Stalker, Texas Ranger By: LELANI DIXON

LELANI.DIXON@worldnet.att.net

 

Chapter 1

 

James Trivette glanced over at his partner, Cordell Walker, and wondered how to broach the subject. Not coming up with any opening lines, Jimmy looked back out of the windshield of the Dodge Ram that they were traveling in. They were driving through an unpopulated area of Texas often referred to as the 'badlands'. The name was very apt thought Jimmy as he looked out at the dry scrub grass and desert-like vista that seemed to go on indefinitely. Jimmy took a deep breath and once again turned to look at his partner. Again without saying anything, he returned his gaze to the two-lane road they traveled on. Walker was a patient man, but Trivette had been playing this particular game for over an hour and he was pretty darn tired of it. "What, Trivette? Just spit it out!"

Trivette looked a little sheepish having been caught being indecisive. "Well... I was kind of wondering..." His speech stumbled to a halt and Walker shot him an exasperated look. "Trivette, we've been partnered for nearly eight years now. You were the best man at my wedding; we've saved each other's hides on countless occasions. What is it?"

Trivette took a deep breath and let out a long sigh. He and Walker were best friends and he knew that Walker would do anything for him. He also knew that Walker was a very private person and he did not answer 'relationship' questions very willingly. Trivette considered just dropping the whole subject, but he was struggling with his own love life or rather lack of a love life and he was desperate for some sage advice. He finally got up the nerve to ask a question he had never asked Walker. "When did you know that Alex was 'the one'?"

Walker tried to hide his smile behind an irritated look. He had thought that Trivette was heading in this direction. He had just broken up with the latest in a series of beautiful women that he dated. He also had a birthday coming up and Alex had commented just a few nights before that she thought Jimmy was feeling the male version of his 'biological clock' ticking. Whatever that meant. In a rather forced gruff voice, Walker avoided a direct response instead asking, "what brought this on?"

Jimmy let out another woeful sigh. "I don't know. I guess just seeing you and Alex together and now with the baby coming..." Walker couldn't contain the smile this time, he was really looking forward to fatherhood. He didn't comment though, he knew Trivette wasn't finished. It was kind of ironic actually; usually he couldn't get Trivette to shut up. He wasn't used to having to pry information out of him. "I guess I'm just wondering if I'll ever find the right woman and if I do, how I'll know it." Walker took pity on him and decided to open up and share a little of what he had gone through when he had struggled to define his relationship with the beautiful, stubborn Assistant District Attorney who had alternated between infuriating him and flirting with him.

"Well you know, it wasn't love at first sight. I remember the first time I saw her, I thought 'Wow, now she's a really beautiful woman'." "Oh sure, that's what you were thinking." Trivette challenged Walker's version of the past. Walker smiled a small smile that his beard nearly hid, "Well, something like that. Anyway, do you want to hear the rest or not?" Trivette held up his hands in surrender, "I'm sorry, go on."

Walker got a far off look as he remembered. "We clashed right off. She came at me like a pit bull in court and made me so mad. I could have happily strangled her. Later, I couldn't think of anything but how mad she made me. When we bumped in to each other at C.D.'s on New Year's Eve, she started right back in telling me how rude I was. I just had an impulse to shut her up and I really couldn't strangle her..." "So you kissed her instead. Is that when you knew?" "No, not even close. The only thing I knew was that I really enjoyed kissing her and that I was going to pay for a very long time for that impulse." "Alex made it rough for you." "That's not the half of it. Later, I tried to talk to her, but she wouldn't let me get a word in. She was too mad to speak to me, but if looks could kill... That wasn't the worst of it though. I could stand the silent treatment, but I couldn't get her off my mind. I thought of her constantly. I had it bad and she wasn't going to give me an inch of leeway." "So that's when you knew?" Walker gave an exasperated sigh. "Trivette, the only thing I knew is that a beautiful woman was mad at me and I couldn't make it right. I tried everything." "Did you send her flowers?" "Now why would I do that?" "I don't know. To say you were sorry?" "I wasn't sorry. I was just sorry that she was so mad. She made my life miserable. I couldn't do anything right. I didn't fill out this form right or I was 'too physical' when I busted some lowlife." "How long did she make you suffer?" "Forever. Well, maybe a month." "Then what happened?" "Uncle Ray got curious about what was causing my bad temper. He came to Ranger Headquarters one day and just sat in a chair and watched. He said that he wanted to know what lawmen did all day long in an office surrounded by machines. What he was really looking for was my reaction to every female who walked in the door." "And he figured it out." "Oh yeah. Alex walked over to my desk and threw a file on it and fumed at me for several minutes. I don't know. I hadn't followed some dad gummed procedure or other. Uncle Ray walked over and just charmed the socks off of her. He had her laughing and talking about herself in minutes. And that's when I knew that I was in serious trouble." "What?" "When I was jealous of my own Uncle..." Trivette started to laugh. Walker cut his eyes at him. "Uncle Ray had her agreeing to come out to the ranch to look at a new horse he had just bought. He told her it was a wedding gift for a young woman and he wanted her opinion on it." "Was that the truth?" "Sort of. The horse was a gift for Morning Star, but Uncle Ray knew she would love the horse. He just used it as an excuse to get Alex to the ranch." Walker stopped talking, thinking back on the special man his Uncle Ray was. He could charm a rattlesnake. He had Alex eating out of his hand in minutes.

Trivette broke into his memories. "So then what happened?" "Alex came to the ranch and Uncle Ray asked her to ride the horse to see how she behaved for a woman rider. It was all a set up. We rode up to the lake with all the fixings for a picnic and half way there, his horse comes up lame." "Really, how convenient." "Oh yeah, Uncle Ray was a great schemer. Of course he insisted that we continue on without him and he boxed us both in. We rode on to the lake and neither one of us said a word. I think Alex realized that she'd been had. Of course, she thought I was in on the plan. Once we got to the lake, she kept as far away from me as she could." "So how did you get her to forgive you?" "Well you know she's never been fond of snakes, but I had to thank the one that was sunning itself on the rock next to the lake that day. It was a rattler and it wouldn't have minded sharing the spot, but Alex didn't see it and she tossed her hat on it. It started to rattle and I scooped it into the hat and flung it towards the other bank." "So then you're the hero and she went all soft on you." "Nope. She hit me. That was her favorite hat and now it was floating at the bank on the other side of the lake with a snake crawling out of it." Trivette started to chuckle. "Man you couldn't win." "No and I never will. There really wasn't a moment when I knew that Alex was 'the one' it was a slow process and I fought against it all the way." "But there had to be some time when you knew that you'd be together forever. That she was the one woman for you." "Trivette, there were a lot of those moments. The time we rescued her from LaRue when he kidnapped her and the others in the elevator. The time she took me river rafting and..." Walker's voice trailed off. He couldn't exactly tell Trivette what had happened that night alone in the woods with the sound of the river and laughter turning to passion. "I don't know Trivette, I can't tell you that some bolt of lightening struck me and I knew. I can only tell you that despite all the arguments I had with myself; there was a deep knowledge that couldn't be put into words. I just knew that this lady was too special, too much a part of me. When I tried to imagine my life without her, I just couldn't. She was in every dream and she was always a part of every plan I made for the future, long before she knew and long before I knew."

Trivette looked out the window and noticed that they were coming up on the town they were headed to. They'd been called in by the local sheriff to assist on a bust. There was a crack house that was supplying the locals with drugs. The sheriff had enough evidence to take them down, but they wanted to get the suppliers. Sheriff Tate thought that the 'mule' was a woman who came twice a month on the Greyhound bus. She got off the bus and went to the house where she stayed over night. She caught the bus back in the opposite direction the next day. She was due to be in town later that day if she followed her usual schedule.

Trivette looked over at Walker and realized that his friend had told him more about his relationship with Alex in the past hour than he had in the past eight years. He wasn't sure what had changed in their friendship. Thinking back he decided the change wasn't related to Walker marrying Alex so much as it was in response to the loss of C.D. Their friend and mentor had died of a heart attack several months ago and losing him had affected all of them. Walker would have told C.D. the stuff he had told him today. And if he were honest with himself, he would have asked C.D. the questions he'd asked Walker today. 'I guess we're both moving in to fill the empty spaces in each other that C.D. left.' It was a comforting thought and one he'd have to examine later. Right now though they were pulling up to the Sheriff's Station.

 

Chapter 2

 

Walker and Trivette were hunkered down behind a trash bin that was in an alley across from the suspected crack house. Sheriff Tate came over the walkie-talkie telling them that the woman they had been waiting for was approaching on foot to the east of their position. Trivette looked out to see a heavily pregnant woman walking toward them. She moved quickly and kept taking quick glances to each side of her as she walked. As she mounted the steps to the house, Sheriff Tate made the call to move in. Within moments the house was surrounded by the Sheriff, his deputies and the two Company B Rangers. Trivette grabbed the woman as she twirled and fled back toward the street. They both fell and he tried to cushion her, but the fall knocked the wind out of both of them. He kept her down on the ground and with his gun drawn, kept guard over her. Walker burst in the front door and took out two armed men with a roundhouse kick and a well placed elbow jab. The men fleeing from the back door and windows were rounded up by the deputies. Three minutes from the initial order to move in, they had seven suspects in custody including the woman Trivette had handcuffed and had walked over to the Ram that was parked in the alley.

It took two hours to sort out who they had busted and decide what to charge the various offenders with. It turned out that the woman wasn't pregnant, but rather she wore a padded suit that was filled with more than enough crack cocaine to charge her with a felony. Two of the men in the house were addicts who had come to make a purchase. Two were sellers who had come to make a pickup before heading back out onto the streets. One man was an enforcer who provided 'incentive' to those who were in debt to the ringleader, Cade Simms. Sheriff Tate assured the Rangers that Simms and the others would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. After interrogating Simms, Walker and Trivette knew that he would never reveal his connections. They decided that their best bet to track down the supplier whom they believed operated out of Dallas was Darlene Harrison, the woman who had transported the drugs.

