By Pam G
….Park City, Utah…
After returning from the incident with the Trammel brothers, Walker and his party rented three cabins. They were rugged but clean, each had a fire place and bathroom, and a combined patio and deck they used together at mealtimes. With twin beds in each room, Trent and Carlos had one cabin. Walker another, which Trivette could share when he got out of hospital. Alex took the third.
Trivette continued to recover well, and Walker was relieved. It had been difficult to leave his partner on the mountain with broken ribs and a punctured lung, but he was confident Carlos would do whatever was necessary to get Trivette to safety. Sandoval had been outstanding too, running some considerable distance to bring back a chopper and medical help.
They had no choice but to keep going, and he knew Trivette wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Rescuing Alex from the hideous rednecks who had kidnapped her was the absolute priority. Walker had pushed himself and Trent to the limit to catch up before they had harmed her. They had got there just in time too. Walker could still feel the shock to his system as he saw his fiancée strung up about to be whipped. She had been petrified, and later he would admit he had felt her terror too.
After the initial bout of tears she seemed to deal with the aftermath of the ordeal very well. But just as Walker started to relax after the incident, they all began to notice her overplayed efforts to be confident and independent.
At first they were puzzled, and each of the men tried their best to be helpful. But this had the opposite effect and uncharacteristically, Alex had somehow taken offense. Now they were all wary and unsure.
….two days later …..
Trent stepped out on the patio and looked about. It was a glorious morning. The scenery highlighted by brilliant clear blue skies and the temperature just touching seventy degrees. It wasn’t too hot, or too cold. It was perfect. Trent nodded to his friend.
Carlos smiled. “Thought it was us city folks who slept in late.”
Trent took a seat next to him. “I’m guilty. Must be the change of air.” His voice
lowered. “How is it today?” He watched as Sandoval gave a small shake of his head.
“Worse. I’m staying here - out the way.”
Trent sighed and decided talk to Walker at the first available opportunity. Alex
needed help. He was worried about her. He was worried for her! But, before he could make a move, their heads raised at the sound of a heated voice.
“WALKER! You’re getting under my feet! Take the tray out.”
They watched as Walker made his way to them and they knew his impassive face belied his concern for his wife to be.
“Morning,” came the quiet voice.
They replied jointly. “Morning, Walker.” A strained pause followed.
Trent was glad he didn’t have to worry about bringing up the subject as the Ranger preempted him by sitting to address them. “I’d like for you to go out. If you wouldn’t mind.”
Trent rushed to let him know they would do whatever he wanted. “Yeah, you got it, if you think it’ll help.”
“Things will come to a head today. It’d be better for me to deal with it alone.”
Carlos wondered how Walker would know that, but then much of the man was a complete mystery to him. Fascinating, complex, awesome to watch in action; Cordell Walker was an enigma. At the same time, Carlos knew he would do anything for the Ranger, even give up his life for him. How such a man could have that kind of impact would appear strange to an outsider. But even though he had only known Walker just a few years, already he was fiercely loyal to him.
When the first hint of trouble occurred and the three Trammel brothers had squared against Walker in the saloon, he, Trent and Trivette had immediately rushed to back him. It was an honor to be there. It wouldn’t have mattered if they had been beaten up or worse; they all wanted to be at his side. In many ways Carlos envied Trivette for being Walker’s partner and the friendship that had developed between them. At the same time, however, he could imagine the strain of constantly measuring up to Walker’s exemplary standards and wondered whether he could do that on a daily basis. He was broken out of his reverie by Alex’s presence. He stood up with the others, thanked her for the toast and eggs and watched as she forced a smile. He couldn’t help but notice the dark rings round her eyes and the unusually disheveled hair.
“It’s a lovely day,” he ventured tentatively.
She looked about her for the first time and sat back, her reply delivered in a wistful manner. “Yes. Yes it is.”
Trent noticed her plate was empty. “Alex? Can I pass you something?”
