Sure Gage, I can keep Apache and Cheyenne in the barn when I let the others out in the pasture.  Is this something you two been planning?”  Walker asked, curiously.

 

            “No, I was thinking about it this afternoon.  It’s a surprise for Syd, I haven’t even asked her yet.”  As Gage said this he and Walker both looked at Jimmy.

 

            “What are you looking at me for?  I won’t even talk to Sydney today, promise.”  Jimmy defended himself.

 

            “I don’t care if you talk to her, just don’t mention tomorrow’s plans.”  Gage replied.  “She seems upset, but she wouldn’t admit it.  I’m hoping she’ll talk to me if we get away from everything.”

 

            “Sounds like a good idea, Gage.”  Walker agreed, “Alex thinks she’s upset and needs to talk to someone, too.”

 

            “Syd usually talks to Alex, even though she’s married to you.  With Alex not being part of the Rangers, Syd can open up to her about things that she wouldn’t tell one of us.”

 

            “You mean, except for you?”  Jimmy interjected, both he and Walker knowing how close the junior partners were.

 

            Walker retook the conversation.  “I know…probably because of the circumstances surrounding Angela’s birth, but Alex commented today that Sydney hasn’t really talked to her since the barbeque last Sunday.”

 

            “She’s acted different all week and I haven’t gotten two words out of her about anything that’s not work-related since Monday.”  While talking Gage intercepted another look from Sydney, “Guys, she just looked in here and I don’t want her to think something’s up.  Walker, if we aren’t at the ranch by 10:00 tomorrow, we probably won’t be.”

 

            “If you aren’t there, I’ll let the horses out; but I have a feeling you’ll persuade Sydney to go.”  Walker’s final remark on the subject was met with an agreeable nod from Jimmy, and a skeptical look from Gage.  As the conversation drifted to other topics, Gage glanced at Syd, glad to see the ladies laughing and wondering if Walker’s feeling was correct.

 

            In the living room, the women’s conversation drifted to babies with everyone wanting to know how Angela’s first night at home went.  Half-listening to Alex’s answer, Sydney’s gaze went to Gage for the fourth time, pondering the somber look on his handsome face.

 

            “Then the third time Angela woke up in two hours; I wished Sydney and Gage were there to get her back to sleep.”  The mention of her name brought Sydney’s attention back to the conversation.  “She slept three hours straight after falling asleep with Sydney holding her.”  Alex’s final comment brought laughter to all, even Sydney.

 

            When the laughter died down, Connie stated, “My two gave us fits the first couple of weeks before they settled into a routine of sleeping three hours before waking.  The first weeks were rough on Cliff, because he would help overnight and still get to work on time the next morning.”  Connie, suddenly, got teary-eyed at mentioning her husband.

 

            “Connie…when Meg and the kids leave, why don’t you stay at the ranch with us,” Alex was quick to offer.  “We have plenty of room and,” Alex trailed off as Connie shook her head.

 

            “Thanks, but Meg invited me to stay with her a few weeks, so I’m off to Waco on Monday.  The change of scene will be for the best; then I can decide what to do.  You don’t have to worry about me, and I’ll see you all in about three weeks.”

 

            Walker, Jimmy and Gage came to the door in time to overhear Connie’s plans.

 

            “Alex, I’m sorry to drag you away, but it’s 4:30.  We’d better get going if we’re going to be at Josie’s by 5:00 to pick up Angela.”

 

            “Oh, Walker, I completely lost track of the time.  Connie, normally I wouldn’t hurry off, but Josie has a date tonight.”

 

            All of the women stood up as Alex picked up her purse.  Sydney and Erika looked at each other then at Gage and Jimmy.

 

            Sydney asked, “So we’re betting you two are ready to leave, too?”  Her question received a sheepish grin from Gage, while Jimmy looked slightly uncomfortable.

 

            Connie jumped into the conversation, “Sydney and Erika are just teasing, you two.  Meg and I need to get some rest, anyway, and I need to get packed before Monday.”  With a round of goodbyes, everyone hugged Connie while wishing her a safe trip, then getting in their cars to leave.

 

Gage’s car

 

            Gage and Sydney left Connie’s house in silence.  After 10 minutes, Sydney suddenly asked, “Gage, would you like to stay with me this weekend?”

 

            Receiving only stunned silence from her partner, Sydney continued, “I’m sorry, Gage…”

 

            “Syd,” Gage quickly pulled out of his stupor.

 

            “I shouldn’t have asked you that…”

 

            “Syd.”

 

            “You probably already have plans for the weekend and…”

 

            “Sydney!”  Gage’s use of her full name stopped her in mid-sentence.  “I didn’t have any plans, except seeing if we could do something together this weekend.  I’d love to stay with you, as long as we swing by my place for some things first.”

 

            Sydney smiled as she teased, “That’s why I asked now instead of when you got me home.  Besides you sure can’t wear any of my clothes.”

 

            “Believe me, I wouldn’t want to try.”  Gage and Sydney both laughed at that thought.

 

Sydney’s apartment

 

            Gage had stopped for Chinese takeout on the way to Sydney’s.  After eating and cleaning the kitchen, they decided to watch a John Wayne movie on TV.  While waiting for the movie to start, Gage broached the subject of the next day.

 

            “Syd, why don’t we go riding at Walker’s tomorrow?”  Noticing Syd’s hesitation, Gage played his trump card by mentioning their favorite horses.  “I talked to Walker earlier, and he said we could use Apache and Cheyenne.”  Gage knew he had Syd hooked when a half smile crossed her face.

 

            “We haven’t been riding for a while, and we did discuss planning to go on our way to Walker’s last Sunday.  Since we had takeout tonight, I’ll even cook you that dinner you hinted about last Monday.”

 

            “That sounds great, Syd.  You didn’t even promise to cook for me.”  Gage accepted and teased hoping to keep Syd’s mind off the events occurring just after that.

 

            Sydney smiled at him, mischievously, “I thought I did, when I said ‘I knew I didn’t have to beg’?”  Gage gave her a sheepish grin, as their eyes locked, neither looking away until the music for “The Quiet Man” interrupted their unspoken conversation.

 

            After the movie was over, Gage walked down the hall with Syd until they came to the guest room door.

 

            “Good night, Gage.  See you in the morning.”

 

            “Night, Syd.  Sleep well, see you tomorrow.”

 

            Sydney continued on to her bedroom and both got settled for the night.  Sleep came quickly to Sydney, but just as quickly the nightmares, also, came.

 

            Once again, it was Monday when she, Gage and Cliff were coming down the courthouse steps.  She heard a rifle fire and watched in horror as Gage fell to the ground.  Dropping to check on him, she realized that Gage was dead and she’d missed the chance to confess her true feelings to him.

 

            The dream quickly changed to Walker and Alex stepping out to the porch of their home; then dozens of gunshots rang out with Walker and Alex’s bullet-riddled bodies falling to the porch, never more to move.

 

            Hearing someone call to Walker and Alex, Sydney looked to see Erika and Jimmy running to their friend’s aid only to fall dead from the ongoing gunfire.  Sydney screamed knowing she’d lost her closest friends.

 

            The next moment her eyes popped open as she sat up in a cold sweat, looking wildly around her room.  Unsure if she’d really screamed, Syd listened for any noise from Gage’s room.  Relieved it was only a dream, yet knowing she wouldn’t get back to sleep; Sydney decided to get a drink of water and sit on the couch for a while.  She had been on the sofa about 15 minutes when she caught a movement from the corner of her eye.  When she let out a startled yelp, the sound brought a quick reassurance.

 

            “It’s okay, Syd.  It’s only me.”

 

            “Good grief Gage, you scared me half to death.”

 

            “Sorry, I heard you come out here and thought I’d check on you.”  Gage ruefully replied as he sat beside her.  “Are you okay?”

 

            “Yeah, I’m fine,” was the morose answer.

 

            “Sure, you sound just fine and dandy.  What happened to get you up in the middle of the night?”

 

            “I had a bad dream and couldn’t get back to sleep.  Hey, you want to watch TV a while?”

 

            Knowing Syd was trying to gloss over her dream, Gage agreed.  Reaching for the remote, he found the John Wayne movie marathon they were watching earlier.  Settling back on the couch, he put his arm around Syd pleasantly surprised when she moved closer to him.

 

            When Gage’s arm went around her shoulders, Syd curled her feet up on the sofa and leaned closer to her partner, thinking how nice it was having him hold her close.  As they watched “McLintock,” both started to relax.  Soon Syd was asleep, when Gage realized this he turned the TV off and carefully stretched out onto his back.  Holding his beloved partner protectively against him, Gage smiled as she cuddled closer and closing his eyes drifted back to sleep.

 

Jimmy and Erika’s

 

            The nightmare came vividly to her three different times.  Each time was almost exactly the same.

 

            She was inside the courthouse with Jimmy, Sydney and Gage had just left.  Jimmy joined her and they reached the door as gunshots rang out.  When the gunfire stopped, they rushed outside with Walker to see Sydney and Gage lying at the foot of the steps, both dead.

 

            In the next part she and Jimmy were at the Walker’s ranch.  Erika was inside with Angela when again hearing gunfire.  After this round stopped she looked outside to see Jimmy, Walker and Alex, all dead in the yard.

 

            The first couple of times the nightmare occurred, she awoke trembling.  Snuggling close to Jimmy, eventually, she calmed down and went back to sleep.  The last time the nightmare returned the end abruptly changed on her.

 

            Erika walked out of Walker’s house, after seeing the others dead.  The gunman was still there and shot at her.  The bullet hit Angela, killing her instantly, and went through into Erika.

 

            With this dream, Erika screamed, sitting up in bed, but didn’t wake until Jimmy took her arms.

 

            “Erika?  Erika, wake up, honey!”  Erika became aware of her surroundings, slowly.  Then she burst into tears, falling against Jimmy’s chest as his arms wrapped around her.

 

            “Shh, it’s okay, honey.  You’re safe now.  Did you have a bad dream?”  At Erika’s nod, he continued, “Can you tell me about it?”

 

            Erika sniffled as her tears subsided.  Jimmy handed her some tissues, still holding her close.  “Jimmy, it was awful.  I dreamed all of you got shot, and all I could do was watch.  I’ve dreamed the same thing three times.  The first two times I just woke up, but this time, Angela and I got shot too.  It really spooked me.”

 

            “It’s okay, I’m not going to let anything happen to you.  All of that’s behind us now.”  After whispering words of comfort awhile, Jimmy asked.  “Think you’re okay now, and can get some more sleep?”  When Erika nodded they laid back down, each holding the other tightly and, finally, fell into a dreamless sleep.

 

The Walker’s ranch

 

            She was in court listening to the judge read another verdict in the state’s favor.  Leaving the courtroom, she saw her husband waiting outside with a grave look on his face.

 

            “Walker, what’s wrong?  What happened?”

 

            “Alex, let’s sit down.  It’s Sydney and Gage; they’ve been shot.  They didn’t make it.  We don’t know exactly what happened.”

 

            “They’re dead?”  At his affirmative nod, Alex broke into uncontrollable tears.  The loss of her two young friends was too much to bear.

 

            Walker took her home, where Jimmy arrived with Erika soon after.  While they were sitting in the yard, relaxing, they heard shots fired.  Alex watched in horror as one by one:  Erika, Jimmy and Walker were hit.  Immediately after, she felt the burning sensation of a bullet hitting her square in the back.

 

            Waking to moaning whimpers, Walker started getting out of bed for Angela.  Reaching the bedroom door, he realized they were coming, not from the nursery but from behind him.  Going to sit on the edge of the bed, he touched his wife’s shoulder gently.  “Alex?”

 

            “Walker!”  With this cry, Alex shot upright in bed colliding with her husband’s chest.  “Oh Walker, I had a horrible nightmare.  All of us were killed:  Sydney and Gage at work, then you, Jimmy, Erika and I here.  We didn’t even try to take cover.”

 

            “It’s okay, Alex.  You know it was a dream, Lavocat’s dead and can’t bother us anymore.”

 

            “I know; it’s just hard to relax right now.  I guess the service today brought the worst-case scenarios home.”

 

            At that time they heard Angela’s cries start.  Smiling at each other, they got out of bed to take care of their ‘little angel’ together.

 

 

 

Chapter 3:  Saturday

 

At Sydney’s

 

            Sydney awoke safely wrapped in Gage’s arms.  Levering herself carefully up on one elbow, she brushed her lips gently across his cheek.  Watching his mouth quirk upward at the corners, she smiled thinking how comforting it was being close to him after her nightmare, while at the same time, wondering what changes a closer personal relationship might bring to their lives.

 

            As Gage came slowly awake his arms tightened around Syd.  He opened his eyes and smiled when he caught her staring at him.  Smiling back watching his baby blues light up, Syd greeted him, “Good morning, Gage.  Sleep well?”

 

            “That should be my question, don’t you think?  You were the one with the bad dream.”  Gage shot back, not allowing himself to dwell on why he was awake at midnight.

 

            “Alright, hot shot.  I slept fine, thanks.”

 

            “Anytime, Shorty.  I slept well, too.”

 

            They got up to walk down the hall together going into their rooms to get dressed for the coming day.  Gage returned to the kitchen as Sydney was starting the coffee.

 

            “Gage, how long are we going to be gone today?”  Syd asked when he appeared in the doorway.

 

            “Depends on how long you want to ride.  What did you have in mind, Syd?”

 

            “I thought we could take a lunch if we planned to be gone all day.”

 

            “Sounds like a good idea, then we wouldn’t have to hurry.  Tell you what, I’ll fix breakfast while you get lunch together.”

 

            “It’s a deal…can you fix more than just toast, please?”

 

            Gage quickly glanced at Syd to see her teasing smile.  “Well, I can fix anything that’s a breakfast item.  What else did you have in mind?”

 

            Sydney was laughing at the disgruntled look Gage was giving her.  She calmed enough to reply, “There are bacon and eggs in the fridge we can have, if you make the bacon crisp.”

 

            “You got it, Shorty.  Anything else?”

 

            “That’s plenty, don’t you think?  I’ll fix some sandwiches, fruit and raw vegetables to take with us.  Do you want anything other than water to drink?”

 

            “Some juice may hit the spot later.”

 

            “I’ll put some bottled juice in the bag then and the rest of the coffee in a Thermos.  That ought to do.”

 

            In short order both breakfast and lunch were ready.  Gage carried the plates of food to the table.  Syd grabbed two mugs of coffee and silverware before joining him.  They both tucked into their meals with hearty appetites and were soon finished, getting up to clean the dishes.  Soon the kitchen was in order; the lunch bag was ready, along with water canteens and a thermos of coffee, and Syd and Gage were ready to head out to Walker’s ranch by 8:30.

 

The Walker’s Ranch

 

            Alex woke at 7:00 and slipped out of Walker’s arms without waking him.  She hurried to shower and dress, before checking on Angela.  Finding her still asleep, Alex went downstairs to start the coffee.  Going back upstairs to make sure Walker was awake, she heard Angela start crying.  Upon reaching the nursery, she heard the shower running and was able to relax and concentrate on caring for her darling baby.

 

            By the time Alex got back downstairs, after settling Angela into her crib 30 minutes later, Walker had returned from caring for the horses.  Walker and Alex fixed breakfast together, ate a leisurely meal and chatted about their plans for the day:  including outside work Walker wanted to finish before the summer humidity became unbearable.

 

            After breakfast, Walker went upstairs to take care of the once-again crying Angela, while Alex started the dishes.  Hearing a car in the lane, Alex looked out the window calling, “Walker, Sydney and Gage are here.”

 

            Walker brought Angela to Alex then walked out onto the porch.  Stepping down to meet them, Walker asked, “You two want some coffee?”

 

            “Thanks, but we’re fine,” Gage answered for them both.  “Besides Syd brought a Thermos with coffee for later.”

 

            Walker offered to help Gage saddle the horses, while Sydney went inside to see Alex.  “I see you talked Sydney into coming, after all.”  Walker remarked while putting the tack on Cheyenne, a paint mare.

 

            Gage, doing the same to the paint stallion, Apache, replied, “Yesterday, you know, I wasn’t sure she’d welcome the idea, but when I asked her last night, she seemed almost relieved that I’d invited her.”

 

            Walker didn’t reply, but smiled thinking that, regardless, of anything Sydney might say or Gage might think, she relied on him to help her through most problems she faced.

 

            Upon getting the horses ready, Walker and Gage led them to the kitchen door where Sydney and Alex were waiting.  Sydney came to mount Cheyenne, while Gage did the same to Apache.

 

            “Where did you plan on riding, anyway?”  Walker questioned.

 

            “Thought across the fields, into the woods…maybe up in the hills.  I guess wherever the horses take us.”  Gage replied.

 

            Noticing the wary look on Sydney’s face, Walker remarked, “I wanted an idea where to find you in case anything went wrong.  That pretty much narrows it down…to the whole ranch.”  He finished with a grin, eliciting laughter from both Sydney and Gage.

 

            Walker turned serious, “Both of you be careful and if you need anything call.  We’ll be here all day.”

 

            “You got it, Walker.  Thanks,” Gage answered.

 

            With that the two partners expertly turned their mounts, heading for the pasture gate, while Walker and Alex stood arm in arm watching.

 

            Giving Apache and Cheyenne free rein, Syd and Gage raced across the pasture, enjoying the fresh air rushing past their faces.  Upon reaching the trees, the horses slowed to a walk allowing them to enjoy the ride without worrying about low-hanging branches.  Gage was leading the way on the trail.  Suddenly, Syd exclaimed, “Gage, look quick!”

 

            Halting Apache, he turned to see Syd pointing into the trees wearing an animated smile.  Moving beside her, Gage followed her gaze, catching sight of two fox kits playing in the shadows.  After a few minutes enjoyment, the mother returned to the kits; catching sight of the rangers she froze, warily watching them.  As she realized they meant no harm, she relaxed and started playing with her babies.  Gage and Syd watched a few minutes more then rode on, keeping their eyes open for any other wildlife.

 

            Around midday, Gage and Syd came to a clearing beside the creek, where they stopped for lunch.  When Sydney pulled a bag with four apples, in addition to the insulated lunch pack, from her saddlebag Gage’s curiosity was piqued, especially, after Syd pulled more apples out while unpacking their lunch.

 

            “Okay Syd, I’ll bite.  What are those apples for?”  Gage asked motioning to the separate bag of apples.

 

            “For Apache and Cheyenne, that’s their treat for taking care of us.”  Syd answered, slightly surprised he had to ask.  “You know, I usually bring something special for them whenever we go riding.”

 

            “Usually, you give it to them when we get here, too.”

 

            “Well, I wasn’t available then, remember?  Walker took care of Cheyenne for me, while I visited with Alex.”

 

            Meeting each other’s twinkling eyes, neither could hold back any longer and burst out laughing.  Upon calming down, they began to eat lunch, both drinking coffee and a bottle of juice.

 

            After repacking the lunch bag, Sydney grabbed the bag of apples.  “Here, Gage,” luckily Syd looked before tossing the apple.  Gage’s attention was focused on something above them.

 

            “Look, Syd.  There’s an eagle.”

 

            Sydney glanced up after appreciating the awed look on her partner’s face.  “It’s always so peaceful, watching them soar on the air currents, isn’t it?  Looks like they’re floating.”

 

            “Yeah, I’ve always enjoyed the sense of freedom they seem to exude while soaring.  What did you need a minute ago?”

 

            “Hmm?”  Sydney gave him a puzzled look, before remembering.  “Oh!  The apples for Apache, I was going to give them to you.”

 

            Gage stood and held a hand out to help Syd.  Pulling her to standing, he said, “Better not keep them waiting.  They may decide to make a break for home without us.”  Laughing they moved to the horses with their treats.

 

Walker’s Ranch house

 

            At noon, Alex called out the door, “Walker, lunch is ready!”  Realizing she hadn’t heard a sound from him in a couple of hours, she stepped out the kitchen door.  Looking toward the barn, she called, “Walker?”

 

When a pair of arms snaked around her waist from behind, Alex let out a shriek before hearing her husband’s voice.  “I’ve got you now, my pretty,” Walker growled, followed by a Wicked Witch of the West laugh.

 

            “Walker, you nearly scared me to death!  Get inside and wash up, before I feed your lunch to the horses.”

 

            “Yes, ma’am.”  Grinning, Walker kissed her cheek on his way inside.

 

            While eating a lunch of soup and sandwiches, Alex said, “Walker, I had an idea earlier.  Since Sydney and Gage are already here, let’s invite Jimmy and Erika and have all of them to dinner tonight.”

 

            “Alex, if we had everyone here tonight, you’d spend the rest of the day cooking.  You need to rest.  I don’t want you overexerting yourself.  Anyway, you couldn’t ask Sydney and Gage until they get back, and they may have other plans.”

 

            “I could call Sydney’s cell, it wouldn’t take a minute to check about staying.  Erika could come early to help with the cooking.”  Alex was already on her feet, heading for the phone as she spoke.  Walker grabbed her by the waist and pulled her onto his lap before she could reach the phone.

 

            “Tell you what, let’s compromise.  Instead of getting everyone here tonight, we’ll meet them in town tomorrow night for dinner, then here for dessert and coffee.  That way, I won’t worry about you overdoing it and you won’t bother Sydney and Gage during their ride.”

 

            “That’s an acceptable compromise,” Alex answered then jumped on the last part that Walker said.  “Why did you say I wouldn’t bother Sydney and Gage?  This morning you were glad they had their phones in case of an emergency.”

 

            “An EMERGENCY, Alex!  Asking them to dinner isn’t one.”  Looking into his wife’s upturned face, he knew she wouldn’t be satisfied with that answer.  “Yesterday, at Connie’s, Gage told us he’s been worried about Sydney this week.  She hasn’t talked to him about much of anything that wasn’t work-related since Monday.  He’s hoping she’ll open up to him today while they’re away from everything.  I wanted to be able to call them if a storm was brewing, or an escaped convict headed this way and could be on the ranch.  Something dangerous, not staying for supper.”

 

            “Okay, Walker.  I’ll call Erika to invite her and Jimmy, then we can ask Sydney and Gage when they get back.”

 

            “Thanks, Alex.”  Walker smiled as he kissed her.  “I knew you’d understand.”

 

Jimmy and Erika’s

 

            Erika called to her fiancé, “Jimmy, daddy wants us to come over tomorrow.”

 

            “Sure, Erika.”  Jimmy came into the living room after lunch.  “Is he going to give me the lecture about taking care of his little girl?”

 

            “JIMMY!  Sorry, daddy.  What?”  Erika smiled mischievously, as she informed Jimmy.  “Daddy said he wants to find out how honorable your intentions are.”

 

            “Tell Fred, he can see the ring tomorrow and that I’m not letting you go this time.”

 

            Erika just laughed, listening to the phone a minute.  “Daddy says good.  We’ll see you in the morning.  Love you, too.  Bye.”

 

            Erika, no sooner, disconnected the call, than it rang again.  “That better not be Walker wanting you for work.  Hello?  Hi, Alex.  How’s Angela?”

 

            “She’s doing great, Erika.  Walker and I wanted to check about getting together for dinner tomorrow night, then back here for dessert.  Are you and Jimmy free?”

 

            “Hold on, let me check with Jimmy.  Honey, want to meet Walker and Alex for dinner tomorrow?”

 

            “Yeah, that’ll be good.  What time?”

 

            “I’ll find out all the details, just wanted to check with you before committing us.”  Erika responded, before speaking into the phone once again.  “Alex, we would be delighted, what time?”

 

            “Is 5:30, at CD’s alright with you?  Angela should eat around 4:30, so she’ll be fine until around 7:30 or close to 8:00.  We should be back here in plenty of time.  If the need arises, though, I can feed her if you and Sydney helped with the dessert and coffee.”

 

            “Are Sydney and Gage going to meet us too, then?”

 

            “We haven’t asked them yet, but they usually do.  They could have plans, I suppose, but I’m going to ask them later about joining us.  I’ll let you go now.  Bye.”

 

            “Bye, Alex.  See you tomorrow.”  With that Erika hung up with a puzzled look on her face.

 

            Noticing, Jimmy asked, “Erika?  Is something the matter?”

 

            “Not really, Alex hasn’t asked Sydney and Gage about tomorrow yet, but she sounds like she’s expecting them to be there.”  Erika chuckled, “It’s silly to worry about that.  She said she was asking them later, but why expect them if she hasn’t even invited them?”

 

            “Honey, Sydney and Gage have never missed getting together with us, that’s why.  Alex, naturally, expects them.  Walker probably wouldn’t let her call them right now, anyway.”

 

            “Why would Walker stop Alex from calling Sydney and Gage, if she wanted?”

 

            “Gage took Sydney riding on the ranch, today.  He’s worried about her, because she hasn’t talked about much except work this week.  They’re best friends; she usually opens up to Gage about things that she wouldn’t to me and Walker.”

 

            “She didn’t act quite herself, yesterday, either.  She was more withdrawn and quieter than normal.”

 

            “That’s what Gage was saying, too.  He’s hoping she’ll relax and talk about whatever’s bothering her.”

 

            “I’d bet he finds out what’s wrong.  She depends on him for support.”

 

            “I know she does on the job.  You’re talking like it’s more than work-related, though.  Want to explain?”

 

            “Yesterday, she kept looking towards him at Connie’s.  It was almost as if she was checking to make sure he was still there with her.  Her mind seemed elsewhere several times.”

 

            “Gage sneaked glances at her, too.”  Jimmy’s voice trailed off in thought.  After a few minutes, he came out of his reverie.  “Hey, why don’t we go to a movie tonight?”

 

            “Sounds wonderful, do I have to drive?”  Erika couldn’t resist teasing.

 

            “Just until Tuesday, that’s when I get this brace off my leg.”  Jimmy and Erika snuggled on the couch to rest after deciding on which movie to see that night.

 

Sydney and Gage

 

            Around 2:30, Sydney and Gage had lapsed into a comfortable silence, heading back through the forest toward the ranch house.  Gage heard a sniffling sound from Syd’s direction.  When he looked her way, he realized there were tears in her eyes, something he wasn’t used to from his ‘tough’ girl.  “Syd, are you okay?”

 

            “No.”  Just the one word was cause enough for concern, most especially, answering that particular question.

 

            Gage stopped Apache as he caught Cheyenne’s reins to halt her.  “Care to tell me what’s wrong?”

 

            “It’s nothing, Gage.”  Sydney was trying to keep her tears at bay, and failing miserably.  “We need to get back, if I’m going to fix dinner tonight.”

 

            “Wait a minute, Syd.”  Gage dismounted, ground-tying Apache by leaving the reins trailing.  Doing the same with Cheyenne, he reached up, pulling his partner to his side.  “Syd, you haven’t talked to me much or been yourself all week, now you’re crying.  What’s wrong?”

 

            Trying to keep his probing questions at bay, Syd jumped to the defensive.  “I’ve talked to you this week.  We’re partners, remember?  I wouldn’t be a very good one if I didn’t talk to you.”

 

            “You know I’m not talking about work.  Every time I’ve tried to bring up anything outside of the office, you’re too busy to talk, and don’t try to dodge the question.  I know you too well, Cooke.  Now talk to me.  Please Syd, I know something’s bothering you.  Does this have something to do with the dream last night?”  After a short pause for Sydney to answer, Gage continued when she remained silent.  “Syd, you know you’ll feel better if you talk about it.”

 

            “Alright, Gage.  This has everything to do with last night, but it wasn’t just a dream.  Ever since Cliff was shot Monday then Wade and Betsy on Tuesday, I’ve had this recurring nightmare.”  With her partner’s arms wrapped snugly around her, Syd related the events of her nightmare.  By the time, she finished tears were rolling unchecked down both cheeks.

 

            “Shh, Syd.  It’s okay.  I’m here.”  The words of comfort were coming automatically from Gage, who was unsettled by her tears.

 

            After a few minutes, Syd calmed enough to pull from Gage’s arms.  Looking into her partner’s face, Syd had to make sure he was really with her and that this was not a dream.  Reaching up she slid her arms around his neck, bringing his lips down to hers.

 

            Gage’s first reaction to the gentle kiss was shock and before he could respond fully Syd was pulling away.  When Sydney looked into his stunned face after ending the kiss, she was instantly convinced she had done the wrong thing, by revealing her feelings for him.  Stepping back, she looked away saying, “I’m sorry, Gage.  That was shock reaction, nothing else.  It won’t happen again, I…” Syd’s words broke off as Gage cupped her face, bringing her gaze to his.  Looking deeply into her beautiful eyes, Gage slowly lowered his head to hers, their lips meeting once again.  At first, the kiss was gentle, before deepening into one of passion.  For several minutes, the only sound was of the horses grazing and the buzzing sounds of insects in the forest.  Finally, Gage pulled slowly away from Syd, still resting one of his hands on her cheek, caressing it softly.  “Syd, I’m sorry.  When you kissed me, it was as if all my dreams came true.  I love you, Syd.  Honestly, I can’t remember a time when I haven’t.  I’m sorry if this is too soon, but…”

 

            Gage’s voice trailed off at the touch of Syd’s fingers against his lips as she responded with a small smile.  “Shh, Gage.  It’s okay and it’s only fair to tell you I love you, too.  I guess I have ever since I looked into your eyes, shining with delight from the first joke you pulled on me, your whole face lit up.  So…what do we do now?”

 

            “With our relationship?”  Getting an affirmative nod from Syd, Gage replied.  “We keep on at work same as always.  Outside of work, we can explore our new relationship, and see where it’s leading us.  Agreed?”

 

            “Agreed.  It would be nice to get our personal emotions on an even keel, and stay partners wouldn’t it?”

 

            “Yeah, but let’s not worry about that right now, okay?”

 

            “Gage, we can’t lie to Walker and Trivette, though.”

 

            “I didn’t say anything about lying to anyone, did I?  We just won’t tell anyone, unless they ask, at least until we know where all of this is heading, okay?”

 

            Syd nodded her head in agreement and after another gentle kiss, Gage assisted her in remounting Cheyenne.  After handing Syd Cheyenne’s reins, he gathered Apache’s and remounted.  Winking at Syd playfully, they started back down the forest trail.

 

Back at the Ranch house

 

            Around 4:00, Angela cried, demanding food, waking her parents from a much-needed nap.  Half an hour later, Alex finished feeding and changing Angela and was settling her back in the nursery when she heard racing hoof beats.  Looking out the nursery window, she spied Sydney and Gage halting their horses at the barn, where Walker waited for them with Amigo.

 

            “How was your ride?”  Walker asked when they had dismounted and led the horses inside.

 

            “It was great!”  Sydney answered enthusiastically.

 

            “Everything went according to plan, Walker.  Nothing out of the ordinary happened.”  Gage replied, grinning at his partner.  At the grin, Walker noticed Sydney blush before turning quickly to unsaddle Cheyenne.  While the younger rangers brushed their mounts, Walker brought the other horses into their stalls.

 

            After feeding all of the horses, Walker, Sydney and Gage left the barn, heading toward the house just as Alex stepped onto the porch.  When they were near the house, Alex questioned, “Walker, did you invite them?”

 

            Gage and Syd glanced at Walker then back at Alex.  Syd queried, “Invite us where?”

 

            “For dinner…with Erika, Jimmy and us.”

 

            Syd looked uneasy, not wanting to hurt her friend’s feelings.  “Oh, Alex…we already had plans for tonight.”

 

            Alex laughed, “I’m sorry, Sydney.  I meant tomorrow night in town.”

 

            Gage and Syd looked at each other in relief and smiled, as Sydney answered.  “We’d love to.  What time and where?”

 

            “How about 5:30 at CD’s?  We haven’t been there since Marta reopened.”

 

            “Sounds great, Alex.”  Gage answered for them both.

 

            Smiling at Gage’s enthusiasm, Sydney stated.  “We’ll see you tomorrow night, Alex, Walker.  Gage…we really need to be going.”

 

            Waving to the Walkers, they got in Gage’s car heading home.

 

            Watching the car disappear, Alex asked, “How did their ride go?”

 

            “From what they told me, Sydney enjoyed herself.  I think they got things straightened out, Gage seemed more at ease than yesterday.”

 

            “She looks more relaxed, too.  Well Cowboy, we’d better get inside and eat dinner.”  Alex replied, “You never know when our daughter will want something.”  Laughing the couple headed inside, with their arms around each other.

 

At Sydney’s

 

            Sydney and Gage entered her apartment to the strident ringing of the telephone.  Sydney rushed to answer, “Hello?”

 

            To her surprise, the caller was Julie Gage.  “Hi, Sydney.  I hate to bother you, but do you know where Francis is?  I’ve been calling his apartment since yesterday with no answer.”

 

            “Julie, you aren’t bothering me.  In fact, your timing’s perfect; your brother is here right now.  Hold on and I’ll put him on.”

 

            Upon hearing his sister’s name, Gage had come over to stand by Syd, wearing a worried frown.  Syd covered the mouthpiece, explaining, “It’s Julie, she called me because she’s tried your place since yesterday, without an answer.  While you talk to her, I’ll grab a shower, then start dinner while you take one.”

