This is an original story.

Time frame would be between the episodes “Widow Maker” and “Vision Quest”.

 

BULLS AND MISUNDERSTANDINGS

NSSNTRVLR

 

Walking into the arena Walker wandered around for a few minutes before heading to the bull chutes; closing his eyes he could still hear the roar of the crowd as it was announced he had made it to eight seconds on the previously unridden Widow Maker.

Several of the men in the area recognized him and offered congratulations before asking if he was planning to ride. Shaking his head he replied, “No, I’m just here to see an old friend.”

Coming up behind the group a voice said, “I wasn’t sure you’d come.”

Spinning around Walker replied, “Truthfully I wasn’t planning to, but my curiosity got the best of me. So why did you want to see me?”

“I heard about your engagement and...”

“It’s been a lot longer than a year and if you have any ideas of getting Alex back you can forget them!”

Holding his hands up the other man laughed saying, “Whoa, hold on, it’s been over with her and I for a long time now; she made that very clear to me shortly after the DeMarco case was finished, not that I was really surprised, I knew she loved you. I’ll admit that I tried to change her mind, but some things just aren’t meant to be.”

“Okay Dalton, what am I doing here?”

A female voice broke in saying, “He’s retiring after tonight and his final ride is Widow Maker.”

Turning he found himself looking at a pregnant brunette and he watched as Dalton put his arms around her and kissed her.

“This is my wife Sharon and as you can tell I’ve got responsibilities now; I was actually hoping you could give me some advice on making that buzzer tonight so I can go out on top.”

“Sorry, but honestly after that accident in the chute…I really don’t remember the actual ride; I hope you make it though.”

Holding out his hand Dalton said, “Thanks anyway and I hope you and Alex are as happy as Sharon and I are.”

They shook hands and Sharon asked, “Will you stay and watch the ride me Walker? I’m pretty nervous about this.”

His first instinct was to say no, but one look at the worry on her face and he found himself agreeing; they made their way to the side of the arena and talked until the announcement came about Dalton Reed’s last ride on the infamous Widow Maker.

Settling himself down on the back of the bull Dalton took extra care with the rope and nodded his head; Widow Maker exploded out of the chute and everyone in the arena watched in awe as man and bull fought for supremacy. The buzzer sounded and the arena exploded with cheers.

Walker was oblivious to them as he realized something was very wrong; Dalton should have bailed off by now. His eyes narrowed in concentration and in a horrified whisper he said, “His hand’s caught in the rope.”

Beside him he heard Sharon gasp as Dalton came partially off only to be trapped by the rope, tossed around and stepped on by the angry bull. “Oh dear God, no! Dalton!”

Her scream galvanized him into action and he quickly scaled the fence and joined the others in the arena working desperately to free Dalton from Widow Maker.

Bodies were flying as the crazed bull circled the arena with his helpless victim still attached; the audience had fallen into stunned silence as they all realized there was a very good chance that death was close at hand for the rider and for the brave souls trying to help.

Walker picked himself up yet again and set his lips in grim determination, despite knowing that he probably already had a couple of cracked ribs he wasn’t about to give up. He planted himself directly in Widow Maker’s path and as the bull lunged at him he sidestepped, grabbed the horns and dug his boot heels into the ground. A couple of the clowns quickly joined in and as the bull began to go down Walker realized he would never get out of the way in time, it was his last conscious thought.

Dalton was freed, the bull roped and dragged away and the medical personnel began feverishly working on both the rider and the man who had saved him. Both of them were strapped to backboards and carried out of the arena as the silent crowd watched them go.

Standing at his bedside in the ER Alex looked down at the bruised and battered body in complete disbelief; he had promised her never to get on another bull and he had done it anyway. She looked down at the engagement ring on her finger and couldn’t stop herself from wondering what other promises he might break in the future.  Stepping out into the hallway she called her boss and requested a leave of absence.

CD hurried into the ER and spotting Alex he hurried over and put his arms around her asking, “How is he honey?” When she didn’t answer he pulled back and saw a look on her face that he didn’t like one little bit. “Alex, you okay?”

“Can you stay?”

“Of course I can, I’ll be right here with you.”

“I’m not staying, I can’t; this should have never happened!” She reached down and pulling the ring off her finger she dropped it in CD’s shirt pocket saying, “Give that to him when he wakes up; I refuse to marry a man I can’t trust.” Turning she walked away without looking back, climbing into her car she called her Dad and made some arrangements.

CD was stunned and speechless for a moment before trying to catch up with her but she was already gone; he sank into the nearest chair and closed his eyes as he remembered Widow Maker, the promise, the crossed fingers and knew that Cordell had really messed up. Forcing himself to his feet he went into the room where his friend was and sat down while he waited for news.

