Disclaimers: This story is mine...the characters are mine...although I stole the names from a TV show we all know and love...and even based my main characters on the stars of that show...did anybody guess the show?

No, not Hercules! Xena: Warrior Princess. But my stars are not Xena and Gabrielle...just very similar to them. Oh and the names I stole not Xena and Gabrielle...you’ll have to read it if you want to know. :-)

Violence? Yup...it is a western and I don’t know of any westerns without violence...

Sex? Yup...I did base the main stars on Xena and Gabrielle after all.

I think that covers everything...


Rescue My Heart

by StarWarrior (Rie)

Shots rang out across the desert. Two men down. The young blonde stood defiantly empty rifle in her hand as the bandits came up to her.

"Looky here," The big unshaven outlaw laughed. "Why it’s no more than a pretty girl...I think I’m gonna have some fun with her. Put down the weapon girl. No need for you to die." he grinned evilly. "You can come back to camp with me. I’ll put you to good use."

"Hello boys." A voice rang out loud and clear. The stillness of the desert grew. A small gasp escaped from the girl’s lips. "I can see you don’t like to play nice." A tall raven haired blue eyed beauty stood on the rocks above the bandit’s head. She shook her head sadly. "I suggest you back on outta here before I take exception to that."

"Suppose we don’t." The unshaven man sneered. "There’s only one of you."

"Then you better make peace with whatever god you believe in cause you’ll be meeting him before sundown." Ice blue eyes glinted in the harsh sunlight and sweat rang the rim of the faded old hat.

"No woman is gonna tell me what to do." He lifted his gun.

She leaped from the rocks drawing her pistol as she moved. Twisting in midair she landed in front of the blonde, knocking her down and shooting as she found her balance. "One down." She held her gun on the second man. "Should I make it two?"

The man shook his head violently. Fear stopped his words and he dropped his gun.

"Then get outta here." The woman made a scramming motion with her hand. Then looked down at the woman she had saved. Her eyes met wide sea green eyes and she felt as though she were about to drown in an ocean. She blinked and held out a hand. "Hi. I’m Cyrene."

The blonde licked her lips at the apparition in front of her. The woman stood at least six feet tall. Her clothes were as well worn as the gun in her hand. Her face tan and weathered by the elements. She looked every bit as hard as she sounded. She raised her own hand and allowed the woman to pull her to her feet. "Thanks for saving my life." She stammered glancing around the desert, but quickly found herself drawn back to those icy sky-blue eyes. "I’m Solari."

"Solari?" That brought an upraised eyebrow. "That’s an unusual name."

"Ya," She shrugged. "My family is like that. There’s certain names that go back as far as anyone can remember. Names like Solari, Ephiny, Gabrielle, Lila, and Melosa." She was babbling and she knew it, but she didn’t care. The longer she looked at Cyrene the more she felt as though she were falling down a long cool well. Her throat suddenly dry she wet her lips.

The blue eyes no longer looked icy, now there was a tinge of puzzlement in them. Those same names were common in her family. She nodded her acceptance of the girl’s words and turned to look at the dead. "Sorry I didn’t get here sooner."

"Oh don’t be." Solari grinned. "They were holding me captive too."

"They were?"

"Ya." Solari stared sadly at the older man. "I wanted to see the world and they said I couldn’t. They said a woman was only good for cooking, cleaning, and making babies. They were looking for a husband for me. Said I’d bring a good price at the gold fields."

Cyrene raised one brow knowingly and whistled for her horse. "They were right." She said as she mounted.

"Hey, where are you going?" Solari panicked. "You can’t leave me here!"

"Why not?" She nodded at the wagon, where a lone black gelding stood lazily stomping it’s feet and snorting at it’s surroundings. "You have supplies and a horse, you’re free to travel the world."

"But," She glanced at her feet. Cyrene waited. "I’ve never been alone before." She admitted. "Please stay with me." She looked up and her eyes were filled with tears. "I..." She looked at the dead men and back. "I don’t even know how to shoot a gun." She confessed. "If they came back..." Her voice trailed off.

Cyrene slipped off her horse. "Okay. I’ll help you clean this mess and get started on your way but that’s it." She stared at the smaller woman. "I ride alone. Understand?"

The small blonde smiled through thick lashes. "Yes." She whispered.


Solari stared into the flames trying to lose herself in them. She sighed heavily...what if that woman had ran away and left her here in the desert...sigh...she blinked back her tears. Life was so unfair! One minute cruising along bored with life in the city, bam! Next minute

slung across the back of some guys horse never to see your family again. Now if -

"Hey you shouldn’t stare into the fire like that." Cyrene appeared out of the shadows.

"Ahhh!" Solari jumped back falling off her log seat and turning red-faced in the process. You scared me half to death." She glared angrily at the chuckling woman before her.

Cyrene leaned down and gave her a hand up. "Sorry." She said in between her chuckles "If you had been paying attention to your surroundings instead of staring into the fire you would have seen me approach." She sat down next to the small woman. "Here. Have some dinner." She handed her some jerky. "This is all we have until we get out of the desert." She bit back a smile at the girl’s dismay. "I promise when we reach a creek I’ll let you make us a real big meal."

"You’ll let me make?"

"Ya," Cyrene’s blue eyes glowed. "Trust me you wouldn’t want to eat it if I made it." She twisted her lips in a small grimace. "Cooking’s not one of my many skills." She popped the last of her jerky into her mouth and rose. "Come on. We should get traveling before it gets too late."

"Oh." Solari said in response to the comment on skills, and a heartbeat later. "Time to get going?" Well at least she wasn’t leaving me stranded out here, but what is she planning on doing with me? Solari twisted her hands nervously afraid to ask her rescuer, but wanting to.

Cyrene noticed the pained expression on the girl’s face. "What’s the matter?" she asked sharply. "Did you get injured and not tell me?"

"No." She swallowed her fear. "It’s just." She pulled at her lower lip. "What are you going to do with me?" She looked at her feet afraid of what she might see in the other woman’s eyes.

"Do?" Cyrene asked puzzled. Then her eyes got icy as she took in the girl’s meaning. "I’m not about to sell you into slavery. I never did that." She looked away trying to clam her angry heart. Kill a few measly men and your rep followed you everywhere. She let out a slow breath. "Look I’m just taking you into the nearest town. You’ll be safe there. There are good people there, they’ll help you get back to your family." She turned her eyed back to the red head. "I won’t let anything else happen to you. I promise."

At the last words the red head snapped up. The green eyes were misty from unshed tears. "I don’t want to go to town." Her voice shook. "I don’t want to go back to my family. I want to stay with you."

Shocked by the younger woman’s outcry Cyrene stared slack jawed at her. Minutes past while Solari sat face in her hands and Cyrene trying to sort it out. Finally she spoke. "But why?" She shook her head. "Do you even know who...what I am, what I do?"

Solari chanced a brief look at her rescuer. "You’re a hunter…of people."

She swallowed hard. "You go after killers…for whoever is willing to pay."

She shivered. "In between jobs you act as a bounty hunter, going after people the law wanted…always killing them. You once said; "killing the creeps is easier and cheaper for me than bringing them back alive."

Anyway that’s the way the papers wrote it." Frightened by the remembered

information. She risked a glance at the tall woman. "Recently you stopped

bringing them in dead. No one knows why."

Cyrene’s blue eyes darkened with surprise and buried emotion. "How do you know so much about me?" She demanded her eyes boring into the younger woman’s with a frightening intensity.

Solari wet her lips nervously and gave off a small laugh. "Well to be honest there wasn’t much to do but work or listen to gossip... poppa said all decent women never work...that left me with one choice. I love hearing about adventures and new places...and all the stories about you were wild adventures and usually about places I could only dream of!"

The admiration in the girl’s voice shamed Cyrene. "It’s not all that exciting. It’s normally dirty and cold or hot and muggy. Sometimes little or no food. People trying to kill you and no one to notice if they succeed." She tried to discourage the girl.

"All the more reason to have someone out there on your side." Solari said emboldened by Cyrene’s talk.

"Look it’s dangerous." She snarled. "I don’t have time to wet nurse a greenhorn."

Solari shrunk back, but wasn’t deterred from speaking. "I’m not a greenhorn." She lifted her chin defiantly. "I know how to take care of horses, light a fire, find herbs and vegetables, I’m a good cook, and" She bit her lower lip. "I really can’t go home again." Tears filled her eyes and she shrugged them away. "Please." She added pleadingly.

Cyrene felt her heart clench and unclench, as though a giant hand that had been squeezing it suddenly let go. She took a deep breath. "I’ll tell you what." She began pausing to watch the smaller woman she rolled her tongue around the inside of her mouth. "You tell me the story of how you came to be here and if it’s good enough I won’t send you home."

Solari lowered her eyes. Tell that story? She made a face. That was really embarrassing. Her eyes slipped toward the dead men that she’d been with. She closed her eyes and fought to maintain her sanity. Later when she was alone she could give in and scream her anger.

"No?" Cyrene shrugged. "Fine. We head to town tomorrow and I leave you there." She rose. "Now I’m gonna get some shuteye."

"No!" Solari exclaimed worriedly, her heart beating wildly.


"I’ll tell you." Solari said without looking up. "You won’t take me to town?"

Cyrene stared at the younger woman. "Not if you’re good."

"I understand." Solari closed her eyes and took a deep breath. I really hope I do understand her. She said a quick prayer to Artemis. One never knew. "I guess it starts with my family. I’m the eldest of five. All girls. Needless to say my father was disappointed. And I was his whipping boy." She shuddered. "Anytime he was upset it was my fault. If something went wrong it was my fault. And when the neighbor’s boy asked to marry my younger sister he refused because I was overlooked, Gods how my sisters hated me." She paused as she remembered that conversation...threats and idle threats...I still don’t know if they had anything to do with it. She mused. "Ouch!" She rubbed her arm. "What’id ya poke me for?"

"The rest of the story."

"Oh." She sighed. "I’m not sure of exactly what happened. I was heading for the market. The book peddler was in." A glow entered her eyes at the mention of the books and Cyrene frowned. "All of a sudden I heard a whoop and felt myself picked up and slung over a horse! The ride was quite bumpy and I felt very nauseous at first. The man that held me down slapped my rear and told me I’d be happier where I was going...I’d get to service all sorts of men. "Perfect for someone like you." He said with a chuckle. It was then I got scared." She shrugged. "I can’t tell you much more. I was hit in the head. When I woke up I was laid out in the back of the wagon you saw me in."

Cyrene let out a breath. She had a feeling that she’d only heard part of the tale.

Solari looked uneasily at the strange woman that had rescued her. Her fate was in her hands. She silently prayed that if any gods cared she’d get to stay. Something about the tall woman drew her like no other. Remembering the story of her abduction wasn’t easy. She could still remember the feel of those dirty hands on her and the feel of unwashed skin next to hers. She shuddered. No, she could never go home. Especially if they were responsible. Besides this way she’d get to travel and learn about things she’d only read about before. She closed her eyes. Momma and little Gabrielle were the only ones she’d miss. A silent tear fell down her cheek and she bit her lip waiting for Cyrene’s decision.

Cyrene looked away, disgusted with herself for falling for such see through green eyes, or the girl for being so…she sighed. "You can stay." Her eyes bored into the girl’s and she smiled a little. "Until you prove or disprove that you know your way around a real camp. Understood?"

Solari nodded quickly, she was struggling to breath normally. Relief and exhaustion warred for dominance in her face. She wanted to collapse and shout her thanks to the gods but bit her lip and sat silent.

She closed her eyes and thought for a moment. The girl was exhausted and frightened, maybe they could rest. She opened her eyes and looked across the fire she really had intended to get some distance between her and the small band that had bothered the girl, but now… "As soon as my horse is set for the night I’m going to get some rest. I suggest you do the same." When had she become such an old softy? She blew out a deep breath and rising, went to her horse. "Come on Tor." She patted the golden horse on the neck before placing a feedbag around his neck. She pulled a brush from her saddlebag and began the quiet soothing chore of caring for the animal. She kept one eye on the girl. Smiling silently as the youngster moved to the great black gelding that had been pulling the wagon.

