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A Christmas Child

By Chris and Sissy

Friday, two weeks before Christmas:

Alex and Walker entered the local grocery store to pick up a couple of steaks and all the fixin’s for dinner that evening.  As Alex looked over the steaks in the meat section, trying to decide which she preferred, T-bone or rib eye, Walker went to get the potatoes and a few other items they needed.  Out of the corner of her eye, Alex saw movement.  She looked up to see a man with a gun about three feet from her looking very intently at a young woman and her baby standing toward the front of the store.  When she saw him raise the gun to shoot, she screamed “NO!”, dropped the steaks she was holding and, without thinking, rushed the gunman and slammed into him which caused the shot to go wild.

“What the …” The gunman turned, “Bitch” and back handed Alex across the face, knocking her to the floor.   He then turned to look again for his target only to encounter Walker’s foot against his chest knocking him back into the meat counter.

When Walker heard Alex scream, followed by the sound of a gunshot, he had instinctively moved in her direction.  By the time the gunman had turned, Walker was already on him.  Walker followed the gunman as he fell backward, jumped up and hit him on the side of his head with a spinning back kick.  He made sure the gunman was out then hurried over to Alex as she sat up.

“Alex!  Are you all right?”

“I’m fine.  The girl and her baby-are they all right?”

“What girl?”

“There was a young girl and her baby at the front of the store.  That’s who he was trying to shoot.”

“I’ll go look for her.  Are you sure you’re all right?”

“Yes, I’m fine.”

Walker headed quickly to the front of the store to see if he could find the girl Alex saw.  He found her cradling a crying child and shaking uncontrollably as the two huddled against a store display.  He knelt down and touched her on the shoulder.  “Are you all right?”

His hand on her shoulder caused her to jump and she looked at him with terror in her eyes.  “It’s okay.  I’m a Texas Ranger.  No one’s going to hurt you.  Are you two okay?”

She relaxed slightly and allowed Walker to help her to her feet just as the police arrived.  Walker pointed them toward the rear of the store where they found the suspect still unconscious.

Alex joined Walker and the two talked to the young girl and played with the baby while waiting for the police to take her statement.  They found out that the man shooting at her was her estranged husband and the baby’s father.  She had recently obtained a restraining order against him after he had threatened to kill her.  She hadn’t thought he was serious until today.  They waited with her until the detectives were ready to take her statement, then finished their shopping and headed for home.  Just before they left, Alex gave the young girl her HOPE Center card and told her to contact the Center if she needed any assistance.

******

Friday before Christmas Eve:

Alex, Walker, Trivette and C.D. were gathered around the bar at C.D.’s discussing their plans for Christmas.

“Alex, honey, are you sure you want to do this?”

“Absolutely, C.D.  It’ll be fun.”  Placing an arm around Walker’s waist, “this will be our first Christmas as husband and wife and I want to celebrate by having everyone out to the ranch for Christmas dinner.”

“Okay, if you’re sure.  Will you at least let me bring the pies?”

“It’s a deal, C.D.”

“How many are we expecting.”

“Well, let’s see, there’s the four of us, Josie, Trent and his family, Carlos, Shelly and her husband plus a couple of the kids from Walker’s Kick Drugs Program and a few woman from the HOPE Center.”

“Wow, Alex, that’s quite a crowd.  How are you going to have time to do everything?”

“I don’t have to do everything, Jimmy.  Trent’s mother, Josie and Shelly are all coming to the house early Christmas morning to help me get things ready.”

“Well, count me in too, honey.”

“Thanks, C.D.”

“And Trivette, if you don’t mind coming out and giving me a hand setting up things in the yard, I’d appreciate it.”

“Sure, Walker, no problem.”

Just then, Alex’s cell phone rang, “Alex Cahill…Hi, Josie!  Are you still at the Center?  Josie, it’s after 9, is everything all right? … Sure.  We’ll be finished here in a couple of minutes and then we’ll come by, okay?… Bye.”

“Everything okay, Alex.”

“I’m not sure.  That was Josie.  She’s still at the HOPE Center and wanted to know if you and I can stop by on our way home.”

“Did she say why?”

“No.  She said we needed to see for ourselves.”

“Well, I’d say we’re about done here.  Why don’t we get going before it gets any later.”

“Hey, mind if I tag along?”

Walker grinned at Alex and winked then turned to Trivette, “Haven’t seen Josie in a few days, huh?”

Trivette tried to maintain his serious face, “That’s not it, Walker.  I just thought if there’s a problem, you might need some help.”

“Sure, Trivette, any excuse to see Josie.”

“Okay.  Okay.  I admit it.  I haven’t seen her since last weekend and I’ve kind of missed her.  Now, can I come along or not.”

Walker draped his arm around his friend’s shoulder and smiled, “Sure, Trivette, no problem.”

The three friends arrived at the HOPE Center about 30 minutes later.  Josie answered the door just as they walked up the front steps.  Seeing Trivette with them, she gave him a small smile before stepping aside so they could enter the house.  As they did, Alex noticed a little girl playing in the children’s playroom.  She looked to be about two years old with a head full of blond curls.  “Josie, who is that little girl?”

“That’s why I called you, Alex.  I’m not sure.”

“How long has she been here?”

“All day.  I’m not sure exactly when she was dropped off but she was here when I arrived at 9:00.  I didn’t recognize her so I just thought that she was new.  When all the kids except her had been picked up by 6:00, I thought maybe her mother was running late.  When no one showed up by 8:00, I started to make some phone calls.  None of the girls on the early shift could seem to remember her being dropped off so that’s when I decided to call you.  She’s seems really shy.  According to the girls, anytime anyone tried to get near her, she cried and ran away.  I tried talking to her but she had the same reaction to me.”

Alex looked into the other room and said, “Let me try.”  Walker, Trivette and Josie all watched from the doorway as Alex slowly approached the little girl.  Based on what Josie had told them, all were expecting the child to start crying the minute Alex approached her but that didn’t happen.  It only took a few seconds before Alex was sitting on the floor next to the little girl helping her finish a puzzle that she was working on.  Walker just smiled.  His wife never ceased to amaze him.  A few minutes later, Alex exited the room with the little girl clinging tightly to her neck, her head buried in Alex’s shoulder as Alex spoke quietly to her.  When they approached the doorway, Alex saw the stunned look on the faces of Trivette and Josie and Walker smiling at her and shaking his head.