 

            Gage nodded as Syd handed him the phone.  She went to her room, gathering clean clothes then to the bathroom for a hot, relaxing shower.  Getting dressed, she stepped out of the bathroom, meeting Gage coming down the hall.  “Everything okay?”

 

            “Yeah, Syd,” Gage answered with a grin.  “Everything’s fine.  Julie just wanted to chat a few minutes to see how things were going after the funerals.  I’ll just be a few minutes, then I can help you with dinner.”

 

            Syd gave him a mock serious glare, “I’m supposed to be making dinner…but I might let you help, anyway.  Now get cleaned up.”  With that, she headed to the kitchen, feeling Gage’s eyes trained on her retreating figure.

 

            By the time Gage entered the kitchen 20 minutes later, Syd had steaks broiling, potatoes with butter and herbs roasting, and onions and peppers sautéing.  She glanced up with an impish smile, “Feeling better?”

 

            Gage answered, with a cocky grin, “Feeling cleaner, at least, I have been fine all day.  So, did you decide about me helping?”

 

            “Actually, if you could finish sautéing these, I’ll set the table.  I just put the steaks in and they ought to be done about the time the potatoes are.”

 

            Setting the table, Syd added two candles, at the last minute, for a more romantic touch.  She reentered the kitchen as Gage turned the fire off under the burner.  Going to the stove, she moved him aside checking the potatoes and steaks, turning the latter over to cook on the other side.  Syd then put Gage to work, buttering slices of French bread to toast, while she transferred the steaks onto their plates.  Putting the bread under the broiler to toast lightly, Syd pulled the roasting pan from the oven.  Setting the pan on the stovetop and removing the lid sent a flood of mouth-watering scents floating through the kitchen.  Gage noticing Syd was occupied took the bread from under the broiler, placing it in the breadbasket that was ready on the counter.  Noticing Gage’s helpful action, Syd hid a smile saying, “There’s a bottle of wine in the fridge.  How about you open it while I carry the plates in.”

 

            “Where are the glasses, Syd?”  Gage called out as she was lighting the candles.

 

            “In here Gage.  Could you bring the bread too, please?”

 

            Gage paused in the doorway, somewhat taken aback by the romantic setting.  He quickly caught himself and moved to the table, filling the wine glasses sitting there.  “Everything looks great, Syd.”

 

            Shooting him a glance as they sat, Syd asked, “Alright Gage, what’s on your mind?”

 

            “Nothing, Syd.  What makes you…” he trailed off, catching her ‘yeah, right’ look and gave in.  “What made you think of candles?”

 

            Coloring slightly, she replied, “They were a last-minute addition.  It seemed appropriate when I set the table.”

 

            Gage let out a sudden laugh, “I didn’t mean to embarrass you, Syd.  The candles are very appropriate right now.”  With that they shared a long look, both thinking of the afternoon’s revelations.  They enjoyed a leisurely meal, while talking of the day’s adventures.

 

            After dinner, Gage teased Syd mercilessly, while they cleaned the kitchen.  After the dishes were done, they cuddled together on the couch to watch TV and relax.  Soon Syd’s eyes had closed as she fell asleep; Gage noticed shortly.  Turning the TV off using the remote, he, carefully, picked her up in his arms.  Carrying Syd into her bedroom, he pulled the cover back on the bed and gently laid her down.  Gage removed his arms from around his sleeping partner and started to straighten when her arms wound around his neck, as she demanded drowsily, “Don’t leave.”

 

            “Syd, just go back to sleep.  I’m going to bed, too, I’ll just be down the hall.”

 

            “Please, Gage.  Stay with me.  At least, I can sleep, if you’re close.”

 

            Not able to fight the temptation of being close to her, Gage slipped his shoes off and laid down beside Syd, wrapping her in his arms.  “Now can you go back to sleep?”

 

            Syd nodded sleepily, as she cuddled closer to her partner’s muscular body, both of them falling asleep instantly.

 

 

 

Chapter 4:  Sunday

 

Jimmy & Erika’s

 

            In his dreams, it was the previous Sunday, the day of the barbecue.  He and Erika were discussing their past relationship when he said, “You know, I loved you so much, I would have married you back then?”  Soon followed by Erika’s reply, “Fine, marry me then.”  Next Jimmy was in a pitch-black room.  From a distance, his name was called over and over.

 

            Soon reality overcame dreams and Jimmy opened his eyes, realizing his fiancée was calling to him.  “Jimmy, you have to get up.  If you don’t, we won’t meet daddy on time.”

 

            “What time is it?  I thought we were going to Fred’s house.”  Jimmy replied, only half awake.

 

            “It’s 7:30 and we are.  Daddy wanted to treat us to lunch to celebrate our engagement, but with dinner planned, I asked if we could make it brunch instead.  We agreed on 10 o’clock, so…by the time we get ready; drive to daddy’s then to the restaurant; it will be around 10:00.”

 

            “Then back to Fred’s for a longer visit.  You have my day all planned, and we are not even married yet.”

 

            Erika laughed merrily, “You better get used to it, too.  When it comes to family and friends or work, there is no competition.  People always come first.”

 

            Jimmy joined her laughter, thinking of Walker and Alex since their marriage, as he arose to prepare for a day with his future father-in-law.  When they arrived at Fred’s around 9:15, he got in the car with them.  Fred then directed Erika to one of Dallas’s more exclusive hotels, which offered a fabulous Sunday champagne brunch.

 

            When they were seated, Erika scolded, “Daddy, you didn’t have to bring us here.  This is too expensive.”

 

            “Nonsense, nothing’s too expensive for my daughter and her fiancé.  Besides you should have at least one glass of champagne when celebrating your engagement.”

 

            “You’re the first person we’ve had a chance to celebrate with.  Right after we became engaged, Walker received the call about the Huntsville prison breakout.  After that things were pretty hectic.”  Erika claimed.

 

            “Alex probably has something in mind for tonight.”  Jimmy added.  “She’s a good one for marking happy events, and she wanted all of us to meet for dinner.”

 

            Fred smiled at the younger man, “She may be planning a celebration with your friends.  Right now, though, we are celebrating, and you are not worrying about my treating.”  The last was directed at Erika as she opened her mouth to protest, causing her to close it before she started.

 

Sydney’s apartment

 

            Floating halfway between being asleep or awake, Syd became aware of a gentle touch running over her hair and down her arm or back.  As memories of the night before brought her fully awake, Syd realized she was held against her partner’s firm body as he repeatedly caressed her.  Opening her eyes slowly, Syd met Gage’s boyish grin, “Looks like you were right, Syd.”

 

            “About what, Gage?”  She asked cautiously.

 

            “Don’t you remember what you told me?”  Gage teased.

 

            Syd wracked her brain trying to remember exactly what she had said or done, at the same time thinking, “I only had two glasses of wine, not enough to get drunk!”  Looking askance at her partner, she noticed his mischievous grin.  “Why are you looking so smug, Gage?”

 

            Ready to tease a little more, Gage caught Syd’s frustrated look and decided to drop the game.  Putting his hand tenderly alongside her cheek, Gage replied.  “You said, at least you could sleep if I was close.  I’m sorry for teasing, but I didn’t realize you were half asleep at the time.”

 

            “That’s alright, Gage.”  Syd replied in relief.  “I remember wanting you to stay with me, your remark just scared me a little.  What time is it, anyway?”

 

            “About 9 o’clock.  So Shorty…is there anything special you would like to do today?”

 

            “I thought you were the planning committee?  You did a good job yesterday.  What were you thinking?”

 

            Gage thought for a moment, “How about we go to the gym for an hour or so, then grab a light lunch.”

 

            “Sounds good, except, why don’t we have sandwiches here, after our workout.  Then we’ll have all afternoon to get ready and rest up for the evening.”

 

            As both rose from the bed, Gage asked, “Are you afraid that working out with me will be too strenuous, so you’ll need to rest later?”

 

            “In your dreams, Gage.”  Syd replied with a wink, “You better watch yourself at the gym, if you know what’s good for you.”

 

            “That goes both ways ‘tough girl’, you may get more than you bargained for, trying any fast moves on me, today.”  Gage managed to get the last word in, heading to the other room to change.  Sydney watched him exit the room, not moving to change clothes until he closed the guest room door.

 

At the gym

 

            Syd and Gage had the gym, virtually, to themselves, except for a couple of rangers getting ready to start their shifts.  The partners stretched and did some kicks and punches, side by side, to loosen their muscles.  By the time their workout preparations were over, the other rangers called their goodbyes.

 

            The partners sparred for some time, physically and verbally.  Both breached the other’s defenses several times, sending them to the mat.  After about half an hour, Gage stated, “Is that all you’ve got in you today, Syd?”  Knowing his words would rile his partner, he prepared for an attack.

 

            Sydney didn’t disappoint him.  She sent a roundhouse kick straight at Gage’s face, which he easily blocked.  Syd spun the other way, coming back with another kick when Gage grabbed her foot.  Sending her spinning back around, Gage waited until her back was to him, then grabbed her around the waist and pulled her close, growling.  “Now, I’ve got you, Cooke.”

 

            “You think so, Gage?”  Gripping his neck, Syd brought him easily over her shoulder.  The moment he landed on the mat, she leapt, pinning him easily.  Feeling triumphant, Syd didn’t notice his legs, until they wrapped around her chest pulling her sideways.

 

            Gage pinned her and immediately tickled her ribs.  Squirming helplessly, Syd managed to gasp out, “Gage, I give.  Please, stop.  Francis, stop this instant!”

 

            “You’re lucky, no one heard that, Shorty.”  Gage ceased tormenting his lovely partner asking, “Are you ready to head home, Syd?”

 

            “Yeah, let’s go.”

 

            As they left, Gage rested his arm over Syd’s shoulders, giving her a deep sense of comfort.  After pulling the car from the curb, they decided to pick up lunch at Subway.

 

            “Gage, just promise you won’t overdo your sandwich.”

 

            “What are you talking about, Syd.  I never put too much on a sandwich.”  Gage replied with an innocent look.

 

            Shooting him an exasperated look, Syd replied, “I’m talking about your triple-decker burger at the barbecue, last week!”

 

            “Syd, that was with friends, not in public.”  Gage replied, with a wide-eyed pouting look.

 

            Trying not to laugh at his expression, Syd turned to the window, biting her lips together, hard.  Soon, she was shaking, uncontrollably, with silent laughter.

 

            Stopping outside the shop, Gage glanced at Syd, noticing her posture.  Believing she was upset Gage was immediately contrite.  “Hey Syd, I’m sorry.  What did I say to upset you this time?”

 

            Giving up her mirth, Syd began laughing aloud.  “Francis Gage, you are incorrigible.  You look about 2-years old when you give me that look.  To make it up, you can get the food while I stay here.”

 

            Gage visibly relaxed, “What do you want, Syd?”

 

            “A turkey and American cheese, 6 ½” with onion, lettuce, tomato, pickle and horseradish mustard, Barbecue chips and a Dr. Pepper.”

 

            “You got it, Shorty.  Be back in a few.”

 

            Entering the store, Gage stood in line.  Ordering his partner’s sub, he opted for the same.  After paying the cashier, he retrieved the order and made his way to the car.

 

            Seeing Gage heading for the car, Syd leaned across the seat to open his door.  Pushing the door open, she removed the drinks from his hands before he lost them.  Sliding into the car, Gage headed for Syd’s apartment.

 

The Walker’s Ranch

 

            Walker and Alex woke to the urgent cries of their daughter, about 7:00 a.m.  While Alex hurried to care for the baby, Walker dressed and left to do the morning chores.  When Walker returned to the house, Alex heard him enter the enclosed porch.  Alex’s attention was focused on preparing breakfast, so she was unaware of Walker’s stealthy movement across the kitchen.  In the next instant, Alex emitted a startled yelp as her husband’s strong arms wrapped around her waist while he planted a kiss to the side of her neck. 

 

            “Walker, one of these days your breakfast will wind up on either you or the floor.”  Alex warned sternly.

 

            Her husband adopted an innocent look, “Now Alex, I believe you’re expecting me when I enter the room.  If I resisted the temptation, you would be checking for a fever.”

 

            Giving him an exasperated smile, Alex retorted, “Oh, go sit down.  Breakfast is ready.”

 

            After breakfast, Walker went to finish the repairs he started the day before.  Alex changed the beds and worked on the laundry, when not caring for little Angela’s needs.

 

            At noon, Alex made a light lunch of sandwiches and soup.  While eating, she asked, “What should I make for dessert tonight to celebrate Jimmy and Erika’s engagement?”

 

            “Honey, they’ve been engaged a week now.  Don’t you think it’s a little late to be celebrating?”

 

            “Cordell Walker, it’s not to late for a celebration!  You, Sydney, Gage and Jimmy went to work within an hour of their engagement.  The whole week has been hectic and we need to have a little party for them.”

 

            Walker was laughing at Alex’s tirade, “I knew you had something up your sleeve, when you started talking about dinner yesterday.  Now I’m glad we decided to have dinner out and dessert here, you would have cooked all day.”

 

            “You won’t even help me decide on a dessert for tonight, will you?”

 

            “Nope, you will come up with something.  I’m going to check on Angela and take a shower.  It is getting too hot to work outside.”

 

            “I’ll call Sydney.  At least, she will help me think of some ideas for tonight.”

 

            “That’s good, then you will have yourselves to blame if everything’s not just right.  I’ll stay out of trouble.”  That said Walker left the room, quickly mounting the stairs.

 

Sydney’s apartment

 

            When Syd and Gage had finished eating, Syd threw the paper scraps away.  Sensing Gage behind her, she turned but not quick enough as he trapped her against the counter, between his outstretched arms.  “Gage, what are you doing?”

 

            “What do you think, Syd?”

 

            Looking into his eyes, Syd caught a mischievous twinkle before his lips caught hers in a deep kiss.  Syd relaxed, looping her arms around her partner’s neck, when the phone rang.  Breaking from the embrace, Syd grabbed the phone.

 

            “Sydney, I hoped you would be home.”  Alex’s relieved voice came across the line.

 

            “Hi Alex, what’s up?”  Sydney replied, as Gage caught her close again, kissing her cheek, while his fingers gently tickled her ribs.

 

            “I thought we could celebrate Jimmy and Erika’s engagement tonight and I wondered…” Alex trailed off hearing breathless giggles over the phone.  “Is everything okay there?  I didn’t call at a bad time, I hope?”

 

            Syd smacked Gage’s hands, “No Alex, Gage was tickling me.  Hold on a minute, okay?”  Slapping her hand over the receiver, Syd gave Gage a glare, the effect of which was ruined by her continued giggles.  “Gage, go take a shower and let me talk to Alex, please?  If you keep this up, she will start asking questions that I don’t have answers for yet.  Can you do that for me?”

 

            Gage relented, seeing Syd’s predicament.  “Okay, I’ll shower, then find something to watch on TV.”

 

            “Thank you.”  Syd stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek.  As he left the kitchen, she had returned to the phone.  “Alright Alex, you have my undivided attention now.  What did you wonder?”

 

            Alex was confused a moment brought back from thinking about Sydney’s words; then remembered why she had called.  “Oh, an engagement celebration.  Walker wouldn’t help me decide on a special dessert, so I wanted your opinion.”

 

            “Well…” Syd’s brow creased, thoughtfully, then cleared.  “You could make an apple pie or a strudel.  Jimmy loves apple pie and you could decorate it fancy maybe, with whipped cream.”

 

            “That’s a great idea, Sydney.  I knew you would have a good idea.  Walker didn’t want me to blame him, if you or Erika thought his suggestion wasn’t appropriate.  You know how men are.”

 

            “Yeah, I don’t have that problem with Gage much, though.  When he’s around while I’m cooking, I just have to let him sample everything.  At the barbecue a week ago, he told Walker to ‘trust him’ that the potato salad was good.  He knew exactly how it tasted, because he had eaten half a cup already.”

 

            Both women laughed at Gage’s infamous appetite, then after chatting a few more minutes, said their goodbyes.  Hearing the television come on, Syd left the kitchen, “I’m going to shower and change.  Find us something good to watch?”

 

            After Gage’s assurance that he would, Sydney went down the hall to her bedroom, then the bathroom.  Upon returning to the living room after getting ready, Syd noticed one of her favorite movies was beginning on the TV.

 

            Looking over at the sofa, she stopped in her tracks, an amused chuckle quietly escaping, at the sight of her partner.  Gage had propped both legs on the coffee table, then had, promptly, fallen asleep while waiting for the movie to start.  Carefully sitting beside him, Syd snuggled close to his side, kissing his cheek while whispering, “Thanks, Gage.”  As his arm automatically wrapped around her, Syd settled to watch the movie before they were to meet their friends for dinner.

 

CD’s

 

            Walker, Alex, Jimmy & Erika sat at a table chatting about what excuse Gage would have for he and Syd being late this time.  Angela’s carrier was on a seat between her parents when the younger Rangers entered arguing.  As they approached the table, the rest overheard their discussion.

 

            “Syd, I’m sorry we’re late, but you fell asleep, too.”  Gage was protesting.

 

            “Gage,” Syd fired back.  “I’m not blaming you.  I merely said that we would be on time if you had stayed awake.  If you hadn’t fallen asleep, I wouldn’t have relaxed enough to sleep.  Your regulated breaths were soothing like listening to waves on the beach.”

 

            They broke off upon reaching the table.  As Gage pulled Sydney’s chair out for her, then sat down himself, he started apologizing.  “Hi guys, sorry we’re late.”

 

            Everyone smiled while noting Gage’s actions toward Syd, as Walker replied, “That’s alright, we figured to give you a few more minutes to arrive, before calling out the troops.”

 

            A round of laughter occurred at his teasing comment, Syd and Gage joining in.  At that time, the waitress arrived to take their orders.  Sydney took a quick look at her menu, quickly deciding, as the others started to order.  Alex, Erika and Sydney ordered Chicken Alfredo with salads; Jimmy and Walker decided on Beef and Chicken Fajitas, while Gage asked for a large steak and a loaded baked potato.

 

            After the waitress left to bring iced tea for the girls and beers for the guys, Jimmy looked at Sydney and asked, “Didn’t you feed this guy today?” bringing another round of laughter, while Gage’s cheeks flushed slightly.

 

            “Yes Jimmy, I fed him, did you think I would starve him?  We had sandwiches right before Alex called.”  Sydney replied, before continuing with a teasing look at her partner.  “Gage was fine, until he woke up from his nap.”

 

            Alex broke in, “Children are usually hungry after naps at the HOPE Center.  Besides Walker is always ready to eat after falling asleep in the afternoon, too.”  This was accompanied by a stern look at both Walker and Jimmy, effectively putting an end to any further teasing.

 

            The conversation settled into general topics of how the couples had spent their weekend.  While they were eating Marta came out to admire baby Angela, and catch up with her friends, extending best wishes to Jimmy and Erika upon learning of their engagement.  After paying the bill and saying their goodbyes to Marta, the gang headed to their cars for the trip to the ranch.

 

Walker’s Ranch

 

            Upon arriving home, Alex sent everyone into the living room, except Sydney.  Alex and Syd entered the kitchen where the apple pie was waiting on the countertop.  “Alex, you’ve outdone yourself.  I wasn’t thinking of you decorating the pie, when I suggested the dessert.  I just thought about dots or checkerboard style.”  Sydney exclaimed.

 

            “Think it’s too over the top?”  Alex asked, anxious for her friend’s opinion.

 

            “No, it’s cute with the lettering and roses.”  Sydney assured her, “The only thing is Erika might be the only one to benefit from the gesture.  It may be a bit over the guys’ heads.”  At her statement, Syd and Alex both shared a laugh.  Gathering plates, cups, the coffee pot and pie, the two women left to serve the dessert.

 

            The pie had been admired, then cut, and was ready to serve when Angela decided it was time to be fed.  Sydney and Erika assured Alex they would take care of things, so she headed upstairs to care for the baby.  When she returned, she grew concerned, noticing no one eating.  Seeing the look on his wife’s face, Walker explained that they decided to wait for their hostess so that she could enjoy dessert with them.

 

            After dessert, the girls left the men to visit in the living room, while they took the dishes to the kitchen to clean up and visit.  While cleaning the dishes, Alex asked Sydney how she and Gage spent the afternoon.  Knowing Alex was referring to the time she called, Syd replied, “What we were discussing coming into CD’s tonight, Gage found a movie for us to watch, then fell asleep before it started.  It was one of my favorites, so I sat down to watch it and fell asleep listening to Gage breathing.  We worked out this morning and, I guess, that combined with not enough sleep since Friday caught up with us.”

 

            Syd’s comment about sleep, brought another question, “What happened to keep you from getting enough sleep?”  Alex queried with a mischievous grin.

 

            “Not what you’re thinking,” Syd protested.  “It’s just that I’ve had nightmares since last Tuesday, and…”

 

            Sydney trailed off, as Alex interrupted with, “What kind of nightmares?”

 

            Sydney retold her dream to her two friends, who listened intently.  Then Alex told them her nightmare, followed hesitantly by Erika who told how her nightmares had ended differently.  Silence ensued at the end of Erika’s tale, as all three were mentally comparing the similarities of their dreams.  Alex broke the silence saying, “Well, I believe that I’m feeling better with sharing that,” Erika agreeing quietly.

 

            Syd replied, without thinking, “I’ve felt better since telling Gage yesterday.  Maybe now I can really sleep easier.”

 

            Alex changed the subject at Syd’s comment.  “By the way Sydney, did you know your partner was worried about you this week?”

 

            “What?  How did you know?”  Sydney exclaimed.

 

            “He told Jimmy and Walker about it at Connie’s house, at least, that’s what Jimmy told me.”  Erika inserted.

 

            “Walker told me the same thing.”  Alex stated, adding, “By the way, Walker tried calling Gage several times last night, but didn’t get an answer.  Do you know where he was?”

 

            “With me,” slipped out before Sydney even thought about her answer, quickly giving her friends a startled, wide-eyed look.

 

            “Really?  What’s going on between you two?”  Alex pounced on this new development.

 

            “Wait a minute, Alex, we just had dinner at my place.  He weaseled an invitation out of me a week ago, and I paid up last night.”  Sydney explained.

 

            “Well, Walker tried calling him Friday night, to see if you decided to come Saturday and couldn’t get hold of him, either.  Was he with you then, too?”  Alex asked curiously, since after watching her friends earlier during dinner, her lawyer’s mind was teeming with questions.

 

            Sydney was getting slightly frustrated at her friend’s questions and trying to dodge answering them directly.  Seeing the curious looks from the two women, Syd knew she was outnumbered and relented, “Promise you won’t say anything to the guys?”

 

            Receiving nods of agreement, she continued with the explanation, “Gage has been staying at my apartment, since Friday, in the guest room.  I think he was relieved when I invited him; I just didn’t want to face an empty apartment.  Gage drew the nightmare out of me on Saturday afternoon, because I started crying.  After revealing the nightmare to Gage, I had this insane urge to make sure he really was okay and with me…” Syd’s voice trailed off as she relived the next few moments.

 

            “And?  Come on Sydney, you can’t leave us in suspense like this!”  Alex’s voice interrupted her contemplation of the events.  Looking at them, Sydney continued in a slightly subdued voice, “We kissed, then talked and both of us revealed our feelings for each other.”

 

            “Well, it’s about time.  What took you so long?”  Alex continued questioning.

 

            “We’re partners and best friends.  Both of us were afraid of messing up that relationship, but after the events of the past week we became more afraid of losing each other.  We don’t want to lose our partnership, but we need to see what can or will develop between us.  We agreed not to lie to Walker and Jimmy, but just not telling isn’t lying.”  After telling Alex and Erika, Syd waited for their responses.

 

            “You and Gage are meant for each other,” Erika began.  “And I’m sure everything will work out fine.”

 

            Alex continued Erika’s thoughts, “You complete each other, even Walker and Jimmy can see that.  Walker has always commented about the way you move with each other when working, and you can finish each other’s thoughts half the time.”

 

            “Thanks Alex, Erika.  This really means a lot to me.”  Sydney remarked with relief.  “Gage and I just want some time for things to settle down.  If things really start getting serious, we’ll go straight to Walker and hope he isn’t too upset with us for keeping quiet.”

 

            The women smiled at each other, then began discussing Alex and Walker’s not-so-peaceful nights with Angela.  As she was talking, Alex thought that Walker might surprise Sydney and Gage, but didn’t reveal her thoughts.

 

Meanwhile, in the living room

 

            Within minutes of being abandoned by the girls, Walker began joking about Fred having ‘the talk’ with Jimmy, knowing Gage wouldn’t be able to resist the opportunity to tease.  His plan worked as Gage started asking Jimmy if he’d bought Erika’s engagement ring to stop her dad from pushing for a wedding date.  As Jimmy defended himself against Gage’s questions, Walker watched the junior Ranger closely; finally, deciding that Gage’s heart wasn’t really into bugging Trivette, who was always an easy target.

 

            Breaking into Jimmy’s explanation, Walker asked Gage if everything was okay.  With a heavy sigh, Gage answered, “Not really, I found out why Syd was acting strange last week.”

 

            “What happened?”  Walker asked, knowing the younger man would feel better talking it over with friends.

 

            With a glance towards the kitchen, Gage replied, “Syd’s been having a recurring nightmare, since Tuesday.  She got upset thinking about it on Saturday, and I got the story out of her.  Seems that Cliff, Wade and Betsy’s deaths hit close to home, and she’s dreamed that all of us, Alex and Erika included, were killed while she couldn’t do anything but watch.”

 

            “Erika had a similar dream, twice she survived but the third dream she was shot too.”  Jimmy inserted astonished.

 

            Walker spoke up, “Those three must have some connection we didn’t know about.  Alex had pretty much the same dream, with you and Sydney,” looking at Gage, “getting shot at the courthouse; then the rest of us, herself included, being shot while sitting outside here relaxing.”

 

            The three Rangers were silent for a moment.  Finally, Gage asked the senior Rangers if they’d had any dreams the past week.

 

            “I laid awake thinking about Cliff, Wade and Betsy after Alex’s nightmare Friday night.”  Walker replied, “Cliff and Wade were good Rangers and friends.  Wade and Betsy were so close, I believe, that Betsy probably wouldn’t have wanted to live without him.  It’s just maddening, that Lavocat and his men didn’t care who they killed.”

 

            “You’re right, and they didn’t win in the end.  We lost two good Rangers, but there were only two of his men left alive.”  Jimmy answered quietly.  “Thanks to you two and Syd.  I couldn’t get to sleep easily after Erika told me her nightmare.  This morning, I dreamed about last Sunday; then I was in a dark room.  I started getting frustrated and nervous when I kept hearing my name called, but woke up realizing Erika was trying to get me out of bed.”  The three shared a laugh at Jimmy’s not-so-scary ‘nightmare’.

 

            “I had a nightmare similar to Syd’s.  She dreamed that I was shot instead of Cliff.  Mine went the same way with her being shot and I couldn’t do anything to save her.”  Gage said quietly.  “I had that Friday night, so you can imagine my relief seeing her safe and sound Saturday morning.”  Gage assured himself that he wasn’t lying to his bosses because in all actuality he had seen Syd after midnight.

 

            Walker had been watching Gage closely again, while the younger man related his dream.  Unbeknownst to Gage, his thoughts weren’t completely hidden to his boss’s watchful eyes.  Walker was becoming more convinced, as time passed, that something had happened between the partners over the weekend.  Finally, he decided to let them tell him in their own time; as long as, they didn’t do anything to jeopardize their lives or anyone else’s.

 

            Before another topic could be introduced, the kitchen door swung open revealing the ladies’ return.  Erika spoke up first, “Jimmy, if you’re planning to work tomorrow, we had better head home.  If you don’t get enough rest, I may tie you to the bed and call you in sick for work.”  There was laughter at the dumbfounded look on Jimmy’s face at his fiancée’s mock threat, before standing to wish the others goodnight.

 

            “Gage, we’d better be going too.”  Syd stated, “It’s getting late and Angela’s still going to wake her parents several times, tonight.”  Gage didn’t need any other invitation, agreeing with his partner as he rose from the couch.  Extending their goodnight wishes, they followed the other couple out to Syd’s waiting car.

 

            Walker and Alex waved to their departing guests then reentered the house.  Sharing a kiss, they started upstairs to bed after shutting off the lights.  As they reached the second step, the phone rang.  With a sigh and an apologetic look at his wife, Walker went back to answer the phone.  After talking a few minutes and making arrangements to meet the caller in his office the following morning, Walker returned to Alex’s side.  Continuing upstairs, Alex asked, “Who was on the phone?”

 

            “It was Thomas O’Malley, he’s president of ‘RED Manufacturing’; they make auto parts.  He thinks there’s something going on in the factory, but he can’t find anything wrong.  We are going to meet in the morning and discuss what seems wrong.  If there is enough to warrant an investigation, I may send Syd and Gage in undercover.  Do you think we will be bothered by anything other than Angela tonight?”  He asked teasingly.

 

            Giving him a mock glare and a playful punch in the arm, Alex remarked.  “Keep that up Cordell Walker, and you may find yourself sleeping in the guest room or on the couch.”

 

            Grasping her slender wrist, Walker pulled his wife into his arms for a loving kiss.  After breaking away, they climbed into bed to snuggle close.  Sleep claimed them quickly, as their minds were at ease knowing they and their friends were safe.

 

Jimmy’s car

 

            Jimmy and Erika drove home in silence, as both were tired from the long day.  When they entered the apartment with the door closed, Jimmy put his right arm around Erika pulling her into a long kiss.

 

            “You’d better not be trying to start something you can’t finish, Mr. Trivette.”  Erika remarked saucily.

 

            “I’m not trying to start anything, Mrs. Trivette-to-be.”  Jimmy retorted with a grin.  “I was just trying to convince you to help me to bed; I’m exhausted.”  This was accompanied by a huge yawn.

 

            Erika smacked him lightly on the shoulder, “Jimmy behave.  You aren’t any more tired than I am.  Wasn’t today great, getting to celebrate with my dad and then our friends?”  Erika sighed reflectively.

 

            “Yeah, it was fun.  It was nice getting to talk with Walker and Gage after things had settled over the weekend.  Gage said Syd was having nightmares last week, and that attributed to her change of attitude.  Gage even had a dream similar to Syd’s.”  Jimmy revealed to Erika as they were changing for bed.

 

            “He did?!”  Erika exclaimed.  “Syd didn’t tell us that, tonight.  We shared our nightmares, which were pretty much the same.  I think talking them over with each other helped.  Hopefully, none of us will be plagued by those dreams anytime soon.”

 

            “I hope you’re right,” Jimmy responded fervently, thinking of his own dream.  “Also, from what Gage said tonight, I gathered that he hadn’t told Syd about his dream, because she was so upset over her own nightmare.”

 

            As they cuddled close under the covers, Erika murmured.  “I think Alex, Syd and I have three terrific men by our sides.”

 

            Mulling over his fiancée’s words, Jimmy started to ask about her including Syd, even though she and Gage weren’t involved personally.  Upon noticing Erika had fallen asleep, he laid back without waking her.  Not feeling very tired but curious about Erika’s comment; he mentally reviewed his weekend conversations with Gage and Walker and how Syd and Gage had acted around each other until, finally, drifting into a dreamless slumber.

 

Sydney’s car

 

            Since leaving Walker’s ranch, the partners had shared a comfortable silence.  As they neared the city limits, Syd asked, “Gage, why don’t you go ahead and stay tonight?  We could go by your apartment on the way to work in the morning for you to change.”

 

            “Sounds like a plan to me, Syd.”  Gage replied, looking over at her with a grin.  “Think we will wake up in time, to go by my place and still get to work on time?”

 

            “Oh, I’ll make sure you’re up early enough Gage, don’t worry about that.”

 

            “Well, I don’t know about that, I can sleep pretty soundly.  That’s usually why I’m late, and you know everyone expects me to be running late anyway.”

 

            “Believe me, Francis Gage, I can get you up and to work on time, no matter how sound a sleeper you are.”  Sydney replied with a smirk.

 

            “I’m looking forward to it, Shorty.”  Gage retorted as Syd pulled into a parking spot in front of her building.

 

            Syd gave him a playful grin, as she queried, “Are you looking forward to a cold shower, if you don’t wake up in the morning?”  At Gage’s look of horror, she immediately started to laugh; Gage joined in after a moment, sincerely hoping his partner was joking.

 

            Getting out they both headed up to the apartment.  Entering they walked down the hall together.  At the guest room door, Gage stopped and Sydney paused with a curious look.  Gage cupped Syd’s cheek with his hand as he said; “I’ll sleep in here, tonight.  If you need me just call, okay?”

 

            Standing on tiptoe, Syd agreed wrapping her arms around his neck to kiss him goodnight.  Lifting his head as he released her, Gage watched Syd enter her bedroom before closing the door.

 

 

 

Chapter 5:  Monday

 

Ranger Headquarters

 

            Trivette was already at work on his computer, when Sydney and Gage walked into the office 5 minutes early.  “Hi guys,” Jimmy said, barely glancing up from the screen.  Realizing immediately that he had seen Gage walk in, Jimmy did a double-take; looking at Sydney who was booting up her computer, Gage who went to get coffee for himself and Syd, the clock on the wall, and then his watch.  “What’s wrong with you?  You’re actually early for a change,” he asked Gage with a huge grin plastered on his face.

