By Pam G
Sydney Cooke looked up at the airline arrival board and scanned across the columns and rows.
“It’s thirty minutes late, Alex.”
“Oh, great! Has to be the one Arkansas flight with a delay – all the rest are on time.”
Sydney smiled. “You know, I could tease you about us being here so early anyway!”
The glare of the District Attorney’s blue eyes made her laugh. The female Texas Ranger held up both palms, “Okay, okay. Gees! I don’t want you pulling rank on me!”
Both women laughed now.
Alex pointed to her friend and colleague. “You’re buying coffee for that!” She looked about, “Come on. Let’s go to this restaurant opposite the gate they’ll be coming in.”
Comfortably seated, Alex with a house decaf and Sydney a cappuccino, Alex looked at the chocolate dipped donut about to be devoured and giggled.
“Sydney? How in the world do you manage to stay in shape eating that? You know the rule - eat a donut today, wear it forever!”
It took a second of swallowing and a dab of the napkin before the slim five feet four inch dark haired beauty could reply, “I’m one of those,” she dabbed away loose crumbs from her shirt, “that can eat what the heck I want.”
“I hate you even more, Syd!” Alex replied with a look to the heavens, and the two women laughed again.
Shuffling in her seat, Alex took another look at the flight board and at her watch.
“It won’t get them here any faster, you know.” Syd took another bite and savored the sweet taste.
Walker’s fiancée looked pained, “I know, I know.” Then she sighed.
Replacing the donut and individually licking three fingers, Sydney was slightly more serious.
“This maybe out of place, but …I think it’s lovely. You and Walker, I mean.”
“You mind me asking why it took you both so long?”
The smile broadened further. “That’s difficult.”
“I didn’t mean to pry, I …”
Alex interrupted, “No, it’s okay. I’m fine with it,” and she gave a chuckle of resignation, “I just don’t exactly know the answer.”
“Well, you got there in the end. And I’m happy for you both.”
The blond smiled again. “Thank you,” she said sincerely.
“You’re glad this is over, aren’t you?”
Alex Cahill nodded somberly, “Yes …I am.” There was a brief pause then she continued, “Even if you discount what would happen to them if just the average con discovered they were cops, being undercover in jail takes more out of them than anyone realizes. They give so much of themselves each time.” Alex looked directly into the young Ranger’s eye to make a point she thought most overlooked, “And Walker’s been giving for a long time.”
It stopped Sydney as she was about to reply and instead the brunette looked thoughtful.
They both sipped their coffee in silence for a few seconds and Alex sought to bring things back to a happier stance.
“Anyway, it’s over. They’ve been their usual successful selves, and any minute now they’ll be back. Be nice to have a little celebration.”
Syd chuckled, “C.D. is like a mother on Thanksgiving Day, isn’t he? Preparing their favorite food, fussing the table is set right. He’s wonderful!”
With a kind shake of her head Alex agreed, “We think we worry – wild horses wouldn’t make him admit it, but he worries as much as I do.”
“Alex? Plane’s pulling up. C’mon.”
There was a butterfly feeling in her stomach and Alex fought to look calm. As it was the weekend she had not wanted to over dress, but at the same time hoped the light blue denims and tight, light weight beige sweater she wore would look attractive and appealing to Walker.
Then they were here! With Gage and Trivette in front in conversational banter, Walker followed close behind. Gage and Walker bore the brunt of their battles, the faces of both men black and blue. Alex greeted Gage and Trivette after Sydney and then Walker was before her. He had a small smile on his face, but it was his eyes that registered warmth.
Despite her concerns regarding the outward show of his ordeal, he was obviously okay. Alex gave a similar smile. “Hi, yourself.” She made a point of looking him up and down and raised her eyebrows. “You up for a hug?”
He nodded and the smile broadened, but first he made them step out the way of the other disembarking passengers and put down the small black bag he carried.
“Come here, you.”
And he gathered her in gently, placing a kiss on her lovely pastel colored lips. Alex breathed him in. He was back in her arms! “I missed you.” she whispered.
He replied in kind, “And I missed you, too.”
“Hey. Love birds!” Trivette waved to them, “C.D. has a spread for us. Get going, will ya?”
