Baby For Sale

By: Lelani

Lelani.Dixon@att.net

9786 Lexington Ave. Tuesday 2:00 p.m.

By the time the Ram parked next to the curb of the rundown apartment complex, the place was surrounded by Dallas Police vehicles. Walker and Trivette exited the cab of the truck and strode through what appeared to be mayhem, but was actually an organized investigation. They reached the front of the apartment building and the officer standing guard nodded to them as they passed to enter.

“Third floor, apartment C,” the young officer informed them when Walker looked questioningly at him. The experienced Ranger nodded his thanks and headed on up the dilapidated stairwell with Trivette close behind. The door of the apartment was open and a team was inside searching the apartment. Another officer was posted at the door.

“Who’s in charge of the scene?” Walker asked.

“Sergeant Jenkins, sir,” the officer said, indicating a pot-bellied man with a comb over. Walker shared a look with his partner; this was not going to be fun. Jenkins had a reputation for being very uncooperative with the Rangers. He resented their authority and covered his inferiority complex with a hostile attitude.

“Well, well, if it isn’t my good buddies, Walker and Trivette. What brings you two Texas Rangers out on this case? You boys don’t have bigger fish to fry?” Jenkins asked with a sneer.

“Kidnapped babies are big enough fish for us,” Trivette answered. He approached Jenkins to get as much out of the uncooperative sergeant as possible, leaving his partner free to interview the young mother.

Sally Cohen sat on the edge of the couch wringing a handkerchief through her hands. Her tear-stained face was set in an emotionless mask. Her eyes, when they turned toward Walker, were blank and expressionless. ‘Jenkins has done a great job of browbeating her,’ Walker decided as he sat at the other end of the couch and turned to face her.

“Mrs. Cohen?” he asked in a quiet voice, with a gentle Texas drawl that he used to soften his usually harsher-toned voice.

The woman looked up into his eyes, and he saw a spark of hope as her eyes lit on the badge pinned to his chest. “You’re a Texas Ranger?” she asked, her drawl far outdoing his.

“Yes, ma’am. I’m Ranger Cordell Walker and the man over there is my partner, Ranger James Trivette.”

“Please, can you help find my baby? Here’s her picture,” she said, holding up a frame that she had obviously made herself. The frame spoke of poverty, but a determination to survive. It was cardboard from an old shoebox, cut into the shape of a frame. Glued around it was lace from the outfit the baby in the picture wore. It had been a second-hand store find that had a large grape juice stain on it, but by carefully covering the stain with a stuffed animal in the photo, she had made it look brand new. She’d taken the photo to Wal-Mart and had it blown up to fit in the 8x10 picture frame. The infant in the photo was about four months old and had a wide toothless grin and just a slight amount of blondish peach fuzz on her head. Her eyes were a clear green. Walker couldn’t help but be reminded of his own daughter. She was no longer toothless, as she now sported four front teeth that had mercifully poked through. He, his wife and their baby, had suffered many sleepless nights in the process. He shook his head to clear it of his musings and refocused on the woman sitting beside him.

“What’s your baby’s name?” he asked kindly.

“Belle, like in Beauty and the Beast. It means ‘beautiful’.”

He smiled at her and realized that she must be somewhere around twenty years old, if that. She wasn’t beautiful, but she was attractive enough. She was too thin and she looked tired and worn beyond her years. She’d had a hard life; it was written all over her. She shared her daughter’s green eyes and she had light-colored brown hair. Her nose was a little too long and her teeth could have been improved upon by an orthodontist, but she was clean and nice and seemed so utterly lost.

“Do you have any idea who could have taken her?”

“No, I really don’t know. The sergeant said that it was probably my ex-husband, but I know it wasn’t.”

“Why are you so certain?”

“Bobby didn’t want children. He was real mad when I got pregnant. He’s… well - he was the star quarterback on the football team in high school. I was so surprised and happy when he looked at me. I was, I guess you could call it ‘star struck’ and I did anything and everything he wanted. We got married right outta high school and I got a job and worked so he could try to get a job as an actor. He’s one of those real good lookin’ guys who thinks the sun rises on account of him. It wasn’t until I got pregnant that I realized how selfish he really is. He told me to have an abortion, that he didn’t want to be tied down by no kid. I just couldn’t do it and that’s when he left me. He was only gone a few weeks, but I was so scared that he wouldn’t come back. Finally, he did and he told me that he would only stay if I got rid of the baby. He said that he heard where they paid money, to young people like us who were healthy, for babies. I agreed to look into it and I met once with a woman who said she’d give us ten thousand dollars for a healthy baby and she would make sure that the baby went to a good home. I said I had to think about it. By the time Belle was born, I knew I couldn’t sell her. She’s my flesh and blood and I love her.”

“Is there any chance that your husband took her and sold her to the woman?”

“No, he left even before she was born. He said that he had to go to Los Angeles if he was really going to make it big. We got one of those cheapie ‘no contest, no lawyers’ divorces. He said he didn’t want nothin’ to do with me or the baby. I haven’t heard from him since.”

“What can you tell me about the woman you met?”

“We went to her office. It’s in downtown Dallas, in one of those fancy high rises. The name on the door was ‘Baby Match Adoption Agency.’ She was some kind of lawyer and her name was Jocelyn Caine.”

“Have you ever heard from her since that first time you met her?”

“She came by the hospital once, the day after Belle was born. She said that if I changed my mind, she could get me twenty thousand dollars, because she was so fair and because she was healthy. I told her ‘no’ and she gave me her card and left. I haven’t heard from her since.”

“Okay, now tell me what happened?”

“I was at the Laundromat, just like I am every Tuesday afternoon. I had Belle sitting in her infant seat and the washer unbalanced. I went over and lifted the lid and moved the laundry around. When I set the lid back down and turned around, she was gone. The infant seat, everything… was gone.”

“Did you see anyone around? Anyone suspicious?” Walker asked after she dried her fresh tears.

“No, there was no one. There was another lady over by the driers; she was there with her two toddlers. She only spoke Spanish, but she said that she didn’t see anyone either. Her little boy was crying, because he wanted a soda and she didn’t have any extra change to buy him one. She didn’t see anything.”

“Okay, Mrs. Cohen, I think that’s all the questions I have for you right now.” He looked around the apartment. It was clean, but run down and he suspected that it was infested with things that crawled in the night. “Do you have family? Somewhere you can stay?”

“This is all I have. My mama has eight kids ‘sides me, all with different daddies. She lives on Welfare and doesn’t need another mouth to feed. She was glad when I got married and left. She said that havin’ a teenage daughter around made her look older.”

“Do you mind if I ask how old you are?”

She gathered herself up and looked him square in the eye. “I’ll be twenty come June and I’m plenty old enough to take care of myself and my daughter.”

“I don’t doubt it, but when something like this happens, you need friends or family around. The nights are going to get very long while we look for your baby and I don’t want you here all by yourself. Sally, is it all right if I call you Sally?” he asked politely.

She nodded her head as she looked down at her hands in her lap. She knew that what he said was true, but since Bobby left, she really didn’t have any friends. She had worked as a checker until Belle was born, but now she lived on Welfare and Food Stamps, as she had no one she trusted to watch Belle while she worked.

“Sally, I know a place called H.O.P.E. House. It’s a community center and it also acts as a temporary shelter for people who just need a little extra help for a while. I could call and see if they have a room for you. Would you be willing to go there? You won’t have to stay if you don’t want to, but… at least for tonight?”

Sally looked up at the man. He looked as if he could be tough as nails, but he still held Belle’s picture in his hands and he cradled the frame with such gentleness and caring. She was tempted to just let the man take care of her, at least for one night. What harm could there be in just letting her guard down for one night? She nodded her head ‘yes.’

“Good. Why don’t you pack a bag with enough clothes for a few days and I’ll run you over there.”

“But what if they don’t have room?”

“I happen to be on very good terms with the lady who runs the center; they’ll have room for you.” He smiled kindly as she stood to go gather a few things together. “Sally?” he said. She turned to look at him. “I’ll need to take this picture to make copies so we can distribute them. I’ll return it to you. Is that okay?” Deciding she’d trusted him this far, she nodded her head in agreement. The only thing more precious to her than that photo was the baby itself, but without Belle, the photo took on even more significance.

Walker stepped back out into the hall and made a call from his cell phone. “Alex?”

“Hi, honey,” came the warm reply.

“Hi yourself. Listen, I need a favor.”

“Anything for you, cowboy.”

“I have a young woman here, a girl really. Her baby was kidnapped and she has nowhere to go. I wondered if you could arrange for a room for her at H.O.P.E. House for a few days.”

“Of course, I’ll call Josie straight away.’

“Have you seen Angela?”

“I was over there to feed her lunch a couple hours ago.”

“How was she?”

“Beautiful. I think we’re in for a long night though. She was chewing on everything. I think she may be getting another tooth.”

“Another one? Poor baby, when is this going to let up?”

“When she has a mouthful, I guess. I now know why animals begin to wean their young once they start to get teeth though.”

“She chewed on you too, huh?”

“I am VERY tender.”

“I’ll take care of you tonight.”

“No way, cowboy. I know your idea of taking care of me and I don’t think I’m up to it.”

“You’re always up to it,” he chuckled into the phone.

The answering warmth in her voice told him that he was right. “You just make sure to talk to your daughter and tell her that mommy is not a chew toy.”

“I’ll set her straight,” he promised.

“I love you. I’ll see if I can get wrapped up early and head over to H.O.P.E. House to help this girl settle in. What’s her name?”

“Her name is Sally Cohen. She’s a nineteen-year-old divorcée. Her daughter’s name is Belle and she’s four months old. She was kidnapped from a Laundromat today.”

“Whereabouts?”

“Lexington and Ninth.”

“Nice neighborhood.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Wasn’t there a baby kidnapped a week or so ago from that area?”

“Yes, that’s why I got a call. The Captain thinks we have a baby-snatching ring working the area.”

“God, Walker, I can’t think of many things worse.”

“I know. I’ll see you a bit later.”

“Okay, don’t forget to give Angela a talking-to when you see her.”

Walker smiled, imagining himself ‘scolding’ his angelic nine-month-old. “I’ll see to it.”

He hung up and went to fill Trivette in on what he’d learned. Trivette had little information that was pertinent; Jenkins had been as unhelpful as usual. They escorted Sally down to the Ram and helped her into the back seat.

H.O.P.E. House Tuesday 4:30 p.m.

Walker carried Sally’s brown paper grocery sack that contained her clothes. Sally followed, carrying a soft brown bear that she had bought for Belle at the Thrift Store. It was Belle’s favorite toy. Trivette brought up the rear and went directly to Alex’s office to use the phone and get Ranger Lisse Chen started on a computer search for the ‘Baby Match Adoption Agency’. Walker wanted as much information gathered as possible, as quickly as possible.

“Josie, this is Sally Cohen. I believe Alex called you and filled you in?”

“Yes, she sure did. Sally, I’m so sorry to hear about your baby, but you have the best Rangers in Texas looking for her.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Sally said shyly.

“Please, call me Josie. H.O.P.E. Center is running a bit full at the moment, but there’s a small bedroom here on the first floor that’s available. Let me show it to you and you can put your things in there.”

Sally looked questioningly at Walker and he smiled reassuringly to her. “Go ahead with Josie and get settled. I’ll be here when you get back.” He looked at Josie. “Is she awake?” he asked.

“She is. She’s in the play area.”

Walker smiled his thanks and went to seek out his daughter.

“Who was he talking about?” Sally asked.

“Ranger Walker’s little girl, Angela, attends our daycare.”

“Oh, how old is she?”

“Angela is nine months old. She’s a living doll. We have twelve babies up to three in our daycare and then another eight preschoolers. We’re also licensed for after-school care and the older children are here now. We take them up to the age of nine. We have ten after-school kids who come daily. We also have youth programs, but they aren’t all at this site. We have a basketball team that meets at the Rec. Center, and softball and baseball teams that meet in the park. Tutoring is also available, but that’s on an ‘as needed’ basis and varies.”

“Wow, you have a lot here.”

“Yeah, that’s not all. We also have different groups that meet in the evenings. We have support groups for victims of domestic abuse, victims of violent crimes, and parents who have lost children to gang violence. We have English classes and we also do job placement and legal aid.”

“Gosh, and you run all of that?” Sally asked impressed.

“Not by myself. I do the day to day stuff, with the help of Ericka, Ranger Trivette’s fiancée, but Alex is the founder of the center and she gets the funding and organizes the different services we provide based on need.”

“Alex, that’s the name I heard Ranger Walker say.”

“Yes, Alex is his wife.”

“Oh, he said he had pull with the founder of the center.”

Josie laughed, “I’ll say. She’d do anything for him. It’s mutual though; she has him wrapped around her little finger. Angela has them both wrapped.”

Sally smiled for the first time since she had turned and seen that her baby was not sitting where she’d left her. “They sound like nice people. I’m glad Ranger Walker is looking for Belle. I didn’t like that Sergeant Jenkins. He made me feel as if I’d done something wrong and that it was my fault that Belle…” Sally’s voice broke as tears coursed down her cheeks.

Josie put a comforting arm around her and gave her a hug. “It’s okay to cry and if you need someone to talk to, I’m here.”

Sally got herself back under control and looked at the pretty black woman, “thank you,” she said.

When Walker walked into the playroom, Angela was standing, using a push toy to balance. She saw her daddy and squealed with delight. She was so excited that she let go of her toy and wobbled on two chubby legs unsteadily and then plopped down on her diapered bottom. Her face scrunched up to cry, but before she managed a sound, she was scooped up into big strong arms and brought against a broad chest where she was comforted. She barely managed to squeeze a tear out of her eye before she was smiling with glee again.

“Did you fall down, angel face?” the big masculine Ranger asked her. “It’s lucky you have so much padding to cushion your backside,” he continued as he patted her bottom.

“Dadadadadadadadada” she sang as she used her hand to pound on his chin.

“That’s right, I’m your dada,” he confirmed. He had tried to convince Alex that this was her first word, but Alex had laughed and said that she was just experimenting with sounds and she’d accidentally hit on this one. She used it to indicate hunger, happiness, anger, fear, and an assortment of objects she wanted. Walker was convinced, though, that she knew what she was saying and that she was speaking to him.

She continued to babble at him and then stuck her fist in her mouth and began to chew. Becky, the daycare worker, came over and handed her a cool teething toy in place of her fist. “Here you go, Angela. Try chewing on this instead,” she suggested.

Angela went right to work on the new toy and had it covered in slobber in no time. “I guess she is cutting another tooth,” Walker said.

“Yeah, she’s been working on it all day. She’s been a real trooper though. She’s only gotten fussy about it a couple of times. I put the teething gel on her gums and within minutes she was back to playing,” Becky informed the concerned parent.

“I doubt she’ll be so easily appeased at two in the morning, will you bug?” he asked his darling daughter. “Mommy told me that you’ve been chewing on her too.” He walked out to the backyard carrying her and continuing the heart-to- heart. “That’s not allowed. If you chew on mommy, then she gets cranky and she doesn’t want to play with daddy. So you be nice and chew on your toys, not on daddy’s toys. Okay?”

Angela looked him in the eye as if she understood everything he’d just told her. Then she threw her chew toy into the grass and tried chewing on his chin. She managed to give him a good bite before he was able to dodge her sharp little teeth. “Ouch!” he said, startling Angela and making her cry.

Alex walked in and overheard the end of the little tête a tête between father and daughter and began laughing. She held her arms out to take Angela from her husband and he handed her over willingly.

“What’s so funny? She’s vicious!” he claimed.

“Yeah, try having her chomp down on your nipples!”

“No thanks!” he said with a shudder.

Alex comforted her daughter and reached up to kiss her husband’s booboo all better. He took advantage of her closeness and snaked an arm around her waist, pulling her into his embrace and kissing her fully on the lips.

“Look, Tommy, Ranger Walker is kissing your girlfriend,” Gilberto teased the other eight year old climbing on the jungle gym.

“She’s not my girlfriend. You take that back!” Tommy yelled and took off after Gil, who had jumped off the play equipment and took off running.

Walker acted quickly, and released his wife to collar Tommy as he gave chase. “Whoa, hold up there,” he told the little boy.

“I’m gonna kill that Gil, he’s always teasing me,” Tommy stated.

“Well, why does he tease you?” Walker asked, giving Alex a ‘beat it, this is guys’ talk’ look. Alex smiled and headed back inside.

“I don’t know,” Tommy denied as he scuffed his shoe in the grass.

“I have a feeling you do know,” Walker challenged him.

“Just ‘cause one time I said that I thought Miss Alex was pretty, that’s all,” Tommy said heatedly.

“I’ve got to agree with you there, she is pretty. That’s why I married her.”

“It is?”

“Sure, you don’t think I married her because of her cooking do you? Just between us guys, Miss Alex isn’t a very good cook.”

“She’s not?”

“Nope, burns more than she puts on the table.”

“Really? And you still married her? I wouldn’t marry someone ‘less they was a good cook. My mom cooks the bestest macaroni and cheese in the world.”

“She does, does she? Well, you think maybe she could teach Miss Alex? I sure would like some good macaroni and cheese. I mean, just cause a lady is pretty and all, doesn’t mean a guy doesn’t get hungry.”

“Sure, I’ll tell my mom to teach Miss Alex.”

“Thanks Tommy, I appreciate it. And the next time Gil teases you, you just tell him that your best girlfriend is your mom, cause she’s pretty and a good cook.”

“I will,” he stated emphatically, and headed off to find his tormentor.

“Cordell Walker, one day I am going to make you pay for all the stories you make up about me. Next thing I know, Gladys will be handing me a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and telling me to follow the recipe on the back.”

“People who eavesdrop never hear good things about themselves,” he said.

“Men who disparage their wife’s cooking find themselves without any supper,” she rejoined.

“I told him you were pretty,” Walker claimed innocently.

“You best stop on your way home and pick yourself up something to eat tonight,” his wife mock-threatened.

Walker was saved by the appearance of Sally and Josie.

“Hi, Sally, did you get settled in?” Walker asked.

“Yes, I sure did. Josie here has been more than kind.”

“Sally, I’d like for you to meet my wife and daughter. This is Alex; the beautiful one is Angela,” Walker said with a teasing smile to his wife.

“Please ignore my husband, Sally. He’s been playing with the eight year olds and forgets that he’s an adult,” Alex explained as she held out her hand to shake the young girl’s hand.

Sally’s eyes widened at the playful banter between the two. It was clear that they were in love and comfortable with each other. She couldn’t imagine being that comfortable with the man. He was impressive and a little intimidating. The beautiful woman was too, but their easiness with each other and everyone else made them seem like just regular people.

“He’s been very kind, and thank you for allowing me to stay here,” Sally said.

“Oh, you’re more than welcome. I know that you must be going through a terrible nightmare and we want to help in any way we can. Having your child taken is the worst nightmare any parent can have,” Alex said with a shudder, and her husband was right there beside her, his arm going around her to shelter her from the bad thoughts.

“It is. My Belle is such a sweet innocent baby and I know she needs me,” Sally said on a sob.

Alex turned and handed Angela to Walker and went and gathered the young woman in her arms and held her tight in a warm embrace. “Have faith that she’ll be returned to you soon. You and Belle will be in all of our prayers, and Walker will make it his first priority to bring her safely home to you.”

