A Small Piece of Hell

By Pam Gooderham

PG1701@aol.com

The cell was pretty rough. Stout bars at the front of the cave, the sides made of rock. It seemed hastily, yet securely put together, with a floodlight some distance away and directed upwards. It afforded quite a nice light - if they had to be grateful for something. Quartz laced within limestone and carbon reflected like stars, but as for a way to escape, there was none.

They guessed it was a cave out in the sticks somewhere, perhaps bordering desert, as the dirt floor was sandy and dry. That was another good thing - it wasn’t damp. Walker said he could smell sage at night, and both heard the coyotes.

"C’mon, son. Let me help you. You gotta take more water. Cordell? Cordell! C’mere."

The old man carefully placed his hand behind Walker and took enough weight to raise the wounded Ranger’s head from the floor. As the water trickled down either side of his friend’s red beard, C.D. tried to lighten any embarrassment. Walker was a proud man, he knew that well enough. He was aware that right now the Ranger was inwardly cursing what had befallen them. Letting him take a pause between swallows, he smiled down, catching Walker’s eyes.

"At least you got an excuse for that. Last time it happened to me I was drunk as a skunk!"

Having had enough, Walker shook his head. He managed a small grin of his own.

"I remember." It was difficult for him not to grimace against the pain. "We …had to take you home. …Took Trivette and me …" he swallowed hard, "All …our time to get you out the truck."

C.D. chuckled. He thought again. "D’you want to try sitting up a bit?" He waited and watched as the Ranger nodded. Reaching carefully behind Walker’s head, C.D.’s other hand gripped round Walker’s side and he took the strain till his friend sat upright.

Walker looked decidedly woozy.

"You okay?" the old man checked. Waiting till Walker nodded again, he placed his own body against the rough rock wall and suggested the Ranger use him to lean on so he didn’t have to shuffle back.

Walker gratefully accepted his offer, turned slightly so he was at a right angle, and laid back on C.D.’s bulk.

"I maybe the size of a barn, but I do have my uses. You’ll be glad I got that fat now, Cordell." He watched Walker’s eyes close. C.D. used that moment to check on his friend’s shoulder. Good, C.D. thought, pleased. The wound’s stopped bleeding again.

It had happened so quickly. Given a bogus message he wanted to see him, as soon as Walker got out the familiar silver Dodge Ram a shot rang out! It took Walker straight down. C.D. still shuddered at the memory. He thought his former partner and best friend was dead there and then. Suddenly bodies came from nowhere, the next thing - blackness. When he came round, he and Walker were in the makeshift cell.

As for their captors? They came once a day. They were masked, and despite all attempts, refused to talk. They dropped off one plate of plain, flavorless rice, refilled the water bowl, and were gone as quickly as they came. Right now C.D. felt as thought his stomach was rejecting him and he tried not to think of his Bar and Grill special; T-bone steak with hot pepper sauce. Besides, his discomfort wasn’t anything to compare with Cordell’s, so he ignored it as much as a man can.

The two men were no nearer to understanding why they were here than when they were first brought in. That was nearly three days ago. Walker seemed to cope well once the bleeding to his shoulder wound was under control. They discussed the situation and their options, deciding there wasn’t too much they could do anyway. Of course the bullet needed to come out, but neither man had a knife, and even their belts had been removed. They might have been able to use the buckle fastener to get the projectile out. The next day C.D. knew the snub of metal had started to fester the surrounding tissue in Walker’s shoulder, the Ranger having gone quieter than normal. C.D. felt the younger man’s forehead - he had a temperature. Helplessly, he now watched as Walker’s condition deteriorated.

C.D. sighed. Taking his bandana from his pocket he dipped it in the water and placed it against Walker’s forehead.

Walker opened his eyes. "Need …to save it." His breathing was slightly labored, but he did feel better now he was sitting up. "You’re right," Walker continued, conceding with a grin, "…you do make a good pillow." He looked to the right, directly into C.D.’s face, pleased to see the old man’s expression lightening. "C.D.?" Walker carried on, "You remember …the first time we were partnered together?"

This brought a soft laugh. "That I do. Talk about rough start!" C.D. chuckled quietly. "I can talk a glass eye to sleep - you wouldn’t open your mouth, and I got as mad as spine spittin’ porc at you! Then that first arrest we did together!" Walker’s mentor shook his head as he spoke, "To my dying day I’ll never forget how you whipped the gun from that punk’s outstretched hand. I saw it with my own eyes – and hang me, I still could hardly believe anyone could be so quick." There was a small guffaw, "And that punk look so dumbstruck. He says to me in plumb amazement ‘What happened – how’d he do that?’ But my face was a mirror of his! I could hardly speak either! The way I came back at him so serious - ‘Well now, I don’t rightly know.’ Then we both look at you and you got this grin from ear to ear – you were enjoying every dang minute! I knew then I was in for a hell of trip with you as a partner!" The two men shared the memory, both smiling at their respective thoughts.

C.D. warmed to the subject. "And remember Ranger Johnny Kirk, our old captain? Poor guy! Fancy being called Captain Kirk!" Both men laughed softly now. Damn it Cordell. Still makes me howl now at him ringing and wantin’ to see us, and you telling him we’d beam over! He’d get so mad at you."

Despite the irritation to his shoulder Walker chuckled. "He sure had some stick given him. Can you remember the name of that FBI commander who came in, and thought …Johnny was messing with him saying his name was Captain Kirk? …We all stood in the background - ….none of us could do anything for laughing."

"Oh, my!" There was a loud snort. "Commander, Ed Roper." C.D. confirmed though his laughter. "Used to call him the Reaper. Talk about a stewed prune. The guy was no fun at all." The laughter died down. "We had some good times, didn’t we, Cordell?"

"That we did, C.D." Walker stopped for a minute, the pain overtaking him. He wiped away a bead of sweat from his brow.

"You been lucky with partners." The old man observed.

There was a concealed pant before Walker nodded.

His mentor carried on, "Still, they’ve bin lucky with you, too. Y’know, I still treasure all those years we were partnered. We nailed some dang lowlife, didn’t we?"

"Yeah, we sure did." Walker sighed and his body shuddered.

"You cold?" his friend questioned.

Walker nodded. "I’m okay."

They both knew better. Walker’s fever was rising. C.D. leaned over for the paper cup. "Take some more water. And shaddup. I don’t want your protestings. I’m older than you and you gotta do as I say." Without waiting further, he placed the waxed container to Walker’s lips and the Ranger managed to get it down without spillage this time.

