Days Missed

By Roz <Roswell1947_98@yahoo.com>

13 months ago...

"And our top story today: infamous kidnapper and rapist Thomas Mulrooney was convicted and sentenced to 83 years in prison just minutes ago at the downtown courthouse. Though investigators believe Mulrooney was not acting alone, Prosecutor Alex Cahill said she was extremely pleased with the sentence. Mulrooney was convicted of kidnapping six women and-"

C.D. picked up the remote and turned the TV off.

"Hi, guys!" Alex called as she entered the bar, a huge grin on her face. "I don't suppose you've heard..."

Walker beamed at her. "You're the top story of the evening news," he replied as he pulled her into an embrace, kissing her softly.

"Great job, counselor," Jimmy congratulated.

"'Bout time somebody put that creep away," C.D. put in, handing her a cup of coffee.

She took the cup gratefully and sat down at the bar. "Thanks, guys. What a day! So… have you heard about the ‘conspiracy theory?’ The press actually agrees with me this time."

Walker didn't answer - he was too busy staring out the window.

"Hey, Cowboy, where are you?" Alex joked.

"A green car's driven by twice since you got here," Walker said in a distant voice. "There it is again."

An old green car with tinted windows cruised by slowly. C.D. came around the bar to stand by Jimmy and his ex-partner. The car disappeared.

"Wonder if they're lookin' for somethin'," C.D. pondered.

"Could be, Big Dog... Or it could be something else," Jimmy warned.

The car drove by again in the opposite direction, hardly moving. The passenger side window came down, and Walker saw movement inside.

"Everybody down!" he yelled, tackling Trivette and C.D. As soon as the words were out of his mouth, gunfire shattered the window. Customers dove to the floor, screaming. Walker saw panic in their expressions as they attempted to cover their heads.

As abruptly as the shooting started, it stopped. Walker and his partner drew their weapons and crawled to the shattered window, checking in all directions for the green car. It was nowhere to be seen.

"Is everyone okay?" Jimmy called, turning back to the ruined restaurant.

The customers stood up one by one, brushing themselves off. A few had small cuts on their faces and hands, and one woman was clutching her arm. Jimmy hurried to her side to examine the graze wound she'd suffered.

"You okay, C.D.?" Walker asked, helping the older man off the floor. He looked around, surveying the damage, then checked out the window again for the green car. Looking back to the restaurant, he realized who he hadn't seen - his fiancée.

"Alex?" he called softly.

There was no answer.

"Alex?" Walker started toward her seat. He faltered when he saw one high heel sticking out from behind the bar. Rushing around the counter, he found the blonde sprawled across the floor in a pool of blood. "Oh, God, Alex," Walker cried, dropping to his knees next to her. He gently pulled her limp form onto his lap, realizing that the blood was flowing from her head. Moving a bit closer, he buried his face in her blood-soaked hair. Feeling as if his heart had been torn in half, he began sobbing softly. "Alex, please don't leave me," he murmured. "Oh, Alex, please..."

Present Day...

"And I know this great girl-"

"No, Trivette," Walker interrupted. "I will not go out with another one of your ditzy blonde friends."

"Not all of them were blonde..."

"I don't care. I won't do it, Trivette. Stop trying to set me up!" Walker grabbed his coffee cup and took a long sip, signaling the end of their conversation.

Jimmy was silent for a moment, but he couldn't let the matter drop. "Walker," he began quietly, "I'm worried about you. It's been thirteen months almost to the day since... What I mean is, shouldn't you be getting over-"

"No," Walker said woodenly. "I never will."

"But don't you think..."

Walker shot his partner a look that shut him up immediately. They sat in silence for a few minutes, sipping their coffee.

"Excuse me... Jimmy?"

Both men turned to see a tall brunette standing behind them. She was wearing a short red dress that accented her wide green eyes.

"Uh... hi, Julie," Trivette stuttered.

Walker groaned softly and turned back to his coffee.

"What'd you want me to meet you here for?"

He hesitated. "Actually, I wanted you to meet someone, but I... don't think he's up to it right now."

Julie gestured slightly toward Walker, and Trivette nodded. "Oh. Well... do you mind if I have a seat? Since I'm here, I might as well have a cup of coffee or something."

"Of course we - I - don't mind." He moved so Julie had to sit between him and Walker. Jimmy reached across the counter and grabbed a bottle of scotch, pouring himself a glass.

C.D. came out of the kitchen, giving Jimmy a withering look when he spotted Julie. "Evenin', Ma'am, can I get you somethin’?"

"Just coffee, please." Julie took the cup he offered and sipped it slowly. No one spoke.

Trivette grabbed the remote control and turned the TV on to break the silence. A reporter appeared on the screen mid-sentence.

"-was hit by a stray bullet a few days ago on the West Side of the Metroplex. He died today after four days in a coma-"

Jimmy immediately shut the TV off.

Walker grabbed the bottle of Scotch from Trivette and placed it on the counter in front of him.

"That's such a shame," Julie said, desperate for conversation. "Senseless violence. We're all so lucky we don't have to deal with it - on a personal level, at least."

Walker angrily grabbed the Scotch and an empty glass. Storming away from the bar, he slumped into a booth across the room, quickly downing a glass of alcohol.

Jimmy put his head in his hands. C.D. sighed and leaned heavily against the bar.

"I... Did I say something wrong?" Julie asked quietly, confused.

"No," Jimmy answered. "No, it's not you. He has... issues."

"Oh." After a moment, Julie stood and took a step toward Walker.

Jimmy grabbed her arm. "Let him go, Julie. It'll only make things worse."

She pulled her arm away and went to Walker's booth. Sliding in across from him, she took his hand. "I'm sorry if I said something offensive, or-"

He pulled his hand away. "Look - I know what you and Trivette are trying to do. But I don't need another girlfriend. I don't want one." He slid out of the booth and left the bar.

Julie waited a moment in the booth, shocked, before returning to the bar.

"I told you," Jimmy scolded.

"Another girlfriend? This is what I was supposed to be?" Julie asked angrily.

"Walker said that?"

"Yes! He said he didn't want - or need - another girlfriend. Is that all you brought me here for?" she demanded.

"No! Well... sort of."

"Sort of?"

Jimmy took her elbow and gently led her to a chair. "Look... Walker's had some... problems in his life. He needs someone he can talk to - but he won't talk to us."

She gave him an incredulous look. "So, let me get this straight - you and C.D. were trying to set me up with Walker just to see how close I could get to him? Don't you think it might hurt him worse if he found out what you were doing?"

"No... We weren't just trying to set you up for awhile and then have you ditch him! But I thought you'd like him... and he really needs someone to talk to. And he told you - he knows what we're trying to do. Please, Julie."

"And what makes you think he'll talk to me?"

"I don't know... he just seems more open around women, I guess. Especially the women he cares about. And you two just seem... right for each other."

