"Repercussions",

 by Denise (drkenned@yahoo.com)

**********

It came at about 4:00 AM Monday morning: Texas Ranger Cordell Walker was awakened by muffled crying. As he chased the sleep from his brain, he realized it was his wife of over 15 years, Alex, who was sobbing into her pillow in her sleep. Ordinarily, his Cherokee senses would have detected the sound long before now, but he was exhausted. He and Alex had unexpectedly had the house to themselves this past weekend, and Cordell had taken advantage of the opportunity to indulge in a virtual marathon of sex.

He'd told himself that she deserved it: she'd spent a recent night teasing--and occasionally torturing--his body and senses in ways he'd never before imagined possible. Some of it had been painful, but he'd enjoyed some of it, too...and ALL of it had been stimulating. After what Alex had done with maraschino cherries, it would be a long time before he'd be able to look at an ice cream sundae the same way. This past weekend, he'd not only used up her "leftovers", but afterwards, he'd tried some maneuvers of his OWN that would have made a gymnastics coach proud. Now, though, he began to realize he might have gone a little TOO far. He was a little sore himself, but what he'd done to Alex....

Cordell turned on the bedside lamp, rolled back over to face Alex, and gently shook her awake. "Honey, what's wrong?" he asked. Alex answered the question--which he probably should have known better than to ask--by curling up in a fetal position, and crying quietly. She had her arms folded protectively over her pelvis.

"Oh, it hurts", she moaned plaintively.

"Sh-h-h", Cordell whispered. He hesitantly embraced her, not sure what her reaction would be. She didn't return his embrace--he had no right to expect that--but at least she didn't slug him. "Do you want the heating pad...or a couple of aspirin?" he asked, as gently as he could; he was now rubbing her shoulders. At this, Alex--now fully awake and aware of the pain--blindly grabbed him with one hand, and began crying and moaning uncontrollably. Frightened now, Cordell bolted from their bed, and was quickly back with the heating pad, aspirin, and a glass of water. "Come on, try to sit up", he encouraged, slipping an arm under her bare shoulders.

Alex managed to get the aspirin and water down without choking, but refused the heating pad. She was now gasping for breath. "WHY?" she demanded.

"I'm sorry, Alex...really, I am. I guess I got carried away there at the end."

"That's NOT what I meant!"

"Then what?"

"Cordell..." Her voice was shaky. "Did you really need the WHOLE WEEKEND? I mean, I only took ONE NIGHT." Her pain was turning into anger--a dangerous anger--Cordell could tell. "Besides, even if I DID like a couple of the things you did, some of it...especially at the end...." She waved her hands helplessly, and stopped herself before she said something that might come back to haunt her...and then she said something that WOULD come back to haunt her husband. "You owe me two days, Mister--and I intend to collect--so you'd better watch yourself!" She looked at him, through her tears, squarely in the eyes as she spoke. Cordell knew he was a marked man.

He changed the subject. "Why don't you take today off? I know you're not due in court until Thursday. Even though Alex, a District Attorney now, didn't try as many cases as she had as an Assistant D.A., she still wanted some of the big ones. Cordell hoped that a day off would at least help her BODY recover. As for the REST of her, well....

"I may HAVE to stay home, but the way I feel, I don't know how I'm going to be able to take care of the kids when they get home."

"OK...I can take a hint. I'LL take a sick day, too", Cordell said. <<What will I tell everyone at Company B?>> he worried; his co-workers would give him no peace if the truth ever got out. "I guess I'll tell the kids Mom's got a tummy ache", he said under his breath, unsuccessfully trying to lighten the mood. Alex DID slug him then...and none too gently, either. Her husband, wisely, didn't say a word; he'd asked for it.

"You'll do well to stay out of my way", she warned. Despite her pain--or maybe because of it--a plan was already forming in her mind. She'd take care of him....

After Cordell finally got Alex settled back into bed, he took her advice, and went downstairs. He was too keyed up to go back to sleep, but it was too early to tend to the horses; besides he wanted to be with his younger daughter, Chrissy, when Sheriff Sam Coyote, his friend from the nearby Cherokee Reservation, brought her home, and unloaded Chance, the yearling mustang colt she'd gotten for her birthday. He wandered around, and ended up going to the kitchen; if he was going to be home, he'd better check the refrigerator.

**********

Once the aspirin had taken effect, Alex had dropped off into a fitful sleep. Cordell had slipped back upstairs about 5:30, and had found her tossing and turning. She was repeatedly mumbling, "No...no more"--just as she had repeatedly begged him more than once this past weekend. That simple statement had caused Cordell more pain and guilt than her earlier crying. In his eagerness--no, selfishness, he reluctantly admitted to himself--had he overlooked common sense? They weren't young anymore. How long would it be before she would allow him to touch her again...and how long until he would SAY the words he was now HEARING?

Cordell met his daughters at the door. "Daddy, where's your badge?" asked Jessie.

"Aren't you going to work today?" Chrissy wanted to know.

The Ranger put on his best poker face, and told them, "Mom's not feeling well today, so we need to hold down the fort. You girls had breakfast?" He'd been lucky sidetracking the girls; he knew he'd have a harder time with his sons. John and Jimmy had been due back from a Scout campout yesterday, but bad weather at Lake Ebby had kept them there an extra day.

"I'll eat after I help with Chance", Chrissy said. "May I take him an apple, please?"

"Sure", her father said. "Just be careful."

"Dad", Jessie said, as they walked toward the barn, "tell us again about Santana." <<Maybe hearing how Dad made friends with a wild mustang will help Chrissy>>, she thought. Chrissy had told her sister that things had not gone well at the Reservation. Cordell related the story briefly, as the three of them continued walking.

<<Hmm...'become one with him'>>, Chrissy pondered. <<Now, how can I...I'VE GOT IT!!>>

"Hey! You coming, or not?" Cordell chided his youngest offspring, who had stopped walking; she was definitely lost in thought. Grinning now, Chrissy quickly scurried past her father and sister, slowing--without being reminded--as she approached the barn. Chrissy loved horses, and she wished she could have known some of the horses her father had had before she'd been born...especially Amigo.

The current occupants, Ranger and Little Ranger among them, welcomed the Walkers with happy whinnies. However, Chance's whinny, as Sam brought him in, and put him in the empty stall, was one of panic. He'd been this way ever since he'd been brought to the ranch, and it didn't appear that the weekend at the Reservation had helped. Alex and Cordell were worried that they wouldn't be able to keep him; Chrissy, though, had other ideas.

"Good morning, Chance", she said quietly, approaching the yearling, as her father and his friend quietly conversed. "How was your ride home?" His answer was to snort and stomp: he wanted out!!

"Now, Chance, we have to talk, and you HAVE to listen better than you did this weekend", the seven-year-old said firmly, standing on a stool, so as to better see the horse. She was again unaware of those around her, so she didn't know that Sheriff Coyote had left. Her voice quavered as she continued. "You HAVE to learn to be nice, or they'll take you away, and...." Her voice broke. Cordell moved to comfort her, but Jessie stopped him. Chrissy found her voice again. "I know you don't like being inside, but at least you're alive; I want to see you stay that way...and I think that's what YOU want, too!"

As she spoke, a transformation began: Chance's whinnying quieted, and his stomping lessened considerably, as his ears pricked forward; he now seemed to understand the young girl. Hesitantly, he moved to the front of his stall: a step forward, then half a step backward. Within a minute, he was almost nose-to-nose with his mistress. He could now smell the apple she held over the rail for him; how he wanted it! Still, he wasn't QUITE ready for her touch, so he snorted again, extra-hard. "Ewww!" a startled Chrissy said, as she dropped the apple, and pulled back her now-wet hand. Her father and sister chuckled at her squeamishness.

"You'll have to get used to it, kiddo", Cordell teased.

"Dad, Chrissy...LISTEN!"

Silence reigned...except for the glorious crunching sound coming from in front of them!! Chance had picked up the apple, and was enjoying Chrissy's gift; he was even swishing his tail in contentment! "He's gonna be OK!" was Chrissy's verdict. Cordell wished that Sam could have stayed long enough to witness the miracle, but he'd had to leave immediately.