Just that small effort took it out of his friend, C.D. could tell. He waited till Walker had recovered. Having enjoyed their conversation, C.D. thought their musings at least took their mind off the situation. "Jimmy’s been a grand partner to you, hasn’t he?"

Walker nodded and took a deep breath to trying to counteract the stead throb from his right shoulder. "He’s ….more than a partner, C.D." Walker added after a beat. "He’s …the brother I never had."

"Why don’t you tell him, sometimes?"

There was an awkward silence.

C.D. wondered if he’d overstepped the mark. He knew Walker wouldn’t hold it against him, he would just clam up when he didn’t like where a conversation was going. That was his way. You got used to it after a time.

Walker sighed, "I …should say a lot of things more often." He closed his eyes.

Wisely the elder Ranger kept quiet and soon the steady rise and fall of Walker chest indicated he’d fallen asleep. Just as well C.D. mused. At least he wasn’t in so much pain when he was sleeping. The old man sighed and very slowly altered his position without waking him. His back ached and he was still dang hungry! He’d give anything for a proper bed and a good meal. Why the hell were they here? What did they want from them? He tried hard to relax and pretty soon, nodded off as well.

But it was a restless sleep. He wasn’t aware if it were he or Walker that was the most unsettled, but the two tossed and turned. C.D. finally woke to see Walker unsuccessfully crawling towards the bars. The younger Ranger had his back to him, his right arm rigid and flat to his side, and he was attempting to haul himself up with the weight on his left hand.

"Hey, buddy. Let me help you here. What you trying to do, huh?"

Walker was saturated in sweat. There was no reply.

"Cordell?" C.D. tried to see into his face.

"Get back." Walker advised with alarm. "Charlie at four o’clock. Snipers. Keep down."

The old man thought he’d misheard. "What? Cordell?" Laying a hand on his former partner brought a shot of fear to his stomach. The guy was burning up.

C.D gently turned him over, Walker mumbled.

"In …designated position. …Enemy troops sighted."

Oh my Lord, the old man thought, what do I do now? He checked what water they had left and then looked at his watch. If their captors were on schedule they would bring more in about two hours.

"This …is …Nighthawk, over." Walker agitated. "LA RUE! You son of a bitch!"

"Sshh. It’s okay. C’mon, buddy.

Pulling away the torn shirt to expose Walker’s chest, C.D. rearranged the bandages covering the bullet hole and pulled the rest of the tough gray denim shirt away from Walker’s pants in an effort to let the air cool down his ex partner. Taking the cloth again, he drenched it in their drinking water and applied it liberally over Walker’s face and brow.

The younger Ranger made to grasp at his arm, and with glassy eyes and a faltering voice, spoke in a whisper. "I’ll watch …your back. I’ll …" the pauses lengthened, "I’ll cover …you."

Anguished, the old man held him tighter, "I know you will, Cordell. You always did, son. You all always did." He sponged Walker’s forehead again. "Let me watch your back now, huh? You get some rest."

"You …watch …my …back." Repeated Walker, dryly trying to swallow.

"Yeah. You get some rest now. I’ll be right here." Thankful, C.D. watched as Walker’s eyes closed, and the retired Ranger Captain looked around and tried to stop the negative thoughts racing through his mind. Was Walker going to die right here in his arms? There must be something he can do? Something, anything!

The old man’s head turned sharply. Sounds came from the mouth of the tunnel. Voices. Quite a few voices. His heart raced. What now? Apprehension turned to sheer relief at the sight of Walker’s partner racing into view, Walker’s fiancée right behind along with what seemed like half the Ranger force of Texas.

"Jimmy? Jimmy! Thank God! We need a doctor. Cordell’s bin hurt."

It galvanized some of the men. "We got it." Came a voice.

"I’ll get the medical kit." Came another.

Alex pounded at the bars, her slightly high pitched voice reflecting fearful anxiety. "C.D.? Is he all right? Are you okay?"

The cell unlocked, James Trivette and Alex Cahill raced in followed by several other Rangers. They knelt alongside the two men as C.D. rushed to explain.

"He took a bullet when the varmints first kidnapped us. He’s got a fever now." The three scrutinized their friend. Walker continued to mumble, his head and legs moving slightly as fever racked his body.

"Booby trapped…wait …wait…." His raspy voice trailed off to nothing.

In alarm, Trivette looked at them. "He’s hallucinating." He laid a reassuring arm on his mentor. "Don’t worry C.D. We’ve called for a Medivac. It’ll be here in a few minutes.

C.D. risked a glance at Trivette. "What in tarnation has all this been about?"

Trivette sighed. "They were holding the State of Texas ransom for your return." the black Ranger replied. He caught C.D.’s eye for a second before worriedly looking back at his agitated partner.

"Ransom!" The old man exclaimed. "How much they want?"

"Five mill each."

"Huh! Dang insult! Ten each more like!"

Handed a bottle of ice cold water by one of their colleagues, Alex soaked the rag and tried to cool Walker’s forehead. "It’s all right, darling. It’s all right. You’ll be just fine." All these days – worried sick! Alex wondered whether she could stand this, but then when it came to Walker, she would. She loved him from the pit of her being. There was never anyone else. Ever since that first day in court – one look at the handsome Ranger and although she hadn’t quite realized it at the time, she was completely hooked. She scrutinized the condition of the man she loved. It looked like they were in time and he would get over this.

Walker opened his eyes and stared blankly ahead. From total blackness he saw light. A clear, yet, warm light. It was accompanied by iridescent white clouds that shimmered and swirled upwards in a circle. It was beautiful. And the shadow of a man walking towards him appeared in the center.

"Father?"

Worriedly, Walker’s three friends look at each other. They knew Walker’s father had been dead for many years.

Walker’s soul filled with pride and love. It was his father! The deep bond they had for each other was rekindled within that split second.

{"Cordell! Hang on, my son. Now is not your time."}

"Father." Walker said again.

Alex tightly held his hand. "Walker. We love you so much. I love you so much. Hold on, my darling. Please! Hold on."

{"My son. The woman with you loves you very much."}

Walker strained to get up but was held back by three pairs of hands. "…the love of my heart." The Ranger panted with the effort, "I …want her to …be …my wife."

Alex blushed coyly and kissed Walker’s hand several times.

{"Cordell. Many years ago, you gave your heart to another."}

"Ellen." Walker said clearly.

Alex and the people around froze.