“What?”

Walker placed a hand on her shoulder, leaned forward and gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek.  “Nothing.  You’re amazing, you know that.  So, did you find out anything?”

“Well, her name is Sarah, she’s two years old and Walker, we know her.”

“We do?”

Alex spoke quietly to Sarah, “Sarah, honey, can you turn around?  I want you to meet some friends of mine.  Come on, sweetie, it’s okay, I promise.”

Slowly the child turned to face the others.  The first thing Walker noticed was her blond hair and her beautiful blue eyes.  Her resemblance to Alex was remarkable.  Lost in thought, it took Walker a few minutes before he recognized the child.  “Isn’t she the daughter of that young girl we helped in the grocery store last week?”

“She sure is.  I never even got her mother’s name.”

“Neither did I but I’m sure DPD has it since they filed the report.”

Trivette spoke up, “Okay, you two, mind filling the rest of us in on what’s going on.”

While Alex told Trivette and Josie about their grocery store encounter the week before, Walker placed a call to DPD to get the name and address of Sarah’s mother.

Walker entered the living room just as Alex finished the story.  “Well, Sarah’s mother’s name is Melissa Stadler.  She has an apartment not far from the grocery store where we met her.  Her husband’s name is Randy and according to DPS, he made bail this morning." 

“I don’t like the sound of that.”

“I know, Trivette, neither do I.”

“What do you want to do, darling?”

“Well, since you seem to be the only one that Sarah trusts right now, why don’t you call your friend at Child Protective Services and see if it’s okay for her to spend the weekend with us.  Trivette, let’s you and I go check out Melissa’s apartment and then see if we can track down Randy Stadler.  Alex, do you want to wait for me here or are you going home?”

“I guess I’ll just wait for you here unless you want to leave the truck.”

“Alex, I can take you and Sarah home.”

“Thanks, Josie, but you’re exhausted and it’s a long ride to the ranch.  I’ll just wait here until Walker gets back.”

“Alex, why don’t you just take my car.  I’ll ride with Walker and pick up my car at the ranch later."

“Are you sure, Jimmy?”

“Sure.  This way if we get a lead, we don’t have to worry about you being here alone waiting for us.”

“That’s a good idea, Trivette.  Thanks!”

“Josie, do we have an extra car seat around here anywhere?”

“Yeah, I think there’s one in the storage room.  Let me go get it.”

Walker leaned over, softly kissing Alex and gently stroking Sarah’s hair.  “I’ll see you two later, okay?”

******

It was nearly midnight when Walker and Trivette finally made it back to Walker’s ranch.  They had gone first to Melissa’s apartment and found that it had been nearly completely destroyed.  From the looks of things, there had been quite a struggle.  Trivette called in a forensics team while Walker checked the rest of the apartment.  When he came upon Sarah’s room, he noted that it was the one place in the apartment that didn’t seem to have been bothered.  Taking a small suitcase from the closet, he gathered some of Sarah’s clothes and a few small toys-anything to help her feel more secure.  As he was leaving the room, he noticed a “Pak-n-Play” in the corner and decided to take it along so that Sarah would have someplace familiar to sleep.  On their way out, Walker instructed the forensics team to contact him at home if they found anything.  They spent the next couple of hours searching for Randy Stadler without success.

When they arrived at the ranch, Trivette picked up his keys and headed for home, having agreed to meet Walker at the office early the next morning to continue their search for Sarah’s mother.  Walker unloaded the truck and entered the house.  As he passed by the living room, he noticed Alex and Sarah sound asleep together in the recliner.  He smiled and continued upstairs where he set the “Pak-n-Play” up in the guestroom and placed some of Sarah’s toys in it.  He then headed back downstairs.

Standing in the doorway of the living room, he couldn’t help but smile at the sight before him.  The only light in the room came from a small table lamp next to the couch and Alex and Sarah looked so peaceful as they slept snuggled together under an Indian blanket.  He thought back to earlier in the evening and how quickly Sarah had taken to Alex.  She was going to make a wonderful mother some day.  Although they had only been married 7 months, Walker had noticed that Alex seemed particularly taken with children lately, especially babies, always pointing them out whenever they were out together.  Now, as he watched her sleeping with Sarah, it only served to convince him that it was time that they consider starting a family of their own.  The thought of having a child with Alex warmed his heart.  Snapped back to reality by Sarah’s slight movement, he quietly approached the chair and gently picked her up.  She stirred briefly but then immediately snuggled into his chest as he walked her upstairs to bed.  He was surprised at how right it felt to hold this small child in his arms.  As he entered the guestroom, he decided that what she was wearing was fine to sleep in so he gently placed her in the “Pak-n-Play”, covered her with a blanket and left the room.

Alex felt the warm caress of her husband’s hand against her face.  She slowly opened her eyes and found him kneeling next to her chair, a soft smile on his face.  Suddenly remembering that she had fallen asleep with Sarah and not feeling her on her chest, a look of panic came into her eyes.  Walker read her thoughts and immediately put her mind at ease.  “Shh…Sarah’s fine.  I took her upstairs.  She’s fast asleep.”  Alex visibly relaxed and reached up to stroke his soft beard.  “Where did you put her?”

“I found a “Pak-n-Play” at Melissa’s apartment so I brought it home.  Thought Sarah could use someplace familiar to sleep.  I also brought her some clothes and a few toys that I found at Melissa’s.”

“You didn’t find Melissa, though, did you?”

“No, I’m afraid not.  The place was pretty trashed.  We got forensics over there to see if they could turn up anything.  We searched for Randy Stadler for more than two hours before we called it a night.  I’m going to meet Trivette at the office tomorrow morning to see if we can come up with any other leads.”

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this, Walker.”

“I know.  So do I.”  He felt a need to change the subject.  “So how did you and Sarah get along?”

Her eyes immediately brightened.  “Oh, Walker, she’s adorable…and smart!  She knows her alphabet and can count to 10.  We had a snack and played for a little while after we got home but she was pretty tired.  It only took a few minutes for her to fall asleep.”

He smiled at her, “And how long was it before you fell asleep?”