You may be right; it sounds like you got through to him", Cordell agreed, relieved. He hated to see senseless death of any kind--and for it to happen like a proud animal like Santana or Chance...well, that made it worse. "Come on, let's finish here, and go eat." A few minutes later, as the three of them left the barn, they were rewarded with a "Goodbye" whinny from Chance...a whinny devoid of much of the earlier panic.

**********

The plot thickens....

**********

While the girls set the table, Cordell took Alex a tray, and--against her will--helped her negotiate the short, painful walk to their bathroom. She was definitely stiff, and Cordell hoped she'd soak in a hot tub; it would be good for her. After last weekend, though, he didn't DARE suggest it himself, and he knew she wouldn't do it as long as she knew he was in the house--within striking distance--fearing another interruption. Worse, now Alex wasn't speaking to him. Cordell knew that the silent treatment was only the FIRST installment of his punishment.

Later, while they were doing the dishes, Jessie asked the question Cordell had been dreading. "Dad, what happened to Mom?"

"Uh, well, we were practicing some...ah...karate moves, and I guess her protective pad slipped at the wrong time. Don't worry; she'll be OK." Cordell hoped HE'D be OK, after she got through with him! Her last session had been planned, but unprovoked; there was no telling what Alex would do to him NEXT time...or when!

John and Jimmy Walker arrived soon afterwards. They'd already had breakfast, they told their father. Their curiosity indeed proved to be stronger than their sisters'. Worse, it was Columbus Day, AND an "in-service" day for teachers, so there was no school. It seemed as if Cordell was going to have to keep up his facade, with four very curious children, all day. How would he manage it? "OK, kids, got any homework to finish up?" he tried.

"Dad! You made us finish that before we left Friday, remember?" John chided.

"Oh, yeah!" Cordell chuckled, self-consciously; on to Plan B. "Well, then, why don't you head outside and play...but remember to keep it down!"

With his offspring out of the house, Cordell breathed a sigh of relief. He'd check on them--and the horses--later; right now, he had some "broken fences" to try to mend...upstairs.

He found Alex asleep, curled up again. The time was approaching for another dose of aspirin, but Cordell hoped--in spite of her position--that the worst of the pain was gone, and that she would get some sleep. He covered her gently...then removed the breakfast tray, and the "toys" he'd used over the weekend. After he'd closed the door, Alex's eyes opened, with a devilish glint.

**********

Cordell fixed soup and sandwiches for their lunch. While he and the kids were washing up, a change in the sink's water pressure belied the flushing of the toilet upstairs; when had Alex awakened? "Can we take Mom her lunch?" the girls asked, bringing Cordell back to earth. Reluctantly--but with no good reason to say "No"--their father agreed, on the condition that they didn't linger: he didn't want Alex giving them any ideas. He didn't stop to think that the girls had already shared hypotheses with their BROTHERS.

This fact was brought home to him when John dropped a fork, on his way to set the table. He went to the sink to wash it off, and quietly said, "'Karate moves', huh?" Cordell answered him with a quick spray from the nozzle adjacent to the sink's faucet. His teenaged son was growing up too fast, Cordell realized. He could be trouble.

Fortunately, the rest of the day was quiet, although--for Cordell--each trip upstairs made him think that the South Pole would have been warmer! Alex had her supper upstairs that night, too, and at bedtime came the ultimate degradation: Alex made her husband sleep in the guest room. Cordell knew he should have seen THIS coming. He was really in the doghouse this time!

**********

Tuesday, the young Walkers returned to school, and their parents to work. Fortunately for Cordell, he and Alex had separate vehicles that they drove to work, so their separate arrivals hadn't raised any eyebrows. Still, each one had curious co-workers to deal with; at least Alex knew how to handle hers.

"Hey, Partner! How was your three-day weekend?" began Walker's partner, James Trivette.

"Hey, I'm here, aren't I?" replied Cordell.

"Yeah...24 hours late", remarked Ranger Francis Gage...not QUITE under his breath.

"Hey, Walker, you didn't do anything stupid this weekend, did you?" Ranger Sydney Cooke chimed in. Her "female intuition" could be downright annoying at times; now Walker understood why Trivette had long been frustrated by Walker's own "Cherokee intuition".

Cordell was about to reply to Cooke, when Commander Harland Briscoe entered. "Welcome back, Walker. It's been some time since your last sick day...feeling better?" Cordell blushed, and mumbled an embarrassed affirmative; he couldn't help but see the glint in Briscoe's eye. His fellow Rangers just laughed.

Having made his point with Walker, Briscoe got down to business. "OK, here's what we've got: a string of liquor store 211's, with the manager of the last one shot in the arm. He'll be OK, AND he was able to provide us with a description of the suspect, his car...and a license number." Before leaving, he handed Trivette a piece of paper. Further words were unnecessary.

"I'm on it, sir", said the office computer expert. He sat down at his terminal, and started typing. Jimmy's fingers were indeed "magic fingers" this morning: within two minutes, he had an ID on the car and its owner. "Here we go: Stanley Michael Davis, 24. Numerous arrests for liquor store robberies throughout Texas and New Mexico, but no convictions. His last known address was in El Paso, but he has some family just across the border in New Mexico, and more here in the Metroplex."

To the surprise of all, the NCIC mug shot on Trivette's screen--cross-referenced with the license plate--matched the composite sketch. "This guy's got his nerve", remarked Gage. "I can't believe he used his OWN CAR to pull these jobs; most of them are done with stolen cars."

"There's your reason", Cordell said, pointing to a line on the screen. "He's got a specially-made car, due to having one leg shorter than the other." He thought a moment. "Trivette, you and I will check on the liquor store owner; maybe he heard Davis say something we can use. You two"--he looked at Cooke and Gage--check out his relatives here. We may also need to arrange a trip to El Paso or New Mexico; let's get out some APB's, too." The four Rangers went about their duties.

**********

The remainder of Tuesday saw the Rangers in the field, although Cordell made a point of getting to C.D.'s Cantina for lunch. The late C. D. Parker had been Walker's partner many years ago...and a dear friend until his death. After his forced retirement, Parker had opened up C.D.'s Bar & Grill. The current owner, Marta Lopez, had taken over a few months before Alex and Cordell's wedding. Her decision to change the atmosphere from a country-western bar to a Mexican cantina had opened the doors for a whole new segment of the populace becoming clientele. Now, her younger son, Tommy, was being groomed to take over from HER one day.

"Hola, Walker! What can I get you?"

"A large taco salad, and some coffee, please, Marta."

"Donde esta su esposa?" Marta asked, quietly, as she brought Walker's order. Like Sydney, Marta's intuition could be aggravating at times. <<At least she didn't broadcast it to everyone around!>> Cordell thanked his lucky stars for that!

"Well, she's got that kidnapping case coming up this week." Cordell was glad that Marta accepted the answer without pressing him further.

Cordell ate his meal in peace. "Tell Alex I'll be getting in some tamales soon", Marta said, as Walker stood up afterwards. Tamales were among Alex's favorite foods.

"I will, thanks again." Cordell gave his old friend a peck on the cheek as he left.

Tuesday evening, ALL of the Walkers were present at the supper table. Cordell wasn't naive enough to think that his actions had been forgotten...much less forgiven. He knew that Alex was doing this for the sake of their children, especially the younger ones; her conversations with them had been pleasant, but she didn't say any more than necessary to her husband. The Ranger's nagging suspicions were again confirmed at bedtime. <<I may as well move some of my clothes in here.>> He was beginning to suspect he would be sleeping in the guest room for some time to come.

Wednesday morning the Rangers' APB's paid off. Commander Briscoe faced his subordinates with a relieved expression. "I just got a call from Mesquite, New Mexico. Police there have apprehended Davis, and they're holding him there for us. The D.A.'s here and they are discussing extradition as we speak, but it looks like he may not fight it."

"Who's going to go get him?" asked Cooke.

"Well, it's Walker's turn. Do you want some backup?"

"No, thanks. Just let me know where and when."

"We should know by tonight. Trivette, since Walker's going alone, you take over the jewelry store investigation...."

Late that afternoon, while Cordell and Jimmy were out on patrol, Alex Walker knocked at the Commander's door; he'd asked her to stop by. "Hi, Alex; have a seat." As she sat, Briscoe noticed her lingering stiffness; rumors had been running rampant around Company B all week, and this seemed to confirm at least some of them, but he was too much of a gentleman to say anything to her about it. Instead he said, "I hear you got some good news today!"