{"Ellen gives you her blessing. She wants you to know she is happy here, and happy for you, my son. As are your mother and I."}

The shimmering image backed away.

"Don’t go! Wait." Walker fought to go with the apparition. "Please…" he begged. Then the effort too much, the wounded Ranger collapsed into unconsciousness.

Time seem to stand still, and for Alex, blood pounded her ears, her spirit frozen. ‘The love of my heart …I …want her to …be …my wife – Ellen.’ Ellen? Alex was thunderstruck, unable to feel her own body. She felt hands guiding her away and while she watched paramedics work to help Walker, at the same time there was a lack of overall comprehension.

Satisfied Walker was now as stable as possible he was raced away to a waiting helicopter.

Anxiously Trivette caught C.D.’s eye and the two men confronted her. C.D. cleared his throat in embarrassment.

"Alex, honey. You can’t… Well, what I mean is. You can’t put store in what you heard. He’s delirious. He didn’t know what he was saying!"

The old man waited for an answer, but none came. Alex had turned deathly white in the meantime, and subconsciously held on to Trivette’s arm for support. Kindly, the other Rangers made themselves scarce.

"Alex," Trivette ventured, "Don’t do this now," he warned, "Don’t go down this road. C.D.’s right. The man didn’t have a clue what he was saying." They looked for a reaction, but to their dismay saw only heartbreak expressed in the face of the beautiful, blond district attorney.

The two friends watched. Having had successful surgery, Walker had made several attempts to open his eyes. Now the battle was being won.

Leaning to Trivette, C.D. commented quietly. "He goes on pure survival, Jimmy. You watch, the minute he comes half way conscious, he’ll scan round - checking to see if he’s in danger. You’ll see."

Sure enough, the moment Walker reached that point of clarity his head raised up, and although still confused, he quickly checked around the room. With one hand on Walker’s good left shoulder, Trivette reassured him.

"Hey, pard. It’s okay. C.D. and me are here."

He looked into Trivette’s eyes and seeing no danger settled back down. Realization finally dawned.

"Trivette?" Came the rasp.

"Yeah. C.D.’s here as well." He reaffirmed.

Trivette knew the words had hit home by the way his partner dozed once more. It was another thirty minutes or so before Walker slowly awoke and looked to the other side. His face then assumed a grateful look.

Weakly, Walker raised his left hand towards his ex partner, his breathless words heartfelt. "Thank you, …C.D."

The hand was grasped with care and affection and C.D. realized Walker now remembered some of the ordeal. "No problem, son. Glad we’re both still here to tell the tale."

They watched as Walker scanned the room once more and his face furrowed. "Alex! C.D.? Is Alex okay?"

Walker would have had no comprehension how far the kidnapping went. The elder man marveled. Most men would have said ‘where’s Alex?’ Not Walker. All he wanted to know was that she was all right. Nothing else would matter so long as his precious Alex was alive and well. But things were far from right. C.D. couldn’t address that problem now; it wasn’t fair. The man needed a week to recover, but knowing the extraordinary Ranger as well as he did, however, everyone would be lucky if he stayed two days.

"She’s fine. Don’t worry. She just stepped out for a minute."

Walker immediately relaxed. Now at ease, he gave a small smile to them both and tried a whispered joke.

"You …look …like shit, pard. What happened?"

Trivette explained again, causing the same incredulity from their mentor.

"Only five million each! Can you believe that, Cordell?"

"So …" Walker swallowed against the dryness in his mouth and eyed up the younger man again. "You …went through a hedge …looking for us?"

The two men laughed. Trivette was disheveled. He’d lived in those same clothes for about three days.

"Thought you were supposed to leave a message on his voice mail telling him we were in a cave, Cordell?"

"Not me, C.D. …Thought …you were supposed to do it."

With the three men enjoying their camaraderie and the thankfulness of beating the odds again, a slow creak had them all look up towards the door and an awkward silence fell on the room. Alex looked terrible. Shaky, with dark circles under her eyes, her demeanor one of unusual timidity.

Complete concern overtook Walker. He held out his left hand.

"Honey? C’mere. What’s wrong? I’m …going to be just fine, …see?" He took a beat, confused by her reluctance to come forward. His voice was complete love. "Honey. Come here." With difficulty he tried to ease himself farther up the bed.

Alex slowly made her way forward. Her face lined and furrowed, she made an obvious effort to put aside her concerns.

"Hi."

The Ranger studied her, becoming worried. "Alex. You’re exhausted." He turned to Trivette and implored him. "Would …you take Alex home for me?"

"It’s okay," she half offered.

Walker held her hand tightly. "It’s not okay. You’re …shattered. I want …for you to go home. Don’t …come in tomorrow. I’ll be out the day after."

There was no reply. He searched her eyes while she avoided his scrutiny.

"Alex, honey. Everything …else okay? You’re not …hurt?"

"No." Came the whisper. She wasn’t physically hurt in that sense. Emotionally she was a wreck.

There was something else, Walker knew, but he was unable to comprehend. Looking to each one for answers and finding none he beseeched his friend again. "Trivette. Take her home. C.D.? You get some rest as well, okay? I’ll be fine."

The old man patted Walker’s leg. "You sure?"

Nodding, Walker reached up and pulled Alex down. He tried to kiss her but it was half hearted from her part. There was another attempt to pull herself together and do her best not to worry Walker.

"I’m sorry. I’m just so tired. Sorry, honey."

Walker looked slightly more relieved. "It’s okay, …it’s okay. I’ll call you tomorrow. Rest …promise?"

His bride-to-be nodded, then all said their good byes and were gone. Settling back, Walker looked at now vacant spot and his stomach fluttered with misgiving. He was so tired. That’s all it was. Despite his concern, it took only seconds for him to fall into a deep sleep.

C.D. stopped by in the morning. He said Trivette would be along in the afternoon, and they had left Alex relaxing. Walker looked again at his watch. It was 3p.m. Not inconceivable for her to have slept this long after the ordeal of not knowing what had happened to them. He glanced to the phone and wondered whether he should call, but dismissed it as soon as he thought of it. She would telephone when she was ready. But usually she was a mother hen, getting on his nerves when he was injured.

The unsettled feeling made Walker proactive. Easing his right arm from the sling he removed the support completely, threw it on the side table and gently flexed his muscles. He hated hospitals! Hated hospital gowns even more, but had agreed to stay till the next morning. Still fatigued, he scrutinized the bag of blood on the drip next to him. This was the last one and he was much stronger now. Maybe he and Alex could get some quality time at the ranch together. The thought warmed him, but the sound of the telephone made his heart leap even more.