 

            “Knock it off, Jimmy.  Syd gave me a ride today, okay?  She’s not always early you know.”  Gage answered putting Syd’s coffee on her desk while hoping to divert the mocking remarks that he could see Trivette was working up to.

 

            “No, but whenever Sydney’s late, she’s usually sick or had some kind of trouble.”  Jimmy quickly returned.

 

            Before anything else could be said, Walker, Alex and Angela entered.  Looking at Gage, Walker remarked, “Glad you’re on time, today.”

 

            Gage was about to reply, when Jimmy piped up jokingly, “Sydney gave him a ride to work this morning.”  At his comment, Syd quickly looked up from her paperwork at Alex, who was listening to everything calmly and with a straight face.

 

            Walker put a stop to the horseplay by saying, “Trivette, leave Gage and Sydney alone.  There is a man named Thomas O’Malley coming by in a few minutes.  He and I have to meet with Captain Briscoe about a possible case, then I’ll be back to brief you on what our roles will be.”  The minute Walker finished speaking, the door opened and an older gentleman wearing a tailored gray suit entered the Company B office.  Walker stepped over to greet him and escorted him out of the office.

 

            Gage went to his desk to get started on his paperwork, as Jimmy returned to his computer.  Sydney smiled at Alex as she asked, “Why did you come in today, you’re not supposed to be back to work for a few weeks?”

 

            Alex returned Syd’s smile answering, “I thought I would show Angela off in the office a little, then Erika is supposed to pick me up around 10:00 to go shopping and to lunch.  She volunteered to take me home after we finish, so I caught a ride with Walker.”

 

            “I hope you have fun.  Sounds like Walker may have plenty to keep us busy, at least for today.”

 

            “We will,” Alex glanced at her watch.  “Oh gracious, I’d better go.  At this rate, Erika will be here before I even make it to my office.”  With that Alex called goodbye to Jimmy and Gage, then left with her precious bundle.

 

            About 30 minutes later, Walker reentered the office, asking Jimmy, Sydney and Gage to come to his desk.  As they gathered around, Walker began briefing them on the new case.

 

            “The man who was here earlier is Thomas O’Malley, President of RED Manufacturing.  For the past few months, he noticed there have been an unusually large number of shipments to one particular company.  Upon further investigation, they seemed like legitimate deals, on the surface.  When they checked with the company, all the auto parts had been received and used or sold within a few weeks.  Mr. O’Malley can’t shake the feeling that something’s not right, though, and would like for us to investigate.  Captain Briscoe approved the request and working with Mr. O’Malley the covers have already been set up.

 

            Gage, you will go to work in the factory as Shawn Caldwell, keep an eye open for anything suspicious with the other workers or the products being shipped.  Sydney, you will be working as a personal assistant, Carina Walters, for Brandon Cox, the Advertising Manager.”  Walker showed them a photo of Brandon Cox as he talked.  Then went on with other photos.  “The line foreman is William ‘Willie’ Brown, he has been in prison before, so watch your back around him, Gage.  Two people you will be meeting, Sydney, are Vice President, Carlton Powers, and Assistant V.P., Justin Winters.

 

            I want both of you to be careful and keep in touch.  Trivette and I will be here until around 6:00 p.m. while we’re on this case, so you are to come by on your way home and report on everything.”  This was said with a stern look at the younger Rangers, especially, centered on Gage.  “Any questions?”

 

            “What kind of auto parts do they make?”  Sydney requested.

 

            “Radiators, Exhaust Pipes, and Distributors.”  Walker replied.  “Now you two get going, and keep us updated.”

 

            As Gage and Sydney left the office to change and get to their undercover jobs by noon, Jimmy asked Walker, “Have you noticed anything different about how Sydney and Gage are acting with each other?”

 

            “Nothing much, why?  Have you seen something?”  Walker questioned.  Knowing his partner, Walker knew if he admitted what he had picked up from Gage’s conversations, and seeing the two together, that Jimmy wouldn’t rest until he had picked the whole story to the bone.  Deciding Jimmy would be easier to live with if he didn’t know anything Syd and Gage weren’t ready to share; Walker told him to knock it off and not bother Sydney and Gage with all the details of what had gone on the past 4 days.

 

Sydney & Gage

 

            Leaving the office, the two partners decided to stop at Gage’s apartment first, then go to Sydney’s to change for their undercover assignment.  At Gage’s, Syd waited in the car while he went up to grab a change of clothes in a duffel bag.  Entering Syd’s apartment, they headed down the hall together with Gage stopping at the guest room.

 

            Gage changed into a T-shirt and jeans.  Pulling on a light cotton button-down shirt, he left it open rolling up the sleeves to his elbows.  A Texas Rangers baseball team cap finished his disguise. 

 

            Once in her room, Syd perused the skirts and blazers in her closet that she mainly wore for testifying in court.  Trying to decide what to wear, one particular dress caught her eye; it was the one she wore to Gage’s high school reunion.  The halter neckline wasn’t what she would normally wear for business, but she had a black blazer that would match it while dressing it up nicely.

 

            Pulling the dress out, Sydney hesitated, wondering if the dress would cause Gage to remember unpleasant memories of that night; but, at the same time, an inner voice reminded her that he commented that she looked absolutely beautiful that night.  Hoping Gage thought of the latter rather than losing his hearing and Marilyn and Ted’s deaths; Syd started changing her clothes.

 

            Taking the dress from its hanger to lower over her head, she paused hearing a knock on the door.  Next came Gage’s voice asking, “Syd, are you about ready?”

 

            “Just about, I’ll be there in a minute, Gage.”  Syd quickly finished dressing, adding the blazer and dressier shoes.  After touching up her makeup and pinning up her hair, Syd opened the door to rush out, almost colliding with her partner’s chest.

 

            Looking into Gage’s wide-eyed gaze, she asked, albeit nervously, “Do I look okay?”

 

            “You look beautiful, Syd,” her partner’s reply was accompanied by an appreciative grin.  “Let’s go.”

 

            Syd gave him an answering smile, remarking, “I like the cap.  Is that a hidden warning to anyone paying attention?”

 

            “Not really, I just thought the double meaning was fun.  But I might be making a warning if this Brandon Cox that you’re working with doesn’t treat you professionally.”  Gage replied with a slight frown creasing his brow.

 

            “Gage!  I thought you trusted me more than that.”  Sydney exclaimed.

 

            “I do trust you.  I just don’t want any man thinking they can make a pass at you without any enticement.”

 

            By this time they were stopped beside their car.  “Well, you know there’s no reason to be jealous.  If I’d wanted to be with someone else, it would already have happened and we wouldn’t be having this discussion now.”  Syd assured her partner, with a reassuring embrace. 

 

            Gage held her close, tipping her chin for a quick kiss, replying, “I know, you’re right.  I’m sorry Syd, I just worry about you when we’re undercover, especially, like this when we’re in different places.”

 

            “I know and it’s okay, I worry about you being undercover where I can’t see your back, too.  Now, we better go if we’re stopping for a quick lunch or we’ll miss our check-in time, then Walker will be on our case.”  Sydney retorted with a laugh, climbing in the car and starting it while waiting for Gage to get in the passenger seat.  When he was seated, she backed out heading for their new assignment.

 

Alex’s office

 

            Everyone in the DA’s office enjoyed Alex bringing Baby Angela for a visit; some were seeing her for the first time, as Alex’s secretary was the only one at the ranch for the homecoming.  After Angela had been admired, Alex asked her secretary to watch the baby while she met with the DA to check on any problems with the cases she left unfinished when Angela was born.

 

            After assuring her conscience that everything was going smoothly, Alex noticed it was almost 10 o’clock, which meant Erika should be there any time.  Checking to see that Angela was sleeping peacefully, Alex made a quick call to her husband.

 

            “Walker,” her normally somber husband answered his phone with a chuckle.

 

            “What’s going on down there?  You’re usually more businesslike answering the phone,” Alex quizzed teasingly.

 

            “Hey sweetheart, it’s Jimmy and Erika, she came in a few minutes ago to make sure he reminded me about being late tomorrow.  Jimmy started pouting while telling her that he always remembered to tell me things, so Erika started babying him.  Not two seconds later, Trivette stuck his foot in his mouth by teasing Erika that he might go help Gage and Sydney on this case after getting the brace off his leg tomorrow.  Erika almost hit the roof and started scolding him about taking it easy on his leg for a few days.  The look on his face was priceless.”  By the time Walker finished explaining the reason for his mirth to his wife, Alex was laughing so hard that she was crying.

 

            “Is Erika still there?”  Alex asked, finally getting her laughter under control.

 

            “Yes, she’s acting very upset while keeping Jimmy from knowing that she’s laughing.  He’s trying to explain that he was only teasing.”  Walker replied with another chuckle.  “Do you want me to keep her here?”

 

            “Would you please?  I’ll be down in a few minutes as soon as I get Angela and say goodbye.”  Alex answered with relief.

 

            “See you in a few minutes, honey.”  Walker replaced the receiver, watching his partner trying to comfort his fiancée.

 

            When Alex entered the office a few minutes later, she headed straight for Jimmy.  “What have you done to Erika now?”  She exclaimed while glaring at a startled Trivette.

 

            “Me?  I was just teasing her then she started crying!”  Jimmy began defending his actions.

 

            Erika couldn’t keep up the ruse any longer and started laughing, as did Walker and Alex, startling Jimmy even more.  “Jimmy, you are too easy to tease.  That’s why Gage is on your case all the time,” Erika managed to gasp out amid her laughter.

 

            “You aren’t angry with me then?”  The confused ranger queried.

 

            “No, I knew Walker wouldn’t send you undercover and risk you causing any more damage to that knee.  Besides if you could have seen the look on your face during my little tantrum, you would have been laughing too.”  Erika answered still giggling.  “Forgive me?”

 

            “Yeah, guess I need to keep a closer watch on your face next time I think I’m in trouble.” Trivette replied, chuckling himself as he hugged her close.

 

            “If you can, you couldn’t even see my face awhile ago.  Alex, are you ready to leave now?”  At Alex’s “Yes,” they gave their rangers a kiss and left, amid much chatter and laughter.

 

            “Trivette, you better get back with the check on RED Manufacturing and see if we missed anything that Syd and Gage need to know.”  Walker ordered, trying to get back to the business at hand but still grinning at his partner’s earlier predicament.

 

RED Manufacturing

 

            Sydney and Gage walked into the reception area at exactly noon, Walker had informed them that their covers were set up with the intention that they were friends outside of work before they left Headquarters.  Upon entering the building, the receptionist greeted them, “Hello, how may I help you today?”

 

            Gage answered, “We’re Shawn Caldwell and Carina Walters, reporting for work.”

 

            “Yes, Mr. Caldwell, Mr. Cox is supposed to be meeting you.  If you will take a seat, I will let him know you’ve arrived.”

 

            “Thank you,” Gage replied.  The partners moved to the waiting area, both taking in details of the outer office at the same time.

 

            After waiting a few moments, a clean-cut man, around their age, in a charcoal suit entered the reception area.  Seeing him come their way, the partners rose to meet him.

 

            “Hello, I’m Brandon Cox.”  The man introduced himself, extending his hand to first Gage, then Sydney.  “You must be Mr. Caldwell & Ms. Walters.”

 

            “Please, call me Shawn.  I’m just a factory worker, not a VIP’s assistant or something.”  Gage replied.

 

            Syd smiled at Gage’s remark before requesting, “It would be easier if you just call me Carina, since I’m going to be working for you, Mr. Cox.”

 

            “Okay, if both of you call me Brandon.  Mr. Cox always makes me feel like people are talking to my father instead of me.”  Brandon laughed at his little joke, as did the partners, then he went on, “I’ll take you on a tour before you start work.”

 

            The group entered the elevator as Cox started, “We’ll start on the 4th floor.  We won’t worry about the 5th floor; all that’s there is President O’Malley’s office and conference/meeting rooms.”

 

            Exiting at the 4th floor, Brandon turned left continuing his speech.  “These offices are Vice-President Carlton Powers and his Assistant Vice-President Justin Winters.”

 

            “Are they in every day?”  Sydney asked curiously.

 

            “Yes and you’ll probably meet them sooner than you would like, Carina, I have a meeting with both this afternoon.  Here’s your office,” opening the next door and ushering them inside, “This is where you’ll be other than breaks, in case you’re looking for her, Shawn.”  As they exited the office and went back to the elevator, Brandon said, “The rest of the floor contains the cafeteria and a snack room.  There’s a snack room on the first floor, also, where the factory is located.”

 

            “Isn’t it unusual to have a factory located in the same building as the offices for a company?”  Gage questioned.

 

            “Yes and the actual assembly line where the parts are made, is in the building behind this one.  This building houses the packing assembly line; you might get to meet Mr. Powers or Mr. Winters, also.  They seem to be very interested in how the parts are being packed in the boxes because they visit with William Brown, the foreman, quite often.”

 

            “There wasn’t much noise in the reception area to indicate an assembly line on the same floor.”  Sydney noted as they entered the elevator.

 

            “You actually entered the building on the 2nd floor.  The landscaping was built up in the front to hide the fact, while at the same time, the factory has outside windows and access, which makes it easier for shipping the parts out.”  Brandon explained while pushing the button for the 1st floor.

 

            Watching his actions, Gage asked, “Any reason why we’re skipping the other two floors?”

 

            “There’s not much to see…the 2nd and 3rd floors contain various other offices:  accounting, bookkeeping, inventory control and payroll.  Mr. O’Malley turned your paperwork in to the payroll department earlier, when he asked me to show you around, he said you were recommended by a friend of his.”

 

            “I guess you could say that,” Gage remarked ruefully, earning a poke in the ribs from Sydney.

 

            “Shawn, behave!”

 

            Brandon chuckled, “That’s okay, Carina.  He’s not bothering me; you need a good sense of humor to work here at times.  Now you can see where Shawn will be and then we’ll have to get busy working, as enjoyable as this last half hour was.”

 

            As they entered the factory area, a large man approached.  He seemed curious about Gage and Sydney wondering why Brandon Cox was bringing them to his area.

           

            “Hello, Mr. Cox.  We don’t get to see you very often down here, can I help you with anything?”  The man asked politely in a gruff voice.

 

            “This is your newest worker, Shawn Caldwell, William,” the man shook hands with Gage, “and this lady is my new assistant, Carina Walters.”  Syd was greeted with a nod from William Brown, “I just finished showing them around.  We finished up here to let Shawn get to work, and Carina and I will head back upstairs now.  I’ve got several sales and advertising reports that need to be finished during the next few days.”

 

            “I’ll see you later, Shawn,” Syd told her partner, before turning to the foreman and saying, “It was a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Brown.”

 

            “It was nice to meet you, Ms. Walters,” the large man returned politely.

 

            Gage grinned at her while replying, “I’ll pick you up after work, Carina,” watching as she and Brandon left the factory.

 

            “Shawn, I need you to start on the distributor line.  You’ll be putting the protective covers over the places for the sparkplugs.”  Willie stated, pulling Gage’s thoughts away from his partner and back to the business at hand.

 

Brandon’s Office

 

            As Syd and Brandon made their way from the elevator back to the office, Justin Winters joined them.  “Good afternoon, Brandon, and who might this lovely young lady be?”

 

            Syd gave the blond man a sidelong look, noting he looked every bit the upcoming executive, while keeping quiet.

 

            “This is my new assistant, Carina Walters.  Carina this is Justin Winters, Assistant Vice-President.”

 

            “Pleased to meet you Mr. Winters,” Sydney extended her hand, only to have him raise it, kissing the back.  “The pleasure’s all mine, Ms. Walters.”  Justin replied with a leering smile.  Syd retrieved her hand, giving the man a bland smile in return.

 

            Justin glanced at Brandon, as if forgetting he was around.  “I’ll be back with Mr. Powers in about an hour, Brandon.  We’re looking forward to seeing the mock-ups for the new ads.”

 

            After the man left, Brandon raised an eyebrow and grinned at Sydney, asking what she thought of the Assistant V.P.  With a rueful smile, Syd shook her head answering.  “He thinks he’s quite the lady’s man, doesn’t he?  I see what you meant earlier about meeting him sooner than I’d like, but you included Mr. Powers in the statement, too.  Is he like Winters?”

 

            With a grimace, Brandon answered, “No, he just makes you feel like you’re a lower life form to do his bidding.  Only with women, though, not other men.”

 

            “You sound experienced for him only treating women that way?”  Syd questioned.

 

            Chuckling, Brandon replied, “I have it on good authority from my regular assistant.”  At Syd’s puzzled look, he explained, “I hear about any problems from her all the time, because she’s my wife.  That’s why I needed a temp since she’s on maternity leave at the moment.”

 

            “Congratulations, when’s the baby due?”

 

            “In two weeks, you can tell Shawn later that he can stop worrying.”  At Syd’s amazed look, Brandon grinned mischievously, “He seemed a little uptight earlier until we talked awhile.  It didn’t take much to recognize he was a tad jealous.  I’d be the same way with Cassie.  You’re very beautiful but my heart is already captured and held; much like Shawn’s I’d wager.”

 

            “I’m not taking that bet, Shawn was a bit worried earlier, but you put his mind at ease during the tour.”

 

            All that had happened a couple of hours earlier, but Sydney was now mentally reviewing that afternoon’s events trying to pin down anything suspicious.  Thinking back to an hour ago, Syd recalled her first meeting with Carlton Powers.

 

            Carlton Powers was a few years older than Gage, with dark hair shot with gray.  He entered the office with Justin Winters who immediately made introductions, “Carlton, this is Brandon’s lovely new assistant, Carina Walters.  Carina, Vice President Carlton Powers.”

 

            “Ms. Walters, nice to meet you.  Mr. Cox should be ready for us, I’ve got quite a few things to finish this afternoon.”  Powers said in a vaguely bored tone.

 

            Syd smiled pleasantly replying, “Mr. Cox is waiting for you gentlemen.  Would you like something to drink?”

 

            “No thank you, Ms. Walters.  Justin, let’s get on with this, we haven’t got all day.”  The man’s commanding voice stopped Winters from engaging Sydney in conversation, as he hurried into Brandon’s office.

 

            Sydney watched them disappear with relief.  She had only dealt with Justin Winters, twice and was already becoming tired of fending off his advances.

 

            The sound of Brandon’s office door brought Syd’s thoughts back to the present.  Quickly appearing busy at her computer so as to not draw undue attention, Syd listened to the men’s final comments.  Her activity, coupled with Carlton Powers’ presence, kept Justin from lingering at Syd’s desk.  After the two men left, Brandon said, “You can go ahead and leave if you want Carina.  It’s only 4:30, but something may come up tomorrow that you’d need to stay late.”

 

            “All right, Mr. … Brandon.  I’ll see you in the morning.”  Grabbing her purse, Syd left heading for the elevators and the first floor.

 

            When the doors opened, Syd almost collided with her partner; Gage grasped her arms asking, “You done for the day, Honey?”

 

            Smiling brightly, she answered, “Yes, just coming to see if you were ready to leave.”

 

            “Right behind you, Shorty.”  He replied, returning her smile.

 

Ranger Headquarters

 

            When the door to Company B opened, both senior Rangers glanced toward it, expecting to see the junior partners.  Instead, the sight of their girls entering the office greeted them.

 

            Walker immediately went to take Angela from Alex, while Erika moved to her fiancé’s side.  Both couples embraced, while Walker asked, “Is anything wrong?”

 

            Alex was quick to reply, “Everything’s fine.  After shopping today, we got back to the ranch around 4 o’clock.  Since it was so late we decided to see if we could talk you two into buying us dinner.  Besides,” she added, pouting slightly, “We’re tired from shopping all day.”

 

            “And I can save you a trip to drop Jimmy off at home,” Erika piped up.

 

            “We’re just waiting on Syd and Gage to get here then…” Jimmy broke off as the office door opened again, this time revealing the junior partners with Syd laughing at one of Gage’s comments.

 

            Syd paused noticing four sets of eyes on them, “Did we interrupt anything?”

 

             Walker was all business, even though, he still held the sleeping baby.  “Did either of you learn anything today?”

 

            “Something fishy’s going on in the packing area, some of the boxes are diverted to a smaller room for packing,” Gage reported.  “I noticed a load of boxes being brought out of the room later, headed for the loading dock and they were all marked differently.  There wasn’t much looking around I could do, because Willie kept checking my work and asking questions.”

 

            “Did he seem suspicious of you?”  Trivette asked.

 

            “No, just questioned mainly about other jobs, if I’d ever worked with anything that I had to keep quiet about…his line of questioning, on top of noticing the boxes, made me wonder how he fits in with Mr. O’Malley’s feelings.”

 

            “What about you, Sydney?”  Walker queried.

 

            With a rueful smile, she answered, “I got the pleasure of meeting Carlton Powers and Justin Winters.  Brandon warned me what to expect of Mr. Powers beforehand, but he didn’t have a chance to warn me about some of Winters’ more endearing qualities.  Powers acts the classic rich snob, very aloof, with anyone he considers less than his equal, which includes all women.  Winters, on the other hand, thinks he’s God’s gift to women and if you’re not interested, you’re an instant challenge receiving more attention than you possibly want.”  Catching Gage’s quick glance her way, Syd knew she would be in trouble when they were alone for her partner not having heard any of this already.  “The only way of avoiding him is if Mr. Powers is around.  Powers must have some kind of hold over him, because Winters didn’t fool around when Mr. Powers told him to do something.”

 

            “Sounds like you both have a fair handle on who you want to check out more thoroughly.”  Walker inserted.  “Go ahead and take off and we’ll see you in the morning.”

 

            Gage pulled his attention back to his boss, “Okay, see you then.”

 

            “Have a good evening.  You keep these folks in line all right, Angela?”  Sydney told the sleeping infant causing laughter from the other adults.  “See you in the morning.”

 

            The group left together, splitting up as they arrived in the parking garage to go to their separate vehicles.

 

Sydney’s car

 

            Gage had lapsed into silence after leaving headquarters; but Syd didn’t realize how withdrawn her partner was until he ignored her question about what he wanted for dinner.  “Gage,” Syd repeated a bit louder.

 

            His partner’s insistent call roused Gage from his thoughts, “Yeah, Syd?”

 

            “Glad to have you back,” she replied.  “Did you want to go somewhere for dinner or stop for takeout...or we could go back to my place and throw something together.”

 

            “Why don’t we just go to my apartment and order a pizza?”  Gage suggested absently.  “Then you won’t worry about how I’m getting home later.”

 

            “Sounds like a plan to me,” Syd replied.  Glancing at her partner with a smile, she noticed his mind had drifted away again.  I wish he’d go ahead and yell at me if he’s going to about Justin Winters, then we could enjoy our evening together,” she thought in exasperation.

 

            Upon reaching Gage’s, Syd waited until he’d ordered the pizza before saying, “Okay Gage, let’s have it.”

 

            “What are you talking about, Syd?”  He asked startled.

 

            Throwing him an impatient look, Syd replied, “The fact that I didn’t tell you how Justin Winters acted towards me.”

 

            “Syd,” Gage sighed and held out his arms, “Come here.”  When she did, he wrapped his arms around her resting his chin on top of her head.  “I’m not angry.  I understand why you didn’t tell me about Winters.”

 

            “Are you sure, because the way you were acting in the car…” Syd began.

 

            “I was working everything out in my head.  I realized you didn’t want to upset me after this morning.  You just let me know if he goes overboard and I’ll make sure he leaves you alone, Assistant Vice-President or not, okay?”  Gage leaned back slightly to look Syd in the eyes.

 

            “Don’t worry, I can handle Justin Winters, but tell you what,” Sydney poked him playfully in the ribs.  “If he gets more than I can handle, I’ll let you have a talk with him, deal?”

 

            “Deal,” Gage grinned, tickling her lightly.  Sydney squirmed in his grasp, finally, twisting to get away.  As she turned away from him, Gage caught her shoulders, whirling her back into his arms and into a passionate kiss, which she returned without hesitation.  At the strident ringing of the doorbell, the partners broke away reluctantly.  Knowing it would be their dinner, Gage headed for the door, as Syd went to the kitchen for napkins and a beer for each of them.  She and Gage sat on the couch, depositing the food onto the coffee table; then settled back to eat and watch a replay of the last Texas Rangers baseball game on TV.

 

Jimmy & Erika’s

 

            After a delicious dinner and good company, Erika drove Jimmy home.  As they entered the apartment, she asked, “Did you remind Walker about being late tomorrow?”

 

            “Yes honey, I mentioned it again tonight, and almost got my head snapped off,” Jimmy grabbed Erika pulling her close.  “Will you stop worrying?  Tomorrow morning I’ll see the doctor, listen to his orders as to what my limits are; then you can drop me off at headquarters and go on to work.  Walker will drop me off on his way home, no big deal; everything back to normal, okay?”

 

            Erika smiled, “Okay Jimmy, you’ve made your point.  It looks like everything’s all set for tomorrow.”  Reaching up she kissed his cheek, “Right now, I’ll promise you one thing.”

 

            Jimmy’s grasp on his fiancée loosened slightly as he asked, “What exactly would that be?”

 

            “I promise…” Erika paused, pulling back slightly, then continuing in a rush, “Not to make you call Walker tonight about being late in the morning.”  As soon as she finished speaking, Erika whirled around, running into the bedroom laughing.

 

            “What?  Erika, get back here!”  Jimmy exclaimed, laughing himself and hurrying after her.  Entering the bedroom, he heard the sound of the shower coming from behind the closed bathroom door.  Undressing he got into bed to wait while Erika completed her bedtime preparations.  A few minutes after the shower shut off, the door opened slowly as Erika peeked around it asking, “Is it safe for me to come out?”

 

            “Yes honey, get over here.”  Jimmy ordered, holding the covers up for her to slip under.

 

            Erika climbed into bed and snuggled up against Jimmy.  As his arms closed around her, Erika said, “I’m sorry about being so uptight today.  It’s just while you were in the hospital, at first, I thought I was going to lose you.  Then having those nightmares this weekend, I guess, just made me overanxious about you going back to work until you had the leg brace off.”

 

            “Honey, Walker wouldn’t let me do anything that would cause more harm to my leg.  In fact, he’ll probably drag me down to the gym the next few days and make me exercise to make sure it’s strong enough to support me on the job.”  Erika’s laughter at his disgusted tone allowed Jimmy to relax, knowing she was calming down.  Pulling her closer to his side, Jimmy asked, “Ready to go to sleep, now?”

 

            Erika reached up to kiss her fiancé goodnight, then smiled, “Yes, especially with you holding me close.”

 

            “I can handle that,” Jimmy stated, tightening his arms around Erika as they drifted into a restful sleep.

 

The Walker Ranch

 

            “How much longer do you think she’ll sleep?”  Walker asked quietly as the entered the nursery to put the sleeping infant into her bed.

 

            “She should sleep for a couple of hours before needing to be fed.  Did you have anything special in mind?”  Alex queried, wrapping her arms around her husband’s neck.

 

            “Well, I thought you could take a hot bath then we could get to bed and, maybe, get a little extra sleep tonight.” was her husband’s reply.

 

            Alex laughed, “So you’re thinking if we get to bed earlier, we’ll automatically get more sleep?”

 

            “Yep, and while you’re in the bath, I’ll go take care of the horses,” Walker remarked with a mischievous grin.

 

            “Walker!”  Alex smacked him on the arm.  “In other words, if the baby does wake up while I’m bathing, I have to take care of her anyway.  That’s not fair,” she concluded with a pout.

 

            Her husband laughed, “I’m just kidding you, honey.  I called Jake down the road earlier and asked him to take care of the horses for me the next few afternoons.  He must’ve come before you got back because I called around 3:00 p.m. and he was going to come straight over.”

 

            “We arrived a little after four o’clock, Jake must’ve just left.”  Alex agreed.

 

            “Probably, now I thought you were taking a bath.”  Walker gave his wife a ‘what are you waiting for’ look, “or do I have to put you in myself?”

 

            “As tempting as that sounds, honey; I better take care of myself.  Something might get started that we can’t finish right now.”

 

            “You may be right,” Walker agreed with a sigh.  “Now you’d better get in that bath.  It’s been a hectic week and a bit of extra sleep sounds mighty good about now.”

 

            Alex just laughed as she entered the bathroom.  Walker headed for the bedroom readying for bed.  He’d just gotten between the sheets when his beautiful wife joined him.

 

            “You know, it’s nice to be able to relax without worrying what’s going to happen for a while.”  Alex remarked.

 

            “I know.  I, also, know the last week was hard on you, worrying about our friends, on top of it being so close to Angela’s due date.  I’m just glad to still have you with me and a darling daughter to boot.”

 

            Sharing a loving look and a few sweet kisses, Alex snuggled tightly against her husband’s side.  Laying her head on Walker’s chest with his arms snug around her, they drifted off into a dreamless sleep, uninterrupted except by their much-adored little one.

 

 

 

Chapter 6:  Tuesday

 

Walker Ranch

 

            Walker woke early and went downstairs to start the coffee.  On his way back upstairs to dress, he heard a slight noise from the nursery.  Deciding to check on the baby, he opened the door just as a tiny wail emitted from the infant’s mouth.  Going to the crib, he asked, “Now Angel, what’s the matter with you, huh?”  After changing the baby’s diaper, daddy picked up his daughter while continuing, “I bet you’re hungry.  Let’s go see if Mommy’s awake yet.”

 

            When he entered the bedroom, Alex scolded, “I was beginning to wonder if you were bringing her in here or not.”

 

            Walker leaned over kissing his wife good morning while handing her the baby.  “We were talking, honey.”

 

            Alex got Angela settled nursing before continuing, “Umm hmm, I could hear every word you said, cowboy, and you weren’t talking that much.”

 

            “There’s not a whole lot to say when she can’t answer.”  Walker retorted with a chuckle, “Alex, I’m going to take care of the horses then head into the office.  Jimmy’s not coming in until after his doctor’s appointment, and I need to talk to Sydney and Gage before they go back to work at RED.”

 

            “Okay, I’ll have breakfast ready by the time you get back in, shower, and change for work.”

 

            “Thanks, sweetheart.  See you in a bit.”  With a quick kiss, Walker went to the barn, taking care of his chores quickly but efficiently so he could spend a little more time with his wife and child before work.

 

Sydney’s

 

            Sydney was waiting somewhat impatiently on her partner.  Before she left for home the night before, Gage promised he’d pick her up the next day and treat her to breakfast before work.  Gage had called ten minutes before, saying he was on his way over, now Syd was watching for him from the front window.  Five minutes later, Gage pulled into the lot of her building.  Syd grabbed her purse and headed downstairs to meet her partner.

 

            “Morning, Syd.”  Gage said, laughing at the perplexed look on her face as she realized he had simply pulled up to the front door and waited on her to come down.

 

            Getting into the car, Syd turned to Gage asking, “How did you know I’d come down instead of waiting for you upstairs?”

 

            Leaning over and cupping her chin, Gage stole a quick kiss before replying.  “Well, honey, it’s 6:45 now, we have to be at RED by nine o’clock and Walker expects us at eight to go over our plans for today.  Let’s just say we’ve been partners long enough for me to know what you’re thinking sometimes.”  As Syd opened her mouth to protest, he continued, “The same way you can tell what I’m going to do at times without me saying a word.”

 

            “Okay, you’ve made your point,” Syd retorted, trying to keep from laughing, “Now are you taking me to breakfast or not?”

 

            “I’m taking you.  You guys always talk about me being in a hurry to eat, but put you off and you get grouchy.  Hey!”  Gage exclaimed as she punched his arm, “I was just kidding, Syd!  Anyway, how about we go to the new diner that just opened down the street from the courthouse?”

 

            Sydney laughed, “Sounds good and there’s a good reason I’m in a hurry this morning.  Usually if we have breakfast together, I end up cooking.”  Anticipating her partner’s protest, Syd finished, “Except for last Saturday, but if you’ll remember I was getting our picnic ready at the same time.”

 

            “All right, Syd, you’re always bugging me about not being able to fix anything except toast.  Ever think that may be why I don’t offer to cook more?  Look we’re here, are we going to go in and eat or stay out here and argue.” 

 

            Syd stared intently at him for a moment, then replied with a grin, “Let’s go eat, otherwise, I may get arrested for abusing my partner by starving him.  Because you’re teasing me again, like I do you about the toast.”

 

            Laughing Gage asked, “Can you picture the look on Jimmy’s face if he had to do the honors?”  Upon getting an agreeable nod from Sydney, they both got out of the car and headed inside the restaurant.

 

Ranger Headquarters

 

            The junior Rangers entered the office about 10 minutes before 8:00 a.m. to find Walker already at his desk.  Glancing around, Gage asked, “Where’s Jimmy?”

 

            Sydney elbowed him in the side, replying, “Gage, he’s getting the leg brace off today.  Erica’s hoping she’ll be able to work without worrying about him so much after his appointment.”

