Close Quarters

By: Lelani

Alex blew the air up through her bangs; she wasn’t sure how to react to this particular situation. She’d had to go out of town in the past to provide depositions or to get witness statements, but this was different. Her boss had just ordered her to go to a small town in the middle of ‘Nowhere Texas’ to interview a key witness for a case she’d been assigned. So, what was the problem? It was when her boss tagged on, “You’ll travel with Ranger Cordell Walker.” “Walker?! Why?” she had asked in outright alarm. “Because, it’s his case, he brought it to us and it could be dangerous.” “I really don’t think…” she’d begun. “No, that’s why I’m here, to do the thinking. Look, Cahill, you’re new here and you have to prove yourself to me before I’ll even consider loosening your leash. Until then, when I say jump…” “I ask how high,” Alex finished for him. “You’re catching on Cahill; maybe there is more to you than the blonde hair, the boobs and the legs.” Alex bristled at the sexism, but she was used to it. She’d joined the big leagues and she was going to have to bite her tongue until she had the clout to throw it back into their faces.

Again, she blew the air into her bangs and then drummed her fingers on her desk. That man! How in the world was she supposed to ride for hours in the same car as that irritating, irrepressible, irresistible… Did she say that? Damn the man! She tossed the file down on her desk for emphasis. He was such a royal pain. If there was a rule, Ranger Walker would find a way to break it. And the last thing she needed was to have her name tied to his. It was bad enough the man had had the gall to kiss her! And that was after humiliating her on her first day in court in Tarrant County. Hell, she still had to listen to the comments from her coworkers on that one. It was hard enough being a woman in her profession, especially in Texas. The ‘old boys club’ was still going strong. If you were a woman and even halfway pretty, the common belief was that you must have slept with someone to get where you were. She’d had more than one person accuse her of that. She’d countered by refusing dates from all who asked and suddenly she was ‘the Ice Queen.’ You couldn’t win for losing in this business. And now on top of all that, she had to deal with… that Cowboy! Well, she might as well get it over with. Stalling wasn’t going to make it go away.         

She got up and walked down the hall to Ranger Headquarters. She walked in and all eyes seemed to be on her. She looked over to where Ranger Walker’s desk was, but she wasn’t surprised to see the chair empty. She turned to ask if anyone knew where he was when he came sauntering in. He wasn’t alone; he had a very large, very mean, and very angry man with him. The man was swearing up a storm as Walker pulled him into the office and forced him into a chair.

Walker looked up and saw Alex standing there with her mouth agape. “What can I do for you, Ms. ADA?” he asked sardonically. “Did I forget to check the box, cross a ‘T’, dot an ‘I’?” She closed her mouth. This wasn’t going to be easy. “I…” she began, only to be interrupted by a tidal wave of filth that poured from the prisoner’s mouth. Walker knocked him on the back of his head, “Shut up, Leon, there’s a woman present.” Leon was not impressed and turned to focus his vile invective on Alex. Walker stood up and elbowed the man in the nose. “Oh, my nose, you broke my nose,” the man cried. “Oops, sorry, I must’ve slipped,” Walker excused himself. “Look counselor, do you need something? I’ve got to get this guy locked up and then I plan to hit the showers.”

Alex felt her cheeks turn pink as she imagined him nude, standing under the spray of water. She pinched her lips together in anger at herself. “I need to speak with you, as soon as possible.” “All right, let me get this guy booked and I’ll meet you in your office.” Alex nodded and turned to walk out. She didn’t see Walker’s eyes follow her out of the room. Leon did though. “That’s one hot looking dame,” he said. Walker knocked him upside the head, “I told you to shut up.”

Alex sat in her office and debated on how to approach the subject when Ranger Walker entered. She didn’t want to be too hostile; then again, he might get the wrong idea if she was too nice. ‘Hi, I thought it might be nice to go out of town together…’ Yeah, right! She was going to have to come up with something. She was so lost in thought that she didn’t even hear him enter. He invited himself into her office without knocking, sat down in the chair in front of her desk and propped his filthy cowboy boots up on her desk. She just sat there amazed at the audacity of the man. “You wanted to see me?” he asked as he leaned back to get comfortable.

“No, but I have orders,” she began. Oops, so much for not being hostile. She couldn’t help it, the man brought out the worst in her. “I see, orders, huh?” “You know the Albright case?” “Yes, I brought it to you.” She wondered if he used the same words he’d used in court, during their fateful meeting, intentionally. “Yes, well, there’s a potential witness in a town called Cactus Spine, Texas.” “Never heard of it.” “I’m not surprised. It’s in the middle of nowhere and has a population of 165.” “Okay, when do you want me to go interrogate this witness?” “That’s just it. My boss wants me to interrogate the witness.” Walker shrugged, “Okay, have fun.” Alex took a deep breath. “He wants me to go there with you and interrogate the witness.” Walker sat up. “What? Why does it take two people to interrogate one witness?” “Look Ranger, I’m no happier about this than you are. The DA thinks that it’s too dangerous for me to go alone, but he insists that I go.”

Walker sat back and played for time. “Whose idea was it for me to tag along?” “Well, it sure as hell wasn’t mine,” she said and then bit her lip. “Look, I’m sorry, but it looks like we’re stuck with each other. The DA has given an order and I don’t have any choice but to follow it. So, can we please just try and make the best of this?” Walker looked at her and decided that it really wasn’t her fault, she clearly wanted about as much to do with him as he wanted to do with her. “Where’s this town located?” She got out her map and showed him. “Middle of nowhere is right. That’s even further into the badlands than I usually go. Cactus Spine, my butt, we’ll be lucky to find cactus growing out there.” “Well, that’s where the witness is.” “Just who is this witness?” “His name is Bubba Jameson.” “Bubba? You’re kidding right?” Alex pointed to her face, “Do I look like I’m kidding?” Walker got quiet. “He’s Luke Albright’s cousin and up until we… you busted Albright, he was working with him. He fled back home to Cactus Spine soon after Albright was put behind bars.”

Alex waited to see if Walker had any other questions, but none seemed forthcoming. “We can leave tomorrow early and if we drive all day, we should get there by evening.” “Tell me again why I can’t just go talk to this guy?” “Because the DA wants me to talk to him. Apparently, about half the population in Cactus Spine are Jamesons and the other half are Albrights. My boss is afraid that it could be dangerous for me to go alone, so you’ve been assigned to be my bodyguard.” Walker’s eyes instinctively went up and down her body as if assessing her and she instantly regretted her choice of words. “I need to talk to the Captain, I’ll be back,” Walker said suddenly and left.

Alex sat at her desk with a frown on her face. She was really beginning to openly dislike the man. And would it have hurt him to shower before coming in to see her? She would swear there was a cloud of dust left over from his brief visit. She opened the file back up and went over the relevant information. Luke Albright was a drug runner. He’d been caught just on the Texas side of the Mexican border by none other than Ranger Walker. He’d been smuggling cocaine up through some rough terrain. No one else had thought to track the man, but Ranger Walker had been undaunted and had slept out there for eight days before he’d been successful. He’d caught Albright red-handed with the goods. Unfortunately, he hadn’t been able to find out who his connection was either in Mexico or in Texas. He was small potatoes and the DA wanted the ringleader. The drugs had found their way onto the Dallas streets and there’d been three deaths so far. The cocaine was mixed and the street name for the drug was ‘Big O’. People who had taken it claimed that it caused intense multiple orgasms during sex. It also caused fatal heart attacks.

A breeze made Alex look up. It wasn’t a breeze so much as a tornado. Ranger Walker was steaming mad and it looked like he was going to take it out on her. “Be ready to go at 5:00 tomorrow morning. Pack light, we’ll only be two or three days.” “Wait!” she called as he went to leave. “Where should I meet you?” “I’ll pick you up at your place,” he answered brusquely. “Do you at least want the address?” she asked as the door was closing. He just looked at her and walked out. “I guess not,” she said to herself.

Alex packed the night before and set her alarm for 4:00 a.m. There was no way she wasn’t going to be ready by 5:00. She showered and dressed, pulling her long hair up into a pony tail. She was wearing jeans, a t-shirt and cowboy boots of her own. She was determined to dress the part. She grabbed a warm jacket, made coffee and put it into a thermos and then she picked up her bag and walked outside. It was February and she quickly put her bag down and her jacket on. She closed and locked her door, put her keys into her purse and waited.

Walker drove up to the address he’d gotten on ADA Cahill. He was expecting to be kept waiting, but there she was, ready to go when he got there at 4:59. He pulled up and stayed in the truck while she opened the door and tossed her duffle bag into the back seat. She pulled herself up and sat down and buckled her seatbelt and as she was closing the door, he took off. No words were spoken and Alex decided to help herself to some coffee. She needed it; she was not a morning person, by any stretch of the imagination.

Walker’s truck was a light blue 4x4. She had decided that it was light blue by picking out a spot that wasn’t covered in mud and dust and studying it for awhile as the sun rose. They’d been on the road an hour and still no words had been exchanged. She was beginning to wonder if this was to be an all day vow of silence. As they left the outskirts of Dallas, Alex tried to relax. At least if they weren’t talking, they couldn’t trade insults.

A half hour later, she was going crazy. She wanted to start the conversation with just the right opener and had yet to come up with one. Walker pulled right suddenly and came to a halt. Alex sat up, “What are you doing?” “Breakfast,” was his terse response. She looked up to see that they were in the parking lot of a roadside diner. It was something out of the movies, but these places did still exist in Texas and a few other states. She hopped out, grateful that she would be able to use the restroom without having to ask him to stop. She’d been so nervous; she’d drunk all of her coffee. “Bring the thermos,” he told her as she began to close the door. She stopped and pulled the thermos out. He hadn’t asked for any coffee, but suddenly, she felt guilty for not offering him any. ‘That would have been a good opener, you moron,’ she chastised herself.

They entered and Walker went to sit by the counter. “Well, Cordell, fancy seeing you here. How longs it been? Don’t think I’ve seen you in a month of Sundays.” “Hey, Vilma, cut the chatter and feed me woman.” Vilma set the cup of coffee in front of him and turned to the short order cook and shouted out “Red river on hen fruit!” Alex just sat there amazed and then she picked up a menu. “What can I getcha darlin’?” the matronly woman asked her. “I’d like biscuits and gravy please.” Walker looked over at her with what she took to be surprise. She wasn’t sure if she shocked him because she was eating or because she’d spoken. “What d’ya want to drink?” “Is the orange juice fresh squeezed?” “Yes’m.” “I’ll have that, please.” “Where’d you find the lady with the manners, Cordell? Not your usual type,” Vilma opined. “I picked her up on the side of the road,” Walker stated. Vilma didn’t believe him for an instant.

“Here’s your orange juice, darlin’.” “Alex,” Alex told her with a smile. “Ain’t that a boy’s name?” Vilma asked. “It’s short for Alexandra,” Alex informed her with another smile. “I can’t figure it. Why parents can’t name girls girl names and boys boy names.” “Isn’t your husband named Sue?” Walker asked. “Oh stop,” Vilma laughed. Alex watched as the woman flirted with Walker. It was almost comical; she fawned all over the man. “You know I ain’t married. I’ve been saving myself for you.” “Well don’t waste anytime on me, I’m a confirmed bachelor,” Walker told her. “That’s what they all say, till they get bit,” Vilma told him as she set his plate in front of him and Alex’s in front of her.

Alex watched Walker attack his chili and eggs. She hadn’t been certain of what Vilma had ordered for him, but when she thought about it, it made sense; red river on hen fruit, chili on eggs. She dove into her biscuits and gravy with gusto. She usually had a piece of fruit or a bowl of cereal for breakfast, but she figured she’d need the fuel to keep her going today. They ate in a short amount of time and Alex excused herself to use the ladies’ room while Walker chatted with Vilma. He’d used the restroom himself and paid for breakfast by the time she returned a few minutes later. “Did you get a receipt?” she asked. Walker just looked at her and so she went to the counter. “Vilma, may I have a receipt please?” Vilma quickly wrote one out and handed it to her. “Thank you, breakfast was wonderful.” Vilma smiled at her and waved goodbye as she left the diner. It was nice to make a friend, Alex thought, as she climbed back into the cab of Walker’s truck. He glared at her and she realized that she hadn’t made any inroads there.

About another half hour down the road, Alex asked Walker if he wanted any coffee. “Sure,” he answered. She lifted the lid off of the thermos and carefully filled it and then handed it to him. He sipped some and asked, “No other cups?” “No, there’s just the one.” He shrugged, “I don’t mind sharing.” “No thanks, I’ve had my quota for the day.” He raised his eyebrows. “How do you have a ‘quota’ of coffee?” “I usually limit myself to two cups a day and I’ve already had three.” Walker shook his head. He drank coffee whenever it was hot and sometimes even when it wasn’t. He decided not to try to figure the woman out and turned back to focus on the road. That was the extent of their conversation for the next three hours.

“We need to stop and get gas,” Walker told her. She wanted to jump for joy, she really needed another bathroom break, but she hadn’t known how to broach the subject. “Okay,” she said noncommittally. “We could go another hour or so, but if you don’t stop wiggling around, I might just make you ride in the bed of the truck.” Alex colored, realizing that he’d guessed the secret she’d tried so hard to hide. “Next time you need to stop, just ask,” he said. That was it until he found a gas station and pulled in. Alex did her best to walk nonchalantly toward the restrooms. She barely made it, but she was determined not to give him the satisfaction of seeing her hustle.