"Hello." Was his expectant greeting.

"Hi."

Just the sound of her voice made the tough guy melt. "Hi."

Unquestionably they connected by more than just airwaves.

Alex closed her eyes wondering if her relationship with Cordell Walker would ever go smoothly. She loved him so much - just hearing him made her crave his arms. Maybe she was mistaken and she could put aside the incident in the cave. He was delirious! She would try not to think of it and try to get back to where they were.

"I’m coming down to see you now. How are you today?"

Walker was grinning. He was right. She’d been tired.

"Oh, I’m fine. Er. You don’t have to. C.D. is taking me home tomorrow."

"Walker!" Came the exasperated response. "The doctors can’t have signed you off already. It’s way too soon."

"Alex. I’m fine. I’m much stronger."

"I’m coming down to see for myself! And you’d better be looking good, cowboy, or it’s no deal!"

The Ranger’s grin returned. "I’ll look forward to it." He said softly, with meaning, and the phone was replaced. Walker sat back contently. After a few minutes he gave the arm some physio again. He’d need that. Hugs with Alex were a way of life and something he wouldn’t admit, but enjoyed beyond words. Although his spirits now soared, something still nagged at him.

"Trivette?" He questioned, when his partner called in the afternoon. "Did …anything happen to Alex when we were taken?"

Trivette shook his head. "No. Well, I mean other than worried out her brain. But heck, we all were. We figured they wouldn’t keep you alive, but then they didn’t behave as they should have, anyhow."

Walker nodded. "C.D. told me what happened. It was great work on your part, pard. But how’d you guess they would use a hollow sided van to confuse the money drop?" He smiled at Trivette’s attempt to look modest.

"They chose the busiest time of the day, right? Man! That high street was choked with people. We could hardly make out our men let alone spot theirs. They picked a good location that’s for sure. We saw the drop go ahead and it was chaos! I can tell you, I was trying to keep it together - I knew if they cleared with the money …"he paused awkwardly, "Well, if you weren’t dead already you would be if they got away."

Walker nodded his agreement while his partner sat on the bed before completing the story.

"I attempted the intercept but the guy vanish into thin air. He was gone! I kept passing this white delivery truck and something inside me changed every time. When I got desperate and thought we’d blown it, this …‘feeling’…a hunch …hell it’s probably some Cherokee thing you’ve infected me with…"

Walker laughed.

"I couldn’t shake it. I gave orders to back off and tail the truck. So, this driver comes out a store, all open and legit-like, and we ignore him. Gave the impression we hadn’t noticed him - then he was tailed. We used a chopper when he started getting right outta town. He led us right to you."

The smile on Walker’s face was huge. "I’m real proud of ya. Not to mention grateful!" He had given a small chuckle, but then his expression altered. "So, er." He stopped, unsure of quite what to ask.

Trivette wondered whether he should bring up what happened.

"Alex got some sleep last night. She’s coming in shortly." The older Ranger ventured finally.

"She is?" Trivette had said it in such a surprise, relieved way Walker’s head tilted slightly. His partner appeared awkward and avoided his eyes and the Ranger went to comment.

"Ranger Walker?" Came the upbeat voice followed by a pretty black nurse. She glanced at Trivette with an encouraging eye that he recovered enough to reciprocate. "Time for your antibiotic."

It would be in the rear again. Walker sighed. A necessary evil, he knew.

His partner edged towards the door while trying to smile and keep eye contact with the angel of mercy. "Er, I’ll go, then." He tripped on the way to the door and Walker looked skyward while giving an inward chuckle.

"When are you next on duty?" Walker questioned Nurse Evans.

"In the morning," she smiled nicely.

Trivette pointed. "I’ll come with C.D. Pick you in the morning, Walker." The younger man winked at her and was gone. Perhaps, came the thought, he’d get enough courage to ask her out then.

Walker raised an eyebrow. "He’s a great guy," he ventured. Then left it at that. He wasn’t about to meddle or match make and he hated it when other people tried.

When Alex finally arrived, her preceding smile lit the room. She stopped short when she saw him and observed from afar.

"Hey." Walker’s eyes creased round the edges in pleasure.

"Hey, yourself." She came forward and quickly kissed him. "You do look a lot better," she conceded.

The Ranger outlined his case. "I am. See?" he pointed to the IV. "Last one. The arm? He eased the arm up a fraction and around, raising his eyebrows in triumph.

Alex smiled. "Okay, okay. You’ll do. As if any of us have say in it anyhow."

Walker reached for her hand. "How are you?" He said seriously.

It brought a furrow across her expression and she didn’t reply straight away. How was she? She asked herself. Good question. How was she going to live a life with this man knowing that she would never own his heart? It belonged to another. Some one she couldn’t even begin to compete with. The mounting tension forced a reply. "I’m doing fine." Maybe it would go in time. Maybe she would forget his words.

"Gave you a scare this time?" He probed.

The district attorney smoothed back her hair. "It wasn’t your doing." Leaving the bed Alex made for the window and looked out. Behind her Walker’s relief rapidly dissipated. Annoyed at his confinement he glowered at the IV in his arm.

"Alex," he said instead. "C’mere."

Turning, she sat on the bed as asked and was welcomed into his arms. She tried not to hurt him, but Walker held her firmly. His eyes closed tightly to match his grip on her. He ignored the discomfort, the sheer joy of having her in his arms overriding the pain. He kissed the top of her head only to nuzzle into her hair.

"Everything’s all right, Alex." Walker looked at her - she was lovely! Right now the Ranger couldn’t imagine why he hadn’t set a date - they had been engaged almost a year.

Alex cursed her confusion. She had wanted this for so long; had needed to know he was safe and to be in his arms. Begging God to let the moment happen again! Now it was here - the thrill was gone. She could only think of Ellen. Ellen in her Walker’s arms. When Ellen’s murderer, Pike, had come back into Walker’s life, C.D. had shown her a picture of Walker’s former fiancée, but now she could no longer remember what she looked like. What were they like together? Alex lightly rested the weight of her head on the left side his chest. Even through the hospital gown and smells, his aroma was magnetic. Calming and safe, and despite all he’d been through, his body was firm and strong, and the way he held her was always so right.

She is …the love of my heart. .I …want her to …be …my wife ...Ellen!’

 Why can’t I get it out my mind, Alex anguished?