"Yes, I did!" My kidnapping case isn't going to trial after all. Jennings decided to plea, 'No contest'. Now, all I have to do is be present at the sentencing next month." Alex's job was made SO much easier by actions like this.

Briscoe's phone rang. "Dang thing hasn't been quiet all day!" he complained. "Excuse me, please. Commander Briscoe." He listened a minute, and Alex saw his face pale. "Davis did WHAT?" At Alex's questioning gaze, he said to the caller, "May I put you on hold a minute?"

"What happened, sir?"

"Davis hung himself today", Briscoe said, still stunned. "I guess your husband's trip just got canceled...Alex?" His last words had caused a change in her, and he could almost SEE the stiffness leaving the two-term D.A.'s body; she was formulating a plan before his very eyes.

"Uh, Commander...do you think the press has gotten wind of this yet?" Alex had had a sudden inspiration.

"Let's find out." Briscoe turned on the speaker-phone. No, they were told, the press didn't know about Davis yet. This news excited Alex to no end: this was PERFECT! Within minutes, certain "arrangements" had been made...arrangements which would teach a certain overly-enthusiastic Ranger a lesson he wouldn't soon forget! Briscoe was more than accommodating: he had a couple of ideas himself (including a vacation day), and the common sense to keep his questions to himself...although he had trouble suppressing his laughter as Alex chatted with the MPD's Captain. "Whatever's going to happen, I'm glad it's not happening to ME", he told a smiling Alex, as she left his office. She was walking out taller than she had walked in; she had a new mission....

**********

**********

"Kids, I've got to go pick up a prisoner in New Mexico on Friday", Cordell announced at supper that night. Commander Briscoe had given Walker the details and driving directions before the Ranger had left the office...never letting on that the man was dead.

"And I'll be in court both tomorrow and Friday, at the very least", Alex added smoothly; she then addressed her first-born. "John, I'll probably be late getting back, so you'll be in charge until I get home. I'll leave the instructions with you, and you already have the list of emergency phone numbers, right?"

"Of course." This wasn't his first stint at being "Man of the House"; being Scouts had reinforced in him and Jimmy the sense of responsibility instilled in ALL of the Walker children. His younger siblings didn't complain, either: John "ruled" with a fair hand.

"What about Chance?" piped up Chrissy. "Can I try a blanket on him? He's really doing better. This was true: Chrissy was now able--after going through just one bag of carrots--to pet her colt. He was even learning to have his ears scratched. Best of all, his fear seemed to be almost gone! He'd be ready for "breaking" soon, Cordell knew.

"So I've heard!" Cordell was proud of his daughter for her perseverance, but he had some bad new for her, nonetheless. "I'd really like for John to do the main exercising of him, though--at least until I get back and can help you. Besides, Chance needs to start getting used to everyone around here."

"Yes, sir." Though disappointed, Chrissy accepted the inevitable with a maturity beyond her years.

"Don't worry, Chrissy; I'll teach you my new video game." Jimmy's selflessness was rewarded by a smile from his younger sister.

"Dad, why do you have to wait until Friday to go to New Mexico? Why can't you just go tomorrow?" Jessie wanted to know.

"Well, I guess I COULD leave in the morning...." Cordell pondered the possibility. Alex nearly choked: having him leave early would spoil everything; there was still so much more planning to be done!!

"One word, Cowboy: 'Paperwork!!'" Alex said, effectively squelching him.

"I hate that word!" Cordell grimaced, as his children laughed.

Later as the older children were studying (the younger ones were already in bed), Alex knocked on John's bedroom door. "Come in", he said, grateful to have his American History homework interrupted.

"Here are those instructions. Any questions?" Alex noticed her older son's expression, as he read certain notations. He grinned, and blushed; he'd inherited that trait from his father.

There was so much John WANTED to know, but he knew better than to ask. "No, ma'am", he wisely responded.

"Good answer!" Alex whispered, hugging him. "Be sure to put that away, before your Dad comes in", she continued. "Good night", she then said, in a normal voice...just in case Cordell was nearby.

She needn't have worried; at that moment they heard a familiar scream; they knew the source...and the reason behind it. "The bear's after me!"

Alex and John went to the doorway. Chrissy nearly flattened them, in her attempt to escape a growling Cordell, who was in hot pursuit. It was their favorite game. John remembered when his father used to play it with HIM.

"All right, you two!" Alex clapped her hands for attention. "No more bears tonight! Lights out!"

**********

Thursday seemed to be "business as usual at Company B. Walker had no way of knowing that certain e-mails had been sent out by his C. O. to the other Rangers. Briscoe merely said that, while Cordell was in New Mexico, he and Alex were going to be treated to a surprise mini-vacation. He didn't want Alex's plans spoiled by any wayward comments, and hoped that everyone could keep their poker faces pasted on today!

In the meantime, Alex had spent her unexpected day off shopping. She'd taken certain precautions--such as taking a cab from the courthouse--lest her husband come by and notice that her car was missing. She'd also left word with her secretary to tell all callers that she was "out for the week". Brenda knew better than to question her boss: she recognized the signs of trouble...and impending "payback"!

Alex's last stop of the day had been the Evidence Room of the Dallas Police Department. They had some items, from a recent bust, that would fit in nicely with her plans. Fortunately, the officer on duty was a woman, so Alex didn't have to worry about embarrassing explanations.

Before heading back the office, she called Company B. "Where is he?" she asked, when Briscoe answered.

"I sent him to Mineola, to check out some leads on a car-jacking; I figured you wouldn't want him helping you unload your car! Hold on." Briscoe checked with the dispatcher, who said that Cordell would be back within the hour. When he passed the news on to Alex, she said that SHE'D be back in 30 minutes.

Before hanging up, Briscoe told her, "Everything's ready: the press HERE won't release information on the Jennings plea until Saturday. You fly out of DFW at 10:00 tomorrow; Ranger Lupe Gomez will meet you at El Paso International, then it's about an hour's drive to Mesquite. I'll try to keep your husband from hitting the road too early. He's got a 10-hour drive, though, so you'll have plenty of time to--ahem--get things ready. He'll probably be hot and sweaty by the time he gets there."

"You let ME worry about that", Alex said, laughing. "Thanks again for your help."

"Got everything packed for tomorrow?" Alex asked Cordell after supper. "Shaving kit...travel alarm...extra clothes?"

"Alex, you ask me that every time I go somewhere, and every time, the answer's the same", Cordell said, as lightly as he could; he was still wondering where he' be sleeping tonight. The younger children joined in the game, each one asking their father about different items, until Jimmy turned the tables.

"Got everything ready for court tomorrow, Mom? Notes...briefcase?" He bolted from the room, as Alex ran after him with a rolled-up newspaper....

**********

In the interest of making sure that they both got up (and out of the house!) on time, Alex had relented enough to let Cordell back into their bedroom Thursday night. She thought about making him sleep on the floor, but realized that his being overly tired could lead to disaster on the road...or lessen her fun later. She decided on a compromise: an extra sheet was rolled into a "log", and then placed, lengthwise, down the middle of their bed. She still wasn't going to allow her husband to touch her.

When the alarm rang at 6:00, Cordell found that his wife had beaten him to the bathroom. While he waited for her, he thought about the sounds that had come from her side of the bed last night: she was still having nightmares about last weekend. What had he done to her?

As everyone got ready to leave--the children to meet their school bus, Cordell to go to work, before leaving for New Mexico, and Alex, ostensibly, to court--there was a flurry of activity in the Walker household. John made a point of hanging behind his parents. As Alex turned and saw him, he mouthed the words, "Good luck!" It took every ounce of willpower she possessed, for Alex not to burst out laughing. She knew there'd be a "family meeting" tonight, to explain HER absence.

The only potentially tricky part of the flight for Alex would be explaining her luggage. Fortunately, as a District Attorney, she would be able to provide "documents" which would be plausible enough to satisfy inspectors at both airports, lest she be asked....

"Welcome, D. A. Walker", Ranger Gomez said, at the terminal in El Paso.

"Thanks for meeting me, Ranger Gomez", Alex replied. "I appreciate the lift into New Mexico."

"That's no problem; I have family in Las Cruces, so it's on my way. I'll be visiting them this weekend", he explained. "Will you be needing a ride back to El Paso?"

