Back in the Saddle
By Katheryn Sandoval (FanFiction.net’s hearthandhomeauthor)

 


Part 1


This installment occurs before, during, and after the few events of "Paradise Trail" and features the same cast of great characters as my previous stories plus a few new additions. Butch McMann makes his first appearance, and Molly Mason (OC) is introduced. Molly, as will be explained, is a descendant and namesake of the original Molly Mason whom we were introduced to in the episode "Paradise Trail" and also looks a whole lot like her.

"This looks like the right place." Katheryn sighed and slowed to a stop in front of the four-floor loft apartments that she came to. She put her red 1973 Stingray Corvette in neutral and left it running as she glanced over the list of apartments for rent that Carlos had help her make. She loved staying at the H.O.P.E. center, but she needed a place of her own. Besides, they needed the room for the truly needy back at the center.

This loft was very remote…almost secluded. A downtown train could be heard in the distance, and the Dallas skyline was quite visible. Besides this, the place seemed rather…dated. Charming even. But very much "lived in." Almost like a steel warehouse. Katheryn looked up at the place and then back down at the list in her hand. It was the third place on her list. She had already toured two other places. The first was a condo with a nightclub across the street. Not the best place for peace and quiet. And the other was a skyscraper apartment that was a bit out of her price range…way out of her price range.

Katheryn shook her head and exhaled hard. "Well…Here goes nothing." She stood out of her nice Stingray and neared the door to the building. Just then another engine revved nearby as it came to a standstill next to hers. Turning around as she stopped walking, Katheryn eyed a young woman in the car who seemed to be in a hurry. She shut the engine off and hurried out of the car and up to Katheryn. Her walk was swift but calm.

The young woman who looked in her mid-twenties approached Katheryn with a timid smile. "You wouldn't happen to be the real estate agent? Would you?"

Katheryn's awkward smile was followed with a breathy laugh. "I'm afraid not. Just a customer in fact." She glanced up at the tall building and then back at the stranger. "I was meeting the agent here today. She said to meet her here at three." Katheryn glanced at her wristwatch. "It's five passed now."

The young woman offered a shy smile and extended a free hand as she held her handbag with the other. "I'm Molly Mason."

Katheryn grinned and accepted her hand, giving it a cordial shake. "I'm Katheryn. It's a pleasure to meet you, Molly."

"Likewise." Molly smiled.

And yet a third car alerted the twosome of its presence as it came from afar.

"Ah," Katheryn looked onward. "That must be her now."

"Indeed." Molly stretched to see as she turned around.

Seconds later, a middle-aged woman emerged from the now stagnant Pontiac and near the two young ladies rather slowly. Her hearty laugh hinted to her rather colorful personality. "You'll excuse me, ladies, if I'm a bit slow." She grinned from ear to ear as she spoke. "These old legs just ain't like they used to be."

The two young women smiled broadly.

"That's quite alright, ma'am." Molly offered. "Do you need any help?" She took a quick single step forward with concern.

The woman raised a hand slowly. "No…No, young lady. I'm quite alright." She chuckled again.

"Oh, alright." Molly returned to her place near Katheryn and flashed a smile to her new friend.

Arriving at the two young women, the woman sorted through the files in her arms as Molly and Katheryn stood in awkward silence.

"Alright." The older woman finally spoke. "I got me a confession to make to you two."

Molly's smile faded. Katheryn's did too as she listened. She was afraid of what was about to be said and silently concluded that she'd be checking yet another apartment off of her list.

"I may have booked both of you ladies to meet with me today on the promise of showing you an apartment." The kind woman sighed. "Trouble is…I failed to remember that there's only one apartment for sale here out of the eight."

Katheryn had already gathered her defense as she heard what the case was. She would let the young woman here have the first say. Yes, that's what she would do.

"I see," Molly spoke as Katheryn formed her thoughts. "Then I suppose you'll have to show Katheryn here the apartment first."

"Oh, no," Katheryn was quick to jump in. "You shouldn't. There's other places I could look at."

"No, I insist." Molly pleaded. "After all, you arrived here first. You should get first pick."

The elder woman glared over the glasses which sat on the bridge of her nose as she shifted her gaze between the two young women. She raised a hand. "Alright you two!"

The authoritative voice startled them both and secured their attention back on the older woman. "I'm about to get a bad case of dizziness from all this kindness."

The two girls stifled a smile.

"Now," the woman continued. "I'm gonna give you both a tour of the loft apartment at the same time. And then you can argue or flip for it…Don't matter to me. I'll leave and let one of you call me. Save me the trouble." She sighed and returned her gaze to the papers before her. She pushed through the two girls and made her way inside. She began giving facts about the place as she walked, causing the two girls to hurry behind her if they didn't want to miss any information.

Once reaching the apartment on the third floor, the two girls went their separate ways, examining various nooks and crannies as the real estate agent continued to speak of the place's limited but varied amenities. About five minutes passed before the two young women found their way back to the broad living space that provided them with a rather enticing view of the distant downtown Dallas Fort Worth skyline.

"It's rather beautiful, isn't it?" Molly spoke first. It was the first breath of silence the agent had provided them with.

"Indeed!" Katheryn smiled. "A person would be a fool to pass this up."

"Alright." The agent barked loudly. "I'm leaving you two. If either of you want the place, you have my number." She turned to leave.

"But don't you need to lock up?" Molly asked the same question that Katheryn wanted to ask.

The agent only laughed heartily as she disappeared from view.

Molly shrugged and turned back to the view. A couple silent seconds passed. "So…what do you think?"

Katheryn sighed. "It's rather old. But I like it." She turned and paced around the shadowed space. "It has everything I need."

"Me too." Molly nodded. "And plenty of space. Perhaps too much space. I only just moved here last week. I only have a few boxes of stuff. Nothing to amount to much. And no furniture yet."

"Same here." Katheryn smiled. "I've been living at the Dallas H.O.P.E. center. Both there and spending some nights at my friends the Malloy's house. I love them all dearly, but I just needed my own place."

"I know what you mean." Molly smiled. "The H.O.P.E. center…Is that the Help Our People Excel center?"

"The one and the same." Katheryn beamed.

Molly's interest was now piqued. "And you work there?"

Katheryn nodded. "Every day."

"I've heard nothing but good things about the H.O.P.E. center and what Miss Cahill does there. I'd love to volunteer there sometime when I get a chance on my off days."

"Well, we'd be more than happy to have you." Katheryn assured the young woman and then paused. "What is it that you do?"

"Nothing right now." Molly frowned. "But I'm hoping to change that soon. I moved up this way from San Antonio last month to stay with my aunt. But I don't want to burden her anymore. So I decided to look for an apartment while I wait to hear back from the jobs I've applied for."

"Sounds like a plan." Katheryn grinned.

"Yeah." Molly sighed. "If only a place like this was available."

"Yep." Katheryn groaned a sigh as she gazed out at the sunset that was coming on. A sly smile then eased onto her face. Molly was the first to speak though.

"Say…" Molly smiled. "Do have a roommate?"

Katheryn chuckled. "I was just about to ask that."

The twosome shared a soft laugh.

"We could split the rent." Molly explained. "I'll even keep to my side of the place and make the kitchen neutral territory for the bordering countries."

Katheryn chuckled. "Military terms. I like that."

"And it would only be temporary. If another space opened up, I'd move down the hall, and you wouldn't have to worry about it again."

"Oh, you don't have to do that." Katheryn insisted. "You can stay here for as long as you need to."

"Thanks," Molly sighed. "It really is a nice place despite its few flaws."

"That's the truth." Katheryn circled the apartment and returned back to Molly, extending her hand as if she had just proposed a business proposition. "Roommates?"

Molly reached out her hand, and shook Katheryn's softly. "Roommates it is."

The two young ladies closed on the apartment within the hour much to the real estate agent's chagrin. They agreed to move into the place within a few days…enough time to finish packing their belongings. Molly lived the farthest away and insisted she might be a bit longer. But she insisted that Katheryn go ahead and move in whenever she was ready.

Exhausted after her very much filled day, Katheryn climbed into her Corvette at the real estate agent's office and charged down the road. She was already ten minutes late to dinner with Trent, Carlos, and the Rangers with Miss Cahill at C.D.'s.

Nearing the lively restaurant, she spotted Trent's Corvette and parked right near it neatly and with care. She shivered a bit as she turned off the ignition. Perhaps she should have put the top down before leaving the agent's office. Anyways…Katheryn shrugged it off and took up her handbag, crossing in between the cars and up to the door. She pushed it opened and relished the warm air that blew against her as she crossed the threshold. Rounding the corner from the entrance, the gang was already all there and had begun eating.

Katheryn frowned. "Sorry I'm late, guys."

Carlos quickly rose from his place at the end of the table and pulled out the chair beside him. "That's quite alright." He flashed her a genuine smile.

"How's the arm?" She glanced at his arm which was still held captive by the sling.

"It's alright." Carlos took his seat again next to her on her left.

Trent sat across from Carlos to her left and sighed. "Yeah. It's probably getting better faster than someone is letting on."

Carlos glared at him. "Hey, that's not true. I'm a hurt man. I got to have time to heal."

Trent and Katheryn only chuckled.

"I know," a sarcastic voice from Katheryn's far right alerted and drew her attention. "But I'm not that bad at it."

Ranger Walker stifled a laugh. "Trivette, do I have to remind you about the last time you were on a horse?"

"Please don't." Trivette hung his head in shame. "Please…spare these kind guests the horror of that story."

Miss Cahill chuckled. "I remember."

"Alex!" Trivette begged.

"Well, it's the truth, Jimmy." Alex suppressed the urge to laugh once more. "Walker couldn't get you to go very fast at all. You just trotted around his back yard at a snail's pace and nearly had a heart attack when he left the yard."

"Why were you scared when Walker left you?" Carlos leaned forward and spoke from across the long table.

Trivette gritted his teeth and refused to make eye contact with anyone at the table. "Because I was alone…and afraid to go very far without him there."

Light laughs erupted from around the table.

"Well, then we'd best forget it." Walker sighed in jest.

Alex playfully slapped at his arm. "No, we won't. I've wanted to go on a ride for a while now. We aren't canceling a thing. Jimmy will just have to get over it."

Katheryn's curiosity got the best of her. "What's this about a ride?"

Miss Cahill smiled her way. "I've been trying to find time in my schedule to go out to Walker's ranch and just have a day of horseback riding."

"Sounds fun." Katheryn grinned.

"You've rode before?" Carlos eyes narrowed towards her.

"Well…" Katheryn shrunk back. "Not exactly. But I know I could do it if I tried."

Trivette laughed.

Walker ignored him. "If you'd like to come over for a ride, I'd be more than happy to teach you a few things you need to know."

"Thanks, Ranger Walker." Katheryn was truly grateful.

"Why don't we make an event of it?" Inspiration had struck Alex as she suddenly posed the idea.

"What do you mean, Alex?" Carlos asked with apprehension.

"Why don't all of us make a day of it and go riding. We could bring a big picnic and just make a little day trip out of it." Alex's broad smile nearly lit the entire place up.

Trent leaned forward. "I bet Tandy and Ty would love it."

"And I would be right there with them." Katheryn inserted proudly.

"Then it's settled." Alex proclaimed.

Walker sighed. "Now, hold on there, Alex. I don't have that many horses at the ranch."

"Oh, we won't need that many, Walker." Alex counted to herself quickly. "Only seven or eight."

Walker processed the idea for a moment. "I suppose it would be okay."

Alex planted a kiss on Walker's cheek. "Thank you, Walker." She looked him lovingly in the eyes.

"Now how could I say no to that?" The senior Ranger surrendered.

Katheryn noticed the empty chair next to her. "Are we expecting more folks?"

Trent nodded, picking up her question to answer first. "Yep. A friend of mine. Runs a bar downtown and used to be a boxing champ. Thought I'd invite him to meet you guys."

Katheryn frowned. "Well if I would have known that I was free to invite a guest, I would have invited my new roommate over."

"Roommate?" Carlos scoffed playfully. "You don't even have an apartment yet."

"That's where you're wrong." Katheryn smiled and took a sip of her sweet tea.

"Oh?" Carlos grinned.

Katheryn nodded. "Yep. The third one on the list."

Carlos thought through the list they had made. "The place in the warehouse district?"

"Yep."

"How did you end up with a roommate so quick?" Miss Cahill inserted.

Katheryn thought through the rather haphazard event in her mind. "It was the oddest thing. She arrived just after I did. When the real estate agent got there, it was revealed that she had booked two people to tour the same apartment. So after we looked the place over, we decided it was too good to pass up and went in on it together."

Trent wrinkled his forehead and offered advice. "You best be careful, Kath. Do you know anything about her?"

"Not much." Katheryn confessed. "But it just seemed right. As if a certain higher power had arranged it."

Trent nodded. "Then I guess I shouldn't argue." He then smiled.

Ole C.D. then emerged from the kitchen in huff, plopping down in the empty seat next to Katheryn as he muttered a few things to himself. Everyone's eyes fell on him with intrigue. "What?!" C.D. barked as he straightened up in defense.

"Nothing, big dog." Trivette rolled his eyes. "We just worried that you'd drop your lip because it's sagging so close to the ground."

"Oh, shut up." C.D. relaxed and slapped the table. "I just can't believe it. I just can't."

"What's that, C.D.?" Ranger Walker prodded further.

"Oh, it's sales, Cordell. Things just ain't been going good for business since New Year's."

Trivette grinned. "Told you we should have invested in that new food."

"What new food?" Trent asked, his interest piqued.

Trivette smiled from ear to ear.

"It would never work. Tell 'em, Jimmy." C.D. shook his head in disgust.

Trivette inhaled. "Mushrooms."

Alex snorted a bit as she laughed to herself, turning away towards Walker beside her.

"Mushrooms? Isn't that already popular?" Trent asked legitimately.

"Yeah," Trivette stated sarcastically. "But…the market is booming, man. There's all sorts of new things being done." He put his hands out and counted on his fingers. "First, there's the mushroom burger. Then before long the mushroom will be the vegetarian meat option. It's the wave of the future."

Ranger Walker rolled his eyes away from his partner with a small smile. "Right."

Chuckles surged through the little crowd at the table.

"Am I late?" A deep male voice from the nearby entrance alerted them all.

Trent spun around from his seat by the door and stood swiftly, reaching his hand out for a handshake as he offered a broad smile. "Butch! I'm glad you could make it."

The man who now took on the name of "Butch" smiled broadly. His towering figure shadowed the table before him as he shook Trent's hand. "Thanks for inviting me, Trent." He glanced at the table. "I see I didn't get a seat saved," he teased.

C.D. grunted as he rose from the previously reserved seat. "Here ya go, son. I was just keeping it warm for ya. I got this place to run anyways. No time for rest. No, siree." C.D. stood to the side as Butch made his way to the seat.

"Everyone," Trent remained standing. "I'd like you to meet Butch McMann. He runs Uppercuts downtown." Trent reclaimed his seat.

"Nice to meet you." Ranger Walker was the first to greet the gentleman. A thought suddenly struck him. "Your name seems familiar for some reason."

"Should be." Butch smiled faintly. "That is…if you're a fan of boxing."

"Yeah!" Trivette pointed his finger towards Butch. "Butch McMann…I knew I had heard that name before. You were a Golden Gloves champ back in the day, right?" Giddiness settled over Trivette like a bomb ready to explode.

"Yup." Butch answered. His deep voice echoed around the table. "Except I wouldn't say 'back in the day.' Makes me sound old." He chuckled lightly.

Trivette chuckled. "Yeah…But you're about the same age as…"

He made eye contact with Walker as his partner shook his head slowly. "Don't even go there."

Butch turned to Walker. "Oh, don't take it hard. Being the oldest in the group just makes us smarter than the rest of 'em."

Trivette's smile quickly faded. He took a sip from his coffee and tried ignoring McMann's comment of jest.

Walker only smiled and reached for his coffee also.

"So when do you move in to your new apartment?" Carlos couldn't stand the silence between himself and Katheryn any longer.

Katheryn turned around to face him at her other side. "As soon as you can come help me move the boxes."

Trent chuckled to himself.

Carlos glared at her but couldn't hold the playful grudge for long as he looked onward at her smiling face. "I, um, am sort of unable to lift things at the moment."

"Oh, I forgot about that. How convenient." Katheryn turned to Trent. "What about you, Trent?"

"How's tomorrow sound?" He offered quickly.

"Works for me." Katheryn turned back to take a sip of her tea.

"Are they heavy?"

"What's heavy?"

"The boxes."

"Maybe." She grinned but stifled it as quick as it came as she faced Carlos again.

Trent let the matter go with a friendly smile.

The evening went by much too quickly, Katheryn had concluded as she arrived at her Corvette, revving the engine with a smile. These moments with her friends reminded her of where she truly belonged. She grew deeply thankful in that moment of recollection that she wouldn't have to be alone in her apartment. At least there would be someone there to take her mind off of not being with her friends as constantly as she had been these past few months what with living between the H.O.P.E. center and the Malloy's home.