The brunette's face softened. "You said he's had problems. What kind of problems?"

"He's lost people. Lots of people. For awhile he had someone he could talk to... but she..." He stopped, blinking back a small tear.

"Oh, Jimmy... I'm sorry. Look... I'll talk to Walker - but you guys are obviously looking for a relationship. If I don't like him, I'm out. Like you said - he's been hurt enough. I won't lead him on just so he can be hurt again."

"I know. Thanks, Julie."

"And I'm not guaranteeing he'll ever speak to either one of us again - he's pretty mad at you."

"Oh, he'll talk to me," Jimmy assured her. "He doesn't say much, but the silent treatment's not his style. I'll beg him tomorrow to go out with you."

"Hey!" Julie slapped him lightly. "Don't you dare tell him I'm a mercy case. I'm not that desperate."

"Yes, you are."

She gave him a drop-dead look. "Okay, so I am. But I could certainly find someone better than you to set me up!" She checked her watch and sighed. "I should be getting back to my hotel - it's late, and I have job interviews tomorrow."

"Sleep well."

"Thanks, you too." She kissed him on the cheek and left.

~/~

"Just dinner. Just one date, Walker."

"No."

"Please. She's new here - she just moved down from New York to be closer to her family, and she needs somebody to show her around."

Walker didn't look up. "And you and her family can't do it because..."

"Because she wants you to! And her family's down in San Antonio. Besides... think of all the times I've saved your butt by doing your paperwork or covering for you when you go off on your own little escapades. You owe me, man," Trivette said lightly.

Walker leapt out of his chair, standing slightly over his partner. "I owe you? And just how do you figure that? I don't suppose you've thought about all the times I saved your life. Hell, in C.D.'s bar last year, I pulled you down, remember? I saved you. But I could have made it one hell of a lot easier on myself if I'd gone the other way and grabbed-"

He fell silent, not willing to mention her name.

"That wasn't your fault, man," Trivette whispered.

"Like hell it wasn't." Walker stormed back to his desk chair and sat. "I told you - no more dates."

"Just one."

"No."

Trivette sighed. "What would she say if she could see you now? She would be so disappointed in you - that you haven't hauled yourself up and gotten back to life in the year she's been... gone."

"Thanks," Walker replied dryly. "It's so great to know she would hate me."

"I didn't mean it that way. Come on... you know what I meant."

"Yeah, I do." Walker sat in silence for a few moments, staring straight ahead. "If I do this, will you stop trying to set me up?"

Trivette thought a while, then nodded. "So you'll do it?"

"Just once."

"Okay! Um... can you maybe pick her up around... seven?"

"Yeah."

~/~

Walker broke the silence as he and Julie strolled by the downtown fountain. "So... I guess that's pretty much all there is to show."

"I guess so. Thanks - that was quite a history lesson."

They stood quietly for a few moments. Julie checked her watch, eyes widening when she saw what time it was. "I should be going... I didn't realize it was this late. Will... will I see you tomorrow?"

"Depends. But I'll walk you back to your hotel."

"Oh, it's only two blocks from here. That's not necessa-"

"I'm not in the habit of letting ladies walk home alone - not in this city. And especially not at night."

"Well... thanks."

They walked to her building at a leisurely pace, not speaking again until they reached her door. She unlocked it and propped it open with her foot. "Thank you for tonight," she whispered.

They were closer to each other than Walker had thought, and he could feel her breath on his neck. "You're welcome," he said softly. "Goodnight."

She reached up slowly and brushed her lips against his. It felt better than anything Walker had expected, and for the moment they touched he felt like he could forget everything else. He liked that feeling. Pulling her closer, he kissed her again, a bit more passionately. She pushed the door open, and they stumbled together into her hotel room.

Alex stared up at him as he slipped the ring onto her finger. She gave him an amazed look for a moment, then hugged him as tightly as she could. "Yes," she whispered, pulling herself closer. "Yes!"

Her limp form was sprawled next to the bar, a puddle of blood covering her hair. Her face was white, her lips pale. Commotion buzzed around the bar as he gently pulled her onto his lap, sobbing into her hair.

Walker yanked away from Julie, putting himself out of arm's reach. "Goodnight," he muttered, not meeting her eyes. He opened the door to the apartment and rushed out of the apartment building.

"Walker... wait!" Julie called, taking a step after him. She opened the door to find him running full speed through the hallway. "Walker!"

He didn't hear her.

She shut the door and sighed, leaning against it. "Men!"

Walker found his truck with no trouble and drove straight home to the ranch. He took off his shirt and climbed into bed, not even bothering to pull off his jeans. Lying on his back, he stared at the ceiling for nearly an hour and a half. He finally rolled onto his side and closed his eyes.

Blood. There was so much blood. And there was a body in that blood - yet another faceless, nameless victim of violence. Hearing a noise behind him, Walker turned to see Alex.

"Why didn't you stop it, Walker?" she asked simply. "Why didn't you save me?"

"I couldn't!" he protested. "I wanted to... God knows I wanted to… but I had to get C.D. and Trivette. They were right next to me!"

"Oh, so I don't count anymore?" she snapped.

"Of course you do! I... I love you," he whispered, taking a step forward and reaching for her. He gasped when he saw his hands were covered in blood.

"It's my blood, Walker," Alex said coldly. "And if that weren't bad enough, you had to add insult to injury."

"What do you mean?"

"Julie."

Walker froze, unable to think of a reply.

"You swore to Jimmy that you would never get over me. And less than a day later, you're on a date. A serious date. You kissed her, Walker. You were in her hotel room. How far were you planning to go with her?"

"I wasn't!"

"Of course not," she said sarcastically. "It's amazing how fast you got over me once you had a reason to."

"Alex... that's not what I wanted to happen!"

"You let me down, Walker... twice." She seemed to drift farther away as she spoke.

"But I didn't mean to! Alex, don't leave me again..."

She shook her head sadly and disappeared.

Walker jerked awake, breathing hard and covered in sweat. Checking the clock, he realized he'd only been asleep for twenty minutes. He got out of bed and went straight to the shower.

~/~

Julie couldn't sleep. She laid in bed for half an hour without so much as a yawn. Finally, she grabbed a bottle of sleeping pills and took four - twice the directed dosage. She went back to bed, but still couldn't sleep.

Climbing out of bed and changing, she went to her car. If I can't sleep, at least I'll get to know the city.

She drove around Dallas for quite awhile, exploring alleys and parking lots. As she stopped at one intersection, an ambulance came blaring by. She could hear other sirens nearby. Must be near a hospital... I wonder which one.

On an impulse, she turned toward the sirens, in the same direction of the ambulance. Following the road signs, she found Baylor hospital - and was shocked to see a silver Dodge RAM pulling into the visitor's parking lot.

