Author's note. Time frame for this story is six months before the episode, "Money Talks". Also, this piece contains a small amount of adult content integral to the story.

Warning, some adult content!

The Misunderstanding

by Pam G

"You, bitch!"

Trivette's body lunged against the sturdy ropes that bound his hands and feet to the metal chair, his hatred directed at the slim redhead in the expensive Ann Jones herring bone pants suit.

Sarcasm gushed in response. "Whoo, Jimmy. Now, now! These are not the threats I want from a good looking guy like you!" Laya Ferina knowingly smiled at her cohorts, the six men under her command sniggering together at the joke. She stepped in front of their helpless victim and looked over at the object of Trivette's concern.

Walker was prostrate on the floor, his feet bound with tape and his hands handcuffed behind. Such was the degree of his fighting abilities that even when restricted he still managed to take out the seventh man with his feet. Now rope anchored his legs to a metal ring in the middle of the cold warehouse floor. Beaten bloody by a variety of kicks and blows he lay barely conscious.

Laya motioned towards Trivette as she spoke to the nearest thug. "Hold his head."

Trivette choked and writhed as a huge hand wrapped itself around his throat and an arm pinioned his head to the man's torso.

The redhead smiled and scrutinized Trivette's reactions to her fingers wandering slowly and seductively up his thigh to rest on his private parts. His ankles had been tied to the outside of the chair legs and additional rope around his knees forced his legs apart. If only he had worn his jeans they would have limited her antics, as it was he was wearing suit pants and consequently what was freedom, now made him open and vulnerable.

Blood thundered across his ears. His heart pounded his chest. Desperately, Trivette tried to mentally block out the assault. Her hands were light until they reached his groin, whereupon Laya fondled and heavily groped at his genitals.

His eyes tightly closed, Trivette's imagination pictured a shining steel wall slamming down from the sky, divorcing him from reality, and helping to battle the involuntary stimuli. He knew Laya relished her actions and inexplicably this fueled the anger oozing from every pore. Frozen in time, his mind pleaded for the forceful massaging to stop and cried out for his humiliation to cease.

"Leave him alone." It was a weak croak, but in the awkward silence, which had prevailed upon the room, it shattered the proceedings with the force of a whirlwind. Laya spun round.

"Not so tough now, are you?" she spat. "Look at the two of you!" Her attention swung back from her fetish to the present situation. "Jimmy! I - want - the - address! Cahill and the bitch she's protecting! I'm not playing around any longer." Ferina pointed a thick set male. "Cutis! Get the club." As he left she continued, her voice becoming scratchy and high pitched, "This is it! Jimmy? Give me the address. There's no one else I can get it from." She stabbed a finger in Walker's direction. "His life in your hands! What's it to be?"

Trivette exchanged looks with his partner to see Walker's gray, somber eyes steadfast, and, shaking his head, Walker spoke again.

"No, Trivette. Don't you do it," Walker ordered.

Curtis stood straddled over Walker. The Ranger's body was on its left side; the wooden baseball bat targeted towards the diaphragm.

Laya looked at Trivette, but his head now released he could only look away from her.

"Make him watch."

Trivette's hair was snagged and his eyes directed towards the action.

The sickening, dull crack of breaking ribs was clearly heard. Walker never flinched until the bat rammed home, when he reacted with a grunt of pain only to mercifully pass out.

Bile raised in Trivette's belly. Numbed, the young, black Ranger watched in horror as Curtis now aimed at Walker's head. All eyes turned in his direction. Swallowing heavily, he froze, unable to decide. He'd have to honor Walker's request. It made sense. But Walker wouldn't survive the next blow - his skull would split like a watermelon. If he told them, maybe it would buy them some time while they checked it out. Maybe Alex and her witness would get away! But then again, if they thought they'd got the right address chances are they'd be killed immediately.

Trivette anguished. God, what do I do? His breathing now rapid, he knew he would be called on any second. His nerves racked and taut, his mind stumbled, urged, and prayed for a way out. The whole series of events suddenly flashed before him.

"David's right. Once we add Maria Candal to the disclosure list she's in grave danger."

Alex was in full lawyer mode, her mind razor sharp, her expertise and years of experience evident in her demeanor. Dressed in a pale gray suit with a striking azure blue shirt as contrast, Walker thought she looked magnificent. He had a job to focus on and forcibly drew his mind back to the present and away from thoughts of possibly asking Alex to marry him. He knew she loved him and they had grown close yet again, although with him dragging his feet over the proposal he wondered if she would stick around until he was ready. Still, what will be will be. He looked around Alex's office to his partner, James Trivette, and Alex's second chair in her case of The People vs. Vance Jones, David Reece. Reece was nearly thirty, had been with the DA's office three years and was an excellent attorney.

"How long do you think, before we come to trial?" Walker asked.

Alex and David glanced at each other before David spoke. At six foot, athletic, and blond-haired, David frequently turned the ladies heads.

"I had an 'off the record' chat with Judge Denver. She's sympathetic to our dilemma. We add Maria to the disclosure list the same time as we motion to bring the case forward. She's blocked off two weeks from yesterday."

Walker looked at Trivette. "Okay, pard. Let's get a safe house targeted. Put some teams in place."

"Walker?" David continued. "I don't want to be alarmist or imply you don't know your job, but Vance Jones will stop at nothing to beat this. We had a reasonable case. Maria accidentally seeing the pay off go down in the restaurant was a pure gift from heaven. With what we've got and her, he won't beat us this time. That's if you can keep her alive to testify."

The Ranger nodded. "We'll keep her alive. Where is she now?"

Alex handed him the address. "At her mother's in Waco. She knows she'll be taken into protective custody today and her mother will leave for a months vacation." Alex paused. "Obviously we'll need to see her so let me have the safe house address when you know it, okay?"

The two Rangers nodded. All rising, Walker indicated he would see his partner in the office and waited until Reece left. The door closed, he smiled warmly at Alex.

"What?" she questioned, reciprocating the smile.

Walker shook his head. "Nothing." He took a beat. "So, er

Alex loved it when he became coy. His voice took on a soft tone of velvet. She wondered, with rising pleasure, what he was about to say.

"How about I get everyone organized here, then take you out to dinner tonight?"

"At C.D.'s? Sure."

"No. You talked about wanting to go to that new restaurant. Er, the little-bitty fishy one," he said awkwardly.

"Le Pettite Possion."

"Yeah."

"Walker? You'd take me to a French restaurant?"

The tough Ranger grinned and kidded with mock chagrin, "If I can eat worms and snails in the woods, I can eat them in a restaurant, I guess." He sighed heavily to signify the extreme sacrifice on his part.

Rounding the desk Alex slipped her hands either side of his torso, her face a beam of pleasure. "I can't believe it! I'd love it! You sure?"

Walker grimaced. "Yeah, I'm sure."

"Wait a minute! This isn't an empty gesture, is it? As in - we get to the door and you're called out?"

He frowned. "No!" He looked suitably hurt at the suggestion. "I'll pick you up at seven, okay?"

"Okay. But you do realize, don't you?" Alex raised her eyebrows.

Walker stopped on his way out. "What?" he asked, seriously.

"It's still the restaurant's first week of opening. It's black tie - tuxedo?"

The Ranger's face fell in dismay, but he tried to recover. "Oh. Well, uhm, no problem." His mind registered a cuss.

Alex's face lit up once more. "Gotcha!"

"You little-""

"Ah - ah - ah!" She giggled with glee.

Sidling up to her Walker placed a soft kiss on her lips. He could tell she relished the moment as much as he.

"Having to wear a tuxedo tomorrow night is more than enough!" He shook his head. "This means," he whispered softly in her ear, "I'll have to get you back."

Her big blue eyes stared up at him. She found his aura magnetic, their closeness intoxicating. "Yes."

Kissing her lightly again he suddenly grinned. "Seven at your place, then." And with that he walked out the door.

It was a few seconds before Alex could get her mind back to the job in hand. Damn that man, she thought with gladness.

"Burnsy! You all set?" Trivette threw a mock punch and stopped short of Roger Burnside's ribs. His fellow Ranger laughed.

"Yup. We got it." He cast a glance at Walker who was sitting quietly trying to reassure Maria Candal. "She seems like a nice person. Makes a change from scumbags turning states evidence with a deal."

Trivette nodded. "She's a real sweetie," he confirmed. "And guess what? You have an ally. I was trying to reassure her and kiddin' we'd get her some of her favorite food at the expense of the taxpayers, and what's her favorite? Baskin and Robbins!" Trivette answered without pausing.

Burnside's partner, big, bearded, Dan Reardon, groaned. "Oh no! We're already stopping off there twice a day!"

The men chuckled and smiled as Walker and Maria approached.

"Maria," Trivette ventured. "Ranger Burnside shares your love of ice cream. We're gonna leave you in great hands!"

Her smile still unsure, Walker restated a last few points before he and Trivette left. "Maria. You'll be safe with Ranger Burnside and Ranger Reardon."

"We're Roger and Dan, Maria," Dan countered. "This guy's so formal!"

Walker grinned and carried on, "Just relax. We'll see you in the morning, okay?"

She nodded. "Okay."

As they took their leave Walker made sure his colleagues had his cell phone number. The eyes of the Ranger narrowed. "Call me if you need to."

"You got it, Walker. Bye, guys."

                      0                      0                    0

"Eon jour; madam, et misoure. Como sevat?"

"Eon jour Oul bien," Alex replied in perfect accent, then followed the maitre'de to their table. Allowing him to pull out a chair for Alex, Walker stood until she was comfortably seated.

"Monsieur?"

“Hm?”          Walker looked blank. "Oh, hi."

Too full of himself, the head waiter looked down his nose. 'Non, non, monsieur!" He looked rather disdainfully at Walker's Stetson.

"Oh." The Ranger removed the headwear, went to hand it over and changed his mind. "It's okay. I'll keep it here." He sat and placed his hat on the spare seat.

"Tch! As you wish." Affronted, the thin, balding server seemed to glide away.

Alex giggled. For a lethal self-defense kind of guy Walker was not comfortable in these situations. "Walker," she offered. "You're not having a good time. Why don't we just go to C.D.’s?"

"I'm fine! Besides, if I'm with you, I am having a good time." He checked round to see if his dark suit and bolo was in keeping with the other men in the restaurant, and happy it was, Walker turned back to see his companion still trying to stifle a grin.

Alex was dressed in a pale blue skirt with a maroon, tight fitting crew-necked top and a matching scarf of blue and maroon pastels. She looked radiant. From the number of male heads, which had turned in her direction, Walker took some comfort that Alex had chosen to be with him. He smiled happily.

From the tenth floor of an office in downtown Dallas, Vance Jones crowed into the telephone, "Thanks. And, I miss you, too, baby!" There was a small pause in his conversation, which allowed him to pick off fluff from the expensive blue suit. Jones was the right weight for his size and nicely toned. Clothes disguised the Brooklyn mobster upbringing until he opened his mouth. "I know, sweetie. I hear what you say. But you done a great job. Hang in there, this'll be all over soon." There was a pause. "Yeah. One nine three four, Futures. I got the address down. Y'know, I thought this idea of yours was stupid, but I gotta hand it to ya - the way you checked out the opposition. All them details, all that research you did. Well, it sure paid off in spades -we didn't see this curve ball coming, did we?" He gave a small laugh of admiration. "You're somethin' else! Look, I'll get on it now, okay?" Another silence was broken with a loud laugh. "Of course I'm better in the sack! Sheesh!"

The receiver was replaced and Vance Jones' expression became serious. "Well? You heard. Get to it!" was the command. Two of the four men in his presence picked up their weapons and left.

            Alex's head popped above the overly large, glossy menu. "I can't decide, can you?"

            "Well...?"

"You need me to translate? They have eel in wine vinegar, frogs legs a la flambé, bass-"

"Sea bass?" Walker latched on.

"Yeah."

"Great. I'll have sea bass." Walker was relieved.

The sudden digital beeps of Walker's mobile phone had Alex glowering across the table. "Walker!" She quickly looked around checking to see they had not disturbed the other diners.