As she rode the roads of the city amid the darkened winter skies, Katheryn nearly shed a tear or two. Her reminiscent thoughts took her back to the days since Thanksgiving. Only last week had Katheryn moved back to her room at the center. Even though she had only stayed with the Malloy's since Thanksgiving, she was already well-attached to them all. She would miss seeing Tandy's bright face when she got up in the morning or Tommy's bounding footsteps as he hurried to the breakfast table. Even Trent's guided voice as he read to them from the Bible every morning would be missed.

Katheryn shook away her reverie and returned her focus to the road only to see a roadblock ahead. "What in the world?" She whispered under her breath. It appeared to be police check-point.

Katheryn stopped as the uniformed officer raised his hand. "Ma'am, may I see your ID?"

Katheryn nodded and reached for her purse on the other tanned leather seat next to her. She quickly drew out her driver's license and handed it to the kind officer.

He looked over with his flashlight. Katheryn grew nervous as he took longer to look over the license than she had thought necessary. He then handed the card back. "Looks good. Thank you, ma'am."

Katheryn smiled and set the license back in her purse, accelerating forward slowly with a nod. As she drove onward, she sensed something odd about that checkpoint. She brushed it off. It had to be legitimate. She was probably overreacting. It had been a long night, and her body craved the softness of her bed. She would need all the energy she could muster to make a loft her home come sunrise tomorrow.


Part 2


"What in the world is in this box?" Trent Malloy grunted harshly, his eyes scanning the box he struggled to hold on to as he stood next to Katheryn in the elevator lift.

"Oh, just a few books." Katheryn grinned and rearranged her own grip on the box she held.

"A few?" Trent scoffed. "More like a lot."

The lift's door slid open with a loud, authoritative thud and settled with an echo through the entire third floor. The two weary movers exited the narrow space side-by-side and turned left into the wide hall.

"This place remind me a lot of Carlos' place."

Katheryn thought through Trent's words. "You're right. It does."

Arriving at Katheryn's new apartment, Katheryn deposited her box at the foot of the door and unlocked the door…rather slowly in Trent's opinion as he tightened his grip on the cardboard monster in his arms.

Katheryn swung the door open and squatted downward, hoisting her own box back into her grasp and moving forward quickly into the apartment. She set it down as soon as she could on the small kitchen counter with a smiling sigh of relief.

"Where do want this?" Trent managed despite not being able to make full eye contact with his friend.

"Um…" Katheryn glanced around the living space but couldn't decide.

"Would you hurry up?" Trent tried to smile but couldn't.

"Here." Katheryn tapped the counter. "Just set it here. That'll be fine." She smiled.

Trent sighed brusquely before turning to Katheryn. "Is that the last one?"

Katheryn wanted to be sarcastic but chose not to. "I think so." She cringed and snapped her fingers in front of her with a disappointed sigh. "Darn. I think there's another. But it should be a little lighter if that helps." She smiled yet again to lighten the mood.

"You know I'm just kidding." Trent chuckled. "I'd bring twenty more boxes up here if you wanted me to. That's what friends are for."

"Yep. Sure is." A voice alerted them from the doorway.

"Carlos!" Katheryn beamed. "So you decided to come help after all, huh?"

"Yeah. You know I can't stay away for long."

Trent slapped his buddy on the back as he neared him. "But you so conveniently arrived just after all the heavy boxes had already been brought up."

"Did I?" Carlos grinned.

Katheryn tried not to smile. But Carlos' sense of humor was one of the things she loved about him the most. "There's still plenty to do, Carlos." She flipped open the box Trent had just sat down. "Like filling the small built-ins right over there." She pointed to a crevice of the living space far off.

"Ah, I see. A one-handed job." Carlos crossed the space and looked into the box. "Whoa! These are a lot of books."

"Tell me about it!" Trent sighed playfully.

Carlos reached his free hand inside and drew out a title. "Jane Austen." He drew out another. "L.M. Montgomery." He set that one aside also and looked Katheryn's way with a sly smile.

Katheryn stood watching in disbelief. She wasn't sure if she was comfortable with Carlos going through every book she owned. But she liked it at the same time.

"Ah!" Carlos drew out a title on karate. "Our friend here has quite the eclectic taste."

"That's the truth." Katheryn scoffed to herself playfully, knowing good and well just how much her eclectic tastes were. She gently set her hand on top of the box, blocking Carlos from getting another one out. "How about we put them on the shelf now. Okay?"

"Yes, ma'am." Carlos saluted lamely with his forefinger before lifting the three books under his free arm and crossing to the built-ins Katheryn had pointed to a moment ago.

Trent turned to leave. "I'll see you later, Kath. You take it is on Carlos." He smiled.

Katheryn returned his sentiment with a nod. "Sure thing." She lifted a hand as she waved goodbye.

"So," Carlos grunted as he stood back to his feet from stocking those three books. "Are you gonna have any house warming party or anything?"

Katheryn wrinkled her forehead and placed her hand on her hip in thought. "I don't know. I suppose I'll have to ask my roommate first. I mean…I'm not that big on parties. If I did do something, it would be simply inviting you all over for dinner. Just something simple like that."

"Gotcha." Carlos grinned and eased over to the box to get some more books. "I hear there's a special birthday coming up."

Katheryn panicked inwardly as she had she had not recalled telling Carlos when her birthday was but then relaxed as she remembered it was still a good four months away. "Whose?" She wrinkled her forehead intensely.

"Ranger Walker's." Carlos crossed the room again with four books this time.

"Ah!" Katheryn nodded. "I bet Alex and Trivette have planned a big party."

"I don't know." Carlos thought for a moment as he squatted down to place the books on the rather low shelf. "Only thing I've heard is Trivette telling me that C.D. told him he had a special present for him."

Katheryn finally moved from her place by the kitchen counter and began removing her belongings from the other box. "Sounds intriguing. Walker's a special man. Any present for him would have to be extra special." She spun on her heel and nearly ran into Carlos as she didn't hear him come up behind her. She grasped at her words as embarrassment flooded her being. The item she had held was now no longer there as it was sent crashing to the floor below. A rather loud gasp escaped her as the item sounded against the floor, shattering into its demise. Carlos tried to rush in and save it, but it was too late and had broken in two before either of them could collect themselves.

"I'm so sorry." Katheryn nervously turned back around to the box behind her as her eyes grew large from shock. Why was she so nervous about a little fumble?

"No, it was my fault." Carlos resolved as he stooped down to gather the broken dish.

Katheryn turned back around and quickly bent down. "No…Let me." Katheryn busied herself with gathering the broken fragments as Carlos simply looked towards her…a gentle smile playing at his lips that she never saw amid her busyness.

The little incident was soon over and the two rose and went back to their separate tasks… Katheryn's thoughts were gathered but confused as she attempted to reassure herself.

Carlos' thoughts were steady and sure as he returned to the bookshelf. He almost wished he had spoken up…or more…as he had looked into her eyes for that brief moment. He quickly dismissed the thought and tried to focus on the assignment before him. After all…There's more than one way to show someone that you think of them highly.

Katheryn took a deep breath as she steadied herself and turned to face Carlos. "I've been meaning to ask you something."

Carlos turned to face her with intrigue in his eyes. "What's up?"

"Last night," she began, ambling nearer to him, "while I was on my way home I passed through a police checkpoint."

"And?" Carlos wasn't quite getting her meaning.

"Well," Katheryn sighed. "I don't know. There was just something about it that didn't feel right. It looked legit. I—I don't know."

"Where was it at?"

"About two miles…maybe three miles from Trent's house."

"Hmm…" Carlos wrinkled his forehead. "Tell you what…I'll check with the office later and let you know." He smiled.

"Thanks." Katheryn returned his smile and slowly turned back to her unpacking.

"Am I interrupting anything?" A feminine voice sounded in the doorway.

"Not at all." Carlos stretched to see where the voice came from.

Molly beamed her approval as she entered slowly, carrying a rather organized box of items into the apartment. She set the box down and neared her roommate. "I hope you don't mind, but I decided to go ahead a come."

"No problem at all." Katheryn reassured her new friend.

Molly glanced towards Carlos. "And who is this?"

Katheryn quickly apologized, laying aside the item in her hand. "This is detective Carlos Sandoval. Carlos, this is Molly Mason."

"It's a pleasure." Carlos tipped his head courteously as he shook the young woman's hand. "Are you new to Dallas?"

"Not entirely." Molly sighed. "But it's the first time I've lived here."

"Well we are pleased to have you here." Carlos welcomed the newcomer cordially.

"Thank you." Molly nodded and glanced at the four boxes on the kitchen counter.

"I just got here." Katheryn confessed, guilt edging her voice.

Molly smiled. "Oh that's quite alright. Are these books?" She peered inside the first box.

"Yep." Carlos answered lamely.

"Kath!" Trent's voice sounded in the doorway as he hoisted yet another box inside. "Excuse me…" He grunted softly, moving past his friends and setting the item on the floor. He stood back up to his full height, turned, and was about to speak when Molly caught his eye. Her curly blonde hair pulled back half-way and her rather mature smile caused him to delay his words. In no time he had snapped out of it and had turned to Katheryn. "I was half way down the road when I remembered I still had a box of yours in my car."

Katheryn nodded her thanks. "Thanks, Trent." She crossed the room to where Trent was, taking one look at him and then one look at Molly and then shaking her head as she kneeled down to the box Trent had just brought in.

Trent clapped his hands once and cleared his throat. "Well…I'll be seeing you guys…later." He turned and left slowly before another word could be said.

Carlos wanted to laugh but didn't as he bowed his head with a hidden smile.

Molly frowned. "And who was that?"

Carlos leaned closer to Molly. "That was Trent Malloy. He's been my best friend for as long as I can remember."

A gentle smile slowly made its way to Molly's delicate features. "He seemed nice."

"Oh, I wouldn't go that far." Carlos scoffed.

Katheryn couldn't help but laugh under her breath.

"I heard that." Carlos glared her way although her back was turned to him as she sorted through the box on the floor.

Molly shook away the entire discourse with a breathy sigh and turned to do her own decorating. "Well, I guess there's much to be done." She glanced around the little place as she crossed the living area. "Much to be done indeed."

##

About a quarter of a mile separated two scraggly-faced, tobacco-chewing ingrates in their beat up 1971 Ford pickup from Ranger Walker's welcoming ranch house as their beady eyes glared towards the place of solace that lay just up the road.

The older of the two sat in the driver's seat, binoculars in hand, studying the outskirts of the property. "Thar it is." He gleefully smiled to himself as plans formed in his mind.

The other man's mouth opened wide with a guttural laugh. His eyes focused forward, picturing in his mind the man who had sent them to Huntsville six years ago.

"Shouldn't be very hard." The one in the driver's seat remarked with a satisfied smirk as he lowered his binoculars.

"Better not." The other scoffed. "I ain't going back to that hell hole. Ain't ever gonna find Deats Tarpin in that place ever again. Good thing we got out when we did. And ol' Walker ain't ever gonna know what hit him."

"Patience, brother. Patience."

"A man don't got no patience after being sent to prison! That Ranger Walker's gonna pay."

"He will, Deats. He will!" The other man barked at his passenger.

"Easy now…" Deats Tarpin chuckled ruefully. "You mighty touchy, Hank."

Hank Tarpin raised the binoculars back to eyes. "I should be…Took me almost fifteen years to get my chance. And now I got it. I'm gonna enjoy the feeling for as long as can. Don't be rushing it, brother."

Hank Tarpin glanced behind them toward the bed of the truck and eagerly smiled, rubbing his hands together in glee. "What do you say we set up a few surprises for the good Ranger?" His psychotic giggle reverberated through the truck.

Hank Tarpin held his focus, easing the binoculars away with a slow-coming smile rising to the surface of lips. "First good thing you said today, brother. First good thing you've said."

##

Jane Willis' short curly pigtails bobbed up and down and back and forth as the little girl skipped through the H.O.P.E. center with her cup of animal crackers gripped securely in her hand.

"Don't forget your coat, Jane." Katheryn called to the little one as she caught up with her.

The little girl handed off her snack to Katheryn and proceeded to slip into her coat. Her little six-year-old arms struggled a bit to find the opposite arm that sagged behind her. She spun in a circle once or twice, trying to chase it but stopped short soon after with a sigh. The little girl only stood there as her pigtails continued to move.

"Would you like some help, sweetheart?" Katheryn stifled a chuckle.

Jane put up her still free hand. "No, ma'am. I've got it."

"Okay." Katheryn relaxed, shifting her weight to her other foot as she held their snacks.

It took a moment or two of trial and error. But Jane eventually managed to get her coat on and beamed a smile as she accepted her snack back from Katheryn.

The two proceeded out of doors into the cool air and stooped down, being seated on the brick steps of the center. Several minutes passed as the young woman and the little girl, now fast friends, munched on their individual snacks together.

"I'm glad you came back like you said." Jane smiled up at Katheryn.

Katheryn looked her way with every ounce of love in her heart for the little girl. "I always keep my word."

"Good." The little one turned back to face the yard and shoved another cracker into her small mouth, filling it greatly. "Are you gonna marry that police man?" The little girl blurted out with her mouth still somewhat full.

After recovering from nearly choking on her potato chips, Katheryn couldn't help but smile. It seemed she always found herself laughing when in a nervous state. "What a question to ask."

"You like him don't you?"

Katheryn nodded. "Of course. Who wouldn't?"

The smart girl nibbled some more in silence, allowing Katheryn a desperate moment to gather her thoughts…what there was left of the scattered remains in her mind after being embarrassed like so. She finally found her mental footing and turned to Jane. "We're just friends. Good friends."

Jane sighed. "That's what they all say."

From the mouths of babes, Katheryn thought to herself but quickly tossed the thought away as the entrance to the H.O.P.E. center eased open and Miss Cahill emerged.

"Alright." Miss Cahill began. "It's all been settled."

"Oh?" Katheryn turned to face Alex.

Alex grinned. "We'll be heading out to Walker's ranch first thing Saturday morning and get an early start. I've called Trent and Carlos. They said that works best for them."

Katheryn smiled her approval. "Do I need to bring anything?"

Miss Cahill thought for a moment. "I'll take care of the essentials. Just dress appropriately and bring a contribution for the picnic."

"Gotcha."

"Oh…" Miss Cahill raised her finger as a thought seized her. "Walker's birthday party is tonight at C.D.'s. You think you'll be able to make it?"

"Wouldn't miss it!" Katheryn beamed.

"Wonderful." Miss Cahill's smile lit up the veranda. "Also…Detective Sandoval called and said for you to call him right back." She frowned in intense thought as she recalled the conversation. "Something about a police checkpoint."

Katheryn nodded eagerly and stood to her feet. "I'll call back right away."

"And…" Alex glanced at her wristwatch. "…I need to get over to C.D.'s now. I promised I'd help decorate for the party tonight. And C.D. wanted to show something to me and Jimmy before the party tonight. Something about a rare present he got for Walker." She chuckled softly.

"Alright…" Katheryn nodded and inwardly wished she could get to her phone call with Carlos.

Miss Cahill saw the eagerness in her eyes and nodded in agreement, stepping aside toward Jane Willis as Katheryn then hurried slowly and politely inside the center.

"Yep. She likes him." Jane uttered softly.

Miss Cahill only wrinkled her forehead in confusion as she heard the girl's words. She brushed it off with a smile before following Katheryn back into the center to prepare to leave.

Katheryn had since made her way to the telephone in the quiet corner of the center's kitchen just passed the food pantry and was dialing Carlos' office number into the wall phone as Miss Cahill eased passed her to get her belongings.

"Yes, this is Detective Sandoval," the voice answered from the other end.

Katheryn suppressed her smile and spoke. "It's Katheryn. You wanted to speak with me?"

Carlos grinned from the other end of the phone. "Of course." He steadied himself in his desk chair as he leaned forward, his elbows propped up on the desk as he held the device to his ear. "I spoke with several people here and checked the records. There's no sign of a checkpoint having been conducted within a five-mile radius of the Malloy home in over a month."

Katheryn's forehead wrinkled intensely. "Well I know I didn't imagine it."

"I know." Carlos nodded. "Did you happen to hear any conversation between the officers when you drove up?"

"No." Katheryn shook her head, bowing it softly in regret. "I was rather caught up in my thoughts to be honest."

Carlos exhaled sharply as he tried to figure this out. "It's strange to say the least."

"You're telling me." Katheryn sighed with raised eyebrows expressing her displeasure toward the occurrence. It made her shudder under the thought that she was being checked for some diabolical intention. She stifled her cringe as Carlos spoke again.

"I'll try to look in to it some more and let you know what I find out."

Katheryn managed a smile this time. "Okay."

"I'll see you at C.D.'s tonight." Carlos said without thinking but then retraced his words. "You will be there, right?"