A short while later the doctor came in and told him that none of the injuries were life threatening, a severe concussion, a couple of cracked ribs, a sprained shoulder, a few stitches in his leg, all things that would heal with time.

Just as he was fixing to leave his office for the hospital Jimmy heard his phone ring and reversing course he picked it up saying, “Trivette.”

“Good you’re still there, don’t leave, I’m on my way.”

“How is…” Realizing he was listening to a dial tone he frowned down at the phone thinking, “What’s going on?”

A few minutes later Alex walked in and when Jimmy stood up she went straight to him and hugged him saying, “I need you to do something for me.”

“Anything for you, you know that.”

“Don’t be so quick to agree, you’re not going to like what I have to say.”

Hearing the pain in her voice he asked “Is it Walker; was he hurt worse than what I heard?”

“I wouldn’t know, I left the ER as soon as CD got there.”

Now he knew there was something wrong, “Alex, what’s going on?”

In response she held up her left hand and said quietly, “He promised me not to climb back on a bull and he did it anyway! If it’s that easy for him to break promises how can I know he won’t do it again?”

Seeing her bare finger he cursed silently to himself then said, “That night in CD’s when he made you that promise…well he had his fingers crossed.” Immediately he realized he had said the wrong thing.

“WHAT? Damn it Jimmy, he’s a grown man, not a kid; I’m not going to spend my life having to look at his hands every time he promises me something! You know its bad enough that I have to worry every day when he goes to work; I’m sure as Hell not going to wait for him to get killed riding a stupid bull; I have to get out of here for a while.”

As she turned to leave the office he grabbed her arm saying, “He loves you, you know that; don’t let one mistake ruin what the two of you have.” Seeing the determination in her eyes he sighed in defeat and asked, “What do you want me to do?”

“We both know how stubborn he is; as soon as he’s able he is going to start looking for me, don’t help him. I really need to be myself to sort everything out.”

“But you are going to come back?”

“I’ll be back; my life is here, I just don’t know where Walker is going to fit into it.”

In disbelief he asked, “So you can quit loving him…just that easily?”

With tears in her eyes she replied, “I’ll always love him Jimmy; I just don’t think he loves me the same way.”

“What!?”

“Come on Jimmy; until Kim and Phil got engaged he never showed any sign of wanting to take our relationship to the next level; I think he got caught up in the excitement and then after Storm shot me and I nearly died he did what Walker always does…the right thing. So yes he proposed, but even after we both almost got killed because of Openshaw…after he promised to have a serious talk about our marriage…a talk that never happened by the way…don’t you see Jimmy? His inability to commit, the lie he told me about the bull…Walker doesn’t want to get married!”  The tears started rolling down her cheeks as she added, “And I love him too much to tie him down so I’m letting him go.” She practically ran out the door.

Going into the hospital a little while later Jimmy found CD and motioned for him to come away from Walker’s room. They walked a short distance down the hall and he asked, “How is he Big Dog?”

Running down the list of injuries he said quietly, “He’ll be fine…physically.” Reaching into his pocket he pulled out the engagement ring Alex had put there and added, “But this is going to kill him.”

“Yeah I know about that, Alex cornered me in the office.”

“Well what did she say?”

“She said a lot of things and I thought it would help if I told her he had his fingers crossed when he made that promise, but it actually made her madder.”

“Well soon as Cordell gets out of here they’ll work it out, they always do.”

“I’m not so sure this time; it’s not just the bull that’s bothering her.”

“What in tarnation did she say to you?”

“She thinks Walker regrets asking her to marry him.”

CD’s mouth open dropped open in shock and he hopped to his feet as a million denials sprang to his mind but when he really thought about it…he took off his hat, ran his fingers through his hair then said, “You know Jim, me and Cordell go back a long ways and I honestly can’t think of a time when I’ve been more disappointed in him than I am right at this moment. As much as I hate to admit it, I can see where she’s coming from.”

“So you think she’s right that he just got caught up in the excitement of Phil and Kim’s wedding?”

“No, and I’ll tell you why; he got her engagement ring right after the Golden Wells case; he told me he was going to ask her as soon as he worked up the courage.”

“He never told me that!”

“Let’s face it son; if he’d told you about it Alex would have found out, you aren’t the best in the world about keeping a straight face.”

With a sigh of defeat Jimmy asked, “So what are we going to tell him?”

“The truth is always the best; then he can go to her and get this whole mess straightened out.”