Alex nearly lost it then. <<I certainly hope not!! He may make me WALK home!!>> Alex thought to herself. Aloud, she said, "No thanks; my husband's meeting me here later. I'll take the scenic route back home."

<<O...KAY!!>>, Ranger Gomez thought to himself. The rest of the drive was small talk. As he dropped her off at the motel--a collection of converted cabins--he said, simply, "Have fun!" Alex DID lose it then!!

**********

"I'm sorry we couldn't get in touch with your Commander, Ranger Walker", Mesquite Police Captain Underwood was saying to Cordell. "We just found the body a couple of hours ago. In fact, we're still trying to reach the next of kin." In fact, the funeral for Davis was scheduled for the next day in El Paso.

"Well...it couldn't be helped." Walker tried to hide his frustration; he was getting too old for "wild goose chases"; besides it was already dark, and he was tired and hungry.

"Tell you what: there's a nice motel about 12 miles down the road...REAL nice for anyone who likes to 'get back to Nature'. Why don't you let us put you up there for the night? You'll feel like a new man going home!" he promised.

"I really hate to impose...." Walker began.

"It' no imposition...really", insisted Underwood. "I'll call ahead, and have Eunice save you a room." He picked up the phone. "Eunice? I've got a Texas Ranger here who needs a room for the night...name's Walker...You can? Great! I'll send him on over; thanks!"

"Sounds like I'm stayin' here tonight", remarked Cordell.

"Sounds like it", agreed Underwood. After haggling a couple of minutes, Cordell reluctantly took the $50 bill that the Captain gave him, got the directions to the motel, and left.

Walker found the motel easily. He noticed the small marquee, "Jacuzzi suites available", as he went to check in. "Room for Walker; Captain Underwood sent me", he said politely to the front desk clerk.

"Evenin', Ranger. I'm Eunice. I guess you heard Underwood talkin' to me?" Cordell nodded. "Well, it's a good thing he called: it gave us plenty of time to get your cabin ready. Here's the locator map, with instructions for the phone, and so forth. You have a nice stay!" Eunice handed him the key, then nodded acknowledgment of his thanks, as she answered her phone. Walker headed out to his RAM.

Cordell pulled up to his cabin, got out, unloaded what little luggage he had, and went inside. He'd freshen up a bit, then head back to a roadside cafe he'd passed a couple of miles back.

<<Hey! This place is really nice!>> he thought. He could tell there were several rooms to the cabin, but right now, he was only looking for one of them. After he tended to his most pressing needs, he stripped down to his white cotton briefs; he'd shower, and then change into fresh clothes, before dining. <<Dang it!! I left my deodorant in the front room!>> he realized. As he went back for it, he saw a sight that stopped him in his tracks.

"Happy Friday the 13th, Cowboy! 'Revenge is SO sweet!'"

**********

At the sound of Alex's voice--speaking the very words he'd uttered just LAST Friday--Cordell's knees turned to jelly, and he sank to a kneeling position. His mouth fell open at the sight before him: gone was the professionally dressed District Attorney. Alex was wearing a shoulder-less black vinyl teddy--trimmed at the top with fur--with a zipper down the middle...and it appeared that the zipper didn't stop until it reached her shoulder blades. She wore fishnet stockings, and black high heels with 3" spikes.

Wide leather "cuffs" adorned Alex's ankles and wrists; Cordell noticed that a silver hook hung from each one. Her blonde hair was piled high on her head, with ringlets encircling her face. A black satin ribbon about her throat, and a riding whip completed her outfit. Cordell recognized the get-up as being from a prostitution ring the DPD, Cooke, and Gage, had broken up. Alex twirled the whip in her hands, fire in her eyes. She was MAD!

"First, some ground rules." Cordell didn't dare move or speak as she circled him, and brandished the whip; Alex's voice was no-nonsense...PLUS she'd already hidden his luggage!

"Number One: You will address me as 'Ma'am'. Number Two: You will keep your hands to yourself, unless otherwise directed. Number Three: Do not speak until you are spoken to. Number Four: When I ask you a question, you will answer it...immediately, completely, and honestly. Number Five: When I tell you to do something, you will do it...without complaint, question, or hesitation. And finally, Number Six: The motto for the next 48 hours is 'Expect ANYTHING...Refuse NOTHING'."

She continued. "Failure to comply with Rules One through Five will earn you one demerit for each transgression. Failure to comply with Rule Six earns you FIVE demerits. For every five demerits you accumulate", Alex paused dangerously, knelt, and whispered in his ear: "I tell Jimmy something about our recent activities!" Cordell's blood ran cold: Jimmy would spread the news all over the office...and probably the Internet, as well! He COULDN'T let that happen!

Alex was speaking again. "Do you understand the rules?"

"Yes, Ma'am, I understand the rules", Cordell said, with a shaky voice.

"Again!" Alex barked, striking his rump. This was going to be worse than Marine boot camp!

"Yes, Ma'am, I understand the rules!" Cordell's voice was steadier this time, but the fear in his eyes gave him away.

Alex then unbuckled and removed her cuffs, and threw them at Cordell's feet. "Put them on, hooks to the outside." Cordell complied immediately. "On your back, spread eagle!"

**********

Alex lightly whipped his arms and legs, until she was satisfied with his position, then knelt beside him. "Cordell you HURT me last weekend...very badly. I spent my lunch hour Tuesday at Dr. Ellis's office. This was frightening news to Cordell: Dr. Ellis was Alex's OB-GYN; if Alex had seen HER....

She began teasing his body with the whip, although her voice was shaky now. "As much as I'd LIKE to do the same things to you that you did to me, I CAN'T do them ALL: Dr. Ellis said I had severe internal bruising, and that I wasn't to have intercourse again until it cleared up...and THEN on a VERY strict timetable." That was a direct hit on Cordell's libido, and he wondered about the time frame he was facing; the bad news was forthcoming: "I don't go back until the 20th...of NEXT month."

A groan escaped Cordell, and Alex pounced on it immediately. "That's one demerit! Which rule have you just violated?" she snapped.

"Rule Number Two, Ma'am", was his reply.

"WRONG! Rule Number THREE! Roll over!" As Cordell lay face down on the carpet, he again felt the sting of the riding whip against his buttocks, but he held his tongue...he didn't want to violate Rule Six, by "refusing" his punishment. The three strokes Alex gave him caused more humiliation than physical pain, as did the spiked heel on his back.

"On your knees--hands behind your back--and no slouching!" his captor demanded. Moments later, Cordell felt the hooks on his wrist cuffs snapping together. Alex then stood, and revealed the other end of the whip--which had a large feather attached--and began to use IT to trace the contours of Cordell's body. Another chill coursed through him; he barely managed to hold his tongue. By the time Alex was through with him, his body was tingling and trembling uncontrollably; he was panting, and tears were running down his face, from the exertion of trying to keep quiet.

She knelt behind him, teasing the skin along the waistband of his briefs, and then latched on. "Stand up", she ordered. His body moved...his briefs did not. As he now stood nude in front of her, he felt the feather again, tracing the skin it had missed previously. When she was finally through, she led him into the first bedroom. On the king-sized bed were four chains, one in each corner. Cordell could feel his muscles straining already. She made him lie on his stomach again, then separated his wrists, and secured him in another spread-eagle. "We'll have a midnight snack soon. First, you need a bath."

Alex produced a metal basin, towels, liquid soap...and a scrub brush. As he saw the latter, Cordell felt his skin tingling already: how was he going to fight the urge to laugh NOW? Alex took the basin into a second bathroom, and filled it partway. She brought it back, and set it down between Cordell's legs, then went to the kitchen, to heat some more water, so that the water in the basin would be the right temperature. While she was gone, Cordell found himself wondering about the ranch; he then remembered that John could handle much of it himself, and that their neighbors would pitch in at a moment's notice, if needed.

Alex announced her return "OK, Cowboy...Bath time!!" She poured hot water into the basin, until it suited her needs. "State the rules!" she told him, stroking his buttocks lightly with the whip. This time, he got them all right; repeating a mistake was rare for him. "Very good", Alex acknowledged. "Repeat Rule Five."

"When I am told to do something, I will do it without complaint, question or hesitation--Ma'am."