The young girl nodded, but was so tired and frightened and the woman who held her was so kind and caring that her last defense fell away and she sobbed into the woman’s chest, pouring out all of her anguish and heartache. Alex guided her inside and over to a deeply cushioned settée and held her and rocked her. She felt no embarrassment, as she knew that she had this affect on people in distress. It was a gift that allowed her to be strong, but at the same time, comforting, to those at the end of their rope. She’d held many distraught people in her arms and she spoke soothingly to the young woman, reassuring words that allowed her to cry until there were simply no tears left.

The others in the room had left, knowing that the young woman would be embarrassed by her breakdown and Alex was the most qualified to deal with it. Walker handed Angela over to Josie and asked her to tell Alex he had to go back to headquarters, but that he would see her at home. He collected Trivette, who had sought out Ericka and was visiting with his feisty fiancée. They headed back to headquarters to try and gather as much information as they could. They would want to get an early start in the morning on the trail of the kidnappers. Others would work through the night following what leads there were, but Walker believed that it would be a long involved investigation to crack a ring as organized as this one appeared to be.

After Sally finally quieted, she sat up and hid her face in embarrassment. “I’m so sorry, I’ve never cried like that, not even when Bobby left me. I just don’t know what came over me.”

“Please, don’t apologize. You needed to cry and get all of that out. Holding it all in just makes it worse. Believe me, I know. When my daughter was just a few days old, a woman who had lost her own baby, took her. The time until I held my baby in my arms again felt like forever and I pushed everyone away, trying to build a wall around myself to block out the pain. It didn’t help and my husband was feeling the same pain too, and what I did was unfair to him and to me. If you need to cry, cry. If you need to talk, there are people here who understand. I’ll give you my home and office numbers and you call me anytime you need to. Deal?”

Sally couldn’t believe the kindness of strangers. Her own family hadn’t treated her one-tenth as well. “I can’t thank you enough,” she said inadequately.

“No thanks are needed. One day, down the road, you’ll meet someone who needs a helping hand and you’ll be there for them. That’s all any of us can do, accept help when we need it and offer it when we see a need.”

Sally looked at her and smiled. It was a nice way to live. If the whole world operated that way, it would be a much nicer place, she decided. Right then and there, she vowed that someday she would repay the kindness these strangers had shown her, by being kind to someone else who needed it.

Alex introduced Sally to the other’s who were currently residing at H.O.P.E. House, and she gave her her business card with her home phone printed on the back.

“Deputy District Attorney Alex Cahill-Walker,” Sally read out loud. “You’re the Deputy District Attorney?”

“Yes, and with any luck, after Walker catches the people who took Belle, I’ll get to prosecute them and put them in jail for a very long time.”

Sally was even more in awe of the woman. Not only was she beautiful and kind, but she was smart and successful too. Sally decided that she was just exactly what a man like Ranger Walker deserved. These were some of those rare people who seemed to have everything, but who gave back as much as they received. She knew that meeting the Walker’s was a turning point in her life and she was going to use the opportunity to make herself a better person. She didn’t know how yet, but she knew that somehow she would be better for the experience.

Walker Ranch 6:30 p.m.

Walker entered the house and shouted to his wife, “Honey, I’m home.”

“In the kitchen,” she replied.

With a smile, he tossed his hat on the statue by the door and headed to the kitchen. “Mmm… what’s for dinner?” he asked as he came up behind her and encircled her waist, pulling her back against him.

“Macaroni and cheese à la Kraft,” his wife responded.

Walker chuckled and nipped her ear lobe. “Smells like something’s roasting in the oven to me,” he said. With a playful smack to her backside, he opened the oven door to see a whole chicken roasting. “Roasted chicken, yum!”

“That’s my dinner, your dinner is on the stove,” Alex told him.

He frowned at her and lifted the lid to see macaroni noodles boiling in the pot. “You’re not really going to make me eat macaroni and cheese are you?”

“And why shouldn’t I?” she asked.

“Because you love me,” he said wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her to him, facing him this time.

Alex’s hands went up to his shoulders and she tried to push off to get out of his embrace. “So you say,” she said, her efforts futile.

“Come on, admit it, you can’t get enough of me,” he claimed as he zeroed in on her ear and began alternately blowing into it and licking the sensitive lobe.

“You sure have a high opinion of yourself,” she said, deciding to stand stiff as a rod.

“You’re crazy about me, admit it,” he continued wooing her, trailing kisses down to the open V of her blouse.

“No, you’re just crazy,” she denied as his lips played with the top button that prevented any further wandering.

“If I’m so crazy, how come you’re breathing faster?” he asked, his hands going to that sensitive place in the small of her back and tickling her there.

“I’m not, I’m trying to cook dinner. If dinners around here end up burnt, it’s more your doing than mine,” she claimed as he trailed his lips back up her neck.

“I like burnt offerings,” he claimed as he covered her lips with his own, stifling her next protest. His tongue invaded her mouth and teased and tempted hers until, with a moan, she gave up and returned his kiss. Her tongue sought his and her hands slid up around his neck, trapping him tightly against her. Walker’s hands traveled lower, cupping her bottom and pulling her firmly against him. Just as they were to the point where another dinner was destined to burn, Angela decided to demand attention.

“Dadadadadadadadaaaaa” she jabbered, as she pounded the spoon she had been chewing on against the tray of her highchair.

“Ohhhhhh” Walker moaned, as he broke off the kiss and leaned his forehead against his wife’s and tried to catch his breath. “Angel, I’m gonna have to teach you another word,” he said as he gave Alex one last regretful kiss and stepped out of the embrace.

“Good girl, Angela. You keep your daddy on his toes,” Alex praised her unexpected savior.

“Later, baby, later,” Walker promised his wife in an undertone as he went to go collect his daughter from her highchair. “We’ll go tend the horses and be back soon,” he said as he swung Angela up on his shoulders, much to her delight.

“Dinner’s in twenty minutes; you better be quick,” his wife called out after him. She finished making the macaroni and cheese to serve as a side dish and put the finishing touches on the salad. By the time she set the table and carved the chicken, Walker was back with Angela and they ate dinner together.

Alex gave Angela her bath while Walker did the dishes and then Walker lay on the floor in the living room and played with his daughter as he did most nights. It was his special time with Angela and Alex loved to sit on the couch and pretend to read while she watched the two wrestle and play.

After Angela finally showed signs of sleepiness, Walker gave her to Alex to nurse while he ran upstairs to shower. When he returned, Angela was all but asleep. He took her warm form and cradled her against his shoulder as he patted her back and sang a lullaby to her. He headed upstairs, singing and patting and holding her close, as she gave in to the sleep that wanted to claim her. As extra insurance, he squeezed out a little of the teething gel and rubbed it on her gums, hoping she would sleep through the night. Or that she would at least sleep long enough for him to show his wife how much he appreciated her. He bounded back downstairs and leapt over the back of the couch, coming to a perfect landing next to Alex.

“Walker, you’re not allowed to watch the Winter Olympics on television,” she said with barely a flinch as she continued to read.

He chuckled at her playing ‘hard to get.’ He was well aware that it was an act. He knew that all it would take was a touch, a whisper, and she would be warm and wanting him. He decided to turn the tables on her. She’d had her fun with him all night. “What’s that you’re reading that has your interest?”

“Mmm?” she asked, pretending she was absorbed in her article. She was sitting with her back against the armrest and her knees up with the newspaper resting against them. When Walker launched himself over the couch, he had landed at her feet. He took his hand and tugged at her toes to get her to pay attention to him. “Ouch, Walker, I’m reading.”

“I know, I was just wondering what you were reading,” he said innocently.

“An article in the newspaper,” she said with a dramatic sigh.

“What’s it about?” he asked.

“I don’t know, I haven’t had a chance to read it yet,” she said, exasperated.

“Oh, okay,” he said and picked up the book from the coffee table that he’d been reading. He sat there feigning disinterest in her and then said, “good article?”

“Hmmm? I guess,” she said. He looked up to see that her eyes were closing and she was barely able to stay awake.

“Did Angela chew on you too much tonight?” he asked a few minutes later.

“No, not too bad,” she managed around a yawn.

He waited a few more minutes and knew that she was asleep, her head leaning against the back of the couch. He smiled to himself and quietly stood up. This was the perfect time. When she was being ornery, as she was tonight, he just had to wait until she got sleepy and all her defenses were down. Then she was all his. He grinned again as he stooped and scooped her into his arms. She moaned a little and then settled against him with a sigh.

Reaching the second floor and their bedroom, he laid her on top of the bed. He quietly and efficiently undressed her and then lifted her again and slid her under the covers. He quietly removed his own clothing and slid in next to her. She automatically rolled onto her side and curled into his warmth. His hand began its journey of exploration. He knew when she awoke by the change in her breathing.

“Walker, what are you doing?” she asked sleepily.

“Just checking to see if Angela caused too much damage,” he said as he continued to gently arouse her.

Alex gasped and then moaned and sank against him reaching for his lips and he knew that his ploy had worked. She was warm and wanting and all his.

Walker Ranch Wednesday 5:30 a.m.

Alex moaned at the sound of the alarm. Walker turned it off and rolled toward her. “Morning, darling,” he said as he kissed her mouth gently, his tongue probing.

“Don’t ‘morning’ me, you rat,” she said without opening her eyes.

“What’d I do?” he asked innocently.

“You waited until I was too sleepy to resist and then you used your devilish charms on me,” she accused.

“I can’t help it if you can’t resist me,” he said with a smile.

“One of these days, cowboy,” she threatened.

“What, Alex?”

“You’ll find yourself sleeping in the barn,” she said, biting her lip to stifle her grin.

“That’s not what you said last night. In fact, let’s see, how did it go? Oh yes, something like,  ‘more, faster, yes, oh Walker, I love you, I want you’ OUCH!” he finished as she pinched his chest and pull out a few chest hairs.

“What’s the matter, darling?” she taunted.

He rolled over and pinned her arms over her head and looked into her eyes. “You’re gonna pay for that, Mrs. Walker.”

“Really?” she asked in anticipation.

Walker shook his head at her and lowered his head to kiss her into compliance. As always, it worked like a charm.

They were rushing out the door at 7:30 with Alex moaning that she was going to be late to a briefing and he was going to have to drop Angela at the H.O.P.E. Center. He tossed his keys to her and told her to take the Ram as it was faster than transferring the car seat. She snatched his keys, tossed hers to him and ran toward the Ram. She skidded to a halt, raced back to where he stood holding Angela and kissed him on the mouth and her daughter on the cheek.

“I’ll switch back at work. I should be in my office by 9:00, 9:30 at the latest. I love you!” she whirled and raced back over to the Ram. “Thanks for this morning’s wake up call,” she threw over her shoulder. She hopped into the Ram, fired it up and sped out of the driveway.

“Your mommy is silly,” he informed his daughter. “She fusses at me for the way I drive, but she’s even worse than I am. And, she complains when I kiss her and then thanks me for it. Women!” he finished telling his daughter. He used the euphemism ‘kissing’ because he didn’t want to shock his nine month old daughter by telling her that her mother was a seductress and a tease and a completely wanton woman; at least when it came to him, her bedazzled husband. “Let’s get you to Josie and then I have to go find another little girl named Belle.”

Ranger Headquarters Conference Room 10:30 a.m.

Sydney and Gage had dug up previous reports on missing babies and Lisse and Cooper had gone out and interviewed two mothers while Trivette and Walker had interviewed two more. They had split up, so the interviews hadn’t taken very long. Now the six Rangers sat around the conference table sharing their findings.

“Connie Miller said that her daughter was taken from the Albertson’s grocery store on Ninth and Broadway, two blocks from where Belle was taken. She was three months old, with light brown hair and blue eyes. Of course, they could change, but hadn’t so far. Connie said that she had considered giving her baby up for adoption and had asked about it at the Women’s Clinic during one of her prenatal visits. She decided against it though and never spoke to an agency. Her daughter’s name is Cassidy,” Lisse Chen said.

“Stacy Connor has a similar story. Her baby boy was taken at two months old from his stroller in the park at Broadway and Seventh. She was sitting on the bench and fell asleep and he was gone when she woke up. She said that a woman at the hospital approached her about giving the baby up for adoption. She said that she was a social worker working for the hospital and was required to ask the question of all unwed mothers. Stacy said that she declined and it was never mentioned again. Her boy, Harry, after the Harry Potter character, has brown hair with blue eyes that she said were starting to turn gray like the father’s,” Glen Cooper added.

“Well, I interviewed Donna Munson. She and her husband are together and never considered putting their baby up for adoption. He was taken from the library at Lexington and Eighth. They live in an apartment a block from Sally Cohen. She doesn’t recall anyone asking her about adoption, but she does remember a woman at the hospital claiming to be a social worker and asking if they had enough money to raise the child. Her husband works at the gas station two blocks from where they live. He makes minimum wage, but is hoping to get hired on as a mechanic and then he will make more. They’re a young couple who are supplementing their income with food stamps. Their son was only two weeks old when he was taken. He was blond and blue eyed,” Trivette said.

“Well, I re-interviewed Sally Cohen and she sticks to her story. A woman at an adoption agency offered twice to buy her baby, but she declined. The woman did approach her once at the hospital. I think we need to get all of our mother’s in here and let them give us a description of the woman they saw and see if we can get a composite sketch. Chances are, she’s the same woman, but she may be disguising herself,” Walker said.

The other’s continued the discussion, comparing similarities in all the cases. Each lived in a four-block radius in a poor section of town. Each had Caucasian infants, three of whom were born at County Hospital and all were healthy. The parents all used food stamps and three were also on Welfare. They all shopped at the same grocery and frequented many of the same places such as the Laundromat. Chances were, they were being stalked and the babies were taken at opportune moments when the mothers were distracted.

While the others discussed the case, Walker sat at the head of the table with his fingers steepled and pressed against his mouth. He didn’t speak or even look at any of them and they continued the discussion without him, knowing that he was deep in thought, processing and ruminating on all the bits and pieces. Suddenly, he lifted his head, looked at Sydney and said, “Sydney, I want you and Gage to have a baby.”

In shock, Sydney gasped, “What?”

Gage, a little more used to the way Walker’s mind worked, said, “Sydney, when the boss says jump, you say ‘how high.’ So, boss, should we have one baby or two?”

Walker looked at Gage wryly, having come out of his self-imposed trance enough to catch the younger man’s humor. “One should do it. Sydney, you pose as a young, poor, pregnant mother. Gage, you’re her lowlife husband. I want the two of you to move into one of the apartments in the area, shop at the same store, be seen using food stamps, all of that. Maybe we can get you a job at a local convenience store, Gage. Sydney, you need to look ready to pop and hopefully, you can meet some other young women in the area, get to know the people. If someone offers to adopt your baby, look interested, but not eager. After a few days, you two will have a very loud fight, it won’t be your first and your neighbors will know that Gage is not happy about the baby. Afterwards, Gage will storm out and leave you on your own. We’ll see if we get any nibbles after that.”

“But, why not have Lisse go in undercover? She looks younger than I do.”

“Two reasons; they’ve never wanted anything but Caucasian babies, and Lisse has already been down in the area and someone may recognize her as a Ranger. I kept you and Gage in the office on purpose.”

“Walker, I’m not exactly Caucasian either,” Sydney reminded him of her Hispanic heritage.

“Maybe not, but when they get a look at the blond ‘boy wonder’ here, they’ll assume the baby will be fair.”

Sydney nodded at the reasoning behind that. If she and Gage ever did have children, there was a slight chance they would be blond, but they would most likely be lighter than she was. Sydney’s cheeks colored at the direction her mind was headed. “Okay, when do we get started?”

“Well, the sooner the better,” Walker said. “Gage, you go down and get a job in the area and then ask if there’s a cheap place to live nearby. Trivette, get on tracking down this adoption agency and everything related to it. Chen and Cooper, go track down our witnesses and bring them in to work on a composite sketch of the woman who approached them. Have them give separate descriptions and then, after putting the sketches together, let them meet and share details. Also, ask them to talk about people they may know in common or someone who seems to always be around. Get any type of information that will help Sydney and Gage to establish a cover. Sydney, you go shopping at some thrift stores and get a couple of worn looking maternity outfits. Check in the lab and see if they have that ‘pregnancy suit’ you wore when you posed as Alex that time the mob was after her. I’m going to go to the hospital and see if I can’t find someone who works there who may know our ‘social worker’ or who may have seen her. I don’t have to tell you all how important this case is. Babies are being stolen and chances are, they’re being sold to the highest bidder. It has to stop and we have to try and get the babies back to their parents. The sooner the better.”

Everyone in the room nodded in agreement and headed out to get to work.

Cottage Apartments Thursday 2:30 p.m.

“Yo, Rosie, whatcha got in here? A rock collection?” Gage hollered up the stairs to Sydney, as they moved into their new ‘luxury’ apartment.

“Dios! I have two boxes to my name and you complain!” Sydney yelled back down the stairwell.

Gage joined her in their second floor apartment a few minutes later, hefting the heaviest of the two boxes they were moving into their new ‘furnished’ apartment with. Gage set the box down and slammed the door. After looking around, he grimaced, “God, this place is a hellhole.”

“Ugh,” Sydney agreed, as a cockroach scurried across the kitchen counter where she had been unpacking groceries. She got out the can of Raid and sprayed the entire area. “I wonder if I get hazardous duty pay for this,” she said. She just put the entire bag of groceries in the refrigerator and slammed the door.

Gage scooted the box on into the center of the room and gave her a sympathetic look before heading back out to the first floor landing to bring in the second box. Sydney continued spraying the entire apartment, going through three cans of Raid. There was no way they could stay there after she finished fumigating, so they headed back out to check out the neighborhood.

There was a thrift store on one corner, a Laundromat on another, a liquor store, where Gage had gotten a clerking job, and a gas station. They were a block away from the grocery store and they strolled down past it. They had brought in the food and cleaning supplies from a store out of the neighborhood as they didn’t want people to see them paying for them with cash. They would be using their Government Issue Food Stamps to buy their groceries at the local grocery store. Sydney planned a trip there the next day. They continued on to the park, where Sydney asked Gage to help her sit on the bench.

He looked at her and laughed, still not used to seeing her looking over eight months pregnant. He gave her his hand though, as she eased down onto the bench.

“What’s so funny?” she asked with a glare at him.

“You, you look like a beached whale.”

“Wow, real supportive. I pity any woman who gets stuck married to you,” she said.

“Now don’t go getting out of sorts. It’s just that it’s odd seeing you look like this. I’m sure I would feel different if you were really carrying my child.” Gage could have bitten out his tongue as soon as the words left his mouth. To even suggest that she might someday have his baby, he cringed. They hadn’t even slept together yet, for heaven’s sake. Not that they hadn’t gotten close. Too close a couple of times, New Year’s Eve being one of them.

“Well, don’t worry. You’ll never have to find out,” Sydney said as she continued in her bad mood. Living in a cockroach-infested apartment was a bad childhood memory. Her family had struggled to get out of the barrio and she had gone on to get a college education and then entered the police academy, rising quickly through the ranks and pegged to be one of an elite few, a female Texas Ranger. Now she got to play the role of a woman who couldn’t afford tomorrow’s meal. And she got to wear a hot, uncomfortable, pregnancy suit. “I don’t know why they have to make this thing so heavy,” she continued to gripe.