“It won’t be that easy, Alex is gone.”

“Gone? What do you mean gone?”

“Gone as in left town; she told me she needed some time alone and made me promise not to help Walker track her down.”

Sinking back into the chair CD said, “He’ll find her; even if it takes the rest of his life, that man doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit.”

“She’ll be back, she told me that.”

Alex drove to the private airstrip and walked over to the plane she had been told to look for; the taller of the two men stepped forward asking, “Miss Cahill?”

“That’s correct.”

“I’m Eddie and this is my friend Vic, your father sent us; Vic is going to take your car back to your apartment and leave it, I’ll take you to meet your Dad in St. Louis.”

A few minutes later they were in the air and as she left Texas behind she acknowledged the fact she was leaving her heart as well.

Walker woke up and immediately realized he was in the hospital; he frowned when he looked around and noticed his room was empty; where was everyone? Surely by now his friends had been notified of the accident.

Jimmy and CD both appeared around the corner at the same time and noticed he was awake. “How you feeling Cordell?”

Jokingly he replied, “Like I got trampled by a bull.”

With his fists tightening in anger Jimmy said, “It’s not a damned joke; you could have been killed. You don’t have a clue what you’ve done do you? Look around Partner, notice someone missing?” Shaking his head in disgust he turned away saying, “I’m out of here.”

Stunned silence followed his departure before Walker asked, “What’s got Trivette so upset?”

“Cordell I was trying to find an easy way to tell you, but I think Jimmy’s right.” He held out his hand with the ring in it, placed it on the bed and said, “You chose riding a bull over the woman you claim to love; you’re a damned fool.”

Staring in shock from the ring to CD’s face he asked, “I didn’t...what are you talking about? Where’s Alex?”

“She’s gone! Are you happy now? No more dodging her attempts to get you to set a wedding date, no more nagging you about riding bulls, no more Alex…period!” Turning away he said, “That little lady was the best thing that ever happened to you and you blew it.” Shaking his head sadly he walked out the door and left the hospital.

Pain like he’d never felt nearly overwhelmed him as he realized the three people he loved the most had turned their backs on him. For a minute he gave into it then muttered, “If that’s the way they want it, so be it.” He hit the call button and when the nurse arrived he told her to get the doctor; he listened as the doctor ran down his injuries and asked, “So there’s nothing to keep me here then?” Ignoring the sputtering from the doctor he pulled the IV from his arm, got dressed and walked out totally ignoring the ring that still sat on the bed.

It took him a few minutes to find out where Dalton was but once he did he walked in and asked Sharon, “How is he?”

“The doctors say he’s going to be fine, but he’ll need surgery on his shoulder and possibly on his broken leg, so we won’t be going home any time soon. “ Looking up she realized he was dressed in the same clothes he’d had on at the arena; they were torn, dirty and blood stained in a few places. “How are you?”

“I’ve been hurt worse than this, I’ll be okay.”

She didn’t like the tone of his voice or the emptiness in his eyes and asked, “What happened?”

“I trusted the wrong people; I have to get out of Dallas, there’s nothing left for me here.”

Reaching out she grabbed his hand asking, “Where will you go?”

“I don’t know.”

Going with her gut instincts she said, “Look I have an idea; there’s no way Dalton is going anywhere for a while and even when he’s released he’s not going to be up for a long ride home. If you’re interested you can drive our truck up to our ranch in Colorado and stay there for as long as you want to.”

“You won’t tell anyone where I am? Not even Dalton?”

“If that’s what you want.”

“Then you have a deal.”

“I’ll call my brother Luke and let him know you’re coming.”

A few minutes later he left the hospital with keys and directions in his pocket. Climbing into the truck he headed out to the parking lot of the arena and going to his truck he retrieved his badge and gun before locking the vehicle again. Going home he packed a suitcase and called his neighbor to make arrangements for the care of his horses. He opened his safe, placed his gun inside and pulled out the wallet he had used in one of his recent undercover assignments. The driver’s license was still good and he counted a little over a thousand dollars; that should be enough to last him until he decided what he was going to do. A few minutes later he parked several blocks from his office and going in he wrote a note and stuck it in an envelope along with his badge then put it on the Captain’s desk. Taking a deep breath he looked around and said, “I’m sure going to miss this place.” A few minutes later he was on the highway heading north.

CD and Jimmy were sitting in a booth and for a change neither of them was saying a word; both of them were feeling a little guilty about how they had treated their friend.

A minute later they were joined by a DPD officer they both knew who said, “Apparently Walker is okay if you two are here, the news report earlier didn’t give any details on him or the guy he saved tonight.”