"Excellent!" She began stroking him with the feather again; he bit his tongue as he writhed around. "Now, about Rule Five...for the next 48 hours, you will be experiencing a number of--shall we say--sensations. You will NOT remain silent during these experiences." Cordell, released partially from his vow of silence, now began laughing, as the feather further assaulted him.

"Last weekend you told me to scream to MY heart's content. Now, THIS weekend, I want to hear every glorious scream you have inside you...and then, I'll help you find some more!" Alex said wickedly, as she stopped--just long enough to blindfold him--and then started tickling him again. He laughed, and struggled against his bonds, to no avail. She finally stopped, then asked him, "Do you have anything to say?"

Cordell knew he wouldn't get another chance very soon. "Yes, Ma'am", he gasped. "I'm sorry about...."

"You don't know the meaning of the words!" Alex angrily cut him off. "But you will before we leave here!" she vowed. She then added to his misery by getting up, and turning on the stereo in the room. It was tuned to a classical music station; "Bolero" would be an appropriate serenade...

**********

And so it begins....

**********

First a dripping washcloth--which Alex had forgotten earlier--squeezed over each part of his body, then the liquid soap, and finally the scrub brush. Alex made absolutely certain that where the brush didn't tickle (and those spots were many!), that it hurt; he'd hurt her--albeit unintentionally--and she was going to make him suffer in return...even if it wasn't exactly the same kind of pain. By the time she'd finished with his backside, Cordell was already too tired from laughing and screaming to realize that he was being unhooked and rolled over.

Before Alex started his front side, though, Cordell heard the unmistakable sound of a plastic bag being shaken open; he was already lying on a plastic mattress cover. Alex slipped the bag over his most potent appendage and secured it lightly, with a length of yarn; her hands were shaking slightly as she touched him there. "There; that should prevent any accidents." As she spoke, she squeezed a very warm washcloth out over his loins; Cordell's back arched, as he yelped in surprise.

Alex was sweating by the time she'd finished bathing Cordell. She covered him with a couple of towels, then went into her bathroom to wipe off, and change into a nightshirt. It had been a long time since she'd heard her husband laugh that much...and she learned that his crotch was even more ticklish than he'd ever let on before. She'd have to remember that.

She went into the kitchen, and heated the ravioli she'd brought. She'd eaten some before Cordell arrived, so she just fixed a sandwich for herself. After she'd taken everything to the bedside--teasing him with the aroma of his overdue supper--she unhooked his right hand and foot, rolled him onto his left side, then re-secured his right foot. "Do you remember how to eat and brush your teeth blindfolded?" she asked, referring to the time--a few months before their marriage--when he'd suffered a blast in the face. He'd been sightless for some time, until the swelling behind his eyes had gone down.

"Yes, Ma'am." Cordell was clearly disappointed: the blindfold brought back unpleasant memories. In addition, it seemed he might be blindfolded the whole 48 hours of his captivity.

After she'd propped him up--so that he could eat with his right hand--Alex took his mind off the blindfold...by lifting the hem of her nightshirt, and sliding her bare bottom against his abdomen. Cordell gasped. "Tip of the iceberg, Honey", Alex promised. She couldn't give him what he REALLY wanted--even if she'd had either the inclination, or the nerve--so this would have to do...for now.

When supper was finished, Alex made him review her rules, and then let him have a bathroom break. She guided him, and--to make sure he didn't lift the blindfold--she reminded him of Rule Two. When he was finished, he found the sink (and his shaving kit, which Alex had put there), washed his hands, and brushed his teeth, and finally made his way carefully to the doorway. He knocked lightly: he was awaiting further instructions. "Over here", came Alex's voice. Taking a deep breath, Cordell carefully walked toward the sound, until he came to the bed.

He carefully climbed in, and "assumed the position". Alex secured him, then began kissing and licking him. "Ah-h-h-h!" Cordell moaned, as she nibbled at his ears.

"Tip of the iceberg", Alex repeated. She then got off the bed. <<Where'd she go?>> Cordell worried. His question was answered, in a most unpleasant way, when Alex started lapping at his feet, the way a cat laps at milk. "AH-H-H! AH-H-H-H-H-H!" he screamed, then collapsed in another fit of laughter. His sides ALREADY hurt, from so much laughing and screaming, but he knew he would endure much more before she was through.

A few minutes later, the session ended. "Well, Cowboy, we've each had a long day. Let's get some rest." Cordell hoped he COULD get some rest! Alex placed him in the same position he'd been in for supper, except this time, she secured BOTH hands above his head, before she covered him. He heard the stereo and lights being turned off, and felt his wife climb into bed, and get under the covers. His back was to her--and with the dark room and the blindfold, he couldn't see her--so it came as a total shock when her nude torso teased his back. "Good night; sweet dreams!" Alex laughed, as she kissed the back of her husband's neck. She was rewarded by a final shudder and gasp. He fell asleep so fast, that he never heard her leave the room...

**********

**********

Some time later (How long had it been? Cordell wondered), the Ranger was awakened by the lightest of touches along his pectorals. Alex followed this up with kissing and licking. When her tongue touched his nipple, he awoke completely, and gasped. The gasp became a moan of ecstasy, when Alex's teeth grazed him.

Wordlessly, Alex continued stroking, kissing and sucking him. For a variation, she turned her attention to his exposed armpit, and the right side of his ribcage--enjoying his rich laughter--but her main purpose this morning was to show him how it felt when ecstasy became pain. He had done the same thing to her, in a different way, last weekend.

By the time Alex decided it was time for a "timeout", Cordell was writhing, moaning, and crying like he hadn't cried in a very long time. He wanted so much to be able to use his hands to ease his sore chest...and Alex had only done one side. She finally spoke. "Too much of a good thing isn't very good, is it?"

"No, Ma'am", he gasped.

"Do you want me to do the other side now--and get it over with--or do it after breakfast?"

"After breakfast...Please, Ma'am?" he practically begged. He couldn't take any more right now!

Alex considered his response, then removed the bag she'd put on him the night before--taking it to the bathroom--then returned, and unhooked him. Cordell heard the sound of a portable timer being set. "You have five minutes. GO!!" Cordell only stumbled once on his way to the bathroom, and--after finishing--made it back to the bed, and into his "dining position" just ahead of the chime. "Very good", Alex conceded, as her husband panted. "I think I'll feed you this morning; on your back."

Cordell was never to forget that breakfast. Alex fed HIM oatmeal; SHE had pancakes with maple syrup...his abdomen was her plate. As she swirled each bite in the warm syrup, his body shook with renewed laughter. Afterwards, as promised, she attended to his left side. Cordell now knew what was coming; still, the pain at the end was excruciating.

Alex gave his nipple a final lick, and then said, "Oh, dear, I forgot to clean up after myself!!" She then began slowly licking the syrup from him....

**********

That Saturday was one of the longest days of Cordell Walker's life...and he still had Sunday to face! Each time he thought he'd be given a break, Alex "switched gears", and assaulted his body in a new and surprising way...much as he'd done the previous weekend. Worse, since he was blindfolded, each attack came as a total surprise. The worst part was NOT feeling her hands in the one place that missed her touch the most. Finally, she decided it was time for lunch.

Alex had brought all the necessary ingredients for a Chef's Salad. She first fed her husband--after another bathroom break--and then prepared her own meal. As at breakfast, Alex chose not to use any of the dishes in the cabin. She meticulously arranged her salad--using pieces of lettuce to further torture the already-raw nerve endings in his ribcage--and then "tossed" the salad with her fingers. The assault on his midsection was maddening...and when she added ice-cold salad dressing, Cordell thought he would go crazy!

After "cleaning up" again, Alex finally relented, and allowed her husband a nap period. "Sleep fast, Honey", she warned, as she covered him. Again, he was asleep before she left the room.

As she had that morning, Alex woke Cordell by teasing his nipples...this time, with her own. HER moans of pleasure added fuel to the fire in HIS loins. <<I'm not going to make it until next month!!>> he lamented. He was finally seeing the consequences of his actions the previous weekend--his "too much of a good thing" had indeed turned out badly--and the first time Alex gave him a chance to apologize and repent, he intended to do so!