Walker and Trivette put the woman between them in the cab of the Ram and headed back toward Dallas. Darlene sat very quietly between them. She hadn't said anything since she was arrested. She was a very small woman with a slight build. She was a light skinned black woman with high cheekbones, long lashes and full lips. Trivette hadn't seen her eyes as she kept them down toward the ground at all times. Actually, she was something of a puzzle. There was no grandstanding, no threats, just a morose young woman who looked as if her life had ended. Trivette felt a tug of sympathy for her and then chastised himself for the feeling. Here was a woman who transported drugs to crack houses. When he saw the single tear slide silently down her cheek, he knew he couldn't be blamed for the sympathy he felt. He was human after all.

Walker looked over at Darlene and decided it was time to try getting the woman to open up. "Well Darlene, you're looking at a lot of hard time. You have only one chance of getting yourself out of this mess and that is to cooperate with us. When we get to Dallas, I'm sure the DA will be willing to offer you a plea bargain. The person we want is the one who supplied you with the drugs. It's up to you, but if you cooperate, things will be much better for you." Darlene kept her head down, but she managed to speak in a quiet voice that conveyed fear as well as exhaustion. "He'll kill Samantha. I can't cooperate, he'll kill her." Trivette gently prodded, "who's Samantha?" "My younger sister. I have to do whatever I can to protect her. She's all I've got." Walker and Trivette spent the rest of the journey home piecing together Darlene's story, trying to get her to give them the information they needed while helping the woman they discovered was a pawn in the entire scheme.

After booking Darlene and placing her into the holding cell, Walker drove home to the ranch and to Alex. It had been a long day and it was after eight when he pulled up the driveway and parked behind her Sebring. He climbed out of the cab and realized that the light was on in the barn, so he walked over to check it out. As he stepped through the double doors, he heard Alex talking to her horse Angel. "I know girl, mean old Walker won't let me ride you when he isn't around and he isn't around much is he?" She talked to the horse and fed her carrots. Ranger, Walker's horse, whinnied when he spotted Walker and got as close as the stall door would allow him, stretching his head and neck out toward Walker. "Well at least someone is happy to see me," Walker said as he walked over to pat his horse and offer him a carrot he grabbed from the bin. Alex looked up and smiled, glad to see her husband home safe and sound. She gave Angel one last pat and walked over to hug her husband from behind, slipping her arms around his waist and laying her cheek against the denim of his jacket. Walker continued to pay attention to his horse and pretend to ignore his wife. Alex continued to hold him and let her hands wander from his waist to his chest and down again. Walker held out for as long as he could, but it was a losing battle and he knew it. He turned in her arms and wrapped his own arms around her, pulling her fully into him.

The two held each other for several minutes before leaning back and looking into each other's eyes. "I missed you." Alex stated simply. "I could tell. So I'm 'mean old Walker' who's 'never around.'" Alex smiled and nodded in agreement. "I heard you drive up, you were meant to overhear what I said. Walker I really want to ride and it's been two weeks since we've had time." "I know honey. Let's plan to get off work early tomorrow and we'll come home and ride up to the lake and have an early dinner outdoors. "We'll freeze," his wife declared. "We'll keep each other warm," he stated. "What do you say?" "Okay," she agreed, "but if I get cold..." "Never happen," he promised. The two turned off the barn light and headed up to the house.

Walker came down from his shower to find that his wife had heated up some dinner for him. He sat down to eat the chicken casserole dish she had prepared earlier that evening and he filled her in on his day. "So this Darlene is definitely willing to make a deal?" "Yeah, she's scared and I think she'll respond best to your brand of questioning. She'll probably give you all the information you need when you take her statement tomorrow. Apparently her stepfather, Mike Leeds, is the one we're after. He is part of a smuggling operation bringing the drugs in from South America. Darlene wasn't sure from where exactly, but she has overheard enough conversations to give us some names and other details. This Leeds character has really worked this girl over. She's afraid of her own shadow. Darlene's mother died when Darlene was seventeen. She has a sister, Samantha, who was only five at the time of her mother's death and Leeds is her legal guardian. Samantha is seventeen now, but Leeds has them so afraid that they have both stayed with him and done whatever he wants them to. It gets pretty ugly, Darlene didn't say too much, but it wasn't hard to fill in the blanks." "That's awful. I'll see her first thing in the morning and see what I can do. It sounds like she and her sister may need to be placed in protective custody for awhile at least." "Yeah, we may have another problem though." "What's that?" "Trivette." "Jimmy? What's wrong with Jimmy?" "Alex, Darlene is beautiful, in a sad, 'save me' kind of way. If you'd seen the way Jimmy looked at her after she told her story..." Alex smiled at her cynical husband, "you never know, this could work out to be a wonderful thing for both of them. Don't jump to any conclusions, just wait and give it, give them a chance." "I married a hopeless romantic." Alex raised her eyebrows at him and stated "if you're complaining..." "Not at all," Walker knew when to stop an argument before he lost.

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

The next morning, Alex sat in the interrogation room when Darlene Harrison was escorted in by a female prison guard. Alex took her time surveying the woman, sizing her up. "Darlene, I'm Deputy DA, Alex Cahill-Walker, won't you please sit down." Alex nodded to the guard to leave the room and she got right down to business. "Darlene, Ranger's Trivette and Walker have told me some of your story. I've also been informed that you have declined to have an attorney present. The DA's office is willing to provide you and your sister with protective custody in exchange for information and your testimony against Mike Leeds and any other key players in the drug organization. In exchange you will be given full immunity which means that you will not be charged if you cooperate fully. Are you willing to agree to these terms?" Darlene looked at Alex with a mixture of fear and relief and nodded her agreement. "Okay then. I know that this is going to be very difficult, but if you can give me as many details of the operation as you can remember, we'll be able to help you." Alex interviewed the woman for three and half-hours. The story that evolved was heartbreaking.

Soon after Darlene's mother had died, Mike Leeds had begun using Darlene to transport drugs and to 'entertain' various men he dealt with. Darlene had been prostituted to these men and Mike used the threat of harming her younger sister to keep her compliant. As Samantha grew older, the threat became that her services would be used if Darlene left or refused to cooperate. Darlene traveled around Texas often disguised as a pregnant woman as she brought the drugs to various 'retailers'. She took busses to avoid having someone track her down through a license plate. It was during one of these trips that Walker and Trivette had busted her. Darlene wasn't expected back until later that afternoon. Walker and Trivette had been staking out the location that Darlene had given them and were waiting until they had confirmation that Mike Leeds was inside before making the bust.

Walker and Trivette watched as a car pulled up to the auto parts warehouse that Darlene said was a front for Leeds' drug business. "What do you think Trivette, is that our man?" Jimmy looked through the binoculars and then compared the heavy set black man with the picture they had to identify Leeds. "Yep, that's him." Walker picked up the radio and said, "All units, we're moving in." Leeds was just closing the door behind him when Trivette slammed against it knocking the man forward and off balance. Trivette ran in and wrapped his arm around Leeds neck with his gun drawn and aimed at the large room. Leeds acted as an unwitting shield and Walker who came in right behind Trivette somersaulted behind a barrel off to the right. Their backup came in through the rear entrance and there was gunfire all around as the men in the warehouse tried to defend their positions and the law enforcement agents returned fire.

One by one, the men in the warehouse dropped to the ground as they were hit or they dropped their weapons and held their hands up in surrender. As the echoes of the gunshots faded, the officers moved in, cuffing some, checking others for vital signs. Trivette continued his chokehold on Leeds and read him his rights without easing off the pressure on his windpipe. There was so much more he wanted to do to this man who had harmed Darlene and her sister, but his ethics wouldn't allow him the pleasure.

On the way back to Ranger Headquarters to write up the bust, Walker radioed Rangers' Sydney Cook and Francis Gage who were standing by waiting for word to pick up Samantha at the Leeds' house. They approached the house with caution, but there were no guards posted. Leed's had begun to believe that he was infallible and that no one would dare come to his home. Sydney rang the doorbell and after several moments, Gage followed up with a persistent knock. "What do you think?" Sydney asked her partner. "Let's take a look around and see if we can find anything. She may just be out running an errand or something," Gage answered.

The house was located on a large piece of property in an upper middle class neighborhood. They each took a side and walked around the large one story house looking into windows. As they rounded the back, they saw a swimming pool and in the pool was a fully dressed woman floating face down. Gage was closer and he was the one who ran and dove into the water turning the woman over and dragging her to the side. Sydney reached in and hooked her arms under the woman's arms and hauled her out of the water. They checked for a pulse, but it was obvious that they were too late to be able to revive her. Sydney looked at the young pretty face that shared the high cheekbones and long lashes of her older sister. "Who could have killed her? And why?" Sydney asked her partner. "I don't know Syd. We'd better call in and get the coroner over here to give us some answers."

Over an hour later, Alex parked her car at the curb in front of Leed's house. Darlene was with her and she rushed out of the car and around to the back. Her sister's body had been placed in a black body bag that had been sealed. It wasn't until Darlene zipped the bag open and saw the lifeless face of her young sister that she fell to the ground overcome with shock and grief. Alex did her best to comfort the distraught woman, but she felt useless as Darlene began rocking back and forth making a wailing sound of pure anguish. Walker and Trivette arrived on the scene and Jimmy walked over to where Darlene sat on the ground with Alex. He gently lifted Alex up to her feet and then scooped Darlene up into his arms and carried her through the sliding door into the house.