Solari stood hands on her hips, staring at the horse worriedly. "Okay Blackie, I know you never liked me, but that wasn’t my fault." She stepped closer. "Now you don’t have a choice. It’s let me care for you or stay in this dumb harness and rot." So warning the horse Solari stepped forward, her eyebrow rose slightly as the horse stayed still. "Good boy." She murmured as she attempted to undo the harness. The horse got impatient with the wait and the fear, emanating from the girl made her snort angrily, stomping it’s feet and pulling back. "Oh don’t." Solari protested, grabbing the reins.

Cyrene finished with her horse had turned to watch the proceedings with interest. She shook her head and stepped forward. "Thought you knew how to take care of horses."

"I do." Solari said sullenly. "This one just doesn’t like me."

"Really?" Cyrene swiftly undid the harness. "I can’t imagine why." She stripped the rigging from the animal and walked him away from the wagon. "Get his feedbag." She demanded as she started to brush the horse,

Solari dropped her eyes and rushed to comply. Great, I’m not off to the best of starts. She mumbled to herself. Let’s hope she gives me a chance to prove myself with my cooking before she sends me away.

The horses set for the night Solari and Cyrene prepared for bed. Cyrene opened her bedroll and laid it down a little bit back from the fire. Solari hesitated. She had bedding from the wagon, but always before the men had tied her in the wagon. Cyrene glanced at her. "What?"

"Ahmm is there anywhere particular I should lay?" Solari asked in a small voice. She really didn’t want to be in that wagon again. Too many bad memories.

Cyrene frowned. What was wrong with the girl. She glanced around the site. Closed her eyes briefly and opened them to look into frightened green eyes. What had those men done to her? She sighed. "Come in close to the fire." She pointed to the spot she wanted the younger woman to stay in. That way if she moved in the night Cyrene would know it was the girl and not an enemy sneaking up.

Solari swallowed her fear and stepped past the tall woman, spreading her blankets carefully she lay down and stared silently into the fire. Only time and the gods could tell if she’d stepped out of the frying pan and into the fire. With this last thought she drifted into an uneasy sleep.


Morning. Cyrene twisted her lips in a slight smile. In many ways this was her favorite time of the day. The desert was especially beautiful. She stirred the fire to life and looked briefly at the young woman asleep at her side. She stifled a sigh. What was it about this girl? She looked away. The sun was just rising, it would chase the cold away and all too soon the blazing heat would come. Silently she rose and began breaking camp. The girl slept on. Finished with her own packing she chewed on her lower lip. She wasn’t used to waiting for anyone and the girl still slept. She stared at the red-gold head and sighed. She seemed so young…so innocent…sighing she rubbed her hand across her face biting slightly at her own finger and trying to determine what she should do. Finally she walked over and stared down at the girl. "Hey," she crouched by the girls bedroll. "You gonna sleep all day?" She glanced at the sun. It had risen fully. The purple mountains shone in the background and the sky was awash in color. She rocked back on her heels. Beautiful…so beautiful. When was the last time she’s stopped to watch the sunrise? She shook her head, returning her gaze to the woman she’d rescued yesterday. She was at least stirring beneath the covers. "Come on do you think I have all day to sit and do nothing?" She laid her hand on the girl’s shoulder and started to shake her.

"No!" Solari jumped up and backed away. Fear shining from her face. Terror filled eyes darting left and right. "Don’t…"

Cyrene fell back. What the hell! She put her hands out placatingly. "Hey it’s all right." She spoke as if to a spooked horse. "It’s just me. I’m sorry. I was just trying to wake you up."

Solari shook her head trying to clear it of the last vestiges of sleep. Her heart pounded furiously. She watched the raven haired beauty uncomprehendingly for a minute, then her memories of the previous day flooded back. She blinked. "I’m sorry."

The words were no more than a whisper, but Cyrene heard them. She stepped forward. Concern in her eyes. "It’s okay." She hesitated. "…Are you okay?" Her eyes swept the lithe body before her. Another time and place and she’d of enjoyed that sight. She squashed the thought. This girl needed her help not that. She kept her eyes on the girl’s face and tried to quiet the pounding of her own heart.

Solari bit her lip. "I’m fine." She swallowed. How embarrassing. "I’m sorry." She couldn’t keep her eyes on the woman’s face. She could feel the red heat on her own and knew she was blushing. It infuriated her. "I…I…didn’t know it was you…I thought…" She waved her hand. "Never mind what I thought it isn’t important." Her stomach was queasy and she fought to control her trembling.

Cyrene’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully. She pursed her lips. If they…she bit her tongue. She could feel the dark anger rising in her and she fought it.

Solari watched fearfully as the woman before her appeared to struggle with something. Her eyes flashed the sapphire blue turning to an angry violet and her lips drew back in a sneer that scared her, made her cry out, and step back and fall over a log.

Cyrene snapped back to herself her eyes shut briefly. "I’m sorry." She stepped forward and held her hand out to Solari. Her eyes were a pale blue. "Want to start again?"

Solari blinked away her fear. This woman had rescued her. Agreed not to leave her alone. Had done nothing but show her kindness. The past wasn’t her fault. She reached out and clasped the offered hand. "I’d like that." She said softly.

Cyrene cleared her throat. "Ahm…" She pulled the smaller woman to her feet. "You sure you’re okay?"

The sunlight caught the green eyes as Solari lifted them and looked straight into the pale blue ones that were staring in deep concern a slight frown on her face. Solari smiled. "I am now." She felt a strange peace settle deep within her bones and her breath caught in her throat.

Cyrene blinked and shook her head slightly. Fear for the girl…Solari, she forced herself to say her name. It flowed smoothly off her tongue. She let go of the small hand and stepped back. "Well okay." She was out of her league and she knew it. "If you’re sure?" She smiled at the quick nod. "Then we’d better get moving. I want to get as far as possible in the morning. We’ll rest in the early afternoon and start again at dusk." She turned toward her horse.

"Why?" Solari stayed where she was.

"Why what?" Cyrene asked puzzled.

"Why travel like that?" Solari stepped forward. "Don’t most people travel all day and rest at night?"

"Not in the desert." She tilted her head and a sardonic smile graced her features. "Not if you expect to live long."

"Oh." Solari walked over to her. "Are we going into it or out of it?"

Cyrene raised one brow, "Does it matter?"

Solari shook her head. "No."

Cyrene raised both brows. "Out of." She looked at the girl and chewed her bottom lip worriedly.

Solari noticed the glance and fear rose again. "What?" She felt her heart began to race.

"Hmm?" A single brow rose questioningly.

"You’re looking at me as though something were wrong."

"Sorry." Cyrene frowned. "But now that you mention it…"

Solari waited impatiently…

Finally Cyrene continued. "Do you have any other clothes you could wear?"

"My clothes?" Solari gave a shrill laugh. "That’s it? My clothes." Relief shone and she rocked back and forth happily.

"You okay?" Cyrene stared nervously. Maybe the girl was loco. After all it wasn’t as if she’d said anything funny.

"I’m sorry." She smiled. The two of them seemed to be saying that a lot. "I just thought you had changed your mind and were trying to figure out how to tell me good bye." She shrugged. "But my clothes…I didn’t expect that." She gave Cyrene a sheepish look. "These are the only clothes I own. They said a woman didn’t need much."

Cyrene stared at the woman surprised by the answer. She took a deep breath. "I said you could come with me. I meant it." Her eyes bore into the younger woman’s. "I wouldn’t have said it if I hadn’t meant it. Got it?" She smiled at the fierce nod. "Good. Now as for the clothes…you object to wearing men’s clothes?"

"Huh?" Solari stared at the woman before her. Her eyes taking in the clothes for the first time. Faded black jeans, black shirt tucked in and an old beat up black hat. On her feet, a pair of black boots made for cow wrestling. The only color came from her buckle. It was unique. A round buckle of silver and gold with a strange design cut into it. She looked closer the buckle had tiny blue gems embedded in it. She lifted her eyes to the woman’s face. Awe in her own. This design…her grandmother had told her about it. She had a hard time keeping her voice calm. "I’ve never worn men’s clothing before…but I’m not afraid to try."

"Good." Cyrene grinned easily. "The younger man that held you captive he was close enough to your size. Let’s see what he has." She walked briskly over to the wagon and climbed in.

Solari followed still dazed by her new friend’s buckle. She trembled at the foot of the wagon and stopped. "You find something and bring it out." Her voice trembled. She couldn’t go in there…she couldn’t.

Cyrene’s head poked through the curtain. "You sure?"

Solari nodded swallowing constantly. Fear in her eyes.

"Okay. Cyrene flashed a smile at her, before ducking back into the wagon, only to climb down a few minutes later a pile of clothing in one hand. "No extra boots so we’ll have to make do with what you have. Here." She thrust the pile of clothing at the girl. "Get dressed and put whatever you don’t wear in a saddlebag for a spare."

Solari’s eyes nearly popped out of her head. She swallowed hard and licked her lips nervously. "Um, okay." She accepted the pile and stood at the back of the wagon checking each item out. Tossing aside a few she knew she’d never be able to wear. Finally she was ready to dress, she looked around and wet her lips, shrugging as she realized that she would need to get dressed in the wagon or in the open. She closed her eyes and set her shoulders, it would have to be in the open. She shook silently. Too many bad memories in the wagon. Quickly she pulled off the old skirt and blouse. Bit her bottom lip and removed her corset. She sighed. I wish we could spare water for cleaning.

"Hey," Cyrene stepped around the corner and stopped, her mouth dropped open. A quick drawn in breath and she closed her mouth. "Ahm," She swallowed. Gods, I can’t breath. She’s gorgeous. She bit her lip as Solari grabbed her shirt and held it up in front of her, protectively. Cyrene cleared her throat. "I was wondering if you wanted to clean up before changing. There’s plenty of water." At the surprised look she rushed to explain. "We’re not too far from safety. Half a day…plenty of water until then."

"Oh." Solari blinked. "I’d like that." She glanced away, embarrassed by the spreading warmth she felt when she looked at the older woman.

Cyrene grinned. "There’s a full barrel right here." She pointed to the back of the wagon. "I checked earlier, it’s full. The two on the front are empty and the one on the left side, but the one on the right side is a quarter full." Cyrene bit her tongue. She was rambling and she knew it. She felt a blush and turned away. "Just don’t take all day!"

Solari watched as the older woman walked away. She dropped her shirt and moved to the wagon. Slowly she cleaned herself and as she did thoughts of Cyrene filled her mind. "Hey," A voice interrupted her daydreaming. "You almost done? We don’t have all day." "Almost." She called back, dropping the rag and dressing as quickly as possible. She pulled the jeans on and patted her legs they felt weird. She wriggled her butt slightly. Maybe she could get used to this. She slipped the white shirt on and reveled at the feel of the cotton against her small breast. She liked this. She tucked the shirt into the jeans and reached for the vest. She liked the feel of the black leather and she slipped her arms in enjoying the feel as it slid up and rested lightly on her shoulders and back. She took a few steps and frowned. The pants were a little too loose. She went back to the discard pile and frowning lifted the only belt available. Her fingers trembled and she closed her eyes;

A hand rose and fell. She screamed in pain. The hard leather wrapped around her wrists making it impossible for her to move away from the hand. She twisted and pulled. A harsh laughter filled her ears. "Harder Mato. The bitch needs to learn her place."

She shook again trying to gather the strength she’d need to wear it. Finally she managed to pull the belt through the loops on her pants. She pulled it tight and attempted to close it. "Damn." She loosened the belt to it’s last hole.

Cyrene gave up waiting and stomped impatiently toward the rear of the wagon, just as Solari came around the corner tugging at her belt. "I was just coming to see if you were ready."

"No." Solari held out the belt. "It’s too big and the pants will fall off without it."

Cyrene bit the inside of her mouth. If the pants fell off it wouldn’t bother her, but…"Is that all?" She smirked, and a knife fell into her hand. She smiled at the wide eyed look of shock on Solari’s face. She rolled her tongue lazily around her mouth and licked her lips. Being this close to her new companion was dangerous. "May I? She pointed at the belt.