The woman that now slipped from his embrace shook Walker’s emotions. A new Alex had emerged, this one tired, defeated and incredibly sad. Walker ripped the IV from his arm.

"Walker!" Alex sat up in alarm. Her voice became high pitched. "What do you think you’re doing?"

Walker eased her away and threw back the covers. "I’m going to get the doctor to look at you. You’re suffering from something. You still look exhausted!"

Alex grabbed at his good arm. "Don’t you dare! You are not getting out of this bed! It’s not that anyway …" She flinched, biting her tongue.

Stopping in mid action Walker stared. "What, then?" He eventually asked.

There’s no way, Alex’s brain raced through her options, I’m telling him now. She blew through her lips and her shoulders sagged. "Look. You go missing for three days after we find your blood type splattered across C.D.’s driveway and you wonder I’m slightly stressed? It sounded plausible even to her. Besides, Alex was well used to thinking on her feet. However, lying to the man she loved dearly went very much against the grain even in these circumstances. As Walker still contemplated her previous question she backed it with another. "Surely you can appreciate that?"

Nothing much could stand up in the way of Walker’s scrutiny, but he was obviously was unsure what to think.

"Please, Walker. I’m fine. Get back into bed. Please! Don’t make matters worse."

"Alex." His gut told him differently, but seeing she was close to tears pressing the issue was not the way to do it. "Will you promise to get more rest? I’ll be out tomorrow. Come to the ranch in the afternoon. We’ll have some quiet time, the two of us. Okay?"

There was no question about his love. His eyes spoke volumes and his caress of her face went beyond caring, but now it was different. She was immune! The joy of their relationship, gone. Of course she still cared with a passion! He would always be a very special person in her life. That could never change. She had to buck up and help him get well. Alex forced a smile.

"C’mon. Back in!" She held up the covers and offered a hand on his arm. "I’ll get some rest if you will. Fair enough?"

She observed his relief and witnessed the small nod of his head. As he slipped back she received a quick kiss on the way.

"We’re going to be just fine," he said firmly.

"Yes." She looked at the dripping IV. "Er. I’d better get someone to reattach that!

Before she could move he held her arm, and so that she wouldn’t be tempted to go, he depressed the call button to summon a nurse. That done, he checked yet again. "Sure you’ll be okay tonight? Want me to get Trivette to take you home?"

Alex shook her head. "I came by taxi. I’ll see you at the ranch."

Both unsure what to say next, an awkward pause followed.

"Ranger Walker! What happened?" Nurse Green competently retrieved the loose end of the drip, wiped away the droplets of blood after snatching a handful of tissues in mid-step, and stemmed the flow from the overhanging crimson bag. Sensing discord, she probed no further as to how tube became detached, but tried to lighten the atmosphere. "No, problem I’ll soon have this reattached." Within a few seconds she had a piece of antiseptic cotton wool held in place on Walker’s arm, and smiling at the pair, she left the room to obtain new equipment.

The silence descended ominously, Alex avoiding Walker’s gaze. She played with the fingers of his hand before looking up and summoned another small smile.

"Tomorrow then?" She reiterated.

"If you feel up to it."

Nodding, Alex withdrew. "Okay." She stretched over and quickly kissed him. "Get some sleep." Stopping by the door, Alex looked back to smile once more. "Night." And she was gone.

Trivette tapped at his computer and continued his telephone update to his partner. "Yeah. The kidnappers are arraigned. No problem. Just one thing, though."

"What?"

"They got Don Trujillo for defense."

Walker took a beat. "Great," was his facetious reply.

Trujillo was renowned for successfully defending high profile clients. The kidnappers of two of Texas’ finest had been the major story since the news first broke on television. Now they knew the hot shot trial lawyer would leave no stone unturned in his quest to find loopholes and technicalities in order to obtain their release.

"Don’t worry, Walker." Trivette reassured, "Alex is already on it. She’ll match Trujillo, you’ll see."

"Already on it?"

"Yeah. She’s all ready blocked one motion to dismiss!"

"Now?" Walker asked with incredulity, "She’s in the office?"

"Yeah." Trivette frowned. That was strange for Walker not to know. "You want me to transfer you?"

There was only silence for a few seconds.

"No."

"Sure?"

"It’s okay. Thanks."

Walker’s partner furrowed his brow again. "So, er …see you tomorrow, huh?

"Yeah."

"Call me if you need me, okay?"

Not expecting a reply Trivette immediately replaced the receiver. Worrying about Trujillo, and now Walker and Alex wouldn’t get the job done. He forced himself to concentrate and went back to work on their current case load.

"What in tarnation you doin’ here? At the sight of Walker opening the bar door C.D. couldn’t contain his amazement or annoyance. "Mulehead! You’ll be back in bed in a cats whisker! Here! Sit here." He had run from behind bar and pulled out the chair from one of the tables.

"C.D.!" Came Walker’s irritated reply. Marching past his mentor he sat at the bar. He couldn’t help but smiled back at the old man.

It brought a chuckle from his ex partner. They had known each other too long for C.D. to get bent out of shape. "So, what’ll it be?"

"Just a coffee." Walker looked about him. "I’m meeting Alex in a few minutes."

"For lunch?"

"Yeah."

"You see her yesterday?"

Walker glowered. "Do I have to get the third degree?"

Not at all unfazed by the short answers, C.D. could give as good as he got. "How ‘bout if I ask how you are? Will that past muster?" he retorted sarcastically.

Walker caught his answer before the conversation escalated. He replied in a quiet tone, "I’m fine."

"Y’know what, Cordell. If I had a buck for every time you said that I’d be able to paper all these walls and retire!" And with that the coffee was firmly placed in front of his friend with a smart rap!

The newly arrived Trivette grinned. "I see customer service hasn’t improved much."

C.D. stopped. "D’you want coffee in the cup or over your head?’

"Er." he acquiesced. "In the cup. Thanks." Trivette pulled a face and determined to keep his mouth shut until he had a handle on the conversation.

It was a few minutes later a harassed Alex entered. Walker’s smile was not returned; her face a picture of trouble.

Trivette held up a hand as she approached. "Hi." he said, for the want of something to say.

"Hi. Hi guys," she acknowledged generally. She turned to Walker. "Could we see each other later? At the ranch?"

Walker looked awkward. "Thought we were supposed to do that yesterday."

"Walker, look …" she fumbled verbally.

A quick glance to each other had Trivette and C.D. turning up the television and suddenly finding an interesting item to focus on.

