By Katie 59

Chapter One

Alex was beyond stunned to find out that Victor Larue had been released from prison and then had the nerve to show up where she was receiving an award. Walker who was there with her had demanded that LaRue leave but he refused saying that he was a free man and even showed Walker the paperwork to prove it. A short time later Alex's dinner arrived only it turned out to be a dead rat on a plate instead of what Alex had been expecting for dinner. Walker stayed right at Alex's side during the entire ceremony while vowing to himself that no matter what he had to do Victor LaRue would be back in prison before he knew it, that is if he lived long enough. Still upset by Larue's sudden reappearance Alex was practically clinging to Walker's arm when they left the event. After putting Alex into his truck Walker got into the driver's side but before he started the engine he took Alex's hand and said to her "Alex I will not let him hurt you."

“I know that Walker, you saved me from him before and I know that you'll do it again if it comes down to that. But I am so hoping that it doesn't because I can't take him trying to rape me again. And he would have done it too if you and Trivette hadn't stopped him the last time." Alex answered Walker who told her “I won't let it come to that, one way or the other LaRue will be taken care of before he can get near you. Now do you want me to take you home or would you like to come out to the ranch and stay for a couple of days?"

Alex questioned “If LaRue hadn't shown up tonight would you have invited me out to the ranch?" Walker didn't answer that but started the truck up and they drove off. Alex looked out the window as she said to herself  'Is he ever going to forgive me for that thing with Dalton? Walker and I make love for the first time and then he acts like it was nothing special when it was so great. Maybe it wasn't even good for him, maybe now he's ashamed that he slept with me. This kind of thinking is getting me nowhere, I love him and he only thinks of me as just one of the guys. Damn that man, why can't he even at least think about me the way a man thinks about a woman?'

Walker at the same time was thinking to himself 'Why did she turn to Reed after the way we made love on that white-water rafting trip? How can she not know how much I care about her? Was it just sex for her? Or is she ashamed of bedding a cowboy like me?' After a few moments of silence Alex said “I’m glad that you were there for me tonight. I don't know what I would have done without you by my side when LaRue showed up." Not thinking Walker told her “Alex you would have been just fine, you always are. You know how to take care of yourself in any situation."

“I couldn't take care of myself last time, now could I? He came so close to raping me and I was powerless to stop him. Sometimes at night I can still feel his hands on me." Alex stated but before Walker could reply Alex said "I'm sorry I don't mean to take it out on you but I am so scared that LaRue will succeed in really hurting me this time."

Walker pulled his truck to the side of the road then turning to Alex he vowed “I will protect you from him if it's the last thing that I do, you have my word Alex." Alex nodded okay and Walker got back onto the road. As they were riding the elevator up to her apartment Walker asked again " Alex why don't you come stay at my place until LaRue's back in jail if you're that worried about him hurting you? That way you'll be in a safe place."

Alex replied “Thanks for the offer but it would be best if I stayed at my place, you don't need me getting in your way in your own home. Besides I'm sure that LaRue will be back in jail in no time at all." Walker understanding that Alex wasn't about to run from LaRue told her " Okay my ranch is out for now but you lady are going to learn some self defense and you are going to start learning it just as soon as I get LaRue back in jail where he belongs, got that?"

“My you sure can get bossy Walker, but you are right about me learning self defense. Are you going to teach me yourself?" Alex asked Walker who replied “Yes, I am. Is that okay with you?"

“Yes, it is. Not to change the subject but would you like some coffee before you go home?" Alex asked Walker who agreed that he could use some so Alex made him coffee and they talked about other matters. As Walker was leaving Alex's apartment he told her “Make sure you lock this door with the deadbolt after I leave and put the chain lock on it too."

“I will Walker, see you tomorrow." Alex replied as she ushered Walker out of the apartment. After he left Alex locked her doors and windows then sat on her couch remembering her previous encounter with Victor LaRue.

When Walker got to his truck he called C.D.'s and explained to him what was going on with Alex, C.D. then put Trivette on the phone. Walker asked him to find out how it was that Victor LaRue was walking the streets again. Trivette assured him that he would get started on it right away. Walker then drove home to the ranch where he called Alex but she didn't pick up the phone. Deciding that Alex was all ready asleep Walker hung up and went to bed himself because he planned to get an early start on finding a way to get LaRue back in prison.

Chapter Two

The next couple of days Victor LaRue made it quite clear that he was going to do his best to make Alex's life a living hell. He showed up in the courtroom where she was the prosecutor and sat through the entire court session sitting where Alex could see him every time she turned around. Trivette and Walker were doing their best to get LaRue back in jail even going so far as searching the hotel room that LaRue was staying in without a warrant. As they were searching the place it became quite clear to Walker and Trivette that LaRue was obsessed with Alex. LaRue entered the hotel room as Walker and Trivette were there and tried to goad Walker into hitting him but Walker kept his temper in check and they left LaRue's room without incident. There were however two Rangers assigned to shadow LaRue at all times because Walker wanted to know where LaRue went and when he went there. LaRue managed to slip away one night and had a bouncer beat him up to make it look like he had been assaulted by Walker. As a result of that Walker was told to stay away from LaRue or face charges himself.

LaRue took to calling Alex at her apartment and then stepped up his campaign of terror against her by getting an apartment on the same floor she lived on. With Walker not being able to officially investigate LaRue C.D. went to Ranger headquarters in an effort to help find a way to get LaRue back in jail. When C.D. said that they should arrest LaRue for harassing her Alex pointed out that what LaRue was doing wasn't a crime. That as long as LaRue didn't commit a crime he wasn't going to be arrested any time soon. C.D. then said that they should find something to arrest LaRue for and Trivette sad that he would look into LaRue's past and that hopefully there was something there that they could arrest him for. Alex wished them luck and headed home for the day, when she got there her apartment had been broken into. Alex reported the break in to the police department but didn't call Ranger headquarters because she knew that most likely LaRue hadn't left any evidence behind linking him to the break in. One of the officers called Ranger headquarters because Trivette had put an alert out that if anything happened to Alex Cahill that Ranger headquarters were to be notified. When Trivette got the call he thanked the officer then called Walker up and told him about the break in.

Walker told him “Trivette, I'll head over there myself. Why don't you stay at headquarters and see if you can find anything on LaRue that will put him back in jail?" Trivette replied “All ready doing that and let me tell you Walker LaRue doesn't leave witnesses behind, at least none that I've been able to find so far. Tell Alex that I'll stop by and see her later, will you?"