Walker opened the gas tank and pumped the gas, all the while having a good chuckle to himself. One thing about the woman, she was easy to read. He was surprised. He thought being a lawyer and all, she’d be a little more subtle, but she wasn’t. She wore her feelings on her sleeve and he knew that he made her uncomfortable. He was a man of few words, but even he was growing tired of the strained silence between them. He watched her walk into the small mini mart the gas station boasted and he put the gas cap back on and took a detour to the bathroom himself and then went in to pay for the gas. She was there, just outside the door as he exited. “Receipt please,” she said. He fished out the tiny slip of paper that he’d stuffed into his pocket with the change and handed it to her.  They got back into the truck and headed on down the road.

Alex rode for a bit and then pulled a Snicker’s bar out of her jacket pocket. He’d wondered what she’d gone in to buy, but he hadn’t been about to ask. “Want some?” she asked. “No, I’m not much for sweets,” he declined. “Chocolate is one of the essential food groups,” she claimed. “I must have missed school that day,” he answered. Alex was encouraged; she’d gotten two full sentences out of him. Walker reached forward and flipped on the radio. He had it set to a country station. ‘I guess the conversation is over,’ Alex thought to herself. She ate her Snicker’s bar and watched the scenery.

Another two hours down the road and Walker pulled into a steak house. “Lunch,” he told her before she could ask. She hopped out and followed him in. The hostess was apparently impressed by him and spent her time flirting with him while they waited to be seated. Alex noticed that he didn’t seem averse to speaking with her. They were finally shown to a booth and handed menus. “You need anything and I’ll be right over there. My name is Tiffany,” the girl giggled. “I could have guessed that even if I hadn’t already read it on your name tag,” Alex said in a grumpy voice. Tiffany gave her a look that told her she was not addressing the information to her. Walker gave Alex a speculative look and Alex stuck her nose in the menu.

A few minutes later, their waiter took their order and they were stuck sitting facing each other with no menus to hide behind. “Have you ever been here before?” Alex asked inanely. “No,” Walker answered. “I hope the food’s good,” Alex commented. “Yeah,” Walker said. ‘Well, that just about exhausts my conversational ploys,’ Alex thought as she rolled the paper from her straw into a little ball. “You’re not planning to spit that at me are you?” Walker asked her. Alex looked up shocked, he’d spoken! “Wow, an actual unsolicited sentence. To what do I owe the honor?” she asked sarcastically. As soon as it was out of her mouth, she regretted it. He clamped his mouth shut and picked up his ice tea.

            The food seemed to take forever and Alex wished she’d ordered her steak raw so it wouldn’t take so long to cook it. As it was, she’d ordered it rare and she could tell that she’d again surprised Walker. When the food finally did arrive, she attacked it like a starving woman. She ate the entire steak, her baked potato with ‘everything’ and even managed to finish the steamed vegetables. When the waiter came back to see if they wanted anything else, Alex declined. “Are you sure? They have chocolate,” Walker offered. “No, thank you, I’m full.” “I was beginning to wonder if that was possible,” Walker commented. Alex glared at him. “You think I eat too much?” she asked. “No, I’ve just never seen a woman pack away as much food as you do, that’s all. Especially a woman who looks like a strong breeze would blow her away.” Alex decided not to comment. “Why don’t you let me get this on my card?” she asked. “Be sure and get the receipt,” he said with sarcasm. Alex paid the bill and after another pit stop, they were once again on the road.

The large lunch and the early morning combined to make Alex sleepy and she dozed off as they got into more and more barren looking country. Walker glanced over at her and saw that she was asleep and turned the radio down slightly. He couldn’t stop looking at her as the country road wound through the barren mountains. She looked so fragile, but she had the bite of a pit bull. He’d already nicknamed her ‘the pit bull in heels,’ but he didn’t think she’d heard the name yet. At least if she had, she hadn’t confronted him about it. He regretted the way they’d met and gotten off on the wrong foot. Then he went and gave into that stray impulse and kissed her on New Year’s Eve. What had he been thinking? Sure she was beautiful, but he knew a lot of beautiful women and he didn’t go around kissing all of them. Hell, since Ellen died, he hadn’t kissed many at all. A few brief flings to satisfy his baser needs and that was about it. He certainly hadn’t romanced a woman since Ellen. Hell, what was he doing thinking about romance anyway? He was finished with it and some blonde, blue-eyed ADA wasn’t going to change that… even if she did kiss like an angel.

Walker wasn’t happy with his thoughts, so he tried to redirect them to the case. The new DA was an idiot. There was no reason to make the two of them drive clear the hell out to nowhere to get one witness’s statement. He could have gone and dragged the man back if they were all so fired up to get the ADA to talk to him. Now he was stuck with a woman who smelled like wildflowers in a field… Damn, there went his mind, wandering again.

It was dusk when Alex woke up. She stretched and blinked her eyes, trying to remember just where she was. “Sleeping beauty awakes,” Walker drawled. “Sorry,” Alex mumbled. She’d never been told that she snored, she hoped that she didn’t. “No problem, one of us might as well get some sleep,” Walker said. Alex wasn’t sure how to respond, so she kept quiet for a few minutes. “How close do you think we are?” “I’d say about another hour.” She nodded and grew quiet again.

The road was narrow and wound nearly straight up. On both sides there were stony faced mountains. The brush was limited to scrub grass and a few cacti. The terrain was inhospitable to any but the hardiest of creatures. Alex imagined that lizards and snakes were the most prolific animal life in the area, along with whatever type of insects and rodents they fed on. As the moon rose, she could hear a pack of coyote howl and yap. So, there were also coyote around, it didn’t surprise her.

They crested the top of the mountain and headed down into the valley where Cactus Spine was located. She could see some scattered lights, but there apparently wasn’t much night life. There was one main road and as they drove down it, she spotted a sign for the one hotel in town. “There’s the hotel,” she informed him. “I see it,” he answered and parked in front of the neon sign that was missing the ‘O’ and the “T”. The only letters showing were H__E__L. “I hope that’s not an omen,” Walker muttered, loud enough for Alex to hear.

They went inside and found an elderly gentleman sitting behind the counter. “Hello,” Alex said with her brightest smile. The old man spit his chew into an old coke can and grinned back with two stained teeth showing, they were all he had left in his mouth. “You folks come for the reunion?” Walker looked at Alex and before she could deny it, he was agreeing. “We sure did. Wondered if you had any rooms left?” “Well, I got the one. We done filled up for sure. Not often the Albright family gets all together. ‘Course some are stayin’ with kin, but the ones that growed up and left did so for a reason. Most took rooms. You Albrights?” “She is on her grandmother’s side,” Walker said, nodding his head to Alex. Alex’s eyebrows lifted, but she kept quiet. “Well, it’s lucky you folks are married, alls we got left is the honeymoon suite.” Walker put his arm around Alex and pulled her against him. “Isn’t that lucky, sweetheart? We can have a second honeymoon and look up your relatives all at the same time.” Alex would have spoken, but she was speechless.

“Y’all just sign in here and I’ll get your bags,” the old man offered. “Oh, don’t bother, we traveled light. We’ll grab ‘em on the way to the room,” Walker said as he filled in the register as Mr. and Mrs. C. Walker. “I’ll need a credit card,” the old man said. “Here you go,” Walker said, reaching into his wallet. After completing the necessary paperwork, the key was handed to Walker. “The room’s all the way down on the left, #14. Most folk around here spent their wedding nights in that there room. We got it all decorated up and everything. My name’s Gus and you just holler if you need somethin’.” “We will, thank you, Gus. Well, come on, darlin’, I know you can’t wait to see the room.” Alex managed to smile a ghost of a smile at the old man as Walker led her out, his arm firmly fixed around her.

They went to the truck and each got their duffel bag and then headed toward room #14. Alex was still in a state of shock at Walker’s duplicitous behavior. He’d nearly convinced her that he liked her. Walker locked up his truck and then they got to the room. He shifted his bag to his left hand and opened the door and flipped on the light. “Oh, my God!” was all Alex could say. Walker shoved her on in and closed the door.

Alex stood in the middle of the room and made a full circle. The bed was done in red velvet. The oversized throw rug that covered most of the floor was actually pink fur. The wall paper was red velvet with gold hearts and gold cherubs splattered all over it. The corner of the room sported a two person hot tub next to a door that Alex hoped contained a commode and shower. “You’ve got to be kidding,” was all she could say.

Walker was in the same state of shock, but he was determined to play nonchalant. “Not my first choice, but I guess it’ll have to do since there aren’t any other rooms. Didn’t you call ahead for reservations?” “In a town called Cactus Spine? How was I to know that the hotel would be full?” Alex had secretly hoped that they could get rooms on opposite ends of the hall from each other. “I mean, how often can the Albrights have a reunion?”

“Which side of the bed do you want?” Walker asked as if he was asking for the time. “It doesn’t matter, because we are not sharing.” “I don’t see a choice. I’d usually volunteer to sleep on the floor, but there’s no way I’m sleeping on that,” Walker grimaced, looking at the pink furry carpet that had seen better days. Even Alex couldn’t blame him. “Let’s go get dinner and we’ll figure something out,” Alex suggested. “Always thinking with your stomach, Cahill,” Walker drawled. She gave him a look and he held up his hands in a defensive gesture. He backed out to the door and held it open for her.

They left the truck parked and decided to walk. The town consisted of one main street with a couple of streets that crossed it. Most people lived on the outskirts of town and so it wasn’t much of a walk. They found that the town had two choices for eating places. There was a McDonalds and a diner. They chose the diner. Walker held the door open for her and she walked in ahead of him. They took seats at a table that allowed Walker to see the door. Alex had her back to it, but she looked around her to see the rest of the patrons. Most were elderly; there were a few young people who stayed in the town.  They ordered their meal, Alex finding that she had little appetite. “What, no feast?” Walker asked when she just ordered a dinner salad. She shrugged, “I’m not hungry.” “That’s a first,” he observed. She ignored him and waited for the food to arrive. He reached out and clasped her hand. Alex’s eyes flew up to his in shock. “We’ve got an audience,” he explained. She was tempted to turn her head, but instead, waited a few minutes and then looked around casually. It appeared that they were the center of attention. Walker lifted her hand and kissed it just as the waitress arrived with the food. He let her hand go and dug into his fried chicken. Alex had even less of an appetite. Her hand felt warm and tingly. She picked at her salad and waited for him to finish.

They walked back toward the hotel, but Alex didn’t want to go back there. “There’s a movie theater, let’s go in,” she suggested. He shrugged and went along. The movie was an action thriller that had been released a year before, but it was decent and nearly held her interest. Walker critiqued it as they walked back to the hotel, saying how unrealistic the staging of the fight scenes had been. ‘Wow, an entire paragraph, he’s just talking up a storm,’ Alex thought to herself.

When they got into the room, Alex said, “I can’t believe that all the brides in this town lost their virginity in this bordello.” She mumbled it under her breath, but soon found that Walker had excellent hearing. “I doubt they were,” he said. “What?” “Virgins, there doesn’t look like there’s much else to do around here.” Alex colored, realizing what he was saying. She decided to change the subject. “Do you want to shower?” “I’ll wait, you go ahead.” She nodded and picked up her bag and headed into the tiny bathroom.

Alex showered and changed into the oversized sweatshirt she’d brought to sleep in. She had a pair of tights that she put on to cover her legs and some thick socks that pulled up above her ankles. The February air was cold and she had planned to stay warm. ‘Well, if nothing else, it should make a statement that I have no designs on him,’ she decided. She opened the bathroom door and peeked out before stepping into the room. Walker had laid a towel down on the floor and was doing isolation exercises. He’d stripped down to a muscleman t-shirt and workout pants. He did have an amazing body. He was all muscle; there wasn’t an ounce of flab on him. She’d always thought he did wonders for a pair of jeans, but she’d never seen his arms and they were equally impressive.

Alex went over to the bed and flipped on the television. She found a station that was airing the news and watched it as she combed her hair out and ran her fingers through it to dry it. Walker continued his exercises and she used all of her willpower to watch the news and avoid looking at him. As the news ended, Walker picked his towel up and went on into the bathroom. Alex plugged in her blow dryer and finished drying her hair; she didn’t want to go to bed with it damp. She flipped through the channels, desperately seeking something to watch, but finally gave up. She was at a loss for something to do. She didn’t want to go to bed with Walker coming in anytime, but she didn’t want to just be sitting there either. She wished she had a book. Then she remembered that she had the file on Jameson with her. It would be going over old information, but at least she would look busy.

When Walker emerged a couple of minutes later, she was sitting on the end of the bed with the file open and papers strewn about her. “What’s that you’ve got out?” he asked. “Oh, the Bubba Jameson file, I was just going over it,” she said as nonchalantly as she could. “Anything useful?” “Well, his mother was an Albright, Madge Albright Jameson. Maybe we could go to the local newspaper office or library or something and see if we can trace my roots to her.” “You mean your fictitious roots, right?” “Look, you’re the one who established this cover. I don’t know why we need it.” “You heard the man. There’s an Albright reunion in town. Do you want to walk up to Bubba Jameson at an Albright picnic and ask him to help us incriminate his cousin?” “Of course not, but I don’t know that we needed to claim to be married.” “I didn’t start that, Gus did. I was merely trying to defend your honor.” Alex guffawed.