"Alex. This isn't a set up!" The phone was flipped open. "Walker." The Ranger listened and alarmed, glanced at Alex. "Where are you now?" There was an obvious silent answer followed by, "I'll be right there." He looked up. "Sorry, Alex. Roger and Dan took a hit on the safe house." He held up a hand to stop her from asking. "It's okay. Maria's okay. They all got out safely. They're at the office." Both went to leave.

"Walker?" Alex's voice was tinged with apprehension. "How did they know?"

The door burst open bringing in David Reece. Anxiety etched on his face he rushed over. "I got your page. Everyone okay?" Acknowledging the general nods from Walker, Trivette and Alex, he carried on, "How in the world could they have possibly known?" Reece's voice had ascended an octave.

Alex shook her head. "We don't know. But we've got them in a safe place for tonight."

"What about our offices being bugged, Alex?" he suggested.

"We've already thought of that," Trivette updated. "We've got a team coming in to go through every room."

"Has either of you given the address to anyone? A law clerk. . ." Walker didn't have to continue. Both Alex and David were vehement, shaking their heads in the negative.

"No. Absolutely not. No one," David assured.

"No. There's no one else I informed," came the firm, quiet response from Alex.

There was a short silence, which Trivette broke. "So, let's call it a night. Pick up the threads in the morning?"

Walker agreed. "Yeah. Nothing else we can do right now."

The knock on the door had Walker and Trivette reaching for their side arms, both men so quick on the draw the weapons were in their hands even before the sound had died away. Trivette quickly stowed Maria into the nearest bedroom and guarded the passageway.

"Walker? It's me."

The sound of Alex's voice had the older Ranger replacing the safety catch on the 9mm Taurus.

He peered through the spy hole to see her and David and that they were alone. Still cautious, he opened the door and scanned either side while allowing them in. The door quickly closed and bolted, Walker faced them as his weapon was holstered.

The tough Ranger's eyes softened as he greeted Alex, his voice quietly sensual. "Morning."

"Morning." Alex's eyes conveyed more than pleasantries.

"Morning, Walker, Trivette." David sat at the table and removed legal pads from his briefcase. "Everything okay so far?"

Trivette nodded. "So far." He observed the counselors get down to business and pulled out a chair for their star witness. "Looks like you'll be here for a while. I'll get some coffee for ya."

Walker followed his partner into the kitchen whereupon Trivette chose their first private moment to go over recent events. "You want to talk about the leak?"

Walker nodded. He didn't even think to question Alex. "David is as straight as they come. He admits he left his computer on last night. Could be that."

"Someone slipped right into Ranger headquarters and accessed his computer," Trivette mulled. "Daring, but not impossible. Has to be something like that. Only the six of us knew where they were staying."

Walker looked at him. "Alex said she took the case file home last night."

The two men paused.

Trivette grimaced. "Any signs of an entry when you took her home?"

Walker double-checked he could not be overheard. "No. She didn't pick up that someone could have gotten into her apartment. I checked it out. The leak wasn't from her place."

Trivette shrugged. "It has to come from somewhere."

"We'll see if they find any bugs."

When the word came back that the offices were clean it left both men perplexed. Two hours later Alex and David left the hotel to return to Ranger Headquarters.

Walker checked his watch. "J.J. and Bobby should be here any minute. I'll feel happier when we've transferred to another house."

"Yeah. Hotels have too many eyes and ears," Trivette agreed.

As if on cue Walker's phone piped into play. "Yeah."

He heard the upbeat female voice of Bobby Hunt. "It's us, Walker. Entering the corridor now. All clear. We'll bring you out the kitchen entrance."

Walker snapped the phone shut while delivering a look of confirmation to his partner. Trivette positioned himself on standby near the door.

"Maria?" Walker smiled to her. She was a pure innocent. Just in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was terrified, too, but if they thought it was her civic duty to testify, then that's what Maria Candal wanted to do. Of course Alex had told her it was, and Walker agreed, but it was at such personal cost to the small Latino. The world would sure be a better place for more of her sort around. "You ready?" He placed an arm over her shoulders and drew her close.

Her large brown eyes looked up at him. "Si, Ranger Walker. I'm okay when you're here. I am ready."

Trivette checked the smart rap on the door was J.J. and Bobby. They dispensed with formalities and the five slowly made their way to the service elevator, Maria tightly tucked up under Walker's arm.

They walked from the stark decor of the elevator to the bustling thoroughfare of the hotel catering center, stepping over boxes and easing around man-sized carts of dirty dishes. The sight of the four with guns drawn scattered groups of workers.

Walker called out, "We're Texas Rangers! Everything's fine. Go about your business."

The swing doors behind them suddenly exploded. "Walker!"

Ducking, as one, the group of Rangers simultaneously turned back, all guns leveled at the voice.

"Hold it!" Walker shouted.

The huge figure of Ben Green from hotel security froze in his tracks, his hands palm outwards.

"Ben?"

"Walker! Your room's just been hit! We think there are two shooters. I'll stay here and keep you covered."

The five backed away, their pace increasing.

Walker raised his voice and broke into a run. "Let's move it!"

Bobby waved them on. "Okay, guys. Car's just here." The slim, female Ranger pointed a few yards away. J.J. went in front of Walker and Maria, Trivette bringing up the rear. Walker increased his pace and they were in the car and moving within seconds.

"Great," Trivette commented sarcastically.

"Bobby," Walker hailed. "Go round the front. I'll follow in the truck."

"You got it, Walker." She drove carefully but speedily and stopped by the silver Dodge Ram.

Looking about him he could see nothing out of place. Reaching his vehicle uneventfully, Walker slammed the door shut and started after Bobby's Ford Taurus. Sure they weren't being followed, some twenty minutes later they pulled up at a modest looking two bedroom, one floor house. With a small garden either side, it sat in a block of middle-income, typical American suburbia. And half an hour later all seemed to be well.

Walker checked the two Rangers and Maria had everything they needed and were comfortable before he and Trivette headed back. There was a long pause during the drive before the younger Ranger broke the silence.

"What'll we do, Walker? There's an inside leak somewhere."

"And we're gonna plug it, Trivette." The older Ranger paused and swiftly looked across before concentrating back to the road. "Do you know if David is going to the law society dinner tonight?"

"Yeah, he is. We're all on the same table." Trivette looked concerned. "You can't think it's him. He and Alex have worked too many cases. He's as straight as they come."

"The only thing I do know right now, is that it isn't you or Alex!"

"Gee. Thanks."

Walker couldn't help a grin, but then was serious again. "Get back up for J.J. and Bobby, Trivette. Have them watch the outside."

Two calls with his mobile and Trivette had Rangers heading out to the new location.

Walker grinned again. "You . . . er, taking Josie, tonight?" Trivette bounced up his seat. "And what if I am?" he said defensively. "Oh, nothing." With a grin his partner nodded knowingly. "Walker!"

"You cut a spiffy figure, Ranger Walker." Alex gave him an admiring once up and down.

"Well, I could say the same about you. You look. . . nice."

"Nice? That's it?"

Walker's grin disguised his inside chuckle. Alex was way too easy to bait.

Now arrived at the Law Society Annual Dinner, his arm briefly found its way around her slim waist. He guided her through the similarly attired attendees in the large, elegantly decorated ballroom, and towards their pre-assigned table. The back of her black gown was low cut, and Walker's hand briefly touched her silky skin as they made their way through the throng. Feeling an emotional spark at the contact, Walker couldn't help but be warmed at the sight of the beautiful woman in front of him. When Alex fleetingly turned and smiled to him before looking forward once more, Walker knew he was the luckiest guy there.

"Hey, Walker!" Trivette stood at their arrival. His partner pretended a double take. "You scrub up real good!"

At the sight of Walker's brief withering scowl, he, Josie and Alex laughed.

"Josie. Good to see you, again." Walker hugged her before pulling out a chair for Alex. In gentlemanly conduct he waited until his date was seated but couldn't help a long exchange of adrenaline-pumping eye gazing with her before sitting himself.

They had hardly started the conversation when a voice from behind broke in.

"Sorry if we're a bit late. Traffic!" David Reece smiled at the gathering. Walker and Trivette rose in amazement. His companion was as beautiful and shapely, as David was handsome and athletic. They were a stunning pair, even if, perhaps, the slender redhead may have been slightly older.

"Allow me to introduce you." David thought for a second. "Oh, I'll just go round the table." He gestured to Alex first. "This is my associate, Alex Cahill. Rangers Walker and Trivette, and this is Alex's manager at the HOPE Center, Josie Martin. I'd like to introduce you to my girlfriend," Reece gestured in her direction. "Laya Ferina."

The accepted welcoming ritual over, the six examined menus, duly ordered drinks, and small-talked, with the exception of Walker. His observation of David's girlfriend had become noticeable.

"You gentlemen do not drink?" Laya questioned, looking towards Walker and Trivette. Her voice had an accent, which highlighted the impeccable elocution of each word. Not French or Italian; it was hard to make out.

"Oh, we like an occasional beer," Trivette answered on their behalf. "But we could be called out. So we can't drink tonight."

"Oh. That is a shame. I do hope it won't spoil your enjoyment?"

Trivette shook his head. "No. We don't need a drink to enjoy ourselves do we, partner?" He turned to Walker.

When there was no reply, Laya's voice was calm but conscious of Walker's lack of conversation. To indicate her lack of intimidation she asked her question directly to him. "What exactly are you on standby for?" Bordering confrontational - it was expressed as an open show to take him on. Sensing something amiss, Alex and Josie paused in mid conversation.

In the pregnant pause that again followed, Trivette was forced to bridge the gap. "Just a case we're working on. Police work isn't always nine to five, unfortunately."

Laya smiled. "I can imagine." Unruffled, she returned to Walker's stare. "Are you always this quiet, Ranger Walker? You are making me uncomfortable."

Alex playfully slapped the side of his arm. "Walker!"

The Ranger was not belligerent, but neither was he repentant. "I was wondering where you're from."

Laya smiled, her effort lessening the tension that had crept in. "Oh my accent?

Well, I'm Persian, but I can speak several languages. French is my main one other than

English. Is that what's bothering you? I'm not American? But what about you, Ranger

Walker? Are you full blooded, Caucasian American, then?" the sultry female countered. There

was a pause in the proceedings.

"No."

Laya's voice rose half an octave and registered delight. "No?" The two had become verbal chess opponents and Walker knew he was about to be checked.

She continued. "And . . . your heritage is?"

Walker held her gaze. "Cherokee Indian."

She smiled her checkmate.

"Er, Walker? How about that dance you promised me?" Alex fought for his attention, and pulling his look away from Laya, he turned to her.

"Sure."

Alex sighed with relief and was escorted to the floor. They joined five or six couples engaged in a slow waltz.

"Walker! You were down right rude! What's got into you?" Alex's blue eyes blazed.

He offered no reply, instead staring over her shoulder at Laya, surprised to find her returning the look.

"Walker, man. She has come up clean." Trivette hated it when he was put in the middle.

David Reece pounded the floor. "Alex, I'm sorry. I take objection to this. Just because I was with someone you didn't know!" He turned to Trivette. "So exactly how much do you know about Josie, then?"

"David. I know how you must feel. I'm so sorry," Alex appeased.

The legal counsel had not backed away from his downward glare and went at Trivette again. "If my date has to be put through the third degree why can't yours? I want an answer."

Alex kept her voice level and replied for her friend. "Well of course we did a background check on Josie before I hired her for HOPE."

David rounded on Trivette again. "And? Was she clean?"

"Yeah," The wiry Ranger nodded.

"But how well do you know her? How many times have you gone out with her?"

"About six."

Reece was in his face. "Has Josie been in this office this past week?"

Trivette nodded. "Yeah, of course."

"Has she been next to you when the file for this case was open on your desk?" Reece knew the answer he had been there when that happened.

Trivette was uncomfortable. "You know she has."

"Laya and I have met nine times. She has never once been to my office! Right now I'd say the leak is Josie, wouldn't you?" David steamed.

Walker's voice was focused and quiet, "Has she ever asked you about specific cases?

David grew more defensive by the minute. "No! Not Once!"