“You’ll have to stop by the ranch because I'm taking her there whether or not she wants to go. Give Alex a few hours to get her bearings then drop by, okay?" Walker suggested to Trivette who answered “I don't think so, not when the two of you are at your ranch all alone together."

“Trivette, what are you talking about? I'm simply looking out for a friend. Why are you trying to make it look like we're going to be doing more than that?" Walker questioned Trivette who sighed to himself over Walker's denseness when it came to Alex. Trivette decided to enlighten his partner by saying "Come on Walker, you want Alex as much more than a friend and I know she wants you to be a lot more than a friend to her. So why don't the two of you just admit to your feelings and get on with your lives together? Or at the very least you should start dating Alex before some man sweeps her off of her feet. A lady likes to be romanced, you have to know that but then again it is you we're talking about."

After a moment Walker replied "Alex doesn't want me as anything more that a friend and that's what I'll remain to her. Trivette I'll call you after Alex is at the ranch." Then Walker hung up the phone before Trivette could say anything else.

Walker went to Alex's apartment and told her that she was going to be staying at his ranch. Alex agreed that it was for the best and went to her bedroom to pack some clothes while Walker instructed the police officers to make sure that Ranger headquarters received a copy of the police report. The police officers assured Walker that Ranger headquarters would know whatever they knew just as soon as they knew it. Alex and Walker left her apartment and headed to his ranch. On the way there Walker pulled into a grocery store parking lot and told Alex that he didn't have much in the way of food in his house.

“Okay cowboy, tell you what we'll shop for the food together. That way I'll know what we need to get and when we get to the ranch I'll make you a nice dinner to thank you for going out of your way to help me." Alex said to Walker who replied “It’s nothing; I'd do anything for a friend like you Alex."

Alex asked him "Is that all I am to you?" When Walker nodded yes Alex while dying inside said "Okay then friend what do you want me to make you for dinner?"

“How about turkey meatloaf?" Walker answered Alex who said that she would be glad to make that for him. As they were grocery shopping an elderly woman accidentally bumped her grocery cart into Walker and said to Alex “Sorry about hitting your husband." Alex assured her “It’s okay, no harm done."

After they left the store Walker asked “Why didn't you tell that lady that I wasn't your husband?" Alex answered “For the same reason you didn't tell her that I'm not your wife." Having no answer for that Walker put the groceries into his truck and they drove off.

Chapter Three

Dinner was eaten in almost total silence because whenever either one of them tried to make small talk the other one replied as briefly as possible. The problem that they were both having and not about to admit to it was the fact that they were both remembering the first night of their white-water rafting trip when they had made love half the night. After the turkey meatloaf dinner was eaten Walker in an effort to ignore the sexual tension between them suggested “Alex since you made the dinner I'll do dishes."

Alex while also trying to ignore the sexual tension between them answered “Okay, I'll just go into my room. That way I won't be getting in your way all the time." Walker told her “Alex you're not in my way, if you want to you can light a fire in the fireplace. After I take care of the horses I'll join you in the living room to relax for awhile before we get some rest." Alex agreed and went into the living room where she started a fire. After he did the dishes Walker went to the barn where he tended to his horse. Walker stayed in the barn as long as he could while downing a couple of beers then he returned to the house and asked Alex “Do you want a beer?"

“No thanks, I'll pass." Alex replied. Walker went into the kitchen and grabbed himself another beer. When he returned to the living room Walker questioned her “Is there a reason that you can't have a beer?" Puzzled by that question Alex asked him “What are you talking about? I decline a beer and you make it out to be some sort of big deal. What's the matter with you anyway?"

After downing half of his beer Walker told her “Well I know that pregnant woman can't drink beer and you have been known to drink beer with Trivette and me at C.D.'s. So why can't you now, unless?" Before Alex could answer the question Walker asked her “Who’s the father? Dalton or I? I know that you slept with him after throwing yourself at me on that white-water rafting trip."

A furious Alex got up from the couch as she said “I am not a slut Cordell Walker and I will not stand here and listen to you refer to me as one." Walker objected as he finished his beer “I didn't say that you were a slut Alex, I asked if you were pregnant and if you are who's the father. We didn't use any protection that night if you recall and I'll bet that you were the same way with Reed during the DeMarco case."

Alex hauled off and slapped Walker across the face as hard as she could then told him “I did not sleep with Dalton during the DeMarco case, the only man that I've slept with recently is the self-centered jerk standing right in front of me." As Alex started to leave the room Walker again questioned her “Are you telling me that you spent the night in Reed's trailer and didn't sleep with him? What kind of fool do you take me for anyhow? Are you pregnant or aren't you?"

Alex slowly counted to ten before she replied and even then she couldn't hide the anger and hurt that Walker had just caused her “I went there early in the morning to ask Dalton to accept your protection before he got you hurt. Why I did that I don't know because you are a self-centered jerk with an ego as big as the state of Texas. As for what kind of fool I think you are, right now you're not so much of a fool as an insufferable ass. As for me being pregnant, no I'm not and thank god for that because I can't imagine anything worse that being forced to carry your child. I'm going to go to my room right now before I strangle you and first thing tomorrow morning I'm going to see if I can arrange some sort of protection for myself through the D.A.'s office. Good night Ranger Walker." Alex went to the downstairs guest bedroom that she was staying in and slammed the door shut.

Walker gave her half an hour to calm down then after drinking yet another beer he went and knocked on her door. After she opened it Alex demanded of him “What do you want now? Wasn't calling me a slut bad enough? Do you want to call me a tramp too? How about calling me a whore while you're at it?"

Walker stood there watching Alex questioning him and all he could think of was how beautiful she was, closing the distance between them Walker told her “No, I want to tell you that I'm sorry that I implied anything like that. I know that you didn't throw yourself at me that night, it was just something that happened and I think we should put it behind us and move on."

“You’ve said what you had to say, now please leave me alone." Alex replied as she went to the door and held it open so he would take the hint and leave but Walker neared her again and said “Not until I show you how sorry that I am Alexandra Cahill." Alex backed away from him but Walker pulled Alex into a smoldering kiss.