Solari stared wide eyed at Cyrene. This woman was amazing. A knife up her sleeve? What next? Not trusting her voice she nodded and watched the older woman with interest as she stepped closer.

Cyrene thrust her hand behind the belt and poked the knife through the leather creating a new hole in just the right spot. "There." She patted the belt. "All set." She stepped back and grinned at the slightly pale visage of Solari. "The horses are ready grab your extra clothes and let’s go."


Cyrene looked skyward. Early afternoon. Should they stop? There was a small oasis of sorts up ahead. She glanced at the smaller woman riding next to her. Solari had kept up, although she appeared a bit worn. Twice she’d cut back her pace so they weren’t as close to the desert’s edge as she’d hoped, but the heat would soon be too much for the young woman.

Solari felt the blue stare lingering on her and tightened her grip on the reins. She fought not to return the look, Everything’s fine. Keep moving. She shouted the litany in her head over and over, missing the first words the other woman spoke. "Huh? What?" She blinked and turned towards Cyrene.

"I said we’ll stop up ahead until evening then we’ll head inland." She nodded in the direction she meant to go. "We should be able to make it to the forest tonight."

"Oh." Solari glanced in the direction she pointed and twisting in her saddle looked back the way they’d come. Mountains and woods in the distance in both directions. She sighed. How can one tell which way is coming and which way is going. "Okay." Might as well agree. It wasn’t as though she had much choice. Her entire life was in the hands of the bounty hunter.


It was very hot and the air was still. The small pool of water surrounded by sandstone boulders and a small rocky ridge offered some comfort. Solari glanced to the horses. They were making do, nibbling on the small patch of grass and resting in the shade of the few trees scattered about the small clearing. Cyrene squatted on her heels against a rock, her hat off, head tilted back, eyes closed. Solari sat cross-legged and waited. Darkness descended and with it relief from the heat. The stars were bright in the sky. Solari listened to the strange noises. The bounty hunter’s breath, the horses whuffling and snorting, the swishing of the grass. For some reason an inicplicable fear began to rise from the pit of her stomach. Her eyes began darting this way and that, looking for something to pin her fear to.

"There’s beauty all around you." She spoke softly and Solari jumped back. Startled. "Too many people see the dust, feel the heat, and hear the horror stories. They never stop to breath it in." Solari watched as the starlight winked on and off in the dark night sky and her eyes glowed in response. "Stop, look and listen. It’s worth it." She rose to her feet and wiped her butt. "Time to eat. We’ve still got a way to go." They ate in silence, and started on their trek again.

The two women topped a rocky ridge as the moon moved overhead. Solari bit back a yawn and rolled her stiffened muscles. Cyrene stopped and Solari took the opportunity to take in the beauty of their surroundings. "How does anything live here?" She asked in awe, not expecting an answer.

"They adapt." Cyrene spoke without looking at the young woman. "Same as they do anywhere. Animals, plants, even people…ya just gotta learn the rules."

Solari listened in silence, but the hunter offered no more, just moved her horse down the rocky slope expecting Solari to follow.

Cyrene knew the girl was tired, but they were so close to the desert’s end. She really wanted to spend the night in the forest. She always felt safer hidden in the trees. She glanced over at Solari. The kid was holding up okay. Silent - I like that. Most people don’t know when to shut up.

She looked forward and frowned. "What the - buzzards? Stop." She halted her horse and stood up in her stirrups, reaching for the looking glass she always carried with her. "Damn." She swore softly. "There’s a man down out there." Her eyes moved seeking an enemy, finding none she urged her horse forward.

Solari looked up startled. "Huh?" The words barely registered before her companion was riding away. "Oh great." She muttered. "Doesn’t speak all day and then high tails it outta here with nary a thought to me." She kicked her horse. "Come on Blackie, after her. I’m not going to be left in the middle of god knows where!"

Cyrene leaped from her horse scattering the protesting buzzards. Her eyes swept the ground. A single horse. She looked in the direction it came from… the erratic prints left her in doubt that the man hadn’t been guiding the horse before he fell. Most likely an ambush. But was it an attack on the man or just a routine robbery? She sighed and knelt at his side. "Still alive." She ripped his shirt aside to check on the wound. "Damn. Gut shot."

His hand shot out and a strong grip clasped her wrist. "Help." Blood bubbled out of the corner of his mouth. "In my boot…papers…" he gasped. "…proof…my land." He coughed. "wife…kids…please."

Solari arrived in time to hear the last words he spoke. She watched as his head lolled back and Cyrene reached up and closed his eyes. "Is he?"

"Yes." Got to think. Cyrene chewed on her lip as she stared at the man. Her hand automatically reaching for his boots.

"What happened?" Solari’s eyes nearly popped out of her head as she watched Cyrene pulling the man’s boots off. "What are you doing?"

"Thinking." Came the short reply. She dug in first one boot then the other, pulling out a piece of paper. Silently she held it up to the other woman. Then she opened it. "Damn." She let out a deep breath. "Ranch War. Just what I needed."

Solari swallowed fearfully. "What’s up?" She asked staring at the dead man. "Did you know him?"

"No." Cyrene scowled. "Looks like he lost in a ranch war."

"Oh?" Solari wet her lips. "He mentioned a family…are you gonna help them?" Her eyes were wide with wonder.

The scowl deepened. "And get myself killed?!" She stood up, paper still clenched in her hand. "No." She declared, marching back to her horse.

"Bu but…" Solari stuttered. She watched as the woman threw one leg into her stirrup and pulled herself angrily into the saddle. "We can’t just walk away."

"We can’t?" The tall woman reigned her horse around and she pranced over to the little woman. "Why not?" She asked from her seat.

"I just think we should help him." Solari replied softly.

"He’s dead." She looked at the body, a shudder ran through her and she was transported back in time. "Daddy! Wake up!" She cried, pulling on the tall man’s arm. Collapsing next to him when he didn’t move. His long black hair fallen over his face. She brushed it back. "I’ll be good." She begged. "Please daddy wake up!" She heard horses and looked up tears streaking down her face. "Mister, please help me. My daddy won’t wake up."

"Hey! It’s the farmer’s brat! The man called to his partner. "What should we do?"

The second man pulled alongside. "She’s just a little kid. Leave her." Her turned his horse away. "The farmer’s dead. His wife will do as the boss demands…or we kill the kids."

The first man laughed. "Both of them?"

"Ya, boss said we might have ta kill the boy to show we mean business." He spit in the direction of the kid. "Come on. Let’s get back to the boss."

"Cyrene?" Solari carefully laid her hand on the hunter’s thigh. "Cyrene?" She was scared. The hunter had gotten a funny look on her face and then it was as though she’d faded away.

"Huh?" Cyrene snapped back and her eyes whirled icily, settling on the small girl that stood with her hand on her thigh.

Solari stepped back frightened her hand falling to her own thigh, her hand clenching into a fist. "Are you okay?" She managed to stutter.

"Yeah." Cyrene pulled her hat off. Her head was soaked from sweat. It trickled down her back. She’d forgotten about her father’s death. Why’d it come back now? She ran a hand through her hair.

Solari shifted nervously. She didn’t understand what was going on with the other woman.

Cyrene looked at the body of the man. Sighed and got off her horse. She paused by Solari’s side. "Help him?" She raised one eyebrow.

The smaller woman broke out in a smile. "Yes."

Cyrene knelt at his side and padded him down, lifting a wallet and a few dollars from his jacket and pants. "Come on." She jerked her head back to the horses. "We gotta get outta here."

"We’re just leaving him?"

"Yup." She swung onto her horse. "There’s a small cavern not far from here. We can hole up there. Check things out." She looked at the dead man. "As for him…if it looks like he was robbed from passerbys the men that killed him may not come hunting for us…if we bury him they might think we know something and then we’d be in trouble before we knew who the good guys were.

"Oh." Came the small voice. Solari didn’t know what to do…leaving the dead man like this felt wrong, but she knew she needed Cyrene’s help and that didn’t seem likely. She needed time to think. For now she’d follow the other woman’s lead. She swung onto her horse and followed.

Cyrene breathed a slight sigh of relief. For a moment she had thought Solari wasn’t going to budge. She rolled her tongue along the inside of her mouth trying to determine their best course of action. She sighed softly. Why did she care? No one had cared when she was a kid. She set her mouth in a hard line, stopping to survey the land before her. Very little soil covered the white sandstone. They should be able to make it to the desert’s end without leaving a trail.

Solari waited patiently for Cyrene to make a decision. She bit the inside of her lip to keep from speaking. It was pretty obvious to her that the hunter was trying to decide where to go. She looked over the land. Straight ahead. The desert gave way to a gentle woodland and the peaceful greenery called to her like a mother to a long lost child.


The cave was well hidden if a little further than Cyrene had planned on traveling. "Get in." She held the branches aside. "Here." She walked in behind Solari both horses behind her. She gently shoved Solari deeper into the large cavern. "There’s a small area on the left that’s perfect for the horses." She handed the horse to the smaller woman. "Take care of them." She paused to light a few torches. "I’ll be back as soon as possible." She turned to leave and paused at the entrance. "And whatever you do stay inside." She slipped outside. Smiling as she overheard the blonde’s muttered comments.

"Stay inside. What does she think I am anyway? A child! Do this do that. I’m not her slave! I hope she brings back rabbit."

She chuckled and kept an eye out for any errant rabbits as she set about the task of cleaning any sign of their passage from the trail.

Solari bit her lower lip. Alone in a cave. What now? She looked around. "I guess I take care of the horses." She talked out loud. It made her feel better. She took the tack off, fed and brushed the horses. "Okay, now what?" She looked around for something to do. "Hmm. Actually this is not a bad setup. I wonder how she knew it was here." She paused by an area that had obviously been used as a firepit. "What the heck I might as well." She began humming a small song to herself as she flitted about the cave. Starting a fire, and laying out the sleeping bags she sat down to wait for Cyrene.

The dark haired warrior smiled wryly as she stepped carefully through the bushes to enter the cavern. The girl had started something cooking. She glanced toward the horses and taken care of the horses. I wonder if she found the hot springs.

"Oh you’re back." The girl sprang to her feet and stopped unsure of what to do.

"Yup." A wry grin. "Here. I brought some meat for supper." She held out two rabbits. Smiling as Solari’s face lit up.

"Oh great!" She grabbed the rabbits. "This will be the perfect compliment to our vegetable stew." She spoke as she dusted herbs into the meat and rolled it into some big leaves carefully placing the rolled leaves onto a flat rock sitting on the coals. Sitting back and wiping her hands she smiled up at the hunter that still stood by the entry.

Cyrene felt her heart skip a beat. For some reason she felt really good.

"Ummm the stew smells great." She stepped closer to the fire. "How long till the rabbit’s done?" She glanced around the cave. Noting where the sleeping bags had been laid. Her eyes drifted to the back of the cave. Her rock hadn’t been moved. Good. She hadn’t found the spring. She smiled. Perhaps I can surprise her with it…I wonder if she likes water?

Solari shivered. Something about the way she asked. She swallowed. "About an hour."

Cyrene wet her lips. Her blue eyes smoldered but she reigned in her feelings. She’d seen the shiver of fear that had run across the blonde’s face. Better forget about the spring. "Oh." She crossed over to the fire and sat down, pulling out the leather pouch she’d taken off the dead man.

Solari sat uneasily near Cyrene. "What are we gonna do?"

"Jessan. Bill Jessan." Cyrene ignored Solari’s question. The pouch hadn’t contained much, just a few coins and an old love letter. Kelly that must be his wife.

"What?" Solari looked up.

"His name. The guy back there." She jerked her head. "I thought you’d want to know."

"Oh," She pursed her together. She still didn’t know if Cyrene meant to help the man’s family or not. "I do…did. Want to know I mean…thanks." She sighed. Everything came out sounding lame when she talked to the bounty hunter. Silence except fir the crackling of the fire fell. She stirred the stew and turned the meat filled leaves over all the time thinking. There was no way she was going to ask her again to help. "Does it say where he’s from?"

"Nope." Cyrene reached for one of her guns and began cleaning it. "But the land deed does."