"…I had to go in. Trujillo started fast off the mark with a motion to dismiss. I had to …."

Her fiancée halted her statement. Taking her arm he led her to a booth at the far side, but Alex was reluctant and paused.

"Walker, please. Not here. I…."

"Alex! You and I are going to talk for a few minutes." He tugged gently, without force.

"But," she started.

"A few minutes." He reiterated.

Now at the booth Walker gestured patiently for her to sit. Alex hesitated. This is the booth they sat in after Pike’s men beat up C.D. and he’d just been released from hospital. Walker had sat there concerned for their safety. This is ridiculous! They’d sat in that booth a thousand times since then and she’d never once thought of Ellen! She was shaken from her reverie.

"Can’t you give me few minutes?" Walker questioned, incredulity creeping in to his voice.

At that point Alex knew. "This isn’t the time or place."

"For what?" He queried. He sat anyway and left her standing, the feeling in his gut worsening by the minute.

When Alex finally joined him he studied her. Walker always liked that two tone light gray suit with the contrasting black across the shoulders. One thing seemed sure - she didn’t look like she’d had any sleep! What happened to the warm loving relationship they had enjoyed for so long?

Not knowing what to say they sat gazing each other. Alex tried again. "I’m sorry," she quietly announced. "We do need to talk," she took a beat, "But it shouldn’t be here."

There was a jolted twist in Walker’s stomach and his intuitions screamed a dire warning. Heaviness descending, his voice was clipped.

"Say it, Alex. If - that’s what you want."

"Walker! Please? Not here, not now. I’ll come to the ranch."

He could see tears welling up in those deep blue eyes.

His own throat started to constrict. "Why postpone it?"

"I didn’t intend for this to happen. Not this way. Please! Let’s leave it." Looking directly into the face of the man she loved tore Alex apart, yet, at the same time, she knew she her disappointment was simply too overwhelming. Edging nearer the end of the bench to leave, Walker caught her arm to get her attention and released it.

"Why?" he asked simply, his rasp laced with bewilderment.

The slim, lightweight blond had succeeded where ten thugs failed. Walker was crushed.

Alex afforded him another scrutiny. He was so handsome, brave and caring. Such a good man. The locks of blond reddish hair – the way it licked over the collar of his white denim shirt. The close shaven beard – the rugged, kindly face. She was brokenhearted those normally warm, sensual eyes now registered pain and despair. How could she do this to him? Couldn’t she stop what she was going to do and give herself time to forget? But her question was answered immediately. It would be Ellen she would think of when he held her. Did he subconsciously think of Ellen when she was in his arms?

The engagement ring was suddenly in her hands slipping towards him. She took care to make it discrete; thankful there were few people near them. Alex shook her head slowly. "I’m sorry. So sorry." And with that she was gone.

"Oh Lore! C.D. gasped. "She’s give him his ring back," he told Trivette in a muttered voice.

Avoiding the temptation to turn round the younger Ranger exclaimed in a similar fashion. "Given him his ring back? No!"

The old man nodded, his concern for his ex partner overwhelming.

"Shall we go over?" Trivette looked for guidance.

"No." C.D. knew Walker better than anyone. "He needs time. He’ll come over when he’s ready. He’ll know we know."

Walker reeled. What, how and why raced round his mind until his head spun, and it was nearly thirty minutes before he moved. Gutted beyond belief, it had taken that long for his knees to find strength. Walker ignored the discarded symbol of unity still laying on the table where Alex had left it, and summoning his broken heart and shredded pride, he took some measure of relief knowing no one else except his friends had seen the exchange.

Their faces somber, they turned in his direction as he approached, but Walker could barely look them in the eyes. Laying a hand on his partner’s arm, Trivette was heart felt and genuine. "I’m sorry, man."

"Cordell? You want me to speak with her?"

The famous Texas Ranger shook his head and turned instead to his partner. "Will you make sure she’s got back safely?"

Trivette nodded. Walker removed his gun from its holster. It was laid on top of the walnut grained bar along with his badge, ID and Ranger star. Twenty dollars slapped beside it.

"Bottle of Jack Daniels, C.D."

"Cordell .."

Walker’s mentor was silenced by a determined, pointed stare.

"Guess you’ll get it from somewheres else, won’t you? The old man reached behind and placed the bottle on the counter.

"See you in a few days." And with that, Walker placed the bottle in his pocket, turned and left.

Trivette reached for his hat and moved from the barstool. "We can’t let him go off like that, C.D.!"

"Son!" C.D. stopped him. "I know how you’re feeling, but best let him be for a while."

"He wouldn’t let me be when I had a hurt. He came after me, remember?"

There was a nod. "Oh yeah, I remember sure enough. But he gave you enough time to get drunk didn’t he? Besides, he works different to you."

"He’s never – in all the time I’ve known him – got drunk!"

"Jimmy. It’s only happened twice before. He had a period after Nam Uncle Ray and me got him through, and the second time was after it didn’t work out with his first fiancée. He was too shot up after Ellen; he was in hospital and gotten past that stage by the time he came out. Besides, he’s not ready right now."

"No?" Questioned Trivette.

C.D. shook his head. It’s still early. He’ll saddle up and ride hard for a spell, come back and have the meanest work out imaginable. And if he still of a mind – then he’ll start."

Trivette looked towards the door. "So, we just leave him be?"

"Yup. We’ll go round early in the morning. See what we can do then." C.D. had stowed Walker’s belongings in the safe and come to the front of the bar. He placed a hand on Trivette’s shoulder. "You’re a good partner and friend to Cordell, Jimmy. Trust me here, okay?"

The black man nodded. "You know how to make Cherokee purge?" He asked as an after thought.

C.D. nodded. "Got me some in a jar out the back as it happens."

"Okay. But we go round first thing in the morning!"

Entering his house Walker hadn’t even taken off his jacket before he sat in his chair. Now alone in the sanctity of home, the tough guy’s resolve weakened and his guard to the world lowered. Blowing through his lips, Walker covered his eyes with his fingers, sorrow flooding his numbed body. Why? Why? Questions, possible answers and theories! They all jostled for attention in his brain. He forced them out and became calm. Instilling his martial arts training to start working, he commanded his mind to block out the distractions. He would be quiet for a time, ride for a while, and then work out. Maybe the peace he sought would come then….

It was seven a.m. when, with some apprehension, Walker’s friends arrived. They found him naked from the waist up, dressed only in sweat pants and sprawled in front of the now dying fire. Only a small dressing to show for his earlier wound showed on his right shoulder. The noise of Trivette throwing logs on the bright red embers woke Walker with a start. Ash billowed up and the starving flames hungrily licked round cedar wood.