She shook her head and poured out coffees for everyone.
Feeling as if he were on top of a volcano, Trent tried to be as normal as possible. “If you two don’t mind, Carlos and me’ll take off for the day - do a bit of canoeing.”
“Canoeing? Can we do something not so …y’know, wet?”
“Why, the city guy scared of getting his feet damp?” Trent joked.
“No, no! It’s not that, but, why don’t we just stay on dry land?”
Trent laughed. “Okay. We’ll see what else we can do. Will you guys say hi to Jimmy for us as we won’t see him?”
Walker looked up from eating and nodded. “Sure.”
“Well, say hi to him from me,” uttered Alex. “I won’t be able to see him today either.” Once again her sentences directed to Walker were delivered in an almost a confrontational tone. Yet again he refused to rise to her innuendoes.
“He’ll be disappointed. He likes your visits.” Everyone wanted to know what Alex was doing instead, but since Walker hadn’t asked they followed his lead.
Carlos ate faster. He wanted to be away from this. It brought back too many memories of his parents’ arguments.
“I’m going shopping.” Alex forced another smile and looked round in some sort of defiance. It was a second before Walker quietly offered another suggestion.
“Tell you what. Why don’t we go see Trivette, and then we’ll go together?”
“Since when have you liked shopping?”
Walker smiled genuinely. “I don’t mind the odd time.”
“The last thing I need is to drag you around as well.” Alex’s voice took on a harsh tone, “unless of course you think I can’t be trusted out on my own?”
With Trent and Carlos intent on their breakfast and Walker refusing to answer, the tension mounted.
Carlos nudged his friend in the ribs. “C’mon, we’d better get going. See you guys later.”
Walker nodded. “Have a good time.”
Alex waited until they had disappeared to their cabin. “You could easily have gone with them. I’m perfectly capable of being by myself you know.”
“Thanks,” Walker replied evenly, “I didn’t want to go.”
Alex stood and clattered the plates together. Walker’s hand trapped hers and he rubbed his fingers gently across her skin. “Just sit for a minute.” He saw no response. He added, “please.”
Walker watched as Alex stopped and sat upright on the edge of her seat, avoiding his eye contact. In fact she had hardly let him touch her after they had got back. It was strange, she had been fine until after they returned from seeing Trivette. She had insisted she would be all right, but despite her denial, he knew the minute he saw her the next morning something had happened.
The fact she was hurting stabbed him like a knife. How could he make it better, how could he protect her better? Walker admonished himself for the millionth time, if he had just gone with her to get the coffees. He should have thought after the incident in the bar! How could he have been so stupid? One way or another they would both need to deal with it. He sighed inwardly, wishing he were free to hold her close again.
“Alex. Relax. We have the whole day for ourselves.”
“I’ve told you. I’m going shopping. Alone.”
“Well, let’s just see Trivette first, together. Then you can take off. He’ll be disappointed if you don’t come.” Walker guessed appealing to Alex’s sense of duty and her love for their friend would clinch it, and he was right. Relieved he watched as she slowly nodded. She then pried her hand from his and stood up.
“I’ll clear this away and get ready.”
“I’ll do this, hon.” He started without waiting her acknowledgement and took the first load back to the cabin. When he came back, she had disappeared inside. Walker blew through his lips, his jaw dropping slightly. This would get more painful before it would get better, and he steeled himself for what may come.
“Hi, Jimmy.” Alex’s voice sounded forced.
Walker was pleased Trivette was looking so much better. “Hey pard. They got you out of bed at last?”
“Morning. Yeah. I don’t feel half-bad either. What’s goin’ on? What am I missing?”
Walker waited to see if Alex would reply, but she remained silent. He offered an answer. “Well, Trent and Carlos have gone out for the day. And after we’ve seen you, Alex is going shopping.”
His partner grinned, “don’t tell me you managed to get him shopping, Alex?” Normally this would be a great joke for them.