She faltered, and the car swerved slightly. Braking, she pulled into the lot behind the truck. Grateful for the darkness, Julie found a space in the next row and followed the familiar Ranger to the entrance.

Walker hurried inside, waving to the smiling nurse at the front desk. He took off his hat and headed into the elevator.

Julie waited a moment before opening the door and striding to the front desk. "Excuse me," she asked the nurse. "Could you help me with something?"

The pudgy black woman smiled warmly. "Depends on what it is, hon."

"Um... I was supposed to meet a ranger here a few minutes ago. Ranger Walker... but I'm afraid I don't quite know where to find him."

The nurse looked confused for a moment, then smiled. "You just missed him. But he would be on the third floor. Probably at the nurses' station or in room 326."

"Thank you." Julie took the stairs, racing up three flights. ICU, CCU, the sign announced. She emerged from the stairwell just in time to see Walker exit from the elevator, his back to her. She breathed a sigh of relief.

"Hey, Walker," one of the nurses greeted. "You're certainly up late tonight."

"Yeah."

The nurse lowered her voice, sensing that something was wrong. "Want to tell me about it?"

"It’s nothing. There're just some things I need to get off my chest."

She smiled reassuringly, and Walker headed down the hallway.

Julie stayed a few feet behind the Ranger until he reached the end of the hallway. He entered the room on his right and closed the door behind him. The brunette slowly reached the door. 326.

Noticing a window near the door, she crept up to it. Her eyes widened at the scene before her.

A woman was lying on a single hospital bed. She was blonde, her hair a stark contrast to her sheet-white skin. She seemed frail under the blankets, and the bones in her wrists protruded like nails stuck in a wall. Her face was gaunt; her expression almost sad. Machines surrounded the head and right side of the bed. Julie didn't know much about medicine, but she recognized a heart monitor, a ventilator, several IV's, and what could have been an EEG.

Walker's hat was resting on the bed table, next to a rose and several bouquets. Walker, on the left side of the bed, took off his gun and set it on the table. Taking the woman's hand and gently kissing it, he sat in a small chair next to her and began speaking to her softly.

Julie turned away, heading back to the stairs. Something inside her made her stop at the nurses' station, however, and she found the same nurse that Walker had spoken to. "Excuse me..."

The slender, petite redhead came over to her quickly, not recognizing her. "Can I help you? Are you lost?"

"Well, I ... I think I'm where I should be, but... it's a long story.”

The nurse, Keri, raised an eyebrow.

"Um... I was just wondering if you could tell me who's in room 326."

Keri gave her a puzzled look. "Do you mind if I ask why you care?" she inquired slowly.

"I guess you could say I'm a friend of Walker's."

"Oh. And he didn't tell you?"

"Tell me what?"

"About her." The nurse took a deep breath. "It was so sad when he lost her."

"What do you mean, ‘lost her’? She's obviously alive."

Keri glanced up at her, then lowered her eyes. "Barely."

"What? Who is she?"

"That's Alexandra Cahill."

Julie gave her a blank look.

"You're not from around here, are you?"

Julie shook her head.

"That's why you don't know her... so I guess I should start at the beginning. Thirteen months ago, she convicted a rapist - Thomas Mulrooney, I think his name was."

"She was on the jury?"

"Oh, no. She was prosecuting - Alex was one of the best DA’s this county's seen for quite a while."

"Oh."

"That day, there was a drive-by shooting at C.D.'s Bar and Grill - owned by one of her friends. They think the shooter may have been one of Mulrooney's accomplices."

"They never caught him?"

The nurse shook her head. "Poor Alex - she took a bullet to the head. Luckily, it hit on an angle and sort of curved around her skull. It didn't cause nearly as much damage as it could have… but it was bad enough. We didn't think she was going to make it, but she pulled through somehow. She's been completely unresponsive since."

"Comatose? And when did you say this happened?"

"Yes, comatose - one of the deepest levels of a coma. And it was more than a year ago. She failed the apnea test when they brought her in, but her father wouldn't let us take her off life support."

"And who pays for all of this?"

"Mr. Cahill is a very rich man, Miss..."

"Danvers. Julie Danvers. But... what's Walker's connection to her?"

"They were - are, technically - engaged. Walker said he wanted her to spend the rest of her life with him... but no one imagined it would be a life like this. Sometimes… sometimes I wonder if it would have been better… if she’d been killed instantly."

Julie slid into a chair, shocked. "It's been a year... and he's still in love with her?"

"Yep. I don't see how he can stay so loyal, but he does. When she first came in here, he didn't trust any of us to care for her. He stayed at her bedside 24 hours a day. We even had to bring him meals, or he wouldn't eat. And he stayed there for a month."

"A month?"

The nurse nodded. "He only left because they made him go back to work. Even after that, he went straight to her bedside after he got off duty and slept there. After a few months he quit doing that - only because his friends had spent weeks convincing him it wasn't healthy. But he still comes to visit her every day. If she died now, I... I think it would kill him."

Julie sat in silence for a long time. "She won’t wake up, will she?" she asked sadly.

Keri bit her lip. "Probably not. The EEG shows brain activity, but very little. She's unresponsive to voice, to touch... and she's so weak. Even if she wakes up, it's impossible to know what kind of life she'd have. She could be blind, deaf, paralyzed…”

Walker strode past, staring down at his hat. The nurse looked up, ready to say something, but she held back.

“Can I see her?” Julie surprised herself with the question.

“Well… I don’t know why not.” Keri stood and led her to room 326. Opening the door, she followed Julie inside. “Go ahead. Talk to her.”

Julie faltered. “Can she… hear me?”

“We don’t know. But it can’t hurt.” The nurse left.

The brunette took two tentative steps toward the bed. “Uh… hi. I’m a… friend of Walker’s, I guess… I don’t know if he’s told you about me…”

~/~

"Hey, Walker..."

He turned back to the front desk. "Yeah?"

"Did she find you?"

Walker gave the nurse a puzzled look. "Did who find me?"

"The woman. She said she was supposed to meet you - didn't leave a name. I sent her on up to the third floor."

Walker cursed and ran for the stairs.

~/~

"And I didn't know why he was acting so strange... but I guess it's... because of you." Julie reached forward and touched Alex's hand. "Maybe now that I know-"

A monitor jumped. Startled, Julie stepped back from the bed. The machines around the bed began going haywire, but Julie could only stand there, terrified.

"Julie!" Walker rushed back into the room. Shoving her back, he knelt at Alex's bedside and took her hand. "Alex, don't leave me again. Please don't leave me," he begged.

A nurse ran into the room. Seeing Julie, Walker, and the monitors, she ducked back into the hallway. "I need help in here! Grab a crash cart and her doctor!" She came back in and grabbed Walker and Julie. "You two - out!"

~/~

"What the hell were you doing in there?" Walker demanded as he paced across the waiting room.

"I... I followed you," Julie said meekly.