Walker went to Sydney and Gage to try to discover what had happened. He was so certain that they had acted quickly enough to protect Samantha. The reason they hadn't staked out Leed's to try to catch even bigger fish in their net was that they were afraid it would endanger her. "What have you found out?" he asked the two younger Rangers. "It looks like a suicide Walker. We found two empty bottles of pills on the kitchen counter. One was a prescription muscle relaxer and the other was a pain medication. Both were prescribed to Mike Leeds. Apparently he suffered from chronic back pain." "Any idea why she would do this?" "Just speculation, but the M.E. said that there were signs that she had been raped. She said that she would give us more details on possible who and when after she gets the body to the morgue." "I can guess who. Damn." Walker was so angry he wasn't able to see straight. If only they had gone ahead and arrested Leeds last night. Maybe Samantha would still be alive. The rest of the rats would have gone into hiding, but a young girl may have been saved. Walker turned on his heel and walked away from the officers and technicians gathering evidence.

Darlene had started to shiver and Jimmy looked at Alex, "she needs medical attention." Alex nodded her head in agreement, "let's take her on in to emergency." Darlene was unresponsive as Jimmy again scooped her up and carried her out to Alex's car. They nearly walked into Walker as they reached the curb. "We're taking her in," Trivette stated as Alex opened the door for Trivette to lower her into the front seat. Alex handed him her car keys, "you go ahead and drive her, Walker and I will follow in the Ram." Walker nodded in acknowledgement of the plan and the two vehicles headed to the Emergency Clinic.

The doctor came out of Darlene's room and approached the three people waiting for news on her condition. "I've given her a sedative and she's sleeping. She's been through a lot. She's underweight and shows signs of chronic stress." "From what we know of it, her life has been hell," Alex agreed. "Well, we'll keep her here over night, but truthfully, what she needs is a vacation and a healthy diet." Walker thanked the doctor and he left to attend to his next patient. "Did you hear that? She needs a vacation. Instead we're going to ask her to relive every detail of the nightmare she's endured the last twelve years. Over and over again. Then we're going to put her on the witness stand and let some defense attorney tear her apart." Trivette kicked the chair in frustration. "Easy Trivette. We'll do everything we can to protect her." Walker wasn't sure who the words were meant to comfort, his partner or himself. "We'll also get her into counseling. I think she's a good candidate for living at HOPE House until she can get her life into some sort of order." Alex referred to the center that she had established and helped run. There were some live-in rooms available for battered women and their children as well as others who required temporary shelter. "We can't move her to HOPE House until we're certain she's not in any danger," Walker stated. "I know, but if we're not going after any other associates of Leeds, it won't take long to do that." "I'm not going to do anything that puts Darlene in danger, she's lost more than anyone should in two lifetimes." Walker looked at the other two who nodded in silent agreement.

Back at Ranger Company B Headquarters, Walker, Trivette and Alex met up with Sydney and Gage. They filled them in on Darlene's condition and Sydney shared a glance with her partner who had changed into dry clothes as soon as they had arrived. "We found a suicide note that Samantha wrote to Darlene," Sydney stated. Trivette looked up; "Did it give a reason?" Gage jumped in, "it was short and to the point. It simply said, 'I can't be the lock on your cage now that I've had a taste of the hell you've endured. Fly away and be free.'" "That pretty well seals it. Leeds must have raped her and Samantha couldn't live with what he had done to her and what he forced her sister to do. She must have been aware that Leeds used her to make Darlene do his bidding." The others nodded in silent agreement. "But how is this going to affect Darlene? Now she not only has to live with her sister's suicide, but she also has to live with the fact that she did it to save her." Jimmy was clearly deeply affected by the horror that Darlene had survived and all that she would have to accept and deal with. "We'll do everything we can to help her Jimmy. That's a promise." Jimmy looked at Alex and tightened his mouth determined not to state the obvious 'too little too late'.

Alex rode home with Walker later that day in the Ram, leaving her car in the parking garage at work. They rode in silence; each filled with their own thoughts and concerns. When they reached the ranch, Alex suggested they go ahead with their planned horseback ride. Walker looked skeptical, he really wasn't up to it, but she was insistent. The sun was setting as they reached the lake and their favorite picnic spot. Alex laid out the thick blanket on the ground and set out the thermos of soup as well as the bread she had packed. She had a second thermos of coffee and sliced Kiwi fruit for desert. Walker gathered wood and built a fire within a ring of stones to help keep them warm. They were both wearing thick jackets to ward off the winter chill, but it was a fairly mild night.

They ate in silence and then Walker backed himself up against a tree log and Alex shifted so that her back leaned against his chest. They sat and listened to the night's sounds. The occasional splash of a fish in the lake, the breeze rustling the few remaining leaves in the trees, the scamper of nocturnal animals over the dried leaves on the ground. Walker breathed in a deep breath of cold air and looked up at the clear sky that seemed too full to hold all of its stars. He squeezed his arms tighter around Alex and spoke quietly into her ear. "You were right. I needed this. If I had gone straight into the house I would have kept all my frustration pent up. Being out here helps put things into perspective. Uncle Ray used to tell me that 'Life is bigger than the individual, but that doesn't make the individual any less significant'. It's hard to see that inside four walls." Alex leaned her head back against him. "A young woman died tonight and the man who is responsible is in jail. Life is bigger than we are and we can't control it. Bad things happen and blaming ourselves or second-guessing ourselves won't change anything. We all agreed that we should wait to take down Leeds and his operation today. That decision was made based on the best information we could gather at the time. We knew that Darlene wasn't expected back until late today. We should have had that time to gather information and make the best plan possible. If we had tried to arrest Leeds last night, or earlier today, one of the officers may have been hurt. Instead, you made a plan and took precautions. None of us could possibly know that Leeds was going to force himself on a young woman he had raised." Alex paused; waiting to see if anything she had said to Walker had gotten through. "I guess all we can do now is help Darlene as much as possible," Walker said in a resigned voice. "I think Jimmy will see to that. He seems to be quite taken with her." Alex shivered slightly as she spoke and her teeth were starting to chatter. "Okay, we'd better get back. I don't want you to get chilled." Walker leaned forward and got to his feet, pulling his wife up to stand in the circle of his arms. "If I don't say it enough, I love you," he said before he placed a gentle kiss to her lips. Alex's eyes glistened with tears. "You say it everyday. You don't always say it with words, but you always say it."

Back at the hospital, Jimmy sat next to Darlene's bed and watched her sleep. He felt a tremendous responsibility to this woman. He didn't know if it was fate or just coincidence that he had been questioning whether or not he would find the woman of his dreams and then he met Darlene. Like Walker said, there wasn't a bolt a lightening, but he felt drawn to her and responsible for her happiness. She had had a rough time of it, but he was going to do everything in his power to see that she would have a happy life from today on.

 

Chapter 4

 

It had been just over a month since her sister had died and Darlene was making strides toward building a new life for herself. James Trivette was a big reason for the turn around in her life. All the testifying was behind her and her stepfather had been convicted of raping her sister in addition to the drug charges. Jimmy had helped her move into her own apartment earlier that week. Alex had wanted her to move to the HOPE Center for a time, but she was adamant that she wanted a place of her own. She also had refused the counseling and support groups offered. If she needed to talk to someone, she had Jimmy and he was enough.

Today was his birthday and he was picking her up to take her to the Walker's for a birthday party. They had kept the guest list small and she was sure that Jimmy had asked that they do so because of her. He was so considerate and caring. If she had to think of one thing wrong with him, it was that he treated her so very carefully. He hugged her and kissed her on the cheek every so often, but no matter what she tried, she couldn't get him to do anything more. She planned to change that tonight though. She had her own birthday surprise planned for him when he brought her home.

Walker had the barbecue grill hot and ready for the steaks that marinated in the dish on the picnic table. Alex had potato salad, baked beans, fruit salad and punch laid out on the same table. Desert would be the ice cream cake that was in the refrigerator. There was upbeat Country Western music playing and a definite festive atmosphere surrounded the friends who had gathered at the ranch. Jimmy introduced Darlene to Carlos, Trent, Phil and his wife Kim. Josie was there from the HOPE Center and Sydney and Gage were there as well. Jimmy had many friends, but they had chosen to limit the numbers and keep it a more intimate setting.

Sydney stood next to Walker at the grill and talked to him as he placed the steaks on to start cooking. As the marinade dripped onto the hot coals, smoke rose from the grill and Sydney waved her hand in front of her face and wrinkled her nose. Trent laughed and said, "smoke follows beauty." Gage walked up and added, "and Beauty was a horse." Which earned him an elbow in his stomach from his partner. Alex walked out from the house carrying an aluminum bucket that was filled with ice and beer. It was almost comical to watch every male there rush to her aid. She just laughed though and patted her pregnant abdomen that she could no longer conceal in the sweatshirt she wore. "Next thing you know, Walker will open doors for me. Chivalry isn't dead you just have to be pregnant for it to show up." Walker gave her a mock glare and the others laughed knowing he wasn't big on opening doors and sending flowers. Alex had complained loud enough and often enough throughout their courtship for them all to know she considered it a flaw in his character.

The party went well with old friends catching up on each other's news. Everyone made Darlene very welcome and after they ate, they began telling 'Jimmy' stories. Many of the stories involved some woman or other he had been dating at the time. Darlene wondered as they tried to remember each woman's name, or if they couldn't, how they picked out a distinctive characteristic to describe her to the others. Jimmy finally put a halt to it all when he demanded his cake and presents.