"Mhuh?" Groggy, Walker looked up and on seeing his partner and C.D. rested his head back on the pillow.

"Walker? We got some Cherokee purge, partner." Trivette started to unscrew the top.

"I don’t need it." Walker grimaced. After lying awake all night he’d only just fallen a sleep.

"It’ll make you feel better."

Walker lazily reached out and pulled the unopened bottle whisky from behind the sofa. "I don’t need it," he stated again.

"Oh!" Trivette blinked in amazement. "Well …that’s good. That’s good, isn’t it Big Dog?"

There was a clank from the kitchen and the sound of the coffee pot placed on the stove.

"Guess I’m not getting any say in all this?" Walker voiced evenly. They meant well, he knew that.

"You, okay, Cordell?" C.D. returned to the front room and sat down.

Walker didn’t speak at first, but then sat up and gave a deep sigh. His two friends allowed him time to gather his thoughts.

"Why now?" The Ranger finally asked them.

C.D. bit the bullet. "So, er …She didn’t tell…

"It doesn’t make sense!" Walker interrupted. "Why can’t they ever accept the job I do?"

"It’s not that." C.D. and Trivette voiced together, immediately regretting the sentence as soon as it was out of their mouth. They both looked away as Walker sat up, his eyes boring through them as he looked from one to another.

"You …you know why!" He accused. He stood to his feet expecting an answer. On not getting any he glowered at them and demanded again.

"Tell me, damn it!"

It took another exchange between the three before Trivette finally ventured a reply.

"It was at the cave. You, er …" Trivette paused.

That Walker hadn’t a clue was obvious, and consequently his patience grew thin. "What?" The voice had an ominously quiet edge to the tone.

"When we found you, you were delirious. You we saying all kinds of stuff, but, er, you …said," Trivette swallowed, "Well, you said you preferred - Ellen."

Walker’s face registered shock. A heavy silence subsequently descended.

"And …Alex heard that." It was a question turned answer.

The two men nodded.

Walker turned away and looked out the window only to spin back. He made for the door, "I’m going to see her." He stopped and pointed at them, "You should have told me!" He disappeared up the stairs.

It took only about fifteen minutes for the newly showered and changed Walker to emerge dressed in light denim jeans and shirt. Without much thought he gingerly eased into a light brown jacket.

"I’m going to get her back." He stated firmly.

"Cordell." C.D. held out his gun and ID’s. About to take them, Walker hesitated then shook his head.

"No." He addressed both friends. "I’m not on duty till Monday. I don’t want to run the risk of being side tracked. I’ll turn off the radio as well." They nodded their understanding.

"You’ll be needing this then, I reckon." With a hopeful look the old man produced a sparkling diamond ring from his top pocket.

Walker carefully took the jewelry, securely placed it deep in his jeans pocket and nodded his gratitude.

"Cordell?" C.D. offered, "We just didn’t want to interfere, is all." He said, not so much for an excuse as an explanation.

Thinking it through Walker nodded. It had to be a difficult call for them he conceded. He nodded again and gave a small smile.

The two friends looked relieved.

"Well at least it being Saturday you know she’ll be home." Reasoned Trivette. Walker’s partner added a smile. "You go for it, pard!"

Stopping in his tracks long enough to nod and offer silent thanks, Walker headed to the city.

"Alex?" It was the fourth time he’d knocked on the heavy white door, and his beating echoed down the stairwell. He tried the doorbell one more time and getting no response eased his key in the lock. Alex had given it to him after they were engaged.

He stepped in to the tasteful apartment. Light and airy with huge ceilings, pale coffee colors and off whites set the tone. Large ornaments, lamps and a wide selection of green plants contrasted beautifully with warm rugs over the wood block floor. Personal photographs added the intimacy that changes a room into a home.

"Alex? It’s me." Walker ventured. Unsure, he waited a few minutes by the door before entering further.

He tried again, this time directing his voice down the hallway towards the bedrooms. Last thing he wanted was for her to come out the shower and get a sudden shock. But further investigation revealed an empty apartment.

Walker’s jaw dropped slightly. Please don’t let her have gone away, was his overriding thought. The knot in his stomach tightened as he made to go out. Where can she be? Walker’s brow furrowed. Securing the door he stopped outside for a few seconds when suddenly the answer came to him. Of course! There was no question. He knew where she was. Running down the small flight of steps and out of the building, he headed back to the truck. 

Always tranquil, Walker thought the cemetery was particularly peaceful first thing in the morning. Especially if you arrived early and there wasn’t many folk around. He couldn’t help but cast a glance in the opposite direction towards the graves of his parents, giving a small, silent prayer of acknowledgement to their spirits as he walked. He spotted Alex’s lonely figure next to the grave of his former fiancée, Ellen Jordan Garrett.

Ellen Jordan Garrett! The hurt inwardly mounted at the recollection of the vivacious brunette who had captured his heart some twelve or thirteen years earlier, and her execution by a crime boss. Would the torture of that event never cease? Walker felt weary. He slowed as he neared and respectfully stood in silence within Alex’s peripheral vision. It took a few seconds to shake the solemn district attorney out of her reverie.

"Walker?" She was still preoccupied by her thoughts and did not turn round. "What are you doing here?" she asked quietly.

The roles had been reversed two and a half years ago - then it was Walker who stood at Ellen’s grave wrestling with pictures and memories from the past. He recalled some of their conversation then to use now. Removing his hat, the black Stetson was slowly fed through his fingers. The Ranger’s voice was as velvety quiet as always.

"We need to finish our conversation about …love, ghosts, and jealousy."

The happy, relaxed chatter of countless birds seemed in stark contrast to the Ranger’s inner turmoil. It was an age before the woman of his dreams softly whispered back.

"We had that conversation."

"Maybe." Walker took a beat. "But, it isn’t over." he took a step nearer. "Alex," she was dressed casually in black jeans with a black and green sweater; he could smell her recent shampoo and perfume. It was a comforting, inviting aroma. He wanted her in his arms so much. "I …" The Ranger’s head shook slowly, "What happened at the cave…" Even though she was still not looking in his direction, the controlled urgency and the obvious lack of comprehension in his voice was enough to persuade. She turned as he continued speaking, "I can only tell you, what I know. Alex, you’re the one I love."