When Walker awoke in his own bed the next morning he had a hangover so he went to the kitchen where he drank some of White Eagle's purge then he took Amigo out for a long ride. After he returned from the ride Walker stayed in the front yard teaching Amigo a trick until he received a call that Victor LaRue had eluded the Rangers who were watching him. LaRue had set his room on fire and when the Rangers entered the room LaRue locked them in it and calmly walked away leaving them to be burned alive. When the relief Rangers arrived they found the pair dead in the still smoldering room and notified Ranger headquarters who in turn called Walker. Walker then hurried into his house but LaRue was all ready there and knocked Walker out.

Chapter Four

Alex entered the Walker's hospital room to find him wide awake so she told him that he sure didn't look bad for a man who had been repeatedly stung by scorpions after being knocked out by a madman. Walker told her that she sure didn't look bad for a woman who had almost been hurt. Alex changed the subject by asking him what they were going to do about men like Victor LaRue and Walker told her that they would do what they always did, see that they ended up in jail where they belonged. After a few moments of silence Walker said “I’m glad that I was able to get back to the ranch in time to stop him from hurting you." Alex instead of replying to that told Walker that C.D. and Trivette were on their way to the hospital to visit him and that she would get out of his hair. Alex leaned over and kissed him on the cheek and started to leave but Walker lightly grabbed her arm to stop her.

Walker then said "Alex I know that things have been rough between us lately... but I was hoping...well I was wondering if you would?" Alex helped him out by asking “If I would what cowboy?"

“Well I want us to start seeing each other...or something like that. How would you feel about it?" Walker asked Alex who went to the window and looked out it before questioning him “Are you asking me if I want to go steady with you? Don't you think it's a little too late for that?"

            Walker bowed his head as he replied "I'm sorry but I thought you and Reed were done and over with and that you might be interested in going out with me. I shouldn't have asked you something like that after what you just went through." Alex still looking out the window asked him "Walker what do you remember from last night and earlier today?"

“Last night I remember having a couple of beers in the barn.  After that the next thing I remember is being staked out by LaRue, and having live scorpions poured on me, after LaRue left I got Amigo to free me. Then I remember getting back to the house in time to stop LaRue from hurting you. Why is there something else that happened that I should know about?" Walker explained to Alex who turned away from the window to finally look Walker in the eyes. Nearing the bed Alex said to him “There is no Dalton and I and there never will be again. It was a mistake that I won't make again. Walker I want you to be a bigger part of my life. So that means yes I am interested in going out on dates with you. What do you say to that cowboy?"

“I say how about we start going out to dinner together then see where that leads, is that okay with you?" Walker asked Alex who replied “That sounds good to me. So what did you have in mind for our first date?"

Walker pulled Alex close to kiss her but when he noticed that she visibly flinched away from him Walker released his grip on Alex and again questioned her “Alex I did stop him from hurting you, didn't I?" C.D. who had just entered the room said “Of course you did Walker, there's no way you would have let an animal like LaRue hurt our Alex. Isn't that right Alex?"

Trivette who had entered the room behind C.D. asked them “What this I heard about the two of you going on a date?" Alex told him “Trivette, please I just got Walker to agree to a date. Don't go messing things up by asking Walker where he's taking me, that's between Walker and I."

Walker then said “If you must know Trivette we're going to have a nice dinner at LaMancha's on Saturday night. Does that meet with your approval Trivette?" Trivette teasingly said “Yes it does, who's been teaching you how to treat a woman right by the way?" C.D. butted in “Everything that Cordell knows about treating a woman right I taught him. I'm a real Casanova at heart."

Still teasing Trivette joked " Alex, at least let me give Walker some pointers before your big date with him otherwise you'll find yourself going out to dinner with a cowboy who thinks romancing a woman means going to C.D.'s and putting money in the jukebox for music. Then if you're really lucky Walker will ask you to dance with him, mind you though it will be just that one dance and then back to the booth."

Alex replied “I’ll take my chances, see you Walker." Alex left the room and as C.D. and Trivette started talking to Walker about how he had saved Alex from LaRue yet again. Walker himself began to wonder why Alex had never agreed that he had saved her from LaRue at the ranch. After a great deal of joking about Walker's and Alex's big date C.D. and Trivette left. Walker called up Alex who had gone home to her apartment and when she answered the phone he asked her "Alex did I or did I not I stop LaRue from hurting you? I mean when I got back to the ranch you were clothed and LaRue was just starting out, right?"

Alex sadly replied “You did your best Walker, now if you don't mind I'm really tired and I'm going to get some rest."  Walker getting alarmed again questioned Alex "Alex did LaRue hurt you at my ranch? You have to give me an honest answer."

Alex pleaded with him “Walker for both of our sake's don't ask me that question ever again. LaRue is in jail where he belongs and I never want to think about him again. Please, I'm begging you drop it. Besides I'll be fine in no time at all." Walker understanding that Alex was in a very fragile emotional state said “Okay lady but if you ever need to talk to anyone about what happened I will listen to you and I'll do my best to help you. You know that, don't you?"

“Yes I do but right now all I want to do is to get some rest, see you around cowboy." Alex replied then hung up the phone. Walker knew then that he hadn't stopped LaRue from hurting Alex but for now he would do as she asked and not bring it up again.

Chapter Five

It was now several months later, Walker and Alex had gone out on several dates which both of them seemed to enjoy but on the last one Alex had become queasy at the restaurant. When Walker wanted to take her to the hospital to see what was wrong with her Alex refused saying that most likely she had simply eaten something that hadn't set well with her stomach. Walker accepted the answer and was driving Alex home when she told him “Walker, I'm feeling a lot better. I'm sorry that I ruined your evening."

“Well Alex since it's still early in the evening would you be interested in coming out to the ranch with me? It's been awhile since you've ridden Cookie. If you want to you can stay over and I'll drive you back to your apartment first thing in the morning. What do you say lady?" Walker asked Alex who questioned “Which bedroom would I be sleeping in?"

“Well you have your pick of the guest bedrooms or even better yet you can share my bed with me. You do know that you should spend the night with me in my bed to make up for the dinner that I didn't get to eat." Walker teased Alex but she took it the wrong way and said to him "Great just great, you're either questioning my morals by calling me a slut or you're asking me to sleep with you to pay you back for the money that you spent on the dinner that you didn't get to eat. Now which is it?" When Walker didn't reply Alex told him "Just stop the truck, I'll hitch-hike back to my apartment because there is no way I'm having sex with you to pay you back for the money you spent on my dinner. And for the last time Cordell John Walker, I am not a slut."