She smiled sheepishly, “Probably not long.  What time is it anyway?”

“It’s after midnight.  Come on; let’s call it a night.  I told Trivette I’d meet him at the office around 8.”

******

Over the weekend, Trivette and Walker exhausted themselves trying to locate Sarah’s mother.  When Monday came and they still had no answers, Alex placed a second call to her friend at Child Protective Services.  Both she and Walker were quickly becoming attached to Sarah and neither wanted to place her into foster care unless absolutely necessary.  It took very little effort on Alex’s part to convince CPS that Sarah was infinitely better off with she and Walker than in any foster home.  It was agreed that Sarah would remain with Walker and Alex until her mother was located.

The remainder of the week flew by as Walker and Trivette continued scouring the city for any sign of Melissa or Randy and Alex tried to juggle her caseload, Sarah and preparations for Christmas.  Before they knew it, it was Christmas Eve.

Alex arrived home with Sarah around 3:00 p.m. and began preparing for the evening.  She and Walker had decided that since they were hosting Christmas Day, Christmas Eve would be their night alone together.  Neither had expected that Sarah would still be with them but neither minded.  Both had grown incredibly attached to the little girl and she to them.  Walker began calling Sarah “princess” sometime during her first weekend with them and Sarah, having overheard Alex refer to Walker as “cowboy”, had immediately picked up on it and now referred to Walker as “cowboy” too.

Walker arrived home around 6:00 p.m. after an extremely long and frustrating day.  He sat in the truck outside the house for a few minutes trying to ease some of the day’s tension.  It was Christmas Eve and he wasn’t going to let the day’s events ruin his evening with Alex and Sarah.  Knowing his beautiful wife, she had probably worked most of the afternoon getting things ready.  He took a deep, cleansing breath, stepped from the truck, walked up the front steps and entered the house.

Alex and Sarah had been in the kitchen decorating cookies when they heard the front door open.  Before Alex knew it, Sarah had jumped from the chair she was kneeling on and was racing toward the front door.

Walker had barely set his foot inside the door when he heard the rumbling of Sarah’s footsteps against the hardwood floors and saw the little blond bounding down the hall toward him.  The instant he saw her, all his tension disappeared.  She threw herself into his arms and squeezed him as tightly as a two-year old can.  “Hi, cowboy!  Merry Christmas!”  He returned her hug and kissed her gently on the cheek.  “Hi, princess!  Merry Christmas to you too!  Where’s Alex?”

“In the kitchen.  We were making cookies.”

“You were, huh.  Well, let’s go see if we can help, okay.”

“Okay.”

Alex met them when they were only about halfway down the hall.  Walker extended his free arm, pulled Alex into a tight hug and kissed her softly on the lips.  “Hi, honey.  I hear you’re making cookies.”

“That’s right-for tomorrow.  But if you’re both really good, I’ll let you have some tonight.  Dinner’s just about ready.  Do you mind helping Sarah wash up while I put everything on the table?”

“No problem.”  He placed Sarah on the floor and took her by the hand, “Come on, princess, let’s go upstairs and get cleaned up.”

“Okay.”

They enjoyed a wonderful dinner as Sarah told Walker about all that she had done that day.  While Alex cleaned up the dishes, Walker took Sarah into the living room and read her “Twas the Night Before Christmas”.  Sarah was totally captivated by Walker and listened intently as he told the story.  As Alex entered the living room, she stopped by the door.  Walker and Sarah looked so cute sitting together in front of the fire reading the age-old Christmas story that she didn’t want to interrupt them.  When they were finished with the story, Alex came over, sat down and told Sarah that it was time for her to get ready for bed so that Santa Claus would come.  The little girl’s eyes grew wide as she jumped off Walker’s lap and headed for the stairs.  Alex laughed and turned to Walker, “Why don’t you relax while I give Sarah a bath and get her ready for bed.  With any luck, we’ll still have some time to ourselves tonight.”

He leaned against her and nuzzled her neck, “I’m counting on it.”

Alex and Sarah disappeared upstairs as Walker stoked the fire, then stretched out in front of it to relax.  He must have dozed off because before he knew it, Alex was at his side gently kissing him awake.  “Hey, cowboy, don’t fall asleep on me just yet.”

He wrapped his arms around her, pulled her on top of him and kissed her soundly.  “Not a chance.  I was just relaxing like you told me too.  Sarah asleep?”

“Almost.  She’s waiting for her favorite cowboy to tuck her in.”

“Well, guess I shouldn’t disappoint her.”  He kissed her again then headed upstairs to see Sarah.

Before going back downstairs, he went to their bedroom, slipped off his shirt, jeans and boots and put on a pair of workout pants then retrieved Alex’s gift from the guestroom closet where he had hidden it.  He had wanted to get her something extra special for their first Christmas and after months of looking had finally decided on a diamond heart necklace.  He had asked Josie to meet him one day for lunch so that he could get her opinion on his selection before he bought it.  She had assured him that he had made the perfect choice and Alex would love it.  Now, as he descended the stairs, he could hardly wait to see her face when she opened it.

When Walker reached the bottom of the steps, he noticed that all the lights had been turned off and the only illumination was coming from the fire in the living room.  As he turned the corner, Alex greeted him wearing a beautiful white, sheer, full-length nightgown and matching robe. “Merry Christmas, darling.”

He could not take his eyes off of her.  She was a vision and he couldn’t believe that of all the men in the world, she had chosen him to share her life.  He slowly approached her, placed one hand along the side of her face and kissed her gently.  He then held up her gift, “Merry Christmas, my love.”

She smiled, took the gift from him and then held up his gift.  As he took it from her, his hand gently caressed her shoulder.  “Gee, I thought this was my gift.”

“It is, but so is this.”

She led him further into the room and they sat together on the blanket in front of the fire.  “Well, aren’t you going to open your gift?”

“You first.”

She smiled at him and then quickly ripped away the paper.  As she opened the box, she gasped when she saw what was inside.  “Oh Walker…it’s…beautiful!”