Looking at each other they asked at the same time, “What guy?”

“Seriously? You really don’t know? Fellow by the name of Reed was making his last ride before retirement…riding that bull that Walker got his hand broken on…anyway something went really wrong and if it hadn’t been for Walker jumping into the arena to save him…”

“Reed, Dalton Reed?”

“Yeah that was the guy’s name.”

Hopping up CD and Jimmy both ran for the door and made it back to the hospital in record time; not finding him where they had last seen him they finally located the doctor and asked where he was.

“Your guess is as good as mine, he’s gone. “ Reaching into his pocket the doctor said, “Oh and he left this on the bed, I trust you will return it to him.” He handed them Alex’s engagement ring.

Both of them were in shock and collapsed into the closest chairs where Jimmy said, “Big Dog, I don’t like this; I have a very bad feeling in my gut.”

“You and I both Jim; I can’t believe Cordell would just disappear and leave that ring behind.”

“We’ve got to find him and we’ve got to find Alex.”

“Okay, I’ll look for him and you look for her.”

A couple of hours later they met back at the bar and CD said, “They found his truck in the parking lot at the arena, but no sign of him. I checked the ranch and he’s definitely not there.”

“Yeah no sign of Alex either, her car is at her apartment but she’s not home and she’s not answering her phone. Damn it, where are they?”

Throwing a fatherly arm across his young friend’s shoulders CD replied, “I don’t know son, but you and I are definitely going to keep looking starting first thing tomorrow morning.”

Alex paced back and forth in the kitchen of her father’s friends house and couldn’t quit staring at her bare finger as she thought, “How could he have done this to me?”

Gordon was watching the news and hearing Walker’s name he yelled, “Honey, you need to get in here.”

Walking out she asked, “What’s wrong Dad?”

He turned the volume up on the TV and they both heard, “What could have been a tragedy in the rodeo world earlier turned into a remarkable act of heroism. World champion bull rider Dalton Reed, attempting to make his final ride before his official retirement on the bull Widow Maker got his hand tangled in the rope. Texas Ranger Cordell Walker risked his own life by jumping in and despite being injured by the bull finally managed to wrestle it to the ground with the help of others. Both men were taken to St. Mathews Hospital in Dallas, Texas where their conditions remain unknown at this time. We will have more details for you as they become available.”

Sinking into the closet chair Alex whispered, “Oh my God, what have I done?” Raising tear filled eyes to her father she said, “Dad, I…”

Leaning over he hugged her saying, “I know sweetheart, you have to get back to Dallas; I’ll make the arrangements.”

“Thanks Dad.” She grabbed her phone, turned it on and dialed.

“Yeah Trivette.”

“Jimmy…”

“Alex, thank God, where are you?”

“I’ll be on my way home shortly; how’s Walker?” His silence terrified her. “Jimmy, is he okay?”

Sighing he said, “I don’t know, we can’t find him.”

“What do you mean you can’t find him?”

“He left the hospital and no one has seen him since. His truck is still at the rodeo and I have a unit keeping an eye on it. He’s not at the ranch or at your apartment, CD and I checked.”

“I’ll be home tomorrow, we’ll find him.”

After almost running off the road again he finally pulled into the parking lot of a motel and painfully made his way inside; when asked for his ID he provided it and the clerk handed him a key saying, “Ground floor on the back Mr. Harper.”

“Thanks.” He drove around and parked in front of his room as he thought to himself, “Mr. Harper, Travis Harper; that was his new name. Granted it wouldn’t have been his first choice, but it would have to do.”

He took a long shower being careful not to get his stitches wet then rewrapped his ribs and bandaged his leg; his head throbbed and he knew he shouldn’t have been driving, but the pain in his heart was worse; he crawled into the bed and was instantly asleep.

Walking into the office the next day Jimmy was surprised to find a note telling him to report to the Captain’s office, making his way over he knocked on the door and went in asking, “You wanted to see me sir?”

“Have a seat Trivette.” As soon as the young man was seated the Captain said, “Yes I did, I want you to tell me why I came into my office this morning and discovered that my best Ranger turned in his badge and resigned.”

Jumping to his feet Jimmy yelled, “He did what?”

The captain held out a piece of paper which Jimmy took and read,

Captain:

Sorry for not giving you warning or notice, but since I’m back to being a lone wolf, there’s no reason for me to stay in Dallas anymore.

I am officially resigning from the Rangers.

Cordell Walker

Collapsing back into the chair it was all Jimmy could do not to start crying. “Captain I don’t know what to tell you, there was a lot of misunderstood communications associated with the bull incident yesterday and things were said that shouldn’t have been.”