 

            “Poor Erica, Trivette was about to go crazy yesterday, because she kept asking if he’d reminded me that he wouldn’t be in until later and I got irritated at him since he told me every time she’d ask him.  Anyway, what are your plans for today?”

 

            “I stopped and checked out one of the small cameras, I’m going to see about getting into Justin’s office and doing some snooping around.  His secretary smokes, so when she takes an afternoon break, she’s definitely out of her office.  Brandon has a prolonged meeting with Justin, at least, this afternoon; I’ll see what I can find out then.”  Syd informed their boss.

 

            “I’m going to see what I can find out about the boxes that were marked, and what’s going on inside the smaller room.”  Gage spoke up as Walker’s gaze moved to him.

 

            “Sounds good.  Both of you be careful, though.  Gage, you mentioned yesterday that Willie was asking a lot of questions.  If anything changes in your cover position, try to get word to us immediately.  If there’s nothing else, Trivette and I will see you this evening.”  As the partners left, Walker tried to dismiss the uneasy feeling that crept over him.  Thinking of his juniors looking into this case without immediate backup, set the senior Ranger’s nerves on edge, a feeling he didn’t like and couldn’t ignore, while at the same time knowing he was unable to do anything else but wait and see if any new leads emerged.

 

Methodist Hospital

 

            Erika had to take Jimmy back to the hospital for the doctor, who’d seen him the week before, to do a follow-up before releasing him for regular duty.

 

            When they arrived in the emergency room and checked in, the nurse took Jimmy immediately for X-rays on his arm and leg.  When they returned, the nurse left him in a room before getting Erika to wait with him.

 

            Coming in, his fiancée asked, “How’d the X-ray go, did they say anything?”

 

            “No honey, the nurse just told me to wait here and the doctor would be here in a minute.”  Jimmy answered putting his arm around her.

 

            Before anything else could be said, Dr. Fayad entered the room, “Hello Ranger Trivette, you’re looking much better than you were last week.  How are you feeling?”

 

            “Feeling fine.  How do the X-rays look? 

 

            “They look very good.  They show everything normal.”  The doctor informed the couple.

 

            “Can I get back to regular duty, then?”  Jimmy asked eagerly.

 

            “Yes, but you might want to take it easy for a few more weeks before you fight the criminals.”  Dr. Fayad said with a smile.  “Just in case it puts too much strain on your shoulder.”

 

            “Thank you, doctor.”  As the doctor exited the room, Jimmy grabbed Erika into an exuberant hug and spun her around a few times before catching her lips in a passionate kiss.  “Erika, isn’t it great?”

 

            “Oh Jimmy, this is wonderful, now I can stop worrying about you for a while.  Now, what do you say I drop you at headquarters and I’ll fix a special dinner tonight?”

 

            “Sounds great, honey.  I can’t wait.”  The couple left the hospital in high spirits.  Upon reaching the Tarrant County Courthouse, Erika pulled into a space right next to the building and, leaning over, kissed her fiancé on the cheek while ordering, “All right, Ranger Trivette.  You get to work and be careful.”

 

            “Yes ma’am,” Jimmy saluted with an enthusiastic grin.  Erika slapped him on the arm as he exited the car heading for the door and Company B headquarters.

 

**************

 

            “Good morning, partner,” Jimmy cheerfully greeted the red-haired ranger.

 

            “Morning Trivette,” came the nonchalant reply, as Walker didn’t even look up from the report he was reading.

 

            Slightly put off by the lack of response, Jimmy tried again, “Is there anything you’d like to ask me?”

 

            Looking up, Walker thought a moment before replying, “Yeah, how’s Erika doing today?”

 

            “Uh, she’s fine.”  Jimmy answered with a startled, hurt-puppy-dog look on his face.

 

            “That’s good, I wondered if taking care of you was too much for her.”  Walker replied, looking back at the file in front of him before his partner could read the amused look on his face.

 

            With a disgruntled look on his face, Jimmy watched his partner a few moments before turning to his computer and starting work.

 

RED Manufacturing

 

            As Syd parked the car in a space, Gage reached over taking her hand as he said, “Listen Syd, I want you to be careful today, all right?”

 

            “Gage, you’re sounding like Walker!  I’ll be careful, but you do the same.”

 

            Gage feigned a hurt look replying, “Syd, you know I’m always careful.”

 

            Sydney laughed, “Yeah Gage, I remember you getting in trouble several times when you were being ‘careful’.”

 

            Grinning with her, Gage retorted, “Okay Syd, I get the picture.”  Sobering quickly, he continued, “Seriously Syd, you’re the one sneaking in Winters’ office.  Promise me you’ll be careful.”

 

            Sydney reached over and putting her arms around her partner’s neck, pulled him closer for a kiss while reassuring, “I’ll be careful, Gage.  Try not to worry so much.  We better get inside before we’re late.”

 

            Holding on for another kiss, Gage released her saying, “If you insist Syd, we’ll get back to this later.”

 

            “Get back to what, exactly?”  Sydney asked, curiously.

 

            “What do you think?”  Her partner retorted, raising his eyebrows.

 

            Sydney smiled, playfully, “Promise?”

 

            “You bet.  Let’s go, before you get on to me about making you late.”  The partners headed into the building, parting at the elevators.

 

Upstairs

 

            Upon reaching her temporary office, Syd found Brandon wasn’t in yet.  She set about starting a pot of coffee and booting up the computer while waiting.  Syd was just getting a cup for herself when Brandon entered looking tired.

 

            Syd lifted the pot, querying gently, “Want a cup?”

 

            “Yes thanks,” Brandon answered gratefully.  “Cassie can’t stand the smell first thing in the morning.”

 

            “My friend just had a baby and she had trouble with the smell at first.  Her husband had to wait until he got to work for coffee or stop and get some on the way.  She quit having trouble after she got over the morning sickness.”  Syd replied with a smile, handing him the coffee.  “Did you have a rough night?”

 

            “Shows, huh?  Cass couldn’t sleep so I didn’t get much more than she did.  She was so restless that we’re thinking we may have our bundle before much longer.”  With a sigh, he took a sip of the steaming brew.  “This is great Carina, thanks.  Guess we’d better get to work.  There are a couple of reports I need you to get typed today.  The one marked ‘sales data’, I need before lunch.  The advertising report by the time you go home.”

 

            “I’ll get right on it.”  With that Syd sat down at the desk, skimming over the first report before beginning to type it into the computer.  Brandon made sure she didn’t have any immediate questions; then headed into his office.

 

Packing Dept.

 

            Gage entered the room just as everyone gathered around Willie for their day’s assignments.  The foreman assigned some to the small room and the rest to positions in the main room.

 

            Everyone else dispersed to their duties, except for Gage, who hadn’t been given a place.  Gage was a little concerned when Willie approached him, but kept calm asking, “What am I to do today?”

 

            “Shawn, I’ve got a new job for you today.  Come with me.”  Gage followed the foreman, realizing he was headed for the smaller room.

 

            As they entered the room, Gage looked around absorbing as much information as he could.  There were more packing lines in here, but beside every station were boxes full of small bags or covered vials containing some kind of white powder.

 

            “Shawn, Shawn!”  Willie’s voice brought Gage from his observation.

 

            “Sorry, my mind was wandering.  I never dreamed there could be a room this size in here.”  Gage quickly apologized.

 

            Willie watched the young man closely as he replied, “That’s all right.  Here’s where you’ll be.  I just had a worker go on vacation, so we’ve got a vacant position.”  Noticing he had Gage’s full attention, the foreman went on to explain Gage’s job, which was to put vials of powder into the holes in the distributors.  Gage went to work, steadily doing the job assigned to him, after watching him a few moments Willie moved away going from one room to the other supervising everyone’s work.

 

            When Gage had a box filled with distributors ready for packing, another man came, taking it to be taped.  A red star was then put on the side and the box was packed with others on the cart that Gage had noticed being brought out the day before.

 

Ranger Headquarters

 

            The past few hours had gone by fairly quiet as Jimmy didn’t talk to his partner after his earlier comments.  Walker was about to get the sullen ranger out of the office for lunch, when his phone rang.  Answering it and hearing Gage’s voice, the senior ranger focused completely on the younger man.

 

            “Walker just wanted to check in and let you know what went on this morning.”  Gage started, going on to explain that he’d been moved into the smaller packing room.

 

            “I’ll see if I can get any of the powder for testing, but Willie’s still watching me pretty close.”  Gage explained.

 

            “That’s all right Gage.”  Walker replied, “Don’t take the risk if you’re being watched.  We’ll get something later.”

 

            “You got it, boss.  Syd said that Justin Winters is supposed to have a meeting in Brandon’s office after lunch and she’s going to get in his office to look around.”

 

            “Tell Sydney to be careful.  We’ll see you later.”

 

            “Will do.  See you later.”

 

            Walker hung up his phone as the line was disconnected on Gage’s end.  Looking over at his own partner, he called, “Trivette.”

 

            The black ranger didn’t glance up, “Yeah, Walker?”

 

            Walker smiled at Jimmy’s continued sullen behavior, “Did the doctor clear you for regular duty?”

 

            “Yeah, he said I could get back to a normal work schedule, but to take it easy for a few weeks and not put too much stress on the leg or shoulder.”  Jimmy, unconsciously, answered the question he’d been waiting for his partner to ask earlier.  Still not looking up, Trivette missed the amused expression on Walker’s face, which disappeared as his phone rang once again.

 

            “Walker,” he answered in a crisp voice.

 

            “Hi there, Cowboy.”  The ranger’s face melted into a smile upon hearing his wife’s voice.

 

            “Hi Alex.  To what do I owe the pleasure of this call?”

 

            “Well, I tried calling Erika but she must be at work, so I thought I’d try there to see how Jimmy’s doctor’s appointment went.”

 

            “It went well, he got approved for regular duty as long as he takes it easy for a few weeks.  I guess, that means the skydiving is out for a while.”  Walker filled Alex in on what Jimmy had just told him, embellishing a little for his partner who couldn’t help but overhear.

 

            “Walker, how did you know what the doctor told me,” Jimmy asked looking at his partner in amazement.

 

            Walker grinned, ignoring the other man to finish his conversation with his wife.  After finding out how both his girls were doing, Walker signed off and replaced the receiver before facing his partner.

 

            “Jimmy, I know what the doctor told you, because you told me.”  He patiently replied.

 

            “No, I didn’t!  I waited for you to ask me earlier and you couldn’t be bothered!  All you were concerned about was how Erika had held up.  Now you just tell Alex everything without even asking me…” Walker cut Jimmy off in mid-sentence.

 

            “Trivette, calm down for a minute.  I asked you not twenty minutes ago if the doctor cleared you for duty, and you said yes then went on to tell me all about your appointment.  So just take a deep breath and relax.  Now are you ready to grab some lunch?”

 

            “I did not tell y…” Jimmy’s voice trailed off as he remembered answering his partner’s question about 15 minutes prior.  “Walker, how do you manage to do that to me?”

 

            “Do what exactly?”  Walker queried.

 

            “Get me to tell you things when I’m not paying attention to what you’re asking me.”  The other man answered impatiently.

 

            “That’s why, because you’re not paying attention.  Let’s grab some lunch now.”

 

            Jimmy opened his mouth to argue further, then thinking better of it, grabbed his jacket to follow his partner out of the office.

 

RED Manufacturing

 

            Gage and Sydney were on their lunch breaks when Gage called Walker while Syd watched for anyone approaching them who could overhear his conversation with their boss.  “Will do.  See you later.”  Gage put his cell phone back in his pocket and looked at his partner.  “Walker said for you to be careful, Syd, and I’m still not too sure about you taking this kind of risk by yourself.”

 

            “It’s all right Gage; I’ll be careful,” Sydney reassured, reaching across to take his hand.  “Besides Justin will be with Brandon and his secretary said she was taking her lunch break when Justin went to the meeting.  I’ll have plenty of time to get in and out unnoticed.”

 

            “I just have a bad feeling about this, Syd.”  Gage replied, grasping her hand tighter.

 

            “I know, Gage.”  Syd answered then raising an eyebrow at her partner asked,  “What did Walker have to say about you trying to get some of the powder?”

 

            Gage grinned, “Not to take the risk.  Don’t worry about that, you just concentrate on getting in and out of Justin Winters’ office safely.”

 

            “Speaking of which, I’d better get back.  Lunchtime’s up and I need to be in the office when Winters arrives.”  Syd squeezed Gage’s hand quickly, letting go to stand up.  “Catch you later.”

 

            “Okay, Carina.”  Gage stood also, walking with his partner to the office door then heading for the elevator to get downstairs.

 

            After leaving Gage, Sydney was at her desk long enough to get a good start on the next report for Brandon.  She looked up as the door opened to admit Justin Winters.

 

            Giving him a polite smile, Syd requested.  “Good afternoon, Mr. Winters.  If you’ll have a seat, I will let Mr. Cox know you’re here.”

 

            “Thank you, Carina.”  Justin replied, sitting on the edge of her desk right beside her phone.

 

            Sydney tried ignoring him as she picked up the receiver, saying, “Mr. Winters is here for the meeting, Mr. Cox.”  Listening for a few moments, she then answered, “Yes sir, right away.”  Looking up and gesturing towards Brandon’s office, she said, “Mr. Cox said for you to go right in.”

 

            “Thank you, lovely.  After I’m through with this little meeting, how about you coming for a late lunch with me.”

 

            “No thank you, Mr. Winters.”  She politely declined.  “I really need to get this report finished, and I’ve already had lunch.”

 

            “Okay, I’ll check back with you another time.”  The man answered, not catching the cool undertone to Syd’s voice.  Sydney led him into Brandon’s office, asking Brandon, “Could I get you gentlemen anything to drink?”

 

            “Would you bring us some coffee please, Carina?”  Brandon requested with a smile.

 

            Syd returned the smile, replying, “Sure, I’ll be right back.”

 

            After delivering the coffee, Sydney sat back down at her desk.  Picking up her purse, she retrieved the camera she’d checked out at headquarters that morning, putting it in her blazer pocket.  Listening quietly, she heard the two men’s voices discussing the report on sales data and the effects advertising had on the sales in different months.  As they got further into the discussion, Syd slipped out into the corridor heading for Justin’s office.

 

Inside Justin Winter’s office

 

            With Justin’s secretary on her lunch break, the female ranger had no trouble getting into Justin’s private office.  Looking around once she was inside, Sydney decided the best place to search would be in his desk drawers.  Quickly opening each drawer and flipping through the contents, she found a folder marked ‘special orders’ within a few moments.  A glance at the first page inside the folder proved that she’d hit pay dirt.  The page was a list of items ordered by the company, whose purchases had prompted Mr. O’Malley to call Walker in the first place.  In addition to the parts shipped, this list included the amount of drugs contained inside each part.  Pulling out the camera, she went through the pages snapping pictures of each then putting the folder back in the drawer the way she found it.

 

            Going back through the outer office, Syd opened the door a crack, checking the corridor and slipping quickly out of the office.  Heading back to her desk without a backward glance, she didn’t notice Carlton Powers coming out of his office, watching her closely; then entering Justin’s office.

 

            Sydney had been back to work on the report around half an hour before Justin came out of Brandon’s office with a copy of the earlier report.  “Brandon, I’ll show this to Carlton and let you know what he wants.”  Closing the door, he moved closer to Syd’s desk asking, “Well doll face, are you sure I can’t interest you in lunch?”

 

            Syd’s body tensed at the ‘doll face’ bit, but she kept her face composed while replying, “I’m sure Mr. Winters, I still have this report to finish and I have already eaten.”

 

            Justin, still not noticing Syd’s underlying reactions, kept up the pursuit, “Well how about dinner then?”

 

            Sydney was tired of being bothered by the man and politely replied in a cool voice, looking him in the eye, “Mr. Winters, I’m sure there are a number of women, who would be flattered by the attention you are giving me, but I’m not one of them.  I already have a boyfriend and he doesn’t like to share, so please leave me alone.”

 

            Justin gave her a rueful smile saying, “You can’t blame a guy for trying.  Truce?”

 

            “That’s all right.  I am just not available and don’t need the attention to do my job.”  Syd replied, hoping he would leave soon.

 

            “I can tell when I’m not wanted, I’ll see you later.”  With that Justin left the office, as Sydney relaxed in her chair with a sigh of relief.

 

            She straightened with a start, as Brandon’s office door opened.  “Did he finally leave you alone, Carina?”  Brandon asked her gently.

 

            “You heard everything, didn’t you?”  She asked with raised eyebrows.

 

            “Yes, have you told Shawn about Justin?”

 

            “I had to, I also promised if he went overboard and wouldn’t leave me alone that Shawn could have a talk with him.  Hopefully, he accepted what I told him and I won’t have to worry about Shawn decking him.”  Syd answered with a grin, causing Brandon to laugh, while both pictured her partner confronting the other man.

 

Justin’s office

 

            Justin entered his office a few moments later, somewhat down in the dumps for being politely told to ‘go fly a kite’ from a beautiful woman.  Turning after closing his door, he gave a start seeing someone in his chair until he realized it was Carlton Powers.  “Carlton, what are you doing here?”  He asked somewhat irritably.

 

            “Do you know what’s been going on in here while you were in your meeting with Brandon?”  His boss curtly questioned.

 

            “Not a clue.  No one was here, Mary was gone to lunch…”

 

            Carlton cut in on Justin’s explanation, “And with her gone to lunch, anyone could have walked in here.  Get the tape and let’s see if anyone was in here or not.”

 

            Retrieving the video from a hidden camera in the wall vent, Justin turned on the TV/VCR in the corner and put the tape in.  Returning to his desk, he perched on the edge, pushing the ‘Play’ button and starting the tape.  What was revealed on the screen surprised both men; Syd was shown from entering through taking the pictures and returning the file to its proper place.

 

            “Well Justin, still think no one was here?”  Looking at the younger man, Carlton Powers’ eyes took on a steely glint.  “You know what needs to be done, either you get rid of her or have Willie do it.  I don’t care how, just take care of her.”

 

            Swallowing hard, Justin replied, “Yes sir.  I’ll make sure of it.”  With that Powers stood and left, Justin sat behind his desk then reached for the phone dialing.

 

Packing Dept.

 

            Work was going on quickly and quietly, when the phone rang, startling Gage who was closest to it.  Gage listened as Willie picked up the receiver, “Packing,” he curtly answered.

 

            “Willie, it’s Justin; we’ve got a little problem.”

 

            “What’s wrong?”  Willie asked, keeping his words to a minimum to protect the conversation from the factory workers.

 

            “While I was in a meeting with Brandon Cox, I had an uninvited guest in my office.  The boss saw who it was and we’ve confirmed their identity from the video camera.”

 

            “I’m listening.”

 

            “You know who Carina Walters is?”

 

            “Yeah, I’ve seen her.”  Willie replied, not mentioning the fact that she was with Shawn when he did.

 

            She’s the guest.”

 

            Willie whistled through his teeth.  “So what do you want me to do?”

 

            “The boss said to take care of her one way or another.  That means shut her up any way you can.  He doesn’t care how.”  Justin ordered, pleased to have the job out of his hands.

 

            “You got it.  Everything will be taken care of,” Willie answered.  Hanging up the receiver, he called to one of the men who picked up completed boxes, “James!”

 

            When the man got closer, Willie ordered, “Make sure nothing goes wrong down here, I’ve got an errand to run.”

 

            “Yes sir,” the other man replied, watching as the foreman left the room.  Turning back, he noticed Gage also looking after Willie’s departing figure.

 

            “Caldwell,” Gage started at the sharp blast of his name.  “Get back to work; Mr. Brown’s not paying you to keep track of where he’s going.”  Gage went back to packing the parts while wondering what Willie’s conversation meant and what his errand was.

 

Sydney’s office:  around 4:30 p.m.

 

            Gage entered Syd’s office, grinning when she glanced up.  “Hey there, are you about done?”

 

            Syd smiled back, “Not yet, I’m in the middle of typing up a report for Brandon and won’t be finished until closer to five o’clock.”

 

            “Do you want me to wait here for you or in the cafeteria?”

 

            “Why don’t you go on without me,” Syd lowered her voice, “You could report in to Walker and Trivette then maybe we could head home early.”  Reaching into her pocket, Syd handed Gage the small camera she used earlier, “Will you drop this off at the lab for me?”

 

            Taking the film and putting it in his pocket, Gage remarked, “In other words, get out of here and quit distracting you?”

 

            “Shawn!  You’re a good distraction, I just thought it would save us some time later.”  Syd replied with a hurt look at the suggestion.

 

            Gage grinned, “I know, I’ll see about clearing things up before you arrive.”  Leaning down he sneaked a quick kiss before exiting, “Be careful.”

 

            “You too.  See you soon.”  Syd was caught up in a dream for a few minutes thinking about the progress in their new personal relationship.  Shaking her head and coming back to reality, Syd hurried to finish work so she could follow her partner.

 

            At 4:45 p.m., Syd knocked on Brandon’s door then entered to hand him the completed report.

 

            “This looks great, Carina, thanks,” Brandon said with a smile.

 

            “You’re welcome,” Syd answered.  “I’m heading out now, I’ll see you in the morning.”

 

            “See you in the morning.  Is Shawn waiting for you?”

 

            “No, I sent him on an errand earlier, I’m going to pick him up now.  Bye.”  On that note, Syd left, heading for the parking lot and the car.

 

            A few minutes later, Brandon opened his door preparing to leave for the day, but paused as he overheard Justin Winters talking to Willie Brown.

 

            “Did you take care of things?”

 

            “Yes sir, I set a bomb on the girl’s car that ought to take care of the little snoop like the boss ordered.  I set the timer for 45 minutes, but it’s also rigged so that if she stops the ignition before it hits zero the bomb will explode.  Either way she’ll be out of the picture.”  Willie answered, “I noticed that Caldwell caught a cab instead of waiting on her.  He’s a good worker; it would have been a shame to lose him.”

 

            “If Caldwell had waited, he’d be history too.  You know the boss; he said to take care of the girl, at any cost, since we caught her in my office snooping.”  Winters retorted, “Speaking of the boss, he wanted to meet us downstairs.  Let’s go before he has to wait long.”

 

            As the two men finished, Brandon went to the window of his office just in time to see Syd’s car leaving the lot.  Trying to figure how best to warn her, Brandon decided to call Shawn’s cell phone to inform him of the overheard conversation.

 

Ranger Headquarters

 

            Gage had taken a circuitous route to headquarters, in case someone followed him.  He got the cab to drop him in front of an office building a block away.  Gage went in the building then out the opposite side and walked to the courthouse, once inside he stopped at the lab, dropping off Syd’s film for processing while, at the same time, turning the camera back in.  Arriving in the Company B office, Gage began his report to the senior Rangers when his phone rang.  Checking the number first, he answered, “Caldwell.”

 

            “Shawn, it’s Brandon Cox.  I hope you can do something, I just found out that Carina’s in trouble.”  Came the breathless reply over the line.

 

            “Where is she?  What’s happened, Brandon?”  Gage rapidly fired the questions, then, noticing the senior Rangers looking his way curiously at his reaction, regained control over his own emotions saying.  “Listen, take a deep breath and tell me what’s going on.”

 

            Calming somewhat, Brandon relayed the conversation between Brown and Winters to Gage, finishing with, “Carina just left and I didn’t know who else to call.  I didn’t want to scare her by calling her with this.”

 

            “That’s fine Brandon, I’ll take care of her.  Thanks for calling.”  Disconnecting the line, Gage immediately dialed Syd; answering Walker’s, “What’s going on, Gage?” with a curt “There’s a bomb on Syd’s car, set to blow in about half an hour or when she turns the ignition off; whichever comes first.”

 

Sydney’s car

 

            Sydney was singing with the radio while looking forward to the evening with her partner, when her phone rang.  Answering she noticed it was Gage, “Hey there, I’m on my way to meet you.”

 

            “Syd,” Gage paused a second, thinking how to tell her about the present danger, “I need you to stay calm for me.”

 

            Syd’s warning system flashed into high gear at the seriousness in her partner’s voice as she asked, “What’s wrong, Gage?”

 

Ranger Headquarters

 

            Gage was trying to remain calm while just wanting to be with Syd holding her close.  “Brandon called me.  He heard Winters and Willie talking about putting a bomb on your car.”

 

            “Gage…on this car?”  Syd’s voice rose in alarm.

 

            “Syd, take it easy.  Where are you at right now?”

 

            Taking a deep breath, Syd pulled her emotions in check and concentrated on her surroundings, “I’m on the freeway.  I left RED five minutes ago, so I’m about twenty minutes out.”

 

            “That’s good news, Syd.  The bomb is set to go off in about thirty minutes.  Hang on a sec, okay?  Walker wants to talk to you.”

 

            Walker’s calm voice came on the phone, “Sydney, how far out are you?”

 

            “About twenty minutes, Walker.”

 

            “Okay, here’s what I want you to do.  Go to Parking Lot G, it’s empty now.  Gage will meet you there, but don’t turn the ignition off.  Just park, get out and away.  Someone from the bomb squad will move in to check if they’ve got enough time to disarm it.”

 

            “Okay.  Walker, why do you want me to leave the car running?”  Syd asked puzzled; then baffled even more by Walker’s answer.

 

            “Takes too much time switching it off.  You just concentrate on getting away.”  This was accompanied by a stern look toward Gage who was listening intently to his boss’s conversation.  “Sydney, talk to Trivette a minute, then Gage will be back with you.”

 

            Handing the phone to Jimmy, Walker motioned Gage aside to the window.  “Listen Gage, as soon as Sydney pulls up get her behind those dumpsters on the edge of the lot fast.  Let the squad guys check out the bomb, you take care of your partner.  Trivette and I will hang back here for a while before coming down.  As soon as we’re on the scene, get Syd up here.”

 

            “Believe me Walker, Syd’s the only thing on my mind right now.”  Gage answered, fervently, not realizing how much of his true feelings for his partner were being conveyed to their boss.

 

            Walker grinned at Gage’s reply, “Good, Syd should be here in about ten or fifteen minutes.  You’d better get your phone back before Jimmy runs out of things to talk about; then get downstairs to meet Sydney before she has a fit.”

 

            “Got it, Walker.  See you later.”  Gage replied, heading for Trivette and his phone.

 

            Jimmy saw Gage coming and said, “Here’s Gage back, Syd.  We’ll see you in a little bit.”  He then relinquished the phone to Gage and joined his partner at the window, knowing Walker’s position wouldn’t change until the junior Rangers were safely away from the car.

 

            Sydney was relieved to hear her partner’s voice come back on the line as Gage said, “Okay Syd, I’m heading down to meet you.  How far out are you now?”

 

            “Still about five to ten minutes out.  Gage. . . . . . .I’m scared.”

 

            “I know honey, listen everything’s gonna be alright.  You keep that in mind, okay?”

 

            “Okay.  Gage, why did Walker tell me not to turn the ignition off?”  Syd questioned.

 

            “He told you it takes too much time.  Hey, you don’t have the car keys on the ring with your other keys do you?”

 

            “No, Gage, and I don’t believe it takes too much time on switching the car off.”  Was his partner’s impatient reply, followed by a firm, “Now, what’s going on?”

 

            “Syd, I’ll explain everything later.”

 

            “Gage,” Syd persisted.  “I’m almost there and you can’t scare me any more than I already am.  Now tell me!”

 

            “Okay Syd, here goes.  We don’t want you to turn the ignition off because Brandon heard them say the bomb is rigged to explode if the engine is switched off before the timer hits zero.  Walker wants us to get away fast just in case it’s also wired to go off if the door is opened.  All right, I’m at Lot G where are you now?”

 

            “I’m coming around the courthouse.  I see the lot, be there in a couple of minutes; I’ll go ahead and hang up though.”  Hearing a disagreeing noise from her partner, Syd reassured him, “Don’t worry, Gage, I’m all right for now.”

 

            Gage disconnected the line as he caught sight of Syd’s car.  Sydney concentrated on pulling into the parking lot and over to where her partner waited for her.

 

            Putting the car into park, Syd grabbed her purse as Gage opened the door.  When she was out of the car, Gage caught her hand, both running across the parking lot.  Reaching the relative safety of the heavy steel dumpsters, Gage wrapped his arms protectively around Syd.  No sooner had they crouched down; than there was a sound similar to a gunshot followed by a deafening blast as the car exploded.  When the sound faded away, Gage eased his grip on Syd to check that she was unharmed.  Feeling Gage move away, Sydney clung tighter to him, still unnerved over the closeness of the timing.

 

            “Syd?”  Gage questioned, when his partner pulled herself closer to him.

 

            “Gage, please,” Syd requested in a low voice, keeping as brave a front that she was capable of in that moment.

 

            Gage, realizing she was still scared, held her closer saying, “It’s okay Syd; I’ve got you.”  Seeing Walker and Trivette exiting the building, Gage asked, “Walker wants us to get into the office as soon as possible, are you ready to go now?”  Syd didn’t waste energy on talking, simply nodding her head.

 

            Walker and Jimmy watched the scene unfold from the office window until Gage and Sydney were a safe distance from the vehicle; then headed for the door.  Exiting the building, Walker looked toward the younger partners just as Gage helped Syd to her feet so they could make their way into the building.  At the same time, the senior Ranger noticed how closely they held each other and smiled feeling sure that his suspicions about the younger Rangers were correct.  Turning his attention back to the scene, he saw Paul Myers, chief of the bomb unit, moving to meet them.

 

            “Paul, what have you found out?”  Walker asked.

 

            “We found part of the bomb, timer stayed intact.”  Paul held up the charred remains bearing a digital plate reading ‘000’.  “It ran out of time, your Ranger was lucky to get here when she did.”

 

            “Well, we weren’t entirely sure how much time was left.  That’s why I had her partner get her out and away from the area.”  Walker replied.

 

            “It was a good call, Walker.  Ranger Cooke’s too pretty to lose.”  Paul remarked in an appreciative tone.

 

            “Yes and you’re too married to be thinking that way.”  The Ranger retorted protectively, before concluding.  “Besides you’d have to get through her partner first.”

 

            “Dana would have my hide if she thought I looked at Ranger Cooke, much less any woman, with anything but professional courtesy.  You know…she and Ranger Gage make a good team, Walker.”  Paul remarked thoughtfully.

 

            “I know; I’d hate to lose either of them.”  Walker replied as Jimmy nudged his partner’s arm.  “Walker, there are reporters over there wanting to know what happened and probably if there’s any footage available.”

 

            “Yeah, I saw them.  Here’s what I want you to do.”  Walker outlined what he had in mind to his partner.  Jimmy left and Walker went with Chief Myers to look at the remains of Syd’s vehicle until his partner returned.

 

Security Office

 

            Jimmy went to the security room of the courthouse and greeted the officer on duty, “Hi, Mike.”

 

            “Hey, Trivette, what can I do for you?”

 

            “Walker needs a couple of discs cut from the security camera in Lot G.”

 

            “Where Cooke’s car blew?”

 

            “Yeah, there are reporters downstairs looking for footage for the news and Walker thought he’d oblige them, while using it to our advantage.”

 

            Jimmy went through the events Walker wanted copied with Mike.  Mike made the five copies Walker requested which showed:  the car coming to a halt; Syd and Gage’s getaway; then the explosion.  When the copies were ready, Mike handed them to Jimmy.

 

            “Thanks Mike, Walker wants to preserve Syd and Gage’s covers if possible.”

 

            When Jimmy rejoined his partner at the scene, he whistled through his teeth upon getting a good look at the car’s destruction commenting, “Man, Walker, I’m glad Gage got Sydney away from there.”

 

            “Me, too, Trivette.  Are we set?”  Getting an affirmative from his partner, they headed toward the myriad journalists.

 

            Seeing the senior Ranger’s approach, the reporters immediately began firing questions as the camera crews focused in on Walker’s set countenance.

 

            Walker waited for the commotion to die down before speaking.  “What happened here is the result of a car bomb.  We’re not sure whether it was meant to cause damage by the driver or if she was the victim.  My partner and I saw the vehicle pull up to meet a man in the lot then they left the scene.  We are making every effort to find these two and get to the bottom of things.”  Thanking the reporters, the two men moved away heading to the office to check on their young friends.

 

Company B Office

 

            When Syd and Gage entered the empty office, he moved his arm from around her shoulders; mildly surprised when his partner wouldn’t release her hold.  At his suggestion that they sit down, Syd eased her grasp only to sit in his lap the minute Gage was ensconced in his chair.  Wrapping his arms around her again, he teased, “How are we going to explain this to Walker and Trivette when they walk in?”

 

            Syd shook her head, “Did you see the reporters downstairs?  Walker and Jimmy won’t be here for a while.  Maybe my nerves will have settled down by then.  I noticed a Channel 6 news crew down there.  Let’s see if they run a special report.”

 

            Turning the TV on with the remote, which was close, they were just in time to catch the in-studio anchorman reporting, “an explosion in a parking lot near the Tarrant County Courthouse.  Let’s go to Marsha Bradford at the scene.”  After the reporter talked about what had obviously happened, Walker was shown approaching the group and giving his statement.  When he finished a few reporters asked further questions, which he declined to answer.  The camera panned back to Marsha and she finished the brief with, “more on your local news at six.”  Pressing the ‘Power Off’ button, Gage kissed Syd on top of the head while reminding her their bosses could show up any minute.