Alex held up her hands. "Stop it!" She turned to them. "All of you." Then to Walker. "Isn't that enough?"

It was as if the red bearded Ranger hadn't heard a word. "She's never asked you about your work?" continued the quiet inquisition.

David fought to keep his temper. "Only taking a general interest - as I do about her painting."

"She hasn't specifically asked about the Vance Jones case?"

"No!"

"Are you having sexual relations with her?"

Reece spun back, pointing to Trivette. "Are you going to ask him that about Josie?"

Walker never batted an eye. "I don't have to."

"Oh, right!" Alex's colleague slapped his hands to his side in sheer disbelief. "This is intolerable Alex. I'm sorry." And with that David disappeared from the room, the door slamming shut.

An awkward atmosphere descended. Trivette cleared his throat.

"He seems to have a point, partner." There was a nervous laugh. "If we had to choose between Josie and Laya, right now it'd point to Josie."

Alex shook her head. "That's so ridiculous." "Can we put a tap on her phone?" Alex was sarcastic, "Whose? Josie's?" "No "Walker made a show of being patient. "Farina’s."

"On what grounds?" The blond DA turned incredulous. "You've got nothing!"

"We can check her phone records, though."

She stood in front of the man she loved. "Once you set your teeth into something, you won't let go, will you?"

"There's something not right about her, Alex."

Alex outwardly ended the conversation by returning to sit at her desk and offered a spin on the situation requiring no answer. "You've absolutely no evidence the woman is implicated in anything. Perhaps, subconsciously, you don't like her because she speaks French!"

Walker turned on his heel. "C'mon, Trivette."

Alex threw her hands up and shrugged at Jimmy. Raising his eyebrows as way of reply, Walker's partner followed him out the door.

Eight p.m. that evening Alex sauntered through to the Ranger office. Glancing at the pages of phone call listings laid on Walker's desk, she looked about. Not seeing him, her attention was turned to Trivette.

"Jimmy? He's still pursuing this, then?" she said with a sigh. And when the younger Ranger nodded she shook her head, raising her eyebrows to ask where he was.

"Bathroom," Trivette answered her, and Alex nodded again.

"Jimmy.

"I know. But, you have to admit. Most of his dang Cherokee intuitions do have a habit of panning out."

"I know. But meeting the woman for the first time and acting like that? Do you realize the strain this has put on my working relationship with David? We've known each other for years."

"Walker got him to agree to have his phone checked. It came up clean as did the rest of his house," Trivette advised.

The pair turned at Walker's return.

Alex smiled. "You ready to call it a night? How about dinner together at C.D.'s?"

The Ranger sat back at his desk. "You two go ahead. I'll just finish checking these out."

The patience of the beautiful blond grew thin. "You're so stubborn!"

He was unwavering. "I'll join you in about half an hour."

Alex spun on her heel and left. Trivette looked over, unsure what to say.

"It's okay," Walker assured him.

Cramped through sitting so long, Trivette eased himself out of his chair and stretched. "Okay. See you at C.D.'s."

"Cordell? You turned anything up?" C.D. was usually direct.

"Maybe." Walker looked round for Alex.

"She's gone for an early night," Trivette advised. "What've you found?"

Walker looked from his ex-partner to his current one. "Each time the safe house has been hit, she made a call between half an hour to an hour before. That phone's located at Prago's. That's a known haunt of Vance Jones'."

The men assimilated this new information.

"But, Walker. We'd have to know whether she saw or spoke to David each time before. He's hardly going to be a happy camper!"

"Maybe-" Walker started.

"Well," Trivette pulled a face. "We'll check on that tomorrow, then."

C.D. brought them back to the present. "What about tonight? You think they'll hit the safe house again tonight, then, fellas?"

Walker seemed lost in thought before he replied. "I don't know." His mood changed from wistful to positive. "C.D.? Could you fix a Philly Steak sandwich and a coffee to go? I'll think I'll hang around the area tonight. Just in case."

Walker hadn't asked if Trivette would pull the extra duty, he just grinned in his direction. His partner sighed and gestured helplessly with a hand slapped to his side.

"And . . . one tuna and OJ to go."

The grin widening, Walker placed an arm around Trivette's shoulders.

It brought a similar grin to the old man's face and he moved away to comply with the orders. Trivette called to him.

"And C.D.? Mayo, red onions, salad . . . the works on it, okay! And big fries, lots of them." He sighed in resignation again.

Trivette peered out the windscreen of the Ram and shivered.

"It's cold."

"You're always cold, Trivette. We'll cruise round the block again shortly and I'll put some heat on." Walker reached behind. "Here." He passed over a blanket.

Trivette stopped in mid take. "Someone’s approaching." Pausing until the headlights of the approaching car dimmed, they strained to see.

"Alex!" Walker looked at his watch. "Nine thirty! What's she doing here?" The Ranger took the phone from his partner. Trivette had already hit the saved number. Walker motioned towards the radio.

"It's Marcus Ray and Denny Stowe on duty outside. Tell them we see her." Leaving Trivette to comply, Walker spoke down the phone to the Rangers inside the safe house. "Dan? Alex is approaching. Put her on the phone when she gets in, will you?" He had to wait until the door was unlocked and Alex had stepped inside. "Alex? What are you doing here?"

Trivette didn't have to hear the reply to know what she said. Walker's continued frown was enough.

"I know you don't need my permission, but it may not be safe. Can't it wait till the morning?" There was a lengthy reply and Walker acquiesced, "I see. Make it quick though, okay?" The Ranger's quiet voice held a note of anxiety, which made Trivette smile inwardly. Walker maybe as stubborn as they come, but it was obvious he was deeply in love with Alex and concerned for her safety. He put his thoughts aside to listen again as Walker updated him further.

"Dan thought we knew she was coming. Maria couldn't sleep. Wanted to talk to her again," Walker explained. He had only just returned the phone when it rang once more.

"Trivette." His hands cupped over the receiver. "Dan, again," he whispered to Walker. "They ordered pizza!" Trivette spoke directly into the phone this time, "You ordered pizza? Oh." Then as an after thought he wondered, "What topping you'd get?"

Unable to help a grin, Walker's eyes raised skyward.

Seemed like three hours, but it was only thirty minutes later the interminable wait was shattered with the sound of distant gunshots. Bolting upright, the two Rangers looked about. The firing continued.

"Seems to be over the next few streets," Walker guessed.

Tension made the younger Ranger slip the leather fastener away from his sidearm. "Great! Now the pizza delivery guy's just showed up!"

The radio burst into life. "All units in the vicinity. Two-eleven in progress. Arco gas station, Fairview and Roland. Handle code three. One down, EMT unit en route."

"That's a few streets over, Walker."

Walker thought it through. "Put Marcus and Denny on  it." He continued to scrutinize the spotty young youth wearing jeans, T-shirt and a reversed baseball cap, ambling up to the door of the house. Once the pizza was duly delivered, the door was firmly secured and the teenager reclaimed the dirty red van and sped off into the distance. Although Marcus and Denny were gone, the evening seemed to resume it's calm. But something continued to chewed at Walker's gut. There was hardly a movement in the tree-lined neighborhood until the radio blurted into life.

"Stowe to Walker."

"This is Walker."

"Walker, we're at the convenience store. We got 'em. Two junkies. Too late for the owner, though. We'll be here for a while wrapping up. We'll be as quick as we can, okay?"

Two squawks on the transmit button to affirm and Walker sat back. "I don't know, Trivette. Something's not right."

"Oh, geez." The sound of the cell phone beeps caused Trivette's shoulders to droop. "Now what?" he voiced with frustration and answered, "Trivette." A few seconds passed by. "What? Alex stay there, we're coming in."

Both Rangers were already exiting the vehicle. Running towards the house Trivette's voice raised so Walker could hear.

"Something's wrong with Dan and Roger."

It took the Rangers a mere minute to run from their vantage point on the edge of the street corner.

Walker pounded on the door with the butt of his gun. "Alex! Open up. It's us!"

They could hear her fumbling with the chain and the door was flung open.

"The pizza! It must have been the pizza." The ADA led them to the main room. Their colleagues were sitting back against the sofa, seemingly asleep.

Both Walker and Trivette felt for pulses and nodded.

Trivette was incredulous. "Out cold."

"We've got to go." Walker went ahead. "You two stay in the middle of us, okay?"

But before they could make another move shots zipped over their heads. Like a choreographed move the two Rangers dived for the nearest person. Trivette lunged for

Maria, guiding their fall to the sofa and flipping the furniture to use its sturdy back as a shield.

Walker gathered Alex in his arms, somehow finding time and space to place his arm around her head for protection when they crashed to the ground.

"You, okay?" worried Walker.

Alex recovered quickly enough to allow Walker to do his job. "Yes, yes! Go! I'm fine."

While Trivette lowered the unconscious Dan Reardon to the safety of the floor, Walker did they same for Roger. Happy his unconscious colleague was safe, the tough Texas Ranger's face was snarled as he zigzagged to the window and searched the night to pinpoint the gunmen. The bright muzzled flashes gave him what he wanted to know. Returning fire, he was joined by his partner and the two men managed to halt the progress of the advancing force.

Walker's jaw dropped slightly. "I got one. I count six left." Making a decision, he fished out keys from his pocket, picked off a couple more shots and throwing the keys across spoke hurriedly.

"Trivette. Take them out the back. Get them to the Ram and come back for me. Alex?" he shouted over the din. "You drive the Ram to C.D.'s okay? He witnessed their nods. "Go, Trivette. They'll head for the back shortly. If they were organized they would have done it already. Be careful."

"You got it!"

Waiting for his moment, Walker fired repeatedly to allow his friends to get away and was suddenly alone. He had seen two men peel off but they had gone the opposite way Trivette was headed. With a bit of luck the two wouldn't meet, but he knew he'd be circled any time now. Walker guessed Marcus and Denny would hear the shots from the convenience store and hopefully race back. He could do nothing else but wait it out.

Trivette opened the Ram door, pushed Maria inside and called over to Alex. "Get to C.D.'s, Alex, and have him take you to a safe location. Call me, huh?"

"Jimmy, take care! I'll call for back up for you." But Trivette was gone. Alex slammed her foot on the gas and they sped away.

Stealthily returning to the back of the house, the younger Ranger held his breath. Some of Walker's Cherokee instincts must be rubbing off as he could feel the thugs presence before he saw them. They had crept around the back. Trivette could hear the repeated exchange of gunfire and knew his partner was being overwhelmed, but he peered round the wall just in time to see the two goons burst through the kitchen door. Walker spun back on hearing the noise, but it was too late. With no time to call out and with no option, Trivette shot both men in the back. They tumbled immediately and fell lifeless to the floor.

Walker's relief was obvious and became even more so as approaching sirens sent the balance of attackers fleeing back to their van. Walker ran for the door, Trivette on his heels. They both fired at the disappearing dark blue transit van and waved down their fellow Rangers.

"Marcus!" Walker wrenched open the driver's door. "I need your car!" Swapping with their colleagues, smoke and burning rubber invaded the air as the wheels sought for grip with the sudden acceleration and the pursuit was on.

Whether he was in his Dodge Ram or not, Walker was in a class of his own when it came to pursuits. No one could touch his mastery behind the wheel. Now the fleeing vehicle had entered a busier area, he skillfully and safely wove a path through the traffic and positioned the light gray Mercury Sable close enough to intimidate. They would make an error long before he would and he would pounce then. Walker prayed no one else would get hurt in the meantime. Vehicle pursuits were like hostage situations; every lawman knew the cards played out differently each time and you had barely a second to make a decision that would forever affect lives.

Racing through the night, past alternating neon flashes of store lights and streetlights, the two Rangers hardly spoke. Trivette had already requested back up and the radio bust forth sporadically with location updates as their uniformed colleagues attempted to intercept. After the last broadcast Trivette spoke in the mike.

"Roger, Foxtrot Bravo. Beltline and Forty-second." He glanced over briefly, "Road block should stop them."

But the driver of the transit saw the blockade, and with only one side road as an alternative, just managed to screech into the ill-lit street balanced on two wheels. His vehicle pounded and veered wildly as it regained balance and once again thundered on. The street became narrower and dirtier.