Walker sat on the end of the bed and said, “Look, I know that you’re about as enthusiastic about sharing this bed as I am. I swear that I won’t tell a soul back in Dallas if that’s what you’re worried about. And if you’re worried that I’ll get any ideas, well… even if I had them before, that outfit has definitely put me off.” Walker was lying through his teeth, she was sexy in anything. “Don’t flatter yourself; I didn’t wear this for you. I didn’t even know that we were going to be stuck sharing a room,” Alex denied hotly. “Don’t go getting all riled up,” Walker said. “Which side do you want?” Alex asked pointedly. “The left,” Walker said. “Fine, just stick to it and if you snore, don’t be surprised if I hit you with something.” “I’m told I don’t, but I’ll let you verify it in the morning,” he said in a taunting voice.

Alex picked up her papers and slipped them back into her file. She put them away and then slid into the right side of the bed, sticking as close to the edge as possible. She lay there for two hours, waiting for sleep to claim her, but unable to let her guard down and succumb to it. Walker wasn’t faring any better. He too tried to sleep, but couldn’t block out the scent of her freshly shampooed hair. He now knew where the wildflower smell came from. He’d die denying it, but he was as hard as a rock and he couldn’t do anything to ease the ache. Damn the woman!

Alex finally fell asleep and Walker managed to drift off sometime before dawn. They both slept restlessly when they did fall asleep and the natural tossing and turning brought them both to the center of the bed. It wasn’t until she was lying with her head on his shoulder and he could inhale the scent of her hair that they both relaxed into a deep sleep that lasted till after 7:00 in the morning.

Walker was the first to wake and his hand automatically began caressing her hair. He was right, it did feel like silk. He was tempted to kiss her awake, but he remembered where that had gotten him the last time. He just lay there quietly, enjoying the feeling of her snuggled against him. She was slow to wake, but when her eyelids fluttered, he was ready for her. “Well, it’s about time. I was beginning to think I’d never get my arm back.” Alex woke up enough to realize just where she was and with whom and she jumped to the edge of the bed like she’d been scalded. “Sorry,” she mumbled red-faced. Walker was glad that he’d woken first. She would have had the upper hand had she been the first awake. “No problem, Cahill, just don’t say it was me that forgot to stay on his side of the bed.” She wisely didn’t respond.

Walker got up and headed to the bathroom. He kept his back to her to hide his ‘condition.’ He was going to end up very frustrated and sore if this kept up, he decided. He took a long cold shower and then pulled on jeans and went back into the room bare chested.

Alex was in desperate need of the bathroom again and was eternally grateful that he had finally finished. She was surprised he’d been in there so long and hoped that he’d left her some hot water. While he was in the bathroom, she had brushed out her hair and gathered all of her clothing and makeup. As soon as he was out of the bathroom, she ducked in.

Walker completed dressing, putting on a cable knit sweater so that he could forgo a jacket. It was cold, but the sweater would be sufficient. He pulled on his socks and boots and marveled at how beautiful she had looked with her face all soft from sleep and her hair mussed and laying haphazardly. He decided that he had better clear out of the room for awhile; his jeans were getting tight again. He headed down the street to the diner and sat at the bar sipping a large coffee. When he finished, he ordered two to go and started back down the street to the hotel.

Alex checked and didn’t hear anything out in the room, so she daringly cracked the door open and found it to be empty. She came out of the tiny bathroom to put her makeup on. The shower had steamed it up so that she couldn’t see in the mirror. She set her travel mirror on top of the television and applied her makeup and fixed her hair. She had put on a pair of black jeans and wore a cable knit sweater. It was one of her favorite sweaters and she thought that she wouldn’t need to wear a jacket with it. She pulled on her socks and boots and was ready to go when there was a light knock on the door and then it opened.

Walker and Alex stood there staring at each other. They were dressed in identical outfits. They both had on black jeans and off-white cable knit sweaters and cowboy boots. Walker threw his head back and laughed. Alex was surprised, but found that his laughter was infectious. She began to giggle and soon was laughing as hard as he was. He came on in and closed the door and set down the cups of coffee. After he got his laughter back under control, he said, “Well, I guess this will cement the story that we’re married.” “Now if I only had a ring,” she said with a smile. Walker looked at her and then reached into the neck of his sweater and pulled out a leather pouch. He opened it carefully and shook out the rings held inside.

Alex watched in amazement as he produced a gold ring with a tiny diamond and a wedding band. He handed them to her and then pulled out a larger wedding band and slipped it on. Alex held the rings and looked at them and then looked at him questioningly. “They belonged to my parents. I’ve worn them since they were killed when I was twelve. My Uncle Ray made this leather bag for me to keep them in so that their memory would always be close to my heart.” “I can’t wear these…” Alex began. “I know that they’re not the quality that you would expect, but my parents couldn’t afford better and it’s the best I can do on short notice.” Alex looked up at him and it was his turn to be startled, she had tears glistening in her eyes. “I couldn’t wear them because they are too special and hold too much meaning for you. It wouldn’t be right to wear them to further a lie.”

Walker was touched that she was so sensitive. “My parents were resourceful people, they had to be. My mother was white and my father was Cherokee.” “Really? That’s why you know so much about… nature and things.” “How do you know about that?” “I just hear stories about… well, like the way you captured Luke Albright, by camping out for days in the badlands.” “Oh, yes, well, after my parents’… death, I was raised by my uncle on the reservation.” Alex nodded, “That explains a lot.” “Anyway, my mother would not have a problem with you wearing her rings in order to establish a cover that will keep both of us safe.” Alex still looked doubtful, so Walker lifted the ring finger of her left hand and taking the rings from her, slipped them on her finger. “They’re a little loose, but they should work,” he decided. “Thank you, I’ll take the best of care of them.” Walker just nodded. He picked up the cups of coffee and handed her the one he’d fixed for her.

Alex was grateful for the coffee and was surprised to find that he’d added just the right amount of sugar and the lightest dash of milk. He must have observed her fixing her coffee at work one day, she decided. Maybe it was part of his Indian ancestry, noting the slightest things about other people or maybe it was part of his training as a Texas Ranger. She’d have been surprised to find that he’d noticed a great many things about her and even he didn’t know why.

The two headed to the diner for breakfast and then Alex went to the library while Walker went to the newspaper office. They met back at the diner at lunchtime to compare notes. “Well, most people in the last fifty years or so have moved on by the time they’ve reached their twenties. It’s amazing though, many have returned here to retire. I think the average age in Cactus Spine is about sixty,” Walker told her.

“I found a story of a woman who we could say is my grandmother. She left here at fifteen with a traveling salesman. The story goes that she was the youngest daughter of twelve kids and after she left, no one has seen or heard from her. She’d be about seventy three now, so I could make up a story about how she married and had a family and was my grandmother.” “Is she related to Bubba Jameson?” “Yep, she’d be the aunt of his mother, Madge Albright Jameson.” “So that would make you related, how?” “His grandmother, Ethel Albright was my grandmother, Rose Albright’s sister. So, we’d be cousins… twice removed? I’m not really good at family trees.” “You do know that Rose wasn’t really your grandmother, right?” “Of course, I’m just saying, if the cover we’re establishing were true…” “Okay, just checking.” “You know the funny thing?” “What?” “The salesman she ran off with was named Alex.” “Now there’s a coincidence.”

Walker was interrupted by the waitress who came to place their lunches in front of them. She was curious about the couple from out of town and lingered to see if they would strike up a conversation, but Alex and Walker wanted to wait to get their cover story straight before they began anything. After she moved away to wait on another customer, Walker began to put the story they would tell together. “So, we don’t want her to have married the salesman, because there’s a chance that someone has tried to trace him. We’ll say that Rose left the salesman and married a farmer from Iowa.” “Okay and they had only one child. The fewer relatives I have to remember, the better.” “Okay, so they had one daughter, named?” “How about Catherine? Catherine Smith.” “Smith?” “Well, no one could trace that.” “True, okay, so Catherine Smith was your mother and she was married to?” “Greg Cahill.” “Is that your father’s name or your mother’s for that matter?” “No, I’m making this up as I go.” “Okay, it might be easier to use names that are real.” “I’d rather not.” “So, where are Catherine and Greg now?” “Catherine died and I’m estranged from Greg.” “That’ll work. Wait, where are your real parents?” “Same story.” “I’m sorry.” Alex shrugged, “Don’t be. So, I looked up my Grandmother Rose and she told me about the town she’d come from, Cactus Spine, Texas.”

Walker thought about it and then he found one flaw. “What if they want to get in touch with Rose after all these years?”  “My grandmother just passed away and my husband agreed to bring me to find out about my roots because I have no family and I’ve been melancholy lately.” “I sure am an understanding guy,” Walker said. “Yeah, well, according to this story we’re concocting anyway.” “Okay, I think I’ve got it straight, but now we have to sell it to the locals.” “Which is why you need a haircut and I need to get my nails done.” “Huh?” “You go to the barber and let the story slip there and I’ll get my nails done and tell my tale of woe.” “Why can’t you get your haircut? Why do I have to get my hair cut?” “Because, my hairstylist would throw a fit if I let someone else cut my hair. I doubt your barber would notice.” Walker frowned at her, knowing there was an insult buried in there somewhere. “Okay, after we finish lunch, we go spread our story of long lost relatives.” “Sounds good. If Madge gets wind that I’m her great niece or whatever, we may just get an invite to one of these reunions and then we can meet Bubba Jameson himself.” “This sure seems like a lot of trouble for one ‘possible’ witness to a drug deal.” “It is, but we’ve come this far, we may as well continue on.” “Why do I get the feeling that this is going to blow up in our faces?” Alex lifted her shoulders and dropped them in an ‘I don’t know gesture.’ “Hmm…” was Walker’s only response.

Walker paid for the meal and handed Alex the receipt. He had decided not to harass her about being such a stickler for keeping good accounts. Their per diem would cover their expenses, but he wasn’t usually good about making the bean counters happy with receipts. He headed down to the barber shop and Alex headed over to the beauty shop where they had a nail station. The woman who did her nails was Christine Cummins, she couldn’t figure out a relationship with Bubba, but that didn’t stop her from trying. Alex chatted casually, telling the young woman all about her wonderful husband who was so supportive, letting her come to look up her relatives. Christine was one of the young people of Cactus Spine who wanted to leave the small town and was more interested in hearing about where Alex lived now, but the woman who colored and permed hair was an older woman who wasn’t busy at the time and asked Alex a lot of questions.

Walker spoke of his wife and how she’d wanted to come to the town where her grandmother was from. The barber, Don Jameson, was the brother of Madge Albright’s husband, Frank Jameson and therefore was Bubba Jameson’s uncle. Walker talked up a storm, something that would have surprised the people who knew him in Dallas. By the time he left, he was invited to bring his wife over to a gathering they were having at their house that evening. He left feeling as if he’d made progress in their goal to get close to Bubba without spooking him. Walker strolled down the street and stopped at the local drug store to kill time. He picked up a few items that he hadn’t packed and then headed back to the hotel.

Alex finished her manicure and headed over to the drugstore to purchase a book to read. She thought it a shame to have spent the entire morning at the library and not check out a book, but she didn’t want to use her real ID to get a library card. She searched for a book and was happy to find a book by Patricia Cornwell she hadn’t yet read. She didn’t want to have to make small talk with Walker in that ridiculous hotel room.

When Alex arrived, Walker filled her in on the invite to the gathering. Alex was optimistic that they could find out enough information that evening to make a decision on how to proceed. They could still come clean and just question Bubba, but they wanted to meet him first and see if that would work. Alex made herself comfortable on the small couch to read until time to get ready, while Walker stretched out on the bed and read the historic novel he’d found at the drugstore. Alex was surprised to find that Walker was an avid reader. He confessed that when he was at home, he often would sit and unwind with a good book. He preferred factual historical stories. Alex filed the information away, enjoying the glimpse into his personal life.

At 5:00, the two abandoned their books and got ready to go. They decided not to change clothes as it was to be a casual get together, just finger foods and drinks according Don Jameson, the barber. The cable knit sweaters would be suitable and they didn’t have a wide selection anyway. They drove the truck out of the town a few miles until they came to Don Jameson’s house. They parked and saw that there were four other cars in the driveway.

They were greeted by Don Jameson and ushered in to a sitting room where they were introduced all around. Don’s wife, Verna, was there as were three other couples, including Madge Albright Jameson and her husband, Frank. There was no sign of Bubba, but they didn’t waste any time making friends with the four sets of older couples. It was soon apparent that this had been a ‘spur of the moment’ get together to check out the new couple. Alex was grilled by Madge about her ‘Grandmother Rose’ and Walker was impressed by Alex’s aplomb. He made an effort to dig out some information on Bubba without showing undue curiosity, asking general questions about the couples’ children and where they all were and what they were doing.

All was going well until Madge switched gears and began asking Alex questions about Walker. “How long have you been married, dear?” Madge asked while sizing up the good looking man. He seemed to be the perfect foil for the tall willowy blonde. “Just over two years,” Alex answered with a blush. She just couldn’t help herself, the idea of being married to Walker was an incredible turn on and she blushed at the thought. “And still a blushing bride,” Madge commented. Alex smiled and tried to change the subject, but Verna had other ideas. “So, are you staying at the hotel in town?” Verna asked, even though it was clear she already knew the answer. “Yes, we are. We were lucky to get a room; it was just happenstance that we arrived during a family reunion.” “So, I take it Gus put you in the honeymoon suite.” “Yes, he did.” “What do you think of the décor?” Verna asked. “It’s very pink,” Alex answered, not sure if she was on solid ground or not. “You can say that again,” Madge stated. “Verna here decorated it back in the days when she fancied herself an interior decorator.” “Pink is my favorite color,” Alex hurriedly lied, “But Cordell isn’t quite so enamored of it.” “Most men aren’t, but they’re happy with the results. Probably half the young ones under twenty have been conceived in that room. You two planning on children anytime soon?” Madge asked. Alex once again blushed, but she answered, “We’d like to have children, but I don’t know that we’re ready just yet. How many children do you have, Madge?”