"Of course." Katheryn beamed, wishing he could have seen her reassuring smile.

Carlos bid her goodbye and hung up the phone slowly but swiftly as he smiled broadly also, trying his best to return to his job as detective.

Miss Cahill crossed back through the kitchen just as the wall phone dinged softly upon Katheryn returning the hand-held device to its rightful place. "Everything okay?"

Katheryn nodded although her smile faded and her face was turned as she settled into deep thought.

Alex noticed her worrisome demeanor and neared the young woman. "Everything doesn't seem okay. Are you sure?"

Katheryn shook out of it and raised her head with a smile. "Oh, everything's alright." She nodded firmly. "Carlos was looking into something that happened to me the other night."

"What happened?" Alex grew concerned.

"After dinner with you all the other night, I was headed home to the Malloy's and stopped at a police checkpoint. It seemed legitimate. But I felt odd about it so I told Carlos…I mean Detective Sandoval." She sighed. "He said there has not been a checkpoint near that area in over a month."

Miss Cahill creased her forehead, looking towards Katheryn with deepened concern. "That is odd indeed."

"He said he'd continue to look into it. I just don't like the idea that…" Her words trailed off.

Miss Cahill relaxed and smiled, setting her hand on Katheryn's shoulder. "I'm sure everything will be alright. Carlos is a good cop. He'll figure it out."

"Somehow I wish I could help though." Katheryn relaxed with her hand on her hip.

Alex smiled. "I sort of know the feeling."

"You do?"

"Yep. Although I usually know better than to jump in. A man has his pride you know. But there are times you end up having to work as a team, and it all works out in the end. Walker and I seem to balance each other that way."

Katheryn accepted Miss Cahill's advice readily and gave the woman a smile of acceptance. "Thanks."

"Well," Alex announced. "I've got to get going. Are you alright?" She looked into Katheryn's eyes.

"I'm fine." Katheryn pleaded. "Go." She laughed softly.

"Oh, alright." Alex chuckled and took up her handbag, heading for the door and into the cool afternoon winter winds, leaving Katheryn to see to the center while she was gone.

Katheryn sighed rather intensely as she glanced around herself. No use worrying about what she couldn't control, she concluded, moving forward to stock the recent can good donations into the food pantry. There was much work to keep her mind occupied before the grand party tonight.

##

(Insert the events from the episode "Paradise Trail" here)

Ranger Walker had just arrived at C.D.'s and scared the sanctified daylights out of his close friends as they sat together at the bar, reminiscing of an excerpt of the life of Hayes Cooper and his quest to help the Mormon travelers as told from the special book C.D. planned to give to Walker for his birthday that night. Alex had a hard time stopping her incessant laugh as Trivette's heart rate attempted to return to normal.

"Jeez." Walker's broad smile sheltered his confused yet hearty laugh. His eyes innocently pleaded his case. "You all seemed far away from here."

"That we were, Cordell." C.D. glared at the Ranger with playful disgust. "About a hundred years to be exact."

"Oh?" Walker tried peaking over the group to the bar. "What's that?" He smiled.

Alex eased her delicate hand over the treasured item and scooted it behind her and out of view as she turned to face Walker with an innocent glint and sparkle in her eyes.

Walker sighed out of defeat.

"It's a surprise." Jimmy's eyes rolled towards his partner.

"A surprise, huh?"

Jimmy nodded facetiously.

"That is odd." A deep voice arose from the entrance, drawing the little group's attention as Trent and Carlos ambled into the festive canteen.

"I know."

"Well, hello you two." Alex greeted with her usual gaiety.

"Hi, Alex." Carlos returned the sentiment as he settled himself on a barstool near the group.

Trent took the one in between Carlos and Alex and turned to Ranger Walker. "So I hear someone has a birthday."

"Apparently." Walker smiled, overlooking the group.

"What'll it be, boys?" C.D. beamed, easing from his bar stool and making his way behind the bar.

"Just a longneck."

"Same here." Carlos chimed in.

"What's this here?" Trent's gaze fell upon the book the Alex had attempted to hide. She slowly turned around towards the bar as Walker took the barstool that C.D. had occupied moments ago.

"It's supposed to be a surprise." Trivette glared playfully at Trent, pointing to Walker with his head in some sort of secret communication.

Trent lifted his hands off of the bar in surrender.

Walker looked towards the twosome. "What were you talking about when you came in?"

Carlos nodded towards Walker as he looked Trent's way. "Seems Katheryn went through a checkpoint the other night after our dinner here…and it never existed according to our records."

"You mean officers conducted a checkpoint without the department's permission?" Trivette interjected.

Carlos nodded, a debased disgust easing over his demeanor as he took a drink.

"Hey, guys!" Katheryn's broad and catching smile went before her as she neared the group. "Am I late?"

Trent grinned. "Of course not."

C.D. scooted down the bar as the young lady claimed the barstool next to Carlos on the end. Carlos and Katheryn exchanged fond smiles as she did so.

"What'll it be?" C.D. tapped the bar firmly with a grin.

"Hmm…" Katheryn thought for a moment and fought a small dose of indecision. "Just a sweet tea for now."

C.D. nodded once and turned to fill her order. "You'd think you're from the south or something with all this sweet tea you drink." He turned back around and set the drink before her.

Katheryn laughed softly. "Well…actually I am. Missouri's my second home. Although I feel more at home here than I ever did in the south."

"Well that's good." C.D. was ever the more pleased with all his friends surrounding his bar at once as he turned to the birthday boy who began to speak.

"Katheryn," Walker began. "Carlos was just telling me about your experience the other night."

Katheryn sighed. "Yeah. I had a feeling about it. I still don't know what to make of it though."

Alex raised her hand with a determined smile. "All I know is that the bad guys will just have to wait a few hours while we celebrate a certain person's birthday." She looked to Walker. Love seemed to do her demeanor wonders.

Walker blushed away his smile.

"Cordell," C.D. picked up the book that they had hid from Walker all evening. He moved down the bar and reached his hand to give Ranger Walker the item. "I figured you'd like it. Lots of interesting stories in there including the one about when ol' Cooper got the Tarpin gang."

Walker cautiously took the book in hand and carefully looked it over. Thankfulness overcame him as he opened to the first few pages. "Thank you, C.D."

"Don't mention it." C.D. grinned it return. In fact, everyone at the bar couldn't help but smile as Walker expressed his gratitude.

"So…" Alex turned to the threesome on her right. "Are you all looking forward to Saturday?"

"Looking forward?" Carlos retorted with a sly grin. "I'm ecstatic."

"How come?" Trent stifled an oncoming chuckle as he bowed his head, looking to Carlos at the same time.

"Well…" Carlos shrugged. "I like horseback riding."

"Since when?" Trent couldn't help but laugh a bit this time. But he kept it under his breath.

Carlos shrugged again, looking away. "I just like it."

"Whatever." Trent took a sip of his drink with a smile.

Katheryn propped her elbows up on the bar with her fists gently tucked beneath her chin as she smiled towards Miss Cahill. "I'm rather looking forward to it myself."

"That's great." Alex was pleased and turned to see Walker's approving smile.

"Say…" Katheryn continued. "Would you mind if I brought my roommate along? That is…If she'd like to come."

Alex beamed. "Of course! That would be great." She slowly eased from her barstool. "If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go to the ladies' room."

"Sure." Katheryn settled back into her seat with a satisfied grin and glanced around her, observing the homey little place she had been in many times in the past months. Trent and Carlos was carrying on a light conversation while the Ranger engaged in a brief talk. C.D. had gone to check on something in the kitchen. And Miss Cahill was still gone.

Katheryn enjoyed the bit of alone time as she treasured simply sitting there and taking it all in. Perhaps it was all a dream. Then…maybe it wasn't.

She too then eased from her barstool, letting her feet hit the floor as she turned completely around to face the dining area while still sitting on the edge of the stool. With arms crossed, she wrinkled her forehead and deep thought, glancing to her left…and then her right…when her eyes stopped on a rather interesting specimen.

Carlos words eased to an immediate halt as he barely looked up and over Trent's shoulder to see Katheryn in such a pensive state. He tapped Trent on the shoulder and nodded towards the young woman. Trent turned around to see her also.

"Kath?" Carlos began. "You okay?" He wanted to chuckle but held it at bay.

Katheryn's gazed remained fixed upon the wall to the right. "Oh, I'm okay."

"Then what is it?" Trent smiled.

Katheryn was as serious as she could ever be as she spoke. "As much as I have come in here since the summer, I have yet to notice that dartboard staring me in the face."

"Wh—what are you saying?" Carlos shook his head.

"Carlos…" Katheryn impulsively stood to her feet with a direct slap of the bar with her hand as she turned around. "I'm challenging you to a game of darts."

Carlos couldn't help but laugh. "You're not serious."

"Oh, yes, I am."

"Really?" Carlos' smile faded as he realized she was serious.

Katheryn grinned from ear to ear, bringing her arms back to her as she crossed them against her chest.

Miss Cahill emerged from the ladies' room, noticing the silent looks and gestures that emanated a silent communication amongst the circle of friends. "Did I miss anything?"

Trivette cocked his head to one side, setting his drink down. "Katheryn just challenged Carlos to a riveting game of d—darts." He nearly could not control his laughter on that last note.

Alex slapped at his arm. "Well, if you think it's so funny, maybe we should play team against team. Huh?"

Trivette's smile faded but then returned as he stood to his feet and crossed over to where Trent and Carlos sat. He slapped them on the back, one with each of his hands at the same time. "What do you say, guys?"

Carlos looked up at Trivette. "Hold on now. Who's playing on whose team?"

"Trent and me against Carlos and Trivette." Katheryn spoke up before any of them had a chance. She turned around. "And Miss Cahill and Ranger Walker could be a team too."

Carlos chuckled aloud as he stood, stretching a bit as if he were preparing to compete in some sort of athletic event. "Bring it on." He glared at Trent.

"You got it." Trent pushed away from the bar and took his place with the others near the dart board. He turned to Katheryn and handed her the handful of darts. He gave her a wink as he stepped aside. "Ladies first."

She winked back, glancing and making eye contact with Carlos who sat against the opposite wall with his arms crossed ready to watch as Katheryn stepped up to play.

Half an hour later, Trent and Katheryn led the little competition by mere points while Trivette and Carlos trailed behind in third.

Carlos walked away from the game in surrender soon after. He sat down on the barstool nearest Katheryn as they all reclaimed a seat. He sighed, looking into her determined and victorious hazel eyes. "Next time…we're playing pool."


Part 3


No mere words could describe how beautiful that Saturday began as Katheryn yawned herself awake, stretching intensely as was her habit as she rolled onto her right side which faced the windowed side of the apartment. Molly had insisted she take the bedroom with the same view that the living space had while she took the smaller one just a step or two away. But Katheryn would not hear of it. After five minutes of polite and joyous confrontation, Molly had gotten her way.

Molly was a sweet soul. Her deepened voice, sincere yet softened smile, mature demeanor, and poised presence made her a joy to have as a friend. Her contagious smile was rivaled only by her ability to be level-headed and dedicated to practicality, truth, and willingness to go above and beyond in every little thing she did or said.

Katheryn sat upright in bed, wiggling her arms back under the covers as she struggled against the intense coolness that overwhelmed her, tempting her to crawl back under the sheltering layers. She fought the desire with all of her might, closing her eyes tightly as she yawned once more. As she inhaled, she seemed to be smelling a certain pleasant aroma that wafted through the apartment. Opening her eyes, Katheryn wrinkled her forehead. Curiosity consumed her. She slowly eased from the bed and ambled to the door, opening it, and easing out into the living space and into the kitchen nearby.

"Well, good morning." Molly's smile greeted her as she spooned up some oatmeal into two bowls and scooted them across the counter to the bar.

"Good morning." Katheryn rubbed at her eyes slightly as she attempted a smile…still unsure if she was even awake or not.

"I decided to get an early start if you don't mind." Molly continued as she went back to the stove and stirred a pot of something that smelled rather enticing. "I figured I would make a little something for the journey." She turned back briefly with a smile.

Katheryn sniffed as she neared the stove. "That's what I thought it was." She grinned.

Molly was pleased as she expressed her approval with a hearty smile. "Thanks. It's a recipe that's been handed down to each Mason girl since Molly Mason was alive in 1873."

"Really?" Katheryn was quite intrigued. Anything with history was sure to grab her interest.

"Indeed," Molly continued. She reached for a couple of thermoses as she spoke. "Molly Mason, my namesake, traveled with her husband John and son Tommy from Pennsylvania to Utah to join the Mormon settlement there. Family legend has it that she came up with the recipe for her chicken soup sometime around those months of travel."

"That's fascinating!" Katheryn was now fully awake. No sleep was ever worth missing a good story from history.

Molly filled one thermos to the top and then reached for the next, passing the one full one to Katheryn.

Katheryn secured the lid on the thermos and set it aside. Then more thoughts entered her mind that began to remind her of the story C.D. read to them all during Ranger Walker's birthday celebration. She wrinkled her forehead, putting a hand to her hip as she remembered the facts with an increasing fascination. "Did—did you say the Mormon travels from Pennsylvania to Utah?"

"Mm-hm." Molly nodded, keeping busy with her chicken soup.

"Do you know a lot about that?"

"Sure do. When my momma told me about the woman who was my namesake, naturally I longed to know more."

"Then…Was the wagon train led by a man named Sam Brazos?"

Molly paused. "Yeah." She turned to Katheryn with equal fascination as to how she knew this. "Except he died when he…"

"…prevented a bullet from hitting a group of young girls after the wagon train was attacked by the Tarpin gang. Ranger Hayes Cooper helped them stay alive." Katheryn finished the thought with a glint of victory in her eyes.

Molly laughed ever so softly. Her amusement shown broadly upon her face. "Exactly. How do you know?"

"I have my sources." Katheryn chuckled, glancing at the clock. "Oh, my goodness. Is that the time?"

Molly nearly panicked also as she looked to her watch. "It is!"

"Miss Cahill said to be at the ranch at ten so that we could get an early start. We should probably just go in one car together to save time."

Molly nodded as she listened. "You're right. I'll finish up here while you eat breakfast."

Katheryn appreciated Molly's industriousness but really didn't have the time to sit down. "Oh, Molly, you didn't have to go through all the trouble of fixing breakfast."

"Nonsense." Molly shook her head, capping the last thermos of soup…five total. "Besides, a hearty breakfast is just what a body needs to get going in the morning."

"I suppose." Katheryn cringed. "I am so not a morning person," she mumbled under her breath as she slowly eased back to her bedroom to prepare herself for the day ahead. Once reaching her room, she selected a pair of suitable jeans, a darkened washed color, and laid them on her bed next to three plaid button-up shirts. All suitable western wear in her honest opinion. Choosing the blued checked shirt with matching navy over-vest, she dressed quickly and secured her hair into two neat half side braids. It would work perfectly with the brand new tanned cowboy hat she had received for Christmas from Miss Cahill. Besides, it suited her perfectly.

Smiling her approval as she briefly looked into the bathroom mirror, Katheryn hurried forward to help Molly prepare to leave. Yet she arrived to find out Molly had already taken the necessary item and placed them in Katheryn's Stingray.

"Are you ready to go?" Molly beamed, gathering her handbag and a cowboy had she had stashed too.

"Absolutely!" Katheryn grinned and put her arm around her new best friend as they made their way out and into the winter coolness.

Spring was getting closer. Yet there still remained that crispness that nips at you every time you take a step into it. The biting winds though would subside if the sun decided to peak through. Well…at least that was Katheryn's hope as she gazed up at the cloud-filled skies while getting into her Corvette and putting it into drive. It was going to be a grand day, she concluded. And no dreary sky could convince her otherwise.

##

Tommy, Tandy, and Tyler sprang from the car as Mrs. Malloy brought it to a stop. The dust cloud had barely set as their anxious steps caressed Ranger Walker's driveway and found a place against the whitewashed fence that lined each side.

"Look!" Tandy's little finger was outstretched, pointing to the paint that galloped in the pasture in front of the ranch house.

"Haha. I see." Tommy propped one foot on the fence bottom and let his arm hang over the top while smiling over his little sister. He pointed to another horse. "You see that one, Tandy?"

The little girl nodded her head briskly, grinning from ear to ear.

Mrs. Malloy made her way over to her little charges and took a place at the fence next to Tommy. "They're beautiful!" She smiled to her little girl and then back at the proudly trotting Texas steeds.

"Hello, all!" Miss Cahill emerged from the ranch house. She raised a hand to wave as her broad smile greeted them from afar. Alex descended the porch steps and hastened towards the Malloys, glancing at the horses that had stolen Tandy's heart. She gently set her arm on the fence as she came to a stop by the little girl. "Which one do you like the best?"

The little girl wrinkled her forehead intensely as she looked towards the paint then the bay then the paint again. She quickly extended her finger in the direction of the paint. "He's pretty!" She exclaimed with glee.