“Do you think he was in his right mind when he wrote this?”

“No sir I don’t.”

“Luckily for him…neither do I! As far as I’m concerned he’s on leave until he walks in my door and looks me in the eye to say he quits. As for you, I’ll do some rearranging, get your shifts covered as well; you have a partner to find.”

“Yes sir I do.” Gesturing towards the letter he asked, “I’d like a copy of that; there are some people I want to show it to.”

“Just take it; I’m going to pretend I’ve never seen it.”

Walking out to his car he dialed Alex’s number and when she picked up he asked, “How soon will you be here?”

“A couple of hours, any word?”

There was no way he was relaying the contents of the letter over the phone so he said, “I’ll see you at CD’s.” He hung up without saying anything else and made his way to the ranch; he heard noise from the barn and was ready to give a huge sigh of relief but was quickly disappointed when he found Angus there.

“Hey there Jimmy, what brings you out here?”

“I’m looking for Walker; do you have any idea where he is?”

“No clue, he called me last night and asked me to take care of his horses.”

“For how long?”

“Funny you should ask because what he told me didn’t make sense.”

“What did he say?”

“Something to the effect that as soon as he got settled he’d arrange to have them picked up.”

Stumbling back to his car he thought sure he was going to be sick; it was true, his partner was gone and apparently wasn’t planning to ever come back. He made a call and upon learning the Ram was still at the arena he let himself into the house and grabbed the extra set of keys. He took them to the DPD officers and asked them to take the vehicle to the ranch. Once he did that he called some contacts and had them start trying to trace his partner.

Waking up late the next morning Walker settled his bill then asked, “Could you recommend a good place to eat?”

“Sure two blocks down on your left, it doesn’t look like much but the grub is outstanding.”

“Thanks.” He found the place and after consuming several cups of coffee and a filling breakfast he was back on the road.

Alex paid the cab driver and walked into CD’s.

He spotted her immediately and making his way to her side pulled her into an embrace saying, “Hey Sweetheart, I’m so glad you’re back. Have you heard anything from Cordell?”

“Not a word; Jimmy asked me to meet him here as soon as I got back; has he been in yet?”

“Why would he want you to meet him here? He should be working today.”

“I don’t know CD I guess we’ll have to wait until he gets here.”

It was all he could do to put one foot in front of the other as he walked into CD’s a while later; he scanned the room and spotted him sitting with Alex. Taking a deep fortifying breath he walked over and sat down across from them.”

“Dang it Jim, you look like you’ve lost your best friend.”

Handing CD the letter he had retrieved from the Captain he replied, “We all have.”

Alex saw the older man turn pale before her eyes and worriedly she asked, “Are you okay?”

He slid the letter to her and after she read it she said, “He would never do this, the Rangers are his life.”

Quietly Jimmy said, “There’s more; I went out to the ranch this morning and talked to Angus, according to him he was asked to take care of the horses until Walker got settled and sent for them.”

“What?”

“He left the Ram, guess he knew we would find that too easily.”

Looking up Alex asked, “What does he mean about being a lone wolf again?”

With a heavy sigh CD replied, “A long time ago he and I were stuck on a stakeout for several days in a row and he told me about the period between losing his parents and meeting Uncle Ray, he called it his lone wolf phase, when he had no pack, where no one cared about him and he had to take care of himself. Don’t ya’ll understand, as far as he’s concerned we were his pack and we all turned our backs on him!” He slammed his hand down on the table.

Placing her hand over his Alex asked, “What happened after I left?”

With a deep sigh Jimmy said, “After you and I talked I went to the hospital, Walker was still unconscious so I pulled CD away and told him what you had told me; needless to say both of us were pretty steamed that he had hurt you that much. Anyway when we got back to his room he was awake and when we asked him how he felt he said something to the effect that he felt like he’s been trampled by a bull…and well I lost it. At that time we still thought he’d ridden and I jumped down his throat about it…then I had to go and make it worse by pointing out that you weren’t there before I walked away.”

“Oh Jimmy; you didn’t know.”

“We should have honey, crossed fingers or not Cordell would never intentionally do anything to hurt you; I just wish I’d remembered that at the time.”

“What did you do?”

“Sweetheart I was mad as Hell at him and I pretty much let him have it with both barrels about how he had chose riding a bull over the love he had for you. I put the ring down on his bed and told him he didn’t have to worry about you pushing for a wedding date or telling him he couldn’t ride bulls again; I told him he blew it.”

“Why didn’t he just tell you the truth?” Answering her own question she said, “Because of his stubborn pride.” Standing up she said, “I’m going to go see Dalton, I have to know exactly what happened.”