"Followed me?" he roared. "From where... all the way back to my ranch?"

"No, I most certainly did not!" she cried indignantly, jumping out of her chair. "I was... exploring, and I saw you turning into the lot. I thought maybe something was wrong!"

"It wasn't. And it was none of your business!"

"Well, I'm sorry for caring," she shot back.

Jimmy and C.D. burst through the doorway. "What happened?"

"You!" Julie and Walker turned, glaring at Jimmy.

Jimmy stepped back, surprised. "Me?"

"Yes, you! This never would have happened if you hadn't made me go out with this... this harlot!" Walker accused.

Julie turned on him angrily. "Harlot? Excuse me, but it's not like I tied you up and forced you into my hotel room!"

Jimmy raised his eyebrows.

"And don't you even start with me, boy," Julie warned Trivette. "You told me his old girlfriend was dead, for Pete's sake!"

Jimmy stuttered. "I didn't say dead... I... I said gone."

"You what?" Walker demanded.

"Well, she is! I mean... that's what we were told! They said she'd never wake up, Walker," he defended gently.

"I don't care what they said!" he roared. "I love her!"

A doctor entered the room quietly, surveying the situation. "Excuse me," she whispered.

All four turned on her angrily. "What?"

"Are you Miss Cahill's friends?"

Walker stepped forward. "I'm her fiancée."

"Well, then, I have news for you. Why don't you take a seat."

They sat.

"We're not quite sure how, but... Miss Cahill has regained consciousness."

~/~

"Alex?" Walker whispered, stepping into the white room.

A small moan answered him, and he approached the bed. "Walker?" Alex breathed.

"Yeah, it's me." He sat on the edge of the bed and took her hand. "You've been asleep for three days."

“Huh?”

“Since you woke up the first time – it’s been three days.”

"Oh… that long? Feels like three minutes,” she whispered.

“Do you remember what happened?”

“Yeah, kind of. I… remember that day… but not what happened at C.D.’s.”

"It’s not really important. Did the doctor explain everything?"

"Yeah... sort of."

"What didn't he tell you?"

Alex took a deep, ragged breath and stared at the ceiling. "He didn't explain how a person can lose a year of their life." She looked at him out of the corner of her eye, too weak to move her head. "A year. Just... gone."

Walker didn't know what to say. He gently pulled the frail blonde into an embrace, kissing her forehead. "I wish I could fix it this time, Alex."

"I know, Walker." She leaned against his shoulder. After a moment she pushed away and fell limply back against the pillows. "I'm tired."

"You should sleep."

"Walker..."

"Just rest." He smoothed a stray piece of hair back from her forehead, then pulled the blankets to her chin. He stayed next to her until he was positive she was sleeping soundly.

~/~

"So I've missed quite a bit," Alex said after Jimmy recounted the past fourteen months. "Correction - I've missed a ton." She sighed sadly. As a sudden wave of dizziness passed over her, she leaned back in the barstool. “Sometimes I think maybe four weeks in the hospital wasn’t quite long enough,” she murmured, blinking away the darkness that threatened her vision.

Walker reached forward to stroke her hair gently. “Are you okay? It’s been three weeks since you got out… you shouldn’t be having these dizzy spells.”

“I’ll be okay. And I’m not going back – sitting around in the hospital is worse than being stuck in the house all day.”

"Um... Walker," Julie piped up from behind him. "Would you... dance with me?"

Walker looked at Alex.

"Go ahead, Cowboy. I'm not gonna be dancing for a while."

Walker and Julie strolled to the dance floor.

Alex looked back at Trivette and C.D. "Okay, somebody spill. I want to know what's going on here."

They watched the floor studiously.

"Julie..." Walker began.

"I don't understand you. Why do you have to be so confusing?"

"Why is life so confusing?"

Julie fell silent. As they swayed with the music, Walker listened to the lyrics for the first time.

When I see you now

I wonder how

I could've watched you walk away.

If I let you down,

Please forgive me now

For that beautiful goodbye.

In these days of no regrets,

I'll keep mine to myself.

And all the things we never said

I can say for someone else,

'Cause nothing lasts forever, but we always try.

And I just can't help but wonder why

We let it pass us by…

"Walker..."

"What?"

She looked up at him with a tortured expression. "Look - I think you still have feelings for Alex, but I know you feel something for me. Please - think this through."

"Julie, she's my fiancée. It's as simple as that."

She dropped her hands and stood in front of him. "You know it's not that simple!"

"It is, Julie. I told her I was going to marry her, and I am. She's been traumatized, Julie - how do you think she'd take it if I broke it off?"

"Do you realize what you just said? That you don't love her - but you're willing to marry her to keep her happy?"

"That's not what I said! I love her!"

"But are you still in love with her?"

"Yes."

She gave him a wounded look, silently imploring him.

"I don't know anymore," he admitted.

"Then why are you..." She sighed. "Forget it. Let me know when you've gotten your life straightened out." She turned on her heel and stormed away from him, grabbing her coat off the rack and slamming the door.

Walker rolled his eyes and walked back to the bar.

"Woman troubles, Walker?" Alex inquired, eyebrows raised.

Great. Exactly what I need - her on my case. "No."

"Sure looked that way."

"It wasn't. Are you ready to go home yet?"

She raised her eyebrows at him. "No, actually. I still need to do some catching up here. But you go ahead."

"You can't drive yet."

"I'll take her home, Walker," Jimmy volunteered.

Walker grunted a reply and left.

"Okay - you wouldn't tell me while they were dancing, but you will tell me now. What's going on between Walker and Julie? Who is she?"

Jimmy cleared his throat and looked down.

"James Trivette," she scolded, "I know there's something going on. I've seen them together for the past three weeks. Start talking."

"Julie is... um... a friend of mine." He stopped, waiting for her to start screaming. She didn't. "I, uh... kind of set them up together."

She raised her eyebrows. "I see. And he fell instantly in love with her?"

"No... he didn't even want to go out with her at first, but… I convinced him. I'm sorry, Alex."

"That's okay, Jimmy. When was this?"

"About a week before you woke up."

"I see." Jimmy tensed as she let out a cynical laugh. "So I guess that just makes it extremely bad timing on my part, huh?"

"He still loves you, sweetie," C.D. reassured her.

"Oh, I know he does, C.D. He has to." She held up her ring with a deep, disappointed sigh. "As long as I wear this, he thinks he has to love me. It's in his honor code somewhere."

"You don't seem very upset," Jimmy said gently.

She bit her lip. "If I don't laugh, I'm gonna cry, Jimmy.” She closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “When I was shot at Kim's wedding, I had about fifteen seconds to think before I passed out. And one of the thoughts I had was... I hope he gets over me when I die. In the hospital, I thought about it, too. I mean, I know it sounds conceited, but I really wanted him to find someone else - so he could forget about me."