“I guess so you’ll waddle when you walk. You look real cute when you do it, too,” Gage continued digging his own grave.

“You know, it’s not going to be hard having screaming matches with you. The hard part will be calling you Frank!” Sydney referred to their cover as a volatile couple.

“Just don’t throw anything at me,” he pleaded.

She got an evil gleam in her eye and actually smiled for the first time all day. “Now there’s a thought,” she said.

“You ready to continue sightseeing?” he asked, to change the subject.

“Only if you have a crane to get me off of this bench,” she griped.

Gage smiled and helped lift her off the bench and they continued on their stroll.

H.O.P.E. House Thursday 5:20 p.m.

Alex sat in her office behind her desk. She had just arrived from work and had a few things to look over for Josie. Angela was playing well and she left her in the playroom while she quickly wrapped up the Center business.

There was a light knock on the door and Alex responded, “Come in.”

Sally opened the door and peaked her head through. “May I speak with you?”

“Of course, Sally, come on in.”

“I’m sorry to bother you, I know you’re busy,” she said timidly.

“You’re no bother, I was just finishing up here and I was going to come and see you. How are you doing?”

The young girl on the other side of the desk ducked her head as her face crumpled into tears. “I’m just so scared. I went to the Ranger’s office today and I met the other women whose babies were taken. Some of them have been missing for two months. I just don’t know what I’ll do if they don’t find Belle,” she sobbed.

Alex’s heart broke for the young girl. Not only had the worst possible thing in the world happened to her, but she also had no one to share her fear and grief with. Alex got up and came around the desk and put an arm around her, trying to give what comfort she could. “I know you’re afraid, but just the fact that so many babies have been taken gives the Rangers so much more to work from. They have your description and the descriptions of the other women. The more clues they have, the closer they get to catching the people responsible for taking Belle.”

“But, it’s been two days. Who knows where she could be by now. And if I have to wait two months; I just don’t know that I could do that.”

“I don’t think you’ll have to. Walker told you that they have someone undercover in the neighborhood, didn’t he?”

“Yes, he told us that, but not the details.”

“No, they have to keep the details secret to prevent an accidental leak. If someone told the wrong person and the kidnappers got spooked, they might leave the area and set up business elsewhere. We want them to ‘take the bait’, and then we’ll be able to catch them ‘red-handed’ so to speak.”

“I just feel so useless. I just sit here and I’m not doing anything to get Belle back.”

“That’s not true. You’re helping by giving the Rangers all the details you can remember. You just have to have faith that God is watching over Belle and that she’ll come home to you soon. Maybe it would help if we gave you something to do here to help pass the time.”

“Like what?”

“Well, what is it that you want to do with your life? Is there something you’ve always wanted to be?”

“You’ll laugh.”

“No, Sally, I would never laugh at someone’s dream.”

“I always wanted to be an accountant. I’m real good at math. It’s how I met Johnny; I used to tutor him in math so he could stay on the football team.”

“Really? Well, how would you feel about tutoring a couple of kids here at the Center in the afternoon?”

“I—I’d like that. I was a straight A student in math.”

“Well then, maybe you can help me balance these accounts!” Alex said with a smile.

“Oh, I’m real good at figures. Could I really help with stuff like that?”

“Sally, it would be a godsend. I tell you what, I’ll talk to Josie and I’ll have her give you some balance sheets that need to be done tomorrow. You work on them whenever you feel like it and if you don’t feel like it, well, that’s okay, too. I’ll also have her identify a couple of kids who need some extra help with their math homework and maybe you could spend some time helping them.”

“Thank you, oh that would be so nice!”

Alex looked at her and knew that she’d made the right decision. This was a person who needed to feel needed and useful. Sitting at the Center day in and day out with nothing to occupy her mind, except the loss of her child, wasn’t helping her. “Thank you! I’ll appreciate all of your help. Now, I better collect Angela and get her home. Walker promised to cook tonight.”

“He’s cooking dinner for you?” Sally asked in awe, as if she’d never considered a man pitching in with the household chores.

“Yes, he cooks on nights that I have meetings here, but tonight he’s just trying to earn some extra points. He’s been in the doghouse lately.”

“Why?” she asked and then colored, realizing it was a personal question.

“He’s just been taking me for granted a little too much lately. I like to keep him on his toes,” Alex laughed.

Sally returned her warm smile and left to let Alex finish up and get home.

Walker Ranch 6:10 p.m.

“Honey, we’re home,” Alex called out as she carried Angela in on her hip.

“In the kitchen,” Walker hollered back.

“Where all good men should be,” his wife muttered as she entered the dining room.

“I heard that,” Walker told her.

She didn’t know how he managed it. He had the hearing of the ‘lone wolf’ his peers used to call him. She walked on into the kitchen, where Walker was busy stirring a hot pot on the stove. “Whatcha makin’?” his wife asked, as she sat Angela on the counter and began to undo her jacket.

“I’m making my famous Blind Man Stew.”

“That’s not funny,” Alex said sharply. She still remembered when he had lost his sight. It had been a very frightening time. More because of the way he had shut her out than because she couldn’t handle him not being able to see.

“You said that you liked it,” he said.

“I do, but find another name for it,” she told him with a frown.

“Husband’s In The Doghouse Stew?” he suggested.

She just gave him ‘the look.’ It said it all.

Walker laid down the ladle. He turned and showed her the ‘chef’s apron’ he wore that said, ‘Kiss the Cook.’ He looked expectantly at her and she merely raised her eyebrows. Realizing he wasn’t going to get her cooperation, he looked at Angela. “Come here, baby. You’ll give daddy a kiss, won’t you?”

Angela was big on giving kisses. She leaned forward and slobbered all over him. Even Alex had to laugh at the expression on his face — a cross between delight and ‘oh yuck’. Walker grabbed a dishtowel and dried off, and then leaned in and stole a kiss from Alex. She relented enough to return it, but just a little.

They spent the evening trying to appease Angela, who was by now seriously teething. After chilled teething rings, teething gel, baby Tylenol, songs, rocking, nursing, a bath, and endless trips upstairs, the two adult Walkers were thoroughly worn out. Alex sat on the couch, leaning her head back against the cushion with her eyes closed, listening to reports of Bin Laden’s supposed kidney disease on the 11:00 news, when her husband flopped down beside her and leaned his head against hers. He had just come from the latest attempt to settle their demanding daughter.

“I can work a sixteen-hour day chasing bad guys, but that little munchkin wears me out!” Walker claimed, with a yawn and a stretch that ended with his arm around Alex and her cradled against his chest. He reached for the remote and turned off the television after watching a commercial for a new Chuck Norris movie that was airing on Sunday night.

“Don’t get too comfortable, you have to get her the next time, too,” his wife warned him.

“I thought it was your turn next.”

“Uh uh, I nursed her and that makes it your turn for several more times.”

“Chewed on you, huh?”

“No, the cries of pain were just me, trying out for the local theater company!”

“Hmm… I’d rather face ten armed men than two cranky females,” Walker decided.

“If I wasn’t so tired, I’d hit you for that remark,” his wife said as she snuggled down against him. Walker shifted, laying sideways and taking her with him. They ended up spooned on the couch. Alex’s head was cradled on his arm and his head rested against hers.

“Walker?” Alex murmured.

“Hmm?” he asked.

“Remember when we used to spend our evenings making love?”

“Mmm hmm,” he replied.

“Whatever made us decide to become parents?” she questioned.

He laughed softly in her ear and began nibbling it. “We still can,” he offered.

“Huh, I can’t even keep my eyes open,” she said, snuggling deeper into the curve of his body.

“It’s not your eyes that need to be open and if you don’t quit wiggling your beautiful behind against me, you won’t be getting any sleep.”

There were a few moments of silence and then Alex said, “Walker?”

“Yes?” he breathed on a sigh.

“We can’t fall asleep here.”

“I think we already have.”

“But we can’t hear the baby monitor.”

“Honey, Angela doesn’t need the monitor to let us know when she’s unhappy.”

“But…” she began, until Walker shifted her, turning her to face him and kissed her.

“Shh…” he said against her lips and with a soft sigh, she complied.

Both gave into fatigue and drifted off into blissful sleep… for a full five minutes, until their darling daughter informed them that she was VERY unhappy.

“Walker…”

“Hmm?”

“Angela is calling you.”

“I can’t get up, you’re blocking me.” Walker continued to lie on the couch as his wife finally managed to stand up. He picked up a pillow and put it over his head. Alex lifted it and bashed him about the head with it. “Hey, what’s that for?”

“I told you it was still your turn.”

“But you’re up,” he said.

“And so are you,” she stated as she pushed him off the couch.

Getting up, Walker stumbled upstairs to get Angela and try to comfort her. “Alex?” he shouted down to her as she finished locking up for the night.

“What?” she answered, beginning to climb the stairs.

“She’s burning up with fever,” he told her as she joined him in the nursery.

Alex touched the screaming baby’s forehead as Walker comforted her in his strong arms. She agreed with his diagnosis and went to get the thermometer. She placed the tip in Angela’s ear and clicked the button. Reading the temperature read out, she said in an alarmed voice, “Walker, it’s 103.9!”

“We have to get her temperature down,” he said urgently, as he began stripping off her sleeper. Alex quickly left the bedroom to go into the bathroom where they generally bathed her. She ran cool water into the tub, just enough to cover her. Walker followed behind her and laid her into the cool water. Angela was anything but appreciative, as she screamed even harder.

Alex examined her daughter and noticed that her right earlobe looked red and inflamed. “Walker, have you noticed her rubbing or pulling at her ear?”

“I did see her doing that earlier, but I thought her jaw was bothering her.”

“Me too, I noticed it when I nursed her. I think she has an ear infection. With a temp this high though, we need to take her in. I just gave her a second dose of baby Tylenol an hour ago and her fever is still this high. You keep her here and cool her and I’ll go pack us up to go to the ER.”

Walker nodded his agreement and continued to hold Angela and scoop handfuls of water onto the crown of her head in an attempt to bring her temperature down. Alex hurriedly packed a bag, pulled on shoes and grabbed her keys. She went back into the bathroom and Walker handed her Angela into a towel. While Alex dried her and diapered her, he went to pull on his boots, put the bag in the Durango and start Alex’s SUV. Alex left Angela with just a diaper on and grabbed a light blanket from her crib. Wrapping her in it, she went down to join Walker. Alex sat in the back with Angela and the car seat and Walker drove, breaking the speed limit to get to the Metroplex Children’s Hospital, where they had a Pediatric Emergency Room.

Once inside, Walker took Angela back from Alex as she filled out the necessary insurance papers. They sat in chairs for twenty minutes before being called back. Alex had to restrain her husband from causing a scene, because of the wait. Once inside the exam room, the resident, who did the initial examination, confirmed Alex’s diagnosis of an ear infection. He gave Angela an injection in each of her chubby thighs, one of antibiotic to fight the infection and the other to lower her temperature. Angela had now screamed for well over an hour and both of her parents were completely frazzled. Alex was afraid that Walker was going to punch the resident when he poked Angela and caused her to cry even harder.

“Well, Mr. and Mrs. Walker, she has an ear infection, probably due to the teething and extra saliva she’s been producing. She’s blocked her Eustachian tube and that’s created a great environment for bacteria to grow. Her fever should come down quickly with that injection I just gave her, but I want her to stay here until it does. Also, the attending physician will need to check her before she can be released. Why don’t you go ahead and wait here.” The concerned parents nodded in agreement and the resident left.

Walker and Alex took turns holding Angela and walking around the small treatment room with her. Angela slept fitfully in their arms and then woke crying, but did not scream as she had before. After nearly two hours, Walker insisted that Alex sit on the exam table, as there were no chairs. She watched as Walker tried in vain to comfort his miserable daughter. “Walker, why don’t you bring her here and I’ll try and nurse her?” Alex suggested.

Walker brought Angela over and after a few minutes of trying unsuccessfully to nurse her baby, Alex finally got Angela to latch onto her breast and suckle. The motion relieved the built up pressure in her ears and she finally, blissfully, fell into a contented slumber. Walker and Alex shared such a relieved expression that if they weren’t so tired, they would have laughed at themselves. Forty minutes later, the attending doctor finally arrived.

“Mr. and Mrs. Walker, I’m Doctor Steele. I apologize for the wait, but we had a child flown here on CareFlight in critical condition.” They were too tired to argue the point and just nodded. “Well, lets take a look at… Angela is it?” Again, they both nodded mutely. After more poking and prodding, so that Angela was again awake and crying, Doctor Steele agreed that she did in fact have an ear infection and that her fever had lowered enough that she could safely return home. “Stop by the pharmacy and pick up this medication on your way out. It’s important that she gets it every six hours,” he said, handing them a prescription. “You should follow up with her regular pediatrician in two days; sooner if she gets worse or her fever spikes again.” Still not speaking, the bleary-eyed parents nodded, shook the doctor’s hand and went to the cashier to complete still more paperwork.

Their next stop was the pharmacy and Alex sat in the chair with Angela while Walker turned in the prescription and then sat next to his wife to wait. It took another forty minutes for the prescription to be filled and they finally headed back home. Alex again rode in the back with Angela and Walker drove them home. By the time they got home, Angela woke again and cried while Walker walked her, Alex sang to her, and both parents took turns rocking her. It was four a.m. when she finally went down for the night and Alex and Walker stumbled into their bedroom, stripped off their clothes, and climbed tiredly into bed.

Same Night, Cottage Apartment 2d

Sydney ate the frozen dinner that Gage had heated up for her and looked at her partner from beneath her eyelashes.

“What, Syd? Why do you keep looking at me as if I’m the swamp creature?”

Sydney shrugged, “I was just thinking.”

“About what?”

“Well, uhmm… you did notice that there’s only one full-sized bed.”

“Yeah, so?”

“Well, it’s awfully small.”

“Syd, I’m not sleeping on the floor. I’m all into being a gentleman and all that stuff, but the floor is crawling with… well… it’s crawling. And the couch is one big lump covered by a bunch of smaller ones. I know the bed is small, but at least the sheets are clean. It’s only for a couple of nights and then we’ll have our big fight and you can have all of the covers to yourself.”

“Gage, remember New Year’s Eve? I don’t want things to go… you know, too far.”

“Would that be so awful? We’ve admitted that we’re a couple. At some point, we are going to have to take this relationship to the next level.”

“I know, and I agree that at some point we probably will, but…”

“But what?”

“Well… I imagined us, you know… I want to be wearing something pretty and I want us to be somewhere romantic or… at least clean!”

“Syd, we have spent hours cleaning this place.”

“That’s not what I meant and you know it. I don’t want to look back at our first time together and remember some cockroach-infested apartment. I want it to be special, not… just because it was convenient. I’m here, you’re here, there’s nothing on TV, so why not? I want… romance and… passion and…”

“A bigger bed?” Sydney gave him a glare and he relented. “I know, I agree. I’m not going to promise to stay on my side of the bed, because there’s barely more than ‘my side of the bed’, but I promise to behave. Okay?”

After tossing the plastic trays and plastic silverware into the trash, Gage decided to take it downstairs to the dumpster. Neither of them wanted to encourage the cockroaches. Sydney refused to cook in the apartment and would only agree to eat frozen dinners. It really wasn’t quite as bad as she imagined, but she was very much into neatness and cleanliness, and she just couldn’t bear the thought of little hairy legs running across countertops and dishes. She went into the bathroom and took off her pregnancy suit and took a shower. She knew that she should really wear it while she slept so that if there were some emergency in the night, she would have it on and not jeopardize her cover, but she just couldn’t bring herself to do it. She knew that she’d have enough trouble getting to sleep. After showering, Sydney switched on the old television set that came with the apartment. It hadn’t come with cable, but it got a fairly decent picture of the basic channels.

As planned, Gage stayed out cruising the neighborhood. He was to start his job the next day at the liquor store, but he walked down to the local bar and drank some beer and shot pool with different men he met there. He complained, long and loud, about his ‘ball and chain’ at home who’d gone and gotten ‘knocked up.’ He told everyone who would listen that he wasn’t happy about a kid coming into the picture and messing things up. He bragged about how pretty his wife was and how good she was in the sack and now she was all fat and pregnant. He didn’t know if anyone there would care, but he thought it was worth a try. Someone was scouting out the neighborhood, looking for unwanted babies, and he wanted it known that one was on the way.

When he returned to the apartment, well after midnight, Sydney was struggling to stay awake to Jay Leno. They staged a mock screaming match, her telling him that he should have been home hours ago and that he was drunk. He in turn yelled loudly that there was nothing to come home to now that she wasn’t willing to ‘put out.’ After a lot of hollering and slamming of things, several neighbors pounded on the walls and ceiling. The two decided they had given a good enough performance and went to bed. That was when the real fun started.

Sydney tried to sleep facing away from Gage, but the bed had a dip in the middle and no matter how hard she clung to the side of the bed, she kept rolling back into it. Gage was curled facing her in the middle of the dip and he finally reached his arm out and wrapped it around her waist and pulled her back against him, spoon fashion.

“Hey, you promised to behave,” she said indignantly and stayed ramrod stiff.

“I am behaving, but I need to get some sleep. Relax and go to sleep. I’m not going to pounce on you,” he said irritably.

Sydney tried to relax and finally found herself curled snuggly against him. That’s when she realized that her nearness was having a definite effect on him. “Gage?”

“Go to sleep, Sydney,” he mumbled, trying vainly to maintain control.

“But…”

“Sydney, either go to sleep or suffer the consequences.”

There was no way Sydney could sleep, but she pretended that she did. They both spent a very uncomfortable night. The ache was there and having decided not to assuage it was making them both VERY uncomfortable.

Trivette’s apartment, same night

Trivette snuggled close to his fiancée. She mumbled in her sleep and he persisted in trying to wake her. He nibbled on her ear and his hand went around her waist and began wandering. His caresses on her bare skin became bolder until she finally responded.

“Jimmy? Aren’t you sleepy?”

“Yes,” he answered between kisses.

“Then why did you wake me up?”

“Because I’m more aroused than tired,” he explained and pulled her tighter to emphasize his point.

“I’m supposed to be at H.O.P.E. House early tomorrow,” she semi-complained as she turned to face him and return his caresses.

“I have an early briefing tomorrow,” he said, capturing her lips in a deep passionate kiss.

“Oh, what the hell, we’ll just both be tired,” she decided as his kisses worked their magic.

“I like the way you think!” he told her and began to woo her in earnest.

Walker Ranch Friday 5:30 a.m.

Walker hit the snooze button on the alarm three times before finally turning over and waking his slumbering wife. “Alex, we need to get up, it’s 6:00 a.m.”

“No, just five more minutes,” she mumbled and turned into the pillow. The sound of Angela beginning to fuss came over the monitor. With a moan, Alex threw back the covers and stumbled into the nursery.

“Hi, baby, how are you feeling this morning?” she greeted her daughter. Alex felt her forehead and then took her temperature. It was still 100.1 degrees, but although it was raised, it wasn’t high enough to cause concern. Alex changed her and then brought her back into the bedroom to nurse her.

Walker emerged from the bathroom, partially dressed and asked, “How is she this morning?”

“She seems to be more comfortable, but she still has a fever so we can’t take her into the daycare this morning.”

“Well, you two can use the sleep anyway,” Walker said, assuming his wife would be staying home with Angela.