"Damn!" Walker's face registered concern. "This is area's full of homeless folk." Walker's foot fractionally eased off the gas. If he gave them space they might all get through without hitting pedestrians. The freeways were ahead. They were bound to go for one of the interstates and he would get them there. Walker peered ahead into the night. He could see several drum fires in the distance. The homeless would make fires in old oil drums and huddle around to keep warm. Seeing three blazing orange glows ahead and at least ten to twelve persons in the near vicinity, he backed off the gas again.

"They should clear them no problem," Trivette commented.

But the van didn't. The driver made for the gathering. Bodies dived to take cover. The van hit at least two people and clipped the rusty metal containers throwing fire, ash and sparks high into the air. Allowing the van to get away, Walker slammed on the brakes and spun the wheel to avoid hitting the fleeing vagrants. Waiting for the Sable to stop they could see several bodies on fire, the victim's screams piercing the air. Trivette finished calling it in and followed his partner in an attempt to help. Using their jackets to help beat out the flames of the worst cases, they tried to help the others.

To those they couldn't immediately help, both Rangers yelled out instructions, "Stop, drop and roll!" And once the flames were out on the victim they were attending to they moved on to another traumatized body. Finally the horror of burning bodies turned to pain and distress. This moved them to another phase of medical help until, thankfully, the first EMT units arrived on the scene. In shocked silence Walker crossed to Trivette.

"They did that deliberately, man," Trivette's voice was raspy with emotion and he witnessed Walker's nod, fury registered across his face. Finally the elder Ranger found his voice.

"We have to get a break in this case," he said forcefully, and started back to the car. They had all but reached it when Trivette responded to his mobile yet again.

"Trivette." He looked straight at Walker, his response to the caller down the phone incredulous. "You want us to what? Why?" was the next question. A pause followed, then, "Where?"

The what, why and where had Walker curious. He glanced over again with a raise of his eyebrows.

Yet another question from his partner further fueled his desire to know what was going on.

"Say that again?" Trivette carried on without much of a pause. "Okay. About twenty minutes, but no dinner." And he snapped the cell phone shut to terminate the call.

"You're not going to believe this, Walker. That was David. He's been doing some checking of his own and he's got some information. He wants to meet us. Guess where?"

Walker couldn't imagine. "Where?"

"Pragos!"

"Pragos?" The elder Ranger thought it through. "Did he say why?"

"Wants us to have dinner and discuss what he's found out. About Laya!" added Trivette.

Somehow, after seeing men mowed down and burnt, dinner seemed incongruous. Walker agreed with his partner's decision to decline the offer. They would go and see what David had to say.

The irritation was plain. "Since we've run out of clues of our own," Walker thought out loud.

Having parked the borrowed vehicle at nearest available parking bay, the two men approached the restaurant. Walker paused and looked through the windows. A typical Italian diner at eleven o'clock in the evening. It was winding down, just a few couples at the tables on coffee and desert. No sign of David. Walker checked his watch again.

"We should hear from Alex shortly. C.D. will have organized another safe house and he'll stay with her until we get there." Walker had taken another few steps, but stopped yet again.

Trivette thought it was because of Alex. "You want to try calling her?"

"No. They'll call when they're set." Walker looked behind one more time and led them up three steps and opened the door.

The inviting smell of garlic and pasta had reached their nostrils on the approach to the restaurant, now with the door opened and having stepped inside, the delicious smell became an onslaught. The stomachs of both men perked up in anticipation, and unaware of their individual battles, each fought off the subsequent pangs of hunger, which now prevailed.

A medium built, white male with an armful of empty wine bottles intercepted them. "I'm sorry, gentlemen. We're just about to close. You have about fifteen minutes at most. But I can happily organize a take-out for you, if that will help?" He finished with an apologetic smile.

"It's okay, thanks. We're here to meet with someone," Walker informed him. This triggered a memory

"Oh! Mr. Reece?"

"Yeah," Trivette confirmed.

"Please. Come this way." They were led through the main, beige colored eating room, past the maps of Sicily, which adorned the walls, and through a door down a corridor. Just as the hackles on the back of Walker's neck were about to prickle the man reassured them further. "We have a room at the back here for private parties." And the door was opened to reveal David Reece. He sat at a large circular table with a coffee in front of him looking anything but relaxed. Both Rangers glanced about them and Walker's hand automatically positioned close to his side arm.

The waiter checked again.

"Can I get you a coffee at least?"

They shook their heads.

"No "Walker confirmed. "We're fine."

The door was closed and as Trivette sat opposite David, Walker looked about again. The room would hold about fifty people, he reckoned. Elegantly decorated with a large green-leaf patterned wallpaper, the nearest wall had a contrasting gold stripe and a large mirror in the middle. The Ranger sat next to Trivette and waited. David seemed reluctant to speak.

"Well "Walker's partner questioned, cutting straight to the chase. "What news?"

Reece shuffled in his chair and looked worried. "Seems you might have been right, Walker." The attorney fiddled nervously with the cell phone and thick diary organizer that lay on the table in front of him and to one side of his coffee cup. When he didn't elaborate further, Trivette became impatient.

"David! We've had a hell of night. The safe house was breeched again. Did you know that?"

When Reece nodded the affirmative Walker suddenly felt a shot of fear through his stomach and worry for Alex and Maria. He wished she would call. In fact, he thought to himself, he wished this entire case over and he determined to take Alex away for a break afterwards. Apprehension mixed with warm thoughts of the blond DA, who, he knew deep down, had won over his heart. David's next sentence brought his focus back to the present.

"Not maybe. You're . . . er, right about Laya." He stuttered slightly, looked around and continued. "I . . . I keep my organizer locked in my bedside cabinet when I'm home. She. .. we'd made love. When I went to the bathroom it took only a few seconds to unlock the drawer and get the address." Reece sighed deeply. "She must have taken an imprint of the key and had a duplicate made." He shook his head. "I'm so sorry."

Walker sat forward. "We'll get a warrant out for her arrest. There's one thing I don't understand," the Ranger's eyes narrowed. "What led you here?"

            For the umpteenth time that night Trivette's cell phone demanded his attention. He was on it in the blink of an eye.

"Yeah?" He answered loudly, and nodded confirmation it was Alex. David Reece squirmed in his chair.

James Trivette looked again at Walker. "Yeah I know where it is. We'll be right there. Walker. .

Reece's chair made a high piercing squeak along the highly polished tiles as he fumbled to find room to stand. "Wait!" he interrupted.

"She's at-"

"No!" The ADA pleaded.

"What?" Walker puzzled for a merest fraction of a second, when all hell broke loose. David found his feet at the same time the penny dropped for Walker and he went for his gun. The door flew open and slammed into the wall with an almighty crash, and three guns aimed in their direction. As fast to the draw as both men were, both frozen, their weapons almost but not quite clear.

Laya Farina walked into the room with a fourth gun.

Reece stepped back in fear, blurting out to warn them, "She wants Alex's location. She

 tricked me! Don't tell her, Jimmy, don't give her-“

            The Rangers saw two flashes and the bullets from her silenced weapon entered

David Reece's body. The big man fell heavily to the floor. Automatically moving to help him, Laya's shrill voice stopped them.

"Don't move!" Seeing them freeze again, she was more calm but still as demanding. "I mean it! Don't move! Slowly - place your weapons on the table."

Damn! Walker's thoughts raced.

"Do it!" Laya waggled the Smith and Wesson in annoyance. There was no question she would pull the trigger, Reece was testimony to that. Walker slowly placed his gun down, watched his partner do the same and looked directly to her as, with hands held high, he moved over to their fallen associate.

Bending down, the red bearded Ranger felt for a pulse. Walker's eyes were pained when he looked up. "He's dead," he stated.

The waiter who had calmly shown them through the restaurant broke the silence.

"It's okay. No one in the restaurant suspects. I said we dropped a tray of plates."

"Good work, Jesse. You should be in films you played such a great part!" Looking down at Reece she cursed him. "Stupid man. If he'd held his tongue for a few more seconds we would have had the address already. She waved to the mirror. "Come through, Vance. We need you!" The Persian temptress sighed. "Well, James Trivette! Are we going to have to beat it out of you? Or will you be a sensible boy and give me Cahill's location?"

The younger Ranger's head inched from one side to another. His face somber, he replied. "Guess you'll have to beat it out of me. Sorry about that."

"You're so damn cavalier, aren't you?"

Trivette forced a smile. "That's the way they make Texas Rangers these days. Didn't Vance tell you?"

"Believe me, it won't take long to wipe the smile of your face." Laya motioned to a rough, well-painted white door at the back of the room and then to the men on her right. "You three! Take him and tie him to the chair out the back. Make sure you tie his knees as well. I might as well have some fun while we do this. And be careful! Both these men are lethal with or without guns!" She could barely contain herself as she swung back to Walker. "As for you, you sanctimonious son of a bitch! On your knees!"

Either through nerves or excitement the gun shook in her hands. Walker knelt down. Laya laughed like a crazy woman. "Vance is behind that mirror probably dying with fear now I've got you two! He's freaking out. He doesn't think big enough, that's his problem." Snapping her fingers, handcuffs appeared from the pocket of one of the goons and slid along the floor, Walker's knees halting their progress. "Put them on. Now!"

The ratchet made a continuous metallic link when Walker fastened the first manacle across his left wrist. He made to secure the bracelet to his other hand but was stopped.

"Still think I'm stupid?" She sneered. "Behind your back," she empathized. Her brain quickly thought through all the possibilities and she altered her instructions again. "Wait, wait! Your legs. Cross your legs behind you, first!"

Pitching forward slightly, the Ranger crossed his right leg behind his left and straightened up again.

Trivette had paused by the door. He'd looked back at his captors but they were too far away and in too many directions to make a move on. This was shaping up to look like an execution-type hit and he worried for Walker. "What're you going to do?"

Another muzzle flash and the stone on the archway above Trivette's head shattered. He ducked from rock and breeze-block showering over him.

Laya spoke with venom and once again the gun squarely directed on Walker. "I'll shoot him if you don't comply! Now get in there!"

When an ashen faced Trivette disappeared to the next room, Laya realized how she could get the black Ranger to tell her exactly what she wanted and a knowing smile adorned her face. Waiting until Trivette was gone, she commanded, "Put on the cuffs behind your back, Ranger Walker. And do it now!" 'Ranger Walker' was voiced in an elongated, sarcastic tone.

The handcuffs were no sooner on than Jesse ran behind and grabbing hold, squeezed down hard on Walker's wrists. The ratchets caught again and the Ranger stopped himself wincing.

"Get the tape on his feet!"

Punched forward from behind and unable to stop his fall, Walker's eyebrow connected with the hard floor and blood slowly oozed from the injury. His feet were uncrossed, then wide, silver tape held his legs firmly together.

"Good," Laya sighed with relief. "Now we're getting somewhere. Carry him through."

Although three pairs of hands were in the process of binding Trivette's body to the sturdy metal chair, he assessed his partner's condition as Walker was carried in and dumped on the floor. Thank God he's okay, was the only thing he could think of.

Ferina sat at a table close by and fingered Trivette's mobile phone. Her eyebrows raised.

"You never know our luck. Perhaps Cahill will telephone you again," she mused. "But, till that happens, James Trivette. Excuse me," she corrected herself, "Ranger James Trivette . . . I'm afraid it's entirely up to you. Be sensible and tell me what I need to know."

Trivette tried to alter his position. The ropes tying him were too tight. His legs were attached outwards to the metal chair cut into his calf muscles below the knees, and the skin was pinched around his ankles.

"You might as well save yourself a lot of trouble, Ms. Farina. It's not gonna happen." Forcing a brave face, Trivette nevertheless felt confident he'd withstand anything they did to him. He'd especially never give in with Walker looking on anyhow. Mentally he tried to prepare himself for the pain he knew would follow.

An unsure New York voice called for her attention. "Laya?"

"Vance! Come join our party!" she welcomed, approaching him half way.

Gucci-suited, Vance Jones glared at the proceeding and unable to help himself, caught Walker's eyes. The Ranger's glare chilled his soul.