"That's not conceited, Alex. We all worry about it at some point in our lives. We want our loved ones to be cared for. I wonder sometimes what would’ve happened to Mom if Simon or I were shot before she died… and I still wonder what he’d do if something happened to me – even though we’re not really that close. It’s a natural thing to worry about.”

"I guess so. The only problem is… he did get over me! And now there's one cruel, jealous part of me that never wants him to let go... that wants to let him suffer forever... and I hate myself for it."

He stroked her hair gently. "I'm sorry, Alex."

"Jimmy, it's not your fault! He had to rebound sometime. Frankly, I'm surprised he waited this long. It's been fourteen months for him since we were a couple... in love... but only seven weeks for me – and only three since I realized something was going on. Everything was supposed to be the same when I woke up… but you’re all so different. It’s all so sudden… it’s like he just up and dumped me." A tear slid down her pale cheek.

C.D. put a hand on her shoulder, and Jimmy embraced her. "Let me take you home, Alex. You need sleep."

"Staying at the ranch feels strange," she whispered. "It used to be a place of comfort - I felt safe there. Now… it's full of turmoil."

"Well, you have to stay someplace where we can keep an eye on you. In case you have a relapse or pass out or something. C'mon, let's call it a night."

"Okay... Goodnight, C.D."

 "Goodnight, hon." The older man bent over the bar and kissed her softly on the cheek.

 Jimmy wrapped an arm firmly around the slender blonde's waist and helped her slide off the barstool. Leading her out of the bar, he opened the car door for her and made sure she was settled before circling the car to the driver's side.

"You okay, Alex? You look like you're about to pass out." He shifted into gear and took off down the highway.

"I'm okay... just tired," she replied, closing her eyes and resting her head against the seat.

Jimmy looked over a few minutes later, not surprised to see that she was asleep. "Poor thing," he murmured.

As he pulled up to the ranch, he shut off the car, unlocked the doors, and separated Walker's key from the rest on his ring. Gently lifting Alex out of the car, he shut the car door with his foot and hurried to the house. He unlocked the door as gracefully as he could, surprised to see Walker in the living room to his left. His partner was staring blankly out the window.

"Walker?"

The bearded Ranger started at the voice. "She asleep?"

 "Yeah... I'll take her up to bed." He headed up the stairs, and Walker turned away from the window. Jimmy headed upstairs to the guest bedroom and set Alex gently on the bed. He took her shoes off as carefully as he could. Deeming her T-shirt safe to sleep in - no strangle risk from a high collar - he pulled the blankets up to her chin.

Jimmy watched Walker on his way down the stairs. His partner was still staring out the window at some invisible object, not even blinking.

"So... what're you gonna do?"

He spun to face his partner. "I don't know."

"I guess the question is... who do you love more?"

Walker shrugged and turned back to the window.

~/~

“Walker, I just don’t think that-“

Alex swung open the kitchen door. Seeing Julie and Walker next to each other at the breakfast table, she turned and started back out. “Sorry… Didn’t realize I was interrupting something.”

“Alex, wait!” Walker stood and started after her.

“Walker, don’t you dare,” Julie said coldly, grabbing his arm.

He ignored her and followed Alex into the hallway. “Alex, wait. You should eat.”

She spun on her heel to face him. “That’s all you want to say to me? ‘You should eat?’”

He gave her a blank look.

Alex sighed. “I’m sorry. I’m just… so tired. I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I came down. I’m not really hungry.”

“You should still eat – you need to keep your strength up.”

“I know. I will – later. Right now, I’m just gonna go back to bed.” Giving him a reassuring smile, she went back upstairs.

“Why do you always let her do that, Walker?” Julie questioned from the doorway. “I swear she plans it – every time we start talking about us, she interferes.”

“She doesn’t plan it, Julie. She’s hurt – she needs someone to take care of her.”

“Whatever, Walker.”

“Julie… for Pete’s sake, consider that someone else might need my help, too.”

“I have considered that,” she said calmly, with just a hint of bitterness. “She’s been gone for fourteen months, but she pops back into your life, and bang! It’s like she was never gone.”

Julie – it’s not like it was her choice to be shot in the head!”

“I can’t believe you’re still falling for her!”

“I thought we discussed this already! Of course I love her, but-“

“Oh, don’t even try and tell me that,” Julie hissed. “You’re still in love with her – any fool can see that. It wasn’t clear last night, but it’s obvious now. You’re always running after her, doing whatever she wants! ‘Let me bring you a newspaper, Alex. Let me cook you dinner, Alex. Throw a tennis ball and watch me fetch it, Alex!’”

Walker slammed his coffee cup down on the table. “I have horses to feed.” He turned and stormed toward the door.

Alex stared blankly at the bedroom wall and pulled the blankets up a bit further. From downstairs she could hear the two arguing – just like her parents had. A tear dripped down her cheek. Finally, the yelling stopped and a door slammed. “Well, that’s a familiar sound,” Alex whispered. Biting her lip, she climbed out of bed and hurried back down the stairs. She opened the kitchen door carefully, ensuring nothing would be thrown at her by whoever was still in the kitchen. She was shocked to see it was Julie.

The brunette spun on her heel to face her, mouth open and ready to yell. When she saw Alex, she clamped her mouth shut. “Good morning,” she muttered coldly.

“Good morning is a contradiction of terms,” Alex quipped softly.

Julie snickered and set her cup of coffee on the bar. “You got that right, sugar.”

“Not many people have called me ‘sugar’ and gotten away with it.”

“Hon, I’m from New York. We call everybody sugar.”

Alex smiled. “Even your enemies?”

“No. We don’t have one specific term for them. We sigh ‘oiy vey,’ flick them off, and swear until we’ve given ourselves headaches.”

“I see. Then you must not hate me as much as I thought.” She took a seat.

Julie sat across from her. “I don’t hate you.”

“Good. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way – tell me about yourself.”

She gave Alex a long look. “Me?”

“Uh-huh.”

Julie shifted uncomfortably in her chair. “Okay… I graduated college and moved to New York to get as far away from my family as possible. I got a good job as a CPA, where I worked until last year. I decided I was lonely, so I came here. Basically, that’s it… but why do you care?”

“If you’re gonna be involved with Walker, I at least want to know that he’s not gonna get hurt… again.”

“Be involved? But I thought you…” Julie stuttered.

“Look, Julie – I love Walker. But honestly… I can see he’s in love with you. And I’m okay with that… I guess. I mean, I couldn’t expect him to not even look at another woman for those thirteen months.”

“He insists he loves you.”

“I know. I’m going to talk to him about that later today. But one thing you have to understand about Walker is his honor code. And right now, that honor code is telling him it’s wrong for him to dump me. He thinks that as long as I’m wearing the ring he gave me, it’s his duty to love me. At least… as long as I’m not in a coffin.”

“So… what are you going to do about it?”