The couple laughed and separated while still holding hands. Alex looked over as they walked through the airport concourse. Walker caught her look, and after a shy expression, released her hand momentarily, swapped the bag from his right hand to his left and switched sides to place an arm around her. Automatically, Alex slipped underneath and her left hand attached around his waist. Knowingly, she looked up again as they walked and quizzed him.
“Ribs hurt on the other side?”
There was an inward laugh and Walker’s grin was bigger. “Can’t get anything past you lately, can I?”
And the couple chuckled together.
“Cordell? You’ve hardly touched that steak. The best steak, your favorite spicy coleslaw and big fries! Has ma cookin’ gone so far to the dogs you prefer prison food?”
The table erupted in laughter and the elated eyes of Walker’s ex-partner, C.D. Parker, Alex, Sydney, Gage and Trivette, firmly fixed on the Ranger’s discomfort.
“Don’t take offense C.D. Your cookin’s as good as ever, it’s just that …”
“What?” C.D. glowered.
“Well, I don’t know.” Walker fluffed, “the prison food was so bad and this is so good, I’m not used to it.”
“Hasn’t affected me, man.” Trivette’s mouth was full as he spoke.
Gage leaned toward his black friend, “That’s because you ate guards’ food, Trivette. The stuff we had wasn’t fit for pigs.”
Not phased by the retort, Trivette pointed his fork toward Walker’s plate. “You leaving the rest of that coleslaw and fries? I’ll have it.”
With a “Tut,” Walker slid across his plate, his head shaking in comic disbelief. He suddenly felt a broad hand clap the back of his shoulders.
“Give it a couple of days – you’ll soon get your appetite back.” There was an understanding in the way C.D. summed up, and Walker simply looked behind and winked at the old man. It rewarded Walker with more of a cushioned squeeze of affection, and their friend left to get the coffees. Walker’s fond gaze followed the older man across the room until Alex squeezed his arm as she rose.
“I’ll give him a hand.”
Walker nodded, his eyes narrowing in appreciation. He turned back to the group at the table as he looked at his watch. It was a little after one in the afternoon on Saturday.
“Since we wrote our preliminary notes on the plane, our reports can wait till Monday.” The others nodded. The senior Ranger made a point of waiting until Alex and C.D. returned before he carried on. “Good job everyone.” He looked to his right to Alex and Sydney, his head slowly nodding in approval. “Good back up. You got the right people in there pretty darn quick when we needed it.”
Gage and Trivette both nodded in grateful agreement.
“Trivette,” Walker looked at him, “I’m damn lucky to have you as a partner.”
“Yes you are,” Trivette came back sincerely. The table erupted in laughter again, and Walker chuckled, letting the humor die down before speaking again.
“Gage,” Walker smiled, “you can back us anytime.”
Trivette nodded again and made a one handed sound of applause against the table top, “Here, here.”
Gage tried his best to look cool in the glow of praise from the two people he’d come to realize were probably the best modern day Texas Rangers there had ever been. But it was hard and his reply almost stuck in his throat. “Thank you.” Alex rescued him.
“But let’s hope there won’t be a next time!”
Smiling, C.D. held up a coffee mug, “I’ll drink to that.” And the gathering clinked in agreement.
“But just one thing, partner,” Walker said seriously after they taken a drink, “you ever get me cleaning out the grease pit again and I’ll have your hide!” The giggles were hard to suppress – Alex disguising hers with a hand over her mouth.
“Ha, ha!” Trivette beamed, “Alex, C.D.! You should have seen him. On his hands and knees…great gobs of grease. It was beautiful!”
The friends laughed more.
“Cordell? Any time you take a hankerin’, I got one you can have a go at!” C.D. pointed to the kitchen.
Walker’s withering look brought more mirth, until some twenty minutes later the group of friends broke up to go their various ways.
Alex turned her Sebring down the dirt road leading to Walker’s ranch. Her fiancé looked around as they drove closer.
“Well,” his voice tailed off into the familiar quiet breathy sigh, “nothing much seems to have changed after three weeks.” Ranger and Angel grazed together in the field. Walker noted with satisfaction their glossy coats as both horses ‘harrumphed’ and looked up at the sight and sound of the approaching car.
“Yes. All taken care of. I stayed here over the weekends and groomed and exercised them. They’re getting too spoiled though. I couldn’t just take one at a time for ride, they both wanted to come so I’d have to take the other on a lead rein!”