He started to withdraw. "Laya! C'mon outside."

The door closed behind them. Already sexually aroused by the circumstances, Laya draped herself over his body, her arms stretched out behind his neck.

"You stupid-" Words almost failed him. "You've escalated this too much. We can't ever recover from this. We gotta get outta here. Come with me. We'll leave them here alive. We'll make a break for the airport and get on the first plane outta the U.S...

He was interrupted.

"End up in some God-forsaken third-world shit-hole with barely any money? Why'd you think I fought so much to get out of Iran! No, Vance. They'll tell us what we want to know, then we'll dump the bodies in the desert for the coyotes. We'll get Cahill and the witness silenced and what evidence will they be able to pin on us? There'll be no proof! There's nothing. Vance, don't loose your nerve now. We can do this. Honey? Trust me, okay?" Laya smoothed the side of her hand down the clean-shaven face.

Still troubled, Jones nodded his consent. Looking back at her until the door closed, Jones had already made up his mind. Sure, she was good in bed, but there would be others and she didn't know about some of his offshore accounts. Without a sound he turned on his heel. He'd get what he wanted from his office and make a break for it on his own.

Ferina rounded on Walker. "See, this is the plan, Ranger Trivette. It's not you we're going to beat the information from - it's your partner."

She nodded, and Jesse's boot rammed into Walker's stomach. The Ranger wasn't too worried, his stomach was as hard as they come. He'd seen the blow coming and tightened the surrounding abdominal muscles. The foot entered again with the same results. Frustrated, Jesse went behind Walker. This time a series of blows landed near the Ranger's kidneys. Pain shot through Walker's lower back. Now close to him, Walker pivoted on his hips and the bound feet zapped behind the back of Jesse whipping away the legs from under him. Clattering awkwardly to the ground, Jesse's head ended at the wrong end of Walker's boots and they thundered into thug's face sending him to oblivion across the room.

"Get some rope," Laya commanded, adopting a tiresome tone. "Anchor his feet to that iron ring on the floor."

With more than a bit of apprehension, two men cautiously approached and leaped against Walker's legs until they were further restricted. Now relaxing to look down at their handiwork they waited for the command and at her nod, kicks rammed all sides of the prostrate Ranger. Finally she spoke again.

"Enough." Ferina ran a hand seductively across the black skin, caressing his cheeks. When her finger traced his lips, disgusted, he pulled his head away.

Walker was obviously hurt, but seemed okay apart from some involuntary shudders. Trivette watched his partner's bloody face meet his gaze, and Walker's voice rasped.

"Don't you tell them, Trivette."

Annoyed, Ferina's foot targeted Walker's groin.

"Uughh."

Walker's torso bend double and his face screwed up in agony. Laya nodded to the now risen Jesse and his foot shot out catching Walker across the cheek. The force lifted the Ranger up and flipped him over. Walker fought for breath in an effort to combat the searing, deep pain over his body. Now confident, Jesse rounded Walker and executed a similar kick sending him back again.

Defiantly, Walker looked again at Trivette. Walker was a mess. The original cut to the brow bled profusely and rich red blood cascaded down the groove of his eye socket, over the eye and across the bridge of his nose. His cheek was lacerated and one side of his mouth split. Blood congealed in the ear canal reducing his ability to hear and trickled down his neck. Walker fought to stay conscious. The urge to slip into welcome oblivion was so strong, but it wasn't fair to his partner.

Trivette leaned in her direction. "You, bitch!"

Sarcasm gushed in response. "Whoo, Jimmy. Now, now! These are not the threats I want from a good looking guy like you!"

Laya motioned towards younger Ranger as she spoke to the nearest thug. "Hold his head.

Trivette choked and writhed as a huge hand wrapped itself around his throat and an arm pinioned his head to the man's torso.

The redhead smiled and scrutinized Trivette's reactions to her fingers wandering slowly and seductively up his thigh to rest on his private parts. Somehow she found being in such a position of power gratifying.

Blood thundered in his ears, and his heart pounded against his chest as Trivette desperately tried to block out the assault. Her hands were light until they reached his groin, whereupon Laya fondled and heavily groped at his genitals.

His eyes tightly closed, Trivette imagined a wall shutting out the experience. A sturdy mental barrier slamming down from the sky, divorcing him from reality and helping to battle the involuntary stimuli. He knew Laya relished her actions and inexplicably this fueled the anger permeating every pore. Frozen in time, his mind pleaded for the forceful massaging to stop and cried out for his humiliation to cease.

There was no doubt the men under her command were uncomfortable with the abuse, but none would cross her. As far as they were concerned, she had Vance's protection.

"Leave him alone." It was a weak croak, but in the awkward silence which had prevailed, the sharp, commanding tone shattered the proceedings with the force of a whirlwind. Laya spun round.

"Not so tough now, are you?" She spat. "Look at the two of you!" Her attention swung back. "Jimmy! I want the address! Cahill and the bitch she's protecting! I'm not playing around any longer." Ferina pointed a thick set male. "Cutis! Get the club." As he left she continued, "This is it. Jimmy? Give me the address. There's no one else I can get it from." She stabbed a finger in Walker's direction. "His life in your hands! What's it to be?"

Trivette exchanged looks with his partner to see Walker's gray, somber eyes pleading and shaking his head.

"No, Trivette. Don't you do it." Walker adamantly instructed again.

Curtis stood straddled over Walker. The Rangers body was on it's left side; the wooden baseball bat being targeted towards the diaphragm

Laya looked at Trivette, but his head now released, he could only look away from her.

"Make him watch."

Trivette's hair was snagged and his head directed towards the action.

Walker never flinched until the bat rammed home, the sickening, dull crack of breaking ribs heard by all. Walker's face contorted in agony and mercifully, he passed out immediately.

Bile raised in Trivette's belly. Numbed, the young, black Ranger watched in horror as Curtis now aimed the baseball bat at Walker's head. All eyes turned in his direction. Swallowing heavily, he froze, unable to decide. He'd have to honor Walker's request. It made sense. But Walker wouldn't survive the next blow - his skull would split like a watermelon. If he told them, maybe it would buy them some time while they checked it out. Maybe Alex and her witness would get away! But then again if they thought they'd got the right address chances are they'd be killed immediately

Trivette anguished. Oh God, what do I do? His breathing now rapid, he knew he would be called on any second. His nerves racked and taut, his mind stumbled, urged, and prayed for a way out. Hot, sweat broke out over his face and tiny rivulets trickled down to the ebony cheekbone.

Suddenly the door opened with a bang.

"Freeze! Texas Rangers!" Heading the task force the commanding figure of semi-retired, ex-Ranger Captain Chester David Parker, stormed in room like a bull elephant. His giant body silhouetted the doorframe for less than a second before he and his band of Rangers swarmed all over.

The gun never having left Laya's hand throughout the whole event, raised slowly to defy.

"Do it and die, sugar," C.D.'s voice cut through the tension. He pointed his shotgun squarely in her direction. The room waited to see the outcome, and with heavy resignation, the gun in her hand dropped to the floor. Rangers captured their prisoners.

"C.D.? Are they okay?" Alex ran through from the back. "Walker!"

"Don't touch him, Al," Trivette warned. He could hardly wait for his colleagues to untie him. He forced himself calm while they struggled with the knots and explained, "They busted his ribs. Don't move him till the medics get here."

"Oh, Walker!" Alex knelt by his side and when she spoke again her voice choked out a whisper. "What have they done to you?" Walker's eyes were closed tight, a deep frown on his face. Small spasms racked the injured body and his voice hardly audible, incoherently he tried to speak. Removing her jacket it was gently positioned under his head and a reassuring hand placed on the top of his shoulder. The gestures seemed to calm the Ranger, and from being uneasy, he became still again. Only the odd labored breath escaping his lips.

Now free, rage consumed Trivette. Spinning round, his foot lashed out at the metal chair. It flipped several feet in the air and loudly splattered against the wall.

"Damn it!"

C.D. looked from Walker to Trivette. "Jimmy?" he said quietly.

Trivette's whole demeanor spelled out 'keep away'. C.D. waited by his side and watched the younger man fight to regain control of his temper.

There was an aggravated groan as Walker tried to move.

Still shocked by events, Alex fully turned her attention to the man she loved, tenderly running a hand slowly over his hair.

"Don't move, Walker. Shh." She had seen his mouth moving as if he was trying to talk. "Keep still, darling. Everything'll be just fine."

C.D. pointed. His voice emotional, he said, "Get those cuffs off him and untie his feet."

No sooner than a fellow Ranger eased away the metal bracelets, medics entered and Alex briefed them.

"No! Don't move, Walker." She gently kept him from changing his position. "His ribs. They're broken. Please, please, be careful." And then stepping aside, she allowed them to do their jobs.

"Jimmy?" C.D. repeated. "You okay, son?" The old man could see the pent-up fury was not abated.

It felt to Trivette as if every nerve ending wanted to punch someone out. He had to get out of there; the pungent smell of old garlic drifting through from the restaurant started to turn his stomach. He pushed past. "I gotta get some air."

C.D. sighed. Jimmy was awful difficult to handle when he got like this --thankfully only on rare occasions. He pondered on how best to help him through when he was broken from his reverie.

"We need some men to help here." The medic in his early thirties looked to C.D. as the officer in charge.

The ex-Captain easily retained full command. "J.J. and Frank will help. You want more?" he questioned.

With one hand laid protectively on Walker's hips, Jack Barratt verbalized his thoughts. "He's got one arm underneath and I want a clean lift onto the back board. So we'll need to lift him up, get the arm to his side and lay him back without jarring him too much. I don't think he can feel his hands because the handcuffs were too tight, but I can't afford to take chances though." He looked at Alex. "He's well protected with the neck brace. Can you hold his head and turn it evenly when we lift him?"

She nodded and got into position.

"Okay. On three, lift," He looked at his own partner. "You ease the arm round and the rest of us will turn him and lay him down." Watching affirmative nods from C.D. and the Rangers he nodded himself and counted down. "One, two . . . three."

The turn went smoothly without a murmur from the patient, and already assured by Alex that he was not on medications or had allergies, they worked on Walker again.

Alex and C.D. stood up and looked at each other. Emotional, the ADA wiped a tear from her eyes. "Is Jimmy, okay?"

"I don't know, honey." He hugged her tightly. "I don't rightly know what the dickens went on here tonight, but something's got him mad enough to eat Lucifer himself without removing the horns."

"What'll we do C.D.?"

He turned back. "Which hospital you taking Cordell to, Jack?"

"Methodist. We're going now." Barratt and C.D. had known each other for a few years now. The medic offered some comfort. "If it helps, unless they find some internal bleeding, I think he'll be just fine."

"Thanks, Jack, 'ppreciate that. Alex? Jimmy's outside. Why don't you ask him to take you to the hospital while I wrap up here? Maybe a sweet voice like yours will mellow him a might?"

She nodded. It took a few seconds of scanning before she spotted Walker's partner standing alone in the distance, resting his body against a car. Walking over, she stood a few feet away and somewhat apprehensively spoke.

"Jimmy? Walker's going to be fine."

The younger Ranger's head turned slightly in her direction. "Good." It was half hearted and Trivette didn't mean it to come out that way so he'd said it again with more conviction. "That's good."

Alex came closer and throwing caution to the wind placed an arm round his shoulder. "Jimmy." It was care from the soul.

Turning, Trivette accepted her embrace and they tightly hugged, both receiving comfort and sustenance from the gesture.

"Alex?" Trivette said formally. He wasn't sure she knew. "Um, David's . . well, I'm sorry, he's . . . he's dead."

Horrified, the blond pulled away. "No!" Her face was bewildered. "Oh my G… The words faded on her lips. A horrified frown creased her forehead. "Wha... what went on here tonight?" she asked incredulously.

Trivette shook his head. "Just. . . meaningless. . ." He suddenly admonished himself. "Jones!" He stared her in the face. "Did C.D. pick up Vance Jones?"

I.....I don't know.

He left at a run.

"Jimmy! Wait! The hospital. . ." But he was gone. Vance Jones she couldn't care about right now, she needed to get to the hospital. She hurried back to get one of the others to take her.