Alex chuckled, her smile showering the girl with a loving glance. "That's a perfect choice, Tandy. Except…it's a she not a he."

"Oh." The little girl frowned embarrassed by her error.

Miss Cahill put her arm around the little girl. "That's alright. You know…" Alex stooped a bit to her level, bracing her free hand against her knee. "I have it on good authority that Walker hasn't even named that horse yet."

Tandy still frowned.

"So…" Miss Cahill continued. "Do you think we could help Ranger Walker with that? I'm sure he wouldn't mind." Alex finished with a sly wink.

Tandy's shy smile returned ever so slowly. "Can I?"

Alex nodded. "You sure can."

The little girls' eyes broadened as the glared at the paint once more. "Bubblegum!" She shouted immediately.

Tommy guffawed aloud. "What kind of name is that?"

Mrs. Malloy softly slapped at Tommy's arm.

"Ow!" Tommy screeched under his breath.

Ty shrugged. "I like it."

Tommy only shook his head. "If you say so."

"I say so!" Tandy gently pounded the fence with the bottom of her fist.

Alex stood back to full height just as the horse slowed to a trot, snorted upward, and then caught a glimpse of Tandy. She slowly ambled towards the fence. A quiet hush fell among them all as the horse nose at the little girl. Tandy was a bit intimidated and stepped back once.

"It's okay, Tandy." Alex encouraged.

Tandy stepped back up the fence and touched the creature on the nose with her finger. The horse seemed to like it and snorted a bit as she remained there as if wanting to be petted more. "Does she like me, Miss Cahill?"

"I think so." Alex also petted the animal on its mane. "Hello there, Bubblegum." Her soft laugh mingled through the cool winds. "I think the name rather suits her."

Tandy giggled as the animal nearly licked her hand.

"Hey there, Bubblegum." Tommy also rubbed the creature. "He seems to like all this attention."

"She!" Tandy corrected, staring her brother in the eyes.

Tommy shook his head and sighed. "Sorry."

"Well, what do we have here?" Alex grinned as a dust cloud formed in the distance. She shielded her eyes from the sun as she squinted to see who was coming. "Looks like Trent's car from here."

"Yep." Tommy agreed, backing off of the fence and turning to see for himself.

Trent put the car in park and stepped out. Carlos emerged from the passenger side soon after.

Little Tandy's small feet scurried across the short distance. She took hold of her brother's shirt sleeve and tugged rather hard. "Come on, Trent! Come look at Bubblegum!"

Trent struggled to keep his balance as his little sister pulled hard. She was rather strong! He kept from stumbling the short way as he chuckled. "Hold up, Tandy. Who's Bubblegum?" They came to a stop at the fence only to see Bubblegum trotting in the pasture once again.

"There!" Tandy pointed strongly towards the paint horse.

Trent squinted against the sun. "That's Bubblegum?"

Tandy nodded proudly.

"He's beautiful." Trent agreed.

"She!" The entire group called out sharply in unison.

Trent lifted his hands barely in surrender. "Sorry."

Carlos propped up his foot on the fence. "This is a nice place."

"Sure is." Trent chimed in, looking it over in awe. "I'd love to have a place like this someday."

Tommy rolled his eyes. "And who would keep it up while you chase down a bad guy?"

"Good point." Trent confessed.

Carlos turned as yet another dust cloud lifted and mingled with the morning mists. "Looks like Kath."

"Yeah. At least that's what you're hoping." Trent teased with a smile.

Carlos ignored him with a roll of his eyes, smiling as the red Stingray pulled to a stop beside them.

"Hiya!" Katheryn emerged from the car in cowboy-clad attire.

"My, my." Carlos smiled. "You look like you're dressed the part."

Katheryn raised her eyebrows as if it was obvious she should be dressed as she was. "So? Where's your cowboy hat?"

Carlos shrugged, glancing at his makeshift outfit. "At least I wore jeans." It was as if Carlos was begging for mercy…or pleading the fifth. One or the other.

Katheryn laughed it off and helped Molly with the thermoses of soup. She hoisted two towards Carlos and was rather thankful he had been paying attention. Or else the containers would have been dusted with a bit of dirt soon after. Carlos caught them just in time, grunting a bit under their weight as they fell into his hands.

Katheryn issued him a sly smile, turning away slightly as she caught a glimpse of the Malloys in the short distance. "I see Tandy's made a new friend."

Carlos looked towards the crowded fence. He grinned. "Yep. Appears so."

Katheryn looked at Carlos with admiration as she mischievously turned away while he wasn't looking and took an item out of her Corvette. She hid it behind her back as Carlos turned to face her. He squinted and glared at her as if he doubted if he could trust her. He smiled and returned his gaze to the activity beyond them. Katheryn sprang at the chance and hoisted the item from around her back and planted the cowboy hat on Carlos head while he wasn't looking. Carlos ducked away but was too late. Katheryn eyes gleamed brightly as she failed to suppress her laugh.

Carlos sighed as he looked upwards toward the new item. "I get it." He surrendered.

Katheryn eased in front of him and looked him over. "It fits you. Now you are ready to be a cowboy for a day." She nodded with satisfaction.

"Only for you." Carlos glared. Surrender edged every one of his word. He knew there was no avoiding Katheryn's good intentions.

Tandy turned, catching a glimpse of Carlos and Katheryn. "Katheryn! Carlos! Come meet Bubblegum!"

"Bubblegum?!" Katheryn laughed softly, arching her brow as she eased both of her hands into her jeans' pockets and began walking softly alongside Carlos towards the grinning little girl. Katheryn eased in between Tommy and Tandy with a smile.

"She's right there." Tandy pointed for what had to be the hundredth time.

"I see." Katheryn caught a glimpse of the rather beautiful paint. "She's pretty."

Tandy nodded and continued smiling broadly as she set her chin on the fence. "That's Bubblegum."

Alex exchanged a fond glance with Katheryn. "I don't think it's Walker's horse anymore." She ended the comment with a light laugh.

"I think you're right." Mrs. Malloy chimed in as she observed the twinkle in Tandy's eyes. She secretly wondered if it would take all her might to pull Tandy away from the creature.

Alex turned to the entire group. "Walker's inside with Trivette getting the last of the camping supplies packed. Why don't I show the newbies here around?"

Molly stepped forward and to the fence by Katheryn. "Will we each have our own horse?"

Miss Cahill nodded. "Of course. Now…Follow me, ladies."

Molly and Katheryn stepped into sync alongside each other as they traced the path behind Miss Cahill to the barn. Molly leaned into Katheryn and whispered. "I may be teaching the others."

"What do you mean?" Katheryn returned in a whisper with a confused expression gracing her usually confident features.

"I practically grew up on a ranch."

"Really?" Katheryn smiled.

"Yup. Momma tried to keep me in the house. But I was often in the barn fixing the harnesses and shining the saddles. I even finagled getting in on a cattle drive."

Katheryn's mouth opened in amazement. "Really? That's incredible."

"Here we are ladies." Alex announced their arrival as she eased into the already-opened barn door. She eased it open some more for the young women as they followed.

Easing into the space, the troupe was greeting by a few more horses. They neighed a bit and kicked at the hay underneath their broad bodies as they looked eagerly at the new faces that entered.

"Alright," Alex stopped at the group of saddles. "We need to get these horses saddled and ready to go."

Molly immediately dove in, taking up a saddle pad in hand after Miss Cahill and entering the first stall. Securing the horse to the tying ring on the wooden wall, she went to work, laying the saddle pad on the horse's back and then the decorative blanket that she had brought also.

Teamwork fell into place as Katheryn hoisted the saddle up from the shelf and followed Molly. She lifted it, letting it gently settled into place on the horse. She turned her back to the horse's face as she went to work tightening the front cinch, bringing it under the creature's belly and securing it through the buckle snuggly before weaving it in and out until the leather strap had all been used up. She tucked the leftover flap in gently just as Molly secured the back cinch. Molly bent low, sliding her hand in between the horse's belly and the cinch to be sure it was loose enough.

Molly stood back to her full height and offered her roommate a broad smile. "All done."

Miss Cahill entered the stall and looked over their work with an approving smile. "You guys did great. Can you handle the rest?"

The two young ladies' nodded and proceeded to saddle the rest of the horses in the barn. They were done in no time and began leading each horse out of their stalls and out of the barn just as Rangers Walker and Trivette emerged from the ranch house with camping supplies in tow.

"There they are." Trent beamed. "I see Alex put you both to work." He grinned towards Molly.

"What's important is that she chose the right workers." Molly grinned slyly.

"I see." Trent nodded and eased up to one of the horses. "This one mine?" He turned to Katheryn who was handing off one of the horse to Carlos.

She nodded. "Yep. Sure is."

"Hey, guys." Walker greeted as he neared the foursome. "You all ready to go?"

"Just about." Carlos helped Walker with the supplies he had brought.

"We'll use one of the horses as a pack horse." Walker explained and nodded towards the paint in the corral. "That paint should do."

Katheryn, Trent, and Carlos exchanged wary glances that Walker soon took note of.

"What?" Ranger Walker queried.

Trent sighed. "Tandy had her heart set on that one."

"Oh, I see." Walker smiled, looking to the little girl who had still not managed to pull herself away from the corral fence. "Then perhaps we could distribute the supplies amongst us all and each of us carry a little bit."

The four of them nodded their agreement and proceeded to except the supplies as Walker distributed them to each of them.

"Say…Carlos!" Trivette called out as he hurried down the porch steps and neared the group. "What do you say we do a little living off the land?"

Carlos scoffed and grinned sarcastically, raising a hand and waving Trivette off. "Nope. I'm not falling for that again."

"Falling for what?" Trivette tried to act as if he didn't know what Carlos was talking about.

"That—that jive you tried to hand me back when we were in Utah didn't work then…and it won't work now." Carlos ended with a firm nod as he turned to his horse, secured the few supplies into his own saddlebag, and mounted the horse with an authoritative yet playful fervor.

Katheryn couldn't help but smile as she did the same before mounting her horse with confidence. Although it had been several years since she had ridden, the skills seemed to come right back to her without skipping a beat.

"Alright. I'd best go get the paint saddled up." Walker nodded towards the group before heading into the pasture and securing "Bubblegum" for the day's adventures. Bubblegum was saddled soon after and Tandy had taken her place on the horse. After a brief exchange between an instant daughter and a concerned mother, Ranger Walker decided it would be best if Ty and Tandy rode together. That horse was much too large for just one rider. Tandy's childish selfishness wanted the paint all to herself. But a mother's authority quickly changed all that.

Every person there had nearly readied themselves completely when a rather strange sound alerted them all.

Molly was the first to turn around as she sat atop her horse. "What in the world?"

Most of the group was busy shielding their eyes and straining to see what the slow object was that was coming toward them and kicking up so much dust.

Alex chuckled. "My Lord…Is that what I think it is?" She turned to Walker.

Walker squinted softly. "I think it is."

"Hey, everyone!" C.D.'s voice greeted them cheerily as he struggled to get down from atop the rather large Conestoga wagon that now sat out of place among the cars in Ranger Walker's driveway.

"What in the world are you doing, C.D.?" Walker suppressed the urge to laugh. "And please don't tell me you drove that on the roads."

C.D. eased between Alex and Walker as they sat still on their individual horses. "I sure did, Cordell. It's a piece of history."

"That's obvious." Trivette snickered.

"Now you listen here, Jimmy…" C.D. glared at the younger Ranger.

"C.D…." Walker interrupted. "Are you coming with us?"

"Sure am." The older man smiled mischievously and straightened his cowboy hat atop his head. "It's going to be just like it was in the old west." He grinned heartily and turned to the younger folk. "Besides, these young whippersnappers need a taste of history. And I'm doing just that. Besides, I'll bet you all the chili I brought that they'll have smashing good time even more so since I'm coming along."

A silence hung in the air as C.D. silently pleaded with Walker. It was no use. Walker couldn't say no as he sighed and nodded. "Alright. You can bring the wagon."

"Hot dog!" C.D. clapped in glee and headed back for the wagon.

Trivette grinned towards C.D. as he walked off. "You want someone to help you drive that thing?"

"Nope." C.D. remarked with a huff as he climbed back aboard the covered wagon and clicked his tongue while tapping the reins of the horses ever so easily against their backs. "Giddy up!"

The large group started forward as they were led by Ranger Walker and Miss Cahill. The rest of the group followed eagerly but steadily, calling little by little and urging their horses forward. And of course…C.D. was not that far behind them all as the rumbling of the wagon wheels sent forth echoes of years past into the ears of the adventurous horseback riders that surrounded it. The piece of history called attention to its intricate detail and that feeling that they had all stepped back in time. Traced the years. Returned to another era. And perhaps…Began a journey into the history books that had yet to be fully disclosed.


Part 4


A half hour passed before the large group made it to an area Walker saw suitable to set up camp. It was well-nigh high noon, and more than one stomach in the group was letting them all know that fact.

Ranger Walker dismounted first, crossing a short area to tie a rope long-ways from one strong oak to another a distance away. It would serve perfectly as a temporary hitching post, he concluded as he tightened the rope securely. One by one, they all began dismounting and leading their horses to the rope to see that the horse would not be wandering off any time soon.

"You're a pretty good rider." Carlos offered a smile as he tied his horse next to Katheryn's.

Katheryn secured the leather strap to the rope and scooted her hat back up and slightly away from her eyes. "Thanks."

"Walker!" Alex screeched from where she remained, hunched against her horse as some evading presence neared her with fright in its eyes.

Walker's gaze immediately found Alex as her eyes stayed sharply upon the snake that curled up at her feet. "Don't move." He neared her ever so slowly. Both Walker and Alex knew his gun was of no use. One shot would surely cause a ruckus amongst the many horses. They couldn't chance spooking them.

"Walker…" Alex winced as she turned away.

Walker slowly crept up upon the creature…slowly…carefully. All eyes watched with trepidation…as Walker dove in, securing a deathly grip on the creature's neck. He hurried across the field and threw the snake down, drawing his gun and firing away before anyone knew he had done so.

Alex swallowed hard, relaxing every muscle in her body that she had tensed in the seconds past. And so did the others likewise in their own way.

Trent comforted the fear in his little sister's eyes with a soft hug.

Carlos shook away the moment with a sigh. "At least it wasn't my fault."

"What do you mean?" Katheryn looked towards him with squinted eyes.

Carlos neared her and spoke softly. "That week in Utah…It was me who triggered the booby trap and…ended up hurting Trivette."

Trent sighed. "Carlos…Any one of us could have triggered that thing. It just happened to be you. Don't take it so hard, buddy." Trent slapped Carlos on the back with a smile.

Carlos nodded. "Yeah. Perhaps you're right."

"Trent?" It was Molly's voice that was heard next as everyone went their separate ways to set up camp.

Trent rose back into view from setting his things on the ground nearby and turned to face Molly as she neared him. "Yes?"

Molly attempted a smile. "Katheryn's told me a lot about you."

Trent's crooked smile gave way to a grin. "Good things I hope?"

Molly chuckled, gripping the belt loops of her jeans with her thumbs. "Of course." She rocked on her heels once and settled back into place. "I—I was hoping to ask something. But…" She turned to leave. "I'll ask later."

She took one step away before Trent's voiced stopped her. "No. No, that's okay. You can ask now." He stepped forward as he spoke eagerly. He stopped and stood still, awaiting her response.

Molly ceased her stepped and turned back cautiously. Her sideways grin wobbled slightly beneath her nervous tension. "I just wanted to ask if I am too old for your classes at your dojo."

"You mean karate lessons?"

Molly nodded, her smile having faded.

"Of course not." Trent smiled. "I've had students of every age…from five to fifty-five."

The twosome chuckled…It was more nervousness than anything.

In the distance, Carlos glanced at the two in conversation from behind his horse over at the hitching area. His eyebrows were furrowed as he investigated the little conversation although he couldn't hear a thing they were saying.

Katheryn eased around her horse and eased up beside Carlos, nearly scaring him half to death. She stifled a chuckle. Yet Carlos wasn't amused.

"Look at them two." Carlos nodded towards the twosome.

Katheryn did as bid, looking over Carlos' shoulder. "What about it?"

"Nothing." Carlos hid a smile and turned to Katheryn, gazing into her eyes for a moment.

"What?" Katheryn's light laughter was shallow and nervous.

"Nothing." Carlos echoed with a smile and went back to unpacking his horse.

Katheryn shook it off with a smile and turned back to her own unpacking. Yet she still so fervently wanted to know what he was thinking. Was it possible he…never mind. She shook the matter away and focused on helping Mrs. Malloy and Alex with the dinner preparations.

As the three ladies steadily looked over the food as it cooked, a beautiful haze settled over the little Texas prairie. The afternoon was coming on quickly. The sun was brightly shown overhead. Much of the little group had settled comfortably around the campfire that blazed beneath their cooking meal.