“Heaven forbid I should do that,” She retorted seriously. “I’m going by myself.”
Trivette frowned. “Oh.”
“In fact, I’m not putting it off any longer. Excuse me, Jimmy.” She bent down and gave the injured Ranger a kiss. “I’ll see you later. Bye.” The bye was delivered to both of them, but she left without either glancing at Walker or acknowledging him directly. As the door closed, Trivette looked quizzically for an explanation.
Sitting on the bed first, Walker grimaced before he spoke. “There’s something wrong. She’s not over what happened.” He shook his head, “ I can’t get through to her.”
“I’m sorry.” Trivette’s brow furrowed. “I did think there was something wrong yesterday. She was quiet. Y’know, the hospital would have staff she could talk to.”
“Good idea. But, I’m not sure she’s at that stage.”
“Maybe her confidence has been knocked. Maybe she’s trying to over compensate?”
Walker nodded. “I think you’ve hit the nail on the head.”
Both men were silent for a while.
“You going to follow her?”
His partner nodded. It’s not that big a place. I’ll let her get ahead first.”
“I wish I could do something to help.”
Walker smiled and patted him on the knee as he rose up. “You can. Get well! You want anything?”
“No, man. Just let me know how it goes, huh?”
Walker nodded and was gone. Leaning back into the chair, Trivette couldn’t help but become anxious about the woman who had become more a sister than a friend.
Easily tracking her down, Walker watched Alex disappear into several shops. Each time she reappeared, she seemed more agitated. Now he watched discretely as she slowly trudged back up the hill. Her feet seemed to become heavier with every step and when Alex did reach their cabins, she didn’t seem to realize. Perturbed, Walker watched as she went past them.
He pondered what to do for a minute, then couldn’t stand it any longer. Striding over purposely he swept her off her feet and carried her back. She lay like a rag doll in his arms - her head rolling to one side.
“Alex?” Walker peered intensely at her, “Alex!”
“I’m so tired. I …I can’t sleep.”
Walker shook his head once and glowered at her. “I knew it!” he responded, and carried her back to her cabin.
After a fumble with the keys, Walker managed to unlock the door and they went inside. He eyed her bed - still unmade, and gently placed her down on the edge. Taking off her shoes first, a few seconds later he removed her jeans, and slipped her light sweater over her head. With continuing silence Walker supported her head as he guided her down and the blankets were pulled up. She looked at him sullenly.
Despite her obvious hostility he knew deep down she didn’t mean it, and besides, it couldn’t alter his love for the blond attorney who had won his heart.
“Alex, listen to me.” Walker began as he lightly ran the palm of his hand over her forehead. “You’re still traumatized over what happened. It’s okay to feel like this. I want for you to try and sleep now. We’ll talk about it later.”
“I don’t want to talk.” Alex murmured, struggling to form words, “ I don’t want to …I’m tired of being a victim. So tired …”
“I know, I know,” he calmly interrupted. Now was not the time. She needed some sleep. “Sshh, just close your eyes for me, honey. Please.” Walker tenderly kissed her forehead savoring their closeness, and continued to smooth back her hair. He watched her eyelids become heavy and prayed she would feel better after some sleep. Gradually reducing the weight from his hand, Walker slid the blanket up another few inches with the other, eventually withdrawing his fingers altogether, and looked round to assess the room.
The fireplace hadn’t been used. He lit the papers under the logs and stayed until he was certain the fire would catch. Alex’s room didn’t get much benefit from direct sunlight, and very quickly became cold once nightfall came. He wanted to make sure she would be snug and warm for later.
Leaving her for a minute, the Ranger entered his room to make a cup of coffee. He salvaged yesterday’s sandwich from the small fridge and returned to the easy chair in front of the growing fire to eat his meal.
