Chapter 14

The next morning found Cody up early and fixing them breakfast. They'd fallen asleep together again as if it came naturally to both of them. He had to admit that he enjoyed the sensation of her in his arms, enjoyed waking up next to her and seeing how peaceful she looked. There was no strain on her face from trying to be aware of all that was around her at all times. She hadn't stirred the entire night and was still out for the count when he finally had to wake her for breakfast.

She was groggy for the first ten minutes as she finally got acclimated to her surroundings again. She didn't say anything when he put a plate of food in her hands. She ate slowly, drinking from the canteen they'd filled the night before. Finally towards the end of the meal, she spoke up.

"What's the plan for today?" Her words were punctuated by a yawn at the end.

Cody smiled at the 'blurry eyed' look she gave him as she used one hand to rub the sleep out of them. "I figured we'd take care of our project research, have lunch at a favorite spot of mine and then go to the Ranger Station for the night. Everyone wants to meet you and I figured you might enjoy meeting them in return."

She faced his direction, "You're going to drag me in front of your friends and your boss, looking and smelling like I do?" she asked with a slight raise of an eyebrow.

He chuckled, "Well if you're that concerned with how you look and smell I know of a nice stream not far from here. But…it comes down off the snow pack so it's only a few degrees above freezing."

She visibly shuddered. "Uh…as long as I can wash my face and hands, and brush my teeth I guess I would feel a little more…presentable," she grumbled playfully. The thought of taking a bath in a stream that was close to freezing made her want to simply crawl back between the sleeping bags and not come out again.

Cody could only chuckle as he began to break down camp so they could get on their way.

The morning progressed with a lazy feel to it as Cody took Bella to the area he'd had in mind to research their project from. They spent the better part of the morning collecting data and discussing particular points on what they were finding. Cody had brought his camera and was taking pictures of some of their discoveries and of Bella though she didn't know it.

By late morning he had them back in the saddle and was taking her to a place he knew she'd find fascinating. He figured they'd stop and have lunch there, explore a little and then make their way down to the station for supper and showers. He stopped short of their destination and pulled Copper up close to Cooper. He leaned over towards her and whispered. "To your left are several elk, about fifty feet away. Tell me what you can sense from them…."

She was silent as she turned her head to the left and used her senses to stretch out towards them, trying to glean what she could. "There's a musky smell…," she whispered and then was silent again as she listened. "Sounds like their eating, don't care or know that we're here. They aren't making an attempt to be quiet."

Cody smiled warmly as he watched her as she tried to get a sense of the elk nearby. "Not bad. They ware mostly watching us while the calves continue to eat." He observed the bull elk and the does with their calves watched them with alertness but there was no sign of aggressive behavior so Cody didn't worry about their safety at the moment. He leaned over and told Bella a little about elk and their social order.

Bella smiled softly, her cheeks pink from the cool air and light breeze. She seemed intent on studying what she could about the elk near them. Finally she felt Cody shift away and the two of them turned, heading towards their next stop. The terrain turned from forested to rocky hills. The horses hooves echoed through the large boulder field that Cody was leading them through. Once he reached the spot he'd been thinking of, he slid out of his saddle and helped Bella out of hers.

"Keep hold of my hand for now. There's a drop off here and I don't want you getting too close to the edge," he said quietly to her.

"Where are we?" she asked curiously.

"Echo point. There's a deep chasm below us that trails out into the canyon farther on. I used to love coming here as a kid. It was the one place I felt I could be as loud as I wanted to without fear of disturbing anyone or anything." He wrapped his arms around her from behind and spoke into her ear. He felt her lean back a little bit against him.

She smiled, "You? Loud? This I've got to hear," she teased him lightly. He had always been calm around her, never raising his voice except when something struck him as funny.

He chuckled, "If you insist," he said with the sound of a slight smirk to his voice. She felt him pull away from her and move to her side though he never let go of her hand. He walked her a few more steps forward before stopping. He took a deep breath and used his free hand to cup the side of his mouth. "HELLO!" he shouted.