Walker had been listening to the women’s conversation with half an ear and continued to be impressed by Alex’s quick thinking. He was struck by Madge’s question. Having sworn off the idea of marriage, he had also, inadvertently given up on the idea of children. He’d once spent quiet evenings with Ellen discussing the possibility of children in their future. Her death had ended many of his dreams and having children was one that hurt more than others. He continued to chat with the older men and sip his beer while they checked him out. It was a small town and they were not accepting of outsiders. So far, there had been little mention of Bubba and even direct questions hadn’t confirmed that he was in fact in town. These people closed ranks to protect their own and he was glad that he and Alex had developed such an elaborate cover story.

Two hours after they had arrived, Alex had been questioned thoroughly about her ‘Grandmother Rose’. Madge seemed satisfied that she was in fact a long lost relative and Alex found that she and Walker were invited to the family reunion that was to be held in the gym of the local school that served grades K-12. Walker inched his way closer to her as he sensed the evening was winding down and they should take their leave to allow the others to discuss them and come to their own conclusions about how willing to accept them into their fold they should be.

Alex sensed his presence even before he touched her. His hand reached up and rested lightly on her waist, his fingers sprawled against her ribs. He pulled her back slightly, causing her to lean back against him. Alex worried that her heart was thumping so hard against her ribcage that he couldn’t help but hear. He leaned into her hair and intimately spoke into her ear, making sure that the others would hear him. “Darling, we should go and let these good people get on with their evening. Besides, I wanted to try out that hot tub again.” Alex couldn’t help it; she blushed, furthering the illusion that there was something to blush about. “I’d say there’ll be another Albright to add to the invitation list by this time next year,” Verna announced, indicating that she’d overheard the ‘private’ exchange between husband and wife. Alex blushed even brighter and Walker kissed her cheek and wrapped his arms around her from behind, pulling her back against his chest. “I’m working on it,” he promised Verna. “Go on with you, you’re embarrassing the poor girl,” Madge said in defense of Alex. They said their goodbyes and headed back out to the car.

“I thought that went very well,” Walker began as he maneuvered the truck back out to the road. “If nothing else, you’ve convinced them of your libido,” Alex answered wryly. “I meant the cover story. I heard the invitation to join in on the family reunion Saturday.” “Yes, I’ll have to get something to wear to it. I certainly didn’t pack for it.” Walker rolled his eyes back up into his head, “Women,” was his only comment. “Do you think Bubba will show?” Alex asked. “I hope so. We have to flush him out somehow if he doesn’t. We’re already going to be here longer than either of us planned. Why don’t we drive out to the next town over tomorrow, giving the excuse that we want to do some sightseeing? You can do your shopping and I’ll get in touch with the Captain and let him know how we’re doing.” “Don’t forget that you promised you wouldn’t tell anyone about the sleeping arrangements,” Alex warned. “Don’t worry; I won’t tarnish your reputation. Don’t forget, I have a reputation to protect too.” Thinking about it, Alex realized that rather than being one of those guys who would go back and brag about the undercover operation, he would be very closed mouth. It might not be because of his gallantry, but she still appreciated his ‘closed mouth’ policy.

That night, the level of tension in the room was not diminished from the previous night. Alex showered first and watched the evening news while Walker took his turn in the restroom. She blew her hair dry and then curled up on the rock hard couch with her book to read. She was determined to remain out of the bed until the last possible moment. The lack of sleep the night before made her extremely sleepy and she finally succumbed to her fatigue. Walker had made himself comfortable in the bed and was reading as well, but when he looked up to see that she was sound asleep, curled up on the tiny couch in a very uncomfortable position, he took pity on her and went to rouse her to get her to go to bed. He was amazed at just how soundly she was asleep and calling her name and gently shaking her shoulder had no effect. He walked back over to the bed and pulled down the covers on her side of the bed and then returned to the couch and scooped her up into his arms. Alex snuggled against his chest as if she was meant to be there. He carried her over to the bed and then paused and looked down at her. He instantly recognized his mistake as his heart leapt up into his throat. She was incredibly beautiful and there was something about her… some pull that she had… something that mesmerized him. Walker shook his head as if to clear cobwebs and then he wisely lowered her to the bed before the impulse to kiss her soft lips took over him again.

Walker stood next to the bed and watched her snuggle down into the covers like a small child. She was completely innocent looking in sleep. The guard she kept raised in his presence was down and he was able to see the vulnerable soft side of her. He wished he hadn’t because it was more potent as a weapon against him than any barb she could throw his way. His hand reached out and gently brushed the hair back from her face. His fingers lingered on her cheek a moment longer than necessary as he enjoyed the softness and warmth of her skin. Large red lights flashed in Walker’s eyes, DANGER, DANGER, DANGER! Guarding his heart against her was going to be more difficult than he had ever imagined. He had been so certain that his heart was frozen over when he lost his precious Ellen and then this amazing looking creature with the face of an angel and the body of a siren walked into his life and he knew intuitively that there was a major thawing occurring. He was in trouble and he knew it, deep trouble.

Alex woke up the next morning feeling refreshed. The bed next to her was empty, but it was clear that Walker had slept there. She puzzled over how she had gotten into the bed. The last thing she remembered of the night before was being uncomfortable, but so incredibly tired, as she tried to concentrate on her book. She had dreamt of floating and she remembered feeling cherished. She puzzled over the dream, but unable to decipher it, she refocused her mind on the present. Walker had obviously gotten up before her and gone out. He was someone she just couldn’t figure out. He was so arrogant and so damned sexy. He was everything in a man she detested, confident and self assured to the point of obnoxious.

She’d deny it if confronted, but she preferred men who weren’t in her league. The ones she could date briefly and then toss aside when they began to show signs of getting too involved. She wasn’t a tease, she simply had found through a couple of bad experiences that men liked to try to control her. She didn’t know what it was about her, but she seemed to attract men who found her a challenge to be conquered. It was probably why she’d been so angry when Walker had kissed her not two months before on New Year’s Eve. She felt that he saw a challenge and just couldn’t resist. He was trying to humiliate her and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do so. And then she’d gone and responded. She still couldn’t reconcile that fact with herself. She hated being dominated. His laugh as she’d stuttered and then walked away still stung. But then, everything she’d learned about the man since had been in direct contrast with the picture she’d developed of him. She was beginning to question his motives surrounding that kiss. Had he been as surprised as she? He certainly hadn’t taken advantage of the provocative situation they were currently in.

Alex heaved a huge sigh and threw the covers back, this was getting her nowhere. She got up and rummaged through her suitcase, choosing between the two outfits she had left and then heading to the bathroom. She’d definitely thought they would be on their way home by now. At the very least, they would be here through Sunday and it was only Friday. It was lucky they were going to a town that boasted a few clothing stores, she was rapidly running out of things to wear; so much for packing lightly.

When Walker returned to the room, Alex was dressed and had pulled her hair back from her fully made up face. Walker could face her better this way. She had on her war paint, figuratively and literally. The soft look that overtook her face in sleep was carefully masked with her makeup and expression. It was only her eyes that gave her away; the vulnerability remained if you looked close enough. Walker realized that he never had looked so closely before. He hadn’t seen it until that night at C.D.’s when he’d given in to that insane impulse and kissed her. She’d looked at him with so much vulnerability after he’d released her that he’d been completely taken aback. He’d laughed to cover up just how stunned he’d been, but he’d never again been able to look directly into her eyes without seeing that vulnerability. She tried desperately to mask it, but she failed miserably. He imagined that few men saw it and that most responded to the confidence she exuded. It was challenging and he admitted that it was that confidence that had once challenged him.

She stood looking at him and he shook himself out of his reverie and said, “I got directions from Gus and he threw in a few sights of interest for us to stop and see if we’re so inclined. Are you ready?” Alex nodded and grabbed up her jacket. She hadn’t had breakfast or even coffee, but she wasn’t going to say anything. There was something different about Walker, she couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but the lessening of tension between them over the last two days was no longer evident. She felt as if she was back to square one with the man. Deciding not to dwell too much on it and uncertain if she was merely being overly sensitive to his moods, she followed him without comment.

They loaded up into the truck and Walker drove the thirty miles to the nearest town large enough to boast any type of shopping area. The trip was silent and he dropped Alex off at the small mall and told her that he would meet her at 1:00 in the food court. Alex nodded and headed on out without comment. If he was going to be silent, then she wasn’t going to chatter on either.

Alex made a beeline to a doughnut shop where she got a pastry and a cup of coffee. After the caffeine hit her system, she felt able to face the prospect of shopping. It was odd; normally shopping was one of her favorite leisure activities. She strolled the mall, not really finding anything that caught her eye. She tried on a few outfits and finally purchased a pair of navy blue slacks with a navy blue sweater that was mixed with a lighter blue thread that highlighted her eyes. It was dressier than the jean outfits she’d brought and she could wear it if they were invited to dinner by one of her ‘supposed’ relatives.

Wandering on down to the end, she discovered a tiny dress shop. It was clearly higher priced than the department stores in the mall, but she decided to splurge and walked on in. The saleswoman was there in an instant to assist her, but she waved her off and took her time rummaging through the racks of dresses. Her hand rested on soft cashmere and she pulled the dress out to look at it. It was a rose colored pink dress that went down to just above the knees. The dress was simply cut and unadorned, but relied on the figure of the wearer to give it its shape. She looked at the price tag and her eyes widened and she placed it back on the rack. After going through the various racks, she found herself drawn back to the rose colored dress again. She finally pulled it out along with three other dresses and asked the saleswoman for a dressing room.

Alex was hoping that she’d put the rose colored dress on and instantly find that it wasn’t made for her. She even kept it until last and tried the others on first, hoping that one would strike her fancy. She found one that would do, but then she finally tried on the cashmere dress and stood transfixed in the dressing room mirror. The dress could have been made for her and she knew it. The heart shaped neckline sculpted her cleavage and highlighted just how well endowed she was for someone so tall and thin. After lovingly hugging her breasts, the dress continued on down, molding itself to her tiny waist and flaring out with her hips, showing that her shape was indeed womanly. She turned to look at herself from behind and found that it flattered her rear just as well as it did the rest of her. The color was perfection; it warmed her skin tone and set off her blond hair.

Alex was resigning herself to her own fate; she was going to have to purchase this dress, even if she didn’t wear it for this particular adventure. The saleswoman came back to the dressing room to check on her and Alex opened the door to ask if she had one of the other dresses she’d tried on earlier in a smaller size. The woman stood gaping at her and said, “Honey, if you don’t buy that dress, you’re out of your mind. It’s absolutely amazing on you. I never thought the right person would ever walk in this store to buy that dress, but honey, you’re it!” She got all excited and hurried out to get things to accessorize it with. She came back with a pair of matching shoes from the shoe store next door. “They know me well enough,” she claimed as she brought in the shoes and insisted Alex try them on. Alex was amazed at how well they matched the color of the dress. They had heels that were high enough to flatter her legs, but low enough that she felt comfortable in them. It was clear to Alex that she had made the saleswoman’s day as she let her select undergarments that would lie smooth under the cashmere and flatter Alex’s figure even more.

By the end of the morning, Alex found herself outfitted and fully accessorized. The woman had even found a string of faux pearls that were just the right length to wear with the dress and matching stud earrings. Alex wasn’t about to buy a strand of real pearls and told the woman that she had a strand at home, her mother’s, but hadn’t brought them with her. As a final accessory, the saleswoman put together a barrette for Alex’s hair. She mixed in small seed pearls and silk roses with a little bit of rose colored tulle. The final effect was amazing as she pulled the top of Alex’s hair back and placed it in her hair. It set off the entire outfit.

Alex tried to thank her for all of her help as she paid for her purchases, but Sally, they were by now on a first name basis, waved her off. “Alex, if I had been blessed with a daughter, I would have wanted one just like you. I have five strapping boys, but none of them would let me curl their hair and dress them up.” Alex laughed in sympathy and tried to pay her for the hairpiece she had created for her. “No, that’s my gift to you. You just don’t know how much fun I’ve had. I keep this job because it pays the bills, but it’s not one I usually enjoy. I tell you, it’s just made my day for you to come in here and let me play dress up with you as my model.”

Alex smiled and said, “You really have an amazing talent for making these matching hairpieces. Have you ever considered making and selling them?” “Why no, I just do this for fun.” “Look, I have a friend in Dallas who owns a small boutique. She’s always looking for small business entrepreneurs with talent like yours. Why not make a few different pieces and I’ll give you her address. Send them to her and I’ll tell her to expect them. She’ll let you know if she thinks you could make enough money to quit this job and go into business for yourself or not.” “Really, you think that’s possible?” “I really do. Here’s my card and here’s her name and address on the back. I’m sure she’ll be more than happy to encourage you. I know of two different women who have quit their jobs to make costume jewelry that they sell not only in her boutique but in several others as well.” “Oh Alex, I just can’t even imagine it. To work my own hours doing something I love… It’s a dream come true.” Alex smiled at her new friend. “I’ll keep in touch; I’d love to hear how it all turns out for you.” Sally hugged her and then Alex looked at her watch and hurried away to meet Walker in the food court.