“Here, let me help you put it on.”  He took the box from her hand and removed the necklace.  She turned her back to him and swept her hair off her neck as he placed the necklace on her and fastened the clasp.  As she let her hair down, she gazed down at the sparkling diamonds.  When she turned to look at him again, he could see the unshed tears in her eyes.  She gazed into his eyes as her hand gently stroked his beard.  “I love it, darling.  Thank you so much!”  She then leaned forward and kissed him softly.

“I’m glad.  I wanted to get you something special for our first Christmas together.”

“Well, you definitely did that!  Okay, now it’s your turn.”

He got a mischievous look in his eye as he asked, “Which gift should I open first?”

“The one in the box!”

He smiled, unwrapped the small box and opened it.  Inside was a gold chain with a small gold key on it.  He removed the necklace from the box and looked at Alex somewhat puzzled.  She smiled, opened the drawer in the end table and removed a gold chain from which hung a gold heart.  The heart had an opening in it into which the key fit perfectly.  “I wanted you to always remember that you own the key to my heart and you always will.”  He slipped the chain over his head and admired the small key before leaning forward and kissing his wife gently.  “I love it…almost as much as I love you.”

They sat staring deeply into each other’s eyes. It had been a long and arduous week for both of them with little time alone and they both were feeling the effects.  Her hand softly caressed his bare chest moving slowly across it as she traced each muscle with her fingertip.  Her touch was like liquid fire on his skin and the sensation was incredible.  He reached up and untied the satin tie of her robe and slipped it from her shoulders.  The sheer nightgown underneath was nearly his undoing.  It had thin spaghetti straps, fit snugly over her firm breasts and left very little to the imagination.  She took note of his reaction and decided it was time for dessert.  She leaned forward, kissed him softly and whispered, “Don’t go away.  I’ll be right back.”  She then rose and walked into the kitchen, her gown flowing against every curve.  She returned a minute later with a small tray containing several chocolate-covered strawberries.

He looked at her with raised eyebrows, “What’s that?”

“Dessert.”

“Oh, really?”

“Mmm hmmm.”  She knelt before him and placed the tray on the floor.  Then, taking a strawberry between her fingers, she placed it between her teeth and leaned forward to allow him to bite the other side.

“Alex Walker…you…are a temptress.”

She winked at him and leaned closer.  He could smell the sweet aroma of strawberry mixed with chocolate and could resist no longer.  He leaned toward her, took the fruit in his mouth and began chewing his way toward her full chocolate-covered lips as she chewed her way toward his.  Just before their lips met, Alex pulled back, much to the disappointment of her husband.  “Don’t worry, cowboy, there’s more where that came from.” 

This game of seduction continued until all of the strawberries were gone.  With each strawberry consumed, their lips came closer and closer to touching.  As they devoured the last one, their lips met as he took her in his arms and gently laid her back against the pillows.  He could still taste the chocolate and strawberries on her lips as he kissed her.  The fire burning in the fireplace was nothing compared to the fire burning within Walker and Alex that night.  She felt his arousal pressed against her thigh as he nestled next to her.  Her hands caressed his back and slowly made their way down to the waistband of his pants.  She slid her hands beneath the soft material and slowly removed them.

“Does this mean I can unwrap my other present now?”

“I wish you would.”

As he gazed into her eyes and told her how much he loved her, he slowly removed the last barrier between them.  He wrapped her in his arms, rolled her to her back and placed her safely beneath him.  Their kisses grew in intensity until they could stand it no longer.  In one smooth stroke, he entered her, filling her completely as she called out his name.  She placed her arms against his back and pulled him closer.  As he began the slow thrusts within her, he gazed deep into her eyes, drowning in their deep blue color.  She began to move with him, perfectly matching his pace and then slowly increasing it until they both exploded in spasms of pleasure.  The heat from the fireplace along with their physical exertion made their skin glow.  As Walker started to roll to the side, Alex stopped him, “No, darling, please.”  He smiled down at her and in one swift move rolled them both over so that they were still intimately joined but she was on top.  She snuggled tightly against his chest and breathed in his scent.  She had never felt so loved by anyone and wasn’t ready to let that feeling end.  His hands caressed her back as they both tried to get their breathing back to normal.  They remained this way for several minutes before finally reluctantly separating.  Walker covered them with the blanket and they slipped into a peaceful slumber wrapped in each other’s arms.

When Walker opened his eyes again, it was after midnight.  He looked down at Alex nestled snugly against his side and regretted having to wake her but knew that he would need some help getting all the gifts under the tree.  He leaned forward and kissed her softly on the lips.  “Alex.  Hey, beautiful, it’s Christmas.”

She groaned slightly and snuggled closer to him.  “Is it morning already?”

“Not yet but I think Santa needs some help getting all the gifts under the tree.”

Her eyes popped open and she looked at him.  “What time is it?”

“Nearly 1 a.m. and if we want to get anymore sleep tonight, we’d better get moving.  You know Sarah will be up early.”

She propped herself up on her elbow, “I know.  That and C.D., Josie, Shelly and Trent’s mom are planning to be here at 10:00 so that we can get everything done in time for dinner.”  Her eyes softened and she kissed him softly, “Merry Christmas, sweetheart.  Thank you for last night.  It was wonderful.”

He returned her kiss, “Yes it was.  Merry Christmas, honey.  Now, come on, we’ve got a lot of gifts to get under the tree.”

******

Christmas Day was perfect.  As expected, Sarah was up with the sun and anxious to see what Santa had brought her.  She was so excited and Walker and Alex had such a good time watching her open her gifts and hearing her squeals of delight.  After Sarah had opened her presents, she and Alex escorted a blindfolded Walker to the barn where they surprised him with a new custom saddle for Amigo.  He was thrilled and, like a child with a new toy, couldn’t wait to try it out.  C.D., Trivette, Josie, Shelly and Trent’s mom arrived early to help get everything ready and the rest of the guests arrived by early afternoon.  The children played games while the adults socialized and everyone had a wonderful time.  C.D. even dressed up as Santa and handed out gifts to all the children.  By the time the last of their guests departed late that evening, both Walker and Alex were exhausted.  Fortunately, Sarah had fallen asleep in Walker’s arms earlier in the evening and had been put to bed.  Walker and Alex finished cleaning everything up and collapsed against each other on the couch in front of the fire.

“Alex, everything today was perfect.  You did a great job.”