It was three hours before she finally stirred, but it had been a restless sleep in which she had tossed and turned. Walker arose several times to replace the blankets. Resting his head against hers and carefully placing his arm over her body, this seemed to have a calming effect. So Walker comforted her this way each time her distress started. Alex would nuzzle her nose into his cheek, and only then would she be calm again. If his love could just beat the fear inside her head! He wished she had slept longer, but calmly acknowledged her as she sat up in a daze.
“Hi!” Walker’s voice heightened just enough to reach Alex.
The cabin windows faced away from the setting mid-afternoon sun. The room’s brightness was now departed, except for the blaze of the fire in the grate.
“Hi.” Alex sat up trying to focus on Walker. “How long have I been asleep?”
Walker checked his watch, “Oh, erh, ‘bout three plus hours.”
Alex liked the ambiance that had been created. She responded well to it. Was it the flickering light thrown from the fire dancing in the hearth? Or was it peaceful because Walker was here? Inexplicably she grew irritated by the latter thought. She looked at him sitting comfortably, and although his look was impassive, she knew the concern was there.
“You don’t have to keep guard you know.”
Alex knew Walker wouldn’t feel obliged to speak just because she wouldn’t say anything. She would never win that kind of war with him. Alex felt a struggle emerging deep inside her. Why was she so defensive? The guy had risked his life to save her, they all had. And yet she felt annoyed with him! Or was it at herself?
Rising from the bed, Alex slipped on her gown and disappeared inside the bathroom. Walker used that moment to quickly make some tea, and when she returned he was bringing in two cups. He set one down near the other chair, then resumed his place again.
“I don’t deserve it.”
“You don’t? Why’s that?”
“You’d have made a good psychiatrist,” Alex replied fumbling with her fingers. “You know that?”
Sitting in the chair, she took a sip of tea and looked over to him. There was a sadness in his eyes she hadn’t seen before. It gave her a pang of guilt. “I’m sorry.”
“You know what for.” Alex sighed. “Don’t you get tired of all this?” She began. Walker just looked at her. “Coming to my rescue,” her hand waved dramatically in the air, “every five minutes, lets see what’s wrong with Alex now, so I can try and put it right? Isn’t this getting tiresome, because you know, I’m getting real tired of it myself.”
Walker broke his silence. “It wasn’t your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
Alex stopped abruptly as if his few chosen words had actually reached over and slapped her across the face. That was it wasn’t it? Her thoughts streamed past her. That’s what the trouble was - her trouble. She did feel she had done something wrong. Why had they picked her? Her, out of everyone there! Why? Had she flirted with Walker a bit too openly? Did her flirtation, her moves, attract their attention?
Her agonizing continued. She loved flirting with Walker. And she thought he liked showing her off. But was that unacceptable in public? Had she been too forward? Did her actions give ‘a come on’ to other men? Was she too revealingly dressed that night? It had to be something, something she said or did. Maybe if she didn’t know she deserved what she got.
“Uhuh?” Alex came out of her thoughts to see her fiancée on one knee in front of her. Slowly he took her hands in his.
“Do you think you were to blame for this?”
The words choked in the back of her throat. She could hardly breathe let alone speak. She looked at him kissing her hands. She didn’t deserve him, he should have someone better - someone who wouldn’t attract this sort of attention.
The sternness of his voice shook her.
“Those morons took two other women before you came along. Are those women to blame for what happened to them?
Alex offered no response.
Walker was in his stride, “well? Are they?” He shook her slightly.
It came out as a fading whisper, “no.”
“And neither are you.” He refused to back down. “How many times have I been at your abused women’s class, and you’ve told them to hold their heads up? You tell them not give in to these types of feelings? How many times have I heard you say that?”
His arms had gripped her tightly. His face was angry, and the yellow glow on the side of his cheek nearest the fire showed the creases around his eyes. Suddenly she was enveloped in his arms. His kisses rained over her face.
“Alex. Don’t let them win now.” His voice was a whisper, “don’t let them do this to us.”
She knew exactly what he meant; she was letting them win. She felt a spark of determination in the pit of her stomach, but his love made her emotional, and her tears began to fall.