Walker pulled to the side of the road shut the truck off then facing Alex told her “Alex I was not questioning your morals nor calling you a slut. My remark about you sleeping with me was way out of line. I'm sorry, it won't happen again. Now let's start over, do you want me to take you home or do you want to ride Cookie first?"

Alex softly replied “I would like to ride Cookie then I would like to spend the night at your ranch in an upstairs guest bedroom if you don't mind. For some reason I can't stand the thought of returning to my empty apartment tonight and being all by myself." Walker started the truck back up as he told her “Okay."

The next morning Alex was again sick and Walker took Alex to see her doctor against her objections. After some routine tests Dr. Stine told Alex to take it easy and that she would call her later on that day to tell Alex the results of the tests. When Dr. Stine called Alex's office she was in court so she told the secretary that Alex was to call her back as soon as possible. When Alex was coming back from court she ran into Walker who insisted on going into her office with her because she looked sick to him. When Alex called up Dr. Stine she was informed that she was pregnant. A shocked Alex hung up the phone while turning as white as a ghost.

“Alex, what's the matter? What's wrong with you? Do you have cancer or something?" Walker questioned Alex who answered him “I’m pregnant." Walker then asked her “Are you going to keep it? I mean you are going to have an abortion, aren't you?"

“Walker please not right now. I need time to think about everything." Alex objected but Walker pointed out “Alex if you're going to abort that animal's spawn you have to do it soon before you get too far along. Otherwise you'll be raising LaRue's offspring and you don't want to do that, do you?"

Alex after taking a deep breath said “No I guess that I don't. I'll call tomorrow and arrange to have it taken care of, happy?" Walker nodded okay and then left Alex's office. Alex was at the clinic filling out the paperwork to have the abortion when an image of a newborn baby flashed in front of her eyes. Alex then tore up the paperwork and told the nurse “I’m sorry that I wasted your time but I can't do this."

The nurse assured Alex “It happens from time to time. If you don't mind me helping you, there's a new maternity doctor that I know of, a Dr. Bates. She's just opened an office down the block from us and from what I heard she's accepting new patients. Here's her number if you want to make an appointment to see her." Alex took Dr. Bates number and went back to her office. After talking to Dr. Bates Alex wrote down in her notebook what time her appointment was and what it was for.

Later on that day D.A. Clark who was Alex's boss stopped in her office while she was in court and read what she had written down. When Alex returned to her office Clark jumped on her “Cahill if you're having a baby without being married you're fired because I won't have anyone working for me who sleeps around. How many men have you been sleeping with anyway? Do you even know who the father is? I'll bet that you don't because anyone who dresses like a slut like you do acts like one too."

Walker who had just entered Alex's office grabbed Clark then slammed him against the wall as he told him “You are never ever to talk to her like that again, understand?" Clark had the gall to ask “What’s it to you if I call a slut a slut?" Walker pressed his forearm against Clark's throat until he started choking then told him “Miss Cahill is not a slut and you will not refer to her as one. The baby that Alex is carrying happens to be mine. Now if you like breathing you will leave this office before I decide to squash you like the cockroach that you are."

After Clark left Alex's office Walker questioned her “How did he know that you were pregnant?"

“Clark looked in my notebook and saw that I had an appointment with Dr. Bates. Walker I just couldn't have an abortion, I just couldn't." Alex said as she wiped her tears away. Taking her into his arms Walker told her “It will be okay. Alex we'll get married and that way your baby will have my last name and no one will have to know that it has LaRue for a father."

Alex questioned him “Why would you do that Walker? Is it because you blame yourself for what happened to me? What about having kids of your own some day?" Walker replied “Alex one thing at a time okay? We'll get married and after the baby is born we can quietly get a divorce. It makes sense to do it this way."

“Where would I live while I'm married to you? My place or the ranch?" Alex again questioned Walker who answered "The ranch, you can have the downstairs guest bedroom. Now do you want a wedding or do you want to get married by a justice of the peace?"

“Walker I can't sleep in the downstairs guest bedroom, that's where I was when LaRue... well you know what happened then. If I agree to marry you can I have one of the upstairs bedrooms?" Alex questioned Walker who told her “I’m sorry, I wasn't thinking, of course you can have an upstairs bedroom after we get married. When do you want to get married by the way?"

“We can go to Las Vegas and get it over and done with, if that's okay with you?" Alex suggested to Walker and that's what they did.

Chapter Six

After Walker and Alex returned from Las Vegas they stopped in C.D.'s and seeing Trivette was there too Walker said to Alex “I’m going to tell them that we got married last night, you wait here." Alex objected “No we have to tell them together unless you plan to tell them you only married me because I'm pregnant and you think the father is LaRue."

Walker nodded okay and they went to the bar where Trivette was sitting talking to C.D. who asked them “So how did your date go last night? It must have been pretty good if you two didn't stop in here afterwards."

Trivette teased "Yeah Walker did you finally come to your senses and take Alex to your ranch and declare your undying love for her?" Walker answered “You could say that Trivette, Alex and I went to Las Vegas last night and got married."

Both C.D. and Trivette thinking that Walker was joking started laughing but cut it short when Alex pulled out the marriage certificate and showed it to them. After looking it over Trivette and C.D. both said that they glad about it and that they didn't think Walker would ever come to his senses when it came to Alex. After they congratulated both Alex and Walker C.D. decided that a champagne toast was in order and brought out the champagne along with some glasses to drink it in. Alex told him “None for me thanks." C.D. looked at Trivette who took the hint and asked her “Alex are you going to have a baby?"

Walker replied “Yes she is. Trivette you and I had better get to Ranger headquarters." Trivette left with Walker. C.D. turned to Alex and asked her “LaRue hurt you at the ranch that day, didn't he? That's why Walker married you to give that animal's offspring a name."

Getting really upset Alex replied “If you want to know why Walker married me go ask him. As for this baby that I'm carrying, I'll thank you to never ever refer to it as that animal's offspring, I am going to have this baby but more importantly than that I'm going to be raising it with a lot of love as any decent mother would do. If you can't keep the fact that this is my baby in your mind I will have to say goodbye to you, I won't have people saying unkind things to my baby. C.D. this is an innocent little baby, please remember that in the future." C.D. came around the bar as he assured Alex "I'm sorry Alex, you're right. Now let me try again, after the baby is born will you let me act like a grandfather to it?"