"C.D.?" Breathless, Trivette called to him before reaching him. "You pick up Vance Jones?"

"Jones?" The old man shook his head. "No. We've got everyone here. Just seen David. That's too bad," he muted somberly. "But what-“

He was interrupted as Trivette rushed to explain, "Vance Jones was here. He

must have left. Put out an APB, get a mug shot to the airport, put-"

C.D. had already moved towards a police car and picked up the mike. "I got it, I got it!" He issued instructions while Walker's partner paced in front of him.

"He's gone to the airport! I know he has," Trivette said finally. He shot into the passenger seat of a DPD car. The uniformed driver looked at him quizzically.

"Airport! And step on it!"

"Jimmy! Jimmy wait up!" But they were gone in a squeal of tires and burning rubber. "For goodness sakes. . ." The old man looked round. "J.J.?" He shouted over and waved. "You finish up here. Frank? Take me to the airport. Fast!" he added as an afterthought.

"There's no internal bleeding. He hasn't had to have surgery but he is in a bad way. And so many ribs broken are hellishly painful. He'll be here three or four days at least then he'll need some care. He won't be able to bend down at first; it's a restrictive injury. I've given him a very mild sedative. I know what he's like and I don't want him moving too much right now. We'll just give things time to settle and mend. We don't believe in tight dressings for broken ribs these days, but I've bandaged a wad of cotton wool over the area just as way of protection. I always think it helps," Dr. Larry Black ended finally, and smiled. He knew the foursome well. "Alex." He squeezed her arm, "Don't worry. I've sure seen him worse! You can see him and stay with him if you want, okay?"

Alex nodded gratefully. The whole night seemed interminable and hugely complicated. She was tired, weary, shocked and confused. Mentally she checked her obligations had been dealt with as they walked towards the rooms. Maria was safe. That was their number one priority. But where was Vance Jones? What if he wasn't available for trial? Could all this be for nothing? No! She corrected herself. Laya Ferina! Alex didn't know exactly what part she had played in all this, but she would make her accountable somehow. They would have one trial at least! Poor David.

"Call me if you need me, okay?" Black offered as he opened the door for her.

Alex nodded and summoned a small smile.

At least the room was nice and warm; Alex had been chilled. Standing at the edge of Walker's bed she observed him.

He was sleeping, one hand protectively across his right side. His face was black and blue with cuts, and ugly black stitches stretched over his right eye and cheek. That

would soon heal up, she knew that. But, suddenly, Alex felt a tremendous void hit her stomach. Vulnerability she could hardly bear. Walker was the tough one! Whatever the situation, Walker would deal with it. Whenever there was a problem, call Walker! Well, Walker couldn't deal with it now, could he? Maybe they relied on his strength and courage too much? But this time seeing him so quiet and helpless unnerved her.

Annoyed and trying to readjust her attitude, Alex rounded the bed and pulled up a chair so she was close to his left side. He must have heard the noise and opened his eyes. To her surprise he smiled.

Propped up, a pillow under his knees to take the weight of his legs off his ribs and on painkillers, he actually felt quite good - if just a little lightheaded. So long as he didn't move, breathe too deeply or laugh, he could easily put up with this!

"You're beautiful." The lazy smile continued.

"I wish I could say the same for you!"

"Really beautiful."

Alex couldn't help a small laugh. "Walker? You're hopeless."

"Have I told you how beautiful you are lately?"

This was the drugs talking, Alex knew that - although he said the same thing when they were stranded in the Utah mountains and he'd been clawed by a bear. Alex shuddered at the thought of his wounds then. It had been a close call that time. After they were rescued he thanked her and was appreciative, but had seemed somewhat embarrassed by his comments. She couldn't believe he'd want to go down this path again so it had to be the drugs talking.

"Uncle Ray thought you were beautiful, too," Walker voiced as an afterthought. Alex smiled wistfully. "He was a great man, your Uncle Ray!"

"He thought you were the right one for me." Alex was silent.

Walker's look changed and he sighed. "I miss Uncle Ray, Alex."

After Walker's parents were tragically murdered his father's brother took him in to his Native American home. From shaky beginnings the two had formed a unique bond over the long years. The old man had lived on the ranch with Walker for some fifteen years, but sadly died over a year ago. Yet again, the loss made Walker clam up tighter than a drum just as the two of them were getting close. Alex inwardly despaired. They had been getting on so well until Walker came home to find his uncle had been dead for many hours, an aneurysm having claimed his life. To the outside world Walker took the tragedy on the chin and kept going, but his close friends knew him too well, and they were aware how deeply affected he was by the loss. When he became withdrawn, Ale sought C.D.'s council.

"I know it, honey. But there's not much we can do. He'll come round. Just hang on in there and give him time," C.D. had advised. Their old friend had been right again and things had started to improve. Alex hadn't taken it personally, she knew Walker was afraid of relationships because of this reason, and slowly they were unable to help being drawn closer again.

She forced herself back to the present and took Walker's hand in hers. The limb was still puffy where the handcuffs had been fastened too tight.

"I know you miss him, Walker, but we're here for you." Massaging the hairy, strong wrists, she watched his eyes grew heavy. "Close your eyes, darling. Rest." She kissed his cheek, her hand lightly running down his neck. The tough Texas Ranger gave a small contented sigh. Lifting the blanket over his arms and tucking them around his shoulders, Alex kissed him again and withdrew just as the door opened. She gestured for silence with her finger across her mouth.

"He okay?" C.D.'s whisper was like a bullhorn but it didn't wake Walker, he was deep in sleep.

She nodded. "Yeah. He won't wake up now. Where's Jimmy?"

"Outside."

The two vacated the room. Trivette glowered at their approach.

"Jimmy? What's wrong?" Alex was apprehensive.

"He's gone. Jones. He's gone. I let him get away."

"Damn!" It was an unusual expletive from the ADA. "Well," she rallied and continued, "If you couldn't get him no one could." Her mind raced through the legal options. "I'm going to the office. I'll issue a warrant for his arrest and circulate it nationally. And-" She looked at her two friends. "If he's gone I'll just have to turn my attention to Ms. Ferina, won't I?" She didn't wait for their answer. 'Jimmy, I want you in with me so we can take statements straight away. I want her arraigned first thing."

"What about Walker?" Trivette countered.

Alex inhaled deeply before speaking. "Thank God he'll be fine. He's going to need a bit of looking after this next week, but he'll be okay. He won't stir for some time, Larry Black gave him a light sedative to make him stay put."

C.D. laughed. "Brave man, Larry." He looked about for the exit. "Okay. Let's do it!"

Early next evening the Walker they found on their return was off the sedative and on reduced painkillers, the toll of the beating at it's worst. But although physically he hurt, mentally he viewed events optimistically. David's death was an immense sadness, but Trivette hadn't been injured and Alex and Maria were safe, that was the most important thing. Especially Alex. Every blow had been worth it for her safety. He smiled as they filed in and sat around the room.

"Hey!" It was slightly breathless, his breathing still shallow. "I got your message. You've had your hands full today. Just tell me Ferina didn't make bail."

"Nope," Alex reassured him. "She's behind bars where she belongs."

"Great, great!" he affirmed. Walker smiled to his partner and C.D. Strangely, Trivette did not return the gesture, and instead looked away.

Aware of it, C.D. forced them to move on. "How you feelin', buddy?" he inquired, then answered for Walker. "You look like you crawled through a thorn bush to fight a scalded cat!"

Walker pulled a face. "Thanks, C.D." He was tired and now worried about his partner. He looked at Trivette and wondered over his silence. His eyes closed for a second before he asked, "You okay, Trivette?"

"Yeah. I'm fine."

"You did good, pard!" Walker looked at C.D. and Alex to reaffirm. "He did good. He never gave in." He felt very tired again. Walker tried to rally. "I'm proud of you, Trivette!" He tried to joke, almost knowing before speaking it would fall flat. "Just as well, too. You'd have given in to her and I would have got a new partner."

C.D. winced.

"Is that right?" Feeling patronized, Trivette moved to the end of the bed. Fury began to spread through his whole body and he pointed a finger in Walker's direction. "If I'd have given. . ." He stopped as if to find some control, but failing, continued, "Do you have you any idea? Aw forget it, man!" The younger Ranger spun on his heel, and unable to let it go, turned back, his hands on his hips. "You really take the cake, Walker!"

With amazement Walker started to counter, "Trivette.

"Don't you 'Trivette' me! You'd get another partner?" Trivette reiterated questioningly. "Well maybe it's time I thought of getting a new partner! In fact, the more I think about it, man, the more I like it."

Flabbergasted, Walker tried to make amends. "I just meant. .

"Forget it, man." Trivette made for the door. "I like the idea. But it's me that's getting the new partner. My decision! Understand?" And with that he was gone.

"Trivette!" Walker tried to get up but was unable. He winced with pain and looked anxiously at C.D. "Dang it. I didn't mean it the way it sounded, C.D."

The old man blew through his lips. "Bad timing, Cordell. Settle down. I'll go see him." And he too left.

Walker tried again to sit upright. "Ugghh." Fatigue washed over him with the power of a breaking wave at high tide.

"Don't move," Alex laid him back with little pressure.

"I should go after him . . . explain," he mumbled.

"You shouldn't have said that to him, Walker. You were out of line."

"I didn't mean it like that." Now he could hardly keep his eyes open.

"Jimmy didn't mean it, he's just letting off steam. Walker, listen. Remember the depositions in Austin I was scheduled to do next week? Old man Graham is getting worse so they've been brought forward. C.D.'s going to take me there. Walker? You listening?"

"Yeah," He panted. No matter how hard he tried, his eyes wouldn't keep open.

"So C.D. and I will be gone tomorrow. We're staying overnight and we'll be back by dusk the day after. Will you be okay?" When there was no reply, Alex gently shook the Ranger's arm. "Walker? Darling, we won't see you till the day after tomorrow, but I'll call, okay?"

"Okay," came the quiet response.

"Jimmy'll come in and see you. You'll sort this out. Don't worry. I'll call you as often as I can."

            “kay.”

Drawing up the bed covers, Alex waited and within seconds heard the regular pattern of sleepy breaths. Not particularly wanting to leave yet not seeing any point in staying, stealing one more look, she too slipped away.

                      0                      0                    0

Three knocks and still no response.

"Jimmy Trivette! I know you're in there." C.D. thumped again on the light gray door. "I swear, maybe you have been 'round Cordell Walker too long. You've gotten so stubborn you wouldn't move camp for a brush fire! Now open up."

There was an abrupt click of the lock and the door flung open. The old man took a few steps inside.

"Happy?" Trivette's retort was sarcastic.

"If I'm truly that unwelcome, I'll leave you be," came C.D.'s serious response.

The remark stopped the black Ranger in his tracks for a few seconds, then turning away he stomped out of the room. Impassively, the semi-retired Texas Ranger Captain slowly reached for the door to go.

"Here."

C.D. looked back to see a beer being held out towards him. Taking it, he quietly closed the door, a small smile escaping only to disappear when he turned back. Fingering the amber colored long neck, the quick swig was cold nectar and a welcome relief to the events of the night. He sat down without speaking and observed Trivette as the young man stared out window at nothing in particular. Finally, his friend faced him.

"Walker has no idea, sometimes. Does he?" His stomach still churning, Trivette's head bowed and then looked skyward as he continued, "As far as he's concerned, between him, me and Alex, he's the only one hurt and that's acceptable. He doesn't have any idea what I-" The words had begun to tumble out and he suddenly halted the flow. "What the hell. Cheers, Big Dog." The chilled beer flowed freely down the back of Trivette's throat.

Waiting until his friend took a break, C.D. ventured, "Would you have thought any different if the roles had been reversed?"

Trivette pinched the bridge of his nose and pulled a clenched face. "Damn it!" The bottle left his hands and exploded against the wall, the glass shattering over a yucca plant and the contents running down the beige painted wall. "C. D.," came a desperate whisper. "If you'd have heard the sound of his ribs breaking . . . and she . she would have killed him." Trivette shook his head in awe. "She would have done it. She damn well killed David without one shred of remorse, man. Just like that," He held his hand like a gun. "One pop and that was it. Next blow would have killed Walker -and you know what?"