Cordell Walker was the most honest, honorable man Alex had ever known. She didn’t doubt his sincerity now, but he didn’t realize.

"Walker. Maybe deep down," she struggled to explain, "You’ll never be able to get over her. Maybe that’s the reason you took so long before you asked me to marry you. And," the blond swallowed anxiously, "Maybe subconsciously – the reason you haven’t seemed …I don’t know … ‘keen’ to set a wedding day?" There followed a big sigh. As easy as he was to talk to, Alex had never been able to bring up the subject of why he hadn’t set a date. She knew it was sensible to be engaged for at least twelve months. Her own failed attempt at marriage was proof enough not to rush into such a commitment! But they had already known each other for years, and she had to admit, as time went by, she couldn’t help but wonder why Walker was dragging his feet. Occasionally she would feel inadequate, but had done an admirable job of disguising it and not giving in to it! But now, now, perhaps, this would explain everything. He was always a complex guy. She watched as he slowly shook his head again.

"I never meant for you … Look," He searched for the right way, "I don’t know why!" was his honest reply. "I guessed that, we’d both know when the time was right. …Alex," Walker moved another step closer. "I do know one thing." His voice was husky, and determined. "I’m not going to lose you now."

She grew more confused and frustrated by the minute. "Oh, Walker!" Alex turned away but stopped abruptly. "Oh! I’m sorry. I didn’t see you …"

A woman stood beside her. Dressed in a brown shirt, a long, dark, ankle length skirt with brown boots and a comfortable looking white jacket, this lady had a warm smile and the biggest brown eyes Alex had ever seen. Somehow Alex knew her. Suddenly the penny dropped.

"Oh my God!" Alex turned to Walker but he seemed frozen in time, caught in mid step as he made to go after her. Breathless, Alex turned back again.

"Cord can’t hear you, Alex."

"El…Ellen?" She asked with trepidation. "But …" Stuck for words, inexplicably Alex felt a calm descend and her fear dissipate. She recovered enough to shake her head. "But …but .. I don’t …."

Ellen Garrett gave her an irrepressible grin. "It’s okay. I can understand how you feel, but let me tell you something." Speaking quickly was the normal pace for the attractive brunette. "When Cord gave back the lace and our rose we knew it was time and he was free to move on. You both deserve happiness, Alex. You are his soul mate now. I want you to know I give you my blessing."

"Are …are you sure?"

The two women looked directly into each other’s eyes.

"Yes." Ellen confirmed. The smile returned, "Don’t worry! Just know everything is as it should be." Wistfully she looked at Walker and marveled, "He’s a great man." And the ghost smiled again. "Alex! You’re going to be so happy! I know you’ll take good care of him."

Alex felt the mantle of heaviness suddenly lifted. She was free! Free again to love the man who had captured her heart so completely. The gray from her life was gone and now everything was clear. Hope and happiness coursed through her veins! Alex spun on her heel.

"Walker! Ah!"

They collided together.

"Excuse me!" Not wanting to seem as if he had invaded her space or taken an inappropriate action Walker spoke rapidly, "I thought you were leaving. I didn’t mean to…" He stopped short at the sight of her beaming face. His eyes widened.

Love flooded her very being as Alex grasped his arms. "Walker! It’s okay. I understand now."

The Ranger alternated between sheer relief and confusion. "You do?"

"Yes!"

"So …we’re," he emphasized the ‘we’re’, "Okay?"

"Yes! If – if you still want that?" She double-checked.

In one of those rare moments Walker’s smile went from ear to ear! Sweeping her into his arms he kissed her with urgency straight from his soul. His lips moved to lightly touch her cheek, ear and forehead. She was wrapped in his embrace as if he would never let go and Alex wouldn’t have minded one bit!

"Alex! Alex." He said breathlessly.

Radiantly, the beautiful blond in his arms willed her love to his.

The Ranger spun her around, "I love you." And Alex laughed.

"Oh, Walker! I love you, too." Their foreheads touched and she could see he had his eyes tightly closed. "It’s okay. Intoxication from love was exquisite. Alex bathed in the tingle while seeking to reassure him further, "It’s okay, now. Really."

"But, how?" He queried, and stole another peck at her cheek.

Still grinning Alex looked behind. "It was…" Her eyes searched, but there was no one near. "It …"

Walker tried to follow her gaze. "It …what?"

Dragging her gaze from the cemetery to his face, she shook her head. Unable to help herself, she took one more look around and accepting the events, kissed her handsome Ranger again. "Walker? Let’s go home."

Walker grinned. "Sure." Unable to help himself his hands wrapped around her head and he tenderly kissed her several times. "I …missed you."

Hugging each other, they left the graveside arm in arm for the last time.

"Walker? How about I fix you a nice big breakfast back at my place?" She felt the grip on her hand tighten and with pleasure, witnessed his grin.

"Sounds good. I am hungry."

It took a minute or so to reach their cars, both having parked near the entrance. The walk passed in silence with grateful, stolen looks between the two and extra loving squeezes. A short distance from the vehicles Walker’s sense of apprehension returned.

"Wait!"

Turning to face her, Walker’s hand dug deep into his denim pocket. He looked away for a brief second, then back to her face as he produce her engagement ring and held it out in the open between them. Walker’s eyes searched hers.

"Will you… well," awkwardly, Walker changed the weight on his legs. "Take my ring back?" His forehead bowed slightly as he concentrated, "Y’know …marry me again? Well, not again," he stammered.

Alex couldn’t help but laugh. She rescued him. "Yes!" Her arms were flung round his neck and she hugged him tightly. "Yes."

Drawing back she watched as he carefully replaced the ring on her finger and observed her again.

"We’ll get married tomorrow."

Alex had a double-take. "What?" She questioned incredulously.

"Well, the day after, then?" Walker was anxious.

"Walker!"

He was serious and blew through his lips. "Alex," he implored, "I couldn’t take this again!"

From knowing utter depths of despair, now her soaring spirits reached new heights by the minute. She giggled happily.

"It won’t happen again."

"But,"

"No buts, cowboy! We’ll be just fine, now."

"Alex! We set a date today!" Having laid down the law he backed off, his voice becoming gentle, "Okay?"

Alex grinned and nodded. "Okay."

Another kiss later and they resumed their pace, the bronzed, fallen leaves crunching under their feet.

"Ellen used to call you Cord. Didn’t she?"

"Yeah."

The crispness under foot continued for a split second.

"Alex?" Walker’s voice raised an octave. "How in the world did you know that?"

~~~~~~~~~~~