Walker was seated at a table waiting for Alex and his eyebrows rose when he saw her packages. “I take it your shopping trip was successful.” Alex set her bags down and plopped down across from him, “More than I can tell you. I met the nicest woman…” She caught herself, about to talk to him as if he was one of her friends and remembered belatedly that he wasn’t. “What did you find out from the Captain?” she asked instead. “Why don’t we get some lunch and I’ll tell you while we eat.” Alex nodded her head and looked around. There was a small Thai restaurant and she decided to order shrimp pad Thai from them. Walker decided on chicken curry and they sat across from each other eating.

When she finished her lunch, she looked up to see him watching her. “Well, what did you find out?” she challenged. “I checked in at the local sheriff’s office and they have a history of run-ins with both Bubba Jameson and Luke Albright. Petty stuff, but the consensus is that Luke was the leader and Bubba would go along with whatever he suggested. The sheriff also warned me that the Jameson’s and Albrights would circle the wagons if they felt a threat to Bubba. He said that we should remain undercover and not try to arrest Bubba without backup. He’s on alert should we need his services. His jurisdiction encompasses Cactus Spine and he has his deputies rotate duties out there.” “But those people were all so nice to us.” “They think we’re distant cousins. If they find out that we’re the ones responsible for Luke’s incarceration and are here to pick up Bubba, they’ll turn on us. Don’t think for a minute that they won’t.” Walker looked directly into Alex’s eyes to try and convey how serious he was. Alex merely nodded, not quite convinced, but willing to bow to his expertise in the matter.

After deciding that Alex would follow his directions if things became dangerous, he changed the subject. “I guess I’d better get myself something to wear to this reunion tomorrow. Did you see a ‘men’s wear’ shop?” Alex looked at him consideringly, “I’ll make a deal with you.” Walker debated, but then decided to take the bait, “What kind of deal?” “I’ll agree that you’re the expert in criminal matters and do what you say, if…” “If?” “If you let me help pick out something for you to wear tomorrow.” Walker narrowed his eyes at her, “I get line veto power?” She smiled, “Okay, but you have to try it all on together before you veto anything.” He considered and then nodded his agreement. Alex gathered up her packages and they headed to the men’s store she’d seen on her earlier shopping adventure. It took some convincing, but she managed to get Walker to agree to try on a charcoal gray suit with a rose colored shirt. She lucked out, finding a shirt a slightly deeper shade of rose than her dress. It looked amazing on him and the only concession she had to make was that he wore a bolo tie instead of the tie she had picked out. She even got him to agree to dress shoes and to ditch the cowboy boots for the evening. She was very proud of her accomplishment and Walker glared at her the entire time he was paying for his purchases.

They drove back toward Cactus Spine and stopped at the overlook that Gus had told them about and then at the cemetery where Alex’s supposed ancestors had been laid to rest. They stayed just long enough to say that they’d been there. The final stop was a place where a famous gun battle had been fought during the Mexican-American war. There was a plaque commemorating the fallen American soldiers who’d lost their lives there. Alex looked around and said, “It’s amazing that men were willing to die for this land.” Walker frowned at her, “It wasn’t just the land; it was a way of life.” Alex realized that her comment had been insensitive and she apologized, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.” Walker didn’t press the issue and they headed on back into town. They decided to eat at the diner and catch another movie. A new movie came to town every Friday night and played throughout the week. This one was a love story and Alex enjoyed it much more than Walker did.

They strolled back toward their hotel room and ran into Verna and Don Jameson. “Well, hello you two!” Verna said. Walker smiled and snaked his arm around Alex’s waist. “Hi, did you just come out of the movie?” Alex asked. “Yes, I made Don take me to see it. I’ve been dying for it to come to town.” “I don’t think Cordell liked it as much as I did. Did you enjoy it?” “I sure did, but you’re right, it wasn’t made for the men folk. Still, you probably got some ideas from it,” she said to Walker with a sly wink. It was Walker’s turn to blush and he was glad that the street light wasn’t bright enough for anyone to notice. “I’ll never tell,” he answered mildly, not wanting to encourage this line of conversation.  Don jumped in to the rescue, “We were just going to stop at the diner for a coffee and a piece of lemon meringue pie. They only serve it on Friday.” “Lemon meringue? That’s my favorite!” Walker said enthusiastically. “Well, why don’t you join us,” Don offered. “We don’t want to intrude on your date,” Alex said quickly. “Honey, after thirty five years of marriage, we welcome the intrusion,” Verna said. Alex smiled and the foursome headed back toward the diner, Walker clasping Alex’s hand firmly in his. It always amazed her how easily he touched her when they had an audience, but when they were alone, he barely spoke to her.

They sat in the diner and ordered coffees and lemon meringue pie all around. The older couple was obviously on a fishing expedition, trying to illicit more information about the ‘Walkers’. “How long do you all plan on staying in Cactus Spine?” Don asked. “We were just talking about that earlier today. I really need to get back to work. We’ll probably need to head on home this Sunday.” “Oh, so soon, that’s a shame. We’re just getting to know you.” “Yes, well, unfortunately, my vacation time is limited,” Walker said. “What do you do?” Verna asked. “I’m in construction. I’ve got a job lined up to start in less than a week and I need to get back to it.” “And what about you, Alex? Do you work?” “Yes, I work for legal aid.” “Oh, you’re a lawyer?” “Yes, I am.” “Wow, imagine that. You’re just too pretty to be a lawyer.” Walker was tempted to tell Verna that he often referred to Alex as ‘the pit bull in heels,’ but he thought better of it. The two couples chatted and enjoyed their pie and coffee for nearly an hour and then they parted and went their own ways.

Alex and Walker found themselves once again in the ‘hotel room from honeymoon hell’ as Alex had come to think of it. She went on into the bathroom to prepare for bed and then came out and got her book and decided to read in the bed. She still wasn’t sure how she’d gotten from the couch to the bed the night before and decided not to ask. Walker came out of the bathroom and got into bed, picking up his own book to read without a word. Alex finally laid her book down and closed her eyes when she could no longer focus on the page. She was asleep before Walker closed his own book and he resisted the temptation to watch her sleep as he leaned over to turn out the light. It was getting more and more difficult to lie beside her at night and not touch her. It took all of his self control to stay on his own side of the bed.

They spent the next morning touring the small town and its streets. They walked as far as they could and then got the truck and drove around, looking for possible hideouts for Bubba Jameson. There were plenty of them as they found abandoned homesteads, rotting barns and shacks strewn about the desolate countryside.

The reunion was scheduled to begin at five in the evening and to extend until late that night. Walker drove Alex back to the hotel and told her that he would be gone for a couple of hours so that she could feel free to use the whole place to get ready. Alex showered and combed her hair out and then blew it dry. She left it down and soft while she applied her makeup and then pulled on the sheer thigh high hose Sally had suggested and pulled on the pink panties that were just this side of decent. She then put on the matching sheer pink bra that accentuated her bust line and pulled the dress over her head and smoothed it down. She went back into the bathroom and pulled her hair back from her face and clipped it with the barrette Sally had created. She curled the wispy tendrils of hair that framed her face and then curled the length that hung down past her shoulders so that it had a slight wave to it. She sprayed it all lightly and then looked at herself critically. All that was missing was the necklace and earrings. She put the faux pearl studs into her ears and was struggling with the strand of pearls when she heard a knock on the door. She went to open it, realizing that Walker was giving her a warning that he was there, just in case she wasn’t yet decent.

When the door opened, Walker very nearly swallowed his own tongue. Gone was the confident professional ADA and in her place stood a vision in pink. She was all innocent and all woman at the same time. The innocent look belied the seductress the dress encased. He swallowed a few times and then saw the questioning look in her eyes. He said the first thing that came to his mind, “That was smart, wearing rose, like your grandmother’s name.” Alex hadn’t even thought of that, but she decided not to disillusion him. “Hopefully it will make the Albrights and Jamesons that much more sympathetic to our cause.” “Good idea, I’m going to hop in the shower, I shouldn’t be more than half an hour.” “Wait, do you think you could fasten this necklace for me? It’s not cooperating.” Walker held his hand out for the necklace and Alex turned her back to him while he reached in front of her and draped it around her neck. The light touches of his fingers on her neck shot electrical currents down her spine and Alex felt her nipples peak in response. ‘Damn and the dress will do nothing to hide the effect,’ Alex silently cursed to herself. Once the necklace was fastened, Alex mumbled her thanks and stepped away, keeping her back to him.

Walker grabbed his suit and headed on into the bathroom. Alex could hear the shower running as she strapped on the shoes that matched her outfit. She smoothed her hands down her dress and noticed that they were shaking slightly. Her skin felt warm where he had inadvertently touched her and she sat there practicing breathing slowly and relaxing as she waited for him to come out.

Walker trimmed up his beard and mustache and was glad that Alex had made him get a haircut. It lay neatly along the nape of his neck and he wet it to try and tame it for the night. He wasn’t thrilled with the pink shirt, but under the nearly black suit, it looked okay. Of course, now that he’d seen her outfit, he knew why she’d chosen it. He put on his bolo tie and stepped out to pull on his trouser socks and his dress shoes. Alex stood up as he entered the room and they stood staring at each other for endless moments. Walker finally broke the silence as he asked, “Ready?” Alex merely nodded and walked on out the door to the truck. She was shocked to see that Walker had had it washed and now it was easy to see that the color was indeed light blue. The interior had been cleaned and polished as well and she felt almost like Cinderella on her way to the ball.

The high school parking lot wasn’t exactly the prince’s palace, but the feeling of being in a fairytale stayed with Alex. As they entered, they signed a registration book and stood to have their pictures taken for the reunion scrapbook. Walker used his work address for the register. If they were going to track him down in the future, he’d prefer it be at work. They were ushered in and were soon being introduced to more people than they could possibly remember. The number of people at the reunion exceeded two hundred and Alex was soon lost in the sea of faces and trying desperately to place names to each of them.

When dinner was announced, Alex and Walker were seated at the same table as Madge, her husband, Frank Jameson, Don and Verna Jameson, Gladys and Luke Albright, Sr. and the mayor of Cactus Spine, Carl Albright and his wife Betty. Alex reached over and squeezed Walker’s leg when she head the name ‘Luke Albright, Sr.’ He covered her hand and squeezed back, acknowledging that he too had grasped the significance of the name. Alex saw a table full of young people and recognized the girl who’d done her manicure. She was with a man she hadn’t seen before, but he looked very familiar. Then again, as they were at a family reunion of the two main families in this small town, it was probable that he was related to at least half of them.

The dinner was served and the conversation centered once again on the long lost Rose. Alex repeated her story of her ‘grandmother’s’ life and embellished it a bit. Walker played the attentive husband, making sure her water glass was full, handing her the bread basket that was just out of her reach and periodically resting his hand on her arm or stroking her hair lightly. He managed to get Madge to start talking about her children and pointing them out. That was when Alex discovered that the young man with her manicurist was the infamous Bubba Jameson. So as not to show undo interest, Walker asked each couple at the table about their children. Luke Albright, Sr. only said that his son, Luke, Jr. was living in Dallas. He didn’t add that he was being held on charges of trafficking drugs.

When the music began, Walker was urged to dance with his wife and he stood and held out his hand to Alex. They walked hand in hand to the dance floor and then he pulled her in for a two step. His dancing skills were limited and it was all he could do to keep up with the simple two step. “So, now we’ve seen Bubba Jameson, how do we get a chance to meet him?” Alex wondered aloud. “I guess we just play it by ear,” Walker said, trying to concentrate. Alex was trying to do anything but concentrate. All she could do was smell his aftershave mixed with the essence of him and she was going wild. After two dances, they headed back to the table.

“You two look so good together,” Verna gushed, confirming their suspicion that they’d been watched while they were on the dance floor. Alex had a sudden thought. “Oh, there’s the girl who works in the hair salon, she did my nails. I should say ‘hi’, but I can’t seem to remember her name.” “That’s Christine Cummins. We’ll call her over,” Frank Albright offered. He waved to Bubba and Christine and they walked over to the table. “Bubba, this is Cordell and Alex Walker,” he introduced Alex and Walker. Bubba reached out a hand to shake theirs, but Walker noticed that something wasn’t quite right in his reaction. Madge launched in with their cover story though and Bubba just stood there smiling. “And this is Christine Cummins. Her family is new to this town; they’ve only lived here, oh, sixty five years or so.” Alex acknowledged that Christine had done her nails and then began asking ‘girl talk’ questions of Christine. She asked her where she’d gotten her dress and how long she’d been dating Bubba. Christine was clearly enamored of Bubba or rather the fact that he’d left Cactus Spine. Alex suspected that she saw the young man as her ticket out. A bit later, romantic music was played and Walker took the hint to ask his ‘wife’ to dance again. This time, the music was slow enough that he could just hold her and sway with her in his arms. It wasn’t until he relaxed about not having to follow a particular step that he realized the problem with this particular arrangement. He did everything he knew how to prevent his body from giving him away. Maybe it was being in a high school gymnasium, but he suddenly found himself wishing he could untuck his shirt or hold a book in front of himself.