Trivette looked upwards, taking in a deep, satisfying breath. He exhaled and grinned. "Smell that beautiful Texas air."

Tommy scoffed. "More like horse manure."

Trent nearly choked on his coffee as he steadily sipped at it. The rest of the group couldn't help but chuckle some. It was a pleasant afternoon to say the least…no matter what scent filled the air.

Molly grinned and spoke up. "Almost makes me think about my ancestors and how they may have spent many days around a fire just like this when they traveled from Pennsylvania to Utah."

Ranger Walker set his cup of coffee on the rock nearby. "Pennsylvania to Utah, you said?"

Molly nodded towards the Ranger with intrigue.

Katheryn smiled. "Molly's namesake was Molly Mason. The same one that was in the wagon train that Hayes Cooper helped."

Ranger Walker smiled. "Really?"

Molly nodded eagerly.

"Say…" Ranger Walker turned to C.D. "You happen to have that book you gave me?"

Trivette rolled his eyes. "You'd have to have lost your own birthday present."

Walker sighed. "I didn't lose it, Trivette. I left it at C.D.'s so he could look after it."

"Right!" Trivette laughed sarcastically.

C.D. returned in a short moment with the book. "Got it right here, Cordell." He handed off the book to the senior Ranger.

Ranger Walker accepted the book and turned a few pages. He stood, handing the book to Molly who sat near him past Trent and Carlos to his right.

Molly produced a slowly-growing smile as she read. "This is fascinating."

Meanwhile, Carlos stretched the short distance between them to try to read.

Katheryn shot him a glare from her place on the other side of Molly. Carlos smiled her way. It was playful of course. But Carlos surrendered anyway, unable to refuse Katheryn's silent communication in her beautiful eyes.

Molly scooted closer to Katheryn and showed the book to her. "Look. Here." She slid her finger across the page, still smiling from ear to ear.

Katheryn eagerly read what Molly pointed to. "Wow." She smiled. "You're right. That's amazing."

Carlos glared at the two girls. "I wish someone would let us in on the big secret."

The two young women only chuckled lightly and ignored his urging.

Carlos shook his head, turning to see Trent softly laughing at him. "What?"

"Nothing." Trent took another sip of coffee.

A gunshot rang in the distance, quieting the entire group and alerting them all.

"What was that?" Mrs. Malloy put her arms around her youngest.

"Sounded like a rifle." Walker stood to his feet and glanced around. "It was maybe a quarter mile away."

Trent eased to his feet also, soon followed by Carlos and Trivette. "Seemed mighty close."

They all settled back into the quiet, listening for anything more that would hint to why the gunshot had been heard. Instead, a human voice was heard…faint…and helpless. "Help!" It called aloud. It sounded desperate.

"That sounded legitimate." Carlos offered, turning to face the source of the sound.

Walker wasn't as convinced as he reached for his Stetson and began walking. "Trent…Carlos…You both stay with the others while Trivette and I go check it out."

Carlos nodded. "You got it."

Trivette trailed his partner from behind as the twosome made their way to the edge of the woods where they had heard the gunshot come from. Slowly…they entered into the brush, putting one foot in front of the other with particular caution.

"Trivette! Look out!" The twosome dodged an oncoming arrow just in time. They both rose back to their feet soon after, panting as they recovered from that rather close call.

Trivette was busy catching his breath. "Boy…That was a close one."

Walker turned to see where the arrow had ended up in the nearest oak tree. "You're telling me." Ranger Walker jerked the diabolical weapon from its place only to find a note taped to it.

"What's that?"

Ranger Walker took the note off of the arrow and read it briskly before passing it to his partner.

Trivette glanced it over and read aloud. "This is just the beginning of the end. Have fun. From an old friend." Trivette wrinkled his forehead and wrinkled the note inside of his tightened fists. "What does that mean, Walker?"

Ranger Walker shook his head with a sigh. "I don't know." He glanced around them, looking the place over. There was not a soul in sight. Whoever it was…they weren't ignorant. These guys knew their stuff. "It's a trap, Trivette," Walker finally concluded and sprang forward. "We best get back to the others." He threw the last statement over his shoulder is he bound forward and hurried back out of the brush from where they came.

Trivette had no clue what Walker was talking about. But time and time again he had learned not to doubt Walker's intuition. This time was no different as he heeled his partner, traversing the trenches and gullies as he hurried forward.

Reaching the edge of the woods, Walker didn't skip a beat and kept going, aiming for the camp. Trent and Carlos stood on guard. The others had not moved from their place as they awaited the Rangers' return.

"What is it, Walker?" Trent's furrowed brow tensed as he looked over his mentor with concern. He knew something was wrong.

Walker ceased his run as he came to a stop by his protégé. "It's a trap. I think they're following us."

"Who?" Carlos questioned.

"I don't know." Walker's exasperated sigh turned to deep thought. The voice…Could he remember it? Old friend…What kind of old friend would do this? Or was that a trap too?

Trent remembered the voice and thought through what they had all heard. He kept drawing a blank as much as the others were. "Did you see them?"

Walker shook his head. Beads of sweat now eased down the Rangers' forehead as the Texas sun bore down upon the little group.

"I'm hot." Tandy whimpered, lying her little head in her mother's lap.

Mrs. Malloy stroked her warm cheek with care and looked up towards Trent. "It sure turned warm."

"Spring must be coming early." C.D. inserted.

Trent sighed. "Must be."

Molly stood, agitated from the wait. Surely she could be helping in some way, she repeated over and over in her mind as she had observed Trent Malloy and Carlos Sandoval as they had stood guard. Katheryn felt much the same way as they had waited. But she had adjusted to the feeling in the days and months before, knowing her being there was enough. And she was always ready to spring into action if need be. The need had not come…yet.

Molly paced the small camp and stopped short at Tommy, plopping down onto the log next to him. She let out a long sigh that drew his fast attention. Tommy sat with his legs crouched near his chest and his arms secured around them.

Tommy turned to face Molly. "You alright?"

"Yeah." Molly smiled. "And you?"

"Peachy." Tommy chuckled beneath his breath.

Walker looked over everyone in the camp. "We'd best get back to the ranch."

"Already?" Tyler groaned.

"Yes." Trent nodded in agreement. "If there's danger in one place, there's no way we can know where these guys are."

Tandy's eyes found the grass below, sinking into sadness. "But I want to ride Bubblegum some more."

"You will, Tandy." Miss Cahill bent down low to the little girl as Tandy raised her head off of Katie's lap. "Once we know it's safe again." Alex offered the little one a soft yet strong and reassuring smile.

The little girl finally managed a grin and nodded. "Okay."

Walker turned to Trivette. "I think I saw some tracks they managed not to hide."

"Good."

"Carlos. Trent. Can you handle getting everyone back to the ranch?"

Trent and Carlos nodded firmly. "Absolutely." "Sure thing."

"Don't you worry, Cordell." C.D. made his way over to the four men. "We got everything under control here. You just go see if you can track down those guys."

Walker nodded with a smile.

Trivette grinned. "I'm sure you do, big dog."

Alex laughed softly and turned back to the group. "Alright, guys. Let's break camp. We got some packing to do."

After a few more grunts and groans had passed from the younger ones in the camp, things began flowing a bit smoother as the young women helped Alex and Mrs. Malloy break camp. Even Tommy was a big help to C.D. and his big brother.

The Rangers' figures quickly disappeared from view as they eased back into the woods to pick up the trail of whoever thought it a good idea to stalk them all. Why they were doing so still puzzled Walker as they traced the muddy path back to where the twosome had left off a short moment ago.

Back at the campsite, Carlos turned to Trent and tried to lower his voice. "Do you think there's a real danger?"

Trent shook his head. "I hope it's not. But it may be."

"You know…" Carlos sighed. "…Maybe I should have brought my firearm. I thought for sure I was coming for a vacation." He raised an eyebrow as he sarcastically vented to his best friend.

Trent laughed softly. "Yeah. Perhaps you should pick back up with that self-defense training I started you on."

"Maybe." Carlos grinned. "It sure has done wonders for Katheryn. And she loves it."

"Speaking of Katheryn…" Trent smiled.

Carlos stopped him short. "Don't even go there."

Trent sighed. "What?"

Carlos exhaled sharply.

Trent packed the last of his share of the supplies back onto his horse and secured them. He neared Carlos where he stood on the other side of his horse. "Why haven't you asked her out?"

"Oh, you're one to talk." Carlos threw back at Trent with a scoff.

"You're right." Trent confessed. "I'm no authority on this matter."

"That's right."

"But…I know you like her. And that's all that matters."

Carlos said nothing but kept packing his horse.

Trent knew he was fighting a losing battle…And he nearly walked away except for Carlos stopping him. "I'm sorry, buddy. I—I just…"

Trent stopped Carlos short this time. "I never thought I'd say this, Carlos…but…She's perfect for you."

Carlos stood dumbfounded…very unsure of what he had just heard come from Trent. He squinted hard as his thoughts jumbled. He quickly shook it away. "Wh—wh…" His words never came as Trent took his leave. For he had said all that needed to be said…and there was more important things to attend to at that moment. If danger did wait in the surrounding shadows, they'd best keep their guard up even greater for the hours to come.

##

Thirty minutes later found the group nearing the ranch yet again. It hadn't been much of campout to speak of. Some anonymous party had seen to that to be sure. Most of the group rode softly and surely as they traveled. Even C.D. let the team walk at will as he guided the wagon back to the ranch behind the rest of the group while Trent and Carlos led them all from the front.

"Whoa!" Trent called quietly to his horse. Carlos did likewise. "Do you think we should go on ahead of the others and be sure everything is safe?"

Carlos nodded. "Good thinking."

Trent steadily turned the horse around and trotted easily to the others who waited behind them at a distance. He rose his voice slightly as he spoke to them all. "Carlos and I are going up to the ranch house first to be sure everything is safe. We'll send for you once we know for sure."

Alex and Mrs. Malloy agreed, nodding as they turned to see the younger ones nodding also.

C.D. called aloud to his team as he stopped just behind the ladies. Trent and Carlos had since rode into gallop on their way to the ranch house. "Alex, where are the boys going?"

Alex turned in her saddle to face C.D. "They're going to check on the house to be sure it's safe."

"Good thinking." C.D. grinned. "Them boys sure are smart."

Mrs. Malloy continued to watch the two young men's figures grow smaller and smaller ahead of them all. "They sure are, Mr. Parker."

A gentle quiet eased over the vast pasture land where the group of ready riders waiting eagerly…perhaps a bit anxiously too…as minutes passed by slowly…very slowly it seemed. Distance eagle calls and close chirping of small yard birds seemed to herald the coming of spring. Maybe it would come early like C.D. had suggested.

The youngest ones in the group were the first to grow weary from the wait. Tandy's sagging posture in the saddle in front of her brother Ty grew worse and worse as the minutes ticked by. Yet still no signal came. And Trent nor Carlos appeared since rounding the corner of the barn and out of view.

"What's taking them so long?" Molly expressed legitimately as concerned laced her mature tone.

"I don't know." Alex was growing somewhat concerned herself also.

Just then, Carlos' figure appeared around the back of the house just beyond the barn.

"There he is." Katheryn smiled, straightening up in her saddle to get a better view.

More smiles emanated throughout the tiny crowd…mostly because the tiresome wait was now drawing to its destined end more than anything.

Carlos raised his hand in the air and waved them forward.

"Looks like it's safe." Alex grinned, tapping the sides of the steed with her feet and clicking her tongue to get the animal going while she led the faithful riders from that point.

Katheryn eased up behind her followed by Mrs. Malloy, Molly, Tommy, Tandy and Tyler. C.D. was not far behind.

Yet as Katheryn saw Carlos' figure disappear back around the house and away from view, something struck her as odd. Something didn't feel right. She had noticed the look on his face. He seemed…serious. Perhaps even agitated…but with control…as if he was on edge for some reason. This in turn put Katheryn on edge. But if something was wrong, surely Carlos would not have signaled for them to come. She shook away the thought as they drew closer. Perhaps she was overreacting. Her adventurous side usually did that to her. And Carlos was still probably on guard himself. It was nothing to worry about. And that was her final thought before another figure stepped sharply around the same shadow that Carlos had just disappeared into, his eyes narrowed and his muscles tensed, cocking his AK-47 and pointing it straight into the now fear-filled miens of the little company of riders before him.


Part 5


"The first one that moves gets it!" The older Tarpin brother growled at the group angrily, his eyes searching for those of each one before him while the assault rifle in his hands followed his determined gaze. He chuckled ruefully, releasing a small amount of tension in his demeanor. Yet he kept the gun held steadily at Alex and Katheryn who happened to be in front. The piercing eyes of the obsessed gunman glared at each of them individually, prodding them into a world unknown filled with apprehension and fear.

And it was Tandy whose little cries of fear beneath her breath reached her older brother's ears. Tommy could only see the child from the corner of his eye as he was to her right and just ahead of her, waiting cautiously behind Miss Cahill. Everything within him wanted to use the skills Trent had taught him. He was a black belt now. Surely he could do something! Yet as he looked onward at the muscular figure before them, wisdom told him he should wait and only be ready to defend if need be. Be that as it may, Tandy's quiet sob stirred the anger within him. How dare this man threaten them! Whatever could this man want?

"What have you done with Trent and Carlos?" Alex was the first to dare speak up. After all, she had not moved and therefore had not disobeyed an order.

Tarpin glared her in the eyes, pointing the gun every which way his eyes went. He chuckled wryly. "Bet that punk don't even know what hit him." He laughed aloud. "That aside…" He stifled the laughter that he enjoyed far too much. "…I don't rightly care what I do with any of you. It's that Ranger I'm after. Sent me to Huntsville seven years ago when I was accused of murdering a man. Imagine that." Tarpin chuckled again but then grew serious…determinedly serious. "I spent some good years of my life in that hell hole. And I swore I'd get him back when I got out." He grinned. "What he don't know is that he stepped right into my sweet little trap. While he's out there listening to the woodpeckers and tracing a path I set to go in the opposite direction, I got all his good friend's right here. Who knows…May even have a few surprises set up for him in those woods." He ended with a possessed-sounding chuckle that sent chills through each one who heard it.

Molly frowned turning her head downward. Her eyes sought the horn of her saddle but her vision never saw it. For images of what had and could happen flowed through her delicate mind incessantly.

"It'll be okay." Mrs. Malloy whispered sharply, searching for the young woman's eyes despite the threats put before them.

"I wish I could be sure." Molly whispered back with a growing lump in her throat, not moving her gaze as a tear splashed against the saddle horn in front of her. All she could do was grip it with the hope that what Mrs. Malloy said was true.

Another rifle cock was heard from the side as the other Tarpin made his presence known with a flashy grin and cocky chuckle. He aimed the gun at Alex and snorted through his laugh. "Well ain't she a pretty thang." He laughed again.

"Shut up!" The elder Tarpin brother shouted.

The other quickly erased his amusement and smacked as he shut his mouth, creasing his forehead in an angry glare at his older brother.

"Now…I want every one of you to get down off of your horses…nice…and easy like. No funny business. Hank, tie 'em up!"

Katheryn and Molly searched for Miss Cahill's silent communication. Alex turned her head only slightly, nodding towards the girls. Mrs. Malloy also nodded to her children although every ounce of her being feared for what these men were capable of doing.

Katheryn was the first to dismount as Miss Cahill and Molly did so followed by Mrs. Malloy and her children. C.D. on the other hand stayed put.

"Hey! You! Old man!" Deats Tarpin shouted, redirecting the aim of his gun towards C.D. atop the wagon.

C.D. only gave him a head-long stare and a gaze that rebelled against the outlaw's every word.

Tarpin became agitated as he raised the gun to shooting level, cocking the rifle with a bitter force. "Get down!"

"No. I will not." C.D. took his stand.

Yet as the two increased in the altercation, it was Katheryn who began to see an opportunity. Was C.D. playing a winning hand by refusing those orders? Meanwhile, C.D. never budged, causing Deats Tarpin to become very angry. He growled a curse into the air and stamped forward, throwing the AK-47 over his shoulder in bitter respite. His hastened steps neared Katheryn as she stood still beside her horse. In those few fleeting seconds…she knew…there was a chance…a slim chance…but a chance. And with one swift unadulterated movement, Katheryn sprang forward with a roundhouse kick to Tarpin's chest as he came forward. He was by no means expecting it and could not by any means defend himself as he doubled forward with the wind clearly knocked out of him.

Tommy silently cheered her on, wishing this other nincompoop didn't have a rifle pointed his way so that he could jump in and help. Even Tandy issued a small smile as Katheryn got the drop on the bad guy. Then just as the younger Tarpin brother realized his brother's demise, he through his gun over his shoulder also and hurried past Miss Cahill in an attempt to weave through the horses to the other side to aid his brother. But Tommy's swift punch put a damper on that idea. The man doubled back, blinking incessantly as he brought up a hand to cradle his injured jaw. Anger rose into his face as he drew back, releasing a punch which Tommy dodged, weaving behind the man as he stumbled forward just in time to produce a roundhouse to the man in the back.