“Walker, I have court today, I can’t just not go in.”

“Alex, I have that briefing this morning on the baby-snatching case. Syd and Gage are even planning to be there. I have to go in.”

“Well, I have to be in court at 1:00 and if I’m not there, I’ll be held in contempt.”

“Can’t someone cover for you?” he asked.

“No, this is the case I’ve been piecing together for two months now. I finally managed to get enough evidence together to have Dirk Peterson arraigned. I can’t just turn it over; I’m the only one who stands a chance of getting the charges to stick. I’m convinced that Peterson uses nonstick cooking spray as deodorant.”

Walker looked at Alex. They both had demanding jobs and they also both had a daughter. ‘There’s that word again,’ he thought to himself, ‘compromise.’ It was one of the most important words in a marriage. “Okay, so I HAVE to be at work this morning and you HAVE to be at work this afternoon. Why don’t you stay here with Angela and get some rest. I’ll go on into work and be back here by… 11:30? Then you can head on into work while I stay home with Angela.”

Alex looked at her husband. She would have liked more time to prepare for her case, but she knew that he was making an effort and she needed to meet him halfway. After all, that’s what their marriage was about. “Okay, that sounds good. Getting some sleep is probably more important than rereading my files anyway. I’ll call my secretary and have her reschedule my morning for after court or postpone until next week. Luckily, tomorrow is Saturday. So, even if you get called in, I’m off and can stay with Angela. With any luck, she’ll be better by Monday.”

Walker had seen the struggle on his wife’s face as she made herself let go of her responsibility to her job and put her responsibility to her family first. He was rather proud of her at that moment. He knew how important her work was and it drove home the fact that their lives were irrevocably changed. They were husband and wife, they were parents and THEN they were a Deputy District Attorney and a Texas Ranger. He smiled at her and walked over to her. “I love you and I’ll hurry back, I promise.”

“You better, cowboy,” his wife threatened, but returned his kiss willingly enough.

Walker kissed Angela and headed downstairs to grab a bite to eat, feed the horses and head on in to get an early start to the day. Meanwhile, Alex nursed Angela, gave her the prescribed medication and then took her into the bed with her for a morning nap.

Cottage Apartments 6:30 a.m.

The unfamiliar sounds of the travel alarm woke Gage and Sydney from their sleep. Sometime in the night, she had turned to face him and her head was buried under the covers and into his chest. His arm lay across her shoulders and he woke up realizing that her hair was tickling his nose.

“Sydney?”

“Wha…?” she began and then was instantly awake. “Oh… my head,” she moaned, as the lack of sleep and unfamiliar position made her wake up feeling hung over and groggy.

“Why don’t you shower first and then I will,” Gage suggested, while trying to remain perfectly still. Any and all motions on the small bed translated themselves to his sleeping partner and he wanted to preserve some decorum.

“M’kay,” Sydney agreed and struggled to get out of the dip in the bed and to crawl up and out of it. She went into the small bathroom and Gage heard an “ugh” as she found a cockroach in the shower stall. She picked up a shoe and killed it and after cleaning up the mess, turned on the water. She stepped under the spray and lathered. By the time she was ready to rinse the shampoo from her hair, the water was cold. She rinsed quickly and shut if off, stepping out to towel off and pull on her robe. She reemerged into the bedroom and told Gage, “Your turn.”

Gage entered the shower and turned it on, stepping in without checking the temperature. Sydney heard the profanity that escaped his mouth in response to the shock of a cold shower. Sydney couldn’t suppress a slight giggle as she hurriedly dressed. She was putting on her usual light makeup when he emerged wearing his jeans, but with his chest bare. “That was downright cruel,” he told her.

“Mine was cold by the end too, and I’m the one who had to kill the creepy crawly first,” she told him unsympathetically. Gage went over to the chair she was seated in at the kitchen table that she was using as a vanity, her cosmetic bag and mirror in front of her. He reached down and scooped her up and carried her over to the bed, plopping her down and landing on top of her. Before she could utter a protest, he covered her mouth with his and began kissing her deeply.

Minutes later, her hands, having thoroughly explored his bare back, Sydney looked up into his eyes as he used his arms to raise himself off of her. “What was that for?” she asked wide-eyed.

“Just wanted you to know that a cold shower is not going to cut it. I’m turned on by you,” he emphasized the point by grinding his pelvis against her, “and nothing is going to satisfy me until I make love to you.”

Sydney moaned in response, she was melting beneath him and burning up at the same time, “I know… me too,” she admitted as her hands moved to explore his chest. “Soon,” she promised as her lips followed her hands.

Suddenly, Gage levered himself up and off of her. “Come on, we better get moving. We have a bus to catch and we don’t want to be late to headquarters.”

Sydney took a deep breath and tried to get her trembling body back under control. She got out of the bed and went back to the table. Looking into the mirror, she decided that she didn’t need to add any color to her cheeks; they had more than enough. After putting on her makeup, she went into the bathroom to add her pregnancy suit under her maternity dress. She and Gage went down to the bus stop and took the bus heading downtown. They were careful to make sure no one followed them as they ducked into an apartment complex, where they went through to the garage area and drove to work in a car that had been left there for them.

Trivette’s Apartment 7:00 a.m.

Ericka rolled over and slapped the alarm. “Jimmy, wake up,” she told her fiancée.

“I’m awake,” he said as he reached out to draw her back against him.

“Don’t even start,” she told him futilely.

Trivette began kissing her and, as always, she responded. The alarm sounded again. “You didn’t turn it off?” Jimmy groaned.

“No, I hit the snooze button. You have an early briefing and I have to get to H.O.P.E. House. You’re the one who kept me up ‘til all hours of the morning, so don’t complain that you have to get up now,” she told him saucily.

“Thank God it’s Friday. Tomorrow, we sleep in and spend the day making love,” he told her.

“Unless you get called in,” she reminded him of his demanding job that wasn’t Monday through Friday, nine to five.

“Never happen, I deserve a weekend with the lady I love,” he predicted. He began kissing her again until the alarm reminded them that time was wasting. “Let’s save time and shower together,” he suggested.

“That never saves time,” she reminded him.

“Mmm… let’s do it anyway,” he said.

She just couldn’t help herself, he was like a drug and she was addicted. “Okay, but this time, make sure you don’t get shampoo in my eye.”

“I’ll be…very… careful,” he vowed with kisses placed strategically to help her finish waking up.

Ranger Headquarters Briefing Room 8:35 a.m.

Captain Price sat at the head of the table, surveying his best team of Rangers. The door opened and Trivette entered and sat in the chair next to Walker. “Nice of you to join us, Trivette,” Captain Price drawled sardonically.

“Sorry, Captain,” Trivette responded without even trying to explain his tardiness. He wasn’t going to lie and the truth was not something he planned to share. He was more afraid of Ericka than of Captain Price.

Captain Price looked at Walker’s blood shot eyes, Sydney’s slumped shoulders, Gage’s tilted back chair and Trivette’s unenthused expression. “I have never seen a sorrier bunch of Rangers in my life. What the hell happened to all of you? Do you people sleep?” he bellowed.

“Ever spend the night in the emergency room with a nine-month-old who has an ear infection?” Walker asked.

“Ever sleep in a cockroach-infested apartment with paper-thin walls and noisy neighbors?” Gage chimed in.

The others looked at Trivette, waiting to hear his tale of woe. He just looked at them and grinned. He was tired, but he was in a much better mood than anyone else seated at the table. He was in love and about to marry a beautiful, sexy, lady. ‘Ever wake up with a naked woman in your bed and know that you’ll die if you don’t make love to her?’ he thought to himself. ‘Cause I did!’ His Cheshire grin intrigued his fellow Rangers, but they decided not to ask.

“Yes, well, this investigation is top priority and I want to know where you are with this case. Captain Trask at Dallas P.D. has been giving me a headache wanting to know why you’ve taken this case from his sergeant. I’d like to tell him, ‘Because you solved it!’ ”

Walker stirred from his fatigue enough to respond laconically, “You couldn’t give a rat’s ass what Captain Trask says and Sergeant Jenkins didn’t know there was a case until Trivette and I pulled his head out of his…”

“Walker, you kiss your daughter with that mouth?” Captain Price asked.

“Look, Captain, I’ve had a little over an hour’s sleep. I know there are babies missing, but we’re on it. I’ve got Chen and Cooper gathering information from all the local hospitals on possible suspects. Gage and Cooke here have established a cover to draw out the kidnappers and Trivette and I are following up on the eyewitness statements and the leads we have so far. We move too fast and we’re gonna spook these people and they’re gonna move and set up shop somewhere else and then some burn-out case like Jenkins is going to miss the pattern until several babies are missing and they move on again.”

“You have the address of the adoption agency that approached the mothers of at least two of the missing babies. What are you doing about that?”

“We can’t go in there and start asking questions. That’ll just tip ‘em off,” Trivette said.

“I did have one thought…” Walker began.

“Well?”

“What if we had a couple, who were looking for a baby, go into the agency and say that they were looking for a newborn. One of the parents should be blond and the other brunette, similar to Syd and Gage. It might get them looking for a suitable baby, and since we planted the perfect opportunity right there for them…”

“Who are we going to get to play the couple? There are no other female rangers here, except Chen, and unless we have the Dallas P.D. use two of their people…” Captain Price said.

All eyes turned to Walker. He raised his eyebrows. “The last time I dyed my hair brown for an undercover assignment, it took weeks to get it out.”

“They have some new temporary stuff you can use,” Sydney suggested helpfully.

“And you and Alex are the right age. You could pass as a couple who have had their careers and then tried for a family, only to find that having one wasn’t a possibility,” Trivette added.

“And you two look like successful people who can afford to pay for what you want. At least when you clean up and wear a suit,” Sydney chimed in.

“Alex is about the only civilian I would approve for a case like this. She’s got the savvy to pull it off and she certainly could play the part. Not to mention the fact that she knows just what legal stuff is needed to make a case against them stick,” Price said.

“I’ll run it by her this weekend and we’ll give you our answer on Monday,” Walker said. Then he thought of his wife and her concern for Sally Cohen and her daughter Belle. He knew what her answer would be.

“All right, we’ll reconvene on Monday. Gage, you’ll be done with your role by then, won’t you?”

“Yes, Captain. I’ll be back here and Cooper will take over acting as back up for Sydney. He starts a job at the grocery store near her apartment on Monday.”

“Good, you can fill us in on that situation. All right people, I’ll expect an update on Monday. And Walker, go home and get some sleep, you look like hell.”

“Thanks,” Walker answered wryly. “Well, Trivette, I leave it up to you to catch the bad guys. Gage, Syd, I want more info on the set-up before you head back.” The two told him all the details they thought might be helpful and then the group broke up to go about their respective jobs, which in Walker’s case, was playing ‘dad’ to a sick baby girl who had a lock on his heart.

Metroplex Hilton 11:00 a.m.

Jocelyn Caine sat on the couch in the luxury suite awaiting her clients. The baby lay in a carrier, dressed in pink with ruffles everywhere. Jocelyn couldn’t stand babies; there wasn’t a maternal bone in her body. She was, however, willing to put up with them for a short period of time when it came to big pay-offs. The nurse she hired to care for the infants, until she was able to get all of the documentation ready, had just left. There were never any witnesses to the actual handovers of the infants. She might be heartless, but she was also very shrewd and was supremely good at watching out for herself.

There was a knock at the door and Jocelyn got up and walked over to answer it. ‘Good,’ she thought, ‘they got here before the little brat woke up.’ She hated having to try and get the babies into better moods to meet their new parents. She was also dying for a cigarette, but didn’t dare smoke in the room. She had an image to maintain and smoking seemed to turn off new parents. She’d never understood it, but if it meant more money, she was willing to curb her cravings… temporarily.

“Mr. and Mrs. Morrison, come in, come in,” Jocelyn said, in a voice that oozed warmth and sincerity.

“Ms. Caine, I can’t wait to see her, please, where is she?” the petite Connie Morrison said as she entered the suite.

“Your baby girl is right over here. She’s asleep, but I’m sure she won’t mind her new mommy waking her up,” Jocelyn enthused.

Mark Morrison was a little less enthusiastic about this procedure. He wanted his wife to be happy and content to stay at home, so he’d agreed to the adoption. It left him freer to come and go as he pleased; and if she had a baby to occupy her, she wouldn’t have as much time to nag at him. “You’re sure the baby is healthy?” he asked.

“Yes, she’s very healthy. She’s had a thorough physical examination. I have all the papers right here,” Jocelyn said. She respected the attitude. Business people wanted to make sure that they were getting what they paid for.

“I just wish I could have met the birth mother,” Connie said.

“That’s just not a wise move. The birth mother wanted to keep her baby, but the father left her to pursue an acting career. He’s a very handsome young man and he didn’t want to be tied down this early in his life. When the birth mother finally came to the conclusion that she couldn’t make it as a single parent and she was doing her daughter a disservice trying to raise her alone, she made the choice to give her to people who could give her a better home. If she met you, the temptation would always be there to contact you at some later date. No, this way is much better, I assure you.” Jocelyn inserted the possible threat that the birth mother may try to regain custody of her daughter intentionally. She didn’t need this ditzy woman trying to find the birth mother and establish a relationship with her.

“Is there anything we should know?” Mark interjected as his wife held and cooed over the baby.

“She was breast fed until a few days ago and is still adjusting to formula. If she has any digestive problems, you should let the pediatrician know that. Otherwise, as I said, she’s a very healthy baby. She has green eyes, like you, Mrs. Morrison, and her hair is blond, like both of her fathers,” Jocelyn ended, making sure to point out the physical traits that she shared in common with her new parents.

The baby woke up and opened her eyes. Connie smiled a huge happy smile when she saw her eyes, “Oh, Mark, look!” she said as the baby gazed into the eyes of the stranger holding her.

Mark deigned to walk over and look down at his new ‘daughter’. “You’re right, her eyes are as pretty as yours, darling.” He looked over to Jocelyn. “It looks as if you’ve lived up to the name of your agency, ‘Baby Match’.”

“Well, we aim to please,” Jocelyn said modestly.

“I guess there’s just the matter of your fee,” he said.

“Yes, I believe everything else is in order,” Jocelyn said, trying to keep the avarice from showing in her eyes.

Mark Morrison took out the bank draft and handed it to Jocelyn. “One hundred thousand dollars, as agreed,” he said as he handed it to her.

“Thank you, and here are all the papers that you will need, including the adoption papers. I need both of you to sign a few things and then you can fly back to Colorado and begin your lives as a family.”

Several minutes later, after all the papers were signed, the Morrisons left the suite with their new four-month-old daughter in their arms and headed down to the waiting limo. Their flight back to Denver was scheduled to depart in two hours.

Jocelyn closed the door behind the couple and went over to the desk where she had placed the bank draft. She picked it up and did a couple of twirls around the room. “This calls for a drink,” she said as she walked over to the bar and poured herself a whiskey, neat. She lit up a cigarette and then smiled to herself. It was about time to pack up and move on. They’d done well in Dallas, but they didn’t want to get careless. There was just that one last situation that Robby had told her of. Sounded like a situation that was just too good. The woman was ready to deliver any time and the man was clearly unhappy about it. Robby had heard the guy complaining in the bar the night before. She had sent him to check out the mother and depending on what he found, they might stay for just one more ‘match.’ She had several couples on her books, and if the baby was a good fit, each would jump at the chance to become parents. Heck, they might even be able to do a ‘legal’ adoption this time. She took a drag of her cigarette and swallowed another gulp of the smooth tasting whiskey. Looking at the bank draft again, her eyes glowed with greed.

H.O.P.E. House 11:30 a.m.

Sally Cohen sat in her room using the breast pump to collect the milk her body continued to produce for her baby. The sound it made intensified her feelings of loss. She was used to holding her daughter and listening to the suckling sounds she made as she nursed. Suddenly, the pain, the overwhelming loss, consumed her and she broke down into heart-wrenching sobs. “Belle, Belle,” she whispered in agony.

To be continued…


Baby For Sale

Part II

By: Lelani

Walker Ranch 11:15 a.m.

Walker arrived home and came in quietly, so as not to wake Angela if she was by chance sleeping. He checked out the downstairs and didn’t find Alex, so headed upstairs to look for her. He peeked in the nursery and saw that Angela was indeed asleep. He continued on until he found Alex in her office, reading over information her secretary had faxed to her about the arraignment she had scheduled at 1:00 p.m.

“Hi honey, how did the morning go? Is she feeling any better?” Walker asked from the doorway.

Alex jumped, startled by his voice; she hadn’t known he was even home. “Walker! One of these days…”

“Sorry, I didn’t do it on purpose. How about if I go down and fix us lunch and then maybe we can eat together before you go in?”

She looked up at him and saw how tired he looked. “Are you sure you’re up to it? I got to sleep a couple hours after you left, but you have hardly had any sleep.”

“I’m okay and I’d like to have lunch with you,” he replied.

She smiled at him. “Okay, I’ll be down in about ten minutes, I’m almost ready. Angela’s fever was down the last time I checked, but she’s still pretty fussy. She cried for over an hour after she woke up from her morning nap and the antibiotics have a side effect.”

“What side effect?”

“Well, she has diarrhea now and I called her regular pediatrician and he said that it wasn’t unusual. He’s called in another prescription for her and I’ll pick it up on my way home. In the meantime, he says to not give her anything but breast milk and rice cereal with bananas. I’m just not producing that much milk right now, but I’ll nurse her once more before I go.”

“Okay, poor baby. Do we have the other things?”

“Yeah, I put a couple bananas in the food processor and made some rice cereal and mixed the bananas in it. It’s in individual serving size airtight containers in the refrigerator. I pumped and used breast milk in the cereal as well. You just need to heat it up and give it to her when she wants it.”

“Okay. Soup and sandwiches okay for lunch?”

“That’s fine,” she answered.

Walker headed out to fix the meal while Alex wrapped up her research. She joined him downstairs fifteen minutes later with Angela in tow. She had been stirring with another dirty diaper; so Alex went ahead and changed her and brought her down to nurse her while she ate lunch. She hoped that she would let Walker get some sleep, but it didn’t look good.

The two of them enjoyed a meal, Alex eating one-handed while she nursed Angela. After Angela finished nursing, Alex gave her another dose of medicine and then passed her to her daddy while she cleaned up the dishes.

“I hate to leave you, I know that you really need to sleep,” she said, feeling guilty.

“It’s fine. I’ve stayed up longer while on a case. Angela’s a better reason,” he answered.

She couldn’t help but agree with that. “Well, I left one bottle on the top shelf and the rice cereal and banana mixture is on the second shelf. Hopefully, she’ll take another nap and then eat the cereal when she wakes up. I don’t have any more milk saved up, so when that one bottle is gone, that’s it. I’ll try to get back home as soon as I can.”

“Alex, stop worrying. We’ll be fine. You go do your job and come home when you can.”

She looked at her husband and smiled her thanks. After running upstairs to grab her last minute things, she kissed Angela on the forehead and then did the same for her husband. With one last regretful glance, she headed out to work.

Wash and Dry Laundromat 2:30 p.m.