The echo's that bounced back to them was multiple and in varying degrees of volume. Finally it died away and the silence was once again surrounding them.

Bella turned her face towards Cody, smiling. "Fantastic! Let me try," she said as she turned back. She took in a deep breath and shouted, "ECHO!" and then giggled as the multiple voices came back to them, bouncing around from rock to rock before fading.

"Amateur," accused Cody as he chuckled. He took a deep breath and shouted, "I LOVE YOU!" The echo's varied of repeating You and Love, combining them, repeating, over riding the others. He felt her grip his hand a little tighter when she finally understood the full meaning of what he'd shouted.

Her face turned a darker shade of pink and her ears even colored some. She seemed at a loss of words for a moment as if trying to get over a strong bought of shyness. She finally took in a breath and shouted, "CODY HAS MY HEART!"

The wind swirled the echo up and around the two of them standing at the edge of the barren landscape. Her face had a deep flush that ran down her neck as she suddenly went shy again, unsure of what to say next.

Cody guided her over to a place to sit and without much else said set out their lunch. He sat down next to her, taking one of her hands and kissing the back of it before leaning in to kiss the corner of her mouth. She turned her head towards him and he captured her lips. He could sense the restrained hunger and passion behind her kiss. When they finally parted, he was out of breath as if she'd stolen it away. They ate in silence then and listened to the wind howl through the rocks and canyons.

Bella was sore again by the time the hooves of the horses hit blacktop and clip clopped across a decent sized expanse of it. "I take it we're there?" she asked hesitantly. The evening was approaching and though it was a little warmer this far down the mountainside the cool wind still blew off the tops of them as the sun began to sink in the west.

"Yup. I'll get us to the barn so we can unsaddle the horses and get them settled for the night. I'd thought of dropping you off at the station but I think you might get politely interrogated before I could get inside." He chuckled at the thought of what the others were going to make of her. He'd never once told them she was blind. They knew she danced and was in one of Cody's classes but that was about the extent of it.

Bella laughed. "This way's probably for the best. All I can think about right now is how good a hot shower will feel," she said with a grin on her face that caused her nose to wrinkle upwards.

Cody groaned, "No kidding. I think I've gotten soft in my 'old age'. Used to be I could bathe in streams and the lake without noticing how cold it was. Now, I don't even want to contemplate it unless I have to."

This brought a laugh from Bella. "What? My mountain man going soft? Never," she teased as they reached the barn and dismounted.

Within a few minutes, they had the horses unsaddled, rubbed down and in stalls with a measure of grain and hay along with fresh water. Cody put the saddles on the racks and then helped Bella gather up their saddle bags and gear. Soon enough, they were heading towards the station. Cody guided her through the front door of the station and into the main area where four sets of eyes turned to look at them.

"Hey Cody! Happy Birthday!" came a woman's voice. "And who is this lovely lady with you?" asked the voice.

Cody took the saddle bags from Bella and set their gear aside. "This is Bella Wagner. She's in one of my classes," he said almost sounding shy.

Bella turned her face towards Robin, her eyes half hidden behind the shaded glasses she'd put on out in the barn. She held out a hand towards where the woman's voice was, "It's nice to meet you."

She felt her hand taken and shook, "I'm Robin. Nice to finally meet you. Cody told us you dance professional ballroom dance and you won your last competition."

Bella blushed and nodded, letting go of the hand. "Yes I do. So, how far along are you?" she asked, looking downward a little as if to give meaning to what Bella was asking about.

"About twenty weeks. Feels like two hundred," joked Robin with a slight groan.

"Stop hogging her all to your self Robin just because she's a girl," came a joking voice from the left of Robin. "Since Cody forgot his manners I'll have to introduce myself. I'm Frank Avila."