“I’d like that C.D. and the first thing you can do as the grandfather is to give me a ride to work, we rode here in Walker's truck and I don't have a ride to work." Alex asked of C.D. who did exactly that.

As they were riding to Ranger headquarters Trivette questioned “LaRue assaulted Alex, didn't he? That's why you married her, to give the baby a name." Walker replied “Yes, now drop it." Trivette turned his attention to the traffic.

That evening Walker took Alex to her apartment to get started on her moving into the ranch. As Alex was packing some clothes she asked him "Walker how much storage space do you have at the ranch?" Puzzled by the question Walker said “There’s a couple of unused stalls in the barn and I have an unused cabin that's empty, why?"

“Because I'm going to need a place to store my furniture in until after the baby gets here and you divorce me. I can't afford to pay the rent on this place if I'm going to take a maternity leave before the baby is born." Alex explained.

“You can take your clothes and stuff like that to the ranch and Trivette and I will put your furniture in my empty cabin until you need it again." Walker told Alex who replied “Okay, that sounds good to me."

They did as Walker had suggested and to everyone but C.D. and Trivette it appeared that Walker and Alex were a happily married couple expecting their first child. About five months later Alex seemed to becoming depressed about things so Walker in an effort to perk up her spirits suggested that they could out to a fancy restaurant for dinner. Alex was waiting in her office for Walker to pick her up and was watching the news when it was revealed that a defendant had hired a Gordon Cahill to be his lawyer. Walker looked at Alex who said “My god Hayes hired my father. Walker if you don't mind can we go home? Right now I don't much feel like eating out." Walker nodded okay and they went home to the ranch.

Alex's father turned out to still have his drinking problem, one evening they met Gordon at the restaurant where he was well on his way to getting drunk. Alex introduced Walker to Gordon “Dad this is Cordell Walker, Walker this is my father." After they shook hands Gordon demanded “Are you the father of my grandchild sir?"

“Alex and I are married." Walker replied and Gordon asked him if he wanted a drink which Walker refused, they got Gordon to leave the restaurant but they were shot at in the parking lot by Hayes' men because Gordon wasn't defending him anymore. Walker insisted that Gordon stay at his ranch for his own sake and he did. One evening Gordon slipped away and got drunk at a bar. When Walker and Alex found Gordon and took him out to the parking lot Gordon backhanded Alex. In a bout of remorse Gordon begged Alex's forgiveness and vowed that he would stop drinking. In the downstairs guest bedroom Alex fell asleep in the chair besides Gordon’s bed and when Walker covered her with a blanket Gordon told Walker that Alex thought the world of him, Walker. Walker replied that he thought the world of Alex too. Gordon then said “If that's the case why are you so cold to her then? You act like you don't want to be married to my daughter at all. She's carrying your baby, isn't she?"

Alex stirred then and told her father “Dad don't, Walker is a very good man and I won't have you question how he acts towards me."

“Alex he is the father, isn't he?" Gordon questioned Alex who replied as she got up from the chair “Dad your grandchild will have the last name of Walker and that's all you need to know. Now I'm going to bed, see you tomorrow." Gordon started to say something to Walker about Alex and the baby but thought better of it when Walker glared at him.

After Hayes' men tried to get Gordon at Walker's Gordon put a plan into place that lured Hayes into trying to have him killed out in open with Gordon wearing a mike. After that was successful Gordon went into rehab. As Walker was driving him there Gordon said “Now I know that Alex told me to butt out but even I can tell that my daughter loves you. If you are the father you should start acting like it. If you aren't the father and married my daughter to give my grandchild a name I thank you."

When Walker didn't reply Gordon sighed but didn't say another word about the subject.

Chapter Seven

When Walker returned from dropping Gordon off Alex was still awake so he told her “Alex go to bed, you need your rest in your condition." Alex replied “Walker we really need to talk about what happened that night when you were protecting me from LaRue. I've put it off long enough but it's time to tell you what happened if you still don't remember that night. Now when I asked you in the hospital what you remembered from that night and the next day you said that you remembered drinking the night before and then being staked out by LaRue the next day. I have to ask you this; has any of your memory from that night returned?"

  Walker answered " No it hasn't, why?" Alex then said " That night you have several beers in the barn and then when you came into the house you offered me a beer and when I turned you down you asked me was I pregnant and if I was who was the father, you or Dalton. Then you had at least another beer that I know of."

“Alex does that have to do with the fact that I let LaRue hurt you? If I had protected you back then you wouldn't be pregnant now and we wouldn't be married in name only, would we?'" Walker questioned Alex who replied "Maybe, maybe not."

Walker tried again “Alex it's late and I have to be at work tomorrow, is there any point to this conversation? Because if there isn't I'm turning in."

“Walker, when you asked whether or not I was pregnant we sort of got into a fight because of the ignorant way you asked me that. After the fight I told you that I would be arranging protection for myself through the D.A.'s office because there was no way I was going to keep staying at your house, not after you all but called me a slut. I went into the downstairs bedroom that I was staying in but about a half an hour later you knocked on the door. After I let you in I questioned whether or not you were going to call more unkind names. You told me that you weren't and that you wanted to show me how sorry you were about more or less implying that I was a slut who threw herself at you and Dalton, which by the way I didn't." Alex explained to Walker who said to her “Alex will you please get to the point all ready?"

Alex responded "The point is Walker that there's a chance that the baby I'm carrying could be yours. After you said that you were sorry you kissed me and well one thing led to another. You were just so forceful that night I couldn't have stopped if you I wanted to but let me tell you the way you were with me that night there was no way I would have tried to stop you."

Walker held up his hand as he angrily told her “Don’t you dare say that I could be the father, that I had my way with you. I know that you desperately want your baby to have a decent father but the fact remains that your child was fathered by Victor LaRue when he raped you in my downstairs guest bedroom." Seeing that Alex was getting upset Walker softened his tone as he added "Alex, I married you to give your baby a last name but you can't start lying to me or yourself about the paternity of the baby; it's LaRue's. You know as well as I do that the one and only time we had sex was on that white-water rafting trip you dragged me on."

Alex tried again “Walker I am not lying to you, you have to believe me." Walker wasn't buying it as he replied "No I don't, Alex I am not the father of your baby and don't ever tell me that am I again. After the baby is born we'll quietly get divorced and get back to our lives the way that they were before all this happened."

“How much time will I have after the baby is born to get a place of my own again before you throw me out?" Alex questioned Walker who answered “Six months, that should give you enough time to get back on your feet and return to working at the D.A.'s office. You can tell your father whatever you feel is best about me and the baby, okay?"