"Oh?" Solari bit her tongue to keep from asking the question that burned on her tongue.

"Yup." A raised eyebrow, silence for a minute, and a slight quirk of the lips. "I’m gonna take it to his widow." Her blue eyes twinkled. "Wanta go along for the ride?"

Solari let out a long breath . "Thanks."

"For what?"

"Doing the right thing."

"Ya, whatever." She frowned. "I have nothing better to do." She brushed it off but inside she felt a slight warmth. What was it with this kid?

Solari bit the inside of her lip nervously. She had no idea what helping the dead man - Bill Jessan’s family meant. "What are we going to do?"

Cyrene shrugged. "Head for town in the morning."

"Oh." Solari closed her eyes. Dah! I feel so stupid. I have no idea what to do or even what to say to her. She opened her eyes to see Cyrene’s laughing eyes on her. Great…She turned away and began scooping stew out. Forget about tomorrow. "Here." She handed the bowl to Cyrene. "Meat should be ready by the time we finish this."


Morning. Cyrene woke as always. Sudden and complete. She rolled to her feet, glancing at the still sleeping Solari. She bit back a sigh. The woman didn’t know how beautiful she was. She shook her head and stretched. I hope I know what I’m doing. She set about preparing for the trail, making a fire, heating leftovers, and saddling the horses. When everything was ready she called to Solari. "Come on. Wake up." A slight mumble came from beneath the blankets, but no movement. Cyrene frowned and walked over to the blankets. "Hey," She kicked lightly. "Wake up."

Solari felt the boot and leaped to her feet. "I’m sorry." She held her hands in front of her.

"Hey!" Cyrene stepped back. Surprise crossing her face.

Recognition came and Solari hung her head. "I guess I wasn’t expecting to be woken up with a boot."

Cyrene licked her lips. "Ya, well I think I’ve learned my lesson. That’s twice I scared you. Wanta tell me why?" She cocked her head. "No. Okay." She gave the frightened girl a crooked smile. "Next time I’ll just shout until you wake up."

"Haaa." Solari managed a shaky laugh. Too long with men that treated her badly. She kept silent. No way she was willing to explain why everytime Cyrene came near her she jumped, especially when she was asleep.

"Come on little girl." Rough hands pulled at her clothes. "Time for some fun." A smelly face thrust it’s way into her’s and she twisted trying to get away from it. A hand grasped her face and pulled it back. A tongue thrust into her mouth smothering her scream.

"Hey," Cyrene’s concerned voice brought her back. "You okay?"

Solari looked up into startling blue eyes. Her breath was coming in hard short gasps. "I’m fine…now." She wet her lips. "Thanks."

"For what this time?"

"Bringing me out of my nightmare." Solari spoke quietly, staring at her hands.

"Oh." She wanted to speak, but didn’t know what to say. They both had their secrets. "No problem." She nodded toward the fire, changing the topic. "I reheated our leftovers."


Solari rode silently alongside Cyrene when they moved out of the cavern. The trail turned east, then south by a fork of a creek. They turned then onto a narrow path that skirted the huge boulders fringing the mountains. Solari kept her eyes open paying strict attention to everything the other woman did and to the lay of the land.

It was near noon time when Cyrene spoke for the first time since leaving the caves. "The town is probably another couple hours away." She twisted slightly in the saddle. "If you’re hungry we can stop now for a bite, otherwise we can wait and eat in town."

Just then Solari’s stomach rumbled. She shrugged embarrassed. "I’m always hungry."

"I noticed." Cyrene said dryly. "Hungry enough to stop? Or will jerky hold you over?"


Cyrene dug around in a saddlebag. "This." She handed her a piece and started chewing on one herself.

Solari accepted it staring a little askew at it. "Ahm I guess it’ll do."

"Good I want to check out that town well it’s still light out." Cyrene’s horse trotted forward and Solari followed.

Nothing about the town suggested the drama that was about to unfold. It was a typical town. The creek they’d past early on in their trip found it’s way here. It flowed slowly past the settlement, willow trees dotted its banks gracefully begging people to come rest awhile beneath their shade. Birch trees meandered their way amongst the willows their tall slender white bark standing out amongst all the brown and clumps of mountain alder, yellow rose, puffed clematis, and antelope bush were scattered along the far bank of the stream and up the hill leading away from the town into the wilderness the Indians called home.

The town’s one true street lay between two neat rows of buildings. A dozen horses were standing at the hitching rails. Cyrene figured most of them belonged to men hanging out at the saloon. A buckboard stood half loaded in front of a store, most likely the general store. She named the stores as she rode closer.

The townspeople stopped to gawk. It wasn’t often you saw a woman dressed and riding like a man, let alone two such women.

Solari touched her hair nervously. She forced a smile and turned to her riding companion. "You’d think they’d never seen travelers before."

"They haven’t." Came the dry reply. "At least not like us." She stopped by the hitching rail and swung down from her horse. "My throat’s parched."

"Oh!" Solari bit her lip. "You mean to go in there?" She whispered the words.

"Why you chicken?" Blue eyes danced with laughter.

"No." Solari swung down. "Not as long as you’re with me." She walked past the older woman and pushed her way into the saloon.

"Why I’ll be…" Cyrene chuckled and hurried in behind her companion.

Ted Cochrane was behind the bar. He looked up warily as the two men - women entered the bar. Oh damn. That tall one. I sure hope she aint hunting today. Wonder when she picked up a partner I thought she always worked alone. He watched as they stepped up to the bar. "What’ll it be ladies?"

"Hey you can’t serve them in here!" A red headed youth jumped to his feet.

Cyrene grinned. Her eyes turned icy. She turned standing straight. All six feet of her bristled with energy. "And just why can’t he?" She said in a deceptively sweet voice.

"Why it aint right." He looked at her in disgust. "Women dressed like men hanging in saloons. It aint proper."

"But it is proper for lazy unemployed cowhands to sit around drinking and gambling what little bit they got?" Solari spoke before her partner could.

Cyrene glanced sideways at the smaller woman. There was spitfire in her emerald eyes. Her grin got wider. She turned back to the red head. "Red, if you want to live to see another day I suggest you run on home."

The boy stood up. "You threatening me?" His eyes blazed angrily. "Why girl I oughtta tan your hide."

"Red!" Ted hissed. "Don’t do it." All eyes turned toward the barkeep, except Cyrene’s. "She’s Rene Man-Hunter."

The red head turned white. "The Hunter? Here? You?" He swallowed hard. "My apologies mam." He tipped his head and ran for the door.

Cyrene turned back to the bar. "Whiskey. Make it a double and an ale for my friend."

Solari grinned inside. Friend she called me her friend. She smiled her thanks at the barkeep and slowly sipped the unfamiliar drink. It wasn’t too bad. An interesting flavor. The more she drank it the more she liked it.

Cyrene tossed down the drink and held the glass out for another. Ted obliged. "I’m looking for someone." She watched him carefully.

"I expected as much." He replied carefully. He needed to make a living in this town.

"A woman named Kelly, Kelly Jessan."

He paled. "What do’ya want with her? She’s good people never done no wrong and she’s got a family."

"I know." Cyrene stared him down. "Where is she?"

He swallowed hard, glancing at the smaller woman. "I expect she’s at her ranch."

Her lip curved upward and her eyes darkened. "Good. Now we’re getting somewhere." Her eyes held him captive. "Where’s her ranch?"

"It’s a small place." He stared into the woman’s eyes, trying to figure out if he was doing the right thing or not. "Head north when you leave town. About two miles outta town you’ll see a trail on the left side. Take it and you’ll run straight into her spread - she has a husband. It’s really his place."

"Had." She said dryly.

He blanched. "You?"


"He was a good man. Well liked by everyone around here."

"Well enough to help his widow?"

He lowered his eyes. "There’s some tough men…they want it…they have big money, big guns…it’s a harsh world."

"Don’t I know it." She snarled the words dumped the drink down her throat. "Come on!" She pushed away from the bar.

Solari hurried to follow her, she caught up as the taller woman was throwing a leg into a stirrup. "What the heck happened in there?" She stopped her with a touch on the leg.

Cyrene looked down with pain-filled eyes. "Nothing…everything." She looked away. Control. I need control. She shut down the pain. "I can’t talk about it…not now."

"Okay." Solari kept her hand on the other’s leg. "We don’t need to talk about it. Are you okay?"

Cyrene nodded.

Solari looked unconvinced, but decided to drop it. "So what now?" She raised a brow. "Do we rush out to that ranch? Or do we stop for lunch?"

Cyrene laughed. "Lunch? You’re hungry."

Solari shrugged sheepishly. "Ya. I am." She admitted.

"We eat." She got off the horse. "Come on." Her stomach was roiling from the memories this brought back, but she’d be damned if she’d let them all see it.

They walked across the street to the café. They opened the door and stepped inside. Solari stopping because Cyrene did.

Cyrene let her eyes take in the interior of the café with one quick sweep. Nothing to worry about here. Except possibly the Sheriff. No it was the Deputy. A large man who sat in a corner where he could watch anyone entering the room. Not a bad seat and probably the one she would have chosen herself had he not been in it. Instead she crossed to a table to his right. Here she could see all of the room and even the entrance from the kitchen.

Solari wet her lips the smell of the food reminding her of how hungry she was. She smiled at the young girl who came to take their order. "Hi." She glanced at Cyrene, unsure of what to order.

Cyrene grinned amusedly. "We’ll take two steak dinners. Give us the works. Make mine rare," she paused with a questioning look at Solari. "Well done." She nodded agreement. "Two coffees."

The girl left and the other patrons hastened to lower their gaze. Trying to pretend they weren’t staring at the strangers. Cyrene felt no such compunction. She took a long hard look at each person in the room. The man in the pin stripped suit; banker - single and greedy. The big man tanned and wrinkled; lumberjack - passing through. The blonde bomb and her dandy; daddy’s spoiled little girl. Had to be one of the Big Rancher’s daughter’s. Her mouth lifted in derision as she turned to study the last table. Tall, dark, and good-looking; rough clothes, quiet appearance, a drifter. Possibly in search of a temporary job. Her view was blocked.

She looked up. The lawman was staring at her. She felt Solari shake. "Yes?" She made the word sound like an insult.

"You’ve come to the wrong town." He fingered his badge. "We have law and order here. "No need for killers and flesh dealers."

Solari started. Wary green eyes turned toward the woman at the table with her.

Cyrene sneered. "Flesh dealers? You make it sound like I’m running slaves not capturing criminals."

"Same thing."

"Really?" She managed to sound surprised. "I guess you’d know catching criminals being your business and all."

Anger flared in the Deputy. "Listen lady!" He said roughly. "This town is my responsibility and if I catch you so much as spitting wrong I’ll haul your ass into jail quicker than you can curtsey."

Now she was angry. She rose to her feet and stood eye to eye, "No. You listen to me. I am not wanted by the law anywhere…for anything. So if anyone tries to take me in they better be reaching for their gun."

He froze in his tracks, caught by the flint blue orbs that bored into him. Worriedly he shifted his feet. "You reach for that gun. We’ll see who walks away."

"Don’t even think about it." She sat back down. "Crawl back to whatever hole you came out of and be glad I’m in a good mood today."

"Why you!" His face turned red with rage. "I-"

"Bull!" A voice rang out from the doorway. "Don’t!" A tall man stood hands on his hips. Two guns tied down. Black hair spilling out from underneath a faded tan hat. "Mam," He tipped his hat. "I’m sorry about that." His eyes took in the white face of the young woman sitting silently beside the well known bounty hunter. They hardened for a moment and turned back to the hunter. "My name is Joe Ellis and I’m the Sheriff here."

"Ya, I can see that." "Thanks for defusing that situation for me."

"No problem, Bull’s a good man…just a bit pigheaded."

Cyrene nodded. "And he’s gonna be a dead pigheaded man if he keeps up his attitude."

"I know." The Sheriff shrugged. "But I promised his dad I’d watch over him."

She glared but said nothing.

He wet his lips and looked at the two women. "I’ll watch my deputy…you just keep your nose clean." He had to be careful or he’d light the fuse himself and then only one of them would walk away.