When they returned to the table, they were both breathless from the strain of appearing nonchalant. Glasses of champagne had been distributed throughout the room and they both reached and gulped about half of their glass down. Soon, the lights were raised and the mayor got up to give a speech about the role of the Albrights in the history of Cactus Spine. There was a great deal of self congratulating and then a plea to the younger set to return home to carry on the traditions of past generations. Glasses were raised in toasts and Alex and Walker both finished their glass of champagne by the time the toasts were finished. The lights were again dimmed and Alex and Walker returned to the dance floor. This time, there was no hiding the effect the woman had on him, but then, he was past caring. He held her close and his hands slid down to the low part of her back and he pressed her tightly against him. Alex, for her part, rested her head on his shoulder and swayed provocatively against him.

The crowds were dwindling when they said their goodbyes and headed out to Walker’s truck. He helped her in, a definite first, and then got behind the wheel and drove them back to the hotel. Alex was feeling distinctly lightheaded and was grateful that he was driving; she didn’t think she would have been able. They parked in front of the hotel and Walker dropped his keys three times before he managed to get the door open and let them in.

When the door closed behind them, Walker reached for Alex and pulled her into his arms. He leaned down and captured her lush lips with his own hungry ones and found her as wanting as he was. Her mouth opened beneath his and he probed it with his tongue, tasting the sweetness of her mixed with the tartness of the champagne they had drunk. Alex’s hands frantically tugged at his jacket lapels and it fell to the floor. Her hands began to unbutton his shirt and when they encountered the bolo tie, she tugged too hard and it broke and fell to the floor. The buttons came flying undone as her seeking hands reached their goal and smoothed up against his chest, reveling in the feel of the coarse hair she encountered there.

Walker reached down, cupping her butt in his hands and pulling her tight against him. There was no doubt that he wanted her, desperately. His hands reached down further until they encountered the bottom of her dress and he tugged it up around her waist. He reached back down and smoothed his hands over her satin panties and reached his hands in to touch her warm bottom, parting her cheeks and squeezing them in his large hands.

Alex reached down to his belt buckle and pulled it off and rapidly undid his fly. She stroked the hard length of him through his briefs and then eased them over his hard shaft so that she could wrap her hands around the width of him.  As she sank down to her knees on the ground in front of him, Walker pulled her dress up and over her head, tossing it down on the floor next to his discarded jacket.

Alex’s mouth touched his tip and licked the moist dew there. Walker’s head flung back and he moaned in response. He ripped his shirt from his body when it restricted his arms and his hands delved into her hair as she began to work his hard length into her moist mouth. He pulled the barrette from her hair and massaged her scalp with his fingers as she worked him up and down, taking him as deeply into her throat as she was able.  “I’m coming!” he shouted as she forced him down her throat and drank his fluids down. He shuddered and shouted, completely out of control and he just held her head in his hands as he pumped himself into her welcoming mouth.

After he quieted, Alex licked and lapped at him and then leaned back with a satisfied smile. “Oh my god, you’re a witch and you’ve cast a spell over me,” Walker accused as he reached down and lifted her bodily up to her feet. He leaned forward and clamped his mouth down on her satin encased nipple. It was her turn to gasp as she felt the juncture of her thighs flood with fluid. He reached behind her and undid the clasp and tugged her bra off and out of his way. He then trailed hot kisses down her smooth skin all the way down to her panties. He tugged these off and buried his face in her silken hair at the delta of her thighs. Clasping her buttocks, he pulled her into his face and licked the fluids he found pooled there. He sucked her tiny nub into his hot mouth and suckled it with a strong suction that had her skyrocketing into the cosmos. Her climax was swift and intense and she cried out as it took over her entire body.

Walker wasn’t done with her; he reached for the tops of her stockings and rolled them down each of her legs, getting her to step out of her shoes. He then paused to rid himself of his trousers and his own shoes and socks. Standing up, he lifted her and carried her to the bed where he laid her down and spread her legs. He loomed over her as he pushed the tip of his throbbing shaft between the swollen lips that protected her entrance. She was wet and ready, but he still had difficulty forcing himself into her tight entrance. “God, you’re as tight as a virgin,” he complained as he pushed down and felt himself barely move a millimeter into her. “Oh, god, it hurts,” she complained as she grasped his buttocks and lifted herself up to meet him. He ignored her words and let her actions speak for themselves as he continued to sink slowly into her.

It was taking so long to enter her that he was growing progressively larger and it was becoming painful for him as well. He pulled himself back out and then tried once again. Finally, conceding defeat, he stood up and tugged her up as well. He lifted her so that she wrapped her legs around his waist and then he once again positioned himself at her entrance and this time let gravity assist him as he forced himself into her. Finally, he felt himself bottom out in her tight depths. He laid her back down on the bed and began a punishing rhythm as he pumped his over excited erection into her.

Alex shifted to accommodate him as best she could, but his size was massive and it was all she could do not to cry out in pain as he tore his way into her over and over again. Just as they both felt more pain than pleasure; Walker reached orgasm and pumped his seed deep into her. As soon as he finished, he felt himself growing once again as her vaginal walls contracted around him. The added lubrication of his ejaculation made the next coupling easier and her body relaxed as it accepted him and then welcomed him, finally demanding him. “More, harder, faster,” she panted as he continued to pump deeply into her.

Walker answered her pleas as best he could and then she screamed, “I’m coming, oh dear god, help me, I’m coming.” She convulsed around him, but he didn’t lessen the pace as he felt the pressure of his own release. She was still coming minutes later when he felt his own eruption and felt himself spew into her yet again.

The two collapsed into a heap and both dosed until Alex awoke to feel the tug of Walker’s teeth on her nipple. Her hands clasped his head and she began to writhe beneath him as he switched to the other nipple. Her fingers ran down the length of his back and he lifted enough to slip into her. They rolled and Alex found herself on top, enjoying the freedom of movement and the sense of power. She sat up and then leaned over to treat his male nipples to the same torment he’d given hers.

Walker’s hands went to her hips and urged her to pump them, but she resisted and licked and nipped his chest and abdomen as far as her body could bend with him impaled in her depths. Walker was straining up to meet her and she finally laughed and sat up straight. “I’m going to ride you hard, Cowboy,” she declared triumphantly. She began to pump her hips and he cupped her swaying breasts in his palms and rubbed and pinched her nipples. Her hand went down to the top of her apex and she began to stimulate that all important nub. Walker soon took over and she leaned back and braced herself against his thighs as she pumped up and down and he rubbed her intimately in rhythm. They both climaxed simultaneously and her cry was drowned by his deeper shout.

Neither Walker, nor Alex, could believe the intensity of the orgasms that rocked them. Neither took time to ponder the sudden reversal in their relationship, nor the fact that they were acting without inhibition. Alex was performing acts she’d never even considered and Walker had always been a controlled lover in his previous encounters. It was as if their thought processes had been shut off and they could only feel and revel in the feelings evoked when they touched each other. The slightest brush of flesh against flesh sent sensations shooting up and down the lengths of their over-sensitized bodies. One coupling ended, to begin another, so that they were blended and neither was certain of the beginnings and endings, only the waves of pleasure they experienced.

Sometime, hours later, Walker felt himself grow hard inside her body yet again. He couldn’t believe that this was happening to him, but he’d given up trying to explain the phenomenon. He began to kiss her and his tongue probed her mouth, thrusting and parrying with her tongue. Alex lifted her knees, she was once again beneath him, and she began to undulate her hips and clamp down on his growing erection. Walker held himself still as he allowed her to do all the work while he concentrated on the soft skin of her neck that was exposed with her head flung back in abandon. He kissed down to her breasts and each touch shot fire to her groin as she begged him with her body to bring her to completion. He kissed her again and then lifted up slightly on his elbows and began to match her rhythm as he pumped into her, each stroke as strong and fulfilling as the first of the night. They mated in a slower pace and then Alex fainted briefly as the orgasm that shook her overwhelmed her senses. Walker groaned as he once again emptied himself into her and he collapsed on top of her and kissed her over and over again. Completely exhausted, if not sated, they both fell into a deep dreamless sleep.

It was after 7:00 when Walker stumbled from the bed. He tripped on clothing and he reached down and scooped it up and flung it into a heap on the couch. He managed to get into the bathroom with his head pounding so hard he could barely see where he was going. He stepped into the shower and let it run over his body and head. When he finished, he turned off the water and grabbed a towel, drying himself off with no conscious thought as to what he was doing. He went back out to the room and found some sweatpants and a shirt and pulled them on and then crawled back into bed and passed out.

A little after 9:00, Alex stood and she too tripped on some clothes. She stooped to pick them up and untangle them from her legs and she tossed them into a heap on the couch. Heading into the bathroom, she kept her eyes closed to combat the pain in her head. She cupped her hands under the running water in the sink and drank down the water as if she was dehydrated from weeks in the desert. As soon as the water hit her empty stomach, the response was immediate and she began to wretch, deep painful wretches that left her weak and trembling. She turned on the water and stepped into the shower and stood there trying to get warm as the water cascaded down over her aching body. She finally turned off the water and grabbed a towel and dried off and then went to the room and found her makeshift pajamas. She was shivering so hard, she could barely walk, but she made it to the bed and climbed under the covers, covering her wet head with the warm blankets.

A little after 2:00 Sunday afternoon, Walker awoke and was semi-conscious. He had a pounding headache and the pain was right behind his right eye. He managed to get out of the bed and headed once again to the bathroom where he washed his face and swallowed down some aspirin. He went to the couch and found it piled with clothes. He pulled out the suit he’d worn the night before and gathered his clothes, putting them over onto his suitcase. He then scooped up Alex’s clothes and laid them over on her suitcase and then sat on the couch with his head in his hands and tried to piece together what happened. He remembered being at the reunion and then there was toast after toast, but he’d only had the one glass of champagne. After that, he couldn’t remember anything. He didn’t know what had happened, but one thing was clear, he’d been drugged.

It was over an hour later before Alex began to stir. Walker was beginning to get his legs back under him and he got up and got her a glass of water and some aspirin. He took it back over to her as she eased herself up into a sitting position. He handed her the water and aspirin and she gulped both down. “What happened? I ache all over and my head…”

“I know,” Walker answered as he eased down on the bed beside her. “Don’t make any sudden moves and just try to keep your head as still as possible.” Alex leaned her head back against the wall, her eyes remaining shut. “Alex, what do you remember about last night?” Alex lay there thinking, and finally answered, “We were at the reunion and we were dancing and then there were toasts… I don’t remember anything else.” “I think we were drugged.” “What?” Alex’s eyes flew open and then she shut them again with a groan. “I don’t have any memory of last night beyond that point either. Do you remember when we were introduced to Bubba Jameson?” “Yes, he acted a bit odd.” “You noticed it too?” “Yes, but I couldn’t figure out why.” “I think he must have recognized me. Or maybe my name, we didn’t change that in this little charade.” “So you think he drugged us?” “Well, when we came back from the dance floor, there was champagne on the table. Did you drink anything else?” “Only the water.” “Same here, I think there was something in the champagne.” “But why?” “Well, if he wanted a head start, he certainly got one. It’s after 3:00 in the afternoon and I’m nowhere near ready to start out after him, are you?” “Hell no,” she said emphatically. Her response brought a smile to his lips.

They sat there for awhile, each lost in thought. “What do we do?” Alex asked. “I think we have to go for help.” This got Alex to open her eyes. “I never thought I’d hear you say that.” “I don’t know what else to do. I can’t leave you unprotected and I don’t want to take you into a potentially dangerous situation. I don’t think it’s safe to call from here. I imagine the calls will be monitored and the cell phone doesn’t work here, I tried it.” “What’s your plan?” “I’m going to go out to the McDonalds and get us something to eat and some coffee to drink. We both need some caffeine. I’ll check out the situation and then I’ll make plans from there.” “Okay, will you just get me one of those fruit and yogurt things they advertise or ice cream? I don’t think my stomach could handle anything else.” “Sure,” he answered.

Walker put on his sunglasses before heading out. The light still hurt his eyes and he could look all around him with no one knowing. He spotted a person stationed at the corner who was obviously a lookout. Each small shop he passed, people looked up and watched him walk by. He went into the McDonalds and ordered two coffees and two yogurts. Like Alex, his stomach was not being very friendly.

He walked back to the hotel and opened the door with his key. Alex had made a trip to the bathroom, but was back in the same position on the bed. She couldn’t believe how much her body ached and she felt as if she’d run a marathon. Walker handed her the coffee and yogurt and they sat and ate in silence. When they were done, Alex opened her eyes and looked at Walker. “What did you decide?” she asked.

Walker considered for a minute and said, “I think we should wait until dark. We’ll drive out of town to the sheriff’s where we were on Friday and enlist his aid and then I’ll come back to look for Bubba. I want to leave you where you can be safe.” “I would argue with you about sexism and all that, but I just don’t have the energy.” “Remind me to drug you more often,” he said wryly. She tried to frown at him, but she just couldn’t manage it.

They both lay back down and slept until early evening. They took turns in the bathroom and dressed in jeans and warm sweaters. They packed up their bags and Alex pondered over why the barrette that Sally had made for her was on the ground. When she reached down to pick it up, she got a flash of herself on her knees performing a very intimate act. She blushed and stood back up, wondering where the stray thought had come from.

After they had checked the hotel room several times for any stray articles, they prepared to leave. They had no intention of coming back to this room and were not sad to say goodbye to it. Alex fretted about not settling up with Gus, but Walker reminded her that he’d left his credit card, so Gus could charge him whether he stopped back in or not. He didn’t want to tip off the whole town to their intentions and he had a feeling that Gus would be on the phone before the door closed behind them.