Bella turned towards his voice and smiled, holding out her hand, "The chopper pilot, White Eagle," she stated as she felt her hand taken.

There was a soft chuckle, "I'll kick Cody's butt later for telling stories on us."

Cody took her elbow a little, turning her to the right, "Over there's my boss, Captain Tucker. Behind him is the newest rookie, Jake."

Bella raised her hand a little to wave in acknowledgement. "Hi. Nice to meet all of you finally. Don't worry, Cody hasn't told me too many stories about you guys. I take it Izzy isn't here?" she asked. "I wanted to try some of his infamous 'coffee'."

There was a choking laugh from Franks direction, "Uh, he's got the next two days off. Count yourself lucky. We do."

Robin chuckled, "You guys are just in time for supper. It'll be about twenty more minutes or so if you two want to get cleaned up. I'm going to assume you'll be staying overnight?" she asked Cody curiously.

"Yeah, figured we'd head back to the cabin in the morning so we can get back to school," he said casually. He leaned down and picked up their gear and took Bella's elbow to guide her to the stairs. As they approached the stairs, he whispered in her ear, "Ten steps, third door on your right."

She smiled and nodded, heading up the stairs, counting them as she went. Cody waited till she was up at the top and then turned to look at the other four.

Frank was smirking playfully, "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

Tucker smacked Frank on the back of the head. "That doesn't leave much Frank. We know what you're like." He turned and looked at Cody, "See you down here for supper."

Cody nodded and chuckled, giving Frank an 'oh really' look before heading upstairs.

It took the Rangers till half way through the meal before Robin finally spoke up about her curiosity in the way Bella acted. She'd been watching her and found it odd she was wearing shaded glasses when it was dark outside. "Bella, don't take this the wrong way but do you…have a problem with your eyesight?"

Bella blinked and turned her head to look at Cody, "You didn't tell them?" she asked with a little surprise to her voice.

Cody shrugged, "Didn't think about it."

Robin looked back and forth between the two. She caught the slight blush on Bella's features as she turned her face back towards the other woman.

"I guess you could call it a problem with my eyesight. I've been blind since birth. The optic nerve never developed apparently. Everything works fine, just no connection between eyes and brain," she explained casually.

There was silence for a few moments until Frank spoke up, "Wow. Let's just say you had all of us fooled. You're quite good at faking it," he stated.

Bella chuckled as she heard Cody reach over and hit Frank on the arm. "I had 'lessons' as a little kid on how to act like someone who could see. My parents didn't want me embarrassing them." She shrugged and took another bite of her food.

Jake finally spoke up, "I guess it's better than lacking a connection between your mouth and brain like Frank has," he said in a teasing manner.

The rest of the dinner conversation deteriorated from there until the 'men' were kicked out of the kitchen so Robin and Bella could do the dishes. The guys wondered what all the giggling was about in the kitchen and Tucker could only laugh at how red Cody's face was as he worried about what the two were talking about. The only thing he'd managed to stammer out about his weekend was to tell about the birthday present he'd received.

Bella came out of the kitchen finally and found her way to the couch where Cody was sprawled in a corner. She sat down next to him before stretching out and laying her head against him. She felt the warmth from the small fire in the fireplace and listened to the others as they went about finishing up their day before turning in for the night.

Tucker came out of his office an hour later when things were too quiet and found that only Cody and Bella were left in the living room. Both were sound asleep and not having the heart to wake them up, he pulled a blanket off of another chair and draped it over the two before heading upstairs himself. He liked Bella and could see the deep bond between the two that was forming. He could only pray that it was something that would last and could heal old wounds.

Fin -

This story was meant to 'set the scene' for future 'books' in this series as well as introduce Bella onto the scene. I wanted to make sure I had the background set up as to where everyone was as far as where Matt and Jesse were, how the Rangers were and following what timeline/background with the TV shows. There is a second part to this in the works.

If you liked this story, please let me know. Reviews fuel the muse.