"Don’t worry about us." She glanced at Solari and raised one eyebrow. The girl gave her a small smile. "We can take care of ourselves."

The food arrived and the smell brought a smile to Solari’s face. "Thanks." She looked up at the waitress. "It smells great."

The waitress smiled back as she placed the plates down and turned to the Sheriff. "You eating Joe?" He nodded. "My usual." "Okay." She smiled shyly.

"Thanks Shelly." He turned back to the two women a slight smile on his face. "You talk." He said jokingly. "I was beginning to wonder."

Solari giggled. Cyrene rolled her eyes.

He raised one eyebrow questioningly, but no introduction was forthcoming. "How long you planning on staying?"

"That depends…" She smirked. "Basically I’d say we’ll stay until our business is done."

"Is there anything I can do to help you with your business?"

"Somehow I don’t think so." She sneered.

"The offer will stand." He bowed. "Now I’ll leave you in peace to enjoy your meal." He walked to an empty table and sat down.

Cyrene turned to Solari. The girl was already eating. "Dig in. It’s delicious." She said with a mouthful.

Cyrene just grinned. "Always hungry." She shook her head slightly and pulled the second plate towards herself.

Solari looked up. "I liked him." She bit into a piece of bread.

"Huh?" Cyrene looked puzzled.

"The Sheriff." She waved the bread. "He’s cute."

"Cute?" She rolled her eyes.

"Ya." She dipped the bread into the gravy. "Cute…and nice…a good man."

"Great." She said dryly. "So what you want me to fix you up a date?"

Solari blushed. "Ah, no…I was just making conversation." She kept her eyes on her plate. "Sorry."

Cyrene breathed a sigh of relief. For some reason the thought of this young girl leaving her made her heart ache. "It’s okay." She flashed a smile at Solari. "I’m just not used to idle chatter." She dug into her food.

Solari grinned shyly through hooded eyes. The light catching on them and bringing a virescent shine to them. "I can change that."

Cyrene’s breath caught in her mouth as she stared into those eyes. She almost missed the words. She rolled her tongue around in her mouth but couldn’t think of anything to say, so she grunted and shoveled food into her mouth.

Solari watched her for a minute then silently returned to her food a slight smile on her face.

Cyrene pushed back her chair and sipped her coffee. "Where do you put it all?" She laughed.

"Hey!" Solari protested. "I’m a growing girl." She pushed the empty dessert plate away.

"I guess so." Laughter laced her voice. "Three helpings and two desserts." She shook her head . "That’s gotta cause growth."

Solari glared angrily, but the sweet sound of Cyrene’s laughter put the smile back and she silently swore that she would do everything in her power to bring that laughter forward more often.

"Are you done for now?" She smirked.

"For now." She tilted her head. "But you better be prepared to feed me again tonight."

"Rabbit?" She raised a brow.

Solari’s smile grew. "I like rabbit."

"Okay." She drained her coffee. "I’ll try to catch a rabbit or two your majesty." She stood. "And if I am going to catch any we better hurry up…I like to do my hunting in daylight."

Solari followed her out the door and to the horses. The lone drifter from the café stood nearby. She glanced his way but focused her attention on the hunter.

Cyrene gave the man a cursorily once over before placing her foot into the stirrup. A second’s hesitation and she stepped back to the Earth. "You looking for me?" She stepped in front of Solari.


"For?" Her hand rested near her gun.

"Lys sent me." He stood hands away from his guns. "He said to say hi. He told me to see if you needed me…"

"Lys?" Her color drained away. "Need of you?" She looked quickly to the girl and back to the drifter. "So Lys finally got around to sending someone to kill me." She took a deep breath. Lys. She hadn’t thought of him in years. What made him send someone now? Right when she was trying to forget the past.

"Ya." The man looked her in the eye. "He said to come, see if you were still living in the rage…and deal with it."

"Deal with it?" She sneered. "So are you going to deal with it?

"I see nothing to deal with." His eyes flashed to Solari. "But inside you looked like you might need someone to watch your back."

"She’s got someone to watch her back." Solari glared at the stranger. He wanted to kill her protector. The tension emanating from Cyrene feeding her fear and anger.

"Oh the child has teeth." He said mockingly.

"Wanta make some-"

"Solari." Cyrene hissed holding a hand up and keeping her eyes on the drifter. "I can handle this."

Solari took a deep breath and nodded.

"So you’re not here to kill me."

"Not now."

"Then why are you here?"

"You need help." He tilted his head. "I can help."

Cyrene rolled her tongue around her teeth. "Okay. Get on your horse."

"What are you doing?" Solari grabbed the hunter by the arm angrily.

Cyrene tore free and pulled back her hand. Solari fell back. Cyrene hand closed into a fist and she forced it down. "You shouldn’t have done that." She fought to control her breathing. "I could have hurt you."

"I know." Solari was fighting to get her own breathing under control. "My fault. I have to remember your hair trigger." She grinned wryly.

Cyrene’s chest heaved up and down. "Ya, well, you know." Gods, I coulda killed the kid. She swallowed hard.

"I do."

"What did ya do it for?" She placed her hands on Solari’s shoulders and stared into worried green eyes.

Solari lowered her eyes. She breathed out. "He wants to kill you."

"I don’t think so." She smiled.

Solari frowned. "It sure sounded like it." She bit her lip. "And he scares me…why bring him along."

Cyrene chuckled. "One, if Lys sent him he’s a good fighter. Two, if he’s with us he can’t be sneaking up on us." She chucked Solari’s chin. "Okay."

"Ya." Solari gave her a half grin. "If you so it’s okay it’s okay."

"Good." She nodded her head and lowered her hand. "Then get on your horse and let’s get outta here."

She turned to the drifter. He looked even taller sitting on his horse. "You got a name?" She asked as she mounted her horse.

"Yup." He grinned.

"Gonna tell us or do we have ta guess?" Solari taunted.

Cyrene bit back a smile. She did have spirit that was for sure. She raised one eyebrow at the man. "We’re waiting."

The two women sat together facing the stranger.

He lifted the corner of his mouth in a slight smile, "Tobin, Tobin L’Amour."

The blue eyes narrowed. "That’s it. Never heard of Tobin…but,"

She glanced at her companion. "…I’ll be watching you." So this was Sure Shot. She’d heard of him. He had a reputation of always bringing in his man…a former Texas Ranger…so what was he doing here? And why had he agreed to do a job for Lys? She sighed softly and turned her horse toward the trail. The other two fell in behind her.


"Stop!" A shrill voice rang out.

Cyrene held one hand up, signaling to her companions to halt. "Is this the Jessan’s place?"

"What if it is?" The voice came again. This time it wavered a little. It was a male…young…probably one of his kids.

"I have a message for Kelly Jessan." She hesitated, making her mind up in an instant. "We’re friends."

Solari started in surprise. Her mouth dropped open, but closed without a sound.

Cyrene’s lip quirked in a slight smile. Tobin stayed motionless, prepared for anything.

"I don’t recognize ya."

"No." Cyrene chuckled. "I don’t reckon you would. You’ve never set eyes on me…us before." She paused, "but I have a message from Bill."

A slight gasp, followed by silence then rushed movements and muttering.

"What’s the message?" A different voice asked, older…how much older was hard to tell…it was female. Kelly?

"No, I don’t think so." Cyrene relaxed in her seat. "You want the message we come in and deliver it face to face."

More muttering. She tilted her head trying to catch the words. If she strained just right…"hired…but what about the little ones and what about…Ma…she’s…close…kill…dad…no…I…we…how can you… don’t…can’t…trust."

Cyrene sat back. She pursed her lips together. They knew who she was. They’ll never trust us. Well we’ll try a different approach. "Hey, you still there?" She yelled to get their attention refocused.


"I got an idea." Cyrene glanced at Solari. Silently she mouthed trust me. "How about if I send my friend in unarmed as proof that we mean you no harm. Once you have her you can hold a gun to her head if you want until I come in and give you my message…after that it’s up to you what to do."

Solari sat silently gnawing at her lower lip. She’d do as Cyrene asked.

"but what if they mean us harm?" She whispered.

"They don’t." She tilted her head again. Muttering…it brought a slight smile to her face. "They’re scared and alone…no adults." Her voice grew colder as she realized what she was listening to. This wasn’t a child and an adult…it was two children. Where was their mother? If they let her in she’d see they never lost their land. Her resolve hardened. Muscles shifted reflexively under her clothing.

"Okay." The voice finally replied. "Just one of you. On foot."

"Go ahead." Cyrene said never looking at Solari. "Head slowly toward them. Keep your hands away from your clothing otherwise they might think you have a gun."

Solari slid off her horse nodding her head.

Cyrene watched the young woman with pride. No matter what she asked of her the girl did it without complaint, from setting up camp to walking unarmed into a potential enemies camp.

"You really think she’ll be all right?" Tobin spoke for the first time.

"I wouldn’t have sent her in if I wasn’t positive."

"That right?" He squinted at her. "That doesn’t jibe with what I’ve heard about you."

She sneered at him. Started an angry retort and changed her mind. "Believe what you want." She focused her attention on Solari and tuned her ears for any sound coming from the girl’s direction.

Cyrene waited until the girl disappeared from view. She slipped off her horse and ran silently for the rocks she disappeared by. Tobin swore softly before following her.

"Hhhii." Solari stuttered. She cleared her throat and wet her lips. "My name is Sol..Solari." She looked from the boy with the rifle to the girl with the pistol uneasily. Trust. Cyrene said to trust her. "Ah we really don’t mean you any harm."

The boy looked at his sister. She shrugged. "Sit down." He pointed at his sister. "This is Rosa, I’m BJ."

Solari sat as instructed. "Do you think you could let my friend come in now?" She asked softly. "We really are here to help."

"Why should we believe you?"

"I came in unarmed…you could kill me before she could do anything…if that’s not proof I don’t know what would be."

"How about the fact that I’m sitting up here with a gun pointed at your head?" Cyrene said dryly.

The boy and girl spun towards the voice fear turning their faces white. The boy shook with anger. "Go ahead kill us!"

"That’s not my intention." Cyrene leaped from the rock landing neatly before Solari. "If it was you’d already be dead." She turned to Solari. "You okay?"

"Yeah." Solari grinned. "Thanks for asking."

Cyrene shrugged and turned back to the Jessan kids. "Anymore of you kids hanging around?" The two refused to answer. "Fine. Let’s head for the house. Careful where you point that rifle." And without looking. "Tobin grab the horses and meet us at the house."

Solari glanced up. Sure enough there was Tobin laying in the rocks shotgun pointed in their direction. He stood up and waved. She gave him a half smile and turned to follow the children and Cyrene.

The house was small nothing more than a three room cabin. A small corral was situated on the left side. A few old oaks scattered around the yard but, no brush…good less chance of an ambush. So why were the kids hidden so far from the home? Smoke rose from the chimney.

Cyrene stepped to the side as they came to the door. "You first." She told the girl. "Solari, you next." She stepped up to the boy. "Just a small precaution, you go through with me." The boy looked sullenly at her but said nothing. They moved in. When all were inside Cyrene swore silently. Damn…more little kids. "Mam, sorry for the intrusion." She tipped her hat. "I have a message from your husband."

"Bill?" The woman rose to her feet. She looked toward the door and her children ran to her side. She gathered them in her arms, protectively. "Is he?" The eyes of the smaller woman told her everything. She choked back her tears. "How?"

Solari slipped forward. "I’m sorry." She paused in front of the woman. "We found him too late…"

Cyrene spoke. "He was dry-gulched. Lived long enough to ask us to help you…so here we are."

The boy broke in. "The path is unguarded mother." He glared at Cyrene. "She made us come home."

His mother smiled wanly. "It’s okay BJ." She looked to her daughter, who shrugged. "I doubt it matters now."

"Why were the children guarding the path?" Cyrene asked sharply.

"It’s the only way to our land from town." She sat back down in her rocker. Her children gathered around her the youngest sitting in her lap. "With Lyssa ill it was impossible for me to watch and with Bill gone there is no one else." Her eyes filled with tears. "Now that I know he’s not coming back…" She bit her lip, "I don’t know what I’m gonna do."