 

            “All right Gage, I’m feeling a little calmer anyway.”  Syd replied standing up and moving to the chair at the end of his desk.

 

            No sooner had Sydney sat down than the senior partners entered the office.  Walker looked toward the juniors asking Syd how she was doing.

 

            “I’m fine Walker, better than while on my way here.”  Syd answered with a slight smile.

 

            “Glad you’re okay, Sydney.  The bomb detonated when the timer hit zero.  I made a statement to the media a while ago, and some of the television reporters have picked up some video from the security camera that I had Trivette get ready.”

 

            Gage asked, “How’s Mike doing, Jimmy?” while Syd asked, “What’s on the video?”

 

            Jimmy answered both questions; telling the partners Mike was okay and outlining the scenes Walker wanted for media release.

 

            Walker added, “I knew the usual reporters would ask if we had anything.  If you think your covers are still intact, the video shouldn’t hurt them.”  Looking at the two Rangers, Walker noticed they still looked anxious.  “Gage, why don’t you take Sydney home and we’ll talk in the morning, same time as today.  Let us know then what you decide about your positions at RED.”

 

            “All right, thanks Walker.”  Helping his partner to her feet, Gage said, “Come on Shorty.  Let’s get you home so you can relax a bit.  We’ll talk to you guys tomorrow.  Good night.”  With Sydney echoing his farewell, they exited the office.

 

            Looking after them, Jimmy remarked.  “There’s definitely something different about those two lately.”

 

            “You don’t say,” his partner retorted.  “Well…tell you what Trivette.  If you figure it out let me know, okay?”

 

            “Ha, ha, very funny, Walker.  You probably know what’s up and won’t tell me.  Hey, can we head home, too?”

 

            “In a minute.  First, I want you to do background checks on Brown, Powers, and Winters and cross-reference any previous connections between them.”

 

            “Will do.”  A short time later the reports were printed and waiting on Walker’s desk for the next day’s briefing as the partners left the office shortly after six o’clock for their homes.

 

Gage’s car

 

            Syd leaned her head back in the passenger seat looking out of the window.  She hadn’t said a word since leaving headquarters, causing her partner some concern.  Looking across the seat, Gage decided to take her to his apartment where he could pamper her a bit.

 

            Noticing he passed her turn-off, Syd turned her head saying, “Hey!  I thought you were taking me home.”

 

            “I am; I just didn’t say whose home.”  Enveloping one of her hands in his, Gage wheedled, “Come on Syd, let me take care of you for a change, okay?  I’ll run you home later, but for now I just need you close.  I can fix us something to eat at my place without having you worry about your apartment going up in flames, too.”  He finished with a grin.

 

            “Gage, I’m sorry I ever said anything about your cooking.”

 

            “Syd, I’m just teasing.”  Pulling into a space in front of his building, the partners headed upstairs together.

 

            Entering the apartment, Gage put his arm around Syd, steering her towards his bedroom.  Syd watched curiously as Gage went to his dresser opening a drawer for something.  Returning to her side, Gage handed her one of his T-shirts and a pair of shorts with a drawstring waist.

 

            “Here Syd, you go take a shower and put these on while I fix something for dinner, okay?”  As she slanted a glance at his face, he continued, “Don’t look at me like that.  You know you’ll be more comfortable in these than your skirt and blouse.”

 

            “You’re right, Gage.  I feel like I’m on autopilot or something.  I just don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

 

            “Yes, you do Syd and no one would blame you for being upset.  Now get moving, you’ll feel better after you take a hot shower and change.”  After watching her enter the bathroom, Gage headed for the kitchen, turning the TV on as he passed through the living room.  At 6:00 p.m. the opening news story was the car bomb report.  Gage paused in working on dinner to watch.  Even with the elapsed time since the events, he still wasn’t prepared for the impact of watching them unfold before his eyes.  Watching the report brought those frantic moments back to his memory while sending a chill down his spine thinking how different the outcome could have been.  He remained lost in thought for a few minutes until the telephone’s ring jolted him back to the present.  Answering, Gage heard Erika’s flustered voice, “Gage!  I just saw the news, is Sydney all right?  Where is she?  I tried calling her at home and on her cell and couldn’t get any answer…”

 

            “Erika, stop a minute,” Gage interrupted just as Syd came into the room.  “Syd’s fine.”  As Gage began explaining what happened, Syd heard his cell phone ring.  Retrieving the phone from his jacket pocket, she glanced to see the number was Walker’s Ranch phone.  “Hi Alex.”

 

            “Sydney,” came the ADA’s relieved voice.  “Thank God, are you and Gage okay?”

 

            “Yeah, we’re fine.  Didn’t Walker call you?”

 

            “No, I saw the news and recognized you and Gage; you were the top story.”

 

            “Great, just what I’ve always wanted to be,” the younger woman sarcastically replied.  She told Alex the events that happened earlier before asking, “How close was the video shot?”

 

            “Don’t worry Sydney, the view was from the security camera in the parking lot.  It wasn’t close enough to recognize your faces, but close friends can tell from a distance.”  Alex scolded her friend gently.

 

            “And the men who set the bomb.  It’s a relief our faces weren’t shown though.  What did the report show and say exactly?”

 

            “Well…Oh, they’re recapping the top story, now.”

 

            Syd moved in front of the television.  The impact of watching the report and video hit her much as it had Gage.  Syd sank down onto the couch, forgetting the phone in her hand, as the earlier terror came back to her.  Meanwhile, Gage had finished relating the events to Erika, considerably calming her fears about her friend’s safety.  Hanging up the phone, Gage went to the couch putting one arm around Sydney while gently removing his cell from her slack grasp.  She immediately buried her head in his shoulder trembling.  Gage told Alex Syd’s reaction to the video to explain why he took over the conversation.

 

            “I’m sorry, Gage.  She asked me about the video just before they replayed it.”  Alex apologized guiltily.

 

            “That’s okay, Alex.  She would have seen it sooner or later.  It hits pretty hard the first time you watch it, but she’ll be okay.”

 

            “Are you okay?  The whole situation can’t have been too easy on your nerves, either.”

 

            “It wasn’t,” Gage answered automatically, without thinking.  “Being able to hold her close afterward until she’d calmed down helped both of us.  She moved to a chair before Walker and Trivette came back…uh, that is, oh man.”  Gage realized what he’d admitted to Alex just as Syd began giggling.  Syd was unable to stop the giggles from escaping as she listened to her partner’s unconscious admission to their boss’s wife while the initial shock of watching the video receded with Gage’s nearness.

 

            Alex tried hiding her laughter while replying, “Your secret’s safe with me, Gage.  Erika and I got the story out of Sydney Sunday night.”  As the younger man sighed in relief, Alex chuckled, “I’ll let you go, now that I’m sure you’re both all right.”

 

            After ending the call, Gage turned to his still laughing partner asking if she wanted something to laugh about while reaching for her.  “No, Gage!  I’ll stop!”  Syd shrieked, grabbing his hands to stop him tickling her.

 

            Her tormentor smiled, “I’m kidding Syd.  It’s nice to see you recovered so quick after watching the footage from today.”

 

            “Well, I probably wouldn’t have if I wasn’t here with you.  You’ve always been there for me when I’m in trouble or hurt and it’s a comfort that I can count on you to be with me.”

 

            Cupping her cheek with his hand, Gage whispered, “I’ll always be here for you Syd, because I love you, besides you do the same for me.  Now, are you ready to eat?  Dinner should be ready.”

 

            Sydney gave him a playful look, asking apprehensively, “What are we having?”

 

            “Well, it won’t kill you; I don’t think.”  As she looked up quickly, he continued with a laugh, “It’s just a casserole.  Julie told me one time that an easy meal was to layer complimentary ingredients in a dish, top it with cheese or a sauce and bake it until heated thoroughly.  This is a kind of Mexican chicken dish.”

 

            “Sounds good.  I’m sure it’s delicious,” she reassured him, adding softly, “I hope.”  She smiled innocently at Gage’s sharp look as she preceded him into the kitchen.

 

Jimmy & Erika’s

 

            Erika heard Walker’s RAM pull into the lot and, looking out the window, watched her fiancé exit the vehicle.  She was waiting in front of the door, arms crossed, with a stern look on her face when Jimmy entered the apartment.

 

            “You’re late.”

 

            Trivette gave a start at her sharp words before responding, “Hi Honey, we had a little trouble at headquarters then Walker insisted I run some reports for tomorrow before we left.”

 

            Jimmy leaned in for a kiss but was held back by a firm hand on his chest.  “The trouble at headquarters is most of the reason I’m upset rather than you being late.  Why didn’t you call me and let me know what happened to Sydney’s car and that she was okay before I got the wits scared out of me seeing the report on the news?”

 

            “Erika, I honestly didn’t think about it.  Gage was giving us his report on what happened at RED Manufacturing today when he got the phone call from Brandon Cox about the bomb on Syd’s car.  Then he called Sydney and the three of us were busy trying to talk to her and get things coordinated for getting her out of the car safely.  After all of that when Walker had me get those reports together, I wasn’t paying attention to the time, or thinking about the fact that it would be on the early news.”  Putting on his most innocent, hurt look, Jimmy finished, “I’m really sorry, do you forgive me?”

 

            Giving him a narrow-eyed look, Erika let the ranger sweat it out a minute before relenting, “All right; just this once.  If you let something like this happen again, you are in big trouble, mister.”

 

            “Yes, ma’am.”  He answered in relief, “How did you know everything, anyway?”

 

            “Well, when I saw the news report, I tried phoning Syd but there was no answer at her apartment or on her cell.  I was trying to stay calm but starting to panic when it occurred to me to try Gage.  He answered, calmed me down then told me what happened.”  Suddenly, Erika’s eyes widened, “Gage said Syd was okay but I never thought about the risk he ran of getting hurt by being there until she got out of the car.”  Erika exclaimed, realizing she’d been so focused on Sydney she’d never asked how Gage was.

 

            Putting his arms around her, Jimmy held Erika close, saying, “It’s okay, sweetheart.  I’m sure Gage didn’t think anything about it.”

 

            Considerably calmer, Erika replied, “I hope so Jimmy.  Are you ready for dinner, I tried a new chicken recipe?”

 

            “Yeah, I’m starving.”  As they went in the kitchen to eat, Jimmy remembered what Erika had said about Sydney and asked, “Honey, why didn’t Sydney answer either of her phones?”

 

            Erika shook her head slightly and answered as they began eating, “Gage took her home with him, so he could look after her.  She was taking a shower and didn’t hear her cell, and couldn’t very well answer at home when she wasn’t even there.”

 

            “Gage took her home with him?”  Jimmy began grinning, thinking about the two partner’s actions over the last two days.

 

            Giving him a sharp look, Erika replied, “Yes and you leave them alone about it, James Trivette.  Everything that happened this afternoon, on top of last week’s events, shook Sydney up.  Gage is making sure she’s all right before he takes her home.”  With that said, Erika changed the subject asking about how work had gone.  The question started Jimmy into a lengthy complaint about Walker tricking him to find out what the doctor had said and, effectively, getting his mind on something other than Sydney and Gage.

 

Walker’s Ranch

 

            When Walker entered the house, he heard Alex in the kitchen.  Heading that way, he walked all the way up to where his wife was at the stove without her noticing.  Slipping his arms around her waist and kissing her neck, he greeted, “Hi Honey, I’m home.”

 

            Giving a startled jump, she exclaimed, “Walker, I warned you about sneaking up on me Sunday morning.  You don’t listen very well, do you?”

 

            “Not usually, depends on what I’m being told.  Besides you’re just too tempting when cooking; I just have to get a taste of the chef.”

 

            Stirring the stew one last time and setting the spoon down, Alex turned to face her husband, “Well, I have no objections to you tasting the chef, but you could make some noise entering a room,” this was said with a smile, as the blond ADA looped her arms around his neck.

 

            Just as Walker leaned down for a proper kiss, a tiny wail came from upstairs.  Alex pushed slightly away from him, “Oh, there’s Angela.  I thought she’d sleep longer.”

 

            Walker stopped her, reassuring, “I’ll get her.  You’ve been here all day and it’s time for me to help with our little ‘angel’.”

 

            “You just want to make sure dinner’s not ruined or late,” Alex retorted with a laugh as he left the room.

 

            When Walker re-entered the kitchen a few minutes later with Baby Angela, supper was ready and on the table.  Alex met him to take their darling daughter into her arms.  “Come to Mommy, sweetie.  Did you have a bad dream?”

 

            As they were sitting down to eat, Walker said, “Alex, I need to tell you something about Sydney…” he trailed off when his wife raised her hand and shook her head slightly.

 

            “It’s all right, Walker.  I already know what happened to Sydney and that she and Gage are okay.”  At her husband’s questioning look, she explained, “I saw the news report at six o’clock; it was the top story.  After it was over, I tried Sydney’s apartment and cell, both without an answer.  I thought about where else she could be and about Gage.  His line was busy, so I tried his cell and Sydney answered it.  By the time she finished telling me what happened, they were re-showing the report, which she had just asked about.  After it concluded, Gage came on the line and said that seeing the video upset Sydney all over again.  We talked a bit longer then hung up and I came in here to put the finishing touches on dinner.”

 

            Smiling at her, Walker asked, “Is Gage taking good care of Sydney?”

 

            Giving him a long look through her lashes, Alex, finally, replied, “It sounds like he’s trying.  With Sydney being upset over this afternoon’s events, he’s getting further than anyone normally would.”

 

            After reassuring her husband that the younger female was being cared for, the blond ADA quickly changed the subject while looking down to make sure her daughter was comfortable.  Watching her down-bent head, Walker’s lips quirked upward recognizing his wife’s attempt to distract him from thinking what he already suspected:  a change in the relationship between the younger Rangers.

 

            When they finished eating, Alex headed upstairs to put the now-sleeping baby back in her bed while Walker began cleaning the kitchen.  Hearing the door swing silently a few minutes later, Walker continued washing the dishes, waiting to see what his wife had in mind.

 

            He didn’t have long to wait; when Alex was right behind him, she grabbed his waist, saying, “BOO!”  Walker quickly turned, wrapping his arms around her, catching her lips in a thoroughly devastating kiss.

 

            Releasing her slowly, Walker grinned as Alex held onto his arms for a few seconds longer while she regained her balance.  Catching her breath at the same time, Alex asked, “Is this your typical reaction to getting startled?”

 

            Still smiling, the Ranger answered, “If you want to sneak up on me, you might want to leave the door open next time.  I heard it swinging shut and knew you were back in the room.”

 

            As Alex took over washing the dishes, she saucily replied, “Well, I’ll just have to keep trying then.  You deserve a bit of payback for all the times you’ve scared the daylights out of me.”  After the dishes were finished, the two spent a quiet evening together without interruption except for their baby girl.

 

Gage’s

 

            While eating, Sydney and Gage both relaxed and, even though, they started thinking about their case, they limited their conversation to general topics.  Gage kept watching his partner, looking down when she would look across the table, just glad that she was safe.  When they finished, Syd started helping to clear the table.  Noticing, Gage started to protest, “Syd….”

 

            “Gage, don’t.  I’m going to help; you cooked.  Normally you like getting out of cleanup duty.”  Syd teased.

 

            “It’s just … I brought you here so you could relax.”  Gage replied, as Syd began running hot water in the sink.

 

            After adding dishwashing soap, she gave him a hug saying, “I have relaxed and enjoy the fact that you want to take care of me, but you had a scare from the situation, too.  Let’s just do these together while we talk about tomorrow.”

 

            “Tomorrow…Syd are you sure about going back in?  They must have caught wind of something to take such a drastic measure as that bomb.”  Gage asked, raising one eyebrow.

 

            “Gage, I’m not going to let you go back there by yourself.  Someone must have seen me leaving Winters’ office, probably Carlton Powers.  We can get a story together to explain me still being alive, without implicating Brandon.”  Sydney replied with a sigh.  “Besides it’s a sure bet that they watched the news and already know I’m not dead so if we don’t have a good explanation they could try to get me again and would be suspicious if I don’t show back up at work.”

 

            “You’re right, I hadn’t thought about that.”  Gage said with a slight frown, “we’ve got eyes watching everywhere.”

 

            “That’s it!”  Syd’s exclamation caused her partner to jump, dropping the plate in his hand.  Catching the plate before it crashed on the floor, Gage asked, “What?”

 

            “How I got out of the car,” at Gage’s confused look; Syd explained.  “You said we’ve got eyes watching everywhere.  What if someone spotted something under the car and told me when I stopped for traffic or a light?  I could have been able to get out without serious injury.”

 

            “Syd, I hate to burst your bubble, but they had it hidden pretty well underneath.  I couldn’t see it when you pulled into the parking lot.”  Gage replied.

 

            “You’re right, if it had been hanging down far enough I’d have noticed before I left, too.”  Sydney thought a moment before continuing, “If we were dealing drugs we could have security measures to protect our car.”

 

            “What’s going through your mind, Syd?”  Gage asked as they finished the dishes and headed for the living room couch.  “If we had any security precautions on the car you wouldn’t have gotten in and taken off.”

 

            “What if we didn’t get a warning until the engine was started?”  Seeing she had her partner’s full attention, Syd finished outlining her plan.  “I got a warning light of something added on the car, but pulled out before checking what it was.  When I was on the road, I turned on the system check; found that something was underneath and turned a small camera on that’s under the car.  The camera showed me the bomb, so I called to inform you of the situation.  You came up with the idea of me pulling into the courthouse parking lot, because we thought it would be packed with cars and cause some damage.  By the time we both got there and found it virtually empty, there wasn’t time left to find another place so we abandoned the car; hid until the Rangers were occupied with investigating the explosion, then walked away from the scene unnoticed.”

 

            When Syd stopped talking, Gage mulled the whole thing over for a few minutes.  “Sounds like a good idea, Syd.  You mentioned someone seeing you leave Winters’ office, how are we going to explain that.”

 

            “Easy, we can say that at lunch you told me what your new job was and we discussed if we should approach them about working that part, also.  We’ve played it before, you want to deal drugs on the side, again?”

 

            “What kind of drugs did you have in mind?”  Gage asked with his usual easy grin.

 

            “Cocaine.  The files I found in Justin’s office show the amounts going to STAR Auto Parts.  Justin, Carlton Powers and Willie are behind the whole operation.  Willie recruits the workers who can be trusted to keep quiet.”  Sydney quickly explained.

 

            “I wondered if that was why Willie asked me all those questions the other day.  So you want to play that we were checking out their operation to possibly join in the distribution.”

 

            “If you think that would work.”  She looked at Gage questioningly.

 

            “It might.  Why don’t we forget about the case for now and run this by Walker and Trivette in the morning?”  Gage requested, nudging Syd’s shoulder with his elbow.  Getting agreement from his partner, he continued,  “We can relax and enjoy ourselves for tonight.  So what would you like to do?”

 

            “Actually, do you want to run me home before you get too comfortable to move?”  Sydney asked, avoiding his eyes at the same time.

 

            Gage knew he needed her with him that night after what had happened and that Syd wouldn’t relax until he’d convinced her to stay.  “I don’t want to take you home, Syd.”  At that his partner looked at him and he concluded.  “I need to have you close tonight, so I know you’re safe.  Is that all right with you or do you really…” Gage’s voice trailed off as Sydney’s fingers covered his mouth.

 

            “I’d love to stay with you tonight, Gage.”  Syd accepted in a quiet voice with a relieved smile, “I wasn’t sure how much sleep I’d get at home, anyway.”

 

            “Well, now that we don’t have to worry about you getting home.  You want to watch a movie?”  At his partner’s nod, Gage turned the TV on, checking the TV Guide Channel.  After a few minutes, Gage said, “There’s a comedy on with that actor that reminds you of me in it, want to watch that?”

 

            Major League 3?  Sounds good…wait a minute, how did you know about that?”  Sydney asked, giving her partner a shocked look.

 

            “Well…you see, I…” Gage hesitated a minute before finishing with a sheepish look.  “I overheard you telling Alex that one day.  It was a few days after we’d seen another movie he was in.”

 

            Chuckling at Gage’s flustered explanation, Syd stopped him saying, “It’s okay, Gage.  I’m not worried about you knowing that, now that we’ve gotten our feelings out in the open.  Let’s watch the movie.”

 

            Gage put his arm around Syd’s shoulders and pulled her close for a kiss.  Then with her leaning into his side, they settled back on the couch to watch the movie, laughing at the antics of the minor league baseball team in the show.  When the movie was over, the partners headed for Gage’s bedroom and snuggled under the covers in each other’s arms; each content knowing the other was safe.

 

 

 

Chapter 7:  Wednesday

 

            Sydney woke early with a feeling of warm contentment.  As she became fully aware of her surroundings, she realized her partner was holding her close with one of his arms curled around her shoulders while the other lay across her waist.  Opening her eyes, she was greeted by the sight of Gage’s bare chest.  He’d put sweat pants on the previous evening before climbing into the bed, but complained it was too hot for a T-shirt.  Being that she secretly enjoyed the sight of her partner without a shirt, Syd did nothing but agree before snuggling into his side.

 

            Now that she was awake, Syd took advantage of Gage’s continued slumber to study him.  Moving gently and lightly, she ran a finger down his strong nose, across one cheek and down his stubbly jaw to his chin.  Watching Gage’s nose twitch brought a smile to the female Ranger’s lips.  Her smile faded as her eyes moved to her partner’s chest, noticing, not for the first time, his scars from the bear attack at Lake Ebby.  Syd traced the most visible, which ran vertically down the center, with her forefinger, a frown marring the smooth line of her brow.  Suddenly, her hand was stopped from its slow movement.  Capturing her hand, Gage grinned, “Morning Syd.”  Opening his eyes while speaking, he was met with her still frowning countenance.  “What’s wrong?”

 

            Avoiding his eyes, Sydney replied, “Nothing Gage.  I was just thinking about the case.”

 

            “Syd, look at me.”  Not getting a response from her, Gage crooked a finger under her chin, making her look at him.  Searching her eyes closely, he shook his head, “This isn’t about the case, Syd.  Something else is bothering you, now what is it?”

 

            Releasing a heavy sigh, Syd answered, “Watching you sleep, I remembered what you said last night about us always being there for each other when something happened.”  At his nod, she continued, “Well, I wasn’t there when that bear attacked you,” she stated, thinking about Walker’s bachelor party while, again, touching the deepest scar on his chest.

 

            “Syd that happened over a year ago and the circumstances didn’t allow you to be able to be there.  But after you and Alex showed up you took care of me until help arrived; remember?  Besides when I lost my hearing you were my moral support through everything.”

 

            “What do you mean by that?”  Syd asked, resting her chin in her hand to look at her partner’s face.

 

            “About being moral support?”  As she nodded, Gage explained, “Syd, you were with me every step of the way during that time.  You came to the hospital to visit every day, took me home when the doctor released me, cooked for me at home and stayed even though I got mad and yelled at you.  Then when I was at the Dallas School for the Deaf, you visited all the time and learned sign language right along with me.  What else would you call that but being supportive?”

 

            “I guess.  I knew that I want…needed to be able to communicate with you no matter what the outcome of the surgery.  When you were attacked at Lake Ebby, I finally admitted how I felt about you to myself, but I was afraid of messing up our partnership by saying anything to you.  Then after your surgery, I started wondering why I’d never said anything.”

 

            Gage had quietly listened to her explanation.  When she came to a stop, he said, “Syd, that day in the hospital when you were talking about my socks…” Gage trailed off, not quite sure how she would take what he was about to tell her.  Seeing he had her full attention, he went on, “I heard everything you said before that.”

 

            Sydney raised an eyebrow, asking, “And just what would that be, Gage?”

 

            Startled, Gage replied, “What would what be?  You wanted to know how long I’d been awake at the time.”  Noticing his partner was trying to contain a smile, he grinned, reaching out to stroke her cheek, before continuing, “About loving to hear my voice and wishing I was with you when you went to sleep at night.  I was thrilled because that’s what I’ve wanted for a long time, too, but didn’t want anything to goof up our partnership either.”

 

            Smiling with delight at Gage’s words, Syd leaned closer kissing his lips.  The kiss quickly grew passionate between the partners, until the alarm sounded, breaking them apart since it was 6:30 and they had to be at Company B in an hour and a half, besides running by Sydney’s for her to change.  After Gage cut off the alarm, Syd said, “Why don’t you grab a shower and I’ll fix us some breakfast?”

 

            “Sounds great, honey.  I’ll be done in about fifteen.”  After catching her close for another quick kiss, Syd smiled and left the room.  Gage grabbed some clothes, heading for the bathroom, thinking all the while how great things were working out between them since the previous Saturday.

 

Walker Ranch

 

            Alex was awake before Walker; turning in her husband’s arms, she kissed his jaw, nuzzling his neck under the line of his beard.  As Walker came awake, Alex’s exploration had almost reached his ear.  While she was distracted, Walker stealthily moved his hands to just beside her ribcage under her arms.  Just as she reached his ear with her kisses, he began tickling her sides, earning himself a ringing head when his wife let out an ear-piercing shriek of laughter.  This was followed immediately by Angela’s startled cry over the baby monitor.

 

            Alex pushed out of Walker’s arms and a few seconds later he could hear her voice soothing the baby.  Rolling over and sitting up, he stopped the alarm before it sounded and got out of bed grabbing some clothes so he could take care of the horses before heading for the shower and the start of a new day.

 

            When Walker came back downstairs later ready for work, Alex had breakfast on the table waiting.  Angela was in her carrier on the kitchen table, dozing back off after her breakfast.  Alex looked at her husband with a smile as he entered the room, “I was wondering if I’d have to send out a search party for you.”

 

            “No need for a search party when you’re cooking something that smells this good,” he teased back.  “Alex, when is Angela’s first doctor’s appointment?”

 

            “Next week,” she answered.  “Why, are you planning on missing it, after saying you wanted to go?”

 

            “No, I hope we’re done with this case by then, so I don’t have to drag my girls to the office first.  Although the way our friends are, they’d be thrilled if you two showed up.”  Walker chuckled thinking about how the other three Rangers acted Monday when Alex and Angela came in the office.

 

            “You’re right.  I believe all of our friends are smitten with Angela.  If they’re not careful, she’ll be spoiled rotten before she’s walking.”  Alex agreed, smiling at her husband as they sat down to eat.

 

            When they finished, Walker stood.  Going around the table to kiss Alex goodbye, he said, “Breakfast was great, honey, I’ll see you later.  If I don’t hurry, either Trivette will call to see where I am or Sydney will call to say they’re waiting on me at the office.”

 

            “I don’t think you have to worry about Sydney, Cowboy.  She’d catch up on paperwork or something and not call unless you were really late.”  Alex teased.

 

            “It’s not Sydney I’m worried about, it’s Gage not wanting to work on anything else that I was thinking about.”  Walker replied, with a slight frown at his wife, which changed to a grin when she pulled a disbelieving face.

 

            Slapping him on the arm, Alex told her husband he’d better hurry and leave or she would lie to Jimmy if he called to see where Walker was.

 

            Grabbing Alex around the waist, Walker snatched a quick kiss before telling her he’d see her later and leaving.  The blonde stood in the doorway until her husband had pulled out of the lane onto the road heading for town, before turning back into the house.

 

Trivette apartment

 

            Jimmy woke early in the morning with a warm weight against his side.  Opening his eyes, he studied his still-sleeping fiancée.

 

            Erika was lying on her side, with her head on Jimmy’s shoulder and one arm thrown across his chest.  The Ranger smiled thinking about the Sunday of the barbeque, when they were talking about their relationship from a year ago and him mentioning having been ready to marry her at the time.  Thinking about the look on her face after she’d told him ‘Marry me then’, Jimmy’s smile widened.  He had been taken aback by the serious challenge on her face; but pulled himself together quickly enough to accept her proposal.

 

            Remembering his friend’s reactions to their announcement, Jimmy could recall everyone congratulating them, but that Sydney had been withdrawn afterward.  Contemplating the change in Syd’s behavior, Jimmy, also, remembered that she kept sneaking glances at Gage until he and Walker carried the leftovers inside.

 

            Before his thoughts could go any further into her odd behavior, the alarm sounded and he reached out to shut it off feeling Erika stir as she awoke.  As she stretched, Erika cracked her eyes open a bit.  Smiling when she noticed Jimmy awake and watching her, she murmured, “Good morning.”

 

            Returning the smile, Jimmy said, “Good morning to you too, Sunshine.”  Leaning over, he kissed her feeling her arms wrap around his neck as she returned the kiss.

 

            When they broke apart for air, Erika stated, “I think I could get used to waking up to you every morning.”

 

            “I hope so,” Jimmy retorted.  “You’re going to be stuck with me for about the next fifty years or so.”

 

            Erika smiled, “I believe I can handle that, James Trivette.”  Looking at the clock and noticing the time, she grimaced, “Meanwhile, we’d better get up.  Walker will be here before you know it and I have to get to work a little early.  We’re having evaluations today, and they couldn’t tell us when it would be our time or how long they would take.”  With that both got out of bed, Jimmy headed for the shower and Erika went to start breakfast.

 

            When Jimmy came out of the bathroom with a towel around his waist, Erika went around him to take her shower saying, “Coffee should be ready and breakfast is keeping warm.  Before you get on to me about just having a plate for you, I’m not very hungry so I’ll just make some toast when I come down.”  Finishing, Erika closed the door before her confused fiancé could say anything in reply.

 

            Jimmy had begun eating his breakfast and reading the paper by the time Erika appeared in the kitchen.  Placing two pieces of bread in the toaster, she got herself a cup of coffee.  After the toast popped, she buttered it and sat across from Trivette to eat her breakfast.

 

            The Ranger was concerned and pondering the best way to ask her about the lack of appetite.  “Honey?”  He paused to collect his thoughts.  “That’s not a lot of breakfast for you, are you feeling all right?”

 

            Erika gave him a blank look, clearly showing that her mind was on other things.  “I’m fine Jimmy, why?”  After a few seconds, she realized, looking at her plate, what he was getting at and grinned, “Jimmy, I told you when we got up this morning that they were doing evaluations at work, today.  I’m just tensed up about that and don’t feel like eating.  Don’t worry, okay?”

 

            Her comments provided great relief to Jimmy, who smiled replying, “Okay.  Sorry about that, but you usually have a better appetite in the mornings, so it worried me.”

 

            They finished eating around 7:30, and it was less than 10 minutes later that Walker’s RAM pulled into the parking lot.  Erika was ready to leave at the same time, so the couple walked downstairs together.  Once outside, Erika quickly kissed Jimmy then got in her car to leave for work while he climbed in the RAM.  Walker waited until Erika was safely ensconced in the car and followed her out of the parking lot and two blocks before turning toward Headquarters.

 

Ranger Headquarters

 

            Syd and Gage entered the office about 7:50 to find themselves alone.  As Sydney started a pot of coffee, Gage said, “I know we’re early, but where do you think Walker and Trivette are?”

 

            “They’re probably just running on time, today.”  Seeing Gage’s raised eyebrow at her comment, she continued.  “One of them may have overslept and put them on schedule instead of early.  If it hadn’t been for me being at your place, we may not be this early.”

 

            “You’re right, you dragged me out of my place early enough to run around the block twice after taking you home to change.”  Gage responded with a grin, reaching his hands toward her sides, which she neatly avoided while replying, “Careful, you may get more than you’re bargaining for.  Now behave, Walker and Jimmy just got off the elevator.”

 

            When Walker and Jimmy exited the elevator and turned toward the Company B office, Walker saw Sydney make a twisting move while saying something to her partner, then Gage’s hands drop to his side.  Walker grinned, turning his attention to his partner as Jimmy said, “What’s up with Gage?  This is two days this week that he’s been early.”  Walker didn’t say anything to answer Trivette but wondered what he would think if he knew the younger man had been on time all week.

 

            As the senior partners entered the office, Jimmy repeated the question to Gage, who looked slightly flustered until Sydney spoke up, “Jimmy, Gage picked me up again this morning, so when I woke up I called him to be sure he was up.  It just worked out that he got around early enough to beat you two here.”

 

            Walker excused himself to make a phone call and left Jimmy to tease the junior Rangers to his heart’s content.  Entering his office, Walker picked up the receiver and dialed Captain Briscoe’s office.  As the call was answered, he said, “Helen, this is Ranger Walker, is Captain Briscoe in?”  Getting a negative reply, he continued, “Would it be possible for me to make an appointment to talk to him, today?  Ten o’clock?  That’ll be fine, thanks.”

 

            Hanging up the phone, he left his office noting the baffled look on Trivette’s face and a satisfied grin on Gage’s.  Sydney was pouring the coffee into mugs handing one to Gage and one to the black Ranger saying, “Here Jimmy, I don’t know why you keep asking Gage about this, nothing out of the ordinary’s going on.  He’s just trying to keep me off his back.  Because we’re working undercover, we’ve been riding in together and he knows he has to deal with me if he makes me late for anything.”  Seeing Walker rejoining them, she poured another mug of coffee handing it to the senior Ranger.