“Talk to him. Tell him that he has no obligation to me… and give him his ring back, if it comes to that.”

Julie stared at her for a few minutes. “So, let me get this straight. You’re going to dump him just so he can go out with me? Isn’t that a bit backwards?”

“Julie… I’m not going to dump him. But I am going to tell him that I’m not his responsibility. If he’s still in love with me, that’s great. If he’s in love with you… then that’s the way it goes, I guess.”

The brunette blinked slowly. “Wow. Well, that wasn’t quite the talk I’d expected.”

“What did you expect?”

“I don’t know… a few swears, being ordered out…”

“But fair treatment never crossed your mind?”

“No.” Julie checked her watch. “Um… I have to go – I’ve got another interview soon. Thanks for the chat… it was… interesting.”

“See ya later.”

Julie walked out of the ranch in a semi-daze. Alex smiled and went to the cabinet, pulling out a box of cereal for her breakfast.

~/~

The man sat and picked up the phone, looking through the metal-reinforced glass at his former partner. “I don’t suppose you’ve heard…”

The man behind the glass gave him an evil stare. “She’s alive. You failed me, Bornis. I want the bitch dead!” he hissed.

Bornis’ blue eyes seemed to bore holes through the glass. “It will be done, Thomas. I won’t fail again.”

“You’d better not.”

~/~

“Pull over,” Alex ordered.

Walker looked over at her curiously. “But you said we were going to eat – there are no restaurants here.”

“I know. I lied. Pull over.”

Walker guided the RAM to the curb and hopped out. Hurrying to the passenger side, he opened Alex’s door and helped her down. “So… what are we here for?”

“Just to talk.” He held out a hand, but she turned her back and started down the promenade toward the large downtown fountain. “Walk with me.”

“Okay… what are we talking about?”

She shrugged.

“You wouldn’t drag me out here if you didn’t have something specific in mind.”

They walked in silence for a while.

“Did you ever catch the man who shot me?”

“No. We didn’t get a license plate number. We ran the car – four door green sedan – and came up with 90 matches in the Metroplex.”

“A lot of people like green,” Alex commented.

“We screened them and found that 18 had records.”

“Did any have motives for shooting up the bar? I mean, chances are they were after Jimmy or one of us.”

“We thought of that, too… eventually. Trivette knew two of them from before he joined the Rangers – they’d had major legal ‘disagreements,’ I guess. We had arrested three of them, and you’d prosecuted two.”

“Alibis?”

“Well… both of the convicts Trivette knew were across the border at the time. Of the three we knew, one was scared straight – he’s a snitch now, one was in the hospital from an overdose at the time, and one was still in jail. And both the guys you convicted were still locked up then."

“So basically, you’ve made no headway whatsoever.”

“Basically. We don’t even know who he – or she – was after.”

Alex didn’t answer for a moment. “Remember Thomas Mulrooney?”

Walker stopped walking and looked at her, taking both her hands. “Of course. I remember everything about that day.”

“Then I supposed you remember that I thought he had an accomplice – even though no one in the department agreed with me.”

“I remember.”

“I think Mulrooney’s mysterious accomplice was the shooter.”

“What? Why?”

“Think about it, Walker. You and Jimmy hadn’t made any major arrests for a few days, right?”

“Right.”

“And whoever the shooter was, he did it in a fit of rage.”

“Why do you think that?”

“He was willing to kill every person in the bar that day to get back at one or two people. Think about it – Mulrooney’s accomplice hears about the verdict and the sentencing, then hears for the first time that we think someone else is involved. At this point, he’s scared – he decides something has to be done. Maybe he follows me from the courthouse; maybe he’s been following me since the start of the trial, so he knows where I spend my time. He’s angry and scared, so he finds me and shoots up the place. It was dumb luck that he hit his target.”

Walker started down the promenade again. “It makes sense,” he said softly. “But why didn’t he try to finish the job?”

“Because the doctors were telling people I would never wake up. He probably figured he’d done enough damage, and there was no threat of me catching and prosecuting him.”

“Alex, that makes sense – if...”

“If what?”

“If it wasn’t just a random act of violence. That would also explain why no one went after you. And we still don’t even know Mulrooney had an accomplice. He didn’t give us a name, and he was the only one who raped those women.”

“What are the chances of a random drive-by shooting at a bar where two Rangers and a DA just happen to hang out? And why did the women end up dead?”

“Because he killed them!”

“He didn’t, Walker. He kidnapped and raped them, but he didn’t kill them. We couldn’t prove it… and I don’t think he did it.”

“Alex… if he had an accomplice, don’t you think he would have assaulted those women, too?”

“Unless the accomplice is a woman. Or a man who was physically unable to.”

“True. But we have no idea who the accomplice may be – if one exists.”

“One does. I’m sure of it. But the trail isn’t exactly hot.” She reached the end of the alley and turned right onto a sidewalk. “Walker…”

“Yes?”

“There was something else I wanted to talk to you about.”

Walker turned toward the street to look at her. “What’s wrong, Alex?”

“Well… I know that technically we’re still…” She stopped, realizing that his gaze was no longer focused on her, but on an object behind her. “What’s up, Walker?”

Walker pulled his line of sight back to her face. “Don’t look behind you,” he muttered.

“What?”

“Don’t look behind you,” he repeated.

“I heard you. Why not?”

“There’s a green sedan parked across the street.”

Fear overtook Alex’s face. “Tell me it’s not that car,” she pleaded.

“Looks that way,” he replied, watching the car out of the corner of his eye. “Start walking.”

“I… can’t.”

“What? Alex…” Walker touched her arm gently. Realizing that she was cold and trembling, he stroked her cheek. “It’s okay. Alex, I swear to you it will be okay. Alright? Just breathe for me.”

“I… I can’t move, Walker,” she gasped.

“Sure you can,” he encouraged. “Just breathe deep and walk with me. I’m not going to leave you.” He put an arm around her waist and pulled her with him. “See? It’s okay.”

She shuddered and stumbled slightly, but managed to keep going.

Walker heard a squeal of tires and saw a flash of green over his shoulder. “Get down!” he whispered urgently, tackling her as the pounding of gunfire rained over their heads. Alex whimpered softly beneath him, and he held her tighter.

When the green car was gone, Walker got on his hands and knees, still protecting Alex. When he saw her face contorted in pain, he shook her gently. “Alex? Alex, are you hit?”

“My side,” she gasped. “I’m okay… just a scratch.”

Looking up, Walker realized that a small crowd had gathered. “Somebody call an ambulance!” he ordered.

“They already did,” a bystander replied.

A siren rose from the distance, and Walker sighed in relief, turning back to his injured fiancée.

~/~

“Walker, I’m okay!” Alex insisted the next morning as her fiancée pushed her wheelchair out the hospital doors.

“Alex, you’re not okay! You lost a lot of blood!”