Alex stopped just as Cordell's moans bespoke impending pain...she felt that she'd made that point sufficiently this morning. She then produced the whip again, and used it to stroke the inside of his thighs...stopping just short of his most tender zone. As he caught his breath afterwards--and despite his own agony--Cordell found himself beginning to wonder how much ALEX was going through. With the nightmares he'd caused her to have, it had to be hard to be this close to him, he realized...even if he WAS chained to the bed! He resolved that he would never put her through that much, all at once, again.

Cordell's suspicions about Alex's fears were confirmed when she FINALLY touched his abdomen. As her fingertips grazed him, he laughed again, lightly this time...but he felt her hand shaking, as it moved slowly downward. Soon, her shoulders began to shake, too, and she fell, weeping, onto his chest. "I can't do it!" she wailed; touching him "there" was TOO big of a step, too soon. How he wanted to embrace her, and whisper comforting words in her ear. However, the chains prevented his doing the former, and "Rule Two" prevented his doing the latter.

He had an idea. As her weeping ebbed, he rattled his chains. "What do you want?" Alex growled.

He spoke quickly. "I know I've hurt you, and I want to help you get over it. I want to help you not have any more nightmares. I want to hold you--just for a minute--and try to fix what I broke last weekend...your spirit, if not your body...honestly, Ma'am."

Alex sniffed a couple of times, and then unhooked his wrists; she was grateful for what he'd said, even through her fear. She helped him sit up, but began to tremble again at the thought of being touched: after what he'd put her through...

"I can't do it!" she repeated, crying. The sound of hopelessness in her voice was a stab in Cordell's heart: he had no idea that she was actually FRIGHTENED of him. Ashamed at what he'd done, he also began to weep. There was so much he wanted to say to her. Alex finally found the courage to reach over and touch his hand. Reflexively, Cordell's hand started to cup hers, but he stopped himself in time: he didn't want to push her over the edge. As if reading his thoughts, Alex mustered enough courage to mold her husband's hand around hers. She leaned her head against his shoulder; together, their breathing steadied, and Alex began to relax. Neither one spoke.

After a few minutes, Alex had the nerve to continue--if not finish--what she'd started earlier. She gently pushed Cordell onto his back, and re-hooked his wrists. The Ranger was a little calmer; he was grateful for what little contact he'd had. Maybe after his time in Purgatory was finished....

He became aware of the tickling on his abdomen, and reacted accordingly. Next, Alex began--oh, so enticingly!!--stroking the outer edges of his pelvis. Cordell's laughter increased: he'd never realized how ticklish he was THERE! He was disappointed that she didn't move her hand ALL over that region of him, but he hoped that THAT would change soon, too.

**********

All too soon, Alex stopped. Cordell was rapidly forming the opinion that a LITTLE stimulation was worse than NONE at all: his loins screamed for release. His wife then lay against his side. She was sweating some, and trembling, but she'd crossed an important threshold: she was slowly overcoming the fear of sex that had gripped her all week. Her extended foreplay (the idea--if not the methods--had been suggested by Dr. Ellis) was making HIM suffer, Cordell was beginning to understand, but it was also helping re-build HER confidence. That realization gave him the determination to face whatever else lay ahead...he hoped.

After a couple of minutes, Alex got up, and unhooked Cordell. <<Now what?>> he wondered. <<Whatever it is, she's not saying.>> Alex guided her husband to a standing position, fastened his wrists behind him, and then said, "Let me show you around." She then escorted him through some of the rooms he hadn't had a chance to explore before her sudden appearance the night before. As they came to each room, Alex described it in detail.

"This is where I waited for you", she said. They'd come to a second bedroom, with shag carpet. Cordell's feet twitched, as the carpet tickled his toes. Alex made him stand still, while she went into the adjacent bathroom. Cordell heard water running, and then she returned. "This way", she said. The next sound he heard was the sliding of a glass door; he felt the warm air on his body, as she led him onto what was apparently a patio. They stopped at a low chaise lounge.

He heard the spritzing of water; it sounded as if Alex was spraying the chaise lounge. Next, she sprayed his backside; the water was cold, and he yelped.

Alex giggled; she was actually beginning to relax--a little bit--and have fun. She turned Cordell around, and guided him to a seated position. She'd already attached rawhide thongs to the lounge, and she first secured his feet, and then his wrists, in yet another spread-eagle...but the narrow chaise lounge was a welcome relief to his armpits and crotch. As Alex leaned over to secure the wrist furthest from her, Cordell felt the nightshirt she wore. This reminded him that HE was totally nude, AND outside; if anyone should happen by....

Alex saw the new expression on his face, and burst out laughing. She then proceeded to smear him with sun block, using her hand over MOST of his body; she used a soft rag to anoint his loins. "I'll be back in a bit, to turn you over", she said, getting up. He heard the sliding door close behind her.

During her absence, Cordell kept his ears trained for ANY sound; fortunately, he didn't hear any footsteps or aircraft. Soon, as promised, Alex returned, and turned him over, and used the sun block on his backside. "OK, we'll let you cook a little while on this side...and then, I've got another surprise for you!" He wasn't sure what to make of that, and the chill that shot up his spine increased when Alex started nibbling at the base of his neck; he laughed and screamed yet again.

**********

Despite his best efforts, Cordell fell asleep on the chaise lounge. Soon, he felt a hand shaking him, and a voice saying, "Wake up, Honey...Wake up..." As he chased the sleep from his brain, he realized it was Alex...but everything else was different: He wasn't tied down; he could move his limbs freely. There was no dry, hot desert sun; instead, just a lamp, and oppressive humidity. He wasn't lying on a chaise lounge in New Mexico; rather, he was in his bed, in Texas. "How'd I get here, Ma'am?", he mumbled, groggily.

At his last word, Alex exploded in giggles, as only she could. "MA'AM?!! Where did THAT come from?!!" He seldom called her that, except to demonstrate proper respect in front of a judge, manners to his children...or when he was in her doghouse. Judging from the tossing, turning, and moaning that preceded his question, he must have thought the latter situation existed, Alex realized.

As his wife continued to laugh, Cordell began to remember.... He remembered everything of the past weekend: the children were all gone--although they'd start returning in a few hours--and he and Alex had spent the weekend "together". He'd let her show him a few things--just enough to get by--but his primary purpose was admittedly self-serving: "getting even" for her recent night of teasing. Now, as he awoke completely, he began to reflect on the nightmare from which he'd just awakened.

He began, tentatively, "Alex...?" The D. A. saw that he was apparently very disturbed by something, so she quit laughing, helped him sit up, and focused her attention on him.

"What is it, Honey?", she prompted, gently rubbing his shoulders.

"Alex...did I...'hurt' you...any this weekend?" He was obviously afraid of the answer.

"Well I'll admit I'm a little sore and stiff--we haven't had that much uninterrupted sex in a long time--but it's nothing a long, hot uninterrupted BATH won't take care of!" She couldn't resist the jab, or the tweak on his ear, as she pulled him against her...and she took a certain amount of satisfaction in his guilty reaction.

"I'm sorry about that; I guess I got carried away...a little bit..."

"No argument there, Cowboy...but you're trying to change the subject; you still haven't answered my question." Alex decided to turn up the heat. "What's all this 'Ma'am' stuff?" At this, the head on her shoulder grew even hotter. Her question was met with apparent silence; only Cordell's breath against her bosom indicated that he'd said anything at all. "Again, please?", she prompted, tapping his shoulder, and lifting his chin. He cleared his throat.

"I said, 'It's a long story'" Cordell tried.

Alex had her hand in a certain spot on the back of his neck, and he flinched as she began stroking him. "No, that's NOT what you said...out with it, Mister, or I'll make you wish...."

"OK...OK...I give up!!" Cordell was laughing at her ministrations. "I said, 'I think I'll take the Fifth'", he gasped.

"Oooh! I can't wait to get to the bottom of this!" Alex crowed...

**********

With the next day being Columbus Day, the kids were out of school, and courts were closed; it required very little effort to persuade Cordell to take the day off, too. While he still did some work "in the field", his seniority and years of service had earned him an increasing amount of desk time. As the Walker offspring began arriving home, each one had his or her own tale to tell. The best news came from Chrissy.

"Look what Chance can do!", she crowed, after Sam Coyote had unloaded the mustang. She then demonstrated how her colt had calmed down enough to accept a blanket...with only a little bit of trembling. The seven-year-old had combined her father's tale about Santana with the teaching she'd received at the Reservation...rather well, in fact.