Cyrene nodded and walked to the door. "Tobin!" She called out to the man as he walked up from the corral. He paused and looked at her expectantly. "Keep watch for company, seems our new friends have been pestered with unwanted company ever since her husband has been gone." She stepped back inside.

"Sorry." She shrugged. "Just making sure we aren’t caught off guard. Now do you mind telling me what’s going on?"

Solari stood uncertainly, just then the child in the bed started to cry and as if on cue the toddler on the floor joined in. Rosa and the mother both leaped to help them.

Cyrene scowled. Solari bit back a laugh. Cyrene looked at her and sighed. "I know…it’s to be expected but we don’t have time…we need to know who and why if we are to help them."

Solari chuckled. "I know let me see if they’ll let me help." She stepped forward and tapped the mother on the shoulder. "Let me." She held her arms out for the baby. "I had four little sisters." The mother looked worriedly from Cyrene to Solari before agreeing with a sigh. Solari watched as Cyrene drew Kelly aside. She turned to the children gathered around. "So," She said bouncing the baby on her hip and smiling at the others. "How about if I tell you a story my Grandmother used to tell me?"

"I don’t like stories." BJ muttered.

"Hush." Rosa hissed.

"No, that’s all right." Solari smiled at them. "Let me make a deal with you. You listen quiet and if you don’t like my story I’ll do your chores tonight."

"Really?" BJ grinned crookedly. "Deal."

"Great." Let’s all get comfortable." She sat in the rocking chair an settled the baby comfortably in her arms and rocking slightly began the tale. "Long time ago when the world was troubled by the ancient gods there arose a warrior fierce…"

Cyrene and Kelly listened for a minute then tiptoed out of the room.

Cyrene touched the older woman on her shoulder. "I’m sorry about your husband. We’ll do whatever we can to help."

"Thank you." She shook with grief, tears fell. "I can’t believe he’s gone. I don’t know how we can save the ranch now." She bit her lip. "He was trying to get the deed to the land…the proof that this was ours. Jake Halden claims it was part of his father’s land and that he let us settle it but that’s not true…Bill’s father filed legal on it and paid good money. But Jake is a Big name in town, everybody’s afraid of him. He has a friend - Red Symes and somehow everybody Jake has a problem with either challenges Red or disappears like Bill."

"Let me guess." Cyrene’s voice was cold. "He has the best ranch in the area. Everyone in town owes him a favor or two and he’s always been a good church going boy…his daddy was well liked and his death was a tragic accident."

Kelly’s eyes opened wide, "How did you know that?"

"Ha." She rolled her eyes. "Been there…"

"Hey boss!" Tobin’s voice interrupted. "I hate to breakup your little tea party." He said opening the door, but we got company coming."

"Great." She smiled, her eyes narrowing. "I could use a little entertainment." She turned to Kelly. "Get in the back room with Solari and the kids. We’ll take care of this."

She stepped toward the door.

"Why?" Kelly asked puzzled.

Cyrene turned. Her bright blue eyes piercing the other woman’s. "To right a past wrong." She stepped through the door and waited.

Tobin slipped out behind her and moved to her right side. "To right a wrong?" He tilted his head slightly. "Did you know her husband?"

"No." She refused to look in his direction. It was nobody’s business. Nobody’s! Silence fell and then they heard the clattering of hooves on the hard rock path.

Neither moved as about a half a dozen men rode into the yard and pulled up to the door in a cloud of dust.

"Who are you?" The large untidy man in the middle spat. "Where’s the Jessan woman?"

Cyrene’s eyes grew icy. She pulled herself up straight and glared into the black eyes of the man who had spoken. "Who wants to know?"

Two of the men swung down and stepped toward the porch.

"They take one more step and my man here will kill both of you."

"Ya!" The man’s mouth twisted up. "Like we’re worried. There’s two of you and eight of us."

"Sure Shot I want you to take care of the two on the ground and the ones on the left." She rolled her tongue and smiled. "I’ll take big mouth and the ones on the right." She spoke without looking at Tobin. Her smile widened as he started a little at her words.

"Big talk for a woman." The talker snarled. "We aint afraida you."

"Good." Her lip curled in an evil smile. "That’ll make it more fun."

The man on his right, a smile, thin, red headed man, nudged his horse forward. "Ben, not now."

The other man turned to snarl at him, but hesitated at the site of the easy smile on the red head’s face. "I’m in charge - not you."

" True." He edged closer and whispered. "So think man - she’s not the one we want."

Cyrene listened her smile never wavering. So that was Red Symes. This could get interesting.

The Red head grasped the other man’s horse by the reins. "Didn’t you hear what she called that man?" He hissed. "Sure Shot. Sure as your sitting here he could kill at least four of us and I aint ready to go down. They’ll be other times…when the battle will be in our favor."

Ben ripped his horse free. "Fine. We’ll wait, but that bitch is gonna be mine." He glared at Cyrene. "You tell her this is Halden land and she has until sunset tomorrow to get off it with all her brats or die."

"Try it and you’ll die."

"Lady I don’t know who you are or what your stake in this is, but you can’t win." Ben leaned on his pommel. "The law’s on our side, not yours."

Cyrene took two steps forward, letting the rage that was inside her build until it blazed out of her eyes. "Try and take this land and you will die." She let her eyes rest on each man there. "You’re all marked men…leave the widow Jessan and her children alone. This is their home and no one is taking it away from them."

"The hell with that!" Spittle formed on Ben’s lip and he pulled his gun.

Cyrene’s gun was in her hand and Ben flew out of the saddle to land in the dirt face up before anyone else had a chance to move.

"The next man to reach for his gun is dead." Her eyes shone with blue fire. As she stood with a pistol in each hand, beside her Sure Shot stood grinning his own two weapons in his hands. "Take him with you and get the hell outta here."

The two men on the ground grabbed their dead boss, threw him over his saddle and hastily climbed into their saddles. Red turned toward town, paused, looked back and reiterated Ben’s words. "You have until tomorrow sunset no later." His eyes narrowed. ‘You’re killing him won’t stop us."

"Come if you want to die." She spat the words. Anger at the injustice fueling her hate. She stood shaking trapped in the past.

"But mommy he’s the one!" She protested her mother’s acceptance of the man that claimed her father’s death was accidental. That his men had found him dead and anything he could do to help her survive he would. "Don’t let Lyceus go."

"Daughter, hush!" Her mother’s hand covered her mouth. She watched with eyes filled with confusion as her mother smiled at the hated pig of a man. Watched as he rode away with her brother by his side. Her brother twisted back to watch her his own eyes sad. She watched with her mother’s hand covering her mouth until they were out of sight. It was the last time she saw her brother until they were teenagers.

Tobin watched with concern as the Hunter moved not at all. He stepped toward her, clearing his throat.

She jumped, shook her head. Why was she plagued by the past now. She turned without a word and headed inside.

She paused at the door leading to the children. She could her Solari telling a story. Her eyes opened in surprise. "I know that story." She murmured.

Tobin raised one eyebrow but remained silent.

"and with a shrill cry the warrior princess laid waste to the slavers saving the villagers from a fate worse than death." Solari stopped and looked up at Cyrene. "Hi, is everything okay?"

"Ah…ya." She looked uncertainly at her new companion. "I didn’t know you could tell stories like that."

Solari blushed. "Ya, well." She shrugged. "I haven’t told any in a long time…a real long time." She swallowed and brushing aside her feelings smiled at the children. "I’m hungry, how about you guys?"

"Yes." They all nodded eagerly, turning to their mother.

"We have stew and bread. There’s enough for all of us." She rose to her feet. "Rosa come help. BJ take care of the animals." She turned to the women.

Solari rose to her feet and walked to the cot, laying the small child in her arms down and wrapping her up in blankets. She turned. And looked at the others. "I could help."

"No, you’ve done more than enough." Kelly smiled. "You three just wait it won’t take long."

Cyrene nodded, her eyes never leaving Solari’s form, as the others left to do as their mother bid.

"BJ let me help you." Tobin followed the boy out.

Cyrene stepped over to Solari. "That story…you really made it come alive for those kids."

"Thanks." Solari hung her head. "It’s no big deal." She shrugged off the praise, afraid of the pain that storytelling always brought.

"You okay?" Cyrene questioned. Something was bothering the young woman. Something about telling stories.

Solari wet her lips fearfully, her eyes sad and moist from unshed tears. "I." Her voice caught and she closed her mouth. She shook her head and stepped away from the cot.

"Hey," Cyrene stepped closer and touched her shoulder. "Let me help."

"It’s nothing really." Solari brushed the other woman’s hand away. Catching the slightly fallen look as she turned and sighed. "It’s just…well. You’d just think I was being stupid and childish."

"No." She shook her head. "No, I wouldn’t." The older woman hastened to convince her younger companion. She didn’t know why it was important but she knew it was. "I liked the way you told the story. You have a real talent."

"You think so?" She looked up and her eyes were full of pain. "My parents said I was too old for that kind of foolishness." Cyrene reached out and squeezed her arm. "When I was real little my grandmother took care of me and she always told me stories. I would sit still and listen for hours as she told me about the warrior princess. After she died I used to wish for a warrior princess of my own." She shook her head sadly. "but she never came."

"I knew that story." She moved her hand up to the girl’s shoulder. "I read it when I was little…my mother gave me a storybook her grandmother’s best-friend had written for her when she was little."

"Really?" Solari still refused to look at her, but now her eyes fixed on that strange buckle.

"Yeah." She shuffled her feet. "I always wanted to have a friend…to be a friend like that."

"Really?" Solari reached out and traced the buckle. "Me too." She admitted in a quiet voice. "After I was captured by those men and no one rescued me I decided that my Grandmother was wrong…it’s only in stories that people like that exist.

"Yeah..." Cyrene shrugged. "I know what ya mean." her voice trailed off and picked up again. "I’m sorry." She squeezed the younger girl’s shoulder once and let go, turning away.

Solari turned and watched with puzzled eyes as the Hunter walked away. "Wait." She spoke hardly above a whisper. The Hunter stopped. "Wh…why are you leaving?"

Cyrene drew in a loud breath and bit her lip. "Please?" She heard Solari plead, and slowly she turned and looked at the small woman with hair like honey. She shrugged helplessly. "I don’t know how to help you."

She looked away hating to admit defeat. "Give me an enemy to beat or shoot and I’m fine." She snickered at herself. "But this." And shook her head. "If I could go back in time and find and rescue you before they hurt you I would." She hung her head in sorrow. "Even in rescuing you I screwed up. You, you’d be better off without me…stay with these people it’ll be safe and you’d like it here."

Solari stepped forward. "Is that what you want me to do?" She bit her lip. "Are you already tired of my company? I’ve tried to be quiet and not bother you too much. And I thought you liked my cooking? She chewed at her lip. "What did I do wrong?"

"Nothing." In less than a second she’d crossed the floor and stood before Solari. "It’s not you it’s me!" She let out an exasperated sigh. "I’m no good for you…trust me. You, you belong with a nice man…not a killer like me. I bet you want to be a mom with half a dozen children to keep you company, that you can tell your stories too."

"No." She shook her head. "That’s not what I want at all."

"Hey, mom says food is ready." BJ poked his heads in the door. "You two better come quick or there’ll be none left for you."

Cyrene scowled in his direction, but inward she sighed with relief. Perhaps this would be enough to divert the younger woman and after the battle was over she’d see she was taken care of and be on her way before it hurt too much.

She looked back at Solari. "Come on." She nodded toward the outer room. I know you’re hungry…you’re always hungry."

"I’ll go, but don’t think this is the end of it…I’m not going to stay behind…you promised." She stepped past the Hunter and headed towards the delicious scent fresh baked bread and stew.

Cyrene, the Hunter shook her head slowly before following the girl through the door. She needed to find some way to save Solari. And that meant staying away from her.


Cyrene stood outside watching the falling sun and wondering how she got herself into such a mess. The sky was full of color, red, gold, blue and purples all woven together to make pretty scene. Momma would of loved this view. She swallowed the thought and cocking her head listened to the sounds of the family behind her. Why couldn’t my mom have been like her? No, Bitter anger welled up inside her. My momma turned Lys over to the enemy, and then she slept in his bed.