“Thank you.  Everyone sure seemed to have a good time, especially the kids and C.D. makes a wonderful Santa.”

“Everyone had a great time and you’re right, C.D. does make a great Santa.  You really outdid yourself.”

As she yawned, “I’m glad it’s over.  I’m exhausted.”

“Alex, there’s something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about but we haven’t had too much time alone lately.”

She placed her head against his shoulder.  “Sure.  What’s on your mind, darling?”

It took him a few minutes to get his thoughts in order and just as he started to speak, he noticed the rhythmic rise and fall of Alex’s chest and knew that she was fast asleep.  He chuckled and said “Well, it’s waited this long, I guess another day won’t matter.”  He then scooped her up in his arms and carried her upstairs to bed.

******

Sunday was spent recuperating from the insanity of the past few weeks.  They all slept in and then spent the remainder of the morning playing with Sarah and her new toys.  Just before noon, Walker decided that he wanted to try out his new saddle and suggested that they pack a picnic and spend the afternoon at the lake.  While Walker (with Sarah’s “help”) saddled Amigo and Angel, Alex packed lunch.  They placed the saddlebags that contained their lunch on Angel and Sarah rode with Walker on Amigo.  When they arrived at the lake, Walker tied up the horses then took Sarah down to the lake while Alex placed the blanket on the ground and set up lunch.  When Walker and Sarah returned, they ate lunch then moved the blanket down by the lake to enjoy the view.  Shortly after lunch, Sarah fell asleep leaving Alex and Walker alone.

Walker sat with his back against a tree and Alex nestled between his legs with her head against his chest.  “Walker?”

“Hmmm.”

“Did you want to talk to me about something last night?”

“Yes.”

“I fell asleep, didn’t I?”

“Yes.”

She leaned back and looked up at him.  “Oh, darling, I’m sorry.”

He smiled down at her.  “Don’t be.  You were exhausted.  It wasn’t anything that couldn’t wait.”

“So do you want to talk about it now?”

“Sure.  I’ve been watching you and Sarah over this last week and you are so great with her.  She’s really becoming attached to you.”

“I know.  I’ve been becoming pretty attached to her too.  I know I shouldn’t and I keep telling myself not to but she’s such a special little girl.  I know that as soon as we find Melissa, she’ll be leaving us but I can’t seem to help it.  And you know something, cowboy, I’m not the only one she’s become attached to.”

“I know.  She’s had me wrapped around her little finger from the start.  And I know what you mean about telling yourself not to get attached.  It hasn’t worked very well with me either.  It’s gotten me to thinking, though, that maybe it’s time we start a family of our own.  That is, if you want to.”

“Want to!?  Walker, there’s nothing I want more!  To be honest with you, I’ve been thinking a lot about it myself lately.”

“I know.”

“Was I that obvious?”

“Well, after about the third or fourth baby you pointed out when we went to the mall, I kind of got the hint.  Why didn’t you just talk to me about it?”

“I don’t know.  We’ve only been married a short time and I guess I didn’t want you to think that I was rushing things.”

He reached down and placed a hand under her chin raising her eyes to meet his.  “Alex, we’d talked about having a family before.  Having a baby with you would make me the happiest man in the world.”

“Have I told you lately how much I love you?”

“Yes, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like hearing it anyway.”

“Well, cowboy, I love you!”

“I love you, too.”

When Sarah woke from her nap, they packed up all their gear and headed back to the ranch, arriving just before dark.  They grilled some steaks and after dinner had settled down in the living room to watch a movie.  Trivette and Josie had given Sarah a Muppet video and she had been dying to watch it.  When the video was over, Alex took Sarah upstairs to give her a bath while Walker cleaned up the kitchen. 

After the kitchen was clean, Walker built a fire and had just leaned back in his recliner when the phone rang.  He got up and walked across the room to the phone.  “Walker.”

“Ranger Cordell Walker?”

“Yes.”

“Ranger Walker, my name is Jonathan Pierce.  I’m the Sheriff here in Plano.  I’m sorry to bother you at home but your office felt that you would want to be notified right away.”

“Notified of what, Sheriff?”

“Well…I don’t know quite how to tell you this.  I’m afraid we found that girl you’ve been looking for.  Actually, we found both she and her estranged husband.  Both dead of gunshot wounds to the head.”

“Where?”

“In a small hotel just outside of town.  The desk clerk became suspicious because there’d been no activity around the room since they checked in several days ago.  He decided to check it out and when he did, he found the bodies.”

“How long had they been dead?”

“Medical Examiner says at least 48 hours.  They had checked in on Tuesday.”

“Okay, Sheriff, thank you for calling.”

“I’m really sorry Ranger Walker.  I understand she had a small child.”

“Yeah, she did.  Thanks, Sheriff.”

“We’re trying to locate the next of kin and will put them in touch with your office as soon as we find them.  Also, we’ll send you a copy of the full report as soon as it’s finished.”

“That’s fine.”

He hung up the phone and just stared into space as he tried to process what he had just been told.  The sounds of Sarah’s laughter upstairs snapped him back to reality.  How would they tell her?  Would she understand that her mother was not coming back?  What would happen to her?  Unable to stand it anymore, he grabbed his jacket and headed out the front door.  That’s where Alex found him 20 minutes later.  She opened the door and said, “Walker?”

He did not turn around, “Yeah.”

“Sarah’s waiting for you to tuck her in.”

“Okay.  I’ll be in in a minute.”

Alex sensed something was wrong but didn’t push the issue.  She’d heard the phone ring while she was giving Sarah her bath.  She went to the kitchen to make some tea and a few minutes later, she heard the front door open and then footsteps going up the stairs.  She was waiting for him at the bottom of the steps when he came back.

“Walker?  What's wrong?”

He didn’t reply.

“Who was on the phone?”

Still no answer.

“Walker, please talk to me.”

His voice was barely a whisper, “They found Melissa.”

“Oh, God.  Is she…”

He nodded as he reached and took her into his arms.  They remained locked in that embrace for several minutes before Alex pulled back and asked, “What happened?”

“They think it was a murder/suicide but we’ll have to wait for the Medical Examiner’s report.  Apparently they checked into a little hotel just outside of Plano on Tuesday.  The desk clerk found them late this afternoon.  He’d grown suspicious when he didn’t notice any activity around the room.”