"Hey, that's great!"

"Way to go, Chrissy!"

"You go, girl!"

"We're proud of you!" This last was from her mother, who hugged her, as the two lawmen looked on, equally proud.

Cordell clapped his hands for attention. "Come on, everyone: breakfast time; eggs and ham for everyone! You too, Sam! I am proud to say you've earned it!", he announced. He knew Sam couldn't turn down Alex' cooking...not many men could. Besides, it was understood that when Cordell's Cherokee "brothers and sisters" visited the Walker ranch, that they would be fed. The conversation at breakfast turned to Chance's "breaking". It took all of the adults to convince Chrissy that she HAD to wait until the colt was a LITTLE bit bigger before anyone could even THINK of riding him...even bareback.

After breakfast, Alex finally got her long, hot bath; she'd had to settle for a quick shower beforehand. She insured herself of privacy THIS time, by threatening any and all young intruders with a week's exile to the barn: meals, lodging, and all chores. Her husband was warned he'd spend a MONTH there, if HE trespassed. He was also reminded that "one night" and "a full weekend" did NOT mean the same thing! Cordell knew that, eventually, she'd make up for lost time...and that THIS time, he wouldn't have the luxury of an advance warning: his sneak attack had assured him of getting one in return!!

Later, the Walkers went to the zoo. Here, the boys shone, showing their knowledge of plants and animals...even the ones without labels. At the zoo, the talk turned--as it did every October--to Halloween. As his children discussed costumes, parties, and such, Cordell failed to notice that his wife was unusually quiet...

**********

Finally, the big day arrived. Jessie and John had gotten permission to attend early parties and sleepovers with friends. That just left Jimmy and Chrissy to participate in the annual Halloween festivities at their parents' workplace. For a number of years, the various governmental agencies had sponsored a "Safe Halloween" for the employee's kids, from infant to teen. The costumed children--chaperoned by parents--would go from office to office, collecting goodies, and hoping to win a "night out", and a party, at the home of one of the employees.

This year, the first stop was the Department of Human Services office; employees there were judging the costumes. The final stop of the day for the winners would be Company B Ranger Headquarters, since the host family would come from THAT office.

Since Halloween fell during the week, the event was an all-day affair, with the age groups trickling in; on weekends, they came in torrents. The infants and pre-schoolers were brought in first; the winners would come back at day's end, to learn where they'd spend the night.

A baby dressed as one of Santa's elves took first place in that category: obviously, everyone was trying to "Think Cool"; the summer heat was lasting well into autumn. However, with football season in high gear, it seemed fitting that the pre-school winners were dressed as S. M. U. cheerleaders. The brother and sister team had their act down pat, too: they did a routine (less acrobatics, of course) to the school's fight song, a couple of rousing cheers...even twin "splits".

As the day progressed, there were the usual costumes: collegiate and professional "athletes", judges, attorneys, Rangers, cowboys, and so forth. No one envied the judges their task, but everyone agreed that the DHS employees had risen to the occasion: there was very little "second guessing" this year. The parade of costumes was just the to liven up an otherwise quiet day: even the criminals seemed to be staying out of, and, away from the "heat".

Lunchtime provided a break in the "parade"; the older children would be arriving a little later. The D. A.'s office had the third unenviable task of the day: providing lunch to the building's employees. As they ate, Cordell and Alex discussed some of the costumes they'd seen. "Aren't you chaperoning some of the kids?", Cordell asked, finishing his coffee.

"Yes, and I'll be getting changed as soon as Josie gets her with the H. O. P. E. van, and my costume." Josie Trivette--who would also "taxi" the winners to their destination--was also bringing her and Jimmy's five-year-old daughter, Jazmyn, who was in kindergarten. As exotically beautiful as her name, she was Josie and Jimmy's "Miracle Baby". Although married just a couple of years after the Walkers, the Trivettes had been unable to have children for many years. Repeated trips to doctors--even the Reservation--had proven unsuccessful. It wasn't until after Chrissy had been born, and had made an innocent, child-like wish for "a little cousin", that the Trivettes' prayers had been finally answered. Like their parents--especially their fathers--Chrissy and Jazmyn shared a special bond.

"I bet I know what you'll be dressed as!", Cordell said wickedly, bringing Alex back to Earth. A memory from his recent nightmare had flashed through his head; he whispered his suggestion in her ear...and then bolted from the office, laughing hard, as Alex flew at him.

"Just you wait, Cowboy!!", she threatened, waving her fist at him. <<Just you wait!!>>, she said to herself, smiling, as he disappeared...

**********

That afternoon, the older "contestants" announced their arrival with all manner of sounds: whoopin, yelling, singing and screeching rocked the building to its very foundation. As they had done all day, the winners were the last of each age group to appear. There were some very conspicuous absences among the larger group of contestants.

"Should we run up the white flag yet?", asked Ranger Cooke, after the teen winners had departed; for some mysterious reason, they'd come before some of the younger winners. "I mean, we all know who's going to win...again. What is it, three straight years?"

"Four", corrected Walker. "But it looks like we'll see a new face in the kindergarten category." The last statement was superfluous: since children were only in kindergarten one year, this winner changed annually. Walker was just trying to share the limelight, everyone knew.

"That's just because Jazmyn can't win the PRE-school award any more", razzed Ranger Gage, ignoring the smirk he got from Ranger Trivette. "Hey! We haven't heard anything about their costumes!"

"Join the club; everything's been done at the H. O. P. E. Center", Jimmy said. A glance at Cordell confirmed that HE didn't have any idea what the children would appear as, either. Josie and Alex had done an excellent job of keeping THIS secret. The back of his neck began to tingle...

As the winners in the other categories began returning to Company B, Commander Briscoe came from his office to greet them. He congratulated the winners, and assured the parents that they would be in good hands that night. Once the host family's name was drawn, that employee would be provided with directions, extra clothes, and so forth, so that the children could be taken home--or to school the next day. The lucky (?) employee would be given November 1 off.

"Anybody ready for a nice, cool dessert?" called a familiar voice from the doorway. If the Rangers thought it was hot OUTSIDE, one in particular was about to find the heat INSIDE even more unbearable. Alex and Josie, dressed as twin witches, entered first; they held the door for the last of the winners.

"Boy, that'll cool you down fast!", said Briscoe...oblivious to Cordell's reaction. The other children applauded politely for the young winners before them. Jimmy and Chrissy Walker had pooled their efforts--at the apparent urging of their mother, Cordell realized--and had come dressed as a banana split. They shared a canoe-like "bowl" outfit, which had a "banana" on it. Two "scoops" of "ice cream"--complete with "toppings" and "whipped cream" sat atop the "banana". One "scoop" was Jimmy's head; the other was Chrissy's. Much to Cordell's consternation, each "scoop" was topped with a gigantic "cherry"!! His face quickly matched the red of the "cherries".

"Would you like some entertainment during dessert?", asked Josie Trivette. The presence of children kept the seduction from her voice, but a glance at her husband prompted him to respond.

"Yeah! Bring on the entertainment!", he called. His fellow Rangers--except for the mysteriously tongue-tied Cordell--quickly took up the cry. Young Jimmy took over.

"Ladies and gentlemen...for your dining entertainment, we present...Jazmyn!" Chimes and some eerily familiar music announced her arrival. The five-year-old slithered in, dressed from head to toe in...veils.

As the young girl performed her "belly dance", there were "Ooh's!" and "Aah's!" from most of the audience. Cordell, on the other hand, had decided to masquerade as an ostrich: after one look at his partner's daughter--the worst possible act to follow his own children, given recent "activities" at home--he'd lain his face on his arms, and tried to hide under his desk, looking up just often enough to avoid appearing rude. He knew Alex was enjoying his show; he just hoped no one else would notice him!

As the dance ended--to thunderous applause--Briscoe stepped forward. "That was a wonderful job, Jazmyn...all of you, in fact. Now, let's find out where you're going from here."

<<Please let it be me!!>>, Cordell prayed. He now knew why Alex had been so patient with him all month...and why her lovemaking hadn't been more intense lately. He also realized that, unless the children went home with him, that Alex WOULD be collecting on the balance of what she owed him...TONIGHT!! Her work with the costumes was just the "tip of the iceberg". What he DIDN'T know was that his name had been removed from the pot: he literally had NO CHANCE at escape!!