“No it's not okay but since you think I'm lying to you it will have to do." Alex told Walker and then headed to her bedroom not bothering to hide her tears. Catching up to her in the hallway Walker said “Alex I didn't mean to hurt you but the past can't be changed no matter how much you want it to be different."

Alex looked at Walker for a minute then sadly answered “No Walker what can't be changed is the fact that I love you and you used me for sex twice, not once like you want to think. The first time was on that white-water rafting trip and as soon as we came back from it you acted like nothing had happened between us. Then this last time as soon as you had your satisfaction you got up from the bed and left the room without a word to me. The facts are the facts Walker but since you don't want to deal with your feelings for me I won't tell you again that there's a chance that you could be the father. After the baby gets here I'll have my father arrange the divorce. Just promise me one thing Walker, that you never tell this baby that you think LaRue is it's father. If you want to say that you're not the father that's your choice but I don't want you or anyone else telling my child that it was conceived during a rape."

Walker vowed “You have my word that I will never tell your child that it was fathered by LaRue. I will act as the child's father until you meet someone that you love enough to marry and who will be a good father to your baby, okay?" Alex replied "I’ve met him and he doesn't care for me at all. Walker you've just made it very clear to me that you'll never love me. However be that as it may, I would like you to act like the baby's father because there will never be a man in my life other than you." When Walker looked like he was getting upset Alex told him “I can't help how I feel anymore than you can Walker but I won't bring it up again, you have my word. Goodnight Cordell Walker." Alex went into her room and shut the door.

Chapter Eight

Alex was now about a week from her due date and was becoming more depressed so at work Walker suggested to Trivette "Hey Trivette why don't you and C.D. stop by the ranch to see Alex, she could use the company."

“C.D. said the other night that some of his staff had collected some baby things for Alex, I'll just stop by there after work and pick C.D. up along with the baby things then head to the ranch. So how is Alex doing anyhow? I haven't heard from her since D.A. Clark more or less forced her to take an early maternity leave." Trivette answered Walker who questioned “What are you talking about Trivette? Alex never said anything to me about Clark forcing her to take maternity leave early. Alex took it early because she wanted to."

“Walker, why would Alex tell you about Clark forcing her to take maternity leave early? She knows that you really didn't care all that much about her to begin with and now that she's having LaRue's baby you care even less about how Alex is doing." Trivette said.

“Let me guess Alex told her that there was a possibility that this baby could be mine? Trivette Alex can't keep lying to herself about the baby's paternity. The fact is that I let LaRue hurt her at my ranch and now she's giving birth to his offspring, not mine." Walker forcefully objected causing Trivette to tell him "Take it easy Walker, Alex has told me no such thing. All Alex has told me is that she loves the baby that she is carrying because it's her baby and no one else's. Walker you know that if you and Alex had ever slept together she would never tell anyone about it because she has always respected the fact that you value your privacy."

“What time will you and C.D. be at the ranch?" Walker asked changing the subject. Realizing that Walker wasn't about to talk about whether or not he had slept with Alex Trivette decided to ask him anyway "Walker, is there a possibility that you fathered Alex's baby? I think that the two of you did a lot more than just take a white-water rafting trip together. So if it happened that time when you two were with other people what was to prevent it from happening again when you two were at your ranch all alone together?"

By now mad Walker snapped “I did not father Alex's baby and you and Alex had better get that through your heads." After calming down Walker added “Alex is not the type of woman you have an affair with, she's the kind that you marry."

“Okay Walker, I get the idea. Tell Alex that C.D. and I will be at the ranch around seven, is that okay?" Trivette asked Walker who answered “That’s fine; I'll take Amigo for a ride then." After Walker left Trivette said to himself 'That's your problem Walker, you feel guilty about sleeping with Alex and then letting that animal hurt her. I hope you come to your senses before it's too late.'

At the ranch C.D. showed Alex the things that his staff had collected for her baby and an emotional Alex said “Thank you so much C.D., I don't know what I would do without yours or Trivette's support. You're the only ones who want to help me and my baby." C.D. pulled Alex into a hug as he told “Jimmy and I will always be here for you and the baby. What about Cordell he's helping you, isn't he?"

Alex replied “Walker would probably like it if my baby and I died during child birth." Trivette objected “Alex you know that's not true, Walker's not like that."

“Do I Jimmy? When Walker married me to give the baby a name he was so kind and considerate but ever since I started showing Walker can't wait until the baby is born so that he can throw the two of us out on the street, never mind the fact that I won't be able to support my baby." Alex answered Trivette who asked her “Alex, why won't you be able to support your baby? You're returning to the D.A.'s office, aren't you?"

“Not if Clark has his way but that doesn't matter because no matter what I have to do I will find a way to support my baby and myself. I won't rely on anyone to help me either." Alex vowed to them then changing the subject said “C.D. and Jimmy the sonogram showed that I was having a boy, would you two mind if I named my baby after you? I want to call him James Charles David Cahill."

“Don’t you mean James Charles David Walker?" C.D. questioned Alex who replied “No the baby's last name will be Cahill so that Walker can forget about ever having married me. What he did was noble and kind but he doesn't need a child having his last name that he thinks was fathered by LaRue, Walker feels guilty enough as it is."

Trivette nodded okay while C.D. asked "What do you mean thinks was fathered by LaRue? Could it be anyone else's Alex?" Trivette jumped in and said “C.D. how about helping me bring in the bassinet that we brought for the baby?" Realizing that Trivette wanted the subject dropped C.D. went with him and helped bring in the bassinet. They visited for awhile longer and then left the ranch. When Walker got home he found Alex laying on the couch clutching a baby blanket sound asleep. Walker stood there looking at Alex while wishing that the baby was really his instead of LaRue's whom he believed that it was because he still didn't remember the night that he and Alex had had.

Walker knelt down besides Alex and ran his hand through her hair. Alex turned into his hand as she mumbled “Oh Walker, I love you so much." Walker dropped his hand as he told her “Come on Alex, wake up." Alex stirred and tried to get up from the couch but couldn't so she asked him “Could you please give me a hand up?" Walker helped Alex up and then started to lock up when Alex grabbed her side as she moaned in pain.

“What’s the matter?" Walker questioned Alex as he tried to sit her back down on the couch. Alex told him “Not here, I need to be on a bed or a flat surface, I think I’m in labor."