Katheryn continued onward with the eldest Tarpin. Her eyes narrowed and her feet and hands went to and from, fighting the coward with as much strength as her body had within it. Yet the battle was not without a few misses as Tarpin's fist found her cheek and stomach at least once. It was beginning to become apparent that the two young fighters were no match for the Tarpin brothers.

"Freeze!" A deep, authoritative voice echoed around them all. A pistol shot rang out above them all. The steady hands of the person held his pistol to the backs of all present as he remained high on his own steed, steadied near the front of C.D.'s wagon.

All eyes shifted to the voice. The fighting stopped. And the voice was identified. The man sat proud on the bay. His eyes were narrowed and shifty. He looked like your average cowboy what with his Stetson, plaid shirt, and shiny belt buckle that was secured to his stonewashed blue-colored jeans. Yet he held no badge and no eyes there could make out the identity of the stranger.

"Took you long enough!" The elder Tarpin steadied himself to his feet and wiped at the bloody lip that Katheryn had issued him.

The tall cowboy grinned. "It took me a bit to set up the trap you wanted me to set up. Trust me. Ranger Walker will be dead before sundown." With that, that cowboy-clad menace dismounted his horse while keeping the gun pointed at them all. He ambled over to Katheryn with a toothy grin as she regained her stance, catching her breath and blowing at a wayward lock of her blonde hair that had since come out of place. He stopped short at her with a polite smile and reached up a hand towards her face. "Here. Let me."

Katheryn quickly reached upward and took ahold of his wrist with the tightest grip she could manage. "Don't you dare lay a hand on me!"

"Well, ain't you a spitfire." The cowboy relaxed his hand away, easing it from Katheryn's grip with a hearty chuckle. He seemed to be slightly amused. "I got news for you, young lady." He pointed his gloved hand and finger in her face. His smile faded and in its place was an anger-filled presence. "You better follow orders…or they all get it. You hear?"

Katheryn didn't nod. She didn't speak. She only kept hold of her emotionless stance and hardened glare into the piercing eyes of the bitter man before her. She knew within all her being that this man could be capable of anything. She sensed it. And she feared what they had set up for the Rangers. Moreover, Katheryn knew that Trent would not have given up without a fight. Where was he? Was he…? No! She refused to let her mind go there.

"In the house!" The cowboy shouted, startling her and causing her heart rate to rise. Yet whether it rose from the cowboy's rude behavior or the ordeal in general she didn't know for sure.

Katheryn slowly turned around only to be faced with the death-hungry eyes of the older Tarpin brother. She eased passed him, not caring if she bumped into him or not as she tried to get a glance of the others as she walked.

"Hands behind your head! All of you!" The cowboy barked aloud once more.

All present did as bid. Even C.D. knew his limitations, climbing down from his prized possession and entering into the line that that others had been forced to form. He offered a sour face to the younger Tarpin brother as he followed young Tommy Malloy.

"It'll be okay, sweetheart." Mrs. Malloy tried to whisper to her daughter who walked ahead of her in front of Molly Mason whose face was moistened with another tear.

"Quiet!" The younger Tarpin shouted at Katie as he eased up behind C.D., shoving his rifle in his back to get them moving…as if they had any other choice.

"Round the front!" The cowboy called as he seemed to take over and lead the little operation from behind them all as the elder Tarpin shoved his own gun into Katheryn's back with force. She stumbled slightly but gained her footing successfully each time he shoved all the way as they walked to the front of Walker's house. Somehow, she sensed he wanted her to fall. It would be such a cowardly way to get revenge, she had concluded to herself taking one last stumble as the porch came into view. And with the view came the face of Carlos who sat helplessly in a wooden chair with his hands secured behind his back. He also had a cut on his forehead and a black eye to show for his efforts in putting up a fight. Yet something had went wrong.

Katheryn briefly made eye contact with Carlos as they rounded the corner. He seemed to sense all the questions she asked with a searching eyes and simply nodded as if it would somehow help to relieve her worries. It did. Somewhat. But the unknown never made Katheryn feel at ease in the past. It was helped to know what she was up against. Yet even with the criminals having shown their true colors, nothing made her confident of what was to come.

"Inside!" The cowboy directed the troupe up the stairs and past Carlos into the house. They all filed in as bidden to do so with sullen expressions and lethargic walk. Fear could often make the strong to be weak...in no time whatsoever.

"Trent?" Miss Cahill dared speak up as her eyes adjusted to Walker's darkened living room. There before her was Trent with his hands tied behind the back of the kitchen chair he had been forced to occupy.

Trent slowly lifted his head and opened his eyes. "Alex?"

Miss Cahill rushed to his side, searching for his eyes. "What happened to you, Trent?"

He rolled his eyes and leaned his head back as he tried to find relief from the headache. "Why don't you ask the butt of the gun that gave me a knot on the head?"

"I can do that." Molly managed through clenched teeth as she kept her hands behind her head, looking onward towards Alex and Trent.

Deats Tarpin then rushed in, grabbing Miss Cahill by the arm and jerking her away from Trent.

Molly released her hands and dove forward, grabbing Tarpin on the arm with equal force. "You let her go!"

Tarpin shook her grip away as if nothing, throwing her to the floor in one swift movement. Katheryn rushed to Molly's aid, looking up at Tarpin's beady eyes. No threatening word or look could keep her from aiding a friend….ever.

The younger Tarpin brother eased in and secured a grip on Molly, bringing her to her feet. "You and me gonna have a fine time."

Molly cringed, fighting his grasp. "Let me go!"

"Not a chance." His hand tightened around her wrist even more as she writhed from his grip.

"Let her go!" Trent raised his voice with fervor despite the throb that seized his head.

Deats Tarpin did let her go…reluctantly, casting a lustful anger before her eyes as threw Molly's arm against her forcefully.

Meanwhile, Katheryn's eyes scanned the hazed room before her. A stream of sunlight fell at Trent's feet while the cowboy-clad leader paced the entrance to the home a few feet away. The man seemed so familiar…yet so different. Like a stranger who you knew you had seen somewhere before or a face that wouldn't leave your memory. The man's angry stare flashed before her eyes as she shut her eyes tightly, cringing from the memory from moments ago as he halted the fight outside. Then another face seemed to flash before her memory…before the two intermingled into one. Her eyes slowly opened. She gazed headlong at the pacing menace. His steps were firm as he guarded the door, anticipating his next move…the death of Ranger Walker. A sly smile crept from the corner of her mouth and faded away from view as she remembered the face. It was quite clear to her now. Only a few nights ago had she seen this man. Except he hadn't assumed the façade of a cowboy…but of a police officer at a fake checkpoint. It all made sense now. But it all somehow still seemed so confusing. What did one have to do with the other?

"They're coming!" A voice from outside shouted as he grabbed Carlos by the arm with force and shoved him inside, causing Carlos to stumble only slightly as he moved away from the door and neared Katheryn with his hands still helplessly secured behind his back.

"What?!" Hank Tarpin barked aloud as he stomped his way to the back of the house, jerking away the master bedroom curtain to get a better view.

Sure enough. Two Stetson-clad figures approached the home speedily and swiftly yet still from afar.

"Let's get 'em!" The two Tarpin brothers shouted as they darted for the front door and bounded down the front steps, running towards the back of the house with guns drawn.

The younger Tarpin was the first to fire his AK-47 as a stream of bullets cascaded from the complicated automatic weapon.

The two Rangers dove headlong onto the ground, tumbling behind a nearby bale of hay for cover.

Trivette secured his handgun between both hands and hoisted it above him, resting it briefly atop the hay bale and releasing three consecutive shots before diving back down next to Walker.

"I'm going to try to flank 'em." Walker raised his voice above the gunfire as he crouched near Trivette. "Cover me!" And with that he rose and ran back towards the barn and behind it, tracing a path that would help him double back towards his back pasture and behind the house.

Trivette never stopped shooting, taking down the younger Tarpin brother with only one try in mere moments. He wasn't dead…only wounded as he crawled to meager safety at the foot of Walker's ranch house.

Back inside the house, Trent was not as groggy as he currently was letting on. He silently worked at the ropes that held his hands captive while the cowardly leader still aimed his gun at the innocent ones around him instead of capturing Ranger Walker as he so bravely admitted was his tainted desire.

Carlos caught a glimpse of Trent's Oscar-worthy acting and took on a plan of his own to play upon the man's apprehension and cowardice. "Say…Aren't you going to go help them?"

The man jerked the weapon, aiming it at Carlos. He said nothing that his angry eyes had not already said for him.

Carlos grinned. "I'm sure they could use your help out there. Sounds like one of them may be wounded. I thought you wanted Ranger Walker so bad." He scoffed. "Looks like you won't get him after all."

"Shut up!" The man yelled, shaking the gun in Carlos' face with great agitation while Trent worked at freeing himself from behind the criminal.

Trent sighed beneath his breath as he felt the ropes fall to the floor behind him. He nodded barely towards Carlos as the gunfire continued to ring out from outside the house.

Carlos glanced at his close friend with only his eyes before shifting them back at the barrel of the gun in his face. "Fine." He ended his little acting exhibition with an annoyed smile.

Trent then nodded toward Tommy…then Katheryn last of all. He counted down silently. Only his lips moved. Five…four…three…two…one…Go!

At once, Trent dove towards the man, sending his pistol cascading through the air and onto the carpeted floor. Three punches and two swift roundhouse kicks was all it took to do him in while Katheryn struggled with the rope that held Carlos bound. Tommy reached in for the gun, aiming it at the bad guy while his big brother reached for the ropes that had tied him up just moments before and forcefully tied the man's hands behind his back as he straddled him on the ground.

"Throw the gun on the ground!" It was Walker's booming voice that could be heard in the distance.

Hank Tarpin ceased his gun fighting and slowly turned to see Ranger Walker with the gun pointed straight at him. Trivette eased away from the hay bale and hurried forward with his gun aimed at Hank Tarpin's back.

Hank laughed ruefully under his breath. "We meet again, Walker. We meet again."

"That we do." Walker was unmoved as he stared the uncouth man down over the top of his gun.

Tarpin threw his weapon down angrily. "I'm not quite done with you, Ranger. I got me a score to settle with you."

With that said, Walker drew back his arm and holstered his gun. "He's mine, Trivette. You see to the others."

Trivette holstered his own weapon apprehensively and turned, hurrying up the steps and inside the ranch house. Only Walker remained…staring down his opponent of this imminent fight that loomed over them like an eagle in search of his prey.


Part 6 (final part)


Walker stood his ground with one foot planted forward and the other slightly behind as he turned…readying himself in fighting stance. His hands remained at his side…ready to come forward at any moment. His eyes flickered with an unseen flame of fire as he looked into the face of evil before him.

Hank Tarpin dove forward with a rather lousy punch to Walker's face which Walker missed with a simple dodge downward. He raised back with ease, spinning around to face his opponent who had since stumbled beyond and behind the Ranger. Walker's two consecutive roundhouse kicks caused the criminal near defeat. But he didn't give up…and instead offered a few high kicks of his own which Walker took hold of with his hands, throwing the menace's leg back down which caused him to stumble. The goon crawled back to his feet, limping ever so slightly as he doubled forward and successfully punched Walker in the face. But Walker returned the favor ever so swiftly and on the double. Hank fell onto his back with one strong thud. A loud grunt issued from his bloodied lip admitting his defeat.

Walker sighed, shaking his head as he bent low to pick up his black Stetson which had since found the ground below them. He then turned his attention to Deats Tarpin who still let out a groan every now and then. Walker bent low to the thug with a sigh. "Well, looks like the bullet went clean through."

Deats groaned again, rolling his eyes away with disgust.

"Hands behind your back." Walker jerked the criminal upward and dragged him a distance. He nearly threw the man forward onto the side of his truck.

Deats Tarpin struggled as he eased his hands behind his back. His face issued a cringe worthy of the pain that seized him as he did so. "Ow!" He screeched as Walker secured the metal cuffs around the criminal's wrist. The Ranger secured the other also with a briefly firm click of the device before hauling the man onto the bed of his truck.

"Walker!" Trent's voice called in earnest from the home's doorway, filling the atmosphere with a fear-filled fervor that caught the senior Ranger's quick attention.

Walker drew his gun by reflex, firing off a shot as soon as his body had turned completely around. It all happened so fast as Hank Tarpin fell back onto the ground…lifeless…breathless…and with a rather large hunting knife hanging limply from his cold hand against the warm grass below his dead body.

"Walker!" It was a different voice this time. Miss Cahill raced forward, throwing her arms around the Ranger with tears of joy. "Oh, my…Walker…How did you know?"

Walker drew her into an embrace before easing her away from his body to look into her soft-seeking eyes. "I'll fill you in later. How are the others?"

Alex took in a deep breath and exhaled, shutting her eyes briefly and opening them again as she did so. "Everyone's okay. Except Trent. They hit him over the head I think."

The two lovers looked back towards the house as Trent, Carlos and Trivette's voices intermingled into the cool air as they collectively escorted the cowboy-clad criminal from the ranch house.

Walker creased his forehead. "Who's that?"

Alex sighed. "I have no idea. He seemed to have been in on these others' plan to…to kill you." She blinked away the tears. "He got the drop on us just as Tommy and Katheryn thought they had the others under hand."

"Is Tommy and Katheryn alright?"

Alex nodded. "They are wonderful fighters, Walker. But they were too much for them."

"Yeah. I know what you mean." Walker rolled his eyes and sighed playfully.

Alex slapped at his chest with a cheerful grin.

Molly and Katheryn were right behind the guys as C.D. trailed along.

It had been a long day…far too long. All the group longed for was safety and much-deserved rest as each one filed to their individual cars and headed in separate directions. The Malloys headed homeward to Providence Way while the Rangers hauled off the three desperados to Ranger Headquarters. Trent and Carlos followed the Rangers and so did the young ladies and Miss Cahill.

C.D. was quite worn out and promised to pay a visit to the Rangers' office as soon as he could. For now, he headed to his own abode…via the Conestoga he had arrived in. It was a sight to behold as he followed the fast-paced troop of cars that hurried on before him. Yet he enjoyed it and took his own sweet time. After all, wouldn't a retired Ranger deserve a break once in a while?

The old gentleman's weary eyes sparkled as he watched the stream of dust settle before him that was lifted seconds ago by the departures of the others. He chuckled softly to himself and smiled a weak smile. "There goes some mighty good folks. Yes, siree. Some mighty good folk." He clicked his tongue and kissed aloud to the horses to be on their way home. C.D. whistled a homely country tune as the wagon bounced away from the small potholes and hilly gravel areas. Yet not even tired bones could steal the joy from that proud man's face.

##

Trivette's finger breezed over the light switch nearest him on the inside wall as he strode into the room adjacent to Interrogation Room A. The fluorescent light flickered on and shadowed the ones who entered the room. Trivette's arm lingered at his side with a file in hand. His Stetson shadowed the item as he raised the file into view, stopping at the middle of the one-way window into the next room. Ranger Walker and Detective Sandoval stopped next to Trivette, their eyes falling upon the rather sullen man who had since shed his cowboy attire and traded it in for an orange prison jumpsuit. The man was, needless to say, far from pleased.

"His name's Dole Hoskins. Was released from prison on good behavior a couple months ago." Trivette passed the file to Walker. "Started out on the force in San Antonio eight years ago. His partner was killed in a shootout only a year after he joined the force. Seems he went downhill from there."

Carlos looked onward at the begrudged man in the other room. "I remember hearing about that. He was accused of grand theft."

Trivette nodded. "And aggravated assault."

"Do we know how he ended up in Dallas?" Walker thought through the situation piece by piece as he glared beyond them into the next room unbeknownst to the arrested man.

"Nope." Trivette shook his head in defeat. "All we have is an eye-witness on record who claimed he heard him say he would get revenge."

Carlos arched his brow. "Get revenge with whom?"

"That's a good question." Walker mused. "Trivette, see if you can find any information on the officers who worked with this Hoskins."

"You got it." Trivette moved past his partner and friend, making his way outside into the busy halls of the Tarrant county courthouse. He paused as he arrived at the bench that Molly, Katheryn, and Trent occupied. "You guys alright?"

The two young ladies nodded. A smile tempted their demeanors.

"Way to ruin a perfect Saturday, huh?" Trivette chuckled. "I'll so you guys later," he called behind himself as he ambled forward.

Trent turned to Molly, clearing his throat. "If you'd like, I can take you home since Katheryn wants to stay and see how it turns out."

Molly turned to look at Trent. A weakened smile eased from the corner of her mouth as she sighed, her head gently drooping onto her shoulder. "That is so kind of you to offer. I think I could fall to sleep standing up."