Sydney had gone down to the market near the apartment and purchased food items using her food stamps. She then went back to the apartment and put the few items away and gathered some clothes together in a pillowcase. She tossed in the towels she and Gage had used to make enough for one load. She had then gone to the liquor store, where Gage worked, on the pretext of getting quarters for the laundry. She wanted the people in the neighborhood to see her with Gage as much as possible, to establish their cover. Gage was rude to her while she was in the store for the benefit of the two customers who were also there. She had then come down to the Laundromat to look busy.

Sitting on a hard bench reading a year-old magazine and waiting for the spin cycle, Sydney kept an eye on those around her. There was a young mother with two children at her feet doing a mountain of laundry. There were two women, who were obviously friends, doing their laundry together. They spoke Spanish and Sydney listened in, but nothing they said related to the case. As she got up to put her clothes in the dryer, a young man walked in and went to the vending machine to buy a soda. She watched him in the reflection of the glass dryer door, as he seemed rather interested in her. He didn’t linger, but got his soda and left. She memorized his description though and planned to keep an eye out for him. Something about him had put her senses on alert. She’d done this job long enough to trust her instincts.

After she finished the laundry, she returned to the apartment and sat down to draw a rough likeness of the man. She wasn’t an expert artist, but she had enough talent to make a decent sketch of him. She wanted to show it to Gage so that he would know to keep an eye out for him as well. If he was someone who was stalking pregnant women or mothers of young babies in the neighborhood, then they may have gotten lucky. She would have Gage take the drawing into headquarters as well, so that the other women involved in the case could be shown the sketch to see if they recognized him.

Walker Ranch 4:30 p.m.

Alex walked in with Angela’s new prescription and looked around. All was quiet, so after seeing the disaster her husband had left in the kitchen as well as the mess in the living room, she headed upstairs. She peeked into the nursery and it was apparent that Walker had had a long afternoon. Toys were strewn everywhere, diapers and wipes and all the other necessities, were in a jumble on the changing table and the lid was off of the teething gel. She continued on in her search of her husband, debating on whether or not to allow him to live. How the man could make a mess of three separate rooms in five hours was beyond her. She entered their room and all her frustration with the man flew out the window. Lying on the master bed was her husband. He was sound asleep, lying flat on his back in the middle of the bed. There was a pillow on either side of him and lying on her stomach, on her daddy’s chest, was little Angela. Apparently, they had worn each other out.

Angela’s head was tucked under Walker’s chin and her fist was curled around his ear. Her other hand was in her mouth as she sucked her thumb, a habit she had started in the womb. Alex remembered the sonogram near the end of her pregnancy that showed Angela sucking her thumb. One of Walker’s arms lay on the pillow he’d placed beside him in case she rolled off his chest, while the other rested on her diapered bottom. The sight brought tears to Alex’s eyes. She stole into her office and got out her camera and began clicking pictures of the precious scene. After she had taken several pictures from different angles, she went out to clean up the messes he’d left behind.

After restoring order to her home, Alex headed back upstairs and looked at the tempting sight. She stripped off her clothes, let her hair down from the professional looking twist she’d worn for court and lay down next to Walker. She lay on her side, facing him, and covered them all with a blanket. Her hand went to cover his as it rested on Angela and within moments, she joined them in slumber. The exhausted family slept for two full hours before Angela decided it was time to eat again.

The rest of the evening was spent trying to appease their cranky offspring, but the urgency of the night before was gone, and slowly their lives showed signs of returning to normal. Until Walker got brave enough to tell Alex about the undercover assignment he wanted her to go on with him. Looking at the dark circles that showed under his wife’s eyes, he decided that the discussion could wait till the next day. Some would call his decision cowardly; he decided that it was merely prudent.

Cottage Apartments 8:00 p.m.

Gage came in after he finished his shift at the liquor store and found that Sydney had dinner waiting. She was a good cook, but she wasn’t about to cook in this kitchen. She planned to live on frozen dinners until this case was over. After eating and watching wrestling on television, Gage went down to the bar again. This time, they had planned for Sydney to come in and make a scene about him staying out so late at the bar. She waited until 11:30 and headed down to play the nagging wife.

Sydney entered the noisy smoke-filled bar. It really was a hole in the wall and its name was very apt. The neon light at the entrance said ‘Watering Hole.’ There was a bar, a few tables and two pool tables. Not exactly a plush bar. She waved the smoke away from her face and looked around. Gage was at one of the pool tables and he was being loud and obnoxious. She headed over to him and began talking.

“I knew I’d find you here. And drunk! I’m having pains and I could use some help.”

“Darlin’, ever since you got pregnant, you’re one big pain,” he drawled bringing laughter from his fellow pool players.

“Hey, Frank, even pregnant, your old lady is a looker,” one drunken lout shouted.

“Frank, I mean it. I have pains and you need to come home. Not that you can take me to the hospital, if I need to go tonight, when you are so drunk!”

Gage looked at her and gave a dramatic sigh. “I better go, guys, don’t want this brat born on the pool table,” he said.

Sydney grabbed her abdomen and grimaced. She used the opportunity to look around from under her lashes to see if anyone was particularly interested. She saw the man from the Laundromat sitting in the corner watching her. Gage walked over and she grabbed onto him, causing him to bend towards her. “Check out the guy in the back booth,” she whispered to him.

“Come on, it’s probably just gas from eating all that Mexican food you keep cookin’,” he said rudely, as he pretended to help her out and back to their apartment.

Once there, Sydney asked him if he’d seen the man at the corner table.

“I did. I recognized him from your sketch and I saw him there last night too, as well as in the liquor store today. He bought a pack of cigarettes, but I haven’t seen him smoke. He seemed real interested in what I had to say, so I kept talking about you and how you were supposed to ‘squirt’ the kid out any day now. I also said that you were expecting a boy, like Walker suggested.”

“Well, tonight’s performance should convince them that I’m close to giving birth. Now if we can get Alex and Walker in there to act as interested ‘parents’ we just might get a bite on this fishing line.”

“Maybe. Boy, I’m bushed. What do you say we call it a night?”

“Sounds good to me, but you shower tonight so that you don’t have to take a cold one in the morning. I showered a little earlier myself, but you reek of smoke and beer.”

He smiled at her. “Okay, go on to bed and I’ll join you in a bit.”

She frowned at him, but didn’t respond.

When Gage returned from taking his shower, Syd was already in the bed, lying on her side facing away from his side. He decided that he really did need to get some sleep, so they were going to have to work this out. “Syd, why don’t we start off in the position we ended up in last night? We both know that we want to wait for a better setting before we get… intimate, so let’s just agree to get some sleep and be comfortable.”

“Sounds like a plan,” she agreed.

Gage climbed into the bed and lay in the dip in the middle. Sydney turned toward him and used his chest as a pillow. Settling comfortably together, they snuggled down to get some sleep. Both lay there trying to control their breathing and their bodies’ responses to the nearness of the other. They were both suffering from lust and neither one wanted to ‘cure’ it, at least not under these circumstances. After awhile, Sydney relaxed into sleep and Gage stroked her hair and soon followed her.

Walker Ranch Sunday 12:30 p.m.

Things had gotten slowly back to normal in the Walker household. Angela was sleeping more than usual, but her tooth had broken through and her ear infection was under control. Alex was having to nurse her more than she had in awhile and she was having some trouble producing enough breast milk to satisfy her needs. Angela had been slowly weaning herself as she ate more solid foods and drank other liquids. The doctor had told her that she could also give her Pediasure if the breast milk supply became a problem, and Walker was currently seated on the couch giving her a bottle of the flavored water.

Alex came in from the kitchen to see how her family was getting on. “She’s taking that?” she asked Walker.

“Yeah, she’s just about got it finished,” he said in a loud whisper, as Angela was just about asleep.

Alex tiptoed over to the chair across from them and watched as he cuddled his daughter and coaxed her to finish her bottle and drift off to sleep. “You sure have a way with putting the female of the species to sleep,” she noted.

“I was going to suggest a nap for her mommy as soon as she’s down,” he told her.

“You know that I don’t like to sleep alone,” she said, tongue-in-cheek.

“Don’t worry, I was planning to join you. I thought I’d use my special method of putting you to sleep.”

“I like your special method,” she told him.

He smiled at her and they shared a look that had her blood pressure rising. “I think our little angel has gone to sleep. I’ll put her to bed and meet you in our room,” he suggested.

“I’ll be there,” she promised. They shared another look that inspired Walker to speed up his task of settling Angela into bed for her afternoon nap.

Cottage Apartments 1:30 p.m.

Sydney looked up as Gage walked in. He was on his half hour lunch break from work and he jogged across the street to check on her. “Hi, how’s it going?” he asked.

“I am so incredibly bored. There is nothing on television and I can only go on so many walks around the neighborhood. I went to the library and pretended to look at books on child rearing. I saw our friend there, though.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, but Chen was there too. She came in wearing a disguise and we passed notes to each other. She’s going to get a picture of the guy and put a tail on him.”

“Good, I feel safer with him being watched. I don’t like the idea of leaving you tonight.”

“Well, Cooper is just a couple blocks over at the grocery store starting tomorrow, and I have my cell phone to call you if I need you.”

“I know, but it’s still a potentially dangerous undercover operation.”

“Gage, this is Sydney you’re talking to, remember? I’m a Texas Ranger, not a single woman getting ready to give birth. I can handle myself. If I can’t take that wimpy looking guy who’s been following me, then I might as well turn in my badge.”

“I know, you’re miss tough guy. I guess it’s all part of this new relationship we’re starting. I better get back to work. I’ll see you in a few hours.”

“Okay,” she answered.

Gage approached her and pulled her into his arms. At least as much as he could given her current state of ‘pregnancy.’ He ran his hands down her back and leaned down to kiss her. Sydney was more than willing to return the embrace and the kiss. It didn’t seem as dangerous when they weren’t sharing a bed. After a long passionate kiss, Gage stepped back, smiled at her and took his leave.

Sydney sat back down and decided she wasn’t too bored after all.

Baby Match Adoption Agency 2:00 p.m.

Jocelyn Caine sat in her office putting files in a cardboard file box. She wasn’t planning to leave any incriminating evidence behind when she moved on and she was fairly certain that she would soon be moving on. After packing the boxes up, she would have them carried down to her car and then they would be put into storage under a false name. If she ever needed them, she would be able to find them, but no one investigating her would know where to look. She was sorting and organizing when Robby came in.

“Hi, Jocelyn,” he said in a seductive voice. Despite being ten years her junior, they were lovers and had been for six months now, ever since he started working for her in San Francisco when she set up shop there.

“Robby, what’s new?”

“I think that woman I’ve been watching is getting ready to give birth any day now. She hasn’t made any hospital trips, but she seems to be showing all the signs of being ready.”

“Well, I just don’t know if it’s worth the risk. You said that she’s Hispanic-looking. I don’t have any Hispanic clients on my list right now.”

“Yeah, but you should see how blond her husband is. That baby will be fair, I guarantee it.”

“I’ll tell you what. I’ll give you until Wednesday and then we’re out of here. If the baby falls into our laps by then, fine; otherwise, I don’t want to risk hanging around here any longer. We’ve gotten too comfortable here and that’s when people make mistakes.”

“We’ve done well here, twenty thousand a baby. That’s eighty thousand dollars and not one cost more than a thousand in care and arrangements. Pretty good return on your investment in my book.”

Jocelyn smirked to herself. Robby was a flunky. He was good in bed and he was good at stealing babies, but he wasn’t a businessman. If he thought she was doing all of this for a measly twenty thousand dollars, he was an idiot. She charged her clients according to how much they could pay. Her last business transaction was her most lucrative yet, but she hadn’t sold a baby for less than fifty thousand in the two years she’d been at this. Yes, it was time to move on; and maybe it was time to dispose of Robby. She had until Wednesday to decide.

Walker Ranch 2:15 p.m.

Walker lay with his head propped on his hand and watched Alex sleep. He lay there thinking about how lucky he was to have this amazingly beautiful woman share his bed and share his life. Her beauty was definitely more than skin deep. She had a beautiful soul and he was amazed time and again that she had fallen in love with him. Even after all the years of friendship and then love and later passion, he still was in awe that she wanted him as much as he wanted her.

Alex began to wake slowly, as she sensed that she was being watched. She kept her eyes closed and listened to the sound of her husband breathing. She knew that he was awake and watching her. He did that sometimes; lay there for hours just watching her sleep. It used to unnerve her when she’d wake and realize that he’d been spying on her as she slept, but once, when she complained to him, he told her that he felt safest watching her when she was asleep, that he could take his time and count his blessings as she lay there, unaware.

Alex breathed in the scent of the man she loved and thought that she was the one who needed to count her blessings. She had an amazingly handsome man who thought the sun rose and set in her eyes. He was strong and kind and extremely passionate. His brand of loving made her feel as if she was the most treasured woman on the face of the earth. And he’d given her a beautiful baby that he loved as much as she did. He had even suggested having more and she couldn’t deny the idea was tempting. Soon, she would consider it. All the months of discomfort, the sleepless nights, everything was worth the look in her husband’s eyes as he held his tiny daughter. His life had been filled with sorrow, pain, and even ugliness. He deserved to be happy and to know the love of children. Watching him with Angela and just seeing him be so gentle and loving, just made her want him more.

She felt his finger begin to trace patterns on her bare shoulder and her lips curved into a smile. He always knew when she was feigning sleep and he always managed to tempt her into opening her eyes. She continued to keep her eyes closed and waited to see what his next move would be. He leaned over and placed a kiss on the tip of her shoulder. Then he licked the area, and swirled his tongue over the ridges of bone that formed her shoulder. Just when she was tempted to give in and respond, he gave her shoulder a gentle nip.

“Ouch! Walker!” she complained.

He merely chuckled and began to make love to her in earnest. She quickly stopped complaining and just enjoyed the special way he woke her up from her nap, even though it was very similar to the way he’d put her to sleep.

After their passionate loving, Alex lay in Walker’s arms with her head resting on his bare chest. She rubbed her cheek against the coarse hair that curled there and tilted her face to kiss his chest. Walker’s fingers combed through her silky hair and he placed the occasional kiss on her forehead.

“You know that Angela has slept for a good long time and we will pay for it tonight, don’t you?” Alex asked her husband.

“That’s okay, I don’t mind paying for the time we’ve had together this afternoon. She owed us,” he claimed.

“I don’t know if a nine-month-old will see it that way. I think that at her age, she is fairly certain that the world revolves around her and we, as her parents, are here to serve her every need.”

“I think I like serving your every need. Need anything?” he asked with a smile.

“Just you,” she answered.

He felt her smile against his chest and hugged her tighter. “Good,” he answered her and then debated whether it was a good time to bring up the undercover assignment. As much as he hated to mar the moment, he decided that he better talk to her about it. “Alex?” he began.

Alex recognized the hesitation in his voice and knew that whatever was to come next was something he didn’t want to say. He must be worried about her reaction. She was also aware of the fact that he had ‘softened her up’ before broaching the subject, whatever it was. “What, Walker?” she asked cautiously.

“You know this baby snatching ring we’ve been trying to get?”

“Yes, of course. Did you get any leads?”

“Chen is working on getting a lead on the guy that Sydney thinks is following her. She’s hoping to put a tail on him. But that’s actually not what I was going to tell you about.”

“Okay, then what?”

“Well, you know that we have Sydney undercover acting as if she’s ready to give birth at any moment…”

“Yes and Gage is supposed to be the lowlife father.”

Walker chuckled, tickling Alex cheek with his chest hair. “Right. Anyway, we have the bait and now we need the hook.”

“Why do I get the feeling that I’m not going to like this?”

“We thought that if you and I go undercover as a couple wanting to adopt a baby boy, then we might be able to encourage them to approach Sydney. Gage is leaving there today, so if we go in on say, Tuesday, and act like a couple willing to pay a high fee for a healthy baby boy…”

“But we’ll have to establish a cover. These people are not going to just trust someone who walks in off the street.”

“I know. I was thinking that we could set up at a hotel and then say that we were referred by some former clients of theirs. Trivette tracked down a couple who adopted a baby from them legally. Or at least it appears that it was a legal adoption. They’ve agreed to help with the set up of our cover. We’ll stay at a luxury hotel and go in on Tuesday to the adoption agency. I’ll dye my hair dark and we’ll take Angela with us.”

At this, he felt Alex stiffen. “I’m not willing to place her in danger,” she said.

“Nor am I, but she’ll be with us at all times. This could take several days and I don’t want her to be left on her own. If she’s with us, she’ll be safe and we’ll know that she’s safe. We’ll take her to the interview and say that we managed to adopt a female baby with similar coloring to you. Now, we’ll say that we are looking to adopt a male child with darker coloring to match me. We won’t act as if we’re in any particular hurry, but if we’re lucky, they’ll offer a potential match. If we can get them to take the bait and go after Sydney’s make-believe baby, then we’ll have more leverage when we try to get a search warrant. Alex, I know that all of this sounds dangerous, but I’ll be there with you and Angela at all times. We’ll just treat the time as a family holiday. Except for the time we actually have to set up our cover, we’ll be free to see the sights or just stay in the hotel room together. What do you say? If you say no, that’s fine, I’ll respect your decision. I just don’t know a better way to reunite Sally with Belle.”

Alex cringed as Walker pulled out his ace. He knew that she would want to help Sally. She was a sweet girl who had survived a hard life and deserved happiness, not to have her daughter taken from her and sold to the highest bidder. “Can I think about it awhile?” she asked him.

“Of course. We can talk about it some more and we’ll make sure that we do things right, so that you can feel secure and know that Angela is safe, too. We could leave her with Josie at H.O.P.E. House, but we wouldn’t be able to go there and visit her, and I just didn’t think you would go for that.”

“No, you’re right. I would feel safer if she was with us. Okay, I’m in, but I want to discuss every detail.”

“We will. We’ll meet tomorrow with Trivette, Gage, Cooper and Chen and we’ll hash out all the details.”

“Walker?”

“Hmmm?”

“Did you just make love to me because you wanted to get me in a good mood before springing this on me?”

Walker smiled and ran his hand up her bare back. “Darling, when have you ever known me to need an excuse to make love to you?”

“That’s true…”

Watering Hole Bar 11:30 p.m.

Gage and Sydney were ready for their big breakup scene. They had decided to play to their audience and so had arranged for Sydney to ‘kick him out’ while he was at the bar. The guy who kept following her and Gage was usually there at the corner table at night when Gage came for his evening ‘gripe session.’

Gage was buying another beer at the bar when Sydney came storming into the smoke-filled room carrying a bag of his belongings. She cussed him out in Spanish and then switched to English.

“No daddy is better than a drunk for a daddy. You get out and stay out. I want nothin’ to do with you and don’t come around. This baby and me, we’ll be fine without you!” she stormed, as she opened the bag and threw his jeans, shirts and underwear at him. She made quite a scene and Gage was impressed enough by her performance to decide not to ever get her that mad in real life.

Cooper was at the pool table, shooting pool and watching their suspect as he observed the staged fight. Cooper had taken an apartment a block down from Sydney. His job, as a stock boy and bagger at the grocery store, would let him fit into the scenery. He had come to the bar following their suspect. His partner, Lisse Chen, was outside in a car waiting for the man to leave so that she could follow him. He watched as Sydney disparaged Gage’s manhood there in front of the other bar patrons and then stormed out. Gage gathered up his belongings and ordered a whiskey. He downed the shot and then ordered a beer chaser and went to sit at a table alone to drown his sorrows.