Josie who was on an assigned mission from Alex, managed to corner Darlene and ask her some fairly probing questions. Jimmy got a worried look in his eye when he saw the mini powwow, but Alex intervened before he could make his way over to her. "Well Jimmy, how are things going between you and Darlene? You seem to spend a great deal of time with her, but you rarely talk about her. Frankly, I thought you'd be coming to me for some sisterly advice. You used to. I think I'm starting to feel hurt." Alex gave him a mock pout. Jimmy looked at her and despite the teasing way it was said, he realized that she was right. He always consulted her about the women in his life and she had given him some very valuable advice in the past. "Actually, you could help me with something," he said. "Oh? What is it." "A while ago I asked Walker how he knew that you were the right woman for him." "Jimmy are you that serious about Darlene?" "It's not that. Actually, we had this conversation before I met her." Alex nodded, "okay so what did he say?" "That's just it. He told me about how you two met and how you wouldn't speak to him except to yell at him and how Uncle Ray tricked you into going riding to the lake and then said his horse was lame and left you two to picnic alone." Alex was smiling at the memory. "So what's your question?" "Walker said that after he threw your favorite hat and a snake to the opposite bank, you hit him." Alex chuckled, "I did. Not hard, but I did hit him. It felt good too." "So how did you two ever become friends?" "Oh Jimmy, there was no way I was going to be able to resist the guy. I was fighting myself as much as I was him. When he walked clear around the lake to retrieve my hat, I almost gave in, but when he asked me not to blame Uncle Ray for meddling, I caved. He spoke of his Uncle with such love and respect, I just couldn't stay mad at him. We ended up having our picnic and just talked for hours. The sun was setting before we realized the time. By the time we got back to the ranch house, we were friends. Good friends. There was no turning back after that. He could make me so mad, but I could never hold a grudge against him after that day." "So when did you know that Walker was 'the one' for you?" "Dalton Reed." "What?" "You remember him don't you?" "Of course, but you were talking marriage to Dalton." "No, Dalton was talking marriage. I was busy realizing I might have blown every chance I had with Walker." "Spill." "You remember when Walker got injured and I took him rafting?" "Yeah, Walker mentioned that too. He said that it was one of the times he realized how much you meant to him. Wait, that was the first time you two..." Alex gave a nod confirming his suspicion. "We were so close on that trip. It was like we were a couple and for the first time we both admitted it. Then we came back to our real lives and Walker ran as fast and as far as he could. He barely acknowledged me. When he did, he acted as if I was a just one of the gang. I was hurt and confused and I did something so incredibly stupid..." "You took up with Dalton where you had left off." "Yeah, it took Walker a very long time to forgive me. But to tell you the truth, it made me realize that if I couldn't be with Walker, I didn't want to be with anyone. I spent nearly a year rebuilding his trust in me. I didn't date anyone, even casually. I just waited until he finally started to believe that I would never again do anything to hurt him." "Wow, I never knew. I saw the things you're talking about, I just never knew why they had happened." "Jimmy, Darlene is a wonderful woman, but she has scars that go very deep. She's refused help to deal with them and I just want you to know that she may not be able to have the kind of committed relationship you seem to want." "So what do I do?" "I don't know Jimmy. Ask yourself if it's Darlene you're falling for or if it's the situation. You're a good guy and you would never hurt her on purpose, but be aware that she's never had a 'normal' relationship and it may be beyond her ability to have one. At least for now." Jimmy looked at Alex and knew that as hard as it was to hear what she was saying, she spoke from her heart. She did want him to be happy and she would support whatever decision he made, but she also had a lot of experience dealing with abuse victims. She knew what she was talking about. He reached out and hugged her, kissing her on the cheek, he whispered into her ear, "thanks, Sis." Alex kissed him back and then stepped back from him landing in her husband's arms as he walked up behind her and placed his hands possessively around her, rubbing her distended tummy. "Hey partner, unhand my woman," Walker joked to his friend. Trivette grinned and said, "she's all yours. I'm off to claim my own." He turned and went to rescue Darlene from Josie.

It was dark when Trivette pulled into the parking lot of Darlene's new apartment complex. He parked his car and then got out and ran around to open the door for her. He helped her out and walked her to her door with one hand pressed into the small of her back. Darlene had never felt so treasured. Men had always used her for their own purposes before Jimmy and she was awed by the feelings he evoked in her. As they reached her door, he took the key from her hand and opened the apartment door for her. Then he stepped in and turned on the light. There was an unspoken invitation in her eyes and he walked into the apartment with her and closed the door behind him. Drawing her into his arms, he held her and gently stroked his hand down her back. Darlene leaned her head back and looked into his eyes. Jimmy couldn't help himself; he leaned forward and gently explored her lips. Minutes passed as they stood locked together, tasting and touching each other. Jimmy broke the kiss at last and stepped back, his breathing ragged. "Wait here," Darlene said and left the front room heading to her bedroom. Minutes later she emerged wearing a very revealing lavender Teddy. "I thought I'd give you you're birthday gift now," she stated boldly. Jimmy shook his head and gulped. "Darlene, I can't think of a more beautiful gift, but I'm not going to accept it, not yet." Darlene looked stricken, "what?" "You have been through so much, I need you to be sure that you're ready. I want to take things slowly and I want us to both be very very sure before things go any further." She stepped toward him her arm outstretched, but he held up his hand to stop her. "My convictions are hanging by a thread here Darlene. Please don't come any closer. I'll call you tomorrow and we'll get together and talk. Thank you for today. I'll let myself out." With that, he turned and exited through the apartment door closing it with a distinctive click. Darlene stood for several minutes in the middle of the room as tears cascaded down her face.

The woman who watched James Trivette drive out of the parking lot had anger and vengeance in her eyes. He hadn't stayed with that wimp Darlene. Good, she was no where near woman enough for him. He should know that. He didn't even seem to see her; he looked right through her. She would have to change that. James Trivette had made her suffer, laughing and talking to his friends, holding hands with that damsel in distress Darlene. She'd show him. He would know who she was and he would take notice before she was through with him. She'd start with his friends though. He seemed to spend far too much time with them. Time he could be spending with her.

 

Chapter 5

 

Alex sat in the office at HOPE House reviewing the expenses for the month. It wasn't her favorite task, but it was a necessary one and since Walker had been called in to work on a Sunday, she might as well get it done. Josie walked in with a cup of tea and set it in front of Alex. Alex looked up with a grateful smile and gestured for her to sit down. "How does it all look?" Josie questioned. "Really good, as always. It never ceases to amaze me how you run so many varied programs and still maintain such a strict budget. Are there any areas you feel we need to be spending more funds in?" "Well actually..." Alex smiled encouragingly. Josie ran the center on a day to day basis and she had a finger on the pulse of everything the center did. She was a great manager and she made sure that the money that was spent was put to the best possible use. They were in a strong position financially and could afford to expand the services they offered. "I'm seeing a need for some of our families with special needs children to have respite care. They put so much of themselves into taking care of these kids that it can cause enormous strain on the other family members and on some of the marriages." Alex nodded her head in agreement. "But many of these kids require services that we just aren't equipped to provide here at the center." Josie agreed, but she had an idea. "We have some older teenagers and college students who could be trained to work with the kids in their own homes. I'm talking about being at the house in the afternoons so moms can go out grocery shopping or visit with a friend for a couple hours. Babysitting in the evening so mom and dad can go to dinner or catch a movie. It's so hard to find trustworthy babysitters these days. Just think of the added strain of leaving a special needs child with someone. Most of the parents just stay home and it's not healthy for anyone." Alex considered what Josie suggested, "so we hire some responsible people, give them the training they need and run a free babysitting agency for families with these special needs kids?" "That's the idea. What do you think?" "I think it sounds like a great idea. Can you write up a proposal with cost projections that we can present at the next board of director's meeting?" "I'm on it." The two women smiled at each other and continued discussing people who may be interested in this type of specialized babysitting.

Alex turned the subject to Darlene. She was interested in what Josie had been able to find out in her conversation with her at Jimmy's party. "She is someone who is very scarred. I honestly don't know how she is able to function. I tried again to get her to come to the center. I even suggested she volunteer here. I told her that we could help her find a job when she felt ready for one, but she turned me down on both counts. I worry about people who bottle up so much. She needs to find an outlet for all the emotions she has." "I agree. I talked to Jimmy and I told him that I didn't think she was ready to embark on a committed relationship. I think he understood and he seemed ready to listen to my advice. Whether or not he takes it..." They both jumped when they heard a loud crash and breaking glass. They ran out of the office into the front hall where a baseball lay on the floor and the window lay in shards all over the floor.

Josie ran to get a broom and dust pan while Alex stepped out on the porch to look for the culprit. She walked back in to help Josie. "Whoever it was must have taken off, there's no one out there." "Probably a neighborhood kid who got scared when the ball broke the window," Josie surmised. Alex leaned down and picked up the ball. There was writing on it and she turned it around as she read out loud, "Stay away from him." Josie looked up, "that's odd." "And a little frightening. I wonder who this could be intended for? You haven't been seeing anyone new have you?" Josie looked chagrined, "not this week." Alex smiled at her expression. "I think we should tell Walker about this and I'm going to call the Security Company and ask them to increase the number of times they drive by here." "I hate to waste money on security when it could be used for better things." "I know Josie, but it's a necessary evil. This is most likely directed at one of the women we have sheltered here from her abusive husband. If the husband knows where she's staying, this could just be the beginning." Josie agreed and she finished sweeping up the broken glass while Alex called the security company and their repair man to come out and replace the glass.