C.D. slowly shook his head.

"He would have let her." Trivette's voice raised slightly. "And all I had to do was to sit there and let it happen. What'd you think about that, C.D.? Nothing much to it, is there? Just sit back, man, let your partner die right in front of you."

"That's not all that's eating at you, Jimmy. If the roles were reversed you'd have done the same thing. You're not short on guts. That's one thing I do know."

The silence, which then prevailed, went on so long that C.D. began to wonder if this was going to help or hinder his charge. Tussling what to do he was relieved when Trivette spoke at last.

"Damn woman groped me."

The old man frowned. "Groped you?"

Trivette swallowed hard. "She tied my legs open and molested me. Right in front of Walker! How embarrassing is that for one thing?" Hardly pausing he paced the floor to avoid catching eyes with C.D., and his voice became incredulous. "How dare she? How dare . . . anyone do that to some one else? I'm so mad! Mad for me, mad for kids who've been abused, women who've been raped. I'm just plain mad that one human being has the sheer audacity to believe they can do that to another! How --dare they?"

The open question caused both men to sigh deeply.

"And it's Walker who tells her to stop," Trivette continued. "He's lying there, unable to move, beat up, and he doesn't beg - he commands her to stop! Can you believe that?"

C.D. nodded. He could well believe that. "Why are you,' he genuinely wanted to know. "So embarrassed about it happening in front of Cordell? Surely you two have been partners long enough for it not to make a difference? Long time partner's almost a kin to bein' married for gosh sakes."

"I know. Weird, man. I've asked myself that a hundred times." He looked over briefly, knowing C.D. would understand completely. "You get to the stage that peeing out in the bush and farting means nothing."

The old man nodded knowingly. "Cordell still eating those Polish sausages?" he asked as a sidebar.

Trivette gave a skyward look. "'Fraid so."

"Oh my," came the understanding response. But C.D. was still puzzled. "So why. . .?"

"I don't know." Trivette's hands slapped his side during the interruption. "It just .I don't know. . . freaked me out, man! Maybe. . . maybe I'm mad because if she had have killed Walker they would have started on me next. Maybe I'm just not sure when the hurting started I could've been like Walker." He disconsolately flopped down on the sofa trailing a leg over the side support. "Maybe. . . I just got sick and tired of people having control over me. ." He shook his head again. "I don't know!"

There was an encouraging smile. "Maybe you're not sure, son, but I am. Trouble with you, Jimmy, you're always too hard on yourself. I know you had to prove yourself to him in the beginning, but those days have been long gone. Besides, I even think you've mellowed him a might!"

"I think that accolade goes to a shapely blond District Attorney," was the counter.

Both men laughed softly.

"You know what, Big Dog?" Trivette sat upright to share. "I've seen Walker get so annoyed and he's fighting tooth and nail and beating up slimeballs all morning, then not half an hour later we get to your place and Alex only has to walk in and he's like another person. As gentle with her like she's made of fine china."

"I know," C.D. chuckled. "The only one who doesn't know he's in love with her is him." After the amusement, he asked, "You gonna be okay with this now, son? Just a choice at the end of the day to put it past you. Cordell, he didn't mean what he said to come out like that, y’know own, and none of this is his doin'."

There followed a resigned expression. "Yeah . . . I know."

"Why don't you take a couple of days off?" "No. No, I'll go in."

C.D. rose to go. "Alex and me'll give you a call when we get to Austin, okay?"

Trivette followed suit. "Sure."

The men embraced, after which C.D. stopped in the doorway. "You'll visit Cordell." It was a statement not a question.

He didn't answer. He didn't know why, but Walker's partner still had a few burning embers of indignation.

Walker locked again at his watch and frowned. Eight thirty at night and no one had been to visit. He thought again about the misunderstanding, which had caused Trivette's fury and sighed. Even Alex had thought he was out of line. Sure must have really ticked off everyone if none of them wanted to visit. Walker berated himself. They must know he didn't mean it. His thoughts were interrupted and his spirits raised at the door opening, only to have them shot down at the sight of two nurses.

"Hi again, Ranger Walker." Nurse Wilson was a tall blond of about twenty-eight years old, and her colleague, Nancy Watts, was slightly older and smaller, with locks of pale gold hair and a complexion of ivory.

Nancy smiled. "A trip to the bathroom in order?"

Walker grimaced. "I guess. But just get me on my feet and I can get to the bathroom myself once I'm standing up."

"Sure?" Nurse Wilson checked.

"Absolutely!" Last thing Walker wanted was to be in the bathroom with anyone! He made sure the gown was pulled down before they flipped back the bed covers, and edged his feet to the side. With a nurse holding each arm he eased himself upright. Hot-dang! It hurt. Walker tried to mask the pain and took the weight on his feet. At least that wasn't too bad. They waited until they were certain he was okay and hung on until the first few steps were achieved. Walker smiled in triumph and entered alone. Thank God.

Helping him back to bed afterwards, Nurse Watts made conversation, "Sorry we had to switch your rooms earlier, Ranger Walker. Your TV didn't work because of an electrical fault in the socket."

"That's okay." He couldn't help but pull a contorted face after wrestling back into bed.

"Another two or three days and it will get a bit easier," Nurse Watts tried to be cheerful. "But you'll need help at home for a while. Do you have someone that can assist?"

Walker nodded. "Yeah."

"Good. Anything else we can get you?" When Walker smiled and shook his head, she mirrored a pleasant grin adding, "Just use your call button if there's anything else we can do, okay?"

"Yeah. Thanks."

Feeling dispirited, Walker reached for the light and turned it off. He'd try meditation for a while.

                      0                      0                    0

"I don't understand it, C.D.!"

C.D. scrutinized Alex's meager breakfast plate. "More bacon, honey?" he encouraged.

Alex looked down at her cell phone in annoyance. "No thanks." And then to their mentor. "I called all day yesterday. How come he's not answering?"

"You checked with the nurses station last night and they said he was sleeping, so we know he's okay. Maybe he's just resting?"

"Well. Maybe."

"Better eat up, Alex," C.D. chivvied. "We don't have much time 'fore this last deposition and it's the longest. I'll likely go on till mid afternoon, y'know. We won't get back to Dallas till dusk."

"Sorry Walker, Jimmy's out. You want me to patch you through?"

Walker considered the dispatcher's offer and declined, "No. Thanks. I'll call back later."

"Shall I leave a message you called?"

He considered the option again. "No. Thanks." Replacing the receiver, Walker was now seriously worried. Mid afternoon of the next day and still none of them had been in touch. They hadn't spoken to him since the blow-up. Maybe he hadn't realized how out of line he was. He left a message on Alex's voice mail but she hadn't returned his call either. Surely Trivette wouldn't really want another partner? The knot in his gut tightening, Walker decided to give it until six. If he hadn't heard from them by then he'd need to do something. But by five he couldn't stand it anymore. He felt a lot better, anyhow, so decided it was time to give his room to someone more deserving. Rolling to his left, he got out of the bed by scrunching up his left leg and allowing the right one to find the floor first to take his weight. Now with both feet were on the floor and all in all that worked quite well. Stiffly walking to the closet he assessed his situation. The shirt and jacket wouldn't be problem he figured, but the pants and boots - that would require thought and he'd need to take his time.

He couldn't wait to get out. Walker knew he'd find them at C.D.'s about now, so he'd just go straight there, bite the bullet and apologize. Then it would be over.

Alex threw her dark brown briefcase on the floor of the bar and grill and stretched her slim body towards the sky.

"Thought that journey would never end!"

"Mabel? Mabel?" C.D. bellowed while rounding the bar. "How's everythin' sweetheart? Everything okay?"

"No the place burnt down!" No one but Mabel Shoop could match C.D. quip for quip. She smiled a huge grin at them both. " Looks okay, doesn't it? Want some coffee Alex?"

The blond ADA checked her watch. "Please. Then, C.D., I want to go straight to the hospital."

"I know, I know. Give me a minute to get sorted! I don't know why you're so worried. Jimmy woulda called if there'd been a problem." Muttering under his breath, he hurried away.

In a 'woman to woman acknowledgment, Mabel's eyeballs rolled around her sockets. Dropping a coffee in front of Alex she turned away with, "Silly old coot hasn't a clue."

Alex couldn't help but laugh at the pair of them.

There were redneck drawls and redneck drawls, but this cab driver made Walker want to fall asleep.

“…and'n if’n you were a ask'n me, which like I nos you ain't. But if'n you were a askin', I'd say you could sue them thur doctors be-cause they done re-leased you a mite prea-mayturely. Yew don't look to me like yew should be on yore feet none. I ain't never had to help someone in the ve-hickle who wunt drunk afore." The cabbie leaned forward to take another good look at the healing cuts and the now yellow tinged bruises covering Walker's face. "You a boxer or somethun'?"

With patience bordering a saint Walker pointed to the star on his jacket. "Texas Ranger."

It was a second before the penny dropped and a note of awe laced the tone. “Oh yeah. Hotdiggerdy. Ma Maw won't be-leeve this one! Holy mackerel!" At last there was a sense of urgency. "So, stockyards at Forth Worth. You got it, Ranger!" He moved his butt in his seat with excitement. "You'll never guess to look at me now I is all ree-spectable like, but I had a run-in with law and what happened wus this

Dressed in the same jacket and bloodstained white shirt and gray pants he'd been brought in with, besides feeling weak Walker felt dirty as much as anything else. And was it hot in here? With one ear tuned to the unremitting dialogue, Walker inwardly sighed and pulled at the open shirt collar.

Impatiently, Alex stood with her hands on her hips. "C.D.!"

A head bobbed round from the back room. "You're acting like a hen on a hot plate, Alex. I'll only be a minute."

"You said that fifteen minutes ago."

He might give you earache, but the cab driver had a kind heart and Walker was grateful for his help getting out the ancient, but well kept Oldsmobile. Once on his feet, he swayed a little.

"Ha down't thunk you're right fit 'nough fer this. You sure. . .”

"I'll be fine," Walker cut him off. "Um, thanks." He pulled out his wallet and paid the fare plus a very good tip. "Keep the change." Walker stood still and looked about him before stepping on to the wooden boardwalk, and one slow step at a time made his way to the diner windows and looked in.

C.D. looked to the rear of the diner. "Jimmy!"

Turning, Alex smiled in anticipation and welcomed the younger man's warm embrace.

"Hey, Al. I was hoping you were here! C.D.! C'me here. I want you to meet someone."

Accompanying Trivette was a tall, rugged, handsome man with fair hair and the most azure blue eyes Alex thought she had ever seen. The eyes grew larger at the sight of her and she couldn't help but giggle at the 'wowie' expression on his face.

Trivette waved the old man over. "C.D., Alex - I'd like you to meet Greg Kline. I've been working with him the past two days. He's with FBI covert ops. Greg? This is Assistant District Attorney, Alex Cahill. And retired Captain, C.D. Parker."

"Semi," C.D. got in quickly with a look to Trivette.

Initially ignoring Alex's outstretched hand Greg quickly shook C.D.'s hand first. "Captain Parker."

"C.D.! Call me C.D."

"C.D.," Greg reiterated, and with great aplomb, bowing slightly from the waist, Greg totally focused on Alex's face as he grasped her hand and kissed it."

Alex couldn't help laughing loudly.

"You, ma'am," Greg's eye's twinkled as he joked, "are the most loveliest lady I've seen in Texas. And I've been here all of two whole days!"

All three joined in the good-humored laughter.

Trivette continued to explain, "Greg needed some info on our current arms dealers. Seems there might be something big going down soon. We've been visiting snitches to see what gives."

Finally Greg let go of Alex's fingers but removed his hand only to place it on her shoulder. "And Alex, I don't want you to think of Jimmy's snitches and have that take away from the compliment I just gave you, either!"

The gathering erupted again.

"Seriously," Greg stated. "I appreciate the hospitality. Jimmy's told me all about you and I'm glad I was able to see you before I left town."

"You're leaving shortly?" Alex inquired.