“I lost a little blood, Walker. I’m fine.” She got out of the wheelchair on her own and waited for him to unlock the RAM. He returned the wheelchair and climbed into the truck. As he started the car, Alex looked over at him. “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry? Sorry for what?”

“For freezing up on you last night. I… I could’ve gotten us both killed.”

“Everyone gets scared, Alex.”

“Not that scared.”

“Sure they do. And you had every right to be afraid – they almost killed you, Alex.”

She shook her head.

“But we’re both okay – mostly. That’s the important thing.” He reached over and took her hand. “I love you, Alex.”

Alex pulled her hand away and shifted uncomfortably, looking out the window.

Walker gave her a worried look and drove to the ranch in silence.

As the two got out of the RAM, Julie ran toward them. “What happened? Are you guys okay? I heard there was a shooting! I mean… I tried to call you – but you didn’t answer. And Jimmy’s phone was busy, and the hospital wouldn’t tell me anything…”

“We’re okay,” Alex replied.

“She’s not,” Walker retorted. “She got hit in the side.”

Julie turned to Alex with a genuinely concerned look. Her worry deepened as she spotted the scratches up her arms.

“I’m okay,” Alex assured her. “Really – I’m fine. Just… tired. I’m going back to bed.”

“I have to feed the horses,” Walker said, turning to the stables.

Julie hurried behind Alex. “So… did you two… talk?”

“No.” Alex grabbed the handrail for support as she made her way up the stairs. “We were interrupted by a man with an automatic.”

Julie hesitated, then put a hand under Alex’s other elbow for support. “Are you gonna be okay?”

“Yeah. And I’ll ‘talk’ to him tonight.” She stepped inside the ranch house and headed upstairs. Picking up the phone, she dialed a familiar number. “Phil?”

“Hey… how ya doing?”

“Pretty good. But honestly, after last night, does the department still think the shooting at C.D.’s was random?”

“No. They’re after you – we’re sure of it.”

“And do you still think Mulrooney was working alone?”

“We can’t prove that he wasn’t.”

Alex sighed. “Okay… on another topic – how’s work?”

“Busy. I’m trying to convince the board that we need you back here, but you know how they are. I mean, it’s been a year, Alex.”

“I know. But… what do you think the chances are that I’ll get my job back?”

“I really don’t know. I’m fighting for you, Alex.”

“I owe you, Phil.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Thanks… I’ll talk to you later, okay?”

“Yeah. If you need anything – anything at all, Alex – call me and I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thank you.”

“Bye.”

Alex placed the phone back in the cradle and looked out the front window. Surprisingly, Julie’s car was gone. Cooperative.

Walker turned on the porch as he heard a noise behind him. “Alex – I thought you were going to bed.”

“I changed my mind. We need to talk.”

“You’ve been saying that a lot lately.”

“Yeah, I guess I have. Seems like we’ve been interrupted a lot lately, too.”

“True… So… what do you want to talk about?”

Alex walked to the edge of the porch and leaned on the banister, staring out at the pasture. “A lot of things have changed,” she began slowly.

“Not everything.”

“No, not everything. But a lot has. Bills that were just ideas are now laws. People who had never met are married. Friends of mine who swore they would never leave Dallas have up and moved. Perfectly healthy people then are dead now, Walker. And maybe… maybe some people who were perfect for each other then… aren’t so perfect now.”

Walker stared at her back silently for a long moment. “What are you trying to say, exactly, Alex?”

She turned and sat on the rail, but refused to meet his eyes. “Fourteen months ago you were in love with me, Walker. But now you have Julie. I know you care about her – I can see it. And that’s okay, Walker.”

“I still love you, Alex.”

“But are you really in love with me? I don’t want you to marry me because… because you pity me, or because you think it’s your obligation to!”

“But Alex, I-“

She cut him off with a wave of her hand. “Julie loves you. Give her a chance. Give yourself a chance.”

“A chance at what?”

Alex looked up at him for a moment, then lowered her eyes. “A chance at happiness, Walker. That’s all I ever wanted for you.”

“I guess… I just don’t understand what you’re getting at,” he said slowly.

Alex slid her engagement ring off her finger and set it on the rail. “I guess what I’m saying is… don’t let this govern our relationship. Please… go with your heart on this.” Sliding off the rail, she breezed past him into the house. Realizing her fingernails were biting into her palms, she squeezed her hands harder, happy to have a distraction from her emotions.

With a dejected look, Walker picked up the ring and stared at it for a few minutes. Biting his lip, he put the ring in a pocket and headed back to the horses.

~/~

As she walked out of the ranch house later that day, Alex wasn’t surprised to see Walker and Julie sitting on the porch together.

“Uh… hi, Alex,” Walker greeted uncomfortably.

“Hi.”

“Want to join us? We were about to go riding.”

“No, thanks. But I’ll saddle the horses for you. Who are you riding, Julie?”

“The gentlest horse you’ve got! The last time I rode was on an elementary school field trip.”

Walker turned to examine the horses in the paddock.

“We talked,” Alex mouthed behind his back.

Julie raised her eyebrows. “Oh,” she mouthed back. “How’d it go?”

Alex held up her hand, showing her the empty space where the ring should have been.

Julie cringed.

Walker turned back to the two women. “I think the best horse for you would probably be Angel, but she’s-“

“I’ll saddle them for you,” Alex cut in with a broad fake grin. She had to restrain herself from taking off at a dead run. Striding angrily into the barn and pulling out the grooming buckets for Amigo and Angel. Heading back outside, she untied both horses and took them in. Starting with Angel, she pulled out a currycomb and began angrily brushing in a circular motion.

Angel. Her horse. A gift to her from Walker – her fiancée; her beloved; the man she was supposed to spend the rest of her life with.

“Men,” she fumed softly. “They say they love you. They swear they’ll never love anyone more than you. But when you need them most, they find some other ditz to love! You can’t turn your back on them for a second!”

Amigo snorted.

You shut up. You’re male, and he’s your master. That leaves you no room to talk.”

Angel whinnied softly and nuzzled her master. Alex stroked her muzzle gently, then threw her arms around the gentle creature’s neck. “I mean, sure, I told him it was okay for him to go out with her… But he wasn’t supposed to believe that! I love him… can’t he see that? Why are men so blind?”

The barn gate swung open, then shut again. One set of footsteps made their way through the barn, and Jimmy popped inside the doorway. “Hey… Walker told me you were in here. Talking to the animals again?”

“Yeah. They’re a lot easier to talk to than people, I can tell you that.”

Jimmy opened the gate and came inside the large tack/grooming room. Picking up a currycomb, he carefully approached Amigo and started brushing him. “So… how are you? Have you and Walker ‘talked’ yet?”

“I’m okay… but how’d you know about that?”

“I didn’t. I just figured it was coming.”