“It’s okay.” Walker gripped her tighter.
Alex finally responded with a grip of her own. “I’m sorry.”
“Sssh,” Walker’s voice softened, “don’t say that.”
She gasped before she spoke again. “No, I’m sorry I’ve been so mean to you.” Her voice started to unleash emotions, “I didn’t feel worthy of you. I …I just seem to find trouble.”
He twitched as a silent laugh went through his body, “Well, it’s a good match then.”
“I don’t know why I treated you like this. I knew I was doing it, and I just couldn’t stop. The more you tried to help me the more useless I felt. I’m sorry, Walker. I’m so sorry.”
Walker pulled away and sat crossed legged on the floor and Alex studied the red bearded man she loved. He beckoned and held out his hand for her to join him. When she was hesitant, she saw his eyes flash.
Scrunching on the floor opposite Walker, Alex scooted her legs passed his body. She waited as he leaned back against his chair, then allowed him to slowly pull her into his chest. His hands caressed her back and her hair. It felt so good, and she felt so safe.
“You hardly told us what happened when you were with them. Why don’t you start at the beginning and tell me now? What happened, how you felt? We’ll beat this together.”
Sitting up, Alex started hesitantly. She recounted how they killed Sheriff Chandler. Then described the march through the mountain. She told him about the first night, and the brothers fighting over her. The younger brother wanted to be the first to have her, but wanted her when they got back. This was the only reason she had been spared a sexual assault. When she began to share her memories of the whipping, Alex’s body started to tremble.
“It’s okay.” Walker reassured.
“Walker, this is why I can’t sleep. It’s so vivid, they would have really done it. It wasn’t a threat. They would have done it.” Her voice wore down, “They’d have done it if you hadn’t …if …if you …oh.”
This is what he wanted. Now, they were getting to the root of the problem. Walker held Alex close - occasionally kissing the top of her head. He let her sob for several minutes while all the time his strong arms held and supported her. Suddenly she stopped and looked up.
“Walker? Do I …dress inappropriately?”
“It’s not your fault.”
“I think I’m too demonstrative in public. I think that’s what it is.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“Maybe I …”
“Alex! It’s not your fault!” They stared directly into each other’s eyes. “It’s not your fault! You didn’t do anything wrong. If I thought you had, I would honestly tell you.”
“You …would tell me?”
Walker nodded, “yes, I would.”
“It really wasn’t my fault.”
“That’s right. Not your fault.”
Finally appeased, Alex lay her head back across Walker’s chest. “So I didn’t do anything I shouldn’t have? I didn’t encourage them?”
“You did not encourage them. We had bad luck, we ran into mean bad guys.”
They sat quietly. Her breathing became a normal rhythm and she seemed content just to lie against him. Walker lost track of time himself. It was such a relief to hold her in his arms and he knew now she would recover from the harrowing ordeal. He guessed there would be a few backward steps from time to time, but that was okay. He was confident they would do just fine. Tonight he would sleep here and break the cycle of her nightmare.
“Walker? Are you hungry?”
The Ranger grinned. “Are you buying?” He felt her laugh and cherished the feeling.
“It’s the least I can do.”
“Well then …I’ll have the biggest steak in town!”
Alex laughed openly now.
He looked into her eyes. “I’m proud of you.”
“Mmhh. And I want you, to take your time. Have a nice soak in the tub, …put on whatever you’re comfortable wearing, …then we’ll go eat.”
“We’ll stop by and see Jimmy?”
Walker smiled. “We sure will.”
“Thank you, Walker.”
“Alex don’t thank me. You’d do the same for me in a heart beat.” He kissed and chivvied her away.
Watching as she closed the bathroom door behind her, Walker shuffled over to be in front of the fire again. His own energy was at a low now. He would need to regenerate his depleted reserves. Sitting with his back straight, Cordell Walker crossed his legs, let his mind relax, and began to meditate.
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