  Walker picked up Alex up as he told her “I’ll take you up to your room then call an ambulance, you hang in there." Grimacing from the pain Alex said “No, the downstairs guest bedroom is closer, put me in there then call that ambulance, my water just broke."

Walker replied as he placed her on the bed “I know. Relax Alex, I've delivered babies before." Moaning from the pain Alex told him “I think you're going to deliver another one and real soon, I think the baby is coming out now."

Walker called the ambulance then checked on Alex and he could see the baby's head so he got Alex in position to deliver the baby which he did. Walker was wiping the baby off as he asked Alex “Do you know what you're going to call him? He looks like you by the way."

  Taking the baby Alex cooed at it her son then said to Walker “James Charles David Cahill, you don't need my baby having the last name of Walker, you feel too guilty as it is." Before Walker could say anything else the ambulance arrived and they took Alex and the baby to the hospital.

Chapter Nine

Several months later Walker entered his home to find C.D. and Trivette there watching Alex's son whom she called J.C. so Walker asked them “Where’s Alex at? Isn't junior a little too young for her to have someone baby-sit him?" Trivette answered while patting the baby on the shoulder “Alex has an interview with a high-powered law firm to see about a job there. C.D. agreed to watch his namesake then dragged me into coming out here to help him."

Walker replied "He's your namesake too Trivette. What's the law firm that Alex is interviewing with anyhow?" C.D. answered this time “Blawnox, Pitcairn and Helmsley, you know that law firm that specializes in getting rich criminals off? Walker can't you let Alex and J.C. stay here a little longer? At least let her stay here at the ranch until D.A. Clark comes to his senses and lets Alex rejoin the D.A.'s office. Alex doesn't want to work for a law firm like one that but she does have to support herself and little J.C., no one else is going to support them. What do you say Cordell, how about it?"

"C.D., Alex knows that she that she and the baby can stay here a couple more months, I told her that I would give her six months to get her life back in order." Walker said to C.D. stunning both him and Trivette who practically yelled at Walker “You told Alex that you were booting her and her baby out six months after the baby was born, what kind of man are you?"

Walker snapped “I married Alex to give her baby a last name but she decided that it wasn't good enough for her. What kind of woman that does make Alex?" Trivette softly replied “The kind that's in love with the most stubborn man that I ever met, that's what kind of woman Alex is." Then Trivette handed J.C. to Walker and told him “Here you change Alex's son, C.D. and I have to be going now."

“Oh no you two don't, you agreed to watch him and you're going to until Alex gets back here." Walker objected so C.D. told him “Okay Walker we'll stay on the condition that you change his diapers, he really does make a mess in them."

Grumbling Walker took J.C. to the changing table and started to change him but stopped when he noticed that the baby had a birth mark. C.D. seeing Walker stop changing the baby teased him "What's the matter Cordell don't you know how to change a baby?"

Walker quickly finished changing the baby then told them “You know what I can take care of J.C. until Alex gets back." Trivette looked at C.D. who shrugged his shoulders then said “Okay. Come on Trivette let's go."

As they were leaving Alex entered the house and C.D. asked her “Hon when are you starting at the law firm?" Alex took her son from Walker as she answered “I’m not, they offered me the world but I'm not cut out to be a defense attorney." Walker broke in “Then how do you plan to support yourself and J.C.?"

Alex explained “After my meeting at Blawnox, Pitcairn and Helmsley I went to D.A. Clark and told him that I wanted my job back. Even though he can't stand me my replacement has been losing cases that he should have won so I now work for the D.A.'s office again. Thanks for watching him you guys." C.D. answered for Trivette and himself “It was our pleasure Alex, if you ever want him watched again you just let us know and we'll be glad to watch him."

“That won't be anytime soon, he's going to be in the daycare at the courthouse while I'm at work and when I'm not J.C. will be with me." Alex told C.D. and Trivette who fussed over their namesake then left. After they were gone Alex turned to Walker and told him “I should have enough money saved up to get myself a place in a month, is that soon enough for you?"

Walker replied “Alex you're not taking him and moving anywhere, he belongs here with us." Puzzled by Walker's abrupt change in attitude concerning her and J. C. Alex questioned him "Since when Walker? I know that you want us gone because my son reminds you that you failed at something and you don't like that one little bit. But guess what Walker, everyone fails now and again. It's not the end of the world."

“Alex about that night, did we or did we not have sex? I need to know because if we did he's my son." Walker stated but Alex rebuffed him “No you don't need to know about that night, whether or not we had sex then doesn't matter anymore. What matters is that J.C. is my son and my son alone, goodnight Walker."

Walker said “He has my birthmark Alex. He's my son and you aren't taking him to live anywhere else." When Alex glared at Walker he softened his tone and told her “Alex, a child needs two parents who live together, you need to stay here with me for his sake. We'll raise him together."

Alex snapped “Walker when I told you months ago there was a possibility that he could be yours you told me to stop lying to you. So as far as I'm concerned that's when you gave up your right to be his father. J.C. is my son and I won't stay here with you just because all of a sudden for some unknown reason you decide that you want to claim him. A child needs his parents together only if the both of them want to be together and you don't want me around Walker. You and I both know that's the god's honest truth."

“Alex when I changed J.C.'s diaper I noticed that he had a birthmark on his... you know what." Walker tried to explain to Alex but she jumped in “I know about the birthmark Walker, the doctor told me that it hereditary and that his father most likely had one in the same place. It changes nothing."

“But it does. Alex, I have the exact same birthmark in the exact same place. J.C. is my son, not LaRue's." Walker told Alex who told him “So what difference does that make? You didn't want him before and you're not getting him now just because of a birthmark."

Walker snapped “I’ll sue for custody of him." Alex replied “Let me see, at first you didn't want anything to do with him now you want to take him from me? You're really something else Walker."

Shaking his head Walker told her “I don't want to take him from you but I think that I have the right to get to know my son." Alex headed for the steps as threw back over her shoulder “You can get to know him before we move out, after that we'll see."

Walker followed Alex into her bedroom and after she had laid J.C. down in the crib he asked her “Alex do you want me to show you that my son and I have the same birthmark? I will if that's what I have to do to prove to you that he's mine."