Walker and Trivette drove back toward headquarters. Walker kept looking at his partner and decided that he had better ask. "Okay Trivette, you've been acting like a bear with a sore paw all day. What is it?" The problem with asking Trivette a question is that he usually answered, in detail. "Here we are wasting our time following up on some stupid tip that Frank Boyd is back in town and coming up empty. I'm dirty and I'm tired and I'm hungry. I had a date and now, because of some unreliable source, I've had to cancel it." "Trivette, I'm sure Darlene understood. Call her when you get in and ask to take her out to dinner. After you shower, man you are dirty. You stink too." "I'm not the one who said, 'Trivette, why don't you go down the alley and see if you can get a better view'". "Well yeah, but I didn't sic that dog on you." "No, but it was you who laughed when I jumped into the trash bin to keep from getting eaten." "Hey, I scared the dog off and rescued you didn't I?" "Don't talk to me." "Trivette, you were in a bad mood before you dove into last weeks leftovers. Is something going on between you and Darlene?" Trivette fumed for a few more minutes and then filled Walker in on the previous nights events at Darlene's apartment. He didn't go into great detail, but Walker got the picture. "Hey, I took my share of cold showers when I first started seeing Alex. You're right, it can put you in a foul mood, but the wait can definitely pay off in the long run." "It's not that. I'm not a teenager who can't control his hormones. Darlene was really hurt last night. I told her that we would get together today and talk about it. I don't want her to feel that I'm rejecting her. It's just that Alex said that I really needed to take it slow with Darlene and I just have to believe that she knows what she's talking about." "You're right Trivette, Alex does know what she's talking about. I wish I had been able to express myself to Alex back when we were getting serious. I made some big mistakes just by not telling her how I felt and why I acted the way I did. If you can sit down with Darlene and let her know why you put the brakes on, she'll understand." "I hope so." Trivette was visibly happier after his talk with Walker and Walker was glad he'd made him get things out and talk about them. Alex sure was having an effect on him.

Walker dropped Trivette off at headquarters and then went to pick Alex up at HOPE House. He was concerned when he heard about the baseball incident and he called a friend at the Dallas Police Department to send a squad car out to investigate. He asked that the ball be dusted for prints and that the husbands of the women currently at HOPE House be investigated. It was nearly two hours before the Walkers we're able to head home. Alex leaned back and closed her eyes. "What's that smell?" she asked. "Trivette dove into a trash bin today." "What that man won't do for attention." Walker smiled and explained what had happened. He also told her about his conversation with him about Darlene. "I'm glad he listened. I spoke with Josie today and we both agree that Darlene is just not ready for the type of relationship Jimmy seems to want." "Maybe we can double date. I was thinking we could all go out to a nice restaurant and have dinner together. I think things might be easier for Trivette if they did things in groups. I know how hard it is to be alone with a woman when it's all you can do to keep your hands off of her." "Oh you do do you? Any woman in particular?" "I'll tell you about her when we get home." He looked over at his wife and they shared a knowing look.

Jimmy arrived to pick Darlene up just after seven. She was dressed in a high-necked royal blue dress that hung to her knees and lay smooth against all her curves. Darlene was underweight, but like a fashion model, it could be made into an advantage for showing off clothes. Jimmy presented her with a bouquet of mixed flowers and reached over for a chaste kiss on the lips. After placing the flowers in water, they left for the jazz club Jimmy had planned to take her to.

They were seated in a corner booth where they were able to talk and just spend time together. Jimmy explained that he was very attracted to her, but that he felt that she had been through so much that she needed time to heal before starting something new with him. He wanted to see her, but he wanted to keep their relationship casual until she was better able to deal with all that a serious relationship could entail. She tried to insist that she was fine, but he mentioned her sister Samantha and the tears fell immediately, proving his point. He asked her to dance and held her in his arms and swayed to the melody the saxophone played. He took her home early, he had to work the next day, and he left her at her door with just a sweet kiss goodnight.

The woman watched for the second night in a row as James Trivette drove away from Darlene's apartment complex. So he had spent more time with that sorry excuse for a woman. Well she had scared that Josie woman at the HOPE House today. She was sure that her message had been received loud and clear. Stay away from James Trivette, he's mine. And she had already set things up for that know it all DA woman.

 

Chapter 6

 

Monday afternoon found Walker, Trivette, Sydney and Gage all staking out a run down motel waiting for Frank Boyd to show himself. Boyd had been muscle for Sean Ransom, a fence who dealt only in high-end jewelry. During a sting operation, the Rangers and DPS had managed to infiltrate his organization and arrest several people. Frank Boyd had escaped and had gunned down a police officer in the process. The young officer had died and Boyd had gone down into Mexico to escape capture. He'd been spotted by three separate sources back in Dallas and the latest information was that he was holed up in the motel. The Ranger's surmised that he had money stashed somewhere in Dallas and he had come back to get it before relocating permanently. The day crept by with the Ranger's all getting anxious to get this particular creep into custody.

Walker looked at his watch and said, "Trivette, let me borrow your phone." Trivette handed the cell phone to Walker who walked away for privacy and then punched in a very well known number, Alex's direct line. "Alex Cahill-Walker," she answered. "Have I told you how sexy your phone voice is?" Walker teased. "A few times. As I recall, there were a few other things about me that you find sexy." "You better believe it lady." "Let me guess. You're calling to say that you're running late and I should head home without you." "I find your intelligence sexy too. We're still staking out this motel waiting for Boyd to show and I have no idea how late I will be." "Okay, I'll be waiting when you get home." "I'm counting on it. I'll refresh your mind about all of the other things I find sexy about you." Alex smiled as she hung up the phone. When had Walker gotten so forward? It used to be that getting Walker to flirt with her had been like pulling teeth. Whatever had caused the change, she was grateful. It was nice to know that her husband felt comfortable enough with her to say the most outrageous things. Last night he had made love to her and then lay on the pillow next to her telling her exactly what she did to him when she touched him a certain way or made a certain noise. Alex felt electrical impulses running all through her body at the memory.

She finished up the file she was working on. Actually, it was information in the Leeds case that they hadn't pursued. They had enough on Leeds to convict him to a long sentence without this information and expediency was more important than thoroughness in this case. Getting things resolved for Darlene's sake was the least she felt she could do. She had never pushed a case through so quickly or agreed to dropping so many charges that she knew would take time to prove. She was preparing to forward all of the information to the DEA. They had other open cases that might be helped by some of the information contained within the file. She closed the file and placed it into the preaddressed envelope and then put the whole thing into the outgoing mail bin. She picked up her purse and turned off the office light and closed the door on her way out.

Alex walked to the parking garage where her Sebring was parked. It had been nearly a week since she had driven it. Her schedule had coincided with Walker's more often than usual lately. She had a feeling that it wasn't just a coincidence that this happened. Her caseload was made up mostly of routine cases and she suspected a certain redheaded Ranger and her boss, the DA, of collusion. It wouldn't be hard to prove and if she didn't get an interesting case to sink her teeth in soon, she may just cause a bit of a stink. For now though, it was nice to have a break. Alex got into the car and it started right up. She put it in drive and headed home.

Alex's first fifteen minutes of her drive home was on city streets through stop and go traffic. She was glad to leave the city behind and be able to pick up speed as she drew nearer the ranch. As she approached the last intersection before the turnoff to the ranch, she pressed the brake to slow for the red light. Nothing happened. Again she pressed the brake pedal and then pumped it. Her car didn't even start to slow. Alex pulled the emergency brake and pulled the gear lever down into a lower gear, but her efforts didn't slow the car enough and she went through the red light. A minivan was in the intersection and Alex turned the wheel sharply to avoid it. The Sebring swerved and for a brief moment balanced on two tires. It then careened off the road into the ditch that paralleled it. The nose of the car jumped the ditch and slammed into the bank, leaving the front two wheels spinning in free air as the bumper hung onto the bank.

The driver of the minivan was a young mother with two children strapped into car seats on the middle bench seat. She hit the brakes and swerved when she saw the car heading towards her. She was able to slow the minivan and pull safely to the shoulder of the road. Kristin Craigg checked that both her children were all right and then headed over to check on the driver of the Sebring. The car still hung in the air and she wasn't able to get to the driver. She could see that an airbag had deployed and all she saw was the blond hair of a woman driver. A pickup truck approached the intersection and Kristin flagged it down to ask if they had a cell phone. Jed Perkins was a neighbor of the Walkers and he recognized the car. He used his cell phone to call for emergency vehicles and then he climbed the ditch to check on the wife of his longtime friend and neighbor Cordell Walker.

By the time police and an ambulance arrived, Alex had regained consciousness and was able to give them answers as to what happened and what hurt. Her primary concern was for her unborn child and she made the young officer promise to get word to Walker. She was taken to the hospital emergency room where she was hooked up to monitors, examined and treated.

Sydney was the first to spot Boyd as he walked out of a bottom floor motel room with a baseball hat pulled low onto his forehead. She nudged Gage and pointed. She and Gage walked towards Boyd squabbling about the price of the room and how long they would need it for. Sydney was dressed like a streetwalker and the motel advertised hourly rates, so she fit right in. Gage, who posed as her perspective 'date', was even less conspicuous in his torn T-shirt and jeans. As they neared Boyd, they each grabbed an arm and stated "Frank Boyd, you're under arrest." Boyd had been employed as muscle for Sean Ransom for a reason. Sydney's hands could not encircle any part of the thick muscular arms and Boyd had spent time as a wrestler. He was able to get out of the holds the two Rangers had on him and turned to fight. Walker and Trivette moved into position, but they let Gage and Sydney handle the hand to hand combat. They were both more than capable of dealing with Boyd and they had known the slain officer personally. Boyd wobbled, but he didn't fall down until Sydney leapt up against the wall of the motel and pushed herself off, turning in midair and coming at his face with both feet at full force. Once Boyd was on the ground, Gage cuffed him and read him his rights. Sydney was somewhat out of breath, but she couldn't resist the chance to gloat a little. "Sorry Gage, I thought you were in trouble there and felt the assist was necessary." Gage glared at her, but didn't retaliate. Let her have her fun, he always managed to find a way to even the score between them.