Walker took both of their bags and went out to the truck. He was in stealth mode and he made certain that no one saw him. He put their bags in the back seat and then he left the door open and motioned Alex out of the hotel room. Alex slid into the passenger seat and stayed down on the floorboard as he had asked her to. Walker locked the door to the room so that it was jammed and then he walked to the truck in a way that would allow him to be seen. He got in and started the engine, turned on the lights and drove down the road in the opposite direction of where he wanted to go. Once he had left the outskirts of town, he took side roads and circled back to head toward the sheriff’s station in the town they’d visited on Friday.

It added time to their journey, but Walker was taking precautions. His main goal was to get Alex out of this town where it was a safe bet that no one was trustworthy. As they got to a dark back road, he told Alex it was safe to get up in the seat. She sat up and buckled her seatbelt and looked out the window at the dark hills looming. They seemed ominous and forbidding. Alex began to settle back as Walker sped them away from the hostile town. They were driving at a high speed when one of the tires suddenly blew out. It took all of Walker’s driving skill to keep them on the road, but when a second tire blew, he knew that getting off the road may be their only hope.

Alex grabbed onto the dash board and braced herself as Walker traversed the rough terrain with two flat tires on the passenger side. He drove them around a few of the hills to make sure that they had something solid between them and the person who’d shot out their tires. He went as far as he could and then pulled the truck to a halt. “Get out, Alex, we’re going on foot from here and we don’t have much of a head start.” Alex scrambled out of the truck. “What do we take with us?” she asked. “Look in the glove compartment and get the second gun that’s in there and the shells I keep there as well.” Alex did as she was told. She also reached in the back and grabbed her jacket that was in her bag.

Walker was rapidly putting together a survival kit. He tossed a backpack to Alex and she shoved the gun and shells into it. He added a water bottle that was in the truck and a first aid kit. He grabbed his rifle and sleeping bag, items he always carried in his truck. After putting on his own jacket, he grabbed Alex’s hand and pulled her away from the area at a fast pace. Alex had long legs, but she was forced to hustle to keep up with his stride.

It wasn’t long until Alex was completely lost. She tried to keep up with Walker, but didn’t even attempt to decipher which direction they were heading. It was after two in the morning and Walker knew that they would have to stop and rest. Alex was trying valiantly, but he knew that she hadn’t recovered from the effects of the drug, he hadn’t either. He found a small cave, just barely large enough for the two of them and after making sure it was uninhabited; he rolled out the sleeping bag and offered her the water. Alex was no fool and took just a sip and handed it back. She didn’t comment on the sleeping arrangements, but crawled into the cave and slipped into the sleeping bag. It was large, but not actually made for two. Walker sat at the mouth of the cave on guard for a bit, but hearing Alex’s teeth chatter; he finally pulled off his boots and slid in with her.

Alex needed no invitation; she snuggled back against him in spoon fashion and sighed as his body warmth combined with hers to make it possible for them to get warm enough to sleep. Walker dreamt of making love to Alex over and over again and when he woke up with the first rays of light, he found that he was aroused. He slipped quietly out of the bag and scoped out the area. Deciding that no one had found them yet, he shook Alex awake and they prepared themselves for more walking.

The day was cold and neither had eaten in 36 hours, except for the yogurt the day before. Walker was afraid to light a fire and fix a meal, but he was concerned that they get some nourishment before they collapsed. Around four in the afternoon, he lit a smokeless fire and cooked a rattlesnake that had come out of its den to sun itself in the weak desert sun. Alex watched him prepare the meal and didn’t say a word. When Walker handed her the meat, she took it without comment and somehow managed to swallow it down. She knew that she needed to eat; she was barely able to stand as it was. “Drink some water,” Walker offered. She again took a small sip, as she had done throughout the day. “More,” he ordered. She took a second small sip and handed it back. She wasn’t going to drink more than her share, no matter how much he urged her. He took a small sip and put the lid on and the bottle away.

“Where are we headed?” Alex asked. “Toward the sheriff’s station, but if we don’t find another mode of transport, we’ll be days getting there.” Alex nodded, not questioning his assessment of the situation or his judgment in heading to the sheriff’s station. She found that she trusted him implicitly. The thought surprised her, but she knew that it was true. He would make good decisions and he would be her best hope of getting out of this alive. She squared her shoulders with resolve and got up when he began to put the fire out. Walker was surprised at how well she was taking the events of the last two days. There was no hint of the ‘girlie girl’ she often looked like.

They walked again until well past midnight and then again snuggled up together in the shared sleeping bag. Both were tormented with dreams of making love and both woke feeling disconcerted… and aroused. Neither could think why they were having the dreams other than to attribute them to the intimacy of the situation. They began the next day walking at a brisk pace, but Walker knew that they couldn’t keep it up for long. They were tired, hungry and thirsty. The water bottle was empty after each took a sip in the morning. Finding water was their first priority, but Walker was hoping to stumble on some type of transportation that would solve most, if not all of their problems.

Just after noon, he thought they may have struck gold. There was a small shack that looked abandoned and there were signs that a vehicle had been there, recently. He had Alex stay hidden up in the hills and then he went down to investigate. There was no one there, but he found some canned food in the cupboard and bottled water. He waved her down to join him and she stumbled down to where he was. They feasted on the cold canned food and drank their fill of water. There was a cot, but no bedding, so they filled their water bottle, took a second and headed on out.

It was another full day’s hike before they found more signs of civilization. This time, the house they found was inhabited. When they arrived, they found an elderly couple who lived on the fringe of the town that was their destination. The couple didn’t have a phone, but they did have an old car that Mr. Greenly was willing to use to drive them to town. Mrs. Greenly insisted on giving them some food when she found out that they had been in the desert for several days since ‘getting lost’ on their hiking trip. Walker was fairly certain that the older couple was in fact trustworthy, but he wasn’t willing to take chances after all they’d been through, so they made up a story about being out exploring the area and getting lost.

Mr. Greenly was true to his word and he drove them to the sheriff’s station. They arrived there at five in the evening. Sheriff Tate was willing to help them look for Bubba, but not until the next day. He drove them over to the mall where they went in to buy a change of clothes and some hygiene products. Then he drove them to the local hotel that was a step up from where they’d stayed in Cactus Spine. Walker wasn’t willing to let Alex stay in a room alone, he wasn’t certain that there weren’t Albrights and Jamesons keeping a lookout for them to turn up. He requested a double so that they would each have their own bed.

Alex showered and shampooed her hair. Brushing her teeth seemed like such a luxury. She smoothed lotion over her face and entire body and then pulled on the flannel nightgown she’d purchased to sleep in. She stepped out into the main room and found Walker asleep, sitting up in a chair waiting for her to finish. She woke him and he headed back to the bathroom to take his turn in the shower. While he was there, Alex ordered room service. She ordered them both full breakfasts, even though it was dinner time. Walker was coming out of the bathroom when there was a knock on the door. He reached for his gun, but Alex said, “I ordered room service.” He nodded in acknowledgement of her statement, but remained cautious as he opened the door. It truly was a waiter from room service and he wheeled in the meal on a cart.

Alex set up chairs on either side of the table and with no further ado, they both devoured the meal. “That was heavenly,” Alex stated. She took Walker’s grunt to mean that he agreed. They both sipped the milk she’d ordered to go with the meal and just sat there staring at each other. “What’s next?” she finally asked, breaking the silence. “I’m going back to Cactus Spine with the sheriff and track Bubba Jameson down.” “How? He knows the area much better than you do and everyone and his brother is going to be protecting him. Not to mention the fact that he’s probably long gone from there by now.” “I don’t think so. He knows that his family will protect him. He’s not going anywhere.” “So how do you propose to find him?” “I’m going to sniff him out.” “Oh.” She was at a loss for how to respond to his last statement. “Let’s get some sleep,” Walker suggested. Alex nodded and they climbed into separate beds for the first time in more than a week.

They found it very hard to sleep without the warmth of the other’s body. If their relationship wasn’t so new and tenuous, Walker would have been tempted to crawl into bed with her when he heard her tossing and turning. It was odd, he’d spent the last week wishing he wasn’t forced to share a bed with the woman and now he wanted nothing more. Walker grinned to himself. The woman really was mixing him up. First, he didn’t want to sleep with her, an amazingly beautiful, sexy, desirable woman and now, he wanted to sleep with her, but he didn’t want her to think that he was coming on to her. Hell, something was definitely wrong with his thinking.

They both finally succumbed to exhaustion and Walker woke early the next morning and tried to get ready to leave without waking her. He wasn’t able to though and she was up and waiting for him when he came out of the bathroom. “Hi, I’m sorry I woke you. Why don’t you go back to bed and see if you can get some more sleep? I’ll have the sheriff post a guard outside the door.” “I’m going with you.” “No you’re not.” “I hate to pull rank, but… yes I am.” “What rank? We haven’t even caught the man yet.” “The DA sent me to interrogate a possible witness. I intend to do just that.” “When I have the ‘potential witness’ in custody, I’ll let you ‘interrogate’ to your little heart’s desire.” “Ranger, I’m going to hop in the shower to get ready. This conversation is moot, I’m going.” “The hell you are! What makes you think I won’t just leave while you’re showering?” “I called the sheriff and he knows that he is to wait for me.” Walker glared at her, but Alex just walked off into the bathroom to get her shower.

An hour later, they were sitting in the back of the squad car heading back to Cactus Spine. Alex nearly regretted insisting on coming along, but she was damned if she was going to sit in a hotel with a bodyguard while Walker went after Bubba Jameson. Because of the man, she had driven for hours with a man who thought talking was a cardinal sin, had slept with same man in a gaudy hotel room, had lied to countless people, had been drugged, shot at, stranded in the desert… Bubba Jameson was going to find out why she was considered a tough prosecutor. He was going to regret the day he was born when she got through with him.

Walker was less than happy to have Alex tagging along. He couldn’t believe she had insisted on coming. He had thought that she would be more than happy to stay in a comfortable hotel room with someone guarding her. He didn’t think he’d ever figure the woman out as long as he lived.

The sheriff drove straight into town and walked into the Mayor’s office. Walker and Alex were hot on his heels. “Mayor Albright, I believe you’ve met Ranger Walker and Tarrant County ADA Cahill.” “Not by those names,” Mayor Albright answered with hostility. “No, but that was probably my fault. I advised them to maintain a cover if they wanted the townspeople’s cooperation. They’re looking for Bubba Jameson. He’s only wanted as a potential witness, but that could change depending on the cooperation we get.” “Why the hell should we cooperate? We’ve got no stake in this.” “You’ve got a nephew sitting in a Dallas prison,” Alex stated. “And I don’t want another one to join him.” “We don’t want Bubba or Luke for that matter. We want their connections. Despite the fact that we’ve been drugged and shot at, we’re willing to forgo pressing charges for those offenses if he cooperates.” “You have no proof that Bubba drugged you or shot at you.” “It wouldn’t take me long to get it,” Walker claimed in a threatening tone. “It doesn’t much matter anyway, Bubba left town two days ago.” “Really, and just where did he go?” “He said that he was going to Dallas to visit Luke.” “Let’s go,” Walker said and turned on his heel.

“You don’t really believe the man, do you?” Alex questioned as she hustled out after him. “No, but we’re not getting anywhere talking to him.” “What if we question Christine,” Alex suggested. “Who?” Walker asked. “The manicurist who was with Bubba the night of the reunion.” He looked at her, warring with admiration for the suggestion and irritation that she’d made it. “Where do you propose we do this?” Walker asked. “She takes her break out behind the library. There’s a little park there and she likes to go there and read romance novels.” “How do you know that?” Walker asked. “I sat in that shop for nearly an hour, I found out quite a few things.” “Why don’t you and the sheriff go find something to do while I talk to Christine,” Alex suggested. “Well be watching your back. Don’t forget that we are the two most unpopular people in Cactus Spine.” Alex acknowledged his warning with a raising of one eyebrow and headed over to the park.

As she had predicted, Christine was reading her book in the park. She approached her and sat on the bench next to her. “Hi Christine,” Alex said. Christine looked up from her book, “What are you doing here? I thought you had left town after they found out that you were a fraud. Why anyone would want to pretend to be an Albright is beyond me.” “I’m an Assistant District Attorney from Dallas. I’m here to question Bubba in a case I’m working on. I need your help in finding him.” “Why should I help you?” “Because you want out of here and I can help you accomplish that.” “What do you mean?” “I know a place where you can get a job right in Dallas. I could also help you with getting a place to stay. All it’ll take is a good word from me and you could be set up in Dallas, the big city.” “And I’m just supposed to trust you?” Alex shrugged; she reached in her pocket and pulled out her business card. “Call this number on the back,” she wrote down a phone number. “Ask for Karla and tell her Alex told you to call. Karla owns a beauty salon and she has an apartment above it that she rents out to people who work in her salon until they get established.” “Why does she do that?” “Most of the girls she employs are young women from small towns who come to the big city with big dreams and soon find themselves on the streets. She helps these young women get training and a career. I happen to know that she has an opening. You’d have to share the apartment with a couple of other girls, but it’s a start until you find something better.” “Why would she let me live there? I’m not on the streets.” “You would be after a couple of weeks in Dallas. Trust me, I’m just saving time.”