“What’s going to happen to Sarah?”

“I don’t know.  The Sheriff in Plano said they were trying to locate the next of kin and would have them get in touch with our office.  I guess we’ll just have to wait until they contact us.”

“Should we tell her?”

“Not right now.  Let’s see what the next couple of days hold and then make the decision.  If Melissa had family, it might be easier if we let them handle it.”

“You’re right.  Come on.  I made some tea.”  They moved into the living room, snuggled close to each other on the couch and drank their tea in silence, each thinking about the little girl asleep upstairs and how much her life had changed in just a week.

******

Sam and Mary Mitchell were notified of their daughter’s murder early Monday morning and immediately boarded a plane to Texas from their retirement home in Florida.  They arrived in Plano early that afternoon and went through the grueling task of identifying their daughter’s body and making funeral arrangements.  When they had inquired about their granddaughter, they were assured that she was being well taken care of and were told to contact Texas Ranger Company B, specifically Ranger Cordell Walker.

Walker looked up from his desk when he heard the office door open.  Walker watched the older couple when they entered the office and spoke briefly to the secretary before heading toward his desk.  “Ranger Walker?”

Walker stood, “Yes.”

Mr. Mitchell extended his hand, “Ranger Walker, my name is Sam Mitchell and this is my wife, Mary.  We’re Melissa Stadler’s parents.”

Walker shook hands with Mr. Mitchell and nodded toward Mrs. Mitchell.  “Mr. & Mrs. Mitchell, I’m very sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you.  We understand from the Sheriff in Plano that you’re the person we needed to contact regarding our granddaughter, Sarah.”

“That’s right.”

“Ranger Walker, I’m curious, how did you know my daughter?”

“Well, sir, to be perfectly honest with you, I didn’t really know Melissa.  I had only met her once.  Why don’t we move to the conference room and I’ll explain?  I’d also like to ask my wife to join us if you don’t mind.  She works downstairs.”  He motioned toward the door then turned to Trivette.  “Trivette, would you mind calling Alex and asking her to meet me in the conference room?”

“Sure, partner.”

“Thanks.”

When Alex entered the conference room, Walker introduced her to Mr. & Mrs. Mitchell.  Alex expressed her condolences and the four took seats around the conference table.  Walker explained to the Mitchell’s how he and Alex had met Melissa and how they had come to take care of Sarah when Melissa disappeared.  The Mitchell’s explained that they had not seen Sarah in nearly a year and were somewhat concerned about how she would react to their presence.  Walker and Alex offered a solution by inviting the Mitchell’s to stay at the ranch for a few days so that they could get reacquainted with their granddaughter and she with them.

When Walker and Alex arrived home on Wednesday, they were warmly greeted by Sarah as soon as they came in the door.  Once they were settled, Sam asked if, after Sarah had gone to bed, the four of them could sit down and talk.  There was something that he and Mary wanted to discuss with Walker and Alex.  They all enjoyed a wonderful dinner that evening and then spent a couple of hours playing with Sarah.  Around 7:30, Mary noticed Sarah starting to wind down and suggested that they get her upstairs for a bath.  Mary gave Sarah her bath and when she was all ready for bed, she asked if Alex and Walker would tuck her in.  They got Sarah settled and were just getting ready to leave the room when they heard a little voice, “Why did Mommy have to go to live with Jesus?”  Walker and Alex exchanged a nervous glance.  Neither had realized that Sam and Mary had talked to Sarah about her mother.  Alex walked back into the room, picked Sarah up, sat on the guest bed and placed her on her lap.  Walker sat next to them.  “Honey, did your Grandma and Grandpa tell you that your Mommy went to live with Jesus?”

“Yes, but I don’t want her to.”

Alex found it hard to keep the tears from her eyes.  She hugged the little girl close, “I know you don’t sweetheart.” When Alex looked at Walker, she could see the tears in his eyes too.  They spent the next half hour sitting with Sarah, holding her and answering her questions.  Finally, at 8:30, Sarah fell asleep in Alex’s arms.

They went back downstairs and joined Sam and Mary in the living room.  Mary had made a pot of coffee while they were upstairs with Sarah.  Walker told them what had happened upstairs with Sarah and Mary explained that Sarah had begun asking where her mother was and they felt that it was time she knew the truth even though they were not sure she would understand.  Alex told them that she thought Sarah was a very bright little girl and based on the questions she asked while they were with her, she did understand that her Mommy was not coming back.  As they sat down, Walker noticed that Mary and Sam seemed very nervous.  He suspected that it had something to do with Sarah and prepared himself for the worst.  Both he and Alex had known that the day would come when Sarah would leave them and neither was looking forward to it.  As they sat on the couch together, Walker slipped his arm around Alex’s shoulder and pulled her close.  Sam stood and walked toward the fireplace.

“Walker, Alex, there are no words to thank you for everything that you have done for us and for Sarah.  You never knew our daughter but she was a very caring young woman and she loved Sarah with all her heart.  There’s something that Mary and I have been discussing for the past couple of days and we would really like your opinion.  As you can clearly see, Mary and I are not as young as we used to be.”  Tears came to his eyes as he continued.  “We love Sarah more than anything in the world and we want to be a part of her life but we don’t feel that we can give her the kind of life she deserves.  We live on a fixed income that is barely enough to keep us going and is certainly not enough to raise a small child.  The other concern we have is that given our age, there is always the chance that we won’t be around to see Sarah reach adulthood.  She’s had enough sorrow in her short life.  We’ve spoken to a social worker at Child Protective Services about putting Sarah up for adoption but she has told us that if we do, we will have to give up all parental rights to Sarah and give up ever seeing her again.”  His tears were flowing freely now as he looked at Walker and Alex.  “We want to do what’s best for her but the thought of never seeing her again is tearing us apart.  We were hoping that perhaps you might know of someway around this.”

Mary, who had been sitting quietly in the chair, finally spoke.  Her voice cracked with emotion.  “You probably think we are terrible people.  How could anyone look at that beautiful child upstairs and even think about giving her up?”