Trivette's cell phone rang and he answered it. "Walker, there's an Officer Miller on the line for you." Walker gave him a puzzled look, trying to place the name and took the phone. "Ranger Walker, I'm sorry to have to call you like this, but your wife has been in a car accident and she's been taken to St. Matthew's Hospital. She's banged up, but she was conscious when she left here." "Thank you, I'll be right there." He turned to his friends and said, "Alex has had an accident. Trivette, you stay and help with the arrest, I'll be at St. Matthew's". With that, he spun around and raced to his truck. He turned on the lights and raced to the emergency room.

Walker flew into the emergency room and a nurse who recognized him pointed him to the curtained area where Alex lay. "Alex, honey, are you all right?" Alex had managed to contain her fears and pain, but when her husband looked at her with such love and concern, she felt the tight control she had held in place snap. "Oh Walker, the baby..." Walker looked stricken as his gaze went to her abdomen. "We lost the baby?" he choked out. "No! No Walker, we didn't lose the baby, I'm just so afraid that the baby may have been injured." Walker sank back onto the stool next to the bed. He was grateful that it was there, because nothing could have kept him standing at that moment. He was clutching Alex's hand and tears streamed down her face. Dr. Martin walked in and came to reassess his patient. "Well Mrs. Walker, I don't think you have any broken bones. There is some bruising on your chest from the airbag and the friction burns on your forehead and chin are also from the airbag. Thank God, your car was equipped with an airbag. That seems to be the only damage." "And the baby?" she asked. "All seems fine. I plan to admit you overnight to be sure that you don't have any cramping, but the monitors we've had you on indicate no signs of premature labor. The best thing you can do is relax. Actually, that's an order. The more you relax the better you and your baby will be. We'll get you up to a room soon and then I want you to do whatever it takes to relax and go to sleep." "Thank you doctor," Walker said. Doctor Martin nodded and smiled and then hurried out as he was paged to another trauma.

Alex lay in her hospital bed, her hair combed out around her head by her attentive husband. She had managed some broth and a glass of milk and now she lay back on the pillow utterly spent. The trauma of what happened to her still evident in her blue eyes. Walker sat next to her bed holding her hand with his other hand laying gently cupping her abdomen and their growing baby. Walker closed his eyes, bowed his head and prayed. He thanked God for the miracle that was his wife and the miracle that was their child. He prayed that they would both be all right and he prayed that they would be kept safe. When he looked up, there were tears glistening in his eyes. "Walker, we're going to be all right." His wife lay her free hand over the one on her abdomen. "We're all going to be all right," she reassured her husband. "Yes," he agreed and then he leaned forward and kissed her lips very gently. He smoothed his hand over her abdomen and leant over and kissed her there too. "Go to sleep now, I'll be here when you wake up." Alex closed her eyes and eventually drifted to sleep. Once he was sure she wouldn't wake up, Walker got up and walked out into the hall looking for the people he knew were waiting for news. "They're both fine. She's going to be sore for a while and she'll stay here overnight, but they'll both be fine." His voice shook as he gave the news to Sydney, Gage and Trivette. Then he looked at them and said, "she said that her brakes were gone. Any news on the condition of her car?" Trivette answered, "the brake line had been punctured. She leaked brake fluid until there just wasn't enough in the line to build up the pressure she needed to stop." "Was it sabotage?" "It looks that way." Walker turned to Sydney and Gage. "There was an incident at HOPE House yesterday when Alex was there. We thought it was related to an abuse victim, but now... Someone may be after Alex. I want you two to talk to Josie and then follow up on the DPD investigation into the matter." "We'll do boss, you just look after Alex," Gage responded. He and Sydney turned and walked away. Trivette looked at Walker and said, "I'll follow up on the car. Where was the car before today?" "It's been at the parking garage at work since the middle of last week. Thursday...no Wednesday I think." "Okay, I'm on it. Give Alex my love." "I will and thanks." Trivette slapped his partner on the shoulder and left. Walker returned to his wife's bedside.

Walker determined that Alex was not up to the double date with Trivette and Darlene that he had proposed. Alex was resting at home with the week off to be certain she healed completely. She was sore and stiff, but each day she felt a little better and she was so grateful that the baby hadn't been harmed that she had actually been fairly cooperative with her restrictions. Walker had agreed to a compromise though. They invited Trivette, Darlene, Sydney and Gage out to the ranch Friday evening for dinner. Sydney, who was a very good cook, had volunteered to come out early and prepare the meal. Alex had very little to do as Sydney took over her kitchen and made an authentic Mexican dinner. Walker insisted on setting the table and even managed to bite his tongue when his wife sat on the stool and told him which side the forks went on and where to place the candlesticks. Sydney found a great deal of humor in the scene being acted out in front of her, but wisely kept silent. Walker may treat his wife with kid gloves, but he wouldn't do the same for Sydney.

Gage, Trivette and Darlene arrived within minutes of each other and the three couples sat in the living room and visited before moving into the dining room for their meal. In keeping with the theme of the dinner, Alex had put on Latin guitar music that softly accompanied their conversation. There was a lot of laughter and Sydney was complimented on her cooking by everyone. Walker made a comment that with Sydney as the chef, there would be no fear of food poisoning, which earned him a cloth napkin in his face that had been launched by his wife. Sydney revised her opinion; Alex didn't always manage to get away with everything. Gage went on and on about how Sydney was going to make some poor man a great wife. He said that between her style in dress and her cooking, her future husband was in for quite a treat. Sydney looked puzzled until Gage clarified that he was referring to the hooker outfit she had worn to take down Boyd. Score one for Gage.

Trivette laughed and joked with his friends and was glad that they had made Darlene so welcome. They went out of their way to include her in the conversation and were careful not to spend too much time talking about past events that she hadn't been a part of. There was an unspoken pact between them that work was not to be discussed and whenever someone touched on a work related subject, another would quickly redirect the conversation. The evening ended late, Sydney had volunteered Gage for the clean up committee and she was the first to head home. She had to coach the girl's soccer team in a game the next morning and wanted to get home at a reasonable hour. Trivette went over and gave her a hug and told her that she could invite him over for a home cooked meal anytime. He and Darlene were the next to leave and Gage, who had done a great job cleaning the kitchen, left last.

Walker and Alex sat on the couch in the living room and listened to the guitar music. They discussed the evening and decided that it had gone well. They didn't entertain often and when they did, they limited their guests to close friends. "Sydney and Gage are still in the 'keeping score' stage," Alex observed. "They're partners who spend a great deal of time together, they have to have some way to release the tension." Alex laughed at her clueless husband. "They're falling in love with each other and they're doing everything they can to hide it." "Alex, you're such a romantic. They're good friends who would die for each other; there's a difference. Anyway, partners who fall in love with each other don't generally last." "Why is that?" "I don't know. I guess it's just too hard to be together that much and in such intense situations. I remember when I had that crush on Trivette..." "Oh you!" Alex pinched his chest. "Ow," was his only response. "Speaking of Trivette," she began, "what do you think of him and Darlene?" "That worries me. She worries me." Alex lifted her head from his chest to look at him. "Why do you say that?" "I don't know if I can put it into words. She just seems to go some place. It's like she leaves. Her face is expressionless." "I know, I saw it too. I wish she would get counseling. She has been through so much." They fell silent and just held each other and listened to the music. "Tired?" He asked after a while." "Mmm... Yes," she agreed, "but not too tired." She looked up into his face with a suggestive smile. "Honey I don't think you're up to anything strenuous just yet." "Why not let me be the judge of that? I've missed you this week." Walker capitulated; there wasn't really any doubt that he would. They turned off the lights and the music and headed up to their bedroom.

 

 

 

Chapter 7

 

Sydney raced up and down the soccer field, coaching and cheering on her team. The friends and families of the players sat on the bleachers or on blankets around the field. It was an enthusiastic crowd and a close game. No one noticed the woman who approached Sydney's bag that she left lying on the bench. No one paid attention as the woman picked up the water bottle and opened it. Sydney's team scored a goal as the woman poured something into the water and replaced the lid. She had walked back behind the bleachers and left before Sydney ran over at half time and drank down the refreshing water. Gage arrived near the end of the game. He had promised Syd that he would bring pizzas and sodas for the team. They won the game by one goal and descended on Gage. "Hey girls, I'm not Elvis, you don't have to maul me," he jokingly complained. "And whatever you do, don't ask him to sing," Sydney added. Gage glared at her and then passed out the pizza and drinks to the jubilant winning team. It didn't take long for the food and drinks to disappear and people packed up their things and headed home.

Gage stayed to help Sydney collect the gear and stow it into the trunk of her car. As Sydney stood up from bending over placing things in the trunk, she stumbled and grabbed at Gage for balance. "What's wrong Syd?" he asked. "I don't know, I feel dizzy." Gage looked into her eyes and saw that her pupils were fully dilated even though it was a bright sunny day. "Syd did you take anything?" "What?" "Did you take any medicine?" "No." "What have you eaten today?" "Just oatmeal for breakfast and a slice of pizza." "Did you drink anything?" "Just my water." "Where's the water bottle?" She pointed to her bag in the trunk and then started to laugh. Gage took Sydney's keys from her and helped her into the car. She alternated between yelling, laughing and crying. Clearly she was high on something, but it wasn't much fun as far as he could tell. Gage drove her over to the emergency clinic and by the time he got there, he was barely able to handle her. "I think she's been drugged," he told the admittance nurse. The nurse immediately called security and it took three men including Gage to get her into restraints. They drew blood and Gage gave them the water bottle to test. She had a very rough time of it and it was verified that she had been drugged. Her water bottle tested positive for a very strong hallucinogenic that was fairly new on the streets. Gage had called Trivette and the two men took turns staying with Sydney until she finally came down from the drug.