 

            Walker took the coffee smiling at the younger female, “Are you keeping them in line?”  Giving him a mischievous grin in response, Sydney replied, “Just barely, you know how frustrated Jimmy gets when Gage gets the best of him.  He’s trying to read more into Gage being on time this week, when it’s just because we’ve ridden together.”

 

            Looking toward his partner, the senior Ranger said, “Trivette, you might as well give up on Gage for now, with Sydney backing him up you won’t win.”

 

            Jimmy looked at him a moment before turning toward his desk, muttering, “Yeah, yeah.  I know, leave the youngsters alone and get to work.”

 

            When he turned back to the other two, Walker intercepted an amused look between the younger partners that included a little something extra before he spoke.  Ignoring the meaningful look, he got straight to the business at hand asking, “What did you decide about the case?”

 

            Gage explained what he and Syd had come up with the night before, with Sydney adding a few extra details.  When they finished, Walker mulled the plan over for a few minutes, before replying.  “Sounds like a good idea, you think they’ll buy it?”

 

            “Who knows?  Syd came up with it though, and her ideas tend to work.”  Gage answered.

 

            “Tell you what,” Walker began, as Jimmy came over to hear what his partner’s thoughts were.  “This is what I want you to do.  Play it cool with these men.  Syd stick close to Gage until you’ve talked to Willie, Justin, or Carlton about what happened yesterday.” At the female Ranger’s nod of understanding, Walker continued, “If they are interested in doing business, tell them you’ve got a buyer waiting that’s always been reliable about paying for what he wants.  See what they say to that.”

 

            “If they want to meet the buyer, you want us to call you and set up a meeting?”  Sydney asked after she and Gage exchanged a glance.

 

            The senior Ranger smiled, “That’s right.  We can meet tonight and, hopefully, get enough to finish this case quickly.  Any questions?”  Looking at his three friends, Walker continued, “Okay, let’s get to work.  Sydney, Gage, you two be careful.  I had Trivette do background checks on these three and they’ve worked together two other places, before getting the jobs at RED Manufacturing.  We’re going to make some phone calls and ask about any suspicious sales records at the other two companies.  If they don’t want to add you as business associates, call and let us know.”  Nodding, the junior partners left the office, heading for their car and RED.

 

            After the younger Rangers had left, Jimmy looked at his partner asking, “Do you think there’s something going on between them?  I mean they’ve been coming in to work together all week.”

 

            “Trivette, how can you be so smart about all of the computer stuff and have no idea about the people you work with?”  As the other Ranger opened his mouth to protest, Walker continued.  “Just do me a favor and drop the subject, okay?  I need you to call Harvest Supply in Austin and I’ll call Jones Manufacturing in Houston.  Ask the personnel director about their records and if there was any unusual activity, sales or otherwise, occurring during the time of their employment.  It’s 8:30 now and I have an appointment with Captain Briscoe at ten o’clock, let’s see what we can accomplish before that.”  Walker said, going to his desk and leaving Jimmy staring at him while wondering what was going on that he had to talk to the captain about.

 

RED Manufacturing

 

            When Sydney and Gage arrived, Gage pulled into a parking spot and turned off the ignition.  Grabbing Syd’s arm before she could get out, he asked, “You ready for this?”

 

            Smiling at his concerned look, she answered, “Don’t worry Gage, I’ll be fine, especially with you beside me.  Wonder if Willie will get in trouble for mistiming the bomb?”  She quipped trying to ease her partner’s mind.

 

            “I don’t really care, as long as they don’t try going after you again.”  Gage replied as they exited the car.  Entering the building Syd accompanied Gage downstairs after asking the receptionist to let Brandon know where she was.

 

            As they left the elevator, Carlton Powers and Justin Winters were coming out of the room that served as Willie’s office.  Upon seeing Sydney standing beside Gage, the shock was apparent on both men’s faces.  Opening the door again, Justin called out, “Willie, can you come here for a second?”

 

            When Willie saw the woman there, he was flustered, “How?  Boss, I did what you wanted, you’ve got to believe me…” He broke off as Gage grabbed the front of his shirt, pushing him back against the wall, while snarling, “What did you do?”  Willie looked scared for a moment, then sneering shoved Gage off, replying, “Not a thing, Caldwell.  Not a thing, except follow orders.”

 

            Gage looked as though he was ready to pummel the man, when Syd put one hand on his arm, saying, “Now Shawn, calm down a bit.  Remember what we talked about and decided?”

 

            Her partner backed off, giving Willie and the other men a little space while putting his arm around Syd’s shoulder.  “You’re right, I almost forgot about the deal.”

 

            Willie and Justin looked toward Carlton, who gave Gage a disdainful look, asking, “What deal?”

 

            “The reason Carina was checking out your operation yesterday, we wanted to find out how profitable your little side business was before we offered you a partnership.”  Gage paused just for a second, “Of course, after what you pulled on Carina yesterday, I’m not sure we shouldn’t just turn you in to the cops instead.”

 

            “Now just a damn minute,” Justin Winters exploded, only to be stopped by Powers.  “Justin, really, control yourself.  Mr. Caldwell, if you and Miss Walters will step in here, we can speak in private.”  The older man motioned towards Willie’s office.  The two Rangers went inside, prepared to defend themselves if necessary, followed by the three men.

 

            Once inside, Carlton Powers motioned the couple to sit, while he did the same taking a seat behind the desk.  “Now Mr. Caldwell, just what does your little deal entail?”  Powers asked Gage ignoring Syd, a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by her partner.

 

            “Actually, Carina handles all the details of any deals we get involved in.  I’ll just let her explain everything to you gentlemen.”  Looking at Syd, Gage grinned turning the floor over to her and forcing the other men to listen to what she had to say.

 

            Sydney looked at Gage and took a deep breath before beginning, “The last two places we worked were operating drug smuggling rings.  The first place we had no idea what was going on, until being approached to work for them bringing in new buyers.  We left that place when the heat became unbearable,” looking around at the men in the office, she clarified, “the local cops were snooping around too much.  Shawn and I left just in time, because the cops raided the place the next day.  The last place we were at, we knew something was going on from the beginning, but it took a while to figure out who the lead man was.  When we found out who was in charge and joined up with him, their business grew by a third.”

 

            Carlton spoke as Syd finished, “Did they get raided by the police too, Ms. Walters?”

 

            The female Ranger smiled, while replying, “No sir, they were still in business when we left.  We were looking to move back in the Dallas area, we moved to Waco after the first job, but we weren’t happy there.  Besides, we have contacts here and the drive to deliver was getting a bit expensive.  We got the jobs here, and when Willie changed Shawn’s job I decided to snoop a bit and see if your operation was profitable enough to be worth our time.”

 

            “Obviously you believed it was.  To business, how did the last place you worked grow by a third after you joined?”  Carlton Powers asked with a skeptical look.

 

            Exchanging a quirky smile with her partner, Syd, still smiling at the other men, answered, “That’s easy, Mr. Powers.  When we joined his operation, we brought in our contacts from Dallas, hence, the delivery drive getting expensive.”

 

            Steepling two fingers in front of him, Powers thought a moment before requesting, “Ms. Walters, if you and Mr. Caldwell wouldn’t mind stepping outside for a moment?  I need to discuss a few things with my colleagues.”

 

            Nodding the two Rangers stepped into the hall.  When the door closed behind them, Gage put one hand on Syd’s shoulder, cupping her cheek with the other to tilt her head up, “You were great in there, honey.  Tough and cool, but charming all the same, that’s my girl.”

 

            Smiling, Syd reached up to caress his cheek, before pulling his head down for a quick kiss, “Thanks.  I figured you’d want me to talk some, but you threw me a minute when you turned the whole explanation over to me.”

 

            Gage’s eyes got a flinty light in them, “Those creeps needed a lesson in how to listen to a woman, instead of just men.”

 

            “Honey, calm down.  Everything’s all right.”  Syd assured her partner with a quick hug.  “You don’t want them to hear you talking like that.”

 

            “You’re right, sorry.  They haven’t even asked about yesterday, either.”  At that moment, the door opened and Justin asked them to come back inside.  As they entered, Carlton said, “We’ve decided to give you a try, but there are some questions for you to answer first.  Sit down.”  When they were seated, he continued, “I knew after watching the news last night, that you survived the car bomb, which was put there on my orders after we found you snooping around Justin’s office, Ms. Walters.  Our surprise earlier stemmed from the fact that you actually came back to work after what happened.  How did you happen to escape your car?”

 

            “I already figured out that you or Mr. Winters had the bomb planted on my car.”  Syd said after giving the explanation she and Gage had come up with for her surviving the bomb.  She concluded, raising her eyebrows questioningly, with, “We, also, realized you would know I was fine if you saw the news, we just had trouble figuring out how you knew I was in Mr. Winters’ office.”

 

            “Since we’ve decided to give you a trial run, I’ll tell you.”  Carlton Powers said, with a less-condescending smile towards Sydney.  “We have a security camera set up in Justin’s office, as well as, here and in my office to keep track of what happens when we’re not in the rooms.  I saw you leaving Justin’s office yesterday and waited there until he was done in the meeting with Brandon.  When he got back in his office, we watched the tape and saw the snooping you did.  Being that we had no idea of the nature of your inquisitiveness, I had Justin tell Willie to leave you a little surprise under your car.  We were talking this morning about what needed to be done, since you escaped the explosion.”

 

            Gage’s eyes narrowed dangerously, at the end of the older man’s explanation, “You’d better be glad she did escape.  If anything had happened to Carina and I found out you were responsible…” He broke off as Syd took his hand, leaving the other men to finish the sentence in their minds.

 

            Powers cleared his throat, “Yes, well, as Ms. Walters is fine and looks to stay that way, let’s get down to business.  You said you had a reliable buyer, locally I presume?”

 

            Sydney nodded, “Yes, he’s quite local.  He lives here in Dallas, but distributes in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, Austin, Houston and San Antonio.  He can handle large quantities and moves them out fairly quick.”

 

            Carlton shared a look with his cronies; then asked, “Could you possibly arrange a meeting with him tonight?”

 

            With a slight incline of her head, Syd answered, “Sure, but he will probably want to set the time and place for the meeting.”

 

            “Call him and we’ll see if it’s convenient or if we can compromise on an alternate place.”

 

            Sydney pulled out her cell and dialed Walker’s own cell phone.  Hearing her boss answer, she said, “Mr. Carson, this is Carina Walters.  I’m fine, how are you today?”  Syd smiled at her partner, before continuing, “Shawn’s fine, also.  We moved back to Dallas, and have another job.  I wondered if you would be interested in meeting with a prospective new supplier?”

 

            Listening for a few moments, she answered, “Just a moment and I’ll check.”  Placing her hand over the phone’s mouthpiece, she said, “Mr. Carson suggests we meet at Frank’s Spot at seven o’clock tonight.  It will be he and his partner, Shawn and me, and you with whomever you want to come, he just needs to know now.”

 

            “That sounds all right, but you and Shawn are meeting with us why?”  Carlton asked with a cool look.

 

            Syd answered with an equally cool smile, “Because Mr. Carson trusts us and we will be the liaisons between you and him, therefore we have a need-to-know status to be there as far as he’s concerned.”

 

            Powers nodded in agreement, “Fine.  Tell Mr. Carson that my two associates and I will be there at seven sharp.”

 

            Bringing the phone back to her ear, Syd spoke again with her boss, “Mr. Powers agreed to the arrangements you mentioned, Mr. Carson.  He and his two partners will be at the club at seven.  All right, we’ll see you then.”

 

            Ending the call, Syd turned her attention back to the three men, “If that concludes our business gentlemen, I really should get to work before Brandon starts looking for me.  That could be tricky to explain.”

 

            Waving his hand, Carlton replied, “That will be all for now, Ms. Walters.  You and Mr. Caldwell may go to work.”

 

            Standing with his partner, Gage looked at Willie asking, “Is it okay if I escort Carina upstairs first?”

 

            With a slight grimace, the other man answered gruffly, “Fine, but hurry back to your station.  You can have a nice long chat with your girlfriend at lunch.”

 

            Syd and Gage left without another word.  Once they were on the elevator, Gage asked, “What’s Walker’s cover name?”

 

            With a grin, Syd replied, “Randall Carson and Trivette is James Gordon.”

 

            “Wonder where Jimmy was when Walker gave him that name.”  Gage grinned.  Sobering he put his arms around Syd’s waist saying, “You be careful today, even though, we’ve gotten past the first hurdle that concerned Walker, okay?”

 

            Placing her hands on his biceps, she softly answered, “Everything’s going to be all right.  I should be in the office all day, no extra trips sneaking around, and I’ll wait for you before going to lunch and maybe leaving for the day if you’re not late.”

 

            “Good, cause I definitely don’t want to lose you now.”  At that the elevator slid to a stop and the doors opened.  The partners walked to Syd’s office door and snuck a quick kiss before separating to their own jobs.

 

Ranger Headquarters

 

            When Walker finished talking to Sydney and put his phone away, Trivette asked, “All set?”

 

            “Yeah,” his partner responded, staring at the junior Ranger’s desks.

 

            Worried by his partner’s fixed gaze and short response, Jimmy called, “Walker!  Everything okay?”

 

            Pulling his attention to Jimmy’s concerned face, he answered, “Syd and Gage are all right, Trivette.  Powers took the bait and we’re meeting him, Winters and Brown tonight at Frank’s Spot.”

 

            Looking at his watch, he stood while finishing, “Remind me later to call Frank and let him know so he won’t accidentally blow our covers tonight.  I’ve got to go see the Captain now.”

 

            The senior Ranger left the office with Trivette watching, while, again, wondering what his partner’s meeting with Captain Briscoe was about.  Deciding to corner Walker later, he turned back to his computer.

 

            Connecting to the Internet, Jimmy began finding the two companies he and Walker were checking to see if there was anything about Powers and his two partners that he could access for questions before either of the personnel directors returned their calls.

 

Captain Briscoe’s Office

 

            Helen looked up as the red-haired Ranger entered her office.  Smiling the older woman said, “Good morning, Ranger Walker.  Captain Briscoe’s on the phone with the Ranger Captain in San Antonio right now, if you’d care to take a seat.  It will be just a moment.”

 

            “Thank you, Helen.  How have you been doing?”  Walker asked while sitting in the chair opposite her desk.

 

            “I’m just fine.  My grandchildren were here over the weekend and my husband and I just got everything straightened back up in the house.  Alex came by here Monday with Angela.  She’s adorable; is she giving you much trouble at night?”

 

            Laughing slightly, he answered, “Not too bad, just being a typical baby from what the books and our friends say.  She’s not a fussy baby, at least.”

 

            “That’s always helpful.  She may be a handful when she gets sick, though.  Hold on a moment Ranger, the captain just disconnected his line.”  The secretary said after glancing at her phone.  Picking up the receiver and pressing the intercom button, she announced, “Captain Briscoe, Ranger Walker is waiting to see you.  I’ll send him right in.  You can go in now Walker.  Take good care of Alex and that baby.”

 

            “I will.  Thanks Helen.”  Entering the office, Walker was greeted by his superior officer.  Shaking the captain’s hand, Walker took the chair the other man indicated.

 

            “Walker, what brings you up here.  Are you having problems with Mr. O’Malley?”

 

            “No sir, Rangers Cooke and Gage are undercover at RED and have found out who’s behind the large sales.  The reason is drug smuggling.  Ranger Trivette and I are meeting with them and the sellers tonight as prospective buyers.  We should have everything wrapped up in the next couple of days.”

 

            “Good.  You’ve got the best team of Rangers in the state.  I was just talking to Carl Slater in San Antonio and he commented on your team.  Said that the Governor’s all the time mentioning how your Rangers can nail criminals that some of us can’t find a trace of.”  Captain Briscoe had a smile on his rugged face thinking of how Walker’s team was one to be proud of.  “Anyway, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.  What did you need to see me about?”

 

            “Well, it’s a hypothetical question.  I wondered if there was a fraternization rule in the Ranger’s rules, I’ve never heard of any situation coming up.”  Walker asked retaining his calm exterior while inside he was in turmoil over what repercussions could come of his question.

 

            Briscoe relaxed back in his own chair, studying his Ranger.  “There’s a code in the police rules covering that.  The Rangers haven’t had any need to address the issue before, since there are few female Rangers and most of them have female partners.  Walker, you’ve got a specific reason for asking me this.  Tell me what’s on your mind and we’ll see what’s needed to resolve the issue.”

 

            Walker took a deep breath and released it before starting, “It’s got to do with Sydney and Gage.  They’ve been partners since she started with the Rangers in Houston, so they were close friends when they started working here in Dallas.  Lately, I’ve noticed something different about the interaction between them, though.”  The Ranger paused, noticing his superior’s attentive posture, he continued.  “They haven’t said anything to me, but I believe they’re drawing closer to each other.”

 

            The captain’s rugged face had a thoughtful look, “In other words, they are becoming more than just partners?”

 

            “I think so.  Like I said they haven’t come to me about it yet, but some of their actions remind me of how Alex and I acted when we started seeing each other before we wanted to tell anyone else.”

 

            “So, you want to know if they need to be separated or not, either in companies or just with new partners?”  At Walker’s agreement, Briscoe thought for a moment before saying, “Well, Walker what do you think?  You’re around them more than I am, do you feel that they could separate their work and personal lives?”

 

            Walker didn’t hesitate to say, “I believe that they’re both professional enough to handle working together, regardless of their personal relationship outside of the job.  I know they’ve always done things together outside of the office, because they’re best friends and it’s never affected their jobs before.”

 

            “Okay, let me think about everything and check some things out and I’ll get back to you later.”  Briscoe said.  With a nod, Walker stood leaving the captain’s office, saying good-bye to the secretary and going back to the Company B office.

 

Later, early in the afternoon:

 

            The telephone rang in the quiet office, Trivette answered, “Company B Headquarters, James Trivette.”

 

            “Ranger Trivette let me speak with Ranger Walker, please.”  Captain Briscoe’s voice came across the line.

 

            “Yes sir.  Hold on just a minute please.”  Jimmy answered quickly.  Putting the call on hold, he looked at his partner saying, “Walker, Captain Briscoe’s on the line for you.”

 

            “Thanks Trivette,” the other Ranger said, before picking up the phone, “Captain Briscoe?  This is Walker.”  The senior Ranger listened intently for a few minutes, then with a “Yes sir.  I’ll be right there.  Thank you for getting back to me so quickly on this,” he hung up the receiver and stood to leave the office.

 

            Jimmy had been watching his partner during the conversation, not being able to tell anything from the other man’s facial expression.  After Walker finished the call, Jimmy asked, “Are you going back upstairs?”

 

            “Yes, Trivette.  Briscoe needs to see me about something, I’ll be back in a few minutes.”  With that, the other Ranger exited, leaving a baffled Jimmy in his wake.

 

            Trivette went back to his paperwork.  About thirty minutes later, Walker reentered the office and returning to his desk began reading over the sales information Jimmy had pulled off the Internet earlier on the companies that Carlton Powers and his buddies worked at before coming to RED Manufacturing.  Finally, unable to stand the suspense any longer, Jimmy burst out, “Walker, what’d the Captain want?”

 

            Not looking up, Walker responded, “Nothing Trivette.  I had a question for him earlier and he just gave me an answer.  It’s no big deal and has nothing whatsoever to do with you right now.”

 

            With a grimace, Jimmy huffed, “Fine, whatever,” before going back to his paperwork.  With his head buried in an open file, he didn’t notice his partner’s amused look.  Walker looked at Trivette, grinned and shook his head knowing that the other Ranger’s curiosity was getting the better of him and wondering how long before he’d have to tell his partner about either of the meetings with Briscoe.

 

            About an hour later, Jimmy’s phone rang again.  Answering the colored Ranger became serious, “Yes Mr. Westmoreland, thank you for returning my call.”  As Trivette continued his conversation with the personnel director of Harvest Supply, Walker’s phone rang.

 

            “Company B Texas Rangers, this is Ranger Walker.  Yes Mr. Williams, I did call you earlier,” the tough Ranger said to the personnel director of Jones Manufacturing.  “I called about some former employees of yours, Carlton Powers, Justin Winters and William Brown.  Their names came up in regards to a case we’re working on and I was trying to get some information about their employee records.”

 

            Waiting while the man on the other end accessed his computer files, Walker got a pen and paper ready.  Writing down what Mr. Williams was relaying over the phone, he glanced at his partner seeing him doing the same.

 

            When both Rangers finished their conversations, Jimmy stood and walked to his partner’s desk.  “Walker, that was Fred Westmoreland from Harvest Supply.  He said that their sales increased to the three companies that I found on the Internet earlier while Powers, Winters, and Brown worked for them.  Then when the three decided to leave for ‘personal’ reasons, the sales continued for a couple of months before dwindling down to about the same order amount as other companies.”

 

            Walker listened to his friend, “Yeah, that’s what Cameron Williams from Jones Manufacturing said also.  Big increase in sales to a couple of companies that dwindled after their association with our three ended.  Did Sydney or Gage ever call back earlier?”

 

            “No.  I wasn’t expecting them to unless something new came up, since you didn’t say anything.  Did you want me to call them?”

 

            “I hadn’t planned on checking with them until talking to Cameron Williams.  He said that Brown always struck him as slightly dangerous, so I started wondering how things have gone so far today.  Why don’t you go ahead and call Sydney.  See how everything went after I talked to her this morning.”  Noting the worried look on his partner’s face, Jimmy wasted no time dialing Syd’s cell phone.

 

RED Manufacturing

 

            After Syd and Gage had eaten lunch, he walked her back to her office before heading back downstairs.  Reaching her desk, Syd noticed a sketchy report format and some info sheets.  She was still looking them over a few moments later when Brandon entered the office.

 

            “Oh good Carina, you found my note.   I need that report done before you leave tonight, please.  Do you have any questions about it?”

 

            Looking up, Syd smiled, “It looks pretty self-explanatory.  Let me get started on it, and if I have any questions I’ll come ask in a bit, okay?”

 

            “Sounds good.  I should be in my office the rest of the day, unless I’m called away for an unscheduled meeting.”  Brandon nodded agreement, before going into his own office and closing the door.

 

            Sydney worked on the report for about half an hour and had gotten the outline format complete when her cell phone rang.  Pulling it out of her purse and looking at the screen, she was slightly worried noting the Company B number.  “Hello?” she answered with a small frown.

 

            “Hey Sydney.  I need to talk to you a minute.”  Jimmy’s voice came across the line.  “Walker wanted to check how everything went this morning after he talked to you.”

 

            “Everything went smoothly this morning, Jimmy.  Walker didn’t mention us checking in again earlier, did he?”  The puzzled Ranger asked.

 

            “No Syd, he didn’t.  We both talked with the personnel directors at two places that Powers, Winters and Brown all worked at before starting to work at RED.  Walker told me to check with you after both men said that Willie struck them as dangerous.  He wanted to make sure nothing had happened.”

 

            “Nothing’s wrong.  Shawn and I just had lunch about half an hour ago and none of them have bothered either of us.  Willie’s left him alone pretty much this morning, and I saw Winters going down the hall as I left the office for a break and all he did was nod at me.  He’s stopped making advances, thank goodness.”  Syd replied in relief.

 

            “Okay, well call if anything happens.  I’ll let Walker know and we’ll see you both later.  Hang on a sec, Sydney.”  Jimmy said, then the female Ranger heard her boss’s voice, “Sydney are you and Gage coming by here after you get off?”

 

            “We thought we’d check in to fill you in on the specifics of this morning’s meeting.  Did you want us to skip it?”

 

            “No, come on by.  We’ll keep it to 15 minutes so that we have time to get home and changed before the meeting tonight.  Talk to you then, bye.”  With that the senior Ranger hung up the receiver.  Noting that Walker sounded more relaxed than he did that morning, Syd wondered if Angela or Alex hadn’t been feeling well earlier and were fine now.  Realizing that none of those answers would come from further speculation, she began working on the report again, so that she’d be ready to leave around 4:30 that afternoon.

 

Ranger Headquarters

 

            When Walker hung up with Syd, Jimmy didn’t have time to ask any questions of his friend, because Walker immediately picked the phone back up and began dialing.  Listening to the phone, the Ranger glanced idly at the computer screen until the other end was picked up, “Frank’s Spot.”

 

            “This is Ranger Walker, can I speak with Frank Bishop?”

 

            A few minutes later, he heard the other man’s voice, “Walker, haven’t heard from you in awhile.  How are you and Alex doing?  And congratulations, we heard she had the baby.  What did you name her?”

 

            Smiling, Walker answered, “Thanks Frank.  We’re fine, we named the baby Angela, but both of us have been calling her ‘Angel’ since she was born.  Frank, I have an important favor to ask of you.  We’re working on a case right now and are meeting some suspects for drinks tonight at your place.  Trivette, Sydney, Gage and I will be there with three men around seven o’clock.  I need you to not call us by our names until the other three leave, okay?  My cover’s Randall Carson, Jimmy is James Gordon, Sydney is Carina and Gage is Shawn.”

 

            “Sure Walker, whatever you need.  I guess I’m allowed to know you as long as I don’t blow your covers?”  Frank said, laughing at the other man’s agreement.  “I’ll be careful and I’ll have Cindy take care of you since she knows all of you from last time and I can trust her to be careful about names.  We’ll save one of the tables upstairs for you so you’ll have some privacy.  Sorry Walker, I need to go.  They need me to check an order that just came in.  See you later.”

 

            “That’s okay, Frank.  I need to get back to work, too.  See you later.”  With that both the Ranger and nightclub owner hung up their phones.  As soon as the senior Ranger let go of the receiver, Jimmy started, “Walker why exactly were you so worried that Syd and Gage hadn’t called in earlier?  Don’t give me that nonsense about what we learned from the directors of those companies or off the Internet, I saw the look on your face and something else was bothering you.”

 

            With a sigh, Walker replied, “It did have to do with what they said about Willie.  It occurred to me if anything happened after my conversation with Syd that made them suspicious of her and Gage, we wouldn’t be aware of it until later.  That’s why I wanted you to call her.”

 

            “What would we have done if she didn’t answer?”  Trivette asked.

 

            “Tried Gage on his cell, then if he didn’t answer we’d call either Thomas O’Malley or Brandon Cox.”  Walker answered, relaxing back in his chair.

 

            A grin spread across Jimmy’s face noting his partner’s action, “I get it.  So now you can sit back and relax since you’ve talked to Syd and know she’s seen Gage and they’re both all right.”

 

            Smiling back at the other Ranger, Walker replied, “Well, I have to hand it to you Trivette.  You finally figured something out.  Let’s grab some lunch and get back to work so we can be finished and ready to leave after talking to Syd and Gage.”

 

RED Manufacturing

 

            Around four o’clock, Syd finished the report for Brandon and printed it.  Knocking on the connecting door to his office, she heard him call for her to enter.  “Here’s the report, Brandon.  Is there anything else you need?”

 

            “No that’ll be all,” Brandon replied absently while glancing over the report.  As Syd opened the office door to leave, he realized how he’d sounded.  Looking up at her, he smiled saying, “Thanks Carina.  I’ll see you in the morning.”

 

            Smiling back, Syd answered, “I’ll be here a while longer waiting for Shawn, but I’ll see you tomorrow, too.”

 

            “Is he keeping a closer watch on you after yesterday?”  Brandon asked, curiously.

 

            With a nod, Syd replied, “Yes, that spooked both of us.  We’ve gotten things settled, but he still doesn’t want me out of the office too long without him.  By the way, thanks for calling Shawn after overhearing that, I probably would have set the bomb off by killing the ignition.  Anyway, I’ll see you in the morning.”  With that Syd headed back to the outer office.

 

            Upon reaching her desk, Syd checked the computer for access to personnel files since she still had to wait for Gage.  Finding she could access all of the files to a limited extent, Syd pulled up Willie Brown, Carlton Powers and Justin Winters.  She read the info on Powers last and had just finished when the office door began to open.  Quickly closing the file, Syd looked up.  An unrestrained smile lit her face upon seeing her partner in the doorway.

 

            An answering grin spread across Gage’s features as he asked, “Ready to go?”

 

            “Yeah, give me just a minute.”  Gage leaned against the corner of her desk watching while she shut the computer down and gathered her purse.  When she was ready to go, he held the door for her then they headed for the elevator to leave.

 

            On the way to headquarters Syd filled Gage in on Walker and Jimmy’s phone call then what she found in the computer employee files.  By the time she finished talking, Gage was pulling into a parking space in the garage at headquarters.

 

            Entering the office the partners were greeted by a few of the others still working.  Walker opened his office door and motioned for them to join him and Trivette there.  With the door closed, the senior Ranger asked, “I know everything went smoothly this morning, what about in the afternoon?”

 

            Gage began, “Nothing much with me.  Willie avoided me, except for routine questions or comments.”  A smug grin spread across the younger man’s face, “I guess I shook him up with my blowup this morning about him putting the bomb on Syd’s car.  Syd was telling me something interesting she found though.”

 

            At that all three looked at their female counterpart, “After talking to Jimmy, I thought I’d see if I could access any of their employee files.  While I was waiting on Gage this afternoon, I checked in the computer.  I had limited access but it showed all previous employment information.  Seems they started working together about six years ago at a Simmons Manufacturing in Houston.  From there they went to Harvest Supply then Jones Manufacturing before moving to RED.”

 

            Walker nodded, “We talked to the personnel directors at Harvest and Jones.  Their sales increased to a few companies while our three worked there; then a few months after leaving for ‘personal’ reasons the sales dwindled back to normal.”

 

            With a puzzled frown, Sydney asked, “What ‘personal’ reasons?”

 

            “Don’t know, that’s what they listed on their interviews when they left both places.”

 

            “That’s interesting, Walker.  When they were hired at RED, I wonder if their former employers were called for reference checks and asked about the reasons for leaving.  In their personnel files at RED, all three places were listed on each man as ‘left for higher paying job’ but Carlton Powers didn’t even talk to anyone for a position at RED until three weeks after leaving Jones Manufacturing.  He was, also, the one that secured the positions for Justin Powers and Willie Brown, almost a month and a half after they left Jones.”  As she finished, Syd watched the senior Ranger for his reaction.

 

            Walker seemed to not be paying any attention to her because his gaze was focused on the wall behind her, but the younger woman knew from experience that he’d heard every word and his mind was formulating their next move.  “Okay Sydney, that’s something we need to keep in mind tonight.  We need to get out of here now and get ready for tonight’s meeting.  Try to be at Frank’s around six thirty so we can get set up before our guests arrive.  We’ll come back here and see where we’re going afterwards.”  With that the four left together, once in the garage, they went their separate ways:  Walker and Jimmy to the RAM while Syd and Gage got in Gage’s car.

 

Walker Ranch

 

            When Walker reached the ranch, he entered the house and headed upstairs to shower and dress for their ‘business’ meeting.  As he got to the top of the stairs and turned toward the bedroom, Alex called out from the nursery, “Walker, is that you?”

 

            “Yeah, honey.”  Leaning against the doorframe, he watched her finish changing the baby.  Picking up Angela and turning around she saw her husband in the doorway.  “You’re home early, aren’t you Cowboy?”

 

            Smiling at his wife and child, the tough Ranger disappeared to be replaced by doting husband and father.  “Through Syd and Gage, we set up a meeting with Powers and his cohorts tonight.  We’re meeting at Frank’s Spot at seven, but we need to be there by six-thirty.”

 

            As Walker took Angela from her, Alex replied, “We meaning you, Jimmy, Syd and Gage?”

 

            “Sorry sweetheart, but yes.  Strictly a business meeting, not pleasure this time.  I’ll probably be at headquarters for a while afterwards, but will be home as soon as possible.”

 

            “It’s okay, Walker.  Do you want something to eat first?”

 

            “No, I’ll grab something later, Jimmy and I had a late lunch, we were on the phone then talked to Syd before going to eat.”

 

            Taking Angela, Alex said, “All right then.  You go take a shower and get ready while I feed Angela.  Then if you’re not too late, we can have dinner when you get home.”

 

            “Sounds great, Alex.  I hope to be home by eight-thirty at least.”  Kissing her on the cheek, he continued on to get ready for the evening, while Alex went downstairs with the baby.

 

            Talking to the infant, she said, “Daddy’s in for a surprise tonight when he gets home.  I’ll fix some spaghetti and make it a romantic dinner by candlelight, even though it can’t go any further than just dinner for now.  You don’t need to hear about that though, sweetie, we’ll get your bottle then see if you’ll sleep while Mommy and Daddy eat tonight.”

 

            As she continued talking to the baby, Alex went about feeding her.  Angela was ready to go back in her bed by the time Walker was ready to leave.  After kissing him goodbye and watching the RAM disappear down the lane, Alex re-entered the house to prepare for the evening ahead of them when he returned.

 

Jimmy and Erika’s

 

            When Jimmy entered the apartment, he heard the shower running and knew where to find his fiancée.  He was gathering clean clothes to get changed into after his shower when he jumped as a pair of arms slipped around his waist.  “What are you doing home this early, Jimmy?”

 

            The Ranger turned to fold his arms around Erika and kissed her before replying, “Walker, Syd, Gage and I are meeting Powers, Winters and Brown for drinks tonight.  They’re the ones we’re investigating at RED Manufacturing where Syd and Gage are undercover.”