"It’s the only way. Querida. I have no other skill and your poppa owed him too much money. Your hermono will get much learning and be better off. Be happy for him."

She shook her head angrily. "No mama!" She spun away. "I hate him…they laugh at us…behind your back…and the things they do." Tears fell from her eyes. "I hate it. Please mama. Lets get Lys back and run away from here."

Her mother looked at her with saddened eyes. "I can’t."

She ran away, with her mother calling to her until her voice faded in the background.

She went back years later. Grown and wild. Her mother was dead. Her brother calling their father’s killer Uncle. Her blood boiled and she killed…tried to explain, but Lys wouldn’t listen. Tried to have her arrested…but the killing had been in a fair gun battle. She’d killed everyone he’d sent after her…until finally she just left. It was either that or kill him and she couldn’t do that. Now after all this time he’d sent another to hunt her down…why?

A movement roused her and she turned.

Solari paused at the edge of the porch. Looked up at the sky and smiled. "It seems so peaceful…and beautiful here."

"Looks are often deceiving." Cyrene replied.

"I know." Solari rubbed her face. "Are you okay?"

"Me?" Cyrene said suprised. "What do’ya mean? Nothing’s changed since before we ate."

"I don’t know." She shrugged. "You just seemed so.." She shrugged again leaning against the railing. "I can tell something is bothering you."

How can she see into me? I’ve only just met her…but it feels as though I’ve known her forever. I can’t stay and wait. Cyrene hardened her heart Solari wouldn’t like it, but she couldn’t hang around and wait. Too many could get hurt that way. "I’m going into town."

"You can’t!" Solari jumped. "They’ll kill you!" Her breath quickened. "Stay here…we’ll think of something."

"No." She shook her head. "I stay here. They’ll come back tomorrow- with more and some if not all of the kids will be killed. The boy for one…they don’t dare let him live." She looked with sick eyes at Solari. "We couldn’t win…I won’t let them suffer."

"Can I come with you?"

"No." Cyrene stepped forward, laid a hand on Solari’s arm. "If I don’t come back stay with them…Tobin will help you figure out the best thing to do."

"I don’t…" She sniffed. Her voice wavering. "Please come back to me."

"Don’t ask me to do the im-"

She cut her off. "Please." She pleaded. "I don’t want to be alone again."

Cyrene bowed her head in defeat. "Okay." She smiled. "I’ll come back." She bent down to look at the smaller woman eye to eye. "But you wait here."

Solari bit back her tears and nodded agreement. The older woman smiled, patting her reassuringly and headed for her horse.

Solari watched as Cyrene saddled, mounted and rode away. She waited but a minute before going to the corral, lifting her saddle and catching the tall black horse as if it were second nature, proceeded to saddle him. Silently she mounted and whirling her horse around followed the Hunter into town.

Cyrene rode swiftly towards the small town. With each passing mile her anger grew larger. Big men always thinking they had the right to ride rough over women and children. Damned if it was gonna happen again.

She was a tough looking figure by the time she reached the town. Her wind swept raven hair wet with sweat and streaked with dust. She rode straight up the middle of the street looking neither right or left. Men and women ran for cover. She reached the saloon and swung down lifting the rifle, she pushed through the swinging doors. Stopping just inside. She waited while her eyes adjusted to the dim light, before walking purposely up to the bar.

"Barkeep give me a double." She glared icily at the fat man behind the counter. "Tell me is there any honest men left in this two bit town?" She threw the drink down her throat and twirled around. Smiling wryly at the outraged faces that met hers. "I’ll tell you all this once. I’m here to rid this town of the Snakes that think they can run roughshod over honest families. If any of you scum are helping them this is your notice. Get out or I’ll kill you next time I see you."

"Mighty big words for one woman." A tall thin dark man stood in the back of the room. Three men stood beside him.

"Jake Halden?" She rolled her eyes. "About what I figured."

"This is my town." His smile was not pleasant. "And what I say goes." He nodded to his men and they moved forward.

She pushed herself away from the bar ands waited.

"You’ll die here."

"Perhaps." She sled depracatingly. "But if I do I’ll take you with me."

The door swung open and light shone in. A figure stepped through and all eyes except for Cyrene’s and Red’s moved to watch.

"I hope I’m not interrupting a private party?" He smiled in Cyrene’s direction, although his eyes remained cold. "Mam." Joe Ellis stood in the doorway, anger at his own inaction causing his stomach to rebel. He forced himself to remain impassive. "Can I be of some assistance?"

She ignored the rest of the room and stepped up to him. Her blue eyes sparkling with anger as she stopped, toe to toe with him. "Sheriff, I suggest you start doing your job…protect the innocent." She moved past him. He reached out to stop her. She whirled around. "Don’t touch me."

She stepped through the door, felt something strike her, and raising her rifle shot instinctively, hearing the thud of a body, and seeing people pouring out of the saloon. Another man with a gun in his hand - one from earlier in the day. She dropped the rifle and drew her pistol, feeling a second slug enter her body and firing. A second man went down and a third she half ran half stumbled for her horse grabbing the pommel and pulling herself up in agonizing pain her gun blasting all the time. Men shouting and dust flying she kicked her heels to the horse and whirled around racing for the border and struggling to stay conscious.

Solari heard the shots and urged her horse forward her heart pounding fearfully in her chest. She bit her lip to keep from screaming when she saw the horse coming toward her. The figure on it swaying and bouncing in an unnatural way. She urged her horse closer as Cyrene’s bay slowed and she saw the pale bloodied figure before her. "Oh gods, no!" She breathed. Reaching for the woman. Her head lolled unnaturally against the horses mane. She could her shouts behind them. "No time." She grabbed the rope and tied her friend into the saddle, grabbing her horses reins and remounting her own horse she aimed them towards the mountains. "We gotta get away…the caves…they’ll never find us there." She urged the horses onwards away from the town and the small ranch. Praying it wouldn’t be too late to save this strange woman.

She remembered things she’d read about tracking and turned the horses into the creek. Staying in the water for as long as she dared. "I gotta get to the caves…I can do this." Hearing a moan from the woman sprawled unconscious on the horse behind her she bit down on her lip. Oh Gaia please guide me.

She turned up a trail and rode into the woods. She made a turn off the main trail onto a small one. This looks familiar…yes that way. She sighed with relief as she recognized the area. She slid off her horse and walked to the wall of brush moving and poking until she found the opening to the cave. Quickly she went back and pulled the two horses through, untying and easing the unconscious woman to the ground.


Tobin stepped outside, looked towards the corral, and swore softly. He turned and stepped back inside. "When’s the last time you saw the girls?"

"Um…last night." Kelly stopped in the middle of flipping a hotcake. "Why? What’s wrong?"

"They’re gone." He swore. "I gotta find them." He whirled around.

"Wait." BJ hissed. He stood nervously by his chair. "If you go and those men come back…what’ll happen to us?"

BJ stared into Tobin’s eyes. Tobin looked at the ground, looked up and around at the family. "You’re right. Wherever they’ve gone I’m sure they’ll be back." He wet his lips. "We have to prepare for tonight’s visit."


Cyrene opened her eyes slowly. It hurt. She hurt all over. She winced. For an instant she lay still gathering the will to move. She lifted her head and instantly Solari was at her side.

"Don’t move." The girl’s wan face peered down at her. Her green eyes glittering as they roamed over her face. "You were hurt real bad."

Gingerly she touched her side. "How many hit me?"

"Three." Her voice shook. "One through your arm, one grazed your head and the third got you in the side."

"Did you get the bullet out?" She hissed at the pain.

Solari nodded her head quickly. "I know how to take care of wounds…I’ve learned a lot in the past months..." She swallowed. "…traveling with them." She smiled at the irony of it all. "It was good for something anyway."

"Lucky for me." Cyrene managed to say. Her mouth was dry and her head was swimming. "Water?"

"Oh," Solari clasped her mouth and whirled away. "I’m sorry. Here." She grabbed the skin and held it up to the woman’s mouth. "Careful."

Cyrene smiled weakly at the words and sipped slowly. "What about the Jessan’s?"

"I don’t know." She shrugged. "I followed you into town and found you as you fled." She averted her eyes. "I didn’t think we should go back so I brought you to the cave."

"Oh." She tried to look the woman in the eye but Solari refused to cooperate. "Thanks. I guess I owe ya."

Solari looked at that. "You’re not mad at me?"

"Under the circumstances how mad can I get?"

"Yeah?" She smiled. "Cool." She ducked her head back down. "I made some soup and I got coffee if you feel up to it?"

"Soup sounds great." Cyrene laid her head back down.


"But Joe why get involved now?" A blond haired man in a gamblers vest asked.

The Sheriff stared at the people that surrounded him. "We never should have let it get this far." He glared at the other people. "If that woman is right innocent people - people we’ve lived side by side with. Children your children have played with are going to be harmed. What kind of people would we be if we just stood by and let it happen?"

The men and women from moved uneasily. Those stranding shifting from foot to foot. The generalstore keeper’s wife spoke up. "The Jessan’s never did nobody any harm. Bill came by and helped us when my Ed was sick in bed. What has the Halden family ever did besides order us around?"

"They brought money to the town." An angry voice shouted from the back of the room.

"Yeah. We’ve all prospered since they came." Another responded.

"And our souls have died." The preacher said. "The Sheriff is right. The family has been a loyal member of our community and should not be persecuted in this manner."

"The woman who came to town." The barkeep strode forward. "She’s an evil one." He looked out at the crowd. "She’s known as the Hunter. She never cared if a person was on the side of right or wrong just how much they were willing to pay her."

"That so?" The Sheriff asked sharply.

"Yup." The fat man wiped the sweat form his brow. "I knew her in another town." He shook his head. "She burst into the saloon, called out two names and bang quicker than you could blink both those mean lay dead. She walked up to a third and held her hand out. He handed her an envelope. She walked out again…counting her money…I heard her say as she past through the doors. I always get my man."

The Sheriff drew his brow together thoughtfully. That didn’t sound quite like the woman he’d met…but that wasn’t important now. The Jessan family is what was important. "Never mind about her now…she was pretty hard hit. She’s probably dead." He took a deep breath. "We need to determine what to do about the Jessan’s and the Halden’s if we don’t want to be in the middle of a ranch war."

Someone snorted. "Hell of a small war. One female and a few kids against forty cowhands."

"Ya, as long as they keep it outta town who cares what they do?"

"Let’em fight it out and we stay clear."

"That’s the way the town wants it?" He looked disgusted.

"Most of the people present nodded. "Fine." He ripped his badge away from his shirt. "I quit." He turned and walked away.

"Joe?" Ed the storekeeper stood behind him. "I’d like to help."

"Get back with your wife…this isn’t for family men."

The preacher joined them on the sidewalk. "I tend to disagree." He smiled. "One of our families is involved. That makes it a family affair." He pulled a six-shooter out from under his black cloak and spun the cylinder.

"Preacher?" Joe looked shocked.

"I may be a preacher, but I was born a plain cowhand like the rest of you." He grinned. "May the Lord God protect the righteous and give unto us this day our enemy." He walked toward the stables. "Coming gents?"

"I wouldn’t miss this for anything." The Ex-Sheriff shook his head in wonder.


"Are we ready?" Tobin asked as Rosa and BJ returned to the yard.

"No." They spoke together. "Three men are coming It’s the sheriff and the preacher. They turned to face their mother. "And Mr. Stone from the store."

"Coming here?" She pursed her lips. "For what?" Fear caused her voice to rise.

Tobin stood up. "Get in the house." He ordered. "I’ll take care of this." He rushed them in and stood waiting at the edge of the porch.

"That’s far enough." He commanded as the men pulled into the yard.

He held his hands ready and there was steel in his voice.

"We’re not here to fight you." The ex sheriff spoke. "We want to see Kelly Jessan."

"You want her you’re gonna have to go through me." He snarled. Anger at the treatment this fine lady had been receiving from her neighbors causing him push for a fight.