"Unfortunately. In about ten minutes. Jimmy's been more than helpful though. He sure knows his way around this neck of the woods."

C.D. was adamant. "What can we get you, Greg? Beer? Can't go without something."

Greg grinned. "See? True Texas style hospitality! Thanks. A beer will be great." He turned to Alex, the gleam returning to his eyes. "Now, Alex. How much money will persuade you to leave and come with me?"

With growing dismay turning to immense disbelief, Walker watched the exchange. So, Trivette had a new partner. His jaw dropped slightly. Bewildered, he looked either side, unsure of what to do. Obviously Alex and C.D. liked the guy. Alex especially seemed charmed by him. Walker could hardly believe it. The lightheadedness started to return and he place a hand on the window to steady himself.

"Walker?" came a voice.

He looked up. It was Homer Palmer. Homer was an old timer, formerly with the forensics department and long time patron of the bar. He, Homer and C.D. had shared many a beer together over the years.

"Walker," Homer exclaimed again. "You look like something the cow's drug in. You okay?"

Now was not the time to feel weak; he had to get out of here. He turned slightly and saw the taxi where he left it. "Yeah, Homer. I'm okay."

"You want me to get C.D. for ya?"

"No." Numbed by the events he seen added to Walker's discomfort and his eyes narrowed with effort. "I'm . . . going home. Thanks."

"So, seems like Greg's info was on the button." Trivette finished explaining.

Rude or not, Alex couldn't wait any longer. "Jimmy," she implored. "What about Walker? He wouldn't answer the phone so we haven't spoken with him. How is he?"

"Um," Trivette looked awkward. "Well . . . I didn't actually get to visit myself. I gotta bit tied up." He added hastily. "I knew that'd be the first place you want to go, so we'll go now, huh?"

Alex's eyes blazed. "You didn't visit?" she asked incredulously, jumping off the barstool. "How could you not?" she accused, and looked to C.D.

Casting his own glower to Trivette, C.D. gathered up the keys to his SUV. "C'mon. Greg," he offered. "You mind getting a taxi to the airport? We got something pressing going on here."

The FBI agent had detected an awkwardness and held up his hands. "Not at all. I've got my own rental car, anyway. It's been nice to meet you all. Jimmy told me his partner was in hospital. I can understand it's your first priority."

Saying their good-byes, they filed towards the front door.

"James Trivette!" Alex admonished. "You didn't visit Walker? That means none of us have spoken with him since the argument!" Alex was livid. "Poor Walker. What'll he think?"

Trivette was unsettled. "I thought you'd have called him."

"It's not like we didn't try!" She paused to let people in. "Hi Homer."

"You talking about Walker, Alex?"

They all stopped while she answered, her tone curious. "Yeah."

"You just missed him," the old timer tried to be helpful.

"Just missed him?" Alex shook her head slightly. "How? He's in hospital. We're just going to visit."

Homer was certain. "Walker's not in hospital, he wus just here right now. He watched you all through the window then left."

"What?"

The following stunned silence had Homer repeating himself more slowly. "He's just been here. He was looking at you through the window and he left. He didn't look none too good, I can tell you."

"Homer?" asked C.D. "Did he say where he was going?"

"Yup. He wus going home. He left less than five minutes ago in a cab."

Alex's finger stabbed in Trivette's chest. "This is all your doing. If you'd have visited. .

He could only be few minutes at the most from getting horizontal. Now arrived back at his ranch Walker waited until Verne open the passenger door and held out a hand. "'Kay, Walker. Hup!"

Oh geez! He took a minute to straighten up, sweat beginning to appear on his brow. He'd paid the fare on the way and watched as the tall Texan waved while taking his leave. Just a short walk, few steps up the porch and he'd be fine. Puzzled at the approaching engine sound, he stopped to look, his shoulders sagging even further when he recognized C.D.'s vehicle. He tried to stand straight as they tumbled out; their greetings stopped short by Walker's expression and silence.

"Walker?" Alex went towards him, but his hands remaining in his jacket pockets, Walker made it clear the advance was unwelcome. He swayed on his feet.

"Cordell? You need help, son. Let's get you inside."

"I don't want," Walker's voice was cutting. "Charity." He looked accusingly at Trivette. "I'd . . . I'd like for you all to leave."

Alex's voice registered the shock they all felt. "Walker? What's wrong?"

The sound of Alex's voice and seeing her made Walker yet again curse the whole Vance Jones case. Might as well make a clean break all round.

He tried again not to sound as weak as he was. "Look," He'd swung his head away but looked back at the three stony faces. "Just go, okay?" And turning away from them he tackled the first step on the porch when his legs slowly crumpled beneath him. "Ugghhh." Shooting pains through his chest forced the air out of his mouth.

Trivette and C.D. immediately rushed to his side.

"Walker!"

"Cordell!"

"C'mon, man. Let's get you inside."

"Take it easy, pard." Trivette helped get him to his feet, but the hurt Ranger could hardly stand. His partner took as much of his weight as he could, as did C.D.

"Get the door, Alex," their old friend commanded.

Swiping the fallen keys from the ground, she ran up to unlock the door and hold open the fly screen for them to pass through.

Semi conscious, Walker's head rolled either side but somehow he managed to stop himself passing out.

Alex opened another door nearby. "Put him in the guest room." Running inside, she flung back the covers of the ready-made bed and they quickly thought how best to do it.

"Ease him down, Jimmy." C.D. cast a quick look at Alex. "We'll get him undressed, honey."

"Oh." She hurried from the room.

It was a struggle, but leaving on only his briefs, finally Walker was back in bed again. Totally fatigued, he was asleep before they had covered him up and stayed that way for about four hours. Opening his eyes, Walker took a second to work out he was at home, and a few more to realize he was downstairs in the guest room. The fire burned softly in the hearth, and welcoming glow of the bedside light cast an equally warm glow throughout the Indian-flavored room.

Walker's spirits plummeted as he remembered the earlier events. He was hungry too. He forced his body upright and propped higher up the pillows while hanging on to the soft, dark blue blanket with one hand. He silently cursed again. If you'd never had misfortune to experience broken ribs you couldn't begin to guess how constricting it was to function normally.

"Hi."

Walker's head turned at the sound of the soft female voice.

She smiled with relief and popped her head round the door. "Guys," she called out, and came to the side of the bed. Her care and concern self evident, Alex looked at the man she loved. He was so battered and bruised, her heart went out to him. She longed to comfort and help and hold him in her embrace.

"How you feeling, now?" she asked, just as his partner and former partner entered.

Warily, Walker avoided eye contact. "I'll be fine. Um," he hesitated. "I appreciate you bringing me inside, but. . ." he tried to appear competent. "I'll be fine now, okay?"

Before anyone could question him further he carried on, "Trivette." They could see the emotional pain behind the Ranger's eyes. They waited until he'd found the right words.  When Walker looked his partner square in the eyes, none could doubt he was sincere. "Good luck with your new partner."

Puzzled, Trivette looked from Alex to C.D. "Part- What new partner?" His head gave a small negative shake. "I-I don't have a new partner."

"Wait a minute!" Alex moved closer to Walker, her brow furrowed. "I know what's happened here." She went on to clear up the confusion, a smile starting to show on her face. Sitting down next to him her hands reaching for his. "You big idiot!" It was said with obvious relief and a whole lot of love. The three men gazed at her. "I bet it never registered with you when I told you C.D. was taking me to Austin for the Graham depositions, did it?''

"Austin?" Walker uttered.

"Jimmy should have visited you but. . ." she hedged slightly, "got tied up. And the man you saw through the window at C.D.'s tonight wasn't his new partner. It was an FBI agent he was helping out!"

"FBI?" Walker questioned, and added with incredulity, "So," he quickly glanced at the younger Ranger. "You haven't got a new partner?"

"New partner. . . sheesh, no! Hardly done breaking you in yet have I?" he quipped. He sighed and joined in the smiles easing the tension. "Look, man. I . . . had stuff to deal with. . ." He looked to see if Walker understood, and reading that he did, finished the sentence, "I-I should have come and seen you. Everything's okay."

"Really?" Walker's spirits were soaring.

Trivette nodded. "Yeah."

When Walker turned to Alex again his eyes now held a spark of light. "So you were in Austin?"

With a soft smile she shook her head in disbelief. "How could you think for one second we would abandon our friendship like that?"

Walker looked sheepish. It did seem ridiculous now in the light of events. "Well. . "the lame voice tailed off and he looked downwards.

"C'me here, you." As gently as she could Alex embraced him and kissed him on the cheek.

"You use a bite to eat, Cordell?" C.D. piped up.

Walker, his eyes still on Alex, smiled broadly. "That I could, C.D."

Trivette tentatively entered Walker's room. "All done with the chicken soup and bread? C.D. wants to know if you want more?"

"That's fine, thanks. Tell him he hasn't lost his touch," Walker added as an afterthought.

Taking the tray from Walker's knees, Trivette placed it on the floor and sat in the easy chair opposite. The fire had been recently replenished and the subdued light was smoothing. Ideal conditions for clearing the air. A small smile escaped as he spoke. "So, uh, you thought I'd got another partner, then?" The smile broadened.

Walker looked decidedly uncomfortable and knew he'd be the object of occasional barbs for sometime.

"I couldn't have Greg as partner, anyway," Trivette mused.

It got Walker's curiosity. "Oh? Why not?"

"He's too good-looking and sophisticated. I wouldn't look as good next to him as I do with you," Trivette joked.

Despite the pain Walker laughed at the insult. His chuckles dying away, he looked over to his partner. The deeper the subject, the softer and more comforting Walker's voice always seemed to get. "Haven't really had an opportunity to ask how you are after...

"I'm okay!" It was said somewhat forcibly, but with a light tone, the earlier anger gone and resignation having taken its place. "I think. . . what put me over the top was not thinking where Vance Jones had gone." Trivette shook his head. "It was lucky C.D. remembered you mentioned Pragos earlier and thought to try there first looking for us. My head was so full of Ms. Ferina - I dang well forgot about Jones."

"We'll get him again."

"Yeah. He won't be able to resist coming back." Trivette smiled again. "See? We got something to look forward to already!"

Walker grinned and shook his head.

Trivette rose, picked up the tray and looked at him squarely, his voice slightly raspy, "Night. . . partner."

The men held their exchange a second.

"Night, Trivette," Walker replied, and added softly, "Thanks."

Later

"It's late. How come you're not sleeping, you're obviously tired?" Alex's bare feet padded quietly into the room, only the flickering firelight throwing light through the dark as she continued the hushed whisper, "You, okay?"

Walker's heart quickened. He ignored the query to ask a hushed question of his own. "Is that one of my shirts you're wearing?"

Alex nodded. "Well I didn't know I'd be staying the night. You don't mind, do you?"

Walker feigned chagrin. "It's a bit off-putting to know you look better in it than I do!" he retorted. It bought a giggle from the blond, and Walker's spirits took on new heights even though he was so tired he could hardly keep his eyes open.

"So," Alex sat.opposite on the bed. "How come you re not sleeping?"

He shrugged. "Can't seem to get comfortable." No matter where he lay pain shot through each of the broken bones and his right hand seemed permanently attached to his right side as he looked for ways of comfort.

Turning and edging to the side of the bed, Alex gently slid next to him and opened up her arm. "Roll slightly to your left. Put your head in my shoulder."

Walker hesitated.

"I don't bite! C'mon."

It was just too welcoming. Walker did as he was bidden and snuggled into her soft, warm body. Alex grabbed his errant right arm and placed it over her stomach. "Can't have that weight on your ribs," she explained.

Sounded entirely reasonable to him. This was bliss, He sighed contentedly, only giving half a thought to what C.D. and Trivette would say if they were found like this in the morning, and dismissing it because nothing was going to make him move. He felt Alex wrap two arms around him and kiss his forehead. Completely relaxed, he tried to fight the fatigue, wanting the sensations to linger.

"I could get used to this, Alex," Walker mumbled happily, and went straight to sleep as if someone had switched out a light.

Oh Walker, Alex thought, how I would let you! And with that she kissed him for an extended few seconds, savored the moment, and closed her eyes.