“Want some company?”

“No, you guys keep looking for Walker.”

She had Jimmy take her home to get her car then drove to the hospital; she walked into Dalton’s room only to find it empty except for a pretty brunette who was obviously pregnant. “I’m sorry, I was looking for Dalton Reed; they must have given me the wrong room number.”

Sharon saw the other woman turn to leave and said, “Wait, they took him to surgery a little while ago, he messed up his shoulder pretty bad. Come on in and sit down Alex.”

Hesitantly she sat in the other chair asking, “How did you know my name?”

“Dalton and I have no secrets…oh I’m sorry…I’m Sharon Reed, Dalton and I got married two years ago.”

“Congratulations.”

“Why were you looking for him?”

“Because I need to know what happened.”

“When Dalton and I found out there was a baby on the way he made the decision to retire and last night was his retirement ride; the promoters decided it would be a gold mine to put him on Widow Maker, the bull that had only been ridden once. Dalton called Walker and asked him to come to the arena, hoping he could get some tips to stay on for eight seconds. Walker told him he didn’t remember the actual ride and wished Dalton good luck. I was a nervous wreck and I asked Walker to stay with me and watch. Anyway we started talking and he showed me pictures of the two of you and it was so obvious how much he loved you. I asked him when the wedding was going to be and he said something about as soon as he managed to conquer the demons from his past. When I asked him what he meant he said that bad things always seemed to happen to the people he cared about…”

Things fell into place and Alex thought, “Oh no, what have I done?”

“Then Dalton’s name was called and when the buzzer sounded he was still on Widow Maker’s back. I didn’t understand but Walker knew…Dalton’s hand was caught in the rope. I remember screaming something and the next thing I knew Walker was in there trying to free Dalton. That damned bull knocked him down, kicked him and every time he got back up and tried again. He finally managed to get Widow Maker by the horns and with some help from the clowns they got him to the ground with Walker pinned underneath. They used ropes to drag the bull off and the medical staff rushed in to help Dalton and Walker… Alex if he hadn’t risked his life…Dalton would be dead.”

Alex wasn’t even aware she was crying until Sharon handed her a box of tissues and she wiped her eyes as she thought about all that she had just learned; she was beginning to understand. Standing up she asked, “Would you mind if I came back to see Dalton tomorrow?”

“Not at all, I think he’d like that.”

As she drove back to CD’s she kept asking herself where he could have gone and an idea came to her; she parked her car and found the number she wanted. When it was answered she said, “Sam its Alex, I’m looking for Walker.”

“I haven’t seen him and I just saw Billy a few minutes ago; he didn’t mention anything either; is everything okay?”

“I don’t know Sam, we had a misunderstanding and I’m trying to find him to explain, but he’s disappeared.”

“I’ll see if I can White Eagle; maybe he knows something.”

“Thanks Sam.” She hung up and went inside where she walked straight into CD’s arms and told him what Dalton’s wife had said.

“Cordell should have told you all this.”

“You should know better than anyone how close-mouthed he can be; he always has to be so strong, indecision to him is like weakness.”

“So now what?”

“I called the reservation, Sam and Billy haven’t seen him; if he’s not with White Eagle…I don’t even know where to start.”

“We’ll find him honey, don’t you worry none.”

“Then what CD? What if he won’t forgive us?”

Neither of them had an answer for that question.

Jimmy hung up his phone and went over to the window where he stared out in despair; when the Captain walked in he saw the unspoken question and shook his head.

Sinking down in a chair the Captain said, “Trivette, you and I both know that if Walker truly doesn’t want to be found…”

“I know; after spending so many years tracking down people…he knows every trick there is; we don’t even know where to start looking…Hell he speaks Spanish so fluently he could easily go to Mexico and disappear.”

Alex did have a conversation with Dalton and he admitted to her how much he loved Sharon and how much he was looking forward to becoming a father; he listened as she explained the misunderstanding and wished her luck in finding Walker and told her to be happy.

Unfortunately as the days went on she was beginning to doubt it would happen; Walker had apparently dropped off the face of the Earth and though Jimmy tried everything he could think of…he kept coming up empty.

The break they needed came from a very unlikely source…

Sharon and Dalton had just arrived home and her brother Luke met them in the driveway asking, “You need a hand getting inside Dalton?”

“Much as I hate to admit it…yes; between the leg and the shoulder I’m not getting around very well.”

“No problem.” He looked towards the corral and yelled, “Hey Travis; how about giving me a hand here?”