Robby watched the scene play out and couldn’t help but smile; this made his job that much easier. If the woman had the baby and there was no man around to help keep an eye on it, it would be much easier to snatch it. He looked at Gage and considered approaching him, as he had that football jock with the mousy wife. The more he thought about it though, the less he liked the idea. If they had to pay the couple ten thousand of the twenty thousand, it cut into their profits. No, taking the baby was definitely the preferred method. He would simply have to wait. On the other hand, if he made the decision without Jocelyn’s consent, then he risked making her very angry. He decided not to speak to the man who seemed determined to get drunk and forget his problems. Instead, he would ask Jocelyn if she wanted to approach the woman or let him take the baby at the first possible opportunity. He got up and headed out to where he’d left his car.

Gage looked over to where Cooper was playing pool and nodded that he too had seen the man leave. Cooper gave Gage an imperceptible nod that told him that Lisse was waiting out front ready to follow him. Gage waited a half hour and after making a show of drinking several more shots with a beer chaser (he actually spit the whiskey into the beer bottle so that he didn’t drink it) he got up, picked up his bag and staggered out, complaining about hot-tempered Latin women.

Cooper waited another half hour and then told the men he’d been playing pool with that he’d better head home as he had to work in the morning. He walked on down toward his apartment and saw Gage, still acting drunk, get on a bus and head out of the area.

Sydney crawled into the bed and settled herself into the middle in the dip that Gage had occupied. She curled up into a ball and thought how lonely it was without the big lug taking up most of the space.

Ranger Headquarters Monday 9:30 a.m.

Walker sat at the head of the table and waited for everyone to take their seats around him. Alex was on his right and she sat with a concerned look on her face. She looked at her husband and wondered how they were going to safely pull this off. Her primary concern was keeping Angela safe. She looked up when she felt Walker’s knee nudge her under the table. He gave her a look that was meant to reassure her and she smiled back at him, acknowledging his effort.

Chen was tired, as she had worked a lot of hours the day before. She tried not to let it show though, as she sat next to Trivette and across from Gage. She would be teamed with Trivette and Gage for the next several days, helping provide backup to Walker and Alex. Cooper was Sydney’s backup and Walker would be undercover. She listened as Walker began to lay out the plan for he and Alex to move into a hotel the next day. They would arrive in a limo that supposedly had come from the airport. They would appear to be a family who was combining a business trip with a vacation.

They discussed how Walker and Alex would go to the adoption agency on Tuesday asking about signing up to adopt a baby boy. They would give the specifics of wanting a dark haired boy that would look more like Walker, after he dyed his hair. His Indian ancestry didn’t show much in his appearance, but with his hair and beard colored brown and a pair of brown contact lenses, he would look more Hispanic. Alex would take Angela with her to the interview as she was going to say that they wanted two children, a boy and girl. They planned to inflate Angela’s age and say that she was nearly eleven months old. She was a very precocious child and could pass for slightly older.

They continued to discuss the specifics of the plan. Lisse had followed their suspect, whom they had finally gotten an ID on, to a high-rise apartment building. Robby Loomis stayed the night in apartment 32F. They checked and found that the apartment was leased by a Ms. Jocelyn Caine. They now had the connection to the Baby Match agency that they needed to put the next phase of their plan in motion. Trivette left to go use his computer to investigate Mr. Robby Loomis. Gage left to go stake out the downtown office building where Ms. Caine had her adoption agency office. Chen left to go continue tailing Robby. That left Mr. and Mrs. Walker alone in the conference room.

“Well, what do you think? Are you up for this?” Walker asked Alex.

“I’m not thrilled, but I guess I’m up for it.”

“Well, if it helps at all, the department gave me some spending money and we are supposed to go purchase ourselves a wardrobe to support our new lifestyle.”

“Really?” his wife visibly brightened.

Walker smiled at her. “Really. And… while we are playing this role, we will be staying in a very plush hotel suite, with nothing to do but visit museums and stores and all those things you say that we never have time to do.”

“You’re really trying to get on my good side, aren’t you, cowboy?”

“I like your good side. I like all of your sides,” he said with a leer.

She laughed at him and said, “Well, I have a lot of work to do if we’re going to get out of here early enough to go shopping. I need to pass on my urgent cases to various ADA’s and then organize my briefcase with what I need to take with me to work on at the hotel. I’ll need to check out a laptop as well, I guess.”

“You’re going to work on cases while we’re on this assignment?”

“I have to, Walker. This was unplanned for me and I have several things in the works that I need to keep on top of so that I’ll be prepared when we get back.”

“And you say that I’m a workaholic.”

“You are.”

“Uh huh, and what are you?”

“A woman married to a workaholic.”

“Funny, Alex, very funny.”

Albertson’s Grocery Store 3:30 p.m.

Sydney was checking out with her few items. She used her food stamps and answered the bag boys question, ‘paper or plastic?’ She watched as Cooper placed her items in her bag and then he nodded his head slightly to the right to indicate that her ‘stalker’ was there. She bent over and grasped her distended abdomen. Cooper acted solicitous and came around the counter to help her.

“Ma’am, are you all right?” he asked.

“Yes, I’m all right,” she answered and then moaned as she again clutched her abdomen.

Cooper looked at the checker, “I think I better call 911,” he said.

“Yes, it looks like it,” the checker answered.

Cooper turned and headed to the manager’s desk at the front of the store. He picked up the phone and dialed Chen, who was sitting around the corner waiting for her cue. She dispatched a phony ambulance that was set up to take Sydney in to be admitted at County Hospital, the same hospital where three of the other women who’s babies were taken had been delivered.

Ten minutes later, Sydney was getting tired of moaning and screaming in pain. She was relieved when the two EMT’s wheeled the gurney in and gave her a cursory examination before loading her onto the gurney and wheeling her out to the ambulance. Cooper watched Robby Loomis, who stayed on the periphery but watched the action before him with interest.

Sydney was glad that she had been given the cue to begin to ‘go into labor’ from Cooper. It meant that she wouldn’t have to sleep in that uncomfortable bed in that horrible apartment, one more night. She lay in the back of the ambulance as they raced her to the hospital.

Chen was in contact with the ambulance and told them that Robby had not followed them. They turned off the siren and lights and drove a bit more sedately to the hospital. Once they arrived at the ambulance bay, Sydney was admitted to Labor and Delivery. The few hospital staff members who were in on the undercover operation escorted Sydney to a small private room on the L&D floor. She was assigned the room so that she could have the privacy needed to restrict the staff going into the room. No one on the floor knew anything except for the floor supervisor and the person who answered the phones. If a call was made requesting information about her, the call was put through to the floor supervisor, who had been coached by the Rangers on how to answer the phone call.

Sydney was grateful to be able to get off of the gurney and stretch. She was standing in the room when the door opened and her errant ‘husband’ entered. Gage closed the door behind him and smiled at his ‘wife.’

“So, you finally decided to have this kid, huh?”

“I can’t tell you how glad I am to be out of that apartment and how glad I will be not to have to wear this thing!” she said, holding the belly of the pregnancy suit.

“I can’t wait until this case is over and we can have our special date. I was lonely last night,” Gage told her.

Sydney smiled at him and went into his open arms. “That place was a real nightmare without you there last night. I didn’t realize how used to having you around I had gotten.” She gave him a hug and stood in his embrace for several moments, savoring the time with him. She stepped back slightly and asked, “How is the rest of the plan coming? I feel so out of touch.”

“Things are good. Alex and Walker check into the Downtown Hilton tomorrow and then go to see Jocelyn Caine. They’re out shopping for the clothes they’ll have to wear to appear like a very wealthy couple.”

“How come we have to stay in a roach motel and I have to wear thrift store clothes, while they get to stay at a luxury hotel with designer clothes? Did we do something wrong in a past life?” Sydney bemoaned their fate.

“I think it’s called being the rookies.”

“I thought that was Chen and Cooper.”

“They don’t have great assignments either. Cooper was working at the Albertson’s as a stock boy and bagger. Chen has been tailing Robby Loomis all hours day and night. They’ve suffered, too.”

“What about Trivette?”

“He’s been burning the midnight oil on his computer trying to track down leads and connections. He was able to find a couple, who adopted a baby from Baby Match Adoption Agency when it was based in San Francisco, to agree to provide Walker and Alex with a back-story. He also tracked down some missing infants in the Bay Area that mysteriously disappeared at the same time the agency was in Northern California. Not to mention Robby Loomis, who was a petty scam artist until he hooked up with Jocelyn Caine. She hires nurses in the area she’s in at the time to provide care for the babies until they are adopted. She mixes legitimate adoptions with illegal ones. No one has been able to nail her. She leaves behind no paper trail and she moves from city to city rather quickly.”

“Why did they move up the schedule on my ‘giving birth’? Are you guys afraid that she’s about to fly the coop again?”

“I saw her carrying boxes down to her car today from her office. It looks like she’s planning to skip town. I managed to tail her though, and she rented a small storage space at a ‘U Store It’ over on 3rd Avenue. I called Walker and he asked us to move up the timetable. We’re going to find you a newborn we can pass off as a healthy son. He will be guarded like Fort Knox and never leave the hospital, but our hope is that Jocelyn Caine will take the bait and come in posing as a social worker, like she has in the past, and offer to buy your baby. If she thinks that she has a couple willing to pay top dollar and no questions asked, it could make for a very quick profit and may entice her to stay around long enough to make the deal.”

“How are we going to nail her and Robby Loomis, though? I mean, if she approaches me and offers me money to give my baby up for adoption, we can’t get her on those charges. Not unless we say no and then let her kidnap the baby.”

“No, the boss isn’t going to put a baby in jeopardy. The plan is to have Sally Cohen identify her as the woman who approached her and Alex says that will give us cause to search her office and the storage unit I saw her go to. We just need one shred of evidence to connect her to one of the missing babies and we’ll have her.”

“And then we can get the babies back?”

“That’s the hope, but there’s no guarantee. We don’t know if we’ll be able to trace them, but we’ll sure try.”

“So when is the blessed event scheduled for?” Sydney asked, referring to when her ‘baby’ was supposed to be born, so that she could get more comfortable and take off the pregnancy suit.

“You’ll have the baby later tonight and then he’ll be put into the system as a healthy baby boy. We’ll hope that Ms. Caine will take the bait and come to visit you sometime tomorrow afternoon. For now, you might as well hop into the bed and take a nap. No one will come in here and disturb you, they closed this room off to patients and no one knows you’re here. You have a private bathroom and I’ll sneak dinner into you later.”

“Okay, I guess I’ll shower and take a nap. I really could use some rest.”

“I put one of your own nightgowns in the closet for tonight, but you’ll have to put on a hospital gown tomorrow in case Ms. Caine comes for a visit.”

“What am I going to do all of this time by myself in here? I’m going to go stir crazy.”

“I’ll come back tonight and watch the fights with you. You’ve got cable and everything. Tomorrow, you’ll be moved down to a regular room on maternity. The nurse assigned to you will be in on everything and when and if you get a visitor, she will bring you a baby to order. That way, you’ll have the baby in the room when the woman is here, although we’ll have the nurse take him back to the nursery during your discussion.”

“Okay, I guess it all makes sense. I’m impressed actually. It seems you all have thought of everything. I just hope we get those babies back so that all of this will have been worth it.”

“If nothing else, at least we’ll put a stop to her taking anymore babies from their parents.”

Sydney nodded, but still felt a deep compassion for the parents of the missing babies. She knew of four in Dallas. How many more were there in other cities?

Walker Ranch 9:30 p.m.

Walker had put down enough fresh straw for a week. All the horses glistened from the grooming they’d received and Angel and Ranger had both had a week’s worth of carrots. Next to leaving his wife and daughter, Walker hated leaving his horses. He checked the water troughs one last time before deciding that everything was in order for Jamie, their neighbor’s nineteen-year-old son, who took care of the animals for him when he was out of town. He heard a noise behind him and turned to see Alex walking into the barn.

“Hi, I came to see if Angela was ready to go down for the night,” she said looking at the baby who had fallen asleep in the backpack while her daddy did his chores.

“I guess she is. You know, I think she’s going to be quite the animal lover; she loves coming out here with me.”

“I don’t know if it’s the animals or just being with her daddy. She likes being in that backpack no matter what you’re doing.”

“At least she’s stopped crying when she sees me,” he said referring to his daughter’s fear of his new look.

“You do look different with that dark hair and beard,” his wife conceded.

“Different good or different bad?”

Alex sized him up. “Just different. It’ll take some getting used to, but I’ve always wanted a Latin lover. You’re not exactly Don Juan, but I guess you’ll do,” she flirted with him.

Walker laid his rake against the barn wall and walked to her, wrapping his arms around her waist. “Latin lover, huh? You never shared that particular fantasy with me. How long has this been going on?”

“Oh, since the last time you dyed your hair. Remember that case when you stayed out of touch for so long that I nearly had gray hair when you returned?”

“I couldn’t contact you, I was being held as a slave after crossing the border with those illegal immigrants.”

“Yeah, but when I saw you and you were Walker and yet you were a mysterious Hispanic man, oh baby.”

Walker chuckled at her. “So you’ve had the hots for me since then, huh? I’m your fantasy Latin lover?”

“Darling you’re my only lover, fantasy or real. You are the only man I want, now and forever.”

“It’s good to hear you say that. I’ve spent so much time in the doghouse lately that I was beginning to wonder.”

Alex smiled at him. “I know that I’ve been moody lately, but I don’t recall you ever getting the cold shoulder from me in the bedroom.”

“No, I don’t remember your shoulders ever being cold,” he agreed as he leaned in for a kiss. “Let’s go put angel-face down for the night and then I’ll see what I can do about fulfilling your fantasies,” he said, and then whispered passionate words of love in Spanish into her ear.

Alex giggled as he tickled her ear, but she melted against him as his hot breath sent her into a deep pit of aching need. “Andolé,” she responded, “let’s go.”

They headed into the house to enjoy a night of love and passion.


Trivette’s Apartment

Ericka finished washing the plate and handed it to Jimmy, whose job it was to dry it and put it into the cupboard. She had a contemplative look on her face and he decided to ask her what had been on her mind all evening.

“Ericka, what’s bothering you?” he asked as she reached for the glasses and placed them in the soapy water.

“Hmm? Oh, sorry, I guess I haven’t been very good company, have I?”

“That’s okay, I don’t need to be entertained, but I would like to know why you’re not your usual chatterbox self.”

She gave him a look, but decided to let the ‘chatterbox’ reference go – for now. “I was just thinking about Sally.”

“Sally Cohen? How is she?”

“Gosh, Jimmy, she’s so sad. Every day I watch her at H.O.P.E. House slip deeper and deeper into a depression. I’ve spent time with her and she told me a little about her life. It wasn’t pretty, let me tell you. She’s never in her life had one person who loved her unselfishly. Her mother was a piece of work, a constant string of boyfriends and a new baby every other year for welfare to support and Sally to look after. Then she was a shy student with a gift for math that got her a job as a tutor. That’s how she met the creep she married: Mr. Football Jock, who was in love with himself. For whatever reason, he decided that he wanted to bed her, but she resisted. She’d watched her mother for years and was determined not to follow in her footsteps, or rather, in her sheets. Finally, Johnny proposed marriage. I guess no one had ever told him ‘no’ before in his life and he just couldn’t resist the challenge.”

“Some guys are like that I guess; the chase is more important than the prize.”

“And the end justifies the means? He got her to marry him and then bedded her, which she didn’t go into detail about, but I don’t think the guy knew very much about pleasing a woman.”

“Why should he bother if all he cared about was himself?”

“True, I guess that would be his attitude. Anyway, she got pregnant and he freaked and a bad situation got worse until he finally left. Then Sally had Belle and for the first time in her life, she had someone to love and who would love her unconditionally. She had a struggle with money and everything, but she did the best she could for her baby. Then to have her taken like that; I don’t know Jimmy, but if you all don’t manage to get Belle back, I don’t think Sally will ever recover from the loss.”

Jimmy looked at his fiancée and turned her away from the sink. He used the dishtowel he was holding to dry her hands and then pulled her into a giant bear hug. “You know, Ericka, I loved you all those months ago when I first met you, but every day I fall more in love with you. You make me proud to be your ‘soon to be’ husband.”

“What’d I do?”

“Just that you’re caring and compassionate and you get all fired up about injustice. For a lot of years, I’ve watched Alex with Walker and I thought that if I could ever find a woman who was as passionate about changing the world as she is, I’d marry her. Then I met you and you were fighting the system and everything else to get your father exonerated. I think that’s what first attracted me to you. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that you’re soft and sexy and fun to hold,” he added teasingly.

“I love you too, James Trivette. I love that you care about people and that you go out of your way to help them. I don’t know that I would ever compare myself to Alex, but I’m glad that you feel I share some traits with her, because I admire her too. Sally has a lot of potential and I’m working really hard right now to put together a plan that would allow her to go to school and get a degree in accounting. I’ve gotten Josie to agree to place Belle at the top of the list for subsidized daycare at H.O.P.E. House and I found an apartment for her that will be on the bus route to H.O.P.E. House and to a junior college where she can take courses before transferring to a four-year college. I’ve gotten her signed up for grants and scholarships and subsidized housing and even a part time job as a bookkeeper at an insurance firm. But everything hinges on you and Walker and the rest of the team getting Belle back, because she isn’t going to be able to fight for her own survival if she’s mired in depression.”

Jimmy kissed her forehead and released her and tugged her over towards the living room couch. After sitting down and snuggling her close, he said. “We’re doing everything we can to get her back. Sydney supposedly had her baby Sunday night and Robby Loomis called and checked on her and the baby. At least, we assume it was Loomis who called. He knows that Sydney supposedly had minor complications that will keep her in the hospital until tomorrow night or Wednesday. Walker and Alex have an appointment with Jocelyn Caine tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. They’re checking into the hotel tomorrow morning and then will go over there and do their thing. If we’re lucky, Ms. Caine will be interested enough to approach Sydney at the hospital after they leave. We’re working on it, honey. I can’t guarantee that we’ll get Belle back, but we will do everything in our power to find her and bring her back to Sally. I can’t have all of your good work going to waste.”

Ericka smiled at him. “I love working at  H.O.P.E. House. I come home everyday thinking, ‘I helped someone today.’ I’m so glad that Alex suggested it. I get along really well with Josie, too. I didn’t think I would, since she was an old girlfriend of yours and all.”

“I told you, we dated casually a few times, because we were sort of two single people who had to attend the same functions. It was never serious. Anyway, have you seen her boyfriend? I wouldn’t want to face him on a football field!”

Ericka giggled, “Yes, he is a big guy. He came in and surprised her the other day and he just picked her up like she was about five and twirled her around. He was excited because he just got a signing bonus with the Cowboys. I don’t think money will ever be a problem if they do end up getting married. Do you know how much some of those football players make? Oh, of course you do.”

“Yeah, they paid me about five times what I make as a Ranger, but I managed to spend most of it. What didn’t go on cars and women, I put in the stock market.”

“And we all know how good you are with that,” she teased him.

“Well, I have enough put back to buy us a house. That is if you agree to take a bus to Las Vegas with me for the wedding.”

Ericka pinched him. “You and I are going to have a proper church wedding with all of our friends and family.”

“Between the two of us, we don’t have a whole lot of family. You sure you’re not up for Vegas?”