Walker laughed. Leaving the car he made for the fence. Both horses had recognized him immediately and snorts of delight accompanied their quick walk over to meet him. He tried to pat them both as they jostled for his attention and Walker laughed again. “Gees! Calm down. Hey Ranger, hey Angel.” Simultaneously, the Ranger’s hands stroked from their ears down their velvety muzzles, to behind their jowls. Both horses lapped up the fuss.
Walker looked around and Alex placed a handful of carrot and apple pieces between them. Taking some, he fed them to the eager mouths.
“There you go, boy. There you go, Angel.” The feeding lasted a few minutes until they both received a final clap on their necks. “See you later, guys.” And Walker and Alex started back toward the house. Walker scrutinized the fields, looked over to the trees and back to the ranch. He waited until Alex had unlocked the door and helped to hold it open for her to go in first. He hadn’t taken his black Stetson hat to Arkansas, and he noted its rightful place on the hat stand where he’d left it; his keys and his gun he’d placed carefully in the desk drawer. He checked with satisfaction they were in their rightful place before rifling through the mail which had built up while he’d been away. He looked up as Alex came down stairs.
“Why don’t I leave you in peace for a few hours and come back later?” she suggested. “Then you can relax, sort through that lot,” her head nodded to the stack of letters and junk mail, and since you really didn’t eat much just now, I’ll cook a meal later on?”
Approaching her, Walker slipped his arms around her waist. “You don’t have to go, do you?” he softly questioned. His lips found their way home to her lips and he pressed them together. “I can just as easily do those things with you here. If you don’t mind hanging out together.”
“Sure you don’t want some time to yourself? I don’t mind.”
“Positive. But the first thing I need to do is take a shower!”
Alex smiled with pleasure. “Okay. Staying over it is. I’ll need to go out to the store and get something to make for dinner though.”
They kissed again and Walker laughed. “Better get going. Remember, I’ve been inside for three weeks - I’m not accountable for my actions!” he joked.
And the pair broke away to see to their various tasks.
Eventually the mail was sorted; Walker had organized his affairs, and taken his second shower before they ate by candlelight in the early evening. He had put on a colorful baggie pair of work out pants and a short, loose gray training top and left his feet bare. Walker gave a big contented sigh. He was starting to feel at ease again in his own home.
They had eaten Alex’s shrimp pasta meal, and the Ranger sat back and ran a hand through his hair.
“That was a new recipe, wasn’t it?”
She nodded with satisfaction. It had turned out quite well.
“That was good.”
Alex smiled. Walker had eaten a bit more than at C.D.’s, this time. Perhaps he was beginning to feel at ease a bit more. She hoped so.
“Walker? Go stretch out on the sofa. I’ll clear away the table.”
He stood up and grabbed some dishes. “Can’t have you do that since you made it all.” He received a light tap across the hands. Alex was careful, his knuckles still raw and swollen from all the fighting he’d done in jail. “Special circumstances! You get a night off tonight. Scoot, cowboy!”
He leaned across and grabbed a quick kiss, “Thank you.”
“Go! Before I change my mind.”
Chuckling, Walker made his way to the living room. He didn’t turn on the main lights, deciding one small lamp and the fire was enough light. Settling on the sofa, he sighed with contentment. He was back in his own house. There was something warm in hearing the clink of the dishes and knowing Alex was nearby in the kitchen and the whole of tomorrow was ahead of them. He was home! Walker sighed with relief.
By the time Alex washed, dried and stacked away and found a home for the leftovers, she entered to find Walker sprawled out on the sofa fast asleep. The white socks on her feet had muffled her footsteps. Carefully, Alex took two large cushions from the other chair and placed them on the floor at right angles to the couch, and positioning to get the full heat from the fire, laid back to rest. She hadn’t had much sleep herself these last weeks, her worry for the three of them eluding that fitful deep sleep.
Alex didn’t know how long she’d had slumbered when she was aroused by a noise. Taking only a second to remember where she was, she quickly turned back to Walker. His sleep was anything but relaxed, rivulets of sweat running down his face, his fists clenched. Suddenly awake, alarmed, he shot upright; his chest tight from rapid breathing. And coming back to reality, in bewilderment looked around. He felt a calm hand on his leg.
“It’s okay, Walker. You’re not in prison. You’re at home. Everything’s okay.”
He nodded, wiped away the excess beads of perspiration and appeared to be a mixture of annoyed and embarrassed. Rising from the couch, wordlessly he rose and left to go on the porch.