The hospital kept Sydney overnight and Sunday morning Gage drove her home. She was utterly exhausted. More than anything though, she was furious. "Who could have done this?" she fumed. "I think the answer to that will be found when we figure out why?" "St. Matthews is going to start turning us away. First Alex last week and now me." Gage looked over at her and said, "maybe that's it. We know that the HOPE Center was attacked, then Alex's car and now your water bottle. What do the three things have in common?" "I don't know. It hurts to think." Gage looked at her with sympathy. "Look, you get some sleep, we can come at this tomorrow with clearer heads. No pun intended. I'll make myself at home in your living room and you can call me if you need me." "Gage, I can take care of myself," she protested. "I know, but I'll feel better. Okay?" Sydney caved in, she just didn't feel like arguing the point, her head was pounding.

Monday morning the Ranger's got together with Alex and reviewed the events of the past week. "I don't think the baseball was meant for me," Alex stated. "Walker, you dropped me off and picked me up, no one knew I was there. It wasn't even a scheduled visit." "So who was the target?" Trivette asked. "All the husbands of the women there have alibi's and there weren't any prints on the baseball," Gage informed them. "Well the assault on Alex was clear and now the one on Sydney was also direct. So what do they have in common? Besides the obvious. Is there a case that involved someone at the HOPE Center, Alex and Sydney?" Walker asked. "Well there have been several and Sydney does coach the center's girls soccer team, so there's that connection." Alex supplied. "It looks like we have some research to do," Sydney stated. She looked a little wan, but determined.

Trivette went over to Jenny; the receptionist who took all of the calls for the Ranger's when they were out. He asked her to research any calls that had concerned HOPE House or any of the cases of people associated with the center. As he walked away, Jenny shook her head, 'typical, he asks me to do a mountain of work that will mean overtime and he doesn't even notice the new outfit I spent way too much on', she thought. Trivette went to work at his own computer researching police records on persons associated with the center. In her office, Alex was busy doing the same thing, researching cases that she had worked on for people involved with the center. It wasn't until the end of the day that they got a call that made them refocus their attention. Trent called and informed them that he and Carlos had been the victims of some sort of prank. He told Walker that their office had been ransacked and 'stay away from him' had been spray painted on the wall. Trent was unaware of the other things that had been going on, he was just having a casual conversation with a friend. He was as puzzled as everyone else about what could be happening and why. They narrowed their search down to cases that Trent and Carlos had assisted in investigating that involved HOPE House, Alex and Sydney.

Two days later, they were no closer to an answer. Walker and Alex were meeting Trivette and Darlene for dinner and had invited Kim and Phil to join them as well. When Alex asked him how things were going, Jimmy told her that Darlene was still trying to get him to move their relationship to the next level. He was having trouble being alone with her and had taken to seeing her only in public places. He didn't share the details with Alex, but Darlene seemed insistent on getting him to bed. He wasn't certain if she was just trying to prove something to herself or if she really felt the need to express herself in a physical way. Until he was certain, Jimmy had put the brakes on.

The three couples met at an exclusive French restaurant that was known for great food and a sophisticated ambience. Kim shared a story about how she and Phil had gone out to dinner last weekend, but when their meals came, they were full of slivers of glass. Walker and Trivette exchanged looks and filled the couple in on what had happened to their other friends recently. Darlene was the one who pieced together the connection. "All of the people who have been targeted were at Jimmy's birthday party," she said. "You're right. We've all been concentrating on our work lives, what if it has something to do with our personal lives?" Alex suggested. "Darlene would notice that the people who have all been injured in some way were at my party, because that's where she met several of you. The rest of us must just be too close to see the connection," Jimmy observed. "The only ones who were there who haven't been targeted are you, Gage, Darlene, and myself" Walker told Jimmy. "Maybe Darlene should come and stay at the ranch until we figure out who's behind this." Alex was concerned that Darlene wouldn't be able to defend herself against an attack. Frankly, she wanted to invite Jimmy to stay as well, but knew he wouldn't accept. Darlene declined the invitation, insisting that she felt safe at her apartment.

Later that night when Jimmy took Darlene up to her apartment, she again asked Jimmy to stay with her. He was tempted, he offered to stay on the couch if she was nervous staying alone, but she declined. In fact, she seemed angry, almost in a rage, but she got herself back under control and saw Jimmy out.

The woman watched Trivette leave Darlene's apartment, and grinned to herself. Obviously Darlene was not a threat to her. What was wrong with the woman that she couldn't get a good-looking healthy male like Ranger James Trivette to stay the night? Whatever, it wasn't her concern, she had others who were getting in her way and they had to be eliminated. She planned to warn Ranger Gage tonight. He would be sure to get her message. She took out the photo album that she had been putting together. Each picture was of James. She had been following him and taking his picture for weeks now. He was completely unaware that she had been close to him so many times. She flipped through the pages gazing at each picture. Her anger started to grow, as she looked for pictures of James alone. There seemed to always be someone else in the photo. Usually it was Ranger Cordell Walker. He consumed far too much of James' time. She had warned the others, but Ranger Walker was going to have to be taught a permanent lesson. She would have to plan very carefully to eliminate him from the picture all together. Had she been a rational woman, she would have known that following James and his partner would inevitably cause her to inadvertently take pictures of Walker. She wasn't a rational woman.

 

Chapter 8

 

The next morning Gage left his apartment and headed down to where he parked his prized possession, his Classic Ford Mustang Convertible. Walker had called him last night and filled him in on the latest theory about who was included on the list of persons the unknown perpetrator was targeting. He was on the short list and Walker wanted him to use extreme caution at all times. He planned to do a thorough examination of his car before he started it. As he rounded the corner and saw his Mustang, it was obvious that a thorough investigation was not going to be necessary. His beautiful car had been vandalized. The upholstery had been slashed and the words 'Stay away from him' had been spray painted on both sides of the car. 'He's mine' was painted on the hood and trunk. Gage called headquarters and informed the others of what had happened. A crime scene team was sent out to try and get evidence. The only thing they found was a packet of the same drug used on Sydney stashed in his glove compartment. He arranged to have his car towed to a body shop and Sydney took him on in to work.

At Ranger Company B Headquarters nine people sat around a conference table discussing recent events. There was a grease board in the front of the room and on it was written all the guests at Jimmy's birthday party at the Walker's Ranch. Beside each name was the crime that had been committed against them. There were obvious links between the crimes and there were only three names with nothing written next to them. "Well," Trent began, "it's reasonable to assume that one of the people who hasn't had something done to them is our suspect." "That makes no sense, we know that Walker and Trivette aren't guilty," Kim stated. "Thanks for the vote of confidence," Walker joked. "I'm sure Darlene isn't behind this, she just doesn't have it in her," Trivette stated. "No, I agree. She's a victim, she's not the vindictive type," Alex added. "Well if this was a crime novel, I would say that someone on the list who has been victimized did so to throw us off," Phil suggested. "But this is real life and we all know each other too well to even go there," Sydney finished. "Maybe we need to figure out who the 'him' we're supposed to stay away from is," Carlos suggested. "Well, Walker and Trivette are the two obvious ones since they haven't been targeted yet," Gage proposed. "The fact that Alex was at the head of the list suggests that it's probably Walker," Kim said. "But I wasn't the 'head' of the list. If we assume the baseball at the HOPE Center was meant to warn Josie off, then she was the first," Alex rebutted. "I'm getting dizzy, we seem to just go 'round in circles," Phil stated. The others all nodded in agreement. The round table discussion continued, with no one coming up with anything conclusive. The consensus was that Walker and Trivette needed to be extra careful and since Darlene refused to move out to the ranch, Trent and Carlos were assigned to guard her apartment building when Trivette wasn't there. The group broke up and got on with the business of the day.

Trivette and Walker had gotten a call to follow up a possible lead in the Frank Boyd case. One of his known associates was spotted at a bank trying to get into a safety deposit box. Alex, who confronted the DA about her recent caseload, was assigned the case. The DA tried to argue with her, but she wasn't his top trial lawyer for nothing. He was afraid that Walker would be upset, this was exactly the kind of high profile case Walker had asked him to not assign her. He needn't have worried though; Alex had taken care of Walker. She told him that she didn't think she would be in the mood to make love until she got a case that challenged her. Walker wasn't sure if she was bluffing, but decided not to risk it. Alex loved her job and she was good at it. It was naive of him to think he could protect her from the uglier side of it. That would be like her making sure he was assigned to parking violations. Alex had gotten a judge to sign the search warrant to open the safety deposit box and Walker and Trivette had gone out to find if there was money stashed in it. When they got there, they found that instead of cash, there was over two hundred thousand dollars worth of stolen jewelry.

As they walked out of the bank, they nearly ran directly into Darlene. She was wandering with a vacant look in her eyes and it was several moments before she focused and realized who was standing in front of her. Walker continued on with the evidence to the Ram and let Trivette speak to her in private. "Darlene are you all right?" "Mmm...Oh yes I'm fine." "What are you doing here?" Darlene looked puzzled and then defiant and finally resigned. "I applied for a job a couple blocks from here and then I just decided to go for a walk." "You shouldn't be out alone. I'm worried for you. I asked Trent and Carlos to help keep an eye out when I'm not around. They must have arrived after you left." Darlene looked decidedly angry now. "You assigned someone to spy on me? You're sounding more like my stepfather everyday." Jimmy was taken aback. Darlene had never been so forthright and angry. "They aren't spying on you. Darlene there is someone out there hurting the people I care about and that could very well include you." "You mean I may be included in the list of people you care about?" "You know that isn't what I meant. I do care about you and I don't want you to be a target." "You forget Jimmy. The world I come from. I can take care of myself. I survived much worse than a baseball through a window and glass shards in my dinner." "I know that. But I want that to change. I don't want you to have to look over your shoulder when you go for a walk. I want you to feel safe and to be safe." Darlene released a pent up breath. "I'm sorry Jimmy. You're right. I shouldn't have snapped. I'll walk back to my car and go straight home." "Why don't I get Walker to give you a lift?" "No, thanks. I want to walk. I don't like to be cooped up in my apartment all day." "Is that why you're out job hunting? I thought we decided that there was plenty of time for that." "I know. I just feel that I've had my life on hold for long enough, I want to start fresh." Jimmy nodded in understanding and then gave her a quick hug and watched her walk back the way she had come.