After the winners were thanked and congratulated by the employees (how Cordell EVER got through that forever remained a mystery!), Briscoe went to the receptionist's desk, and brought back a miniature "cauldron", with slips of paper in it. Everyone else began a "drum roll", by beating rapidly on desks, file cabinets, and the like.

"And the winner is...Ranger..." Cordell felt a thrill of hope. "...James Trivette!" As the children gathered about his partner, Cordell glanced at his wife. Alex was holding a slip of paper--bearing his name, he knew--and wearing a look that said, "GOTCHA!!"

**********

Cordell seriously considered going to a hotel that night. He and Alex had long ago begun using certain holidays as excuses for trying out new "exercises" at night. Halloween had become such an event, that they'd agreed to alternate. Cordell had forgotten that this year, it was her turn; coupled with what she already "owed" him--and with the early start she'd gotten, with the costumes--he knew that the memory of this Halloween would remain with him a long time.

When he entered the house--after tending to the horses--all was dark, save for a candle illuminating the witch's hat Alex had worn earlier. A note was attached announcing this as the first leg of a "scavenger hunt". When he entered the bedroom, with the required items on the list (<<Thank goodness, we can't 'use' any of them!!>>, Cordell thought.), he encountered a room full of candles. Alex perused the items, nodded her approval, and then sat him on the foot of the bed, with his hands underneath his buttocks.

"Show time!", she whispered, nibbling at his ear. She began by shedding her high heels; next, she knelt and removed his boots and socks, wiping his feet with a cool, damp cloth. The gooseflesh that arose was enhanced by Alex's breath on his feet; as it tickled his toes, he began to shake. Alex then used her toes to further tickle his toes, and the tops of his feet. When the level of his laughter was to her liking, Alex placed one foot on the bed, next to his pinioned hand, and began to remove the garter and stocking from that leg.

As she repeated the process with the other leg, she lifted the hem of her sheer negligee, to reveal...absolutely nothing. In his current state--fully clothed, save for his bare feet--this was totally maddening. A moan escaped him. "Save some for later, Darling!", she teased. As she leaned to unbutton his shirt, she got close enough to let him smell her perfume--his favorite, a musk scent--dabbed not only on her wrists and behind her ears, but also along her cleavage. Cordell's moan became a whimper.

His shirt was unbuttoned--and pulled from his jeans--but not removed. Alex lifted the negligee again, and sat on his lap, and then removed his belt...one agonizing belt loop at a time. Next, she pushed her husband onto his back, and went to work on the jeans themselves. "Darn zipper's stuck!", she grumbled teasingly. The hand she slipped into the front of the jeans belied her tone, though. Cordell yelped, as she tickled him there.

**********

By now, Cordell was trembling. Alex freed his arms--extending them above his head--as she prepared to remove his shirt. "Up...", she said melodically, as she ran her fingers up his ribcage; his shirt was pushed up to his elbows. Cordell's back arched as he laughed. "Down..." Minus the shirt, her hands glided to his feet, taking the jeans as far as his knees.

"Up..." This time, the shirt reached his wrists. "Down..." Cordell's anticipation (among other things) grew as the jeans were discarded. Alex then stood, and slipped the negligee off her shoulders. Even as she began the third circuit up his ribs, Cordell managed to take in the marvel of her body. Not many women looked this good after more than 15 years of marriage, and four children, he reflected, as he guffawed yet again.

Finally rid of the shirt, Cordell prayed that he was also to be freed from his underwear. <<I've GOTTA remember NOT to wear briefs on holidays!!>>, he scolded himself. Mercifully, Alex removed those on her way down...but he knew there was more to come. She brought his arms back down, placing his hands at his sides...this time, holding them in place with her knees, as she straddled him.

"Oooh!", she squealed, as she made herself comfortable. Her high-pitched voice, as much as the hairs now tickling his belly--brought forth another round of laughter from the trapped Ranger. This action was so successful, that Alex pursued it, wriggling her hips repeatedly. A staccato stomping on the floor was her reward.

She was ready to join with him--they could both feel it--but she was determined to outlast him. To take her mind off her own burning, Alex surveyed the sight in front of, and beneath, her. Cordell's head was thrown back; he was panting hard, after so much laughing. His wife was now letting her fingertips graze his chest hair and nipples, as her mouth and tongue played "ping-pong" with his earlobes. Cordell moaned even louder, and tried--in vain--to free his hands. He wanted so desperately to guide her hands--or even his--to just the right spot. "Do you know what my favorite thing about Halloween was, as a child?", she asked.

<<Uh, oh!>>, he thought, but he asked, "No, what was it?"

A spine-tingling witch's cackle answered him. As Alex leaned forward she murmured throatily, "Bobbing for apples." With that, she held his chin in place with her thumbs, and rubbed her nose over his bobbing Adam's apple. If Cordell was unprepared for the coldness of her nose, he was even MORE unprepared for what was to follow.

**********

It seemed, to Cordell, that an eternity passed as Alex kissed, licked, and loudly sucked at his throat. It was a vicious circle: the more she worked on him, the more he laughed...and the more she worked on him. Finally, she stopped; it was hard to tell which one was breathing harder. "I'll get back to my 'bag of tricks' in a little bit", she warned. "Now how about a little 'treat'?", she teased, panting at his ear.

"Yes...PLEASE!", Cordell begged; his patience was about to be rewarded!! As he pulled his legs onto the bed, Alex slid naturally to the spot that awaited her. As she finally mounted him, the resulting explosion was immediate and mutual.

After several minutes of frenzied lovemaking to her husband--it was, after all, her "year" to call the shots--Alex slowed the pace. They were both exhausted, but Cordell knew that she wasn't finished. Since they had come straight from work, neither one had eaten supper yet, so Alex called a timeout, and--after each one had a quick bathroom break--went down to the kitchen. She returned, with a platter of finger foods she'd had in the refrigerator...and found her husband dozing peacefully. He hadn't had the strength to cover himself, and the sight was almost enough to make Alex forget her PHYSICAL hunger. <<You don't look so bad, yourself>>, she thought, before waking him up. Of course, Alex hadn't bothered to dress before going downstairs, so the sight that met HIS eyes...

"Hi", she crooned, as he awoke. The way he stretched his arms above his head took what was left of Alex's breath.

He sighed as he took in the vision of her. "Hi", he crooned back. "That looks tempting", he said, looking at the food...but they both knew what he REALLY meant.

"First we eat...then we have dessert", she promised.

"SOUNDS tempting, too." He took a bite of the sandwich wedge she held...leering all the while.

They ate in silence, with Alex feeding her husband, who still lay on his back. Afterwards, she started kissing him. When she gave him that most intimate of kisses, Cordell's moans reached a crescendo; he thought he would explode again, but she wasn't ready to give him that satisfaction. Instead, she followed up the kissing by stroking his body from head to toe, delighting in his gentle laughter. Unlike earlier, though, this light "tickle massage", as they called it, was designed totally for pleasure...for both the recipient and the giver.

"Round and round she goes...and where she stops, nobody knows", Alex chanted, as soft chuckling continued to meet her ears. She was letting her fingers and palms circle every square inch of his body. Cordell closed his eyes, in anticipation of the highlight of the massage...but Alex--true to her words--had another trick up her "sleeve". "Koochie, koochie, koo!" Alex used the fingernails of her index fingers to lightly scratch his crotch.

"Ahh!!", Cordell yelped, as he tried to scratch the itch that she'd induced, but he was too slow; Alex had mounted him again. She used her hips to tease him briefly, before "settling in"...

"So, Cowboy, what have you learned?", Alex quizzed him later. A truce had been declared--which Alex hoped would be remembered, when she was on the receiving end next year--and the Walkers lay in each other's arms, sharing caresses and light French kisses.

"Two things...Number One: You apparently have some friends in DHS, judging from a couple of those blue ribbon winners..." Alex didn't deny this; she just laughed, and nibbled his ear again.

"What's the second thing?", she asked, after a minute.

"Number Two: Don't mess with a woman who can read a calendar!" With that, they both laughed, and Alex rolled atop him, as the grandfather clock below chimed the "witching hour"....

THE END