Trent smiled as he stood to his feet. "Alright then."

He offered Molly a hand which she took nervously, glancing upward only once before returning her hand to her side as she secured her own footing with confidence. "I think I've got it." She assured Trent with a forced grin.

"Good." Trent's smile faded as he nodded his approval. He turned to Katheryn. "You sure you want to stay?"

Katheryn nodded. "I'm sure."

Trent surrendered with a smile and looked back at Molly who awaited him with patience. He swept his hand forward, indicating for Molly to go ahead of him. His firm steps followed the young woman from behind as they made their way through the hall to the golden doors of the elevator.

Katheryn watched as the doors closed on the twosome within as she directed her attention back towards the Interrogation Room. She mused inwardly as her eyes traced the steps of the many people going to and from various places in the building. As the traffic died down some, her thoughts drifted to that night of the checkpoint after Walker's party at C.D.'s only a few nights ago. It had all seemed so strange. Disturbing in fact. As if the whole thing was a cruel joke on somebody. Indeed it had to be from what Carlos had discovered. But it still didn't make much sense. How was the cowboy and police man facades connected…if at all?

Detective Sandoval's presence drew Katheryn out of her deep reverie as he exited the room and made his way near her. She stood up almost impulsively as he approached her.

"Any update?" She queried, noticing the tiredness in Carlos' eyes.

Carlos' sighed, shaking his head. "Not really. All we know is he was an officer with the force in San Antonio and did some time for theft and assault."

Katheryn pursed her lips in thought as she listened. She crossed her arms with a sigh. "Any way I can help?"

Carlos offered a smile. "Afraid not."

"Somehow I knew that's what you'd say."

"But not because I don't want your help." Carlos was quick to insert.

Katheryn only nodded, smiling towards Carlos with understanding as she took in a deep breath.

"Wait a minute." Carlos spoke up suddenly, a thought having seized him in the silence. "Wasn't there more than one officer at that checkpoint?"

Katheryn thought for a moment before nodding. "You're right. It was. At least two. Maybe three."

"Hmm," Carlos thoughts raged silently. "And none of them were the Tarpins?"

"Nope. Now that you mention it…."

Carlos lifted his head with confidence, crossing his arms in front of him. "That's rather interesting."

"Do you think there could be some officers still in on this?" Katheryn nearly read his mind.

Carlos nodded. "Possibly." He stepped forward. "I'm going to head back to the station." He softly laid his hand on Katheryn's shoulder. "You alright by yourself?"

She cast him a sarcastic glance with her eyes pointed upward at him.

"Never mind." He chuckled softly, drawing a smile from her as he strode forward with the image of Katheryn's confident eyes echoing in his mind to himself as he walked away.

Miss Cahill met with Carlos as she got off the elevator. She issued him a smile and goodbye as they exchanged places. Katheryn watched the doors close behind Carlos before turning her attention to Alex as she approached her.

"Not how I imagined our Saturday ending." Alex chuckled, lightening the moment some.

"Yeah." Katheryn agreed, shaking her head as she fought away the thought that the afternoon had so conveniently stolen a day with her closest friends. "But I suppose catching the bad guys is what counts."

"Indeed." Alex smiled once more before stepping forward. Katheryn fell into sync next to her as they made their way to the Ranger Headquarters office down the hall a ways. Alex pushed open the door with one hand, letting Katheryn enter ahead of her.

Walker awaited them both, reading over the file that Trivette had provided him with. He glanced upward at the two beautiful women who entered the office. "Well, hello. I thought you were heading home, Alex."

"I was." Alex sighed. "But I got a call from Judge Neville."

"What did the judge want?"

"It seems that Hoskins has friends in high places." Alex handed Walker a piece of paper.

Walker accepted the paper and read over its contents with a raised brow. "The judge set bail. Even with his record?"

"Yep." Alex lifted her face with sarcasm lacing her tone. "All because of Anthony Maynard."

"Who's that?" Katheryn inserted.

Alex turned to the young woman. "He's a mafia leader. Been on the unofficial most wanted listed for years but has managed to keep his nose clean by keeping all activity separate from his organization. It seems Hoskins did him a favor or two when he was on the force. And now he's paying the favor back."

Katheryn turned her nose up with disappointment. It didn't seem fair. "Carlos told me he suspects there may have been more than one officer involved with wrongdoing."

"I agree." Walker nodded with a hint of a glimmer in his eye.

Alex noticed his reverie. "What is it, Walker?" She smiled.

Walker turned to Katheryn. "Would you like to do a little undercover work?"

Katheryn smiled. "Sure. What would I need to do?"

Walker reached for his Stetson. "Alex, call Carlos and tell him to meet us at Uppercuts in an hour."

A confused mien was shared by the two ladies.

Walker took notice of their concerned faces and smiled. "Trust me."

Alex lifted her hands in surrender before using Trivette's phone to call Carlos as Walker took his leave.

Carlos was equally perplexed when Alex relayed what Walker had said but knew better than to question Walker's instincts and quickly agreed, gathering up what little information he had discovered and remembering it carefully as he hurried to meet the others at the said time.

##

Katheryn brought her Stingray to a smooth halt in the parking space next to Walker's vast pickup just as the Ranger exited his vehicle, planting his boots on the asphalt parking lot adjacent to Uppercuts…a bar ran by Butch McMann, a former boxer and private investigator turned proprietor.

Katheryn followed suit, setting her foot firmly against the ground and pushing herself up and away from her brightly-shining vintage sports car and shutting the door firmly before joining up with Ranger Walker as he traced the ground from the parking spaces to the front of the building a short distance away in front of them.

The place was rather quaint. Blink and you just might miss it. Katheryn surveyed the place with interest, squinting against the last high bit of late afternoon sunlight that shone overhead. Uppercuts was not a building to itself but rather a large brick unit situated on the corner of the lot with a staircase shadowing the doorway below. As she walked, Katheryn traced the path of the stairs up to what appeared to be another entire establishment. Accept…It didn't seem to be occupied very much at the present time. The window just beyond the door at the top of the stairs was cluttered with spider webs and months of natural wear by the looks of it she assumed, glancing back downward as they walked into the shadow of the large place.

Walker placed a hand on the single door's knob and turned it, opening it for Katheryn before entering himself.

"Walker." A tall man's rather deep, booming voice greeted the two guests as petty restaurant din and country tunes filled their ears. Butch McMann stepped around from the bar, throwing a towel over his broad shoulder as he walked toward them, covering the short distance. He extended his hand. "How are you, Walker?"

Walker firmly shook the man's hand twice. "Good." He turned to Katheryn. "I believe you remember Katheryn from the other night."

"Indeed I do." Butch extended his large hand with a friendly twinkle in his eyes.

Katheryn's hand could have nearly been engulfed by his as he shook hers delicately the best he could. "Pleasure to meet you again, sir."

"Likewise." Butch waved a hand forward towards an empty table and moved to be seated. Walker and Katheryn followed suit, taking a seat at the square table. "What brings you guys by my place?"

Walker issued a sly grin. "We may need your help with something."

"Oh?"

"Yep. Carlos Sandoval is on his way here also."

"What do you need? Just name it."

"Well, we have a hunch that there may be some DPD officers involved in wrongful doings. And the only way we might be able to know for sure is if we can catch them in the act."

"What does that have to do with me?" Butch smiled as only he could.

"Well…"

The door to Uppercuts swung wide open once more, letting in a stream of light from the oncoming sunset as Detective Sandoval strode in, removing his sunglasses as he closed the door behind him. As his eyes adjusted, he noticed the group already gathered in discussion and crossed the short distance to them with a smile. "Am I late?"

"Not at all." Katheryn smiled and indicated the extra seat to him which he accepted willingly, looking towards Walker to hear the plan. "What's up?"

"As I was just telling Butch here," Walker continued, "The only way to see which officers may be bad is by setting a little trap."

"I see." Carlos' interest was piqued. He grinned. "What's the plan?"

"Well, I was wondering if you two were up for a little undercover work."

Katheryn and Carlos exchanged fond glances and nodded towards Walker.

"Sure." Carlos nodded one last time.

"Okay…" Walker turned to Butch. "Now…Here's what I want you two to do…."

Ranger Walker left Uppercuts about a half hour later after thoroughly going over his plan with Carlos, Katheryn, and Butch. It was set. And Carlos now busied himself at a corner booth of Uppercuts, equipped with nothing but his good sense and pistol at the base of his back. Meanwhile, Katheryn quickly set herself to figuring out the best way to start an argument with the customer at the corner booth. The more she thought the plan over as she propped her chin up on her fist at the bar, the more she was convinced she couldn't do it.

Butch noticed her debased expression and found his place behind the bar in front of her. He took the towel from his shoulder and wiped over the counter. "Why the long face?"

Katheryn sighed. "I can't do this, Mr. McMann."

Butch scoffed playfully. "Can't? Now that's not a word I'd imagine I'd hear from the girl that Trent says is a stellar karate student and has nearly taken down a couple bad guys all by herself. What gives?"

Katheryn turned slightly, glancing at Carlos in the far booth and turned back to Butch. "It's hard to explain." She stifled a growing smile.

"I see." Butch nodded, suppressing his own grin. "But I think you can do it more than you think you can."

"I wish I had your confidence."

"You do." Butch smiled. "Except it's your own confidence. The confidence you never lost on the inside. Trust me. Not many gals accomplish what you have. I think you'll be able to pull this off."

Katheryn managed a smile as she pushed herself up and back into proper posture. "Thanks, Mr. McMann."

Butch raised his hand softly. "Please…Call me Butch."

"Okay." Katheryn chuckled lightly.

"Now…Let me make that phone call." Butch moved to his telephone and carefully dialed the number that Walker had assigned.

Katheryn stood and sighed. "Sure thing." She turned in the direction of Carlos and slowly took one step after the other, getting angrier as she walked. She quickly stepped into character, putting a hand to her hip and the other one she slammed palm first onto the table with a force she soon regretted as small pains tingled throughout her hand. Yet she fought it off and used the pain as a catalyst for the angry woman she had stepped into character as. "Listen here, mister! I don't want none of your funny business. Either you hand over the money you owe or I call the cops!"

Carlos got the hint and stepped into character as well. He drew from his days with the Deuces as he drew out his words and slurred a line or two, casting a lazy glance Katheryn's way. "Listen, girly. I don't know who you are, but I don't owe you nothing. Zilch…zero…zip."

"Oh, is that right?" Eyes began to turn their way as she raised her voice.

Even Carlos' eyes grew a bit wider before settling back into character. "Yeah. You know where the door is."

Butch hung up the phone at the bar and crossed the way, joining in the act. "Hey, you two. Settle down. Or take the argument elsewhere."

Katheryn spun on her heel to face Butch. She shook her finger in his face with a fervor she didn't know she had in herself. "And who are you to tell me what to do?"

Butch slowly backed away. For a moment there, even Carlos wasn't sure if she was acting or not. The detective quickly stifled a smile that threated to blow his cover.

"You just take it easy now…I'll be calling the cops if not."

"Hey!" Carlos called after Butch raising a full beer bottle. "Bring me another will ya!" He demanded the request rather rudely and drunkenly.

"I believe you've had enough, young man." Butch returned to behind the bar.

"I don't think so!" Carlos stood and pushed past Katheryn. He faked a small stumble as he reached the bar and pounded a fist against the hard top. "Give me another! Don't you know who I am?"

"No I don't." Butch confessed.

"I'm a former police officer. You hear?"

"That's nice."

"From San Antonio!" Carlos plopped onto the bar stool. "But I got kicked off and am trying to join up here. They won't let me. Cause I'm—I'm not good enough."

Katheryn wanted to chuckle. Carlos would make a horrible drunk. And although she was glad about that, she hoped it wouldn't hurt their chances of a successful mission.

"Well, I'll tell you what…I've got some friends who you should talk to." Butch reached for the phone.

"No, no, no! No police!" Carlos slapped the bar again in earnest.

Katheryn hurried to his side in anger. "What do you mean no police?! That's exactly who should be here! I'm calling you in for theft! Theft of my sister's dignity!" She rounded the bar and yanked at Butch's phone. She felt a cord tug from the wall and prayed it had not come loose as she dialed in the Dallas police's number. Except she got Carlos' partner…who was in on the whole plan. "Is this the Dallas police?" Katheryn barked, knowing full well who she was speaking to.

"Yes." Andrea replied.

"I'd like to report a criminal!"

"Oh?"

"Yes! For theft and disturbing the peace! Former officers shouldn't act like this. It's a disgrace to humanity!"

"Where are you at, ma'am?"

Katheryn routinely fed Andrea the address of Uppercuts with a staunch tone of voice.

"I'll let the dispatcher know." Andrea grinned as she hung up the phone and contacted the dispatcher. If they were lucky, maybe one of the officers on duty would be the one to take the bait.

All across the Dallas metro area, the dispatcher voice alerted every officer on duty. "All units, this is dispatch. I have a 10-92 reported at Uppercuts bar. Be advised suspect is a former police officer."

A few moments passed before an officer responded. "Dispatch, this is unit 451 responding to your 10-92. We are ETA ten minutes from location." The fish had taken the bait.

"Need backup?"

"10-10."

"10-4, 451."

Moments later, a DPD patrol car came to a screeching halt in front of Uppercuts. Its siren remained off while its lights still flashed their routine colors against the front of Butch's establishment. An officer emerged from both sides and walked side-by-side into the building.

The door opening was Carlos' signal. He quickly slipped back into a drunken stupor and yelled at Butch for another longneck to which Butch staunchly refused.

"What seems to be the trouble here?" The lead uniformed officer eased up to the bar nonchalantly, interrupting the group's act.

Katheryn spun on her heels. "This so called police officer had the nerve to turn down my sister at the altar seven years ago after he ran off with her money when he quit the San Antonio police force! The squirrel even had the guts to ask me to keep it a secret!"

Did she just call me a squirrel? Carlos arched a brow as he took in the scene before him.

The officers listened to her groveling speech while their faces showed they were clearly unimpressed. "Ma'am, I'm sorry but we don't have any evidence of that to arrest him with."

Katheryn arched her brow. "You saying I'm a liar?"

"No, ma'am." The officer stifled a laugh. "But it's your word against his."

"Amen to that!" Carlos raised his stupefied voice.

"Oh shut up." Katheryn threw over her shoulder to Carlos with an aggravated sigh.

"But you show me some evidence, little lady, and I'll take him in in a heartbeat. How's that sound?"

Katheryn nodded, admitting a supposed defeat. "Yes, officer." She spoke through clenched teeth as she turned to Carlos. "I suppose you're right."

"Then you folks have a good night." The officer tipped his hat her way and followed his partner to the door, mumbling something sarcastic inaudibly under his breath.

Carlos and Katheryn exchanged wary glances…almost afraid that their entire act had been for nothing…when the officer turned back around.

He slowly ambled towards Carlos, taking him softly be the arm and crouching near his ear. "Come with me. I think we might have something you'd be interested in."

Carlos nodded. His interest was piqued as he stood, winking barely at Katheryn as was the "It's going good" signal he had devised before they started.

The two officers hauled Carlos outside and around to the back of the building, glancing to and from in the growing nighttime darkness to be sure no one was watching. They released him only once they were out of sight.

"Listen here, mister. Are you really a former officer?"

Carlos tried to sober up. "Yep. With the San Antonio force."

"You remember working with a…Dole Hoskins?"

Carlos wrinkled his forehead before nodding. "I think so. Yep. Sure do. Man was ornery before they finally let him go."

"Why'd they let you go?" The second officer pressed with angry eyes.

Carlos chuckled. "I guess an officer helping a few prisoners escape was too much for them."

The first officer grinned. "You helped a prison escape?"

"Nope." Carlos smiled. "I helped five escape."

"Wow." The two officers exchanged victorious glances. "Looks like we got ourselves a real gem here. Old Dole would be proud if hadn't have gotten caught."

"Caught?" Carlos squinted.

"Yeah," the officer sighed. "Rangers busted him and two prisoners just this afternoon that he has helped escape from Huntsville."

"Why'd he help them escape?"

"Owed him a favor after those Tarpins helped him stow away drugs that he filtered to them in prison." The officer chuckled. "They took drugs and some weapons when they escaped."

Carlos grinned to play along. "What does that have to do with me?"

"You can join us!" The second officer prodded with a playful slap to Carlo's arm. "Help us pick up where they left off."

Carlos grinned broadly, nodding slowly as he acted out his part well. He slowly bowed his head as his smile faded…all "stupor" having left him entirely as he raised his eyes back towards the two dirty officers. "Sorry, guys. Not this time."

"What do you mean?" The first officer laughed it off.

Carlos reached for his badge which he had stowed away in his back pocket and flashed it before them. "Detective Sandoval. You two are under arrest."