“We do have a big family. They may not all be blood relatives, but tell me that Walker isn’t your brother.” She waited as he sat there quietly.  “Uh huh, see -- I thought so. Anyway, a trip to Vegas would end up costing us more anyway.”

“Oh? How do you figure that?”

“I can’t see you walking through a casino without ‘trying your luck.’ I’d be sitting alone in our honeymoon suite while you gambled.”

Jimmy looked at her face and then slowly let his gaze travel down her body, pausing at his favorite sites. “Not a chance,” he whispered as he pulled her into a passionate embrace.


Downtown Hilton Tuesday 9:30 a.m.

“Mr. and Mrs. Jacobs, welcome to the Hilton. We have your suite all ready for you and the extra amenities for the little one that you requested. I trust your flight from San Diego was uneventful?”

“If you don’t mind all the extra searches and security, it was fine,” Mr. ‘Jacobs’ responded.

“Yes, nasty business that extra security; still, I suppose it’s a necessary evil in this new world we live in.”

“Darling, the baby is getting fussy. I think we need to get to our room,” Mrs. ‘Jacobs’ stated.

“Of course, darling. Are we all set then?”

“Yes sir, the bellboy will take your things up. You’re in our Penthouse Suite, sir, ma’am.”

Walker and Alex followed the bellboy to the elevators and up to the suite that had been reserved for them. It wasn’t the most luxurious in the hotel, but it was one of the best. Alex kept her face in a bored expression until after Walker tipped the bellboy and he left.

“Wow! Walker, check this out! I can’t believe the budget stretched to this!”

“It didn’t, really. This room is supposed to be gutted and refurbished the middle of this week. We get to stay here until that happens. The hotel gave the department a deal.”

“They’re going to gut this? You think I could get these curtains for the ranch?”

Walker looked at the gold and navy brocade drapes. “And just where would you put them?” he asked.

“Oh, I’d find a place. These are gorgeous.”

Walker rolled his eyes at his wife. “We better get settled. Our interview is just over an hour away. You want to freshen up or anything?”

“Why? Is my lipstick smudged or something?” Alex asked him.

He walked over and plucked Angela from her arms and set her in the swing that the hotel had provided upon request. He then turned and pulled her into his arms and kissed her for several minutes. He stepped back to survey his handiwork and drawled, “As a matter of fact, it is.”

Alex batted his chest with the back of her hand and picked up her small cosmetics case and headed into the bathroom to repair the damage. She muttered under her breath the whole way and said a few choice words about someone sleeping on the couch. Walker watched her go with a grin on his face. This was going to be fun – when it wasn’t serious.

Baby Match Agency 11:00 a.m.

“Mr. and Mrs. Jacobs, welcome, I’m Jocelyn Caine,” the tall slender brunette said as she held out her hand to greet them. “What a beautiful baby girl,” she said somewhat puzzled.

“Thank you, we adopted her when she was just three days old,” Alex supplied.

“Really? I would have thought she was your biological child, she looks so much like you,” Jocelyn said looking at the blond baby with blue eyes that were so like the woman’s.

“Yes, we were quite pleased with the match,” Walker inserted.

“Actually, that’s why we’re here,” Alex began. “We understand from Stan and Elaine Simon, that you were responsible for finding their little boy.”

“Yes, that case was one with a very happy ending,” Jocelyn said.

“He looks so much like Stan that I thought they had used a surrogate mother.”

“No, it was a happy coincidence; that and the fact that I make a concerted effort to match babies with adoptive parents. Some parents want the children to look like them; others care more about their age or cultural heritage. I find what my parents are looking for in a baby and make an effort to match them to what they want.” Jocelyn stated. Her background check on the Jacob’s led her to believe that he owned a recreational boat building company in San Diego and she was a successful interior decorator. They had met and married and she had joined his company. He designed and built the boats and she decorated their interiors. They were extremely wealthy and both had been very career oriented. Jocelyn wasn’t able to discover what event had occurred to change that focus, but she was very interested in signing them onto her client list. “What is it exactly that you’re looking for?” she asked.

“Well, as you’ve noted, Chloe here looks very much like me. She doesn’t, however, look anything like Paul. We want a second child and I would like to have a baby who does look like Paul. His father was of Spanish decent and his mother was Indian. I was hoping to find a baby who was a mixture with dark hair and eyes.”

“And you were looking for a boy, or another girl?” Jocelyn asked.

“A boy,” ‘Paul’ chimed in quickly, almost humorously so.

Jocelyn smiled at him and then said, “Well, I’m sure that we can help you, but I wonder that you didn’t seek out an adoption agency in San Diego.”

“It took us three years to get Chloe; I don’t want to wait that long again. We were hoping you could speed things up. Money is not a problem. We want to have both of our children be close in age,” Alex told her.

“How close? How old is Chloe?”

Walker jumped into the conversation, “Chloe is eleven months and we want a boy who is oh, no more than eighteen months younger.”

“So you’d like a baby in the next nine months?”

“We’d like a baby whenever you can find one who will resemble Paul. My only other request is that the baby be less than a week old when we get him. I want a child who comes virtually straight from the hospital to us. I don’t want a child who was in foster care or something else. I’m a firm believer that the first few weeks and months of a baby’s life are vitally important. I want to know that we are getting a baby who has been properly nurtured.”

“If I do find a baby to fit your needs, how soon would you be ready for him?”

“We’re ready now,” Walker claimed. “We’re here in Dallas to do some sightseeing and I have a business deal to close. If you find a baby for us, we’ll be available to you here for the next week. After that, we head back to San Diego, but of course you can contact us and we’ll fly back here or wherever.”

“Well, I have all of your paperwork and I believe I have all of your contact numbers. I’ll look at what I have on my books and make an effort to match you with a baby boy in the very near future,” Jocelyn said.

“Oh, that’s wonderful,” Alex enthused. “Is there a restroom I can use? I’m afraid that little Chloe needs a diaper change,” Alex said.

“Of course, if you go out the door and turn right, it’s two doors down.”

“Thank you so much. Paul, I’ll just be a few minutes.”

“Take your time, darling,” ‘Paul’ responded. He waited until Alex and Angela had left and then turned to Jocelyn. “When my wife discovered that she couldn’t have children, she was devastated. I can’t tell you how difficult the three years we waited for Chloe were. She’s agreed that she wants two children and I’d like to make sure that we have the second child as soon as possible. If she thought that we were going to have to wait another three years… Well, I just don’t want to put her through that again. Money is truly not a problem. If you find a baby that will suit our needs, I am quite capable of reimbursing you for your efforts.”

Jocelyn sized Paul Jacobs up. She had seen the way he looked at his wife and their adopted daughter. Some of the men who came through her office were only agreeing to adopt a baby for the sake of their wives or rather to appease their wives. Mark and Connie Morrison had been an example of such a couple. She didn’t care what the motivation was, as long as they had the funds to back it up. Maybe this baby Robby kept talking about was one she should look into. She had decided to pass it up and leave Dallas on Thursday as she had originally planned. She just might have to revise her plans though; this was too good to pass up. If she could match the baby to this couple and charge an exorbitant fee, well, she could stand to stay in Dallas a few extra days. She smiled at the attractive man and said, “I’ll do my best. I’ll be in touch.” They both stood and shook hands and Walker went out in the hall to meet Alex and Angela.

County Hospital 1:00 p.m.

Sydney lay in the bed in the semi-private room she had on the maternity ward. Her previous roommate had been released two hours prior and she currently had the room to herself. A tall brunette woman entered the room and she looked over and immediately recognized Jocelyn Caine from her photo.

“Hello, are you Rosie Donaldson?” Jocelyn asked her.

“Yes,” ‘Rosie’ answered.

“My name is Patricia Collins and I’m a Social Worker here at the hospital. It’s my job to ensure that you have lodging and food and everything you need when you get home with your baby.”

A nurse arrived carrying a newborn baby with a head full of wavy brown hair. His skin was pale, but it was clear that he was a mixture of Caucasian and Hispanic heritages. “Oh, I’m sorry; I didn’t realize you had a visitor. I’ll take this little guy back to the nursery and bring him back to you in a bit,” the nurse said as she turned and walked back out with the baby.

Jocelyn watched ‘Rosie’ carefully to see what her reaction to the baby was. The woman looked tired and depressed, but knowing what she’d been through, Jocelyn wasn’t at all surprised. “So, that was your little boy. He’s a beautiful baby. Have you named him yet?”

“No, I don’t know what to call him. I’m just so tired. The doctor said that I lost a lot of blood during the delivery and he said I had to stay here until I was stronger. I guess I just haven’t had the energy to decide what to name him.”

“Are you breast feeding him or is he on formula?”

“He takes formula. The doctor said it wasn’t a good idea for me to try to feed him right now. I don’t know how I’m going to afford formula though. My husband, he… well he left me just before the baby was born.”

“Oh dear, I’m sorry to hear that. You haven’t heard from him?”

“No, I don’t know where he is. I don’t care, all he did was drink and we were always fighting. It’s better that he’s gone.”

“But how will you care for the baby?”

“I don’t know. I guess I’ll get welfare.”

“Well, I can certainly help you fill out the forms later when you’re feeling better, but well… I have to ask this; have you ever considered giving him up for adoption?”

“Adoption? Who would adopt him? His father is a gringo and I’m from El Salvador. He is a mix.”

“I know couples who would gladly adopt a healthy baby boy; his mixed heritage won’t be a problem at all. And the best thing is, if you go through a private adoption, you can get ten thousand dollars free and clear to start a new life.”

“Ten thousand dollars? Dios, that is a lot of money! I could leave this place and go somewhere new. I-I don’t know. I need to think about it.”

“Well, you go right ahead and think about it, but I must tell you that I think it would be your best option. He is healthy, right?”

“Oh yes, he is perfectly healthy. I am the one who is not. Is there someway I can contact you? Do you have an office here?”

“I’m rarely in my office and I’m hard to reach. Why don’t I give you my cell phone number and you can call me if you decide? I’ll check back in with you as well. How does that sound?”

“Yes, I think I need to think. I’m just so tired; I don’t know what to do. I will call you,” Sydney said, not wanting to sound too eager to sell her baby, but also not wanting to be completely negative. They had hooked the fish and now she needed to help reel her in.

“Here’s my number, you call me when you decide,” Jocelyn said to her.

“Thank you, I will,” Sydney answered.

Jocelyn left the room and went out to the lobby where Robby was waiting. “Keep an eye on her,” Jocelyn instructed as she walked past, pretending not to see him.

Ranger Headquarters 4:30 p.m.

Trivette and Chen were in the conference room with the parents of the four missing babies from the area Sydney and Gage had gone undercover in. He played the surveillance tape of the meeting between Jocelyn Caine and Sydney. Stacy Connor, Donna and Greg Munson and Sally Cohen all positively identified the woman in the tape as the same woman who had approached them about placing their babies up for adoption. All of the parents of the missing babies, including Connie Miller, had also identified Robby Loomis as someone they had seen lurking around the area just prior to their babies being taken.

Trivette took the new information to the DA, who decided they needed more before trying to get a search warrant from a judge. Trivette was extremely frustrated, but he decided to wait and tell Walker and Alex about it later, let them enjoy one day together in their new roles.

Dallas Zoo 5:00 p.m.

Alex sat on the bench licking the ice cream cone as she watched her husband tell his daughter about the snakes in the reptile house. Alex wasn’t sure if she wanted her daughter to be so ‘up close and personal’ with snakes, but she decided to go with the theory that ‘knowledge is power.’

“Alex, I think Angela here is ready for a snack,” he told his wife as he returned to sit with her. Angela was sitting in the backpack that was strapped to his back. She was getting a little cranky.

Alex looked around her and decided that they were in a fairly discreet spot. The cave-like exhibit was dark and they were seated in a corner away from the glass cages where the reptiles were housed. “I’ll trade you,” she said as she handed him the remains of her ice cream cone.

Walker began to lick the remaining ice cream as Alex lifted Angela up and out of the pack. She sat back down next to him and used a blanket for privacy as she unbuttoned her blouse and let Angela latch on to nurse. “Next time, get chocolate if you’re going to share. I don’t really like vanilla,” her husband complained.

“Well, I do. I’d be happy to finish it if I had a free hand,” she answered back.

Walker smiled and held the cone close to her mouth to allow her another lick. As he pulled the cone back, he ‘accidentally’ brushed the cold confection against the tip of her nose, leaving her sitting there with a dollop of ice cream on her nose and no free hands as one held Angela and the other held the blanket. “Oops, sorry,” he apologized insincerely.

“Walker, clean this off,” she demanded.

Looking like a mischievous eight-year-old, he leaned in and licked the sweet goo off of her nose. He leaned back and grinned at her and then followed up by wiping her nose with the wadded up napkin he held in his hand. Alex just glared.

“You know, Cowboy, you may have the advantage at the moment, but you have to sleep sometime.”

Walker laughed out loud at his feisty wife. “I’m not scared of you, darling. You spend all of your time plotting your revenge, but when it comes time to carry out your plan, you’re very easily distracted.”

Alex knew that he was right. Time and again, she’d tried to get him back by placing ice down his shorts while he was asleep or some such thing. Of course, once she got to his shorts, her mind veered off to activities that were much more pleasurable than ice. Or she used the ice, but it was in a pain/pleasure sort of way that ended with him being rewarded for his bad behavior instead of punished. “There will come a day, Cordell Walker, when I will get my revenge and you will regret teasing me so mercilessly.”

Walker leaned in and kissed her pouting lips. “I can’t wait,” he breathed against her lips.

After Angela was fed, she was ready for a nap. Alex placed her back into the backpack and they stood and walked hand in hand toward the entrance of the zoo.

“You know, Alex, I promised you museums and art galleries and I end up taking you to the zoo. I really did have good intentions, you know.”

Alex smiled and gave his hand a squeeze. “I got to spend the day with my two favorite people in the world, I’m happy,” she said simply.

They neared the entrance and passed the new “Endangered Species’ carousel that was to open in the spring. “Honey, let’s plan to bring Angela back here for her birthday to ride the carousel.”

Alex looked over at her sleeping daughter. It was hard to believe that she would be a year old in just a few short months. She was already standing and ‘furniture walking’. Soon, she would be walking and talking and then where would their lives lead? “I think that’s a great idea. It’s a date, Cowboy. We’ll have a little party for her at H.O.P.E. House with all of her playmates, and then that weekend we’ll come here, just the three of us, and ride the carousel.”

“Or maybe, we can play hooky and come during the week when it’s not so crowded,” Walker suggested.

“Walker, I’m shocked! You’re proposing that we take a day off of work?”

“I will if you will,” he taunted.

She laughed at him and then her cell phone rang, interrupting their family moment. The only person with the number to that phone was Jocelyn Caine. She opened the phone and answered, “Denise Jacobs.”

“Mrs. Jacobs, it’s Jocelyn from Baby Match.”

“Oh, hello, I didn’t expect to hear from you so soon. Did we forget to sign something?” she asked while looking at Walker.

“No, no, nothing like that. In fact, I have some rather exciting news. I may have a baby for you.”

“Really? Wow! I never expected you to find a baby so fast! This is amazing! Please, tell me the details.”

“Well, he’s a beautiful boy. He was born on Sunday night and he is still in the hospital, as the mother had some complications and they didn’t want to send him home until she was better. I met with her today and it seems that she isn’t in the position to give him the type of home she’d like for him to have. She’s Hispanic and her husband is quite fair. Of course, I just couldn’t miss how perfectly this fit in with your wishes for a second baby.”

“Is the baby healthy?”

“Oh yes, I wouldn’t have called you otherwise. The young woman said that she and her husband are having marital problems and she doesn’t know how she can care for the baby herself.”

“When can we see him?” Alex asked.

“I’ll call you as soon as I have custody of him. There’s paperwork, of course, and it could be a day or two, but I’ll let you know.”

“Oh, please do! We’ll be waiting to hear from you!”

“There is one thing…”

“Yes?”

“My fee in special cases like this is two hundred thousand dollars. I just wondered if that was in keeping with your… shall we say, budget?”

“Yes, I’m certain that’s fine. Two hundred thousand dollars. How would you like that?”

“A bank draft made out to me would be acceptable.”

“I’ll have it drawn up and ready for your call. Oh, I can’t tell you how happy you’ve just made me.”

“I’m glad, I’ll speak with you soon,” Jocelyn said.

“Oh yes, thank you!” Alex said and hung up the phone. She looked at Walker. “She took the bait, hook line and sinker!”

“Sounds like it. Let me call Trivette.” He pulled out his phone and dialed Trivette’s number. After Trivette filled him in on the DA’s decision to wait until more information could be obtained, Walker filled him in on the latest developments. The cell phone Alex had was linked to a recorder and the entire conversation was on tape. Jocelyn had clearly offered to sell a baby to the “Jacobs” and that put one more nail into her coffin. Trivette promised Walker that he’d take the info to the DA and see if they could get those warrants. “Call me back and let me know,” Walker said and hung up his phone. “Let’s get back to the hotel and see where this leads,” he suggested.

H.O.P.E. House 6:30 p.m.

Sally sat on the couch fuming about the DA’s reluctance to go after Jocelyn Caine until they had built a solid case. She didn’t care about the case, she wanted her baby back. Both Ericka and Josie had tried to calm her down, but Sally was livid. After days of waiting, she finally had a sliver of hope and now she was being asked to wait. She couldn’t wait any longer; she was going to take action!

Downtown Hilton Hotel 10:30 p.m.

“Well, I talked to the DA and he’s agreed to have the warrants ready for you all first thing in the morning. He’d like to have Sydney check out of the hospital with a baby and wait to see if Robby Loomis tries to take him, but I told him that you wouldn’t go for that.”

“Damn right I won’t! I am not putting another baby in jeopardy because the DA wants more evidence. We have what we need.”

“I know Walker; he’s just playing it safe. He wants to throw the book at this woman and it’s hard to do if the book doesn’t have any binding.”

Walker frowned at her metaphor, but responded, “I can’t watch Sally Cohen or any of those other young parents continue to wait and wonder where their babies are and if they are safe.”

“I know, I agree. I talked to Josie earlier and she said they had a heck of a time calming Sally down. Tomorrow morning, we’ll have Sydney call Jocelyn and say that she’s decided to keep her baby. Then the Rangers can tail her and Robby Loomis to see what her next move will be. If she contacts us and says that the baby will be available in the next day or two, we’ll know that they are planning to kidnap the baby. I don’t think it will be admissible in court, since it’s not a crime she’ll actually commit, and even the intent will be questionable, since there’s no actual baby, but… I’ll use all the leverage I can get with the judge.”

“So you plan to take this case on?”

“You bet I do! I’m going to see that woman rot in jail for what she’s put these young parents through!”

Walker sat and looked at her and she calmed down enough to realize that her vow affected him, too. It also affected their baby. This was going to be a big case with a lot of media coverage. It was one thing when she’d taken these cases on before they were married, or even before they’d had Angela, but now, she needed to make sure her family was willing to support her before taking on these time consuming cases.

“I’m right there with you, baby, all the way,” Walker said when he saw the unspoken question on her face.

Alex got up and walked over to where Walker sat on the couch in the sitting room of their luxury suite. She reached her hand down and pulled him up off the couch. “I love you, Cordell Walker. I love you. And now, I want to show you just how much,” she said, tugging on his hand to lead him to their bedroom.