Alex stood, walked over to Mary, knelt down in front of her and took her hands.  When she spoke, there were tears in her eyes as well.  “Mary, we could never think any such thing.  We’ve seen you both with Sarah.  It’s obvious that you love that little girl and you want what’s best for her.  I know how difficult this must be for you.  It’s hard enough to have lost your daughter and I know how much you both must have agonized over this decision.  As I’m sure you’ve probably noticed, Walker and I are pretty fond of that little girl too and we’ll certainly help in any way we can to make sure that whatever decision is made, it’s the right one for Sarah.  Isn’t that right, darling?”

She turned to look at Walker, surprised that he had not uttered a word since this conversation had begun and noticed that he had not moved and seemed to be deep in thought.  “Darling?”

“Huh…oh, I’m sorry, Alex.  Did you say something?”

“I was just telling Mary and Sam that we would do anything we could to help.”

“Of course, we will.  As a matter of fact, I think I may have an idea.  Sam, when do you have to make a final decision?”

“Well, I guess we have as much time as we need but for Sarah’s sake, I think we need to make the decision soon.”

“Can you give me until Friday?”

“Of course, if it means finding a way to keep that little girl in our lives.”

******

Walker was up before dawn.  He had too much on his mind.  He slipped quietly out of bed, dressed and headed out to the barn to care for the horses.  After he had taken care of the horses, he went to the basement and worked out for an hour, then showered and was gone before anyone else in the house was awake.  He had a lot to do today and needed to get an early start.

When Trivette arrived at the office at 8:00 a.m., he found Walker on the phone with papers all over his desk.  He went to his desk, fired up the computer and waited for Walker to finish his phone call so that he could find out what was so important that it had Cordell Walker in the office at the crack of dawn.

Trivette looked over when he heard Walker hang up the phone.  “Hey, partner, what did you do, sleep here?”

“No, I couldn’t sleep and I had some things to do so I just came in early.”

“Anything I can help with?”

“Not just yet, Trivette but I may need you later.”

“Sure, what’s up?”

“I can’t tell you right now.  I have to talk to Alex first.  Did you notice if she was in yet?”

“Yeah, as a matter of fact, she pulled into the parking lot just as I was coming in the building.  She should be in her office by now.”

“Great.  I’ll be back in a little while.”

“Okay.”

Walker nearly ran out the door and headed straight for Alex’s office.  “Hi, Amy.  Is she free?”

“Sure, Ranger Walker.  Go on in.”

“Thanks.”  He knocked lightly then opened the door.  Alex looked up and a smile lit up her face.  She stood and walked toward him.  Wrapping her arms around his neck, she kissed him softly.  “I missed you this morning.  You were certainly up early.  Is everything all right?"

“Everything’s fine.  Alex, I need to talk to you about something.”

She noted the seriousness in his voice.  “Sure, darling.  Just let me tell Amy that I don’t want to be interrupted.”  She walked over, leaned her head out the door and said  “Amy, please don’t let anyone disturb us.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Thanks.”  She closed the door and turned to see Walker staring out the window.  “Darling, what is it?”

He did not turn around, “Alex, remember what we talked about yesterday at the lake?”

“You mean about starting a family of our own.”

“Yes.”

“Well, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.  It’s really been great having Sarah with us these last couple of weeks.  She’s such a beautiful little girl, so full of life.  No matter how bad my day’s been, one look from her and everything’s right with the world.”

Alex walked up behind him, placed her arms around his waist and laid her head against his shoulder.  “I know exactly what you mean.  You know she thinks the world of you.”

“Yeah, well, she’s pretty fond of you, too!  Alex, what would you say if I told you that I think we should consider adopting Sarah?”

She turned him to face her, “I would say that that is a great idea!  You are the most wonderful man in the world!”  He saw her eyes sparkling.  “Oh, Walker, do you really think we could?”

He smiled back.  “Well, that’s why I was in here so early today.  I’ve been making phone calls to see if it’s possible and according to what I’ve found out, there be a ton of paperwork and a lot of red tape that could take months to get through, but I think we have a shot, especially with Sam and Mary’s help.  And the best part is that even though they would have to legally give up their right to see Sarah, there’s nothing that says that we can’t allow them to see her anytime they want.”

“Oh, Walker, that’s wonderful.  What do we need to do first?”

“We need to talk to Sam and Mary.  I’ll give them a call and see if we can meet them at C.D.’s for lunch.”

“Darling, I have a feeling that this is going to be our best New Year’s ever!”

He pulled her close and kissed her.  “I think you’re right, Alex.”

******

Walker, Alex, Sam and Mary all arrived at C.D.’s within minutes of each other and took their seats in Walker and Alex’s regular booth.  Sam was the first to speak.

“Walker, you sounded so serious on the phone when you called.  Is everything all right?”

Walker smiled at Alex and replied, “Well, Sam, I sure hope so.  It’s about Sarah.  As I’m sure both of you have noticed, we’re pretty fond of that little girl.  She’s only been with us a couple of weeks but I don’t think we could love her more if she were our own child.  She’s bright and beautiful and has a way of making the world a little brighter just by being in it.  I know that you haven’t known us very long but we’d like you to consider allowing us to adopt Sarah.”

Their eyes became wide as they looked back and forth between Walker and Alex.  Mary was the first to find her voice as tears welled in her eyes.  “Are you sure?  I mean, don’t you want children of your own?”

“Mary,” Alex replied, “of course we’re sure.  We never would have called you here if we weren’t absolutely sure that this is what we wanted to do.  And yes, we do want children of our own.  As a matter of fact, we were just talking about it on Sunday but that doesn’t mean that we don’t want Sarah in our lives.  It’s a win-win situation for everyone.  Sarah gets a home with two parents who will love her and be able to provide her with everything she needs.  Walker and I get the blessing of a child, one who needs our love and support.  But the best thing is that you and Sam don’t lose a granddaughter and in fact will gain more grandchildren.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, Sam,” Walker began, “I’ve been talking to Alex’s friend at Child Protective Services. It seems that even though you and Mary will have to legally give up your right to see Sarah, there’s nothing that says that Alex and I can’t allow you to visit Sarah anytime you want.  So you see, everyone wins.  And I think what Alex means by more grandchildren is ours.  You see, my parents and Alex’s mother are gone.  Her father lives in New York but we don’t get to see him very often and we’d love our children to have the benefit of another set of grandparents.  So, what do you think?  I know we’ve dropped quite a bombshell on you and if you need time to think it over, we’ll certainly understand.”