Christine wasn’t happy about Alex’s assessment of her survival skills, but she thought of what was being offered. “Bubba has a shack he likes to go to. He takes me there sometimes. There’s not much in it, a bed and stuff.” “So you two are lovers?” Alex asked. “Well… yeah and now that he has that new drug…” Christine stopped herself, realizing that she’d said too much. “Big O?” Alex questioned. “Yeah, that stuff is amazing. I mean, I’ve never really liked… Well, let’s just say that it gives you a whole new perspective on sex.” “It also causes heart attacks.” “You didn’t have one,” Christine noted. “In fact, what did you think of it?” “I have no memory of anything but a headache,” Alex admitted. “I wouldn’t mind taking it with that guy you were with; then again, you wouldn’t need it. He’s hot.”

Alex decided not to share anymore personal information with this woman. She wasn’t going to tell her that she had no idea how ‘hot’ Walker was and that they were not even friends and barely colleagues. At that moment, she had a sudden flash of herself straddling Ranger Walker and she blushed to her roots. Christine of course couldn’t know her thoughts, but she guessed that Alex was thinking about being Walker’s lover. “That good, huh?” Christine asked with envy. “Where’s this shack?” Alex asked.

Christine gave Alex directions and Alex advised she pack and leave town. The townspeople were not going to be too friendly when they found out that she’d cooperated with them. Christine had a car and enough gas money saved to get to Dallas. She went home to pack and to leave immediately.

Alex couldn’t decide if Walker was happy with her information of not. He seemed chagrined that she was the one who was able to ferret it out. He didn’t say anything though and they followed Christine’s directions until they came to the end of a desolate road and found a shack like she’d described at the end of it. “You stay in the car and stay down,” Walker ordered. He handed Alex the small gun she’d retrieved from the glove compartment of his truck and told her to keep her head down.

The sheriff and his deputy approached the front of the shack while Walker circled around back. The sheriff knocked and announced himself when Bubba slipped out of the small window and right into Walker’s arms. Bubba struggled, but Walker kept a tight grip on him and the sheriff slapped handcuffs on him and read him his rights, arresting him for suspicion of drug possession. The deputy confirmed the suspicions when he walked into the shack and found tiny bags of a white powder.

Walker hauled Bubba back to the squad car and the deputy volunteered to sit in the back with him. This left the sheriff driving with Alex next to him and Walker riding shotgun. Alex had to give the deputy room to drive and was forced to sit in close proximity to Walker. Her leg was pressed against his the entire thirty miles to the sheriff’s station and she couldn’t believe the thoughts and feelings it aroused. Walker was struggling himself and it was a quiet ride back except for the police radio. The sheriff wasn’t about to let his tires get shot out and had a two car escort. The deputy assigned from his office to patrol Cactus Spine that week was behind them and another deputy was in front of them. Both cars were ready to pursue any interference.

Despite the precautions or maybe because of them, they had an uneventful ride back to the sheriff’s station. Bubba was unloaded by the deputy and taken in to be booked. Alex headed back to the hotel room to freshen up and Walker followed her, still not comfortable with leaving her unguarded.

They discovered that their luggage had been retrieved from Walker’s truck and brought up to their room. Alex was never happier to see her own makeup bag. She changed into the slacks and sweater she had bought at the mall and made up her face. When she came back out of the bathroom, she was transformed into the prosecuting attorney. Walker now knew why she had wanted to come back to the hotel room. She was going to face Bubba Jameson with her prosecuting attorney’s face on.

They were back to barely speaking, but Walker managed to convey the need for food and they went to a small restaurant to eat lunch before going back to the sheriff’s station. Alex was agreeable, the more time Bubba sat in jail and sweated; the better for her. As they finished their salads and waited for the main course, Alex decided to broach the subject of how they would handle this investigation. “I imagine that if you ever use ‘good cop, bad cop’ you always play the bad cop.” Walker raised his eyebrows and acknowledged that she was correct with a slight inclination of his head. “Well, I plan to be the ‘bad cop’. If you want to be the ‘good cop,’ feel free, but otherwise, just keep quiet.” “Yes, ma’am,” Walker drawled. Alex knew he was mad, she could see the red creep up his neck, but she wasn’t about to let this renegade Ranger mess up her case. Too much was riding on her ability to get Bubba Jameson to cooperate and she was determined to do it her way.

The two returned to the sheriff’s station and waited for Bubba to be brought into the interrogation room. It was a small station and the interrogation room doubled as the lunch room. The smells left over from the microwave permeated the air and Alex was tempted to wrinkle her nose, but kept a poker face. She was seated at the end of the conference table when Bubba was brought in and told to sit in a chair strategically placed outside of her physical range, but close enough to see every nuance of her expression.  Walker sat next to Bubba so that he could only look at one of them at a time. The sheriff took a seat at the end of the table, knowing that he wasn’t a part of these proceedings unless he felt that things were getting out of hand.

Alex was playing it cool. She sat at the table and didn’t even look up when Bubba came in. She had his file open before her and was reading it as if the information it contained was new to her. After flipping several sheets of paper and keeping everyone waiting for a good five minutes, she finally looked up and captured Bubba’s eyes in a penetrating stare. “Well Bubba, it looks as if we’ve got you dead to rights on a number of offenses, including attempted murder of a Texas Ranger and an ADA.” “I never tried to kill no one.” “Mixing a potentially lethal drug with alcohol and shooting out the tires of a moving vehicle are both grounds for charges of attempted murder.” “You can’t prove it.” “I’ve got some little bags with white powder that say I can and a witness who admits to using the drug with the street name ‘Big O’ with you. I understand that you rely on the drug to… shall we say, ‘enhance your performance?’” “I don’t need no drug, it just happens to make things that much better. You should know that. I saw how close you and the Ranger were when you left the reunion,” Bubba added with a smirk. It was as close as he could come to rattling Alex, but she didn’t let it show. “’Fraid not, apparently the effects are different when mixed with alcohol.” Bubba didn’t have an answer for that and Alex inconspicuously breathed a sigh of relief. The flashes of making love to Walker seemed so real that even she was beginning to wonder what had happened that night. But she’d woken up dressed and alone in the bed. Surely if something had happened…

Alex refocused her thoughts to interrogating Bubba. “I’ve spoken with your cousin Luke. He’s a tough guy, determined not to cooperate and to take the wrap for his suppliers. He’s really not a very bright man, is he? Are you any smarter than he is Bubba? If not, I hope you’re tougher.” She gave Bubba a thorough examination with her eyes, as if she was checking him out. “The men in prison are going to love you. They have a fondness for ‘fresh meat.’ That’s what Luke discovered anyway. The last time I saw him, he could barely walk.” Bubba’s face turned bright red and he would no longer look into her eyes. “I only came down here to talk to you, but your actions have set things up rather nicely. You played right into my hands. I can take you back and prosecute you and then come and visit you in a few weeks to see if you’re ready to talk. In fact, I think that’s what I’ll do. Why should Luke have all the fun?” “No way! I’m not going to no prison, lady!” “Even if you do cooperate with us, I doubt you know enough to make it worth my while to let you off. I may reduce the charges, but you’ll still get a year or two. I doubt pretty little Christine will be willing to look at you after a year or two in prison. Not to mention what it would do to your mother. She’s a nice lady, a little overly protective maybe, but all in all, she must have given you a decent childhood. Too bad you had to go and throw it away.”

Alex was watching Bubba and saw that he was on the verge of tears. She nearly felt sorry for him, but she steeled herself, it was time to move in for the kill, not to go getting all soft hearted. “So Bubba, what do you say? You want to cooperate? Or should I just have Ranger Walker here transport you back to Dallas?” “What… what are you offering?” “Depends on what you know.” “I know the name of the supplier and the buyer. I was with Luke when he sold the stuff in a warehouse just outside of Dallas.” “Did you ever go to Mexico to make the buy?” “No, but Luke told me all about it.” Alex nodded her head, “You need to tell me everything you know. You do that and I’ll drop all of the charges except possession. You can stay here to serve a minimum sentence.” The look of relief that flooded Bubba’s face was instantaneous and remarkable. A court reporter came in to take his statement and he told them every detail he could remember.

It was dinnertime before they were finished and Walker and Alex joined the sheriff in his office to talk with him. “You have any suggestions on the drug charges you decided not to drop?” Alex shrugged, “I really don’t care. Bubba is a sheep and he’ll follow whomever he’s with. If he could get some direction in his life and friends who aren’t likely to lead him astray, he could probably turn out fine. I’ll leave it to you to decide what the best course of action is. I’d just like him where I can find him if I need him as a witness in a future trial against the drug dealers.” “It was decent of you to tell him he could serve his time here,” the sheriff said. “His family has been through enough, I see no reason to make it worse.” “Thank you, I take it you’ll be leaving here now that you’ve got what you came for.” “As soon as my truck is ready,” Walker said.

They walked from the sheriff’s office over to the mechanics and found that he had just finished with the truck. Walker paid him for the repairs and handed Alex the receipt without comment. They then headed back to the hotel room. “Let’s pack and hit the road. We can stop for a meal on the other side of Cactus Spine. I don’t know about you, but the sooner we put this town behind us, the better.” Alex agreed and they threw their things together and headed out.

Driving through Cactus Spine, Walker was on the alert and ready for trouble. Just as they passed through the other side of the town, they found their route blocked. Walker got out his rifle and exited the car. “Stay here and arm yourself,” he told Alex. She reached into the glove compartment and pulled out the small handgun. Walker approached the group of twelve men who were standing in the road, each armed similarly to Walker. “Gentlemen, I’ve left Bubba with the sheriff and I’m taking the ADA and leaving town. Step aside and let us through.” “We don’t cotton to be taken for fools, Ranger.” “No one appreciates when a cover is blown, but we were on official state business and we were just doing our jobs. Now, I’d rather this not get ugly, but if you insist…” The older men in the group began to step back, but there were a couple of young hot heads who weren’t willing to miss the opportunity to teach the sole Ranger a lesson.

Alex sat in the truck and watched as the first young man punched out at Walker. He barely moved, but the high beams caught a flash as his boot came around and swept the man’s feet from under him, forcing down on his back with a loud sound as the air rushed from him. Two more men joined the fray and he kicked one in the head with a roundhouse kick and punched the other in the solar plexus. From there, all hell broke out. Each man came at Walker swinging. Alex was mesmerized as she watched him take out ten of the twelve men and watched the other two back off. “Now clear the road,” Walker ordered the men who were still capable of independent movement.

He walked back to the truck and started it up as the men staggered or were dragged to the side of the road. The cars were backed up and a path was cleared. Walker drove through the small path they made and rapidly picked up speed as he left Cactus Spine, the Albrights, the Jamesons and the ‘honeymoon suite’ behind. After they’d driven another thirty minutes, Alex began to breathe again and replaced the handgun into the glove compartment. “I guess maybe you did arrest those men from the attempted bank robbery single handedly,” referring to the case that had precipitated their first meeting in a courtroom. It was the first time she’d seen Walker in action and she was amazed. He looked over at her and smiled, “I guess I did.” “You know if they’d been organized, they could have taken you,” she found herself adding. “Most lynching gangs aren’t organized,” he commented. They drove another two hours before stopping for dinner. They filled up the thermos and Walker drove straight through the night, with Alex dozing on and off most of the way.

Alex woke when the truck stopped moving at about five in the morning. They were stopped for gas and she ran in to use the facilities and filled up the thermos. When she came out, she offered to drive them on into Dallas, but Walker wasn’t about to let her drive his truck.  She shrugged and climbed into the cab without another word about it.

They drove until ten in the morning, stopping only once, at the diner where Vilma worked, to get breakfast. She was as flirtatious as ever, but Alex was so tired that she struggled with pleasantries. Walker didn’t seem to suffer her fate though and he chatted away with Vilma, which of course only made her feel worse. How was it the man could be downright civilized to just about everyone on the planet, but her? He dropped her off at her place and helped her get her bag out of the back and handed it to her. “Thank you,” she muttered. “No problem,” he answered and that was it. He drove off and she turned and went back to her life.

Luke Albright made an excellent witness two months later when they prosecuted Larry Dunn, the buyer he’d been running drugs for. Larry went to prison and Luke cut a deal that would get him out in a year with five years probation. Alex recognized several faces in the courtroom from Cactus Spine, but no one approached her. She’d checked in on Christine and found that she was thriving with the help of Karla who was helping her to avoid some of the pitfalls most young girls stumbled into when they arrived alone in the big city. She’d heard through the grapevine that Walker had gone down to Mexico and been involved in the bust of the supplier down there. The raid had closed the drug cartel down and there was no more ‘Big O’ to be found on the streets. She was still plagued by flashbacks of making love with Walker, but she had convinced herself that it was simply a fantasy that living together in such close quarters had created.

Walker too was plagued by the same dreams and it caused him to act very stiff and formal around her. His uncle Ray finally tired of the strain between the two of them and forced the issue with a picnic that ended up with them becoming friends. It was a long time before either of them would let the relationship move beyond that and it wasn’t until Walker was shot and Alex took him white water rafting that they both made the choice to become lovers. The experience was incredible and after they had both reached the ultimate climax for the third time, they lay together panting.

“I feel as if we’ve done this before,” Walker stated. “Me too, I must have a very vivid imagination, because this is how I pictured making love to you would be like.” “Same here, I’ve dreamt about it for years, ever since that time we went to Cactus Spine.” Alex grinned, “Yes, that’s when my dreams started too. You don’t think that we…” “I don’t know, what do you think?” “I think it doesn’t count unless you can remember it and I plan on remembering tonight for the rest of my life.” “Sounds like a plan,” he said as he kissed her.

The End...  sort of ;)