Seeing Walker approaching Dalton did a double-take and said, “Someone better explain what’s going on.”

“Let’s get you inside first and I’ll explain.”

A short time later he looked up in disbelief asking, “You’ve been here all this time…living under a different name?”

“Yes.”

“You’re crazy! Alex and your friends are going nuts trying to find you.”

“They made their choice.”

“You’re willing to throw everything away because of a static filled phone call? That’s not the Walker I know.”

“He doesn’t exist anymore; my name is Travis Harper now.”

Before Dalton could say anything else Luke intervened, “I don’t understand all this but I will tell you that Travis has already earned the respect and admiration of every hand on the ranch; if he wants to stay on I’d be happy to have him here.”

With a sigh Dalton said, “You won’t be happy here Walker; being a Ranger is in your blood and no matter how much you think you’ve made the right decision about your friends; I think you know deep down that you can’t just stop caring about them any more than you can look me in the eye and tell me you don’t love Alex.” When the other man was silent he added, “Tell you what I’ll do; I’ll let you stay on here, Hell I’ll even sell you a share of the place, but only after you talk to Alex face to face and tell her it’s over; right now she’s in limbo.”

“I could just pack up and go.”

“That would be the act of a coward and you know it.”

Silently seething Walker finally said, “Call her.” He turned and walked away without another word.

Looking at his wife Dalton asked, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You didn’t see him that night in the hospital; I did! He was hurting Dalton, I’d seen him before the incident and he was happy…after…he was a wreck; I was terrified he’d do something to hurt himself so yes I offered him a way out and I promised not to say anything, I don’t regret my decision either.”

Knowing she’d done what she thought was right he said, “Okay, end of discussion, but I need to make a call.”

“I’ll take Luke with me…Good luck.”

Alex answered her phone and hearing who it was she said, “I’m guessing you made it home.”

“Just a few minutes ago…look about Walker…”

“No news, we’re still looking.”

“He’s here Alex.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Apparently he came looking for me at the hospital that night and found Sharon instead; she offered to let him drive our truck back up and he did; he’s been here ever since going by the name of Travis Harper.”

Wondering why that name sounded familiar she suddenly gasped out, “He was undercover a while ago, that was his name during the assignment, no wonder Jimmy couldn’t turn up anything.”

“How soon can you make it up here?”

“You want me to come to your ranch?”

“If you want him back…you’re going to have to come get him and I’m not going to lie…I don’t think it’s going to be easy.”

“Do me a favor Dalton, hogtie him if you have to but don’t let him out of your sight.”

Laughing he replied, “That’s a good one Cahill, even if I wasn’t’ injured that would be impossible.”

They talked a couple more minutes and she wrote down the phone number, address and directions. “I’ll call you once I have flight information.”

“Okay, see you soon.”

After she hung up she dialed CD and asked, “Is Jimmy there?”

“He was getting ready to leave.”

“Keep him there; I know where Walker is.”

When she arrived they immediately ushered her into a booth and she said, “He’s in Colorado; it’s a long story but unknown to Dalton…Walker’s been at his ranch the whole time.” She added, “He’s also been going by a different name, Travis Harper.” She saw the look on Jimmy’s face and knew he’d made the connection.

“Damn, no wonder I couldn’t find him.”

“I’ve already booked a flight; I’m leaving in the morning.”

“Want us to come along Darling? We’re just as much to blame as you are for this mess.”

“No CD, I have to do this on my own; you and Jimmy only reacted to what I told you, I started it and I have to finish it.” Under her breath she added, “One way or the other.”

Jimmy heard her and asked, “What does that mean?”

“Even if he agrees to come back…” her voice cracked, “there are no guarantees he and I will be able to pick up where we left off.”

Going around to her side of the booth CD slipped in beside her, wrapped an arm around her shoulders and said, “Don’t you talk like that; Cordell loves you and I know you love him, the two of you WILL work this out.”

With a grin Jimmy added, “That’s right, CD and I feel it in our bones.”

The comment started them all laughing and she hugged both of them saying, “Thanks guys; I’m going to head home and pack; wish me luck.”

“Hold on just a second young lady; I have something you’re going to need.” He disappeared for a minute then came back with her engagement ring in his hand. “I have faith in you sweetheart.”

As she made the final turn to her destination she felt her nerves kick into high gear; after the longest two and a half weeks of her life she was finally going to see him again; there were so many things she needed to tell him, so many things she needed to explain; she just wondered if he would listen. Pulling up she spotted him immediately and walked in his direction.

Looking into the corral he was suddenly on alert and without turning he asked, “What are you doing here?”