Alex sighed. She’d expected something like this. But what should she do now? Go after him or leave him for a while? Opting for the latter, half an hour later the troubled blond joined him, offering up a cup of coffee. Without looking at her he took it, and still standing by the railing, sipped the drink in silence.
Alex settled close behind him on the comfortably cushioned, wicker love seat. After a while, Walker broke the silence with a soft voice.
“I don’t know …why anyone commits a crime to end up in jail.” Walker shook his head, “The smell of urine and coarse disinfectant…” his voice tailed off as he swallowed heavily. “It gets in the back of your throat; in your hair. You can’t get rid of it.” There was more silence for a minute.
“ Is that why you’ve had two showers already?” Alex queried.
The Ranger gave a brief nod.
After another few minutes, Alex felt the time was right. “It …it was the solitary confinement, wasn’t it?” she asked with some trepidation about the response.
The Ranger’s head spun quickly in her direction, their looks connected for a moment, and Walker looked down first then back to gaze in front of him. Alex watched his knuckles tighten around the fence post.
“How …did you know? About the solitary.”
She took a beat before answering softly. “Jimmy rang to give us an update and said how long you’d been in there. I knew right away what it would do to you.”
In the ensuing long pause, Alex knew her fiancé was wrestling with his inner most demons. After what seemed an endless wait, he spoke again.
“It was okay for the first four or five days. I knew I’d end up fighting so I trained hard.” Walker’s breathing became slightly pronounced. “But, solitary was in a block by itself. Away from everything else.” Then he paused again and it seemed like he couldn’t break out his thoughts. Alex offered a different route.
“But at least you got out for an hour. That was something.”
But when Walker’s head slowly went from side to side, her voice became incredulous, “but that’s the law. Even in solitary, prisoners have to be let out for a minimum of one hour!”
He silently repeated the gesture.
Alex shivered. Continually confined all that time? Ten days he was in there! It didn’t bear thinking about.
“Sometimes …at night …it was so quiet …I imagined everyone had left and they’d deliberately left me behind. I’d …I’d stand at the door to listen for a sound, any sound to let me know someone else was out there.”
Alex shivered again. “How did you manage to overcome it?”
The Ranger turned slightly in her direction. “I’d …think about you…” his voice tailed off for an instance only to come back. “Alex, do you remember when we rescued you from the Trammel brothers?”
It was Alex’s turn to take a sharp intake of air. She did so instantly, without thinking.
“I’m sorry,” Walker went over and pulling her to her feet, wrapped his arms around her, “I didn’t mean to…”
“No,” Alex recovered quickly. Walker needed her to be strong now – she had to help him this time. “It’s okay. Really. What about it?” She pressed into his body.
Walker took a beat, “You were wearing that awful dress, …it …was torn at the back…”
She nodded. She remembered exactly. Puzzled, she looked up into his eyes.
“I would lay on the bunk and remember consoling you. You kept crying until my hand found your bare back …and I caressed you, just holding you, stroking your back up and down. You stopped crying shortly after that.
Again she nodded. That was the most precious contact, the most savored moment; the most relief she had ever felt. The thought of being whipped had chilled her to the soul.
“Your skin felt so silky and warm. I was so thankful to have found you – I could have stayed liked that forever.”
For a third time she nodded without speaking. That’s
exactly how she had felt. Suddenly she looked at him, as he looked down, deep
into her eyes.
“That’s what I thought about. You and me. What …what you mean to me.”
Removing his hand from behind her back, Alex guided his palms under her short sweater. Inhaling, Walker needed no second bidding as his hands once again savored her warm silk skin - this time for real. She wasn’t wearing a bra, and with freedom, his eyes closed, Walker gently ran his hands slowly over every inch of her back. Nuzzling into the side of her face, the bearded Ranger pulled her in even closer only to experience Alex’s hands on his own back.
He was strong and muscled, and Alex felt her senses giddy. Her hands touched the top of his biceps, slowly ran along the top of his shoulders and down towards the trim, firm waist. Feeling the scars of past encounters only served to heighten her love for this man. Hungrily she sought his lips again.
He stopped short, causing her desire for him to overflow. His words resounded, “Alex. I love you.”
“Walker …Walker…Oh dear God.”
The law and its demands would consume him again shortly, but for tonight …he was hers alone.
Usual disclaimers apply……