"Everything all right?" Walker asked as he got into the cab of the Ram. "I don't know. That was a very odd conversation. The closer I get to Darlene, the more I think Alex and Josie are right. She needs help. More help than I could ever hope to give her." Trivette had finally spoken the words aloud. Walker understood that it was a difficult admission to make. It was nice to live in a fantasy world where good intentions could fix everything. Unfortunately, reality had a way of butting in. On the way to log in the evidence, Trivette phoned Trent who was at Darlene's apartment complex and filled him in. He asked him to give him a call when she had arrived and to keep out of sight, as he didn't want to give her a reason to get angry again.

That evening as Walker headed home, he got a call from dispatch. The message was that a woman had called and sounded distressed. She had stated that Trivette was in trouble and needed him to come to 9547 Caballo St. Walker told dispatch that he was on his way. As he turned around and headed toward the address given, he pondered the possibilities. Trivette may very well be in trouble and he might be the one the person was focusing on. On the other hand, it might be a set up and Walker may be the target. He would proceed with caution, but if it was a set up, it was a clever one. The person behind it must know that Walker would never take the chance of leaving his partner hanging. As Walker neared the address, he slowed and surveyed the area. It was a planned residential neighborhood that had seen hard times. The houses had been built just prior to the recession and hadn't sold. The builder had filed bankruptcy and the landscaping had never been completed. The people who had finally moved in had bought the houses at rock bottom prices. There was gang graffiti evident on several houses, abandoned cars parked in yards and a feeling that everyone here had just given up any attempt of making things better.

He parked his Ram outside of the address given. The house was in total darkness and there weren't any cars parked in the driveway. Walker's Cherokee blood came to the fore and he felt the prickle at the nape of his neck that acted as an early warning device. Danger! Walker went around the house and tried looking into the windows. The rooms were mostly empty with a few mattresses here and there. A flophouse or a crack house he surmised. Either way, it was empty and abandoned. He entered the house through the rear with his gun drawn. Suddenly, a blazing light blinded him and he ducked and rolled instinctively. A gunshot sounded and a bullet entered the door behind where he had just stood. Walker rolled out of the light and behind a washroom sink. The light had been switched back off and he was again plunged into complete darkness. He saw nothing but spots before his eyes, so he closed them and relied on his other senses. Footsteps retreated. They sounded light, the gunman was either a slight built man or a woman. Walker followed the sound, still in a crouched position. He gauged where the person was standing and came at them in a low rolling tackle, knocking the person onto their back. Walker disarmed the person and reached to turn on an overhead light. What he saw left him speechless.

Darlene lay there glaring up at him with venomous hatred. She was dressed differently than her usual conservative attire. She wore form fitting black leather pants and a scoop-necked red satin blouse. Her face, especially her eyes, showed the most dramatic difference. "Darlene?" Walker questioned, still trying to process what he saw. "Don't call me that!" the woman spat at him. "Darlene is a victim. A scared brown mouse who couldn't stand up for herself if her life depended on it. I'm Darla." Walker quickly processed the information. "Well Darla, you're under arrest for attempted homicide. I have a feeling there will be several more charges to add." Walker heard backup in the form of Gage and Sydney arrive. They looked as stunned as Walker felt, but were professional enough to keep their questions to themselves. Walker handed over Darla/Darlene to them and went out to his truck. He managed to reach Trivette and Alex and asked them to meet him back at headquarters. There was a call from Carlos stating that Darlene had somehow slipped past him and he wasn't able to find her. Walker told him that she was with him and told him not to worry, that his assignment was over and he would fill him in the next day.

It was more like a week before they had pieced together the entire story. The psychiatrist, who had examined Darlene to determine if she was able to stand trial, filled them in on the missing gaps. "Darlene lived a sheltered life until Mike Leeds entered it. Unfortunately, her mother died before realizing the type of man she had married. Darlene had been thrown into a world she didn't understand and couldn't handle. The persona of Darla was a defense mechanism her mind created to deal with the chaos her life had become. True Multiple Personality Disorder is extremely rare, but Darlene and Darla are two distinct personalities. There may be others, but I haven't discovered them as yet." "So this isn't a result of her arrest, her sister's suicide and the subsequent trial?" Alex asked. "No, this happened long before any of you met Darlene. In fact, I would say that the Darlene persona was much more in control during all that happened after her arrest. She didn't need Darla as much. She was the victim and you all recognized that and gave her what she needed to stay in control. But Darla had been the dominant personality for too long and tried to reassert control. Based on some of the things Trivette said, I would say that she had broken through a few times, but you didn't recognize her, because you had no way of knowing she existed. She was the one who was overcome by jealousy of anyone who took Trivette's time away from her. She was even jealous of Darlene, but because Trivette kept the relationship platonic, she didn't feel threatened and wasn't forced to act on it. The photo album we found shows that she stalked Trivette for weeks. The second wardrobe of lingerie and suggestive clothing found in Darlene's apartment all belonged to Darla. Darlene was unaware that she existed. She blacked out and then made up stories to cover her lapses in memory. "Like the time we bumped into her coming out of the bank. She said that she had been job hunting," Trivette said. "Yes, Darla realized that she was about to be caught, so she let Darlene take over because she had years of experience covering for memory lapses." The group of friends who listened to the explanations were all stunned by the information. "Where did she get the drugs and the gun?" Sydney questioned. "Darla undoubtedly had connections. There are people that she knows that Darlene has no knowledge of. Part of the reason the information Darlene was able to give you was so sketchy was that she sincerely had gaps in her knowledge of the seedier side of her life." "So she isn't responsible for the things she did," Gage said. "No, she is legally insane. Pursuing any charges is fruitless. She belongs in a psychiatric ward where she can get the professional help she so desperately needs." Alex nodded in agreement, "I'll see to it." After the debriefing, the group all exited the conference room not speaking, just absorbing the shocking news.

Walker and Trivette were again traveling on a two-lane road through the badlands. This time they were headed down to the border crossing to pick up two armed robbery suspects who had been captured by the border patrol while trying to flee into Mexico. It had been several days since they had learned about the two personalities that inhabited one body. Trivette had been quiet and nothing any of the friends said or did had been able to make a difference. Alex had spoken to Walker before he and Trivette left and made him promise to try and get their friend to talk about what had happened. Walker had aborted several earlier attempts, but was determined to stick to his guns this time. "Trivette, remember when you asked me when I knew that Alex was 'the one?'" "Yeah." "Well there's something I didn't tell you." Trivette came out of his morose fog and looked at Walker. "What?" "You remember that singer who came to town, her ex-husband was abusive and wouldn't leave her or their daughter alone?" Trivette thought back and then recalled Walker had fallen hard for the woman. It was the only time he'd seen Walker show interest in any woman other than Alex. "Yeah, I remember. What was her name? Mary?" "Marilee." "Marilee, yeah I remember, she was a looker and boy could she sing." "Yeah, but that's not what attracted me to her. I'd been getting closer and closer to Alex, a stubborn, independent woman who didn't need anyone." "Are you kidding? Alex has always needed you." "No Trivette, she didn't then and she doesn't now. We love each other and neither one of us can imagine life without the other. But Alex is a survivor; she's able to take care of herself. When she lets me take care of her, it's a privilege not a necessity. Marilee wasn't like that. She needed someone to solve her problems for her. Looking back, that's what attracted me. I enjoyed being the knight in shining armor. It made me feel good to be that needed by someone. It was a hollow feeling though. When Marilee left, I was sad that what could have been wasn't going to be, but I was also relieved. I needed a stubborn, independent woman who could stand up to me, lean on me when she needed, but also be there to support me when I needed her." "Alex" "Alex," Walker agreed. "She is everything to me. I don't ever doubt that we will be together always. I am absolutely certain that we were made to compliment each other. She's soft where I'm hard and I'm strong where she's weak. The reverse is also true. We butt heads because we both have opinions and we're willing to defend them, but we also know that there isn't anything more important than our relationship. We just fit together like two puzzle pieces." "Is this supposed to make me feel better?" Jimmy asked. Walker chuckled, "you had already admitted that you couldn't fix what was wrong with Darlene, even before we knew the extent of the damage. You questioned the relationship from beginning to end. It wasn't right; she wasn't 'the one.' I know it's little comfort now, but there is someone out there and when you meet her, you'll know it and you'll be glad you didn't settle for being someone's 'white knight'." Walker looked over at his black partner and his face split into a grin. It was an infectious grin and Trivette answered it with one of his own. "Figuratively speaking," Walker clarified. "That type of relationship is great, but for such a brief period of time. A true lasting relationship is one built on a partnership." Trivette mulled over what Walker had said and truthfully, he acknowledged, he was right. He was sad that Darlene was as broken as she was, but he realized, he wasn't truly in love with her. Not the ever after type of love he saw in both Alex's and Walker's eyes every time the other walked into the room. "How'd you get so smart about this stuff?" Trivette asked. "I had a great teacher and she's at home right now waiting for me to get back to find out if I carried out her orders and had a heart to heart talk with you." Trivette actually laughed this time, he could just imagine Alex greeting Walker with a kiss and then grilling him. Trivette pulled out his cell phone and dialed Alex at the ranch. "He did as ordered and I feel better," was all Trivette said. "He's learning," she answered. "Tell him I love him and bring him home to me safe and soon." "We'll do," Jimmy promised and then hung up. He relayed the message and then the two Rangers turned their attention to the job at hand.