“Lead the way, Mrs. Walker,” he said as he followed her.

Baby Match Adoption Agency Wednesday 9:00 a.m.

Sally waited, hunched down behind a water cooler in the hall near the door to the Adoption Agency office. She was waiting for her nemesis to arrive, a Ms. Jocelyn Caine. She was going to make the woman tell her where Belle was if it was the last thing she did on this earth. Her beautiful daughter… Sally was desperate and she was no longer able to think clearly. She had to get her daughter back.

Robby Loomis and Jocelyn Caine were walking down the hall toward the office door when Jocelyn’s cell phone rang. “Jocelyn Caine,” she answered.

Sally could only hear her side of the conversation, but she could tell that she was angry. It sounded as if someone was calling her to tell her that they had decided not to place their baby up for adoption. Jocelyn slammed the phone shut and turned to Robby fuming. “That Rosie Donaldson says that she wants to keep her baby,” she said.

“Well, that’s no problem. I know where she’s staying with the baby. As soon as they release her from the hospital, I’ll take him.”

Jocelyn glanced around, realizing where they were and tried to hush him as she pulled him toward the office.

“Like you took my Belle?” Sally stood up from her hiding place and challenged.

Robby Loomis whirled around and both he and Jocelyn looked at the girl Jocelyn had referred to as ‘mousy’. She looked anything but! Here was a lioness defending her cub and she was ready to leave claw marks.

“What are you talking about? You’re delusional!” Jocelyn hotly denied.

“No, I know that you took Belle. Where is she? I want her back! I want her back now!”

Jocelyn nodded her head to Robby who acted quickly. He punched Sally in the face and after his second blow connected, she lay on the carpeting unconscious. “How the hell did she find us?” Robby asked Jocelyn.

“You idiot! She’s been here before, you had her husband bring her here to meet me, remember?”

“Yes, but how does she know we took her baby?”

“She doesn’t, she’s just guessing and making wild accusations. But if you don’t pick her up and get her into the office, the whole floor is going to know what’s going on here.”

Robby scooped Sally up and carried her limp body into the office and laid her on the couch. “What do we do now?” he asked Jocelyn.

She was getting tired of Robby. He was expendable and he had served his purpose. It was time to cut him loose. The only problem was that she really wanted this last deal. Two hundred thousand dollars! It was more than she’d ever made before. She just had to clinch this deal. Then she could leave and take a break from this business. At least until things cooled off and she could establish herself elsewhere.

“Go track the woman at the hospital. As soon as you are able, get that baby for me. I want this done today.”

“Okay, you got it. What about her?” he asked, nodding to Sally.

Jocelyn knew that the girl would have to be disposed of. The only problem was that it was early in the day and the office building would be busy with people all day. She looked at the limp form. “Tie her up and gag her and lock her in a closet. Tonight, despondent over the loss of her husband and daughter, she will leap to her death from the roof of the building.”

“Murder? You’re talking murder? I didn’t sign on for that, Jocelyn.”

“You signed on for what I tell you to do. You think they like kidnappers in prison? You think the police will ‘go easy on you’ because you drew the line at murder? If this girl lives to tell her story, she can identify both of us. We have to get rid of her. Now, go get her tied up and then go get me that baby. Bring it straight here and I’ll call the Jacobs and meet them at the Hilton. That’s where they’re staying isn’t it?”

“Yes, they’re at the Hilton.”

“Okay, I’ll call over and get things set up for this afternoon.”

“But, what if I can’t get the baby that fast?”

“Think of something. We have to get out of here before this dumb girl is found splattered on the sidewalk in the morning.”

Robby wasn’t happy with the turn of events, but he decided that it was best to comply.

County Hospital 10:00 a.m.

Sydney carried the bundle in her arms as she stepped gingerly into the taxi. She adjusted the baby blanket and kissed the tiny forehead. Robby was behind a planter listening to her give directions to the driver. He recognized the address. She was in fact going back to the apartment she’d shared with her husband. He had wanted to be certain. He went to the parking lot and got his car and headed over to the Cottage Apartments.

Downtown Hilton Hotel

Alex set the phone down and turned to Walker. “That was Josie, they can’t find Sally.”

“What? What do you mean? Where could she be?”

“I don’t know, but I can guess. Ericka said that she was very upset when she left last night and she thinks she may have decided to take things into her own hands.”

“Damn! That’s just what I wanted to avoid. Now we have civilians in jeopardy. I’ll call Cooper; he has Jocelyn duty, and let him know to keep his eyes out for her. If we can stop her before she tries to confront Jocelyn, then so much the better.”

Alex nodded her head in agreement when her cell phone went off. She shared a look with Walker and answered it. “Denise Jacobs.”

“Mrs. Jacobs, I have wonderful news. I will have custody of the baby this afternoon. I can meet you at the Hilton at say, 4:00 p.m.?”

“Today? Really? Well, all right, that sounds wonderful,” Alex enthused into the phone.

“You’re still certain that you want to go through with this adoption?” Jocelyn checked.

“Yes, of course. Paul had the bank draft drawn up first thing this morning.”

“Good, good. I will call you then to make the final arrangements this afternoon at say, 2:00 p.m.?”

“Okay, I’ll be waiting for your call.” Alex said and hung up the phone. “Walker, it sounds like they plan to take Sydney’s baby today.”

“I’ll call Gage. He’s her back up. I don’t want any more screw ups and I don’t want anyone else placed in jeopardy on this.”

Alex nodded her head in agreement. Angela, who was crawling on the floor amongst her toys, sensed the tension in the room and began to whimper. Alex sat down on the blanket with her daughter and talked soothingly to her and handed her another toy. She looked at Walker and he took her cue to go into the other room to make his phone calls. They both agreed that their number one priority was their own daughter. She was to be protected from the ugliness that entered their professional lives as much as possible.

Albertson’s Grocery Store 12:30 p.m.

Cooper had maintained his cover at the grocery store and since they knew to expect Robby Loomis to attempt to grab Sydney’s baby, they decided to set him up. Sydney left the apartment with the baby in a stroller and walked the two blocks over to the grocery store. She shopped, purchasing a small package of diapers and a few other basic necessities. She was very aware of the man who pretended to look at packages no more than one aisle over.

Sydney checked out at the register where Cooper was bagging groceries. She paid for her purchases with food stamps and then headed back down towards her apartment. Once she reached the stairwell, she stopped to check her mail in the mailbox, leaving the baby and the stroller two steps down from the small lobby area where the mailboxes were located. Robby reached into the stroller and snatched the baby up and turned to run out of the door toward the street where he had his car parked and waiting. He ran into Gage’s chest and bounced off, dropping the baby on the ground.

Sydney was right behind him when he turned to run back inside and she used the stroller to trip him, causing him to land face first on the stairs. Before he could even think about moving, she had his hands behind him and cuffed and pulled him up to stand. Gage reached down and scooped the baby up and dropped him back into the stroller and carried everything back upstairs behind Sydney and the handcuffed Robby.

Once in the apartment, Sydney shoved Robby over toward the dining room table. “Sit down,” she ordered him and waited for him to comply.

“What’s going on? Who are you?” Robby asked.

“We’re Texas Rangers and you’re under arrest for attempted kidnapping,” Sydney answered.

“But the baby…” he stammered.

Gage held up the lifelike doll so that he could get a good look at it. “…isn’t real,” he finished for him.

Sydney stood next to Robby and read him his rights. “Do you understand these rights as I’ve read them to you?” she asked.

“Yes,” he answered. He’d been arrested before, but never on any charges this serious.

“You’re facing some pretty heavy duty charges here, Robby,” Sydney began.

“How do you know my name?”

“Oh, we know a lot about you. Don’t we, Gage?”

“Sure do. Like, we know that you work for Jocelyn Caine. We know that you’ve taken at least four babies here in Dallas and prior to that, you were involved in the kidnapping of babies in San Francisco. And… let’s see, what else do we know Syd?”

“How about the fact that Sally Cohen is missing? Don’t forget that. Now if anything bad has happened to Sally, like say, she’s dead. Well, you know that Texas does believe in the death penalty.”

“What do you want?”

“We want your full cooperation. We want you to help us capture Jocelyn Caine and we want those babies back.”

“And what do I get?”

“We’ll tell the judge that you cooperated and that you were not the mastermind behind this whole thing. Right now, all we really have is you. We could just put you into jail for the rest of your natural life, but we want so much more than that. You’re not all that important to us, Loomis. You’re just the means to an end. Play nice with us and we’ll make sure you see daylight again before… oh say, you’re seventieth birthday,” Gage said.

“What do I have to do?”

“Jocelyn Caine is planning to meet with the Jacobs at the Hilton today at 4:00 p.m., correct?”

“You know about that?”

“We sure do. Now, we want you to call her just before 3:00 and tell her that you have the baby and that you’ll meet her at the Hilton. Tell her that you can’t meet her sooner, because you have to take a taxi and you’re just barely going to make it. Tell her that you have to remain discreet, because you aren’t sure if someone saw you take the baby. You got all that?” Sydney asked.

Robby nodded his head.

“Good, now let’s go over it again,” Gage said.

Baby Match Adoption Agency 3:30 p.m.

Sally sat in the dark closet with tears streaming down her face. She didn’t know what was going to happen to her, but she was afraid. She had woken up with a splitting headache and she was in desperate need of the restroom. She was hungry and tired and, most of all, she was scared to death. She knew that she had acted rashly and that she should have trusted Ranger Walker and Alex and all the others who were helping her. She was just so desperate. If she couldn’t have her Belle back, then it was just as well that they kill her.

Sally looked up and squinted as the closet was suddenly filled with light.

“Sally? Sally, are you all right?” a woman’s voice asked.

Sally nodded her head slowly and tried to adjust to the sudden bright light.

“I’m Ranger Chen, I work with Ranger Walker. Here, let me help you with those ropes.”

Lisse untied Sally, who rushed down the hall to the restroom. Lisse gave her a few minutes and then entered the restroom to find Sally washing her face and looking at the bruises on her face from where Robby had hit her. Her left cheek was swollen and her right eye was bruising. “Should I call you an ambulance? Are you seriously hurt?”

“No, I don’t need an ambulance; I just have the bruises you can see. How did you find me?”

“Well, we were pretty certain that you were here somewhere and Robby Loomis told us where to find you.”

“Belle, do you have any information on Belle?”

“No, not yet, but my partner is over at the storage facility where Jocelyn stored her papers, with a search warrant. He’ll confiscate everything and meet us at headquarters. I need to gather what I can here and I’ll take you over with me to wait and see how the operation goes.”

“Operation?”

“Yes, Jocelyn Caine is in for a big surprise.”

Hilton Hotel 4:00 p.m.

Jocelyn was in the suite waiting for Robby to show. She hoped that he would arrive before the Jacobs, but she was getting worried. Finally, there was a knock on the door and she opened it, hoping to find Robby. She sighed a huge sigh of relief when she saw him standing there with an infant clutched to his chest.

“Get in here,” she told him and reached to draw him in, when she saw Mr. and Mrs. Jacobs come down the corridor. She paused and stepped aside to allow Robby to enter, just as they reached the doorway.

“Mr. and Mrs. Jacobs, how nice to see you,” she said.

“Oh, yes, hello. Is this him? May I hold him?” Alex asked.

Robby handed the baby to her and Jocelyn said, “Robby, why don’t you go on down now. I’ll meet you after I finish my business with the Jacobs.” Robby nodded his head and turned to hurry out of the hotel suite.

“Oh, he’s just lovely,” Alex gushed, as she rocked the baby and walked away from her husband and Jocelyn.

“So, you’re happy, darling?” Walker asked.

“Oh yes, he’s perfect,” Alex answered.

Walker turned back to Jocelyn, “so what do we do next?” he asked.

“Well, I just need you to sign these papers and then, once you give me the bank draft, he’s all yours.”

“Yes, I was going to ask you about that,” Walker said.

“Yes?” Jocelyn asked, getting a little nervous.

“Well, I know that we said that money wasn’t a problem, but your fee seems a bit steep.”

“I managed to get you a beautiful baby in twenty four hours. That doesn’t come cheap.”

“No, I’m sure it doesn’t. I just want to make sure that I’m getting my money’s worth.”

“Two hundred thousand dollars and he’s worth every penny.”

“He’s not even breathing,” Alex said.

Jocelyn whirled around, “what?”

Alex unwrapped the doll and held him up for Jocelyn to see.

“What’s going on here?” Jocelyn asked.

“What’s going on is that you’re under arrest for kidnapping and selling babies, among many other charges,” Walker answered her.

“Darling, why don’t you read her her rights so that I can get back to Angela? I want to run her over to the Center before I meet you at the Justice Building. It’s going to take a few hours to write up all the charges we have against her.” Alex walked over to the door and opened it to allow Trivette to enter and help Walker cuff Jocelyn and make sure that her rights were read to her. Alex stayed to witness that procedure was followed. She wasn’t going to lose this case because some defense lawyer cried foul.

H.O.P.E. Center Saturday 2:30 p.m.

Walker pulled his Dodge Ram into the driveway and honked his horn. The front door opened and Sally Cohen came rushing out, followed by Alex - with Angela, Ericka and Josie. Trivette stepped from the passenger’s side of the vehicle and held out the bundle he had nestled in his arms.

“Belle, Belle, oh my baby!” Sally cried as she held the infant close.

Jimmy’s arms didn’t stay empty long as Ericka threw herself into them. “Oh, you got her back!” she said, giving him a hug.

“Yes, we did. She was right where the documents we found in the storage facility said she would be.”

Alex was on the other side of the Ram, greeting her husband. “Was she all right? Were they good to her?” she asked in concern.

Walker kissed his own baby girl and nodded his head. “Yes, honey, she was fine. It wasn’t an environment I’d want our baby to grow up in, but they weren’t bad people.”

Alex smiled at her husband. “Thank God this is over! I am so happy that Belle was found and that she’s safe.”

“Me too, now let’s go home,” he said as he watched Josie usher Sally back into the house.

“I thought we were going to stay and celebrate,” she said.

“I prefer to celebrate in private.”

“Oh you do, do you? Well… I guess that since you’ve done such a great job on this case, that you deserve it. I have such an airtight case to bring to trial, thanks to your team’s professional work, that I won’t even have to work overtime preparing for it.”

“Good! Chen and Cooper have returned the Munson baby to his parents. Gage and Sydney should be back this afternoon with Connie Miller’s daughter Cassidy and Stacy Connor’s boy Harry is back with her, as of yesterday. The babies in other cities are another story though.”

“I know, but I’ll try to get Jocelyn to tell where she hid the papers. I just don’t think she’ll budge though. I’m not willing to let her off after what she’s done and she refuses to talk without a deal of probation only.”

“That’s ridiculous!”

“I know, but I’ll keep at it. Maybe after she’s convicted, she’ll be more cooperative. We’ll just have to wait and see. Robby Loomis just doesn’t know much. He was truly just a flunky.”

“Well, let’s say our goodbyes and head home.”

“You got it, Cowboy!”

The Ritz Carlton Hotel 10:00 p.m.

Sydney stepped into the hotel room wearing a rose colored negligee. Gage’s breath stopped in his throat, he was sure his heart had leapt up there to block it. When he finally regained the power of speech, he said, “Oh wow!”

Sydney smiled, not at all concerned with his lack of eloquence. “You like?”

“I like, oh yes, I like.”

She stepped up to him and laid the palm of her hand on his bare chest. “I feel like a schoolgirl, meeting her boyfriend for a tryst.”

“No, you are definitely no schoolgirl. You’re a beautiful woman and this isn’t a tryst, it’s the beginning of forever. I love you, Sydney,” he said in a harsh whisper.

Tears sprang to the tough female Ranger’s eyes. “Oh Francis, I love you, too,” she said and leaned up to meet his warm lips.

His hands ran over her long silky hair, down to her waist and back up to her shoulders. Sydney’s hands explored the hard ridges of his chest, the washboard abdominal muscles and then circled his waist. They kissed deeply, their tongues touching, tasting, testing.

Gage pulled back slightly and looked at her wide eyes and flushed cheeks. “I want to make love to you, Sydney Cooke, are you ready?”

“Yes, oh yes, I’m ready,” she said and sank back against him.

Gage bent down and scooped her up into his arms and carried her over to the wide bed. He laid her down and took his time touching each inch of exposed skin. “I want to see you, to see all of you,” he said.

Sydney lifted her arms and allowed him to pull the silky gown over her head. She wore nothing underneath. Gage’s pupils dilated and then contracted. Sydney reached out for the waistband of his pajama bottoms, his only covering. “My turn,” she said as she tugged them down and off. Her eyes widened as he was fully exposed to them.

“We’ll go as fast or as slow as you like,” Gage said. “Tell me what you like, what feels right. I want everything to be perfect.”

“It is perfect,” she said and then sank back onto the bed, pulling him down with her.

H.O.P.E. Center 10:00 p.m.

Sally sat in the rocking chair in the small room she and Belle occupied. She rocked her baby and sang softly to her as she nursed from her breast.

“Oh Belle, I’m so happy to have you back. Things are going to be different now. I know that I can do anything and I will. I’m going to make a life for us. I’m going to go to school and get my C.P.A. license and make a wonderful home for us. You’ll come here while I go to school and work, but I promise that I’ll spend as much time as I possibly can with you. Maybe someday, I’ll meet a man who will make you a wonderful father, but I’m not worried. If not, we’ll be happy, just the two of us. And I’m going to teach you that when you see someone who needs help and you are in the position to help them, you should do what you can. It’s a lesson that I hope you pass on to your children Belle. If someone hadn’t helped us, you wouldn’t be here with me now and I’m not ever going to forget that.”

Belle responded by pushing against her mother’s breast with her closed fist and tugging on her nipple a bit harder. Sally smiled and kissed her baby’s forehead, inhaling the sweet baby smell.

Trivette’s Apartment 10:00 p.m.

Ericka stepped behind Jimmy who stood looking out of the balcony window. She wrapped her arms around his waist and pressed her chin into his back. “What’cha thinking about?” she asked him.

Jimmy’s hands covered hers and he leaned back against her slightly. “I was just thinking that when we have kids, I’m going to do everything in my power to protect them.”

“And just how many kids were you thinking?”

“Gosh, Ericka, I don’t know. They’re a big responsibility. I don’t want just one though. Maybe two?”

“Two’s good, but I think I want three.”

Jimmy turned to face her and wrapped her tightly in his embrace. “Three, huh?”

“Yep. You up for it?”

“Oh yes, I’m up for it,” he said, and proceeded to prove it.

Walker Ranch 10:00 p.m.

Alex lay in the tub with her head against the towel and her eyes closed. She didn’t hear Walker enter, but she felt his hand reach for the sea sponge and squeeze water over her shoulders. He then proceeded to lean her forward and to slip in behind her. She lay buoyed by the water, in his embrace. “I take it Angela went to sleep finally?”

“She sure did. Now, weren’t we going to celebrate something?”

Alex turned in the water and sat straddling him. She took the sponge and squeezed soap on it and smoothed it over his chest. “Yes, we were. We were going to celebrate the fact that God knew exactly what he was doing when he put the two of us together.”

“That he did,” her husband agreed as he pulled her down to kiss her. Words were spoken, but they were whispers of love and need. Gentle words that bared their souls to the other half of themselves. Two people, one heart, forever.