“Well… yeah, we’ve already talked. Apparently Walker was the only one who didn’t see it coming.”

“How’d it go?”

“I gave him his ring back.”

Jimmy froze, his hand poised over Amigo’s withers. “You… you what?”

“I gave it back. And then I walked away. I was sure he’d come after me and insist I keep it.”

“You mean he didn’t?”

“He never even tried to stop me.”

“Oh, Alex… I’m so sorry.” Jimmy embraced her tightly, raising a small cloud of dust from their clothing.

“I told Julie that if he picked her, it was fine. And I’m gonna stick to that – at least outwardly. But it doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

“No, it doesn’t.” Jimmy went back to grooming Amigo, and Alex found Angel’s saddle. Straightening it and making a neat T-knot, she circled to face the horse.

“Now… don’t throw Julie. Or at least not hard, okay? Walker deserves a beautiful girl.” The horse nickered agreement, and Alex kissed her on the forehead. “Good girl. Jimmy – do you think you can handle Amigo?”

Jimmy nodded, wide-eyed.

Alex left the barn and headed back to the porch, but Julie and Walker met her halfway. “The horses are almost saddled. Oh – and Jimmy’s trying to saddle Amigo,” she warned.

“Uh-oh. I’m checking that tack before I mount,” Walker joked.

Hearing the squeal of tires behind them, they spun around to see a green sedan skidding down the driveway. As gunfire exploded around them, Alex dove for the ground. Walker cried out her name as he tackled Julie. After what seemed like hours, the gunfire stopped.

Alex rolled over, clutching the shoulder she’d jarred when she fell. “I got a license plate,” she announced.

“Great!” Walker jumped to his feet. “What is it?”

Alex’s expression slowly changed from one of pride to horror. “Oh, God, Julie!”

Walker fell back to his knees next to the injured brunette. “Oh, God,” he whispered. “Just hang on, Julie. We’re gonna get help.”

“Jimmy!” Alex screamed as the black man ran out of the barn. “Call 911!”

He pulled out his cell phone as he ran toward them. “I need an ambulance at Ranger Cordell Walker’s ranch now. We have a gunshot victim here!”

Walker pulled Julie gently onto his lap. Her shirt was stained red, and a tiny trail of blood ran down her chin. She took a ragged breath and clutched Walker’s hand.

~/~

The RAM pulled to a stop in the driveway behind the green sedan. Walker and Trivette jumped out and ran to the front door, knocking it down with one swift kick.

The couple in the foyer pulled away from each other quickly. “Hey… who the hell are you?” the man demanded.

“Emilio Bornis?” Trivette questioned.

“Yeah… so?”

“We’re Texas Rangers. And you’re under arrest for murder. You have the right to remain silent-“

“Whoa… just me?”

They nodded.

“She drove!” Without warning, Bornis shoved his girlfriend at the two Rangers and took off.

Walker regained his balance first and ran through the house to find the man. The larger man tripped on his way out the back door, giving Walker a chance to catch up.

“Go easy on yourself, Bornis. You don’t want to fight me.”

Bornis took a swing at Walker, who easily deflected it and knocked his opponent down with one swift roundhouse kick. Driving his knee into the man’s back before he could get up, he pulled out his gun and shoved it up against the back of Bornis’ head.

“Who do you work for? Mulrooney?”

The man said nothing.

Walker pressed the barrel of the gun a little harder. “You nearly killed my fiancée. And you did kill a very good friend of mine,” Walker growled. “Give me one reason not to blow your brains out.”

“You’re a cop!” the man protested.

Walker hesitated, but put the gun away. “And your life isn’t worth it.” Handcuffing the man, he hauled him to his feet and began dragging him back toward the house.

Jimmy appeared at the back door, holding the woman in one hand and a manila envelope in the other. “Pictures, Walker. This is all the evidence we need.”

~/~

“So… how are things between you and Walker?” Jimmy questioned softly.

Alex shrugged, leaning farther back in the barstool. “I don’t know if we’re talking today or not. But everything else is almost back to normal – I mean, my job’s back, I’ve got my friends back just like they used to be… Walker and I are fighting again… I think…”

As if on cue, Walker strolled through the doors of the ‘closed’ restaurant. “Hi, guys.” Bending down, he gave Alex a small kiss. “We need to talk.”

“Not if it involves me moving, we don’t. I’m too tired to play Simon says,” she joked dryly. “Say whatever… here.”

Raising an eyebrow, Jimmy elbowed C.D. in the ribs. Once he caught the older man’s attention, he nodded toward the kitchen. C.D. didn’t move. Grabbing his arm, Jimmy hauled him quietly out of the room.

“Well… okay. I know this might sound a bit cruel… but it has to be said.”

Alex took a deep breath, preparing for the worst. “Okay.”

“When Julie was shot last week… it hurt. And I was disappointed that I couldn’t save her. But when you were shot – even when it was minor – it felt like my heart was being ripped out. I swear it would’ve killed me if you’d died.”

Alex nodded, waiting for him to continue.

“I guess what I’m trying to say is… it made me realize that I love you. I need you.” He knelt in front of her and pulled her ring out of his pocket. “Alexandra Cahill, will you marry me?”

“First, you have to tell me something.”

His face fell. “Tell you what? What’s wrong?”

“If Julie had lived… what would have happened? To us?”

Walker took a deep breath before answering. “Alex… the day she… died… I was going to take her out riding, remember?”

“I remember.”

“And… I was going to tell her… that I needed you. That I loved her… but we just weren’t right. She wasn’t you. And I was only more sure of that when she died.”

“You mean that?”

“Yes. And… thank you.”

“For what?”

“For letting me choose.”

She shrugged. “You’re welcome, I guess. But that’s what I should have done, Walker.”

“But not what some people would have done. So… now will you marry me?”

Alex laughed. “Of course, Cowboy.”

Walker slipped the ring carefully back onto her finger and embraced her tightly. Pulling back a bit, she caressed his cheek, then gave him a long, loving kiss.

Stars are brighter

In a desert sky -

No need to wonder

Or justify

Where this will lead.

I wear your locket;

Our picture’s inside.

Inscription says,

“The joy’s in the ride,”

And I believe

Something so sacred

Is something worth this kind of fight.

‘Cause love knows no patience.

You can’t please everyone all the time.

My money’s ridin’ on this dark horse, baby.

My heart is saying it’s the lucky one.

And its true color’s gonna shine through someday

If we let this

Let this dark horse run…

Author’s note: The song lyrics are from “Beautiful Goodbye” and “Dark Horse” by Amanda Marshall. I wish they were mine (sigh), but they’re not. However, they’re beautiful songs (hence the name of the first), as are most of the others on her CD. It’s highly recommended… J

Also – HUGE thanks to Melly for editing this about eight times. She puts up with me WAY too much… She also refuses to take any of the credit – but she deserves a lot!!