Mary reached across the table and took Walker’s right hand and Alex’s left and held them tightly in her own.  She looked at the two of them and smiled.  “We think that you two must be angels sent from God to answer our prayers.  You have no idea how much we have agonized over this decision these last few days.  Every night I prayed to God to show me the answer and now he has.  There’s no need for us to think this over.  We’ve never met two more thoughtful, loving people.  You took in our granddaughter without a second thought, you opened your home to two people that you didn’t even know and now you’re offering us a way to make sure that Sarah is well-cared for and happy without giving up the chance to be a part of her life.  We don’t have to have known you for years.  I knew the minute we met you that you were special.  I’ve seen the way you look at each other and how you look at Sarah.  She couldn’t be in better hands.  She couldn’t be more loved.”

When Mary finished, all four had tears in their eyes.  Sam quickly gathered himself together and said, “So, what do we need to do?”

“Well,” Walker said, “I think the first thing we need to do is talk to Sarah and try to explain this to her.  She may not understand but we need to try.  Then we get started on the paperwork.  Janice Fitch, Alex’s friend at CPS, has agreed to help us in any way she can.  The process could take months.  Alex and I will have to go through a screening process, interviews and mounds of paperwork, then appear before a judge in Family Court before the adoption is final.”

Mary got a panicked look in her eye.  “What will happen to Sarah while all of this is going on?”

“That’s where my friend has agreed to help.  She’s going to pull some strings so that Sarah can stay with us while the adoption proceedings are underway.  Janice feels that she can successfully argue that it’s in Sarah’s best interest not to be uprooted again.”

“I know that you two won’t be able to stay here in Dallas until this is all final but there’s quite a bit of paperwork to be completed by you and then you’ll be interviewed and finally will appear before the judge with us in the final step.”

“Walker, we’ll do whatever needs to be done to make this work.  We can get the paperwork started before we go back to Florida and then we’ll just come back whenever you need us.”

“Thanks, Sam.  So, when do you want to talk to Sarah.”

“How about this evening?  That way, we can get started on the paperwork first thing in the morning.”

“I think that’s a wonderful idea, Alex.”

Walker leaned over and kissed his wife’s cheek.  “Okay, tonight it is.”

******

“Sarah, honey, come sit on Grandma’s lap.  There’s something we want to ask you.”  Sarah toddled over to her Grandma, climbed up in her lap and looked up at her.  “Sarah, do you like Alex and Walker?”

“Yes. I love them.”

Mary laughed.  “Well they love you too, sweetheart.  Do you like living here on the ranch?”

“Yes.”

“How would you like if Alex and Walker became your new Mommy and Daddy and you can live here on the ranch with them forever?”

“Okay.”  She then got a puzzled look on her face and turned to look at Alex and Walker. “What about Mommy?  Won’t she be mad?”

Walker held out his arms and Sarah jumped down off her grandmother’s lap and ran over to him.  He scooped her up, gave her a big hug, then placed her gently on his lap.  “Princess, your Mommy would never be mad at you.  She loves you very much but remember how we told you that she had to go to live with Jesus?”

“Yes.”

“Well, now that she is with Jesus, she can’t take care of you.  That’s why we want you to live here with us.  Would you like that?”

“What about Grandma and Grandpa?  Will they live here too?”

Sam laughed.  “No sweetheart, we can’t live here with you but we’ll come and visit you and if you want, you can come and visit us.  Would that be okay?”

“Okay.”

Walker smiled as he reached over and pulled Alex and Sarah into his embrace.  Mary and Sam watched, knowing that they were now part of a very special family.

******

New Year’s Eve:

Sam, Mary, Walker and Alex dropped Sarah off at the HOPE Center before heading into town to meet with CPS.  They then spent most of the day filling out paperwork.  They were told that due to the holiday, they would have to wait until the following week before any of the screening process could begin.  With the help of Alex’s friend, Janice, they had gotten an order signed by one of the Family Court judges allowing Walker and Alex to retain custody of Sarah until the final adoption was complete. 

They all agreed to celebrate the New Year together with an early dinner followed by C.D.’s famous New Year’s party.  Walker called Trivette and invited he and Josie to join them for dinner while Alex called C.D. and extended him the same invitation.  Everyone met at Ernesto’s at 5:00 that evening and had a wonderful dinner.  At the conclusion of dinner, Walker proposed a toast and made the announcement that he and Alex had begun the process to adopt Sarah.  C.D., Trivette and Josie were so excited they were speechless.  After hugs were given all around, they finished dessert and headed to C.D.’s to get ready for the party.

Everyone had a fabulous time at the party.  All of Walker and Alex’s friends were thrilled to hear the news of their impending parenthood and enjoyed meeting Sarah and her grandparents.  Sarah spent the entire evening on the dance floor entertaining the guests.  Everyone instantly fell in love with her and she soon became the hit of the party.  It was nearly 11:30 before she finally started to wear down, toddling over to Walker and extending her arms up so that he would hold her.  He picked her up and was soon joined by Alex, Sam and Mary.  From across the room, C.D. noticed them and elbowed Trivette who was standing nearby.

“Jimmy.  Look over there.  Isn’t that about the most heartwarming sight you ever saw?”

“It sure is, Big Dog.  I’ve never seen Walker and Alex happier.  It’s amazing how that little girl has changed their lives so much in just a few short weeks.”

“I know what you mean, Jimmy.  This has always been a special time of year for them but I don’t think they will ever forget this New Year’s.  When you see something like this, it just reaffirms your faith, don’t it?”

“Sure does.  Hey, you still have that camera behind the bar?”

“You know, I think I do.”  He hurried around behind the bar, found the camera and handed it to Trivette.  Trivette called out to Walker and when they all looked up, he snapped the first Walker family photo.

Just before midnight, they all gathered around the television to count down the final 10 seconds of 1999 and welcome in the new millennium.  As the clock struck midnight, Walker leaned over and whispered in Alex’s ear, “Happy New Year, Mom!”

A smile lit up her face, she turned to him and, as their lips met, said, “Happy New Year, Dad!”

THE END