 

            “How long’s that going to take,” Erika asked with a slight frown.

 

            “Shouldn’t take too long, why?  Were you planning something?”

 

            “Not really, I just thought we could spend a little quiet time together.  Maybe have a nice dinner and a romantic evening.”  Erika replied with a slightly disappointed expression on her lovely face.

 

            “I’m sorry, honey.”  Jimmy said, “Tell you what, why don’t I call you when we get through at headquarters and, if it’s not too late, we can go out to dinner then have a quiet evening.”

 

            A smile lit his girl’s face, “That sounds great Jimmy.  Do I get to pick where or are you going to surprise me?”

 

            “We’ll see later.  You seem in a happier mood than this morning.  Everything go okay?”

 

            “Yes, everything went fine.  The manager was impressed with my work and talked about maybe having me work on some special projects later on.”  Erika gushed excitedly.

 

            “That’s great, Erika.  I’ll have to make sure Walker doesn’t keep us at headquarters too long, so we can definitely go out and celebrate.”  Jimmy said.  Giving her a kiss, he hurried into the bathroom to shower and change.

 

Gage’s apartment

 

            After dropping Syd off at her place, Gage hurried home to get ready for the evening ahead.  He hoped they weren’t too late getting through with Walker at headquarters, because he wanted to take Syd out to dinner afterwards.

 

            Entering his apartment, he noticed the message light flashing on his answering machine.  Hitting the button to play the message, he heard his sister’s voice, “Hi Frankie, it’s me.  Guess you’re still at work but just wanted to let you know I’m going out of town for a few days.  I’ll call you when I get back.  I want to hear how your dinner with Sydney went last weekend, since it sounded a little more than just friends. Well I’ve got to go now.   Love you.  Bye.”  A grin crossed his face at Julie’s words, as he headed for his bedroom and then the shower.

 

            He wondered what Julie would say if he told her about staying with Syd all weekend and the other nights they had been together.  Still thinking about his sister and his partner, he started the shower.  Stepping under the spray, he didn’t hear the phone ring.

 

Sydney’s

 

            Biting her lip, Syd listened to the phone ring seven times before giving up.  She thought she’d call Gage to see if he wanted to grab dinner out after they were done with Walker and Trivette.  After not getting an answer, she decided he’d switched his answering machine off.  The next thought in the female Ranger’s mind was that she should probably wait and see how late they finished.  Besides, Gage may have other plans or something else in mind for that evening, “If he even wants to have anything more to do with you,” an inner voice commented.  “He does,” she told herself firmly, to which the smaller voice answered, “Are you sure, Sydney?  After all you see him all day at work, what makes you think he wants to spend the evenings with you, too?  Even though you had a good time with him this weekend, and you talked about feelings that doesn’t mean he’ll stick around.”  “Yes, he will.  Gage doesn’t play games like that.  I’ve been his partner long enough to know that much, at least.  Besides he wouldn’t tell me he loved me if it wasn’t true.”  Calming her thoughts somewhat, Syd headed for the bathroom to start getting ready for the evening.

 

            After taking a shower, she put her bathrobe on and perused her clothes to decide what to wear.  Soon enough, her fingers touched the red sheath she’d worn after their undercover operation at Frank’s.  Debating a few moments, she pulled the dress off its hanger.  Laying it across the bed, Syd went into the bathroom to take care of her hair and makeup.  Walker and Jimmy wouldn’t think anything about it, considering the circumstances.  With the others, she just wanted to be sure to stick close to Gage’s side and as far away from Justin Winters as possible, to prevent his hands from roaming.  Grinning at herself in the mirror as she began redoing her makeup, she thought Gage’s hands could roam all they wanted.

 

            When Sydney finished her makeup, she brushed her hair leaving it down around her shoulders.  Entering the bedroom, she picked up her dress.  Just after putting it on, she was looking in the closet for matching shoes when the doorbell rang.  Grabbing the shoes, Syd headed for the door to let her partner in.

 

            Crossing the living room, a quick glance at the clock showed Gage was actually early for a change.  Opening the door, she said, “Come in Gage.  What happened, nothing to distract you at home?”

 

            Showing his famous smile that always made her knees weak, Gage retorted, “Just wanted to show my partner that I could be on time without prompting when needed.”

 

            Laughing Syd answered, “Get in here.  I just have to put these on and grab a shawl and my purse.  I’ll only be a minute.”  As she talked, Syd went back down the hall.

 

            Coming back into the room, she noticed Gage staring at her from the same spot she’d left him.  Self-consciously Syd asked, “What’s wrong?”

 

            Grinning with a slight shake of his head as his eyes ran over his partner once more, Gage replied, “Not a thing, Syd.  You look gorgeous.”

 

            With pink cheeks and a smile on her face, Sydney said, “Thanks Gage.  You look very handsome yourself.”  Sobering, she continued, “By the way, make sure that I sit between you and Walker or Trivette tonight.”

 

            Quirking an eyebrow, Gage teased, “What, you mean you don’t want to sit by Justin?”

 

            Giving him a ‘watch it’ look, Syd punched him on the arm, “Not really, do you want me to sit by him?”

 

            Catching her in his arms, Gage caught her lips with a gentle kiss.  “Syd, you know I don’t want Winters near you.  I’ll be sure you’re beside Walker or Jimmy.  You ready to go?”

 

            Nodding her agreement, Syd put her wrap around her shoulders with Gage’s help.  Taking his arm, the partners locked Syd’s apartment door and headed for the car to meet up with the senior Rangers.

 

Frank’s Spot

 

            Walker and Jimmy arrived a couple of minutes before time to meet with the junior Rangers.  Frank met the partners when they entered; taking them to the private table he had ready upstairs.  “How’s this Mr. Carson?” The club owner asked.

 

            “Fine, thank you.”  Walker smiled then lowering his voice continued, “Sydney and Gage should be here in a few minutes.  The men we’re meeting are Carlton Powers, and two of his associates.”

 

            Frank nodded, replying quietly, “I’ll keep an eye out and get them here, no problem.  Sydney and Gage just came in, be right back.”

 

            Walker looked toward the entrance where Syd and Gage were talking and watched as Frank greeted the younger Rangers before bringing them to the table.  After the partners were seated, the four Rangers decided how to play the meeting.  As they finished, Gage noticed Carlton Powers enter the club followed by Winters and Brown.

 

            The club owner met the men and learning their names and the person they were to meet, showed them upstairs where the Rangers waited.  Upon reaching the table, Frank excused himself saying their waitress would be with them shortly.  Gage had time to introduce the newcomers to the senior Rangers before Cindy came to the table.

 

            “Good evening.  My name’s Cindy, what can I get for you tonight?”  The waitress asked with a friendly smile.

 

            The Rangers ordered glasses of white wine, having already decided against anything stronger.  Carlton Powers ordered a guillotine, Justin asked for a gin and tonic while Willie ordered a beer.

 

            The group kept to general questions from Powers to find out about Walker’s background.  After the drinks arrived, Walker got down to business.  “Carina said you could supply a little operation I have going on the side.  What would the cost be to my partner and I?”

 

            “That would depend on the quantity you’d need.”  Carlton said with a smile at the other man’s direct attitude.

 

            “How much could you supply and then we’ll discuss quantity.”  Came the Ranger’s cool reply.

 

            Chuckling Powers said, “I like your style Carson.  We have a regular buyer, who takes about a hundred pounds per week.  It’d be easy enough to fill just about any order you’d make up to that amount.”

 

            Nodding Walker answered, “How about fifty pounds this week, then we’ll see.”  As Powers agreed to his suggestion, he continued, “I’d like to come take a look around your factory tomorrow if that’s okay?”

 

            Assuring the new buyer that would be fine, Powers and the senior Ranger arranged a time for the meeting.  After their business was concluded, the three men took their leave and left the club.  Frank joined the Rangers at the table as soon as the other three exited curious if everything went all right.  After letting his friend know all went according to plan, Walker and his fellow Rangers thanked Frank for his help and left.  Outside Walker glanced at his watch, noticing it was seven-thirty.  When the Rangers reached Walker’s truck and Gage’s car, the senior Ranger suggested, “Why don’t we meet up at the office at seven-thirty in the morning, instead of heading there tonight?  We’ll decide on a game plan for the meeting at RED then and, hopefully, have things wrapped up by tomorrow afternoon.”  At the group’s agreement, they got into their vehicles and left the parking lot, with Walker turning toward Trivette’s apartment and Gage going the other way.

 

Trivette’s apartment

 

            As Walker pulled the RAM to a stop in the parking lot, Jimmy opened the door to alight from the truck.  “Thanks, Walker.  I’ll see you in the morning at headquarters.  Erika shouldn’t worry too much if I start driving now.”

 

            Laughing, his partner replied, “Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow Trivette.  If something comes up and you do need a ride just call me.  Bye.”  With that the senior Ranger drove off, heading for home and his beautiful wife.

 

            As Jimmy let himself into the apartment, he noticed the lights were off.  Entering the living room, he stopped in his tracks seeing flickering candles all around the room.  “Erika?  I’m home, are you ready to go out?”  A little concerned when he didn’t receive an answer, he called his fiancée’s name again.

 

            Heading for the door to the kitchen, the Ranger stopped short hearing his name, “Jimmy, I’m right here.”  Swinging around toward her voice the man could only stare, as Erika appeared from the hallway in a black mini dress.  Coming closer to her fiancé, she pushed his mouth closed with two fingers under his chin smiling at him.  “I take it my attire meets with your approval?”

 

            Nodding, Jimmy pulled her into his arms while replying, “You look fantastic, Honey.  Just one, little question, what’s with all the candles?”

 

            Giggling, Erika said, “Remember earlier you said we’d go out to celebrate?”  At his answering nod, she continued, “Well, I thought we could stay home, have a quiet dinner and celebrate privately.”  Her words were accompanied by a sultry look, which made the Ranger look forward to what she had planned for the rest of the evening.

 

Walker Ranch

 

            Alex was coming down the stairs when she heard the RAM in the drive.  Going to the door, she waited just inside for her husband.  As he came up on the porch, Walker looked toward the door.  Seeing his wife waiting just inside the screen, his steps quickened.  Pulling open the screen door, his eyes twinkled as he said, “Good evening, Mrs. Walker.  Is this a private party or can anyone join?”

 

            Laughing, Alex took his arm, steering him to the kitchen as she answered, “Cowboy, prepare yourself for a treat, because this is a private dinner for two if your daughter cooperates.  We had a talk earlier and I just finished feeding her about twenty minutes ago, so hopefully she’s settled for a while.”

 

            Walking into the kitchen together, Walker noticed the candlelight just as he smelled the rich aroma of pasta, sauce and garlic.  “Smells good, Italian for a Texas cowboy?”

 

            Poking his arm, Alex retorted, “Well, it was easy to fix around holding the baby when she fussed and it wouldn’t ruin if you were later than you thought.”  Their dinner conversation at first dealt with catching up on each other's day.  About halfway through dinner, she asked, “How’d your meeting go?”

 

            “It went fine.  Jimmy and I are going to RED tomorrow morning.  I asked Syd, Gage and Trivette to meet early at the office in the morning to plan our day.”  The Ranger told his wife, “I decided to skip meeting tonight since you were waiting for me and Jimmy had plans with Erika if we weren’t late.”  His next words came as Alex was taking a drink of her iced tea.  “Besides the way Sydney and Gage were dressed, they looked as if they had plans tonight.  Alex, are you all right?”

 

            Walker’s question came immediately after she began coughing, nearly choking on her drink.  When she’d caught her breath, she replied, “Fine, Walker.  I just swallowed some air with my tea.”  Clearing her throat, she asked, “What was so special about how Sydney and Gage were dressed?”

 

            Shaking his head Walker said, “Nothing really.  Sydney was in her red dress that she wore last time to Frank’s and Gage was in a suit, complete with tie.  He doesn’t like wearing a tie for long any more than I do.”

 

            Alex, knowing how the junior Rangers felt about each other, listened to her husband open-mouthed for a moment then catching herself, tried to divert his attention by saying, “Walker, you were meeting undercover with suspects in a trendy club, why wouldn’t Sydney and Gage dress up a bit?  Just because they looked nice doesn’t necessarily mean they have anything planned.”

 

            “Alex, Syd and Gage spend quite a bit of time together outside of work.  It’s not like it would be the strangest thing for them to do after the meeting.”  Walker glossed over things to his wife, not letting her know of his suspicions from his observations of the junior partners’ behavior during the past week.  After the dishes were washed, Angela made her presence known with a loud wail.  Kissing her husband on the cheek, Alex went to care for her.  When the baby was fed, changed and tucked back into her crib, her parents decided to go to bed themselves since Alex would be up several more times that night and Walker needed to be at work earlier in the morning.

 

Gage and Sydney

 

            After leaving the parking lot, Gage casually asked, “Syd would you like to grab a bite to eat before we head home?”

 

            Hiding a grin by looking out the window, Sydney replied, “Sounds good, where did you want to go?”

 

            “How about that new place you were talking about a couple of weeks ago?”

 

            “Russo’s?”  At Gage’s agreement, Syd smiled, “That sounds great.  Walker took Alex there the night I was telling you about it.  Alex loved the place; she said the food was delicious.”

 

            “Well, the way Alex’s appetite would leave her so quickly at times, that’s high praise indeed.”  Gage replied, while making a turn to head for the restaurant.  Glancing his partner’s way, Gage noticed a frown on her brow and asked, “What’s wrong, Syd?”

 

            “Gage,” the female started exasperatedly.  “It wasn’t Alex’s fault that she got sick at the oddest times.  Morning sickness doesn’t always just last the first few months and doesn’t always keep to the morning.”

 

            “Syd, I didn’t mean anything by it; I was just making a comment.  But you have to admit that what I said was the truth.”  Gage finished triumphantly.

 

            “I realize everything you said was true, Gage.  Some people would get upset with you over it though.”  Sydney replied trying to keep a straight face while teasing her partner.

 

            Gage looked at his passenger right as she covered her grin with one hand, “Ah hah!  Caught you that time, Syd.  If you’re not going to behave, I’ll take you home without any dinner.”

 

            At that the female Ranger sobered, with a mock pout she said, “I’m sorry, Gage.  It’s not that often that I can actually get one over on you though.  It was too much to resist.”  A grin stole across her face, replacing the pout, as her partner burst into laughter.

 

            “It’s all right, Syd.  I won’t starve you, especially since you didn’t make me suffer hunger Sunday.”  Gage replied, as Syd’s grin grew into a genuine smile for him.  Their conversation turned to general topics the rest of the way to the restaurant.

 

            When they finished dinner, Gage drove Syd home.  Pulling into a parking space in the lot of her apartment building, Gage turned the car off, turning toward Syd at the same time.  Before he could say anything, Syd spoke up, “Gage, do you want to come up for coffee?”

 

            Smiling at her, Gage agreed and getting out of the car followed her upstairs.  Once inside, Gage caught her arm and pulled her close into a kiss.  As the kiss deepened, Syd wrapped her arms around her partner’s neck, running her fingers through his thick hair.

 

            Several minutes later, Gage gently broke the kiss leaving both gasping for breath.  “Syd, I better go….” He stopped as her fingers pressed on his lips as she spoke, “Gage, I don’t want you to go.”

 

            “Syd, are you sure?”

 

            Nodding, she answered, “I’m sure.  I’ve, actually, been pretty sure since the weekend after we stopped denying our feelings for each other.”  She finished with a small grin.  Grinning in return, Gage again caught her lips in an increasingly passionate kiss.  Just as Syd’s knees began to buckle, Gage picked her up in his arms heading for the bedroom.

 

 

Chapter 8:  Thursday

 

Sydney’s apartment

 

            Sydney woke around 5:30 and shut off the alarm, before it sounded.  Moving Gage’s arm from across her waist, she sat up and turned toward her partner.  Smiling, she reached out, lightly touching his cheek, the smile widening as she thought of the previous evening.

 

            Getting out of bed, Syd headed for the bathroom, letting Gage sleep a bit longer.  After a quick shower, Syd donned her robe and went to the kitchen to start a pot of coffee.  When the coffee was ready, she filled two mugs, then turning off the maker returned to the bedroom.

 

            Going to Gage’s side, Syd set the steaming mugs on the nightstand before sitting on the edge of the bed.  Running her fingers through her partner’s sandy-blond hair, Syd leaned forward pressing a light kiss to his lips.  The kiss was returned as Gage’s arms suddenly wrapped around her waist, pulling Syd across his lap to rest on the bed.

 

            “Morning, Syd,” Gage said, breaking off the kiss to nuzzle her neck while moving her robe to the side.

 

            “Umm, Gage?”  Sydney moaned as his kisses moved across her shoulder.

 

            “What honey?”  Gage questioned continuing back toward her neck to nip her ear.

 

            Syd gasped, clasping his face to gently push him away so she could look into his eyes, “Gage, we’ve got to get to work early, remember?”

 

            “Syd, can’t we stay here a little longer?”  Gage whined.

 

            With a smile lighting her face at how pathetic her strong partner sounded, Syd pulled him close for a quick kiss.  Sliding out from under him, she sat up in the bed while asking him to hand her one of the coffee cups.  As he did so, they settled back against the pillows to drink their coffee talking about what to do for breakfast and what was still needed to, hopefully, wrap the case up that day.

 

Ranger Headquarters

 

            Syd and Gage entered the office laughing as Walker finished pouring cups of coffee for Trivette and himself.  Sydney stopped at the pot for two more mugs while Gage continued over to where Jimmy sat at his desk.

 

            “You here on time again, Gage?”  Trivette, with a twinkle in his eye, teased the younger man.

 

            Heaving an over exaggerated sigh, Gage replied, “Jimmy, Syd explained that I’ve been on time to keep her from grouching at me.  Now, can we please drop the subject?”

 

            “I remember what Sydney said yesterday, but it’s still odd that you wouldn’t run her a little bit behind today, since we were out last night and had to be in earlier.”  Jimmy responded, with a mischievous grin.

 

            Before Gage could respond, Syd approached the other three and handing her partner his coffee said, “Jimmy, we got home at a decent hour and I called him this morning when I woke up so he’d be ready.”  Turning toward Walker, who listened to the whole exchange with an amused expression, she changed the subject asking, “How are we going to play this today?”

 

            The senior Ranger replied, “I’m going to arrange for you to come downstairs when we arrive to escort us around.  You can take me downstairs to meet with Willie to tour the line then take Trivette back to your office.  I figure Powers or Winters will accompany me with Brown, but if not you need to keep an eye out for them when the bust goes down.  As soon as I’ve been in the factory long enough to see that we have the evidence we need to make the charges stick, I’ll give the signal for the other Rangers to move in.  Gage can help me downstairs, but you two need to watch for Carlton or Justin.  If they’re alerted to what’s going on in the factory, they’ll probably figure out what’s happened and could come after you before their arrest.”

 

            As they nodded in agreement, the junior partners said, “Got it,” at the same time.

 

            “Okay, you two need to head out and we’ll see you around ten o’clock.”  Walker stated as they turned to leave the office.

 

Red Manufacturing

 

            When Syd and Gage pulled into a parking space, Gage caught her hand asking, “You ready for this, Syd?”

 

            “I’ll be fine Gage.  You and Walker are the ones who need to be careful.  Jimmy and I won’t be there to cover your backs if you get in trouble.”

 

            “No, you two just have to worry with Powers and Winters by yourselves.  Walker and I will at least have backup with the other Rangers.”

 

            Syd smiled and giving his hand an extra squeeze said, “So we’re agreed, we’ll both be cautious.  We’d better get inside before we’re late.”

 

            Getting out of the car, the partners headed inside splitting up at the elevators after a quick kiss.  When Gage arrived outside the factory a few moments later, Willie called him to his office.  Following the foreman warily, Gage entered his office waiting to see what the other man wanted.

 

            Willie got right to business, “Mr. Powers called me a few minutes ago and said that your girlfriend will be bringing Mr. Carson and his partner down here at ten.  I just wanted to let you know that even though she will be here for a while and you’re such good friends with Mr. Carson doesn’t mean that you can slack off on your work.  You need to keep doing your job or else all the deals Mr. Carson can make will be for nothing because the product won’t be ready to ship anywhere.  Do you understand me, Shawn?”

 

            Gage listened to the foreman’s rambling orders with amusement, but kept a straight face so as not to make the man angry.  When Willie finished, Gage replied, “Yes sir, I understand.  Can I get to work now, or did you need something else?”

 

            With a grimace, Willie stated, “We’re done.  Get to work and remember what I said.”

 

            Gage answered with a curt nod before turning to head out of the door going to where he had been working the last few days.

 

            Meanwhile, Sydney entered Brandon’s outer office and paused hearing another man’s voice talking to Brandon through the closed door to the interior office.  After listening a moment, she realized it was Carlton Powers so she continued on to her desk to begin working.  Brandon had some new numbers lying on her desk; which needed to be input into an existing file in the computer.

 

            Syd was about halfway through entering the new information when the door opened and Powers accompanied by Brandon came into the room.  Sydney kept right on with what she was doing until Powers addressed her.  “Ms. Walters, I’ll see you around ten o’clock.  Let me know when Mr. Carson arrives.”  Glancing at the older man, Sydney nodded her agreement with a brief smile.

 

            When the Vice-President exited the office, Brandon commented, “Well, at least, he’s being a bit nicer to you.”

 

            With a quick look toward him seeing his sincerity, she replied a grin, “Yes, Shawn and I had to talk with him, Mr. Winters, and Willie about something yesterday morning.  He’s been a little less stuffy with me and Justin is ignoring me in the hall now.”

 

            “Well, I’m guessing you talked about Tuesday afternoon’s events?”  Brandon asked with a smile.  At Sydney’s affirmative answer, he continued, “Then with Carlton and Justin, it sounds like me overhearing what I did helped you more than anything.”

 

            “Yes, it did.  It helped Shawn, also.  Willie was watching his every move and now he’s backed off.  Shawn had him up against a wall yesterday though, because of setting the bomb on my car.”  Sydney finished with a grin.  “I’d better get busy, ten o’clock is going to be here pretty quick.”

 

            Smiling back at the female Ranger, Brandon replied, “Yes, Carlton already told me you’d be busy with something for him.  I’ll just have to do without you for a while, I guess.”  He turned and re-entered his office, leaving Sydney to her work and thoughts about what he’d think when he found out why she and Gage were really there.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

            At ten o’clock, Walker and Trivette entered the main reception area.  Approaching the desk, they were greeted by the receptionist on duty.  “Good morning, gentlemen.  May I help you?”

 

            “Yes, we’re supposed to meet with Carlton Powers.”  Walker answered.

 

            “Your names sir?”  When he told her their cover names, she checked her computer before replying, “Yes sir, Ms. Walters is down to be contacted when you arrive.”  Picking up her phone, the receptionist talked briefly, then smiling at the Rangers said.  “If you gentlemen will have a seat, she will be just a moment.”

 

            After thanking the girl, Walker and Jimmy took seats not too far from the desk.  They’d only been there a few minutes when Sydney appeared in the lobby.  After greeting the senior Rangers, she led them to the elevators saying, “Mr. Powers wanted me to bring you to his office, gentlemen.  This way please.”

 

            As the door to the elevators closed, she quickly informed her bosses why they were going to Carlton Powers’ office.  “Powers called me about an hour ago and told me to bring you to his office when you got here.  I don’t know if he plans on taking you downstairs himself or if he just wants to talk to you before you go down.  He didn’t tell me anything else, except to show you upstairs.”

 

            “That’s all right, Sydney.”  Walker replied, “Whether Powers goes downstairs with us or not, I want Trivette to stay with you.  You two will be each other’s backup.  Gage and I will have the others to back us, but you’ll need to watch Winters.”

 

            “Okay, what if Carlton wants to know why Jimmy’s going with me?”  Sydney asked wanting to be prepared.

 

            “I’ll make up some reason, if he asks.  Can you show us where your office is before we meet Powers?”

 

            “Sure, it’s on the same floor.”  Syd replied just as the elevator doors opened.  Leading the way, the female Ranger took the two men down the hall to her current office before going the opposite way to meet with Carlton Powers.

 

            Entering his secretary’s office, Syd smiled at the older woman, “Hello, I have Mr. Carson and Mr. Gordon to see Mr. Powers.”

 

            “Yes, he’s expecting you, just a moment.”  Getting the Vice-President on the phone, the secretary spoke briefly then hanging up, informed them, “You may go in now, he’s waiting.  Ms. Walters, Mr. Powers wants you in there too.”

 

            Thanking the woman, the three Rangers entered the other office.  Powers came from behind his desk to greet them.  “Mr. Carson, Mr. Gordon.  I asked Ms. Walters to bring you to my office, because I won’t be able to go downstairs with you.  Justin and I have a few matters we need to clear up and will be busy most of the day.  Willie is more than capable of taking care of you, though.”

 

            “Sounds good to me,” Walker answered.  “Is there anything else you need with us or can Carina show us downstairs now?”

 

            “I believe that’s all the pertinent details for now.  After you’ve seen where and how the product is packaged for shipping, we’ll go over the final points.”

 

            Shaking hands with the other man, Walker and Jimmy followed Sydney back out into the hall.  Making their way back to the elevators, they went down to the packing rooms.  Willie met them just inside the door.  “Mr. Carson, if you and Mr. Gordon will follow me I’ll show you how the products are packed.  Thank you, Ms. Walters.”

 

            Giving the man a glare, which went entirely unnoticed except by the other two Rangers, Syd turned to leave the room just as Walker called, “Wait a moment, Carina.  Mr. Brown, my partner would like to go over some things with Ms. Walters that can’t wait.  Is it okay for you to just give me the tour?”

 

            Hedging a bit at this sudden change of plans, or so he thought, Willie replied, “I guess so, since you’re the man in charge of making any decisions.”

 

            Nodding at his partner, Walker watched as Jimmy accompanied Sydney out of the room to head back upstairs.  Turning to the foreman, he asked, “Now weren’t you going to show me something?”

 

            Looking back at the red-haired Ranger, Willie said, “Yes if you’ll come this way?”  They had walked around the main packing area where all of the parts were boxed before some were sent into the smaller room and had just entered the smaller packing area when the phone rang, “Excuse me a moment, Mr. Carson.  Hello? ... Mr. Powers, what can I do for you sir? … Yes, he’s here. … No, they went upstairs. … She did?  Are you sure? … Sorry, I know you’re sure.  I can be up there in a few minutes, if you need me. … All right, I will.  Goodbye.”

 

            “What was that about?”  Walker asked.

 

            “Nothing to concern you.  Just something he needed an answer to regarding another matter entirely.”  Changing the subject, the man took the ‘potential buyer’ around the room, showing him every detail of the packing and shipping processes.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

            After leaving his partner downstairs, Jimmy followed Sydney back to the office she showed them.  Once inside the door, Syd checked for notes from Brandon on the desk.  Finding none she was going to pour a cup of coffee for the other man when the inner office door opened and Brandon looked out.  “Oh Carina, it’s you.”

 

            Noting his curious look at Jimmy, Syd answered the unspoken question, “This is James Gordon, he’s one of the men I met for Mr. Powers.  I have something to show him before he meets back up with his partner, who’s downstairs with Willie.”

 

            With a nod, Brandon said, “All right, I’ll be in here if anything comes up.”

 

            As he shut the door, Jimmy asked Sydney about the files she’d pulled up the day before on their suspects.  Syd pulled the appropriate files up in a few moments and the senior Ranger began to scan them to see if there could be anything else that Syd had missed.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

            Immediately after the Rangers left his office, Carlton lifted his phone and dialing a number stated, “Justin, get to my office now, they just went downstairs.”

 

            Within minutes Justin was past Powers’ secretary and entering the office.  “I’m here Carlton, what’s up?”

 

            “Did you check the computer to see what files were accessed the past few days?”  The older man asked, getting straight to business.

 

            “Yes, our personnel files were accessed yesterday afternoon was the only time I noticed anything pertaining directly to us.”

 

            “Who pulled up our personnel files?”  Carlton asked, “Or didn’t you check?”

 

            “I didn’t track down who accessed them, no.”  Justin stated.  Going to his boss’s computer terminal, he quickly logged in and pulled the files in question putting a trace to see which terminal the files were pulled up on.  “Here it is, Carlton. … You’re not going to believe this.”

 

            “Ms. Walters?”  Carlton questioned matter-of-factly.

 

            “Yes.  Wait a minute, she’s pulling them up again or someone else is using her computer and accessing them.”

 

            “Carson’s associate, Gordon, may have gone with her for some reason.  Can we see exactly what she’s looking at from here?”

 

            In a few moments the two terminals were linked and the men were looking at the same things that Syd and Jimmy were scanning at her computer.

 

            Carlton and Justin watched the screen intently as Carlton’s employee file came up then scrolled slowly down the page stopping a few places.  After scanning the first page, the page showing former employers came up stopping at each entry for several minutes before moving on.  When Syd and Jimmy finished looking at Carlton’s file, they went on to Justin’s then Willie’s.  Watching them, via computer, scan the other two files as closely as they had Carlton’s, Justin finally burst out, “Why the hell is she looking at the same things again?”

 

            “Justin, control yourself.  It might not be Ms. Walters looking at them again.  It could be Mr. Gordon.”

 

            “Carlton, does it really matter who is looking at them?  Gordon couldn’t get into the computer without an authorization code and since he’s on Carina’s computer it would only make sense that she logged in under her name to give him access to look in our files.”

 

            “Exactly, so just calm down and we’ll go talk to them.  Let me call Willie first.”  Carlton picked up the phone as he was talking.

 

            Dialing an extension, he paused a moment before saying, “Willie, it’s Carlton. … Is Carson there? … Are Gordon and Ms. Walters still there? … I figured as much.  I had Justin do some checking for me this morning and Ms. Walters pulled our employee files yesterday, then she or someone else is accessing them now to look at. … Of course I’m sure, didn’t you hear me say that I had Justin check this morning? … No, you stay there.  Go ahead and give Carson the tour, but keep an eye on him.  Justin and I will take care of Ms. Walters and Mr. Gordon. … Goodbye.”

 

            Hanging up the receiver, Carlton looked at Justin then said.  “Ms. Walters is probably showing Mr. Gordon the files right now.  They left the packing room about thirty minutes ago, so it’s probably Gordon looking at our files.”

 

            “So what are we going to do?”  Justin asked calmly.

 

            “We’ll take care of Mr. Gordon and Ms. Walters, while Willie looks after Carson and Caldwell.  I have a feeling all of them may be more than they appear.”  Carlton answered as Justin grinned in response.  The two men watched the computer screen for a few minutes more to find out what other information the two ‘snoops’ were looking at.

 

Meanwhile, downstairs

 

            After speaking with Carlton Powers, Willie had proceeded to show Walker around the room.  The whole time Gage kept an eye on his boss waiting for the signal to call in the backup.

 

            Walker, also, knew exactly where Gage was positioned in relation to his place with Willie.  The senior Ranger listened to everything the plant foreman told him, all the while, looking around the room and judging how much resistance they were apt to encounter during the bust.

 

            While they were looking at each product shipped and how everything was packed into the cases, Walker kept Willie busy by questioning him about every process that occurred.  When they’d completed their round of the room, Walker said, “Well Mr. Brown, you’ve been very helpful and informative while showing me around.  Now there’s just one other thing.”

 

            With a frown crossing his brow, the other man asked, “What would that be Mr. Carson?”

 

            “Well, actually, it’s a small problem.  You’ve shown me all of these drugs and how they’re packed, but the problem is I’m a Texas Ranger and you’re all under arrest.”

 

            At his words, Willie’s eyes widened fractionally as he threw a punch towards Walker’s face, which the Ranger easily blocked.  About half of the workers began encircling the foreman and Walker, to help their boss.

 

            Several of the men were stopped as Gage jumped into their midst.  Spinning a roundhouse kick at the closest, he caught him in the chest and knocked him backwards into another man.  One heavy-set man immediately grabbed Gage around the chest to hold him while another one went to slug him in the face and body.  Gage received a left hook, then turned the tables on his attacker by using the man holding him as a lever bringing his legs off the floor and knocking two of the others backwards into a table leaving them dazed.  Planting his feet firmly back on the floor, Gage then head-butted the man holding him causing his hold to loosen.  Turning quickly, he dispatched the bigger man with a powerful kick to the side of his head.

 

            While Gage took care of himself, Walker had his hands full trying to keep hold of Willie while subduing the rest of the workers.  Walker took down two men with one powerful kick catching both of them along the side of their faces.  With his attention diverted, a large man came up behind the senior Ranger and pulled his arm from around the foreman before shoving Walker to the floor.  The man lifted his foot with the intent of slamming it into Walker’s face.  As he brought his foot down, Walker used the man’s own momentum against him by pushing his leg to the side throwing him off balance and causing him to fall to the floor.  Walker was up on his knees quickly with a hard right jab to his attacker’s jaw that left the man stunned senseless.  Getting to his feet, the Ranger saw Willie trying to get to the door, but had no time to follow as he was defending himself against the rest of his attackers.