The two goons cast a nerving glance at each other before darting away and back into the street in front of Uppercuts, making a firm get away as they hopped back into their patrol car and sped away…a loud screech emanating from their tires as the brake released and they aimed down the road at eighty to nothing in a matter of seconds.

Katheryn burst outside only to see Carlos darting for his own police issue. He climbed in, speeding away from the parking lot and halting next to the entrance of Uppercuts for Katheryn to quickly climb aboard before they sped away after the patrol car under the darkness of the night.

The chase continued, weaving in and out of the streets of the metro area. Carlos' steady hands manned the car well as he rounded corners and pressed the gas pedal to floor, dodging fellow drivers on the road while keeping his firm sights set only on the blue and white patrol car ahead of them.

Katheryn's gaze was set also as she placed her confidence in Carlos' abilities. This had become quite the easy task in the months since she had met him. Yet the adrenaline rush which she loved still set her on the edge of caution, forcing her to glance infrequently towards Carlos as he drove. She shut her eyes against the speeding force of the vehicle as she felt her body sway with the sharp turning of the car into yet another street which forced her eyes open. She couldn't miss a beat…no matter how hard she tried.

"Where are they going?" Katheryn called out as they turned into a suburb.

"I don't know." Carlos admitted, turning to follow them.

Then it struck her. Had these criminals followed her home that night? Surely not.

Her worst fear was confirmed as they started down Providence Way in earnest, slowing up only enough to come to a stop alongside the street's side and abandon their vehicle to run the rest of the way on foot. Carlos continued down the road at a slower pace, lagging behind to see just where these goons were headed. All Katheryn could do was squint in confusion. What in the world were they doing?

They halted their step at house 118…much to Carlos and Katheryn's dismay.

Carlos stopped the car alongside the street a few houses down turned the engine off, stepping out of the vehicle and drawing his weapon. "Stay close," he instructed as he eased in front of the car and up onto the sidewalk.

Katheryn hurried behind up behind him, keeping pace rather well as Carlos' walk turned into a soft run. He slowed as they reached 118 Providence Way beneath the dangerous shelter of the darkness.

Carlos stopped suddenly, watching as the two officers made their way up the walkway up to the Malloy home as if on a normal patrol as they ambled with ease. Both Carlos and Katheryn could not believe it…and cringed to know what they would do.

"Can you tell what they're up to?" Katheryn asked, suspense getting the best of her as she remained tucked behind Carlos as he stretch to see what was going on.

He creased his forehead, sighing as he strained to see their small figured reaching the porch. "Nope. The first officer is ringing the doorbell."

"Can't you just dive in and fight them down?"

Carlos shook his head. "It would put them in jeopardy."

Katheryn sighed as Tandy, Ty, Tommy, and Katie's faces all flashed before her mind. She prayed for their safety as an owl hooted overhead, signaling the evening hours had deepened even more.

"The door's opening. It's Tommy." Carlos reported. "Trent just came up behind him and is talking with them."

"What if I try the neighbor's house and use their phone?"

"It would take too long."

Katheryn sighed once more. "There must be something we could do."

Inwardly, Carlos agreed with Katheryn more than ever. He didn't like this helplessness that had taken over him. But he held his tongue…Or he too might choose to something irrational just to save his friends.

"Um, might I ask where your patrol car is?" They could hear Trent's voice just barely through the pin-drop silence.

"Oh, it's just up the road here. Kind of had some trouble. That's what we stopped here for. Saw your light on and figured we could ask if you saw a suspect we were chasing."

"I see." It was clear that Trent was not convinced.

"She's a blonde. Pretty thing. Too bad she's running from the law."

"Blonde you said?" Trent's eyes narrowed.

"Yep. Long hair. Lovely looking eyes. Like she stepped from the pages of a novel."

"I see." Trent repeated. "And does this young lady have a name?"

"Katheryn." The officer returned flatly.

Trent suppressed the urge of surprise that rose up within him as he said that name. "What do you want with her?"

The officer pulled his gun on Trent much to Carlos' dismay as he watched. "Then you do know where she is."

Trent held his ground, staring down the officer with tenacity in his eyes. "Which side of the law are you exactly on, mister?"

"The side I choose to be." He cocked the weapon. "Now tell me where she is."

"And if I don't?"

The supposed officer only laughed. "I know she's here. This is the address that sweet little Molly gave."

"What do you mean?"

"Well…We sort of cornered her after you left her. Yeah. We've been following you all ever since you took down our partner Hoskins. And she told us this is where you live."

"What did you do to her?!" Trent demanded, heat rising to his cheeks.

"Oh, nothing opening the door to her little apartment won't cure."

"What do you want?"

"It was that squealer who helped put Hoskins away with her eye witness account. She'll die for it…and so will you and everyone else whose name I find in that police report once you tell me where she is."

"Not a chance." Trent said through closed teeth.

The officer scoffed. "Fine." He almost back away when he instead through his fist toward Trent only to be guarded and flipped onto the floor of the entryway in a matter of moments.

And it was Walker who got the drop on the other officer, stepping from the shadows and onto the porch with his pistol aimed in the back of the officer. "Freeze!"

Trivette was not far behind, and reached for his handcuffs, securing the first officer in their grasp.

Carlos grinned victoriously and spun around, holstering his gun back at his side. "It's Walker and Trivette. They got them." He turned back and hurried forward into the Malloy's yard as backup arrived and Katheryn heeled him from behind.

"Trent!" Carlos called, skipping the final step as he ran up to check on his friend. "You okay, bud?"

"Yeah." Trent was not relieved though. "But we still got a problem."

"Oh?"

Trent looked to Katheryn. She caught a glimpse of his growing concern. Her smile faded. "What is it, Trent?"

"It's Molly. They've rigged your apartment while she's in it."

"C'mon, Trent. I'll give you a lift." Carlos offered.

The three friends hurried for Carlos' unmarked police issue after briefing the Rangers on the situation. They arrived at the young ladies' apartment in ten minutes flat.

Trent reached the apartment door first as the lift thudded open.

"Trent!" Carlos called after his close friend. "Wait a second!"

Katheryn and Carlos made it to Trent in time before he opened the door.

"Trent, buddy." He then realized any warning he had to say was null and void as he looked into Trent's determined eyes. It was no use. He was going to go in no matter what they could say. So he simply nodded. "Be careful."

Katheryn nodded in agreement as she stood by Carlos' side with concern in her eyes.

Trent looked towards Katheryn. "You have the key?"

Katheryn nodded and reached into her pocket, handing Trent the small silver trinket.

He swiftly unlocked the door and rushed in. Immediately, the sound of a ticking clock reached his ears. It's ever ominous call tempted his every move as he searched for Molly.

"Over here!" Molly called through her tears as she wriggled within the grasp of the ropes that held her to the kitchen chair.

Trent rushed to her side and immediately began working at the ropes.

"No!" Molly insisted, glancing at the homemade bomb that lay at her feet. "It's set to go off a minute after the door is opened."

Trent ceased his work on the ropes and shifted his focus to the electronic menace before him. On bended knee, he looked the entire thing over once, twice, three times. Thirty seconds remained on the clock before him. The threatening ticks continued into the silence around them. He drew out his pocket knife and issued a silent prayer that he would choose the right wire to cut. His eyes fell upon the black one among the yellow ones. With ten seconds left on the clock and confidence rising within him, Trent sawed quickly on the narrow wire, closing his eyes as he intensified his efforts against it.

With one resounding echo, the clock stopped. And in its place was a silence like none other.

Trent let his head bow limply with relief as he sighed while Molly's soft laugh of praise surpassed the tears she had just shed not moments ago.

Trent stood to his feet and turned towards the door. "Carlos! Katheryn! It's safe!"

The two made their way into the apartment just as Trent had freed Molly from the ropes. Molly rubbed at her wrists some as she stood, making her way over to Katheryn and embracing her friend with a newfound appreciation. Katheryn accepted her embrace, drawing her even closer as she let her shed tears of joy this time without saying a word.

Trent and Carlos stood to the side with smiles easing onto their faces, admiring the friendship before them with thanks in their hearts that they had overcome yet another obstacle…and saved a life along the way.

##

The sun was just barely setting over Dallas and the loft apartment that Katheryn and Molly had shared for nearly two weeks already when Katheryn made her way proudly through the kitchen of the abode to the dining area of the open floor plan living area, setting a large platter of fried chicken before her first dinner guests ever. Many oohs and ahs dispersed through the small crowd that was gathered around the table which was a housewarming gift from Ranger Walker and Miss Cahill to the girls.

"So…Looks like you finally figured out how to make fried chicken." Trent looked up towards Katheryn as she raised back up from setting the delicious food before them.

Katheryn chuckled softly, wiping her greasy fingers on the towel she had used to carry the hot plate with. "Appears so. It was easier than I thought." She ended with a smile and hurried back to the kitchen as Molly called her. It had sounded rather desperate.

Carlos sniffed at the food before them all as the others talked among themselves. He elbowed Trent in the ribs with a grin. "She can cook."

Trent suppressed a grimace. "Who?"

Carlos stared at Trent lamely.

"Oh." Trent finally understood, nodding slowly as he turned his attention elsewhere to his two youngest siblings who occupied a smaller folding table nearby in the living room area. He smiled as he saw them having a good time, laughing and carrying on with their drumsticks, mashed potatoes, and peas.

A few moments later, Molly and Katheryn appeared from the kitchen carrying the last items of food and setting them down in front of their guests. Although interrupting the conversations of their dinner guests, it was well-received as the hungry crowd issued various small praises to the girls for a job well done.

"This looks wonderful, ladies!" Miss Cahill exclaimed, placing her napkin gently in her lap as she gave Walker a glance of approval.

Walker nodded to each of the girls as they took their seats each at either head of the table. "You did wonderful, girls."

"Thanks, Ranger Walker." Katheryn spoke for them both as she looked on her guest with a bit of pride swelling within her heart. She felt immensely blessed to be among them all.

Trivette and Carlos, who sat in front of each other with Katheryn to their side at the head of the table, was just about to reach for the chicken simultaneously when Trent cleared his throat, causing a gently silence to fall among them all. He paused a moment and gave the twosome hard glances. They shrank back with innocent expressions and smiles the begged for mercy.

Trent suppressed a grin as he looked to his left at Molly then down the other end of the table to Katheryn. "If I may…I'd like to say a prayer….Not only over the food…but for you both."

Both Molly and Katheryn nodded at the same time, giving Trent a smile of approval.

Trent then stood to his feet and asked that they all join hands. The group did as bid, bowing their heads and closing their eyes. Trent took a deep breath, closing his eyes and lifting up his gaze. "Heavenly Father, thank you for your hand on us each day and for watching over us. Thank you for your protection. We ask for your guidance and blessings in everything we do. Please help us to keep our faith strong as we accomplish your work. Lastly, we thank you for the wonderful food before us that these young ladies have so graciously prepared. And thank you for blessing these young ladies in all they do. Amen." **

Each one present rose their voice with an amen as Trent ended the short prayer of thanks. Molly and Katheryn each smiled yet again towards Trent to let him see their thanks.

"Thank you, Trent." Katheryn offered. "That was beautiful."

"Let's eat!" Tommy exclaimed, reaching for the chicken as Trivette and Carlos faces became sullen as they saw the food slowly slip away from them.

"Tommy Malloy!" Mrs. Malloy softly scolded, causing Tommy to shrink a bit as he pulled the chicken to himself. He slowly got a piece and returned it to the table as quick and politely as he could.

Soft snickers and laughs dispersed through the group, setting off a joyous evening of fellowship among friends. Yet all too soon it was over.

"Well…I think I'll call it a night." Miss Cahill placed a loving hand on Katheryn's arm with a smile as she stood from the sofa following a riveting game of dominoes with Walker and Trent over coffee.

"Okay." Katheryn feigned a pout, reaching her arms around Miss Cahill for a quick embrace before she left.

Miss Cahill sighed as she drew herself away. "I've got court first thing tomorrow morning. It's the first hearing for those officers you all captured. With all our eye witness accounts and the evidence Carlos received, it should be enough to put them and eventually Hoskins and the Tarpins away for awhile." She turned to Molly for a hug.

"We understand." Molly nodded. "There will be other nights I'm sure."

Alex smiled. "I'll count on that." She turned and gave her goodbyes to the Malloys, the Rangers, and Carlos before directing her steps away from the apartment.

Katheryn and Molly exchanged glances of satisfaction as their first guest departed. It had been a good evening…great in fact.

Carlos stood from where he sat in the arm chair nearby, watching the game of dominoes unfold over his own cup of joe and neared Katheryn. It was no use putting it off any longer. He had promised himself to ask her tonight. And this was the most opportune moment. "Molly, would you mind if I steal Katheryn away for a minute?"

Molly nodded, curiosity besetting her. "Why, of course." She scurried off to the kitchen, leaving Katheryn with Carlos.

Katheryn noticed the nervous glint in his eyes. "What is it?"

"Um," Carlos softly cleared his throat as he drew out a folded piece of paper from his back jeans pocket and handed it to Katheryn.

She took it with a smile, opening it carefully. Reading it silently, Katheryn looked up over the page at Carlos with a widening grin. "What is this?" She scolded herself as the words came out of her mouth. For she knew perfectly well what it was…At least what she hoped it was.

"It's an unofficial reminder that I made a reservation for two at Uppercuts for Saturday night."

"Oh?" Katheryn smiled. "Since when did Butch start accepting reservations?"

Carlos looked at her in earnest, his eyes asking the question but his lips refusing to move. He shook it off and took an unseen breath. "I wanted to ask if you'd like to have dinner with me…officially. I mean, I know we went to a banquet undercover and all. But…" Carlos calmed his words and thought through what he should say next. "…I wanted to ask you to join me for dinner…outside of undercover work."

Katheryn nodded, her face remaining emotionless as she thought through his words. In a matter of seconds, every little moment Carlos and she had experienced together flashed through her memory. From the moment she met the detective over a spreadsheet on Ranger Walker's desk to the cup of tea shared by moonlight on the H.O.P.E. center's veranda. Even those roses before Christmas…whom she still did not know who sent…and the red Stingray Corvette in the Malloys' driveway on Christmas morning.

She blinked slowly and inhaled softly, opening her eyes to Carlos with a smile easing onto her face. "I'd love to join you."

Carlos chuckled softly as relief overtook him. "Great! Then…I'll pick you up at…"

Katheryn thought for a moment. "I'll be at the center all day restocking donations. Is six okay?"

Carlos nodded. "That'll be great." He grinned once more before nervously easing his way back across the living space and sinking back into the armchair.

Katheryn subsequently returned to the kitchen, feeling guilty that she had left the dishes to Molly and Mrs. Malloy.

Carlos took a rather large gulp of the hot liquid in his mug and set the cup on the coffee table as he leaned forward, his elbows propped on his knees with his hands folded in front of him.

Trent noticed the agitation pouring from his friend and looked up at Carlos from where he sat across from him on the sofa, focusing intensely on what his next move in the dominoes game should be. "What did you do?"

"She said yes." Carlos whispered, grinning back at Trent.

"Your turn, Trent." Walker sat back away from the game.

Trent smiled and went back to his game. "Oh. So you finally asked."

"Yep." Carlos clapped softly, pleased with himself.

"Well good for you, buddy."

"Thanks." Carlos stated flatly, unsure if the congratulations was legitimate.

Mrs. Malloy then appeared in the living area, folding her sleeves back down as she glanced over Trent's shoulder. "You winning, son?"

"Afraid not." Trent chuckled, looking towards Walker.

Katie smiled and looked toward her youngest who sat huddled with Tommy, reading one of Katheryn's titles on karate. I should have known, Mrs. Malloy silently mused, crossing the short distance. "Are you guys ready to head out?"

Tommy sighed and yawned. "Nope. I could go on for another hour."

"Oh no you don't. Not on school night."

Little groans were soon replaced by willing feet as the threesome stirred and stood, reaching for their coats as Walker finally put a cap on his and Trent's dominoes game.

"Well, looks like I'm done here too." Trent stood and arched his back into a stretch, stifling a yawn.

"Me too." Walker admitted and followed the Malloys to the door where their hostesses were waiting to see them off.

Carlos was not far away.

"It was a wonderful housewarming party." Walker smiled over the young ladies and gave them each a hug.

"Yep. Sure was." Trent agreed with a broad smile.

Once reluctant goodbyes had been said and their door locked on a successful evening with their closest friends, the proud roommates cast aside their dish rags and aprons, finally surrendering to the urge for sleep. They each said goodnight and went their separate ways to their bedrooms for much-needed shuteye.

As Katheryn crawled into the warmth of her bed, she slowly breathed a prayer of thanks for her friends. They were more than friends now…they were family. She was sure of this more than ever…and continued to look forward to what the future held for her in the city of Dallas, Texas, alongside the people she cherished greatly.


**This is an alternate version of the same prayer prayed by John Mason (Trent Malloy's character in the Hayes Cooper episode) in the episode this story is based around "Paradise Trail."