There was not a single trace of warmth in his voice but she stepped forward anyway and placed her hand on his shoulder as she said, “I came to talk to you.”

“So talk, then go home where you belong.”

“It’s your home too!”

“Not anymore it isn’t, my family made that perfectly clear.”

“Damn it Walker, we made a mistake…”

“No! I made the mistake! I let myself believe that there were people I could trust to never hurt me; I was wrong, but you know what I’ve discovered…I survived when I was alone at the age of twelve and I can survive now.”

She was prepared to see hurt and anger in his eyes when she managed to get him to turn to face her, but totally unprepared for what she saw instead…nothing…his eyes were lifeless; it was all she could do to keep from stepping away from the emptiness. “Walker the phone call I got was garbled, all I heard was your name, bull and St Mathews; yes I jumped to the wrong conclusion and what I thought had happened is exactly what I relayed to CD and Jimmy. But you have to take some of the blame for that fiasco…both of them saw you cross your fingers while you promised me not to ride bulls again.”

“You still don’t get it do you? The bull has absolutely nothing to do with this.”

“What are you talking about?”

“A simple explanation would have solved that situation; I left because you, Jimmy and CD all decided that I didn’t love you; you thought I would throw what we shared away by climbing on a bull after I promised not to.” He tried desperately to hold onto the anger that would keep his mask firmly in place, but knew it was no use; he pulled away from her and tried to escape.

Grabbing his arm she said, “I’m not letting you walk away from me; I love you and we’re going to get this misunderstanding cleared up whether you like it or not!”

He knew he had a choice to make, despite what she said he knew it would be very easy for him to break free, but if he did that there was a good chance he’d lose her forever; was his hurt pride really worth risking that?

Sensing his turmoil she slid her arms around him as she said, “There have been many times over the years when you’ve told me not to let your doubts come between us; this time the doubts were mine and I’m sorry for doing that to you, to us.”

 His decision made he took a deep breath and said, “Look at me; tell me what you see.”

Raising her eyes to his face she saw an expression she’d never seen on him before…fear!  Questioningly she asked, “What are you afraid of?”

“Don’t you understand? You know my past better than anyone, you know what has happened to the people I cared about.”  In complete disbelief she watched the tears drip down his cheeks as he said, “It’s not that I don’t love you…it’s that I love you too much; I’ve never loved anyone the way I love you and it scares the Hell out of me!”

 Immediately she thought of what Sharon had told her and thinking of all the people he had loved and lost…his reluctance to set a date now made sense to her, Holding him tighter she said, “You should have told me this before; I understand now and while I can’t guarantee you that nothing will happen to me if we get married…I can promise that I will never willingly leave you. I love you Cordell Walker and that’s never going to change.”

Hesitantly he asked, “Does that mean you still want to marry me?”

Raising her hand to the side of his face she looked straight in his eyes saying, “Whenever you’re ready Cowboy, I’ve waited seven years; I can be patient a while longer.”

A dismayed expression crossed his face and he groaned as he said, “I may have to buy you a new ring first; I uh kind of left it in the hospital.”

“The doctor gave it to CD and he gave it to me.” She reached into her pocket and handed it to him.

Totally surprising her he dropped to one knee he said, “I love you; I know I don’t say it as often as I should, but I do; will you marry me Alexandra Cahill?”

“I said yes the first time you asked me and I’m saying yes again; I love you and I’m so sorry for…”

He got up, silenced her with his lips on hers then said, “Don’t apologize; let’s just make a pact to never let it happen again.”

“Sounds like a plan, you promise not to shut me out?”

With a devilish grin he raised his hands with his fingers spread wide apart as he said, “I promise.”

Laughing she smacked his hands and pulled him into another kiss.

“We could take a trip to Vegas before we go home.”

Startled she looked into his eyes and realized he was serious! “No way Cowboy, when we get married it’s going to be with all of our family and friends in attendance.”

“Alex, I…”

Placing her fingers on his lips she said, “Let’s go home and just enjoy being together again for a little while, no pressure, just you and I back where we belong…in each other’s arms.”

Shaking his head he replied, “I love you; thank you for not giving up on me.”

“That will never happen, I love you so much.”

Their lips met and all the angst from the past couple of weeks disappeared leaving nothing but the promise of a brighter future.

From inside the house Sharon and Dalton watched as the couple outside kissed each other. She whispered quietly, “Any regrets?”

Looking outside for another minute he turned to his wife and placed a possessive hand on her stomach as he said, “Honey, Alex and I were a long time ago…I have the woman I love and our baby, Alex has the man she loves, so no regrets, I’d say everything is just the way it should be.”