 

            Meanwhile, the backup team of Rangers entered the room stopping any other workers from thinking of helping out and cutting off Willie’s escape route.  Gage headed for Willie after putting cuffs on the man who’d held him earlier and was just beginning to wake up.  Walker met Gage as he reached Willie, grabbing him and pulling him around, and, before the younger Ranger could say anything, told the foreman, “All right Willie, I want you to call Carlton Powers and get him and Winters down here.  Make up any story you have to, but get them down here now.”

 

            Brown was already shaking his head as he chuckled, “It won’t do any good unless I call Brandon’s office, because when Mr. Powers called earlier they were going to take care of Ms. Walters and Mr. Gordon.  Justin found out she’s been snooping around in our files then showed Gordon today, so they’re probably already out of commission.”  Before Willie finished speaking, Gage was halfway to the door with Walker right behind him.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

            Trivette had been in front of the computer for a little over half an hour looking at the files Sydney had already summarized for them.  Sydney looked at them over his shoulder again while waiting for the senior Ranger to finish.  Finally, Jimmy leaned back in the chair imitating his partner’s favorite thinking pose of steepling his fingers while gazing at nothing.

 

            After a few minutes of silence, Syd asked, “Well?”

 

            Breaking out of his reverie, Jimmy said, “Nothing new.  You already reported everything that’s in here.”  Looking at his watch, he said, ”Maybe we ought to check and see what Justin and Powers are doing and if Walker’s called in the troops yet.”

 

            Reaching past the senior Ranger, Sydney pushed a few buttons on the computer, accessing the security cameras for the plant.  When the view came on the monitor, the two saw a group of Rangers entering the smaller room with guns drawn.  As Sydney downed that access, Jimmy said, “Okay that question’s answered.  What do you say we go have a little talk with Winters and Powers?”

 

            At Sydney’s agreement, the two Rangers headed for the door.  When Jimmy opened the door, he found himself looking down the barrel of a small pistol.  Taking a quick step back, he felt Syd run into him and heard her start, “Jimmy, what….”

 

            Syd’s voice trailed off as she glanced around Jimmy to see Justin Winters holding a gun in his face.  Carlton Powers said, “Why don’t the two of you just get back in there, nice and quiet now.  Is Brandon in his office?”

 

            Syd answered, “He left for an early lunch about 15 minutes ago.”

 

            “Good we won’t have to worry about him barging in.  Now, sit down.”  As Sydney sat behind the desk with Jimmy taking a seat next to her, Justin relaxed his grip on the gun slightly without moving it from the two Rangers.  Noticing this, Syd looked at the older Ranger getting an acknowledging glance that he had, also, seen right as Carlton began to speak.

 

            “Well, looks like you two have been busy, especially you Ms. Walters.”  Carlton sat down in a comfortable chair on the other side of the desk from Syd and Jimmy.  “Why don’t you tell me why you’ve been so curious about Willie, Justin and my files?”

 

            Jimmy spoke up, before Syd could, “What makes you think we were looking at your files?”

 

            “Please, credit me with some intelligence, Mr. Gordon.  I have the system set where if my, Willie, or Justin’s files are accessed the computer sends me a message.  There was a message last night that all of the files had been studied for quite a while at the same time.  Justin tracked down that the files were accessed on a computer here in the building.  This morning, I told him to find out which computer they were pulled up on and he traced them back to Ms. Walters’ computer, just as they were being brought up again.  We watched over my monitor as, I suppose, you were looking at the files, Mr. Gordon?”

 

            Carlton trailed off, leaving Jimmy an opportunity to say something.  Getting nothing but a cool stare from him in return, he continued.  “Everything you looked at, we know about.  A quick phone call to Willie brought the news that you had accompanied Ms. Walters upstairs.  By the way, I told Willie to keep Carson busy and keep an eye on him and Caldwell, so we don’t have to worry about them interrupting us either.”

 

            At Powers’ words, Sydney’s eyes widened then narrowed, staring coldly at the older man as she asked, “Why worry about them interrupting anything in the first place?”

 

            With a wry grin at her impertinence, Powers answered, “Since Carson is Gordon’s partner and you and Caldwell are always together, it stands to reason that you all have a hand in whatever you had planned.  Now we’re just going to have a nice, little chat.  What were you hoping to find in our files?”

 

            Sydney quirked her eyebrows at Jimmy, leaving it up to him to start, “Well, Randall wanted Carina to see if she could access any personnel files and to what extent.  When she found out she could pull up anyone’s file and see where they’d worked before, he asked if she’d let me look at yours so he could find out more about who he was dealing with.”

 

            “All right, I can accept that but it doesn’t explain why Ms. Walters was in our files so long last night, or why you were looking in depth today.”

 

            This time Sydney spoke up, “I wanted to get as much information for Mr. Carson that I could, then he asked me to show Mr. Gordon while they were here today, so it didn’t make any difference.”

 

            Justin looked at his superior saying, “Carlton, this is ridiculous.  They’re only retelling each other’s story and it’s everything we already knew before we came in here.  Let’s just get them downstairs with the others and out of our hair once and for all.”

 

            At that moment, the door opened and Brandon, standing in the doorway, asked, “Justin?  Carlton?  What’s going on in here?”  As his voice sounded, Justin turned moving the gun away from Syd and Jimmy to aim at the other man.

 

            Sydney brought her leg up, knocking Justin’s aim off just as the gun discharged.  The bullet lodged in the wall beside the door, startling Brandon into shutting the door quickly while remaining in the hall.

 

            With Justin and Carlton both distracted by Sydney’s sudden movement, both Rangers sprang into action, catching them by surprise.  Sydney kept after Justin, who after the first couple of blows from her, proved to be almost a match with her in skill by blocking most of her moves.  After a few minutes of fighting, Justin blocked a punch that Syd threw at his jaw and caught her in the chest with his foot, pushing her backwards into the wall.  Moving in and holding her to the wall with an arm across her throat, Justin diverted his attention for a second to check how Carlton was doing against Jimmy.  That second was all Sydney needed.  Lifting her foot slightly, she kicked him in the knee.  At the same time, she grabbed the arm that was against her throat while punching him dead center in the eye.  As he loosened his grip and staggered slightly away from her, Syd, keeping hold of his arm, moved to one side and threw him over her shoulder to the floor.  With the breath knocked out of him, Justin didn’t protest or resist as Sydney rolled him over and cuffed him.

 

            Meanwhile, Jimmy grabbed Carlton Powers while Syd attacked Justin.  Jimmy, expecting an easier time with the older man, was taken by surprise when Powers broke free of his hold.  Turning, Powers began throwing punches at Jimmy, who quickly ducked to avoid the first couple, before getting a few hits of his own in.  The two went back and forth exchanging blows, somewhat evenly matched since Jimmy’s knee was still stiff from the car accident.  About the time Justin looked toward the two from fighting Syd, Powers got the better of Jimmy with a punch to his shoulder and kicking his leg right below the kneecap, sending the Ranger to the floor in pain.  Jimmy, trying to regain his footing while staying out of Powers’ way, pushed himself toward the far wall.  Carlton Powers, following Jimmy, was startled to feel a jolt as Sydney flew into him pushing him into the wall hard, before holding him there as she slapped a pair of cuffs on his wrists.

 

            Sydney pushed the older man to the floor before turning to Jimmy, “Are you all right?” She asked, while helping him to his feet.

 

            “Yeah, thanks to you.”  The senior Ranger was about to say more when the door slamming open brought both of them around their guard up in case of another attack.  Seeing Gage and Walker in the doorway, the two Rangers relaxed their stance.

 

            “Are you okay, Trivette?”  Walker asked, noticing his partner take a limping step toward Carlton Powers.  Gage had headed for his partner, asking her, “You okay, Shorty?” at the same time.

 

            “Yeah I’m fine, Walker.  Powers got the drop on me and kicked my leg, but it’ll be okay.  It’s just a little sore at the moment.”  Jimmy replied as he reached down to drag Carlton Powers to his feet.

 

            With a chuckle and a shake of his head, Walker asked, “How about we get these two downstairs to go with the rest of the group, partner?” as he brought Justin Winters to his feet, also.  Looking at Syd and Gage, Walker said, “We’ll see you back at headquarters in about half an hour.”

 

            Glancing toward Brandon and noting the shocked look on his face, Sydney replied, “All right, Walker.  I’m going to fill in Mr. Cox, then we’ll be there as quickly as possible.”  After the senior Rangers had taken their prisoners out of the room, the junior partners headed over to where Brandon was still standing.

 

            Sydney asked, “Are you okay, Brandon?”

 

            Shaking his head as if waking from a trance, he replied, “Yes.  Do you mind telling me what’s going on, though?”

 

            Gage answered, “We’re Texas Rangers.  We were undercover investigating large shipments to certain companies for Mr. O’Malley.”

 

            Sydney spoke up telling Brandon, “My real name’s Sydney Cooke and his is Francis Gage.  We couldn’t tell you who we really were, but you’ve helped our covers out a lot.  When you heard Justin and Willie talking about the bomb on my car and called Gage, you saved my life, they caught me snooping around in Justin’s office.  We really appreciate everything you’ve done.”

 

            Brandon looked more alert after the partners started their explanation.  Upon realizing exactly what Sydney was telling him, he asked, “So, I guess this means I’m losing a good replacement assistant?”

 

            Sydney smiled reassuringly as she answered, “Don’t worry, you’re all set up with a temp for as long as she’s needed.  She’ll be here around one o’clock to start.  Now, Gage and I need to get out of here and back to headquarters, before Walker starts calling to find out where we disappeared to.”  Saying their goodbyes and best wishes to Brandon, the partners left RED Manufacturing for the last time, knowing their duties were accomplished.

 

Ranger Headquarters

 

            When Sydney and Gage walked into the Company B office, Walker and Trivette were nowhere to be seen.  The partners got to work starting the reports for the completed case.  About twenty minutes later, the senior Rangers entered the office.  Looking up the younger couple noticed a smug grin on Jimmy’s face while Walker looked definitely satisfied.

 

            At the junior partner’s questioning gazes, Walker answered, “We just finished questioning our three chief suspects.  We’ve got all the information we needed to book all three for drug smuggling.”  As Gage started to ask a question, Walker continued, “Before you ask, Willie folded quickly.  He’ll testify against Powers and Winters for a lighter sentence.  Of course, what deal the DA works out with him remains Phil’s decision.  We just got enough for what we needed to charge them.  Why don’t we see how fast we can wrap up the paperwork and I may let you get out of here early.”

 

            With that all four Rangers turned back to their work.  Sydney and Gage, having the longest reports to file on the case, were just finishing up about an hour later when Walker’s phone rang.  Half listening when he answered, the other Rangers concluded that Alex was calling Walker, especially, when he turned his chair toward the wall while talking.

 

            After several moments of conversation, Walker hung up the phone saying, “All right, honey.  I’ll see you later.”  Turning back around, he asked, “Are you two finished yet?”

 

            Syd and Gage stood simultaneously and headed to the senior Ranger’s desk, handing him the completed reports.  Gage joked, “Signed, sealed and delivered, boss.”

 

            Shaking his head in amusement, Walker glanced at the reports then called to Jimmy.  When his partner joined them, Walker said, “Alex called and we decided to see if you three and Erika wanted to join us for dinner tonight.”  As his friends chorused their assent, he continued, “Okay, it’s one o’clock now.  Why don’t we get out of here and everyone be out at the ranch between four and five?”  As the group dispersed, Walker watched Syd smile and nod her head about something Gage said to her while leaving the office and wondered how much longer he could wait before approaching them about their budding relationship.  Deciding, once again, to play it by ear, he stood and grabbed his hat before joining his partner following the junior Rangers out the door.

 

            As they were leaving, Jimmy asked, “Hey Walker, can you give me a ride home?  Erika brought me to work today; we thought we might go out tonight.”

 

            “Why don’t I just take you home with me then.  Alex said Erika was going to be there in a bit to help her get things ready.”  His partner answered, “You could give her a call and let her know where you are.”

 

            The red-haired Ranger finished speaking just as Jimmy’s cell phone rang.  Answering, the other Ranger said, “Hi honey, I was just going to call you. … Yes, Walker told us about dinner. … Erika … Where are you at now? … That’s okay … Honey, wait a minute. … Erika, listen to me a minute.  Walker offered to take me on out to the ranch since you were planning to help Alex with dinner. … Yeah, we’re getting ready to leave now because we got the case and paperwork finished. … All right, see you there.”  Closing his cell phone, Jimmy looked over at his amused partner as they reached his RAM, “It’s all set, Erika’s ready to go out to the ranch now, so you’re saving her a trip back later to pick me up or me driving and us having two vehicles there.”

 

            On the way to the ranch, Jimmy decided to quiz the senior Ranger.  “Walker, do you have any idea what’s going on with Gage and Syd?”

 

            “Why do you keep asking me that, Trivette?” Came the mildly exasperated reply.

 

            “Maybe because you keep avoiding it every time I ask.  They’ve been acting different the last couple of weeks, too.  I know they’ve always been close because they were already partners and friends when they came here, but the last couple of weeks Syd’s seemed to be sticking closer to Gage and both of them keep watching each other, like they’re going to disappear at any minute.  Have you even noticed any of this?”

 

            “Yeah, I’ve noticed they were getting closer.  I’m going to have to talk to them eventually I just don’t know when it’s going to be necessary.  Listen to me Jimmy, don’t say anything to Alex or Erika about this and don’t bother Sydney and Gage when they get out here this afternoon.  Just leave it alone until I get a chance to talk to them or they tell us something concrete, okay?”  Getting an affirmative answer from his partner, their conversation turned to general topics until they reached the ranch arriving the same time as Erika both greeting her as they entered the house together.

 

Sydney and Gage

 

            As Gage followed Syd back to their desks, he leaned over to ask quietly, “So Syd, did you have anything in mind to do until we need to be at Walkers?”

 

            Gathering her things quickly after closing down the computer, Syd watched Gage doing the same as she replied, “Not really, maybe grab a sandwich and relax.  Why, did you have something you needed me for?”

 

            While they headed for the door, he answered her quietly enough that no one else could overhear, “I’ll always need you, but right now I was thinking more along the lines of asking if you wanted to go for a ride on my motorcycle with me.”

 

            Nodding her head, Syd smiled up at Gage saying, “I’d love to go for a ride with you.  Can we stop by my place first so I can change?”

 

            “Yeah, that’s what I was planning to do, then we can go by mine so I can change and to pick up the bike.  We could take the bike out to Walker’s, unless you think we should stick with one of the cars?”  Gage asked, rather tentatively, to see what Sydney thought of the idea.

 

            “There’s no reason to worry about driving one of the cars to the ranch.  No one will think anything about it, I’m sure.”  Syd was talking when they reached the car and got in.  As Gage started the vehicle and backed out of his space, she continued.  “Besides Alex and Erika already know we’re dating.  They promised not to say anything to Walker or Jimmy.  Have you got an idea where you want to ride?”

 

            “Well since you don’t mind taking the bike to Walker’s, we could go through Plano and around Lake Ray Hubbard then take some back roads before heading back.”

 

            “That sounds great Gage.  Could we try to skip the dirt roads?”  Syd asked teasingly while trying to keep a serious face.

 

            Pulling into a parking space in her apartment complex, Gage shifted the car into park while protesting, “Hey, now.”  Looking at Syd, he broke off upon noting the teasing look on her beautiful face.  Grinning in response, he queried, “You trying to get me riled here, Shorty?”

 

            “Now why would I do that, Gage?”  Syd laughed as they climbed the stairs, dodging Gage’s attempt to grab her, they continued chasing each other to her apartment.  Getting inside the door, Syd tried to make it to her bedroom, but Gage caught her before she was out of the living room.  Pulling her close, his fingers found the ticklish spots on her sides.  Slowly moving his fingers along her rib cage, Gage soon had his partner giggling while, at the same time, squirming to get away.

 

            After a few minutes of torturing Sydney, Gage’s fingers stilled and his arms moved to wrap around her and hold her close while pressing his lips to the top of her head.  As her laughter subsided, Syd caught one of her partner’s hands and they stayed in the embrace for a few minutes while thinking back over the events of the last couple of weeks that brought them to where they were now.  Finally, Gage squeezed Syd gently while saying, “Why don’t you go get ready, so we can leave?”  Letting go he watched her move down the hall before making himself comfortable on the couch.

 

            When Sydney was ready to go, they headed out to Gage’s car for the ride to his apartment.  Once there, it took about fifteen minutes, before he too was ready for their ride.  Exiting his building, they moved into the garage area where his motorcycle was.  After Gage took a few minutes to ready the bike, the partners put their helmets on and situated themselves on the bike.  Ready to go, Syd wrapped her arms loosely around her partner’s waist after he’d started the cycle’s engine and they took off for a couple of hours of relaxing before heading to the Walker Ranch for dinner with their friends.

 

Walker Ranch

 

            Walker and Jimmy were helping Alex and Erika in the kitchen as they prepared a beef roast with potatoes and carrots in the oven.  Just as Alex put the lid on the roasting pan ready to place it in the oven, a long wail was heard from the nursery.  “Oh dear, there’s Angela.”

 

            Erika piped up, “You go take care of her Alex.  I’ll get this in the oven and get started on the salad.”  Thanking her friend, Alex headed upstairs to see what the baby needed.

 

            As the sounds subsided from upstairs, Walker asked, “Erika, can you and Jimmy handle things while I go talk to Alex for a minute?”

 

            “Sure, Walker.  Not a problem, you go ahead, I’ll keep Jimmy busy for you.”  Erika laughed at her fiancé’s face as he sputtered out a protest, while Walker followed his wife’s path up the stairs.

 

            Reaching the nursery door, Walker stood for a few minutes just watching Alex with baby Angela.  Finally, Alex asked, “Are you just going to stand there and watch, Cowboy, or are you coming in for a while?”

 

            Grinning, her husband replied, “Actually, I was wanting to talk to you alone without Jimmy and Erika overhearing.”

 

            “About what, honey?”  Alex glanced at him curiously.

 

            Walker watched his wife closely while saying, “About Sydney and Gage.  I was wondering if you had noticed a change in their relationship or if either of them had said anything to you?”  After asking, he noted that Alex wouldn’t meet his eyes while a slightly uncomfortable look crossed her face, showing that she knew more than she wanted to admit to, as she finished feeding Angela and began to burp her.  “All right, Alex.  You know something.  Now, what’s up?”

 

            “Walker, Erika and I promised Sydney….” Alex answered hesitantly, as she laid the drowsy infant back in her crib.

 

            Taking her hand, Walker led her to their bedroom where they could continue to have privacy to talk.  Sitting beside her on the bed he questioned further, “What exactly did you and Erika promise Sydney and why?”

 

            “Well, Sydney told us that Gage stayed in the guest room at her apartment last weekend after the funerals, because neither of them wanted to face empty apartments.  We talked about our nightmares and found out how similar they were.  Sydney, also, mentioned what happened between her and Gage on their ride Saturday afternoon. … Walker, they finally admitted to each other that they’re in love.  They didn’t want to lie to you and Jimmy, but they don’t want to be split up at work either so they just decided to keep things to themselves for a while, before saying anything.”  Alex trailed off realizing how much she’d actually told her husband.

 

            With a smile, Walker replied, “Don’t worry Alex.  I won’t tell on you.  I’d already noticed a change in their relationship this week, but I wanted to get your opinion and see if you knew anything more than I did.”

 

            “So what are you going to do now?”

 

            “Well, I need to talk to them and soon.  I suppose you’re asking what I’m going to do about them being partners?”  At Alex’s affirmative nod, he continued, “Well, I had a couple of meetings about that subject with Captain Briscoe the other day and he said….”

 

Meanwhile, downstairs

 

            Erika was trying to keep Jimmy busy chopping vegetables when all he wanted to do was wrap his arms around her teasing her neck with butterfly kisses while Erika giggled at each kiss.  With their attention diverted, neither of them heard the motorcycle pull into the drive.

 

            Since they were expected, Sydney and Gage moved to the back of the house to go in the kitchen area, where they figured the others would be.  Entering the kitchen without knocking, they stopped while grinning at each other watching the engaged couple embrace.

 

            After a few moments, Jimmy and Erika pulled apart.  Glancing toward the outside door, Erika let out a startled shriek upon seeing someone standing there.  When she realized who was there she grinned asking, “How long have you two been there?”

 

            Smiling, Sydney answered, “Not long, just a couple of minutes.  We didn’t want to intrude, but figured we’d make more noise leaving than we did coming in.”

 

            “Well, since you’re here, could you help me with the salad, Syd?  Maybe we can get it ready without distracting each other.”  Erika asked.

 

            “Sure, Gage, why don’t you and Jimmy go …” Sydney broke off as Walker and Alex reentered the kitchen.

 

            The married couple had heard their friends’ conversation, as they came down the stairs, so Walker took up where Sydney left off, “Why don’t you two go out on the front porch with me, so that the girls can finish dinner.”  Getting nods of agreement from the other two men, they left as the women watched them until they were out the door before going back to the dinner preparations.

 

            Since the men were outside and would be involved in their own conversation, Alex looked slyly toward Sydney and asked, “So, Ranger Cooke, how have you and Ranger Gage been getting along this week?”

 

            Hearing the question, Sydney glanced up to see both of her friends with expectant looks on their faces.  “All right you two.  Can’t we get through this evening without talking about me and Gage?”

 

            Erika and Alex looked at each other thoughtfully for a moment, then Erika replied, “Nope, afraid not Syd.  I thought when I got back here that you two would have woken up and figured out what was going on between you, but you seemed almost completely clueless still.  I’m as happy for you as I was when Jimmy agreed when I told him to ‘marry me then’.”

 

            Smiling as she continued to chop vegetables for the salad, Sydney answered.  “Well, if you must know … we’ve been getting along fine.  We’ve stayed together after work, just to have dinner and talk until time to go home.”

 

            Alex piped up, when Syd stopped talking, “I’ve been wondering what you did Tuesday night.”  At Sydney’s quizzical look, she explained further, “After talking with you and Gage that evening, I could tell you were both upset from the bomb being planted on your car.  So, did he ever take you home that night?”

 

            “Not really,” Sydney said, “Neither of us wanted to be very far away from the other so I stayed at his apartment that night.  He ran me home Wednesday morning to change clothes.”  Noticing the look that passed between her two friends, she continued, “And before either of you say anything, Gage gave me one of his T-shirts and a pair of shorts to wear.  They swallowed me and I looked more like a three-year-old playing dress up with my parents’ clothes than a grown woman.”

 

            “We weren’t going to say anything about that Sydney.”  Alex replied, “Okay, this pot roast is ready.  How about we dish everything up then go get the guys for dinner?”  After the other two agreed, Syd helped Alex set everything on the table while Erika went and called the men for dinner.

 

            After a delicious dinner and lots of conversation, Alex, Erika and Sydney cleaned the kitchen before joining Walker, Jimmy and Gage on the porch.  A few minutes later, Gage nudged Sydney asking, “Hey Shorty, you want to take a walk?”

 

            With a smile, she replied, “Sure.  We’ll be back in a little while.”  As the others watched them go, Walker wrapped his arm around Alex’s shoulder pulling her close to his side on the porch swing and Erika snuggled closer to Jimmy in the chair they shared.

 

            Sydney and Gage walked to the fence near the barn to spend a few minutes alone before rejoining their friends.  As soon as they stopped they leaned against the barrier, resting their arms on top of the fence and looking out in the pasture.  They noticed Apache and Cheyenne grazing nearby, when they saw their human friends the horses headed over to where Syd and Gage stood.  Upon reaching the couple, the horses nudged their hands for attention.  After only a couple of rubs in greeting though, both horses lowered their heads slightly while sniffing at Syd’s jacket pockets.

 

            Laughing, she backed up saying, “Here Gage.  They found their treats and you thought they wouldn’t look for them.”  Reaching into her pockets, Syd pulled out two apples handing one to Gage for Apache while feeding the other to Cheyenne.  When the horses finished their treats, they stayed with them for a few more minutes enjoying the attention they were getting before going a little bit away to continue grazing.

 

            After the partners watched the horses for a while, Gage asked, “Syd, did you know Walker asked me to stay here before he asked you?”

 

            A little hurt thinking about how their first encounter with Walker could have split their partnership up rather than giving them both a chance to work with the best group of Rangers in Texas, Syd replied, “No, no one told me about him not wanting me to move here.”

 

            Glancing at his partner, Gage immediately realized what he’d said and how Sydney had taken it.  “Syd, I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean that the way it sounded or for you to get mad at Walker for it.”

 

            “I know, Gage.”  Sydney interrupted before her partner started rambling.  “Alex told me Walker had never worked with a female Ranger before I came here.  He didn’t really have the same opinion of women that C.D. did, just hadn’t worked with any of the female Rangers because of there being so few.”  As she finished speaking, Syd folded her arms on the top rail of the fence and rested her chin on them before querying, “Why did he change his mind about asking me?”

 

            “Why would you think I’d know?”  Getting one of Syd’s ‘yeah, right’ looks, he grinned, reaching over to take one of her hands in his, before continuing, “I asked him if I could choose my partner and told him that I’d never had a better partner than you.  He decided to get us both.”

 

            “You mean you would’ve gone back to Houston if Walker hadn’t asked me to stay?”  Syd asked wonderingly.  At Gage’s affirmative nod, she asked, “Why?  Working with Cordell Walker is every Ranger’s dream job.”

 

            “Because even though it was a chance of a lifetime to work with Walker’s company of Rangers…I couldn’t imagine what I’d do without you.  Working with you, talking to you or just seeing you.  It just didn’t appeal to me to stay in Dallas if it meant losing you as my partner and friend.”  Looking into his partner’s eyes, Gage noticed they were shimmering with tears.  Cupping her cheek, he said, “Syd, what’s wrong?”

 

            Shaking her head slightly, Sydney replied, “Nothing really, just realizing how much we think alike.  When the bear attacked you at Lake Ebby, I realized that I didn’t know what I’d do without you in my life.  I was really afraid you might not make it Gage.”

 

            Wrapping his arm around her shoulder and pulling her into his side, Gage said, “It’s all right, Syd.  Thanks to you, Alex, Walker and Trivette I did survive the attack.  Together we can get through anything, remember?”

 

            Getting a smile in response, she answered, “Yeah, we do seem to survive situations you would think most people would fail at.  Then again, so have Walker, Jimmy and Alex.  Speaking of which,” she pulled away slightly, “Walker’s coming.”

 

            Gage dropped his arm from her shoulder and turned toward Walker calling, “Hey Walker.  Did you decide to take a walk too after that dinner?”

 

            Smiling, Walker replied, “Not really.  Gage, Sydney, I’d like to talk to you for a minute.”

 

            “Sure Walker.  What’s wrong?”  Sydney asked.

 

            “Not wrong, so much as a concern.”  The senior Ranger watched the partners exchange an uneasy glance at his words.  “You two have been partners for about three years now, right?”

 

            Nodding in agreement, Gage answered, “Yeah, that’s right.  Why?”

 

            Motioning with his head, Walker said, “Let’s go in the barn and sit down while we talk, okay?”

 

            Syd and Gage followed their boss into the barn where all of them sat down on bales of hay facing each other.  When they were settled, Walker continued, “Before I start talking, is there anything you’d like to tell me?”

 

            Watching his junior Rangers share another look, Walker wondered if they would admit to their growing relationship, without him asking questions, when Sydney began.  “Yes Walker.  There is something that I guess we need to tell you.”  Pausing for a deep breath, she hurried on before he could say anything, “You see … Gage and I … well.  I’ve had more than ‘just friends’ feelings for Gage for a while now and last weekend we talked and I found out he feels the same.  We’ve, more-or-less, been dating since last Saturday and we wanted to take our time and enjoy being together for a while before telling anyone.  Alex and Erika found out what happened last Sunday when they picked up on a comment I made and questioned me further.  Please, don’t be mad at Alex and Erika for keeping it quiet, though.  We were going to talk to you and Jimmy as soon as this case was over.  Are we in trouble now?  We talked this over and we’d really like to stay partners, but we’ll understand if you have to split us up.”

 

            “I’m glad you told me your side without me having to question you about specifics.  I’ve noticed the changes in your behavior with each other over the last week.  I had a meeting with Captain Briscoe about what we would need to do if your partnership had developed into something more.  I asked him about fraternization rules within the Rangers and he didn’t know of any other than the ones for police officers.  The captain decided that either the police rules would apply or we would have to come up with our own solution.”  Looking between the two junior Rangers as they watched him, Walker could tell they were anxious to know what the decision was.  “Briscoe asked my opinion since I work with you on a daily basis, and I told him that I believed you could be professional at work regardless of what went on in your personal life that decision on my part was due to how you both handled the situation Tuesday afternoon.  The captain knows that you’re a good team so he left the decision up to me to decide on the solution.”

 

            When Walker paused, Gage asked, “So you’ve known something was happening all week?  Even Tuesday when I was trying not to show how much the situation bothered me while keeping calm for Syd’s sake and worrying if we would get her out of the car in time?”

 

            Walker nodded, “I didn’t know definitely until today, so much as suspected.  I noticed both of you had your arms around each other heading inside Tuesday afternoon among other little things since last Saturday.  I didn’t say anything to Jimmy until we were coming here this afternoon and then only because he pointed out something he’d noticed the last couple of weeks about you and asked point blank if I’d noticed anything.  After we got here tonight, I talked with Alex.  She let slip what you told her and Erika Sunday, Syd.  Anyway, I believe you’ve handled yourselves exceptionally well the last couple of weeks especially Tuesday.  You’re two of my best Rangers and I don’t want to break you up as partners.  So, unless you give me a reason to change my mind, I’m going to keep you together at work.”

 

            As Walker finished, he watched as the younger couple fully comprehended what he’d said.  The relief that spread across their faces relayed more than their words how worried they were about being split up.  Sydney hugged Walker, saying, “Thank you.”

 

            “Just don’t make me regret it.”  Walker answered, returning her embrace.  Letting go he continued, “Let’s get back to the house before Alex comes to check on us.  Alex and Erika will be waiting to find out my decision and we can see if Jimmy’s figured out what’s going on between you.”

 

            Exchanging a mischievous grin with Gage, Syd asked, “How about if we just act like we’ve been doing after work when we’re alone and see what he says?”

 

            Smiling Walker answered, “As long as it doesn’t go farther than kissing, I’m all right with that.  Just remember there is a baby in the house, all right?”

 

            “Gotcha boss,” Gage said, “Besides, that and a little snuggling is all we’d do around anyone.”  Walker headed out of the barn with Syd and Gage following.  On their way to the house, Gage wrapped his arm around Syd’s shoulders pulling her close to his side.  Walker took advantage of the trip to the house to collect himself so as not to give anything away to Jimmy.

 

            Upon reaching the house, they found Jimmy sitting by himself in a chair on the porch reading the newspaper.  Walker went up the steps and sat in a chair beside his partner with Syd and Gage following but sitting close together in the porch swing.  A few minutes after they sat down, Walker asked, “Anything interesting in there, Trivette?”

 

            “Not really.  Did you run into Sydney and Gage while you were walking?  Alex and Erika went after dessert and wanted to wait until they got back before we could eat.”  Jimmy answered with his nose still buried in the paper.

 

            “You mean us?”  Gage asked, grinning widely as Jimmy finally looked at the junior Rangers.

 

            “Yeah, we didn’t know where you two ran off to earlier, then Walker decided he’d walk out to the barn.  Were you around there?”

 

            “You could say that,” Syd’s reply was somewhat rueful.  “We were visiting the horses and talking about what’s been going on until Walker found us.”

 

            Noticing the smiles that wouldn’t fade on the young couple’s faces, Jimmy realized they were sitting closer to each other than normal.  At the realization, he exclaimed, “I knew something was developing between you two!  How long has Walker known?  He wouldn’t tell me anything this week!”

 

            His rant brought amused looks from the other Rangers, as well as alerting Alex and Erika to something going on outside.  Coming to the door, Erika asked, “James Trivette, what are you yelling for?”

 

            Pointing at the younger Rangers, he answered, “That!”

 

            “Sydney!”  Erika squealed upon seeing her friend’s public embrace.  “Did you and Gage tell Walker?”

 

            Before the female Ranger could reply, Alex was asking, “Walker told me Captain Briscoe left it up to him whether to split you up or not, but he said he couldn’t decide until talking to you.  What did he decide?”

 

            With all the questions being directed at Sydney, Jimmy burst in, “Well, if you two would calm down for a minute and stop asking so many questions maybe they could tell us.”

 

            As their friend’s outbursts brought laughter to Walker and the younger couple, Alex, Erika and Jimmy stopped talking all at once staring toward the amused Rangers.  Alex, picking up on how relaxed the three seemed, asked, “Walker chose to keep you as partners, didn’t he?”

 

            Nodding, Syd and Gage both exclaimed, “Yes!” together then Syd explained to the others how their conversation with Walker had gone.

 

            When the explanations were through, Alex said, “Well, we’ve got a cake for dessert and, I believe, we have something else to celebrate.”  At her words, the friends entered the ranch house looking forward to what the future would bring for them together.

 

The End