Alex replied “I’ve seen your birthmark before, remember? Oh wait a minute you said that you didn't remember that night then called me a liar when I tried to tell you about it." Walker held up his hand and said "Alex can we please just stop this fighting, I'm sorry that I called you a liar but I want to be a part of my son's life. Can't you at least let me see J.C. every now and then after you move out? Although I would rather the two of you stay here with me."

“Walker I don't want to fight with you anymore about this but we have to get this straightened out, if I stay here what happens if you meet a woman that you want to marry and have children with? Where will my son and I go then? I need to be in a secure and loving home with him." Alex questioned Walker who answered “How about for now we take care of our son and let the future take care of itself? Please stay for his sake."

Alex said “We need to work this out, if you find someone you have to tell me and give me enough time to get my own place." Walker questioned her “What about you Alex, will you tell me if you fall for someone?"

“I’ve told you before, I love you Walker and that's not going to change, ever. However right now we have to do what's best for J.C. so I guess that means we'll stay here for the time being. Now if you don't mind I'm really tired." Alex told Walker who walked over to the crib looked at J.C. then kissed him on the cheek as he said “Goodnight son." Walker then left Alex's room.

Chapter Ten

Alex walked into C.D.'s with her son J.C. in a stroller and asked him “Have you seen Walker? He was supposed to meet me here." C.D. answered as he took J.C. from Alex “Trivette called from Ranger headquarters a little while ago and said that he and Walker were running a little late. They'll be here soon, in the meantime why don't you go sit at a booth?" Alex went over to a booth and sat in it but J.C. started fussing so Alex asked “C.D. J.C. wants fed, can I use your backroom?"

“Go ahead, it's empty." C.D. told Alex so she went and fed her son in C.D.'s backroom. A little while later Walker and Trivette came in, Walker asked “Is Alex here? She said for me to meet her here." C.D. replied “In the backroom feeding J.C. why don't you just go in there and see what Alex wants?"

Walker entered the room without knocking to find his son being breastfed. Looking up and spotting Walker there Alex hastily put a towel over J.C. and herself as she asked “Don’t you know how to knock?"

Walker replied "No I don't, Alex what is it that you wanted to talk with me about? Have you met someone else?" J.C. took that moment to knock the towel off so Alex switched him to the other side as Walker picked up the towel and placed it back over J. C. and Alex's breast that he was nursing at. Alex told Walker “No I haven't found anyone else and no I have no intention of ever looking for anyone else. What I wanted to talk with you about was; can I start changing the extra upstairs bedroom into a nursery?"

“I’ll do that myself. You make me a list of the things that our son will need in his bedroom and I'll get them, okay?" Walker volunteered. Holding J.C. up to her shoulder Alex said “Okay, sounds good to me." Alex patted J.C. on the back until he burped then she handed him to Walker as she redid her blouse.

They then went to the booth Alex had been sitting at and were joined by C.D. and Trivette who fussed over the baby. Alex turned to Walker and told him as she handed him a piece of paper “Here I think you should see this." Walker took the paper and found out that it was J.C.'s birth certificate and that it had him, Walker listed as the father. Trivette being nosey asked “What’s that you're looking at Walker?"

“If you must know my son's birth certificate." Walker replied as Trivette took it from Walker and read it aloud “The child's full name is James Charles David Walker and the father's name is Cordell John Walker and last but not least the mother's name is Alexandra Erin Cahill-Walker. Hey Walker does this mean that you're going to act like J.C.'s father even though you're really not his father?"

What matters is that our name sake is Alex's son and Walker let him have his last name." Walker told them “What matters is that J.C. is my son in every sense of the word. Now if you two don't mind I think my son needs to go home and take a nap."

Walker took Alex to her car and placed J.C. in his car seat then asked “Alex on the birth certificate you have the name Cahill-Walker, why?" Alex replied “Because we're married, why else?" Walker nodded okay and stepped back as Alex got in her car. Walker then got into his truck and they went home.

That evening Walker was watching J.C. as he slept in the bassinet and said “He’s the best thing that ever happened to me and I can't remember making him. Alex just how forceful was I that night? You said that I had been drinking, did I force myself on you?"

Alex replied “Yes you had been drinking Walker but no you didn't force yourself on me. After you came into the bedroom and we had words you pulled me into a kiss that left me breathless then we removed each other clothes and... well then was when I discovered that you had a birthmark by seeing it up close at it were."

“But Alex if you did that how did you end up pregnant? I mean... well I ..huhm...Alex what else happened." Walker questioned while beginning to redden. Taking pity on him Alex answered “Well you returned the favor and by the time you were done doing that you were more than ready to go again and believe me you really were ready to go again. Those beers didn't affect your stamina one little bit. Anyhow after it was over you got up from the bed and left the room without a word to me."

“What happened the next day? I think you need to tell someone and it should be me because I let it happen." Walker told Alex who explained “The next morning I woke up to what I thought was you on top of me. When I opened my eyes I realized that it was LaRue and that my mouth was gagged. He then finished up and said that he would have some more fun with me later. LaRue then placed a rag over my nose and I passed out. When I came to again I was fully clothed but chained spread eagle to the bed, you came bursting into the room then. LaRue knocked you out and then taunted me with the fact that he was going to kill the man that I loved, you. LaRue released my gag and I begged him not to kill you but he kicked you several times in the ribs then regagged me. After that he told me that he would be back after he killed you. When LaRue got back he played that music while telling me that I had better be good because the better that I was the longer that I lived. You came in then and took care of him."

Walker took Alex who was by now in tears into his arms and told her “I’m sorry that you had to go through that." Alex removed herself from Walker's arms then asked him “Walker after we made love that night why did you leave me? What did I do that was so wrong that made you treat me like that?"

“Alex, it was wrong of me to treat you that way. You are a beautiful classy woman, one that deserves to be treated respectfully, not one that I should have an affair with. If I were to ever get married it would be to a woman like you." Walker explained to Alex who pointed out " Walker you are married me, or at least in name only."

“I know that Alex and I was thinking that maybe we could start getting to know each other, after all we have a son to raise." Walker suggested to Alex who answered “I have no plans to have sex with you just because we have a son together. However if you're interested in us building a lasting relationship I'm all for that. So what do you say Cowboy, do you want to start dating again?"

Walker pulled Alex close and told her “Yes and by the way Alex if we get together again it will be lovemaking not sex." Alex questioned “You think so Romeo?" Before Walker could answer J.C. started crying so Alex said " We can finish this talk another day, our son needs us now."

I don't own Walker Texas Ranger, C.B.S. and other entities do.