"Listen. My name is Joe Ellis and I used to be the Sheriff, but I quit." He gestured at his companions. "We’re here to help."

"Why should I believe you?" He heard the door open behind him. "Miss get back inside. It could be a trick to draw you out."

"No." She smiled at her protector. "I grew up with Ed. He wouldn’t hurt me." She smiled at the men in the yard. "Won’t you get down?

We have coffee on."

"Thank you mam." He tipped his hat. "We appreciate the offer." All three men dismounted and carefully walked towards the unknown man that stared with outright hostility at them.

"Tobin." Kelly Jessan called to him. "Tobin, please…they mean well."

"If you say so mam." He nodded his head and stepped aside to let them enter and as they did he spoke loud enough for them to hear but not Mrs. Jessan. "And if they don’t they’re all dead men."


Solari moved silently through the cave. Cyrene slept peaceably now, but during the night she’d moved restlessly, moaning and talking in her feverish state in a way that when she woke, if she remembered Solari knew the strange hunter would be embarrassed. She set about building up the fire and setting the coffee to boil, humming unconsciously.

Cyrene woke in a panic. Long years of practice forcing her to remain still. That noise…her mother used to hum that…tears sprang to her eyes and she brushed them away angrily. Where? A flood of images hit her as she answered her own question. That fool kid had come after her. She coulda been killed! Anger flared. She forced the anger down…I’d be dead if she hadn’t returned, but she risked her life. Her life is worth so much more than mine. She shuddered.

Solari saw the shudder and ran to her side. "Oh no." She brushed the back of her hand against Cyrene’s forehead. "Still a little warm and I thought you were getting better." She talked to herself as she tucked her jacket around the sleeping woman. "I don’t know what else to do." She admitted her fear as she collapsed next to Cyrene.

Cyrene winced inward feeling guilty for hearing Solari’s private musings. She fluttered her eyelids and groaned.

"Oh." Solari leaned in closer. "You’re awake. How ya feeling?" Her green eyes bright with concern.

"A lot better than I have a right to." She gave the small woman a quirky little smile. "Thanks!"

"It’s what friends do…" She smiled and her whole face lit up like a bonfire. "take care of each other."

"Is that what we are?" Cyrene asked with wonder and trepidation. "Friends?"

"Yup." Solari said confidently, and then a stray fear entered her mind. She bit the inside of her lip. "Aren’t we?" Her eyes wide with fear as she stared into the vivid blue eyes of the hunter. Her heart skipped a beat and her blood flowed a little quicker.

Cyrene stared into verdant eyes flecked with gold and her heart jumped. She felt a chunk of the ice break off and melt in a sudden flash of fire. "Ya." She smiled. Her lips opening, uncurling like the petals of a rose and passion darkening her eyes. She felt giddy. "Friends."

Solari swallowed around a suddenly tight throat. Emotion threatening to overcome her common sense. She wanted to shout her joy. Instead she quietly asked, "Do you feel up to some coffee?"

Cyrene let out a breath. "I’d love some coffee." She wasn’t used to these sensitive talks…it left her feeling drained, but at peace. She watched with joy as her friend poured her a mug. Friend…she liked the sound of that.

Solari stood back as Cyrene pulled herself gingerly into a seating position. She handed her the mug and sat back to sip at her own. Content to wait for Cyrene to make a decision.

Cyrene sipped at her coffee as she assessed the damage to herself. Head slight ache. She rotated her arm and made a fist. Arm stiff. She flexed, wincing at the pain. Side sore. Damn…

Solari saw the wince. "You okay?"

"Ya." She bit back another wince as she stood to stretch her muscles. "Just a little stiff." No use worrying the kid.

Solar looked at her sharply. "You sure? You looked pretty bad to me."

"Na, just flesh wounds." She smiled. "I bet it bled like a stuck pig." Her eyes danced. "Don’t worry you did fine. ‘Sides, I’ve always been a fast healer." She moved slowly through a series of exercises.

Solari frowned. She’d never heard of anyone healing so quick, but…She tilted her head and looked straight at the woman, that others called Hunter, "If you say so."

Cyrene smiled. "How long was I outta it?"

"Not long. It was only last night…that you shot up the town."

"Good." She finished her coffee. "Then we have time to get back to the ranch." She reached for her weapons. Checked the sights and spun the barrels. A slight frown on her face. She looked up and caught the frightened almost embarrassed look on Solari’s face. "You?" She asked her surprise written on her face.

Solari nodded fearful that Cyrene would be mad.

Cyrene regarded the smaller woman intently. In the back of her mind ran the idea that she should be mad at the young woman. She never let anyone touch her weapons before. Finally she shook herself. "Thanks." She looked down as she settled the belt around her hips, tightening the belt and jiggling a little to adjust to the comforting feel. She’d done an excellent job of cleaning and reloading them. Wonder where she learned that particular art? She watched as the eyes lost that fearful looked, inside a sudden rush of warmth flooded her heart.

"You’re welcome." Solari said hesitantly, biting her lip and looking from under hooded eyes a slight smile on her face. Then before she could change her mind. "I don’t want you to go back there."

Cyrene frowned. "Why not?"

"I…" She looked down suddenly afraid.

Cyrene stepped closer and gently forced her to lift her head back up. Silently they stared at each other. Softly she repeated the question. "Why?"

Solari swallowed around a suddenly dry throat. "Because I’m afraid you’ll get shot."

"And?" Cyrene prompted the warmth of Solari’s chin burning her skin.

Eyes bright with unshed tears wavered uncertainly. Fear gripped Solari’s heart what if the hunter hated her? "I don’t want you hurt…or dead. I just found you." Tears spilled over and she tore her chin from Cyrene’s fingers.

Cyrene felt her heart leap. She cares. She really cares. Gradually she turned the smaller woman back. Gently she placed her hand under her chin and teased her into lifting her head. She smiled into the beautiful emerald eyes. "Found me?" Her smile widened as she felt the trembling beneath her fingers. "I didn’t realize I was lost."

Solari couldn’t tear her eyes away from the gentle, teasing, blue eyes. Her heart did a little pitter patter. "No?" She breathed the word.

Cyrene caressed her cheek. Felt the last of her ice slipping away. "No." Her smile reached her eyes. "At least I didn’t realize it until I met you."

Solari’s mouth opened in surprise, her eyes filled with a joy that threatened to overwhelm her.

Cyrene moved her fingers up to rub against the trembling, red lips. "Shh." She shook her head slightly. "Not a word." Hr blue eyes sparkled. "I have to go back," She rubbed her fingers along Solari’s cheek. "but you stay here. You’ll be safe here. And I’ll come back for you when it’s over."

"What?" Solari swallowed hard. "Stay here?" Her face fell. "Without you? I can’t!" Her eyes filled with tears. "What if? No, I’m going wherever you go."

"You are?" One eyebrow rose questioningly. "I thought you were afraid?"

"I am." She admitted. "But I’m afraid for you…not to fight…"

"Okay." She pulled the younger woman in close, gods but it felt good to have someone care. "We go together."


Ed and Kelly stood together watching as the sun began to set. "Bill loved this time of day." She said tears in her voice.

"I’m sorry." Ed said softly. "He was a good man. The town will miss him."

"Why?" Her eyes filled with the pain her heart had felt at the news of his death. "Why wouldn’t anyone help?"

"Fear." He shrugged. "It does funny things to people."

Together they watched as Tobin came outta the small barn. "He’s a good man."

"A killer." Ed replied.

"In the west how many aren’t?"

"Just be careful." Ed turned to watch her face. "I think he’ll leave with those two women when this is over."

"Really?" She asked thoughtfully. "So you think they’re alive?"

"I saw the damage she inflicted." He smiled and turned to go inside. "I wouldn’t count her dead unless I saw the dead body myself." Tobin stepped onto the porch. Ed tilted his hat. "Mam. I’ll be inside."

Tobin smiled wryly. "He doesn’t like me."

"True." She grinned. "But he doesn’t know you."

"Mam." He hesitated but a moment. "Truth is I’m not a good man. He’s right to distrust me. I’ve done things…you wouldn’t like."

She smiled. "What man hasn’t? It’s how you live today and in the future that matters. Not the past."

He returned her smile. "Thank you." He looked down and back up at her. "Don’t be alarmed and please don’t change your expression." He looked into her eyes. "Your enemies?" He nodded as if replying to her. "They’re here. Or at least some of them are here…hiding we’re surrounded." He grabbed her arm and turned her towards the house. "No, don’t look. Let’s go in."


The two moved slowly through the underbrush. Cyrene in front pushing the branches aside, guiding both horses with her movements.

Seeking the quickest route back to the ranch. Time past slowly until they reached an open trail. She moved to a trot. Solari automatically mimicking her move.

The young honey haired woman bit her lip worriedly. Fear rode her. A cold, clammy fear that stiffened her fingers and left her mouth dry and her stomach in turmoil. She’d never actually fired a weapon at anyone. Wasn’t sure she could. What if she failed the hunter. She winced at the twinge of pain she felt in the core of her being and gritted her teeth determined to stay with her friend til the bitter end.

Cyrene slowed down. Close to the ranch now. She drew in a deep breath. Oh but that hurt. Her whole body ached. Carefully she moved to the side of the rode and dismounted.

"Cy-" Solari started but stopped at the raised hand. Quietly she slipped off her horse and stood by the hunter’s side.

"Too late." Cyrene whispered. "A dozen horses past by here recently. It could only have been them."

"What do we do?"

The Hunter stood still. Her friend’s words echoing in he head. As once again the past reared.

"Please." The young raven haired child begged. "He’s just a little boy…leave him alone."

"No." The burley man that ramrodded her daddy’s place for the monster that had taken over her family turned and slapped her without a thought. "You were told, both of you were told what would happen if you disobeyed." He turned back and the whip descended again.

She leapt to her feet and two arms laughingly grabbed her. "Stay." A voice commanded in her ear. "Watch and learn." She tried to keep her eyes from the sight but the cries drew her and she looked.


The young boy turned toward her. "I’m sorry Cy…I tried I really did." The whip fell again and his scream filled the meadow.

"Cyrene?" A voice and a hand upon her shoulder brought her back. She failed then. She wouldn’t fail now. She shook the hand away. "I’m okay." Her voice was hard and cold. She refused to look at the younger woman, knowing it would be her undoing. Now was the time to let the hate fill her. She felt the power washing over her. Filling her soul and knew she could take on an army and win. "It’s time." She said, leaping onto her horse.

Solari swore and ran for her horse. The Hunter was already outta sight.


"Hello the house." Four men sat patiently in front of the ranch. "It’s time for you to leave. I want my property…now."

The Ex-Sheriff stepped outside. "Go away Jake." He placed his hands upon his hips. "I’ve seen the deed. Kelly is the rightful owner of this spread and you’re not welcome here."

"Really?" He grinned evilly. "And just who is going to stop me?" He pointed to the man on his left. "Bull here is the Sheriff now. Not you." He chuckled. "You gonna stop us? Don’t be foolish Joe. On your best day you couldn’t out shoot me.

"Maybe not." Joe smiled at himself. "But who says I have to?" He looked at Bull. "Bull, you get outta here…you’re a good man and I don’t want you to die here now."

Bull laughed. "No." He sat up in his saddle. "I don’t take orders form you anymore." His eyes glittered with an insane rage. "You always thought you were better than me…now I’m the Sheriff and you." He spit. "You’re a nobody."

Joe grimaced. So much for promises. Sorry Dan. He said silently. I tried to keep him safe, but there comes a time in every man’s life when he has to ride the horse he chose and Bull done chose the wrong horse. He turned back to the rancher. "Take your pets and get outta here." He nodded toward the ranch. "Even if you kill me they’ll get you. I can guarantee that at least four rifles are aimed at you."

Jake Halden scowled as his eyes raked the house. Rifles poked out of the windows. "You’ve signed your death warrant." He whirled his horse around and galloped away the other three men following.

The ex-sheriff opened the door and bullets began to fly. He dove through and rolled toward a window. He looked at the young boy who stood nearby a rifle poked through the window and grinned across at the Preacher. "I’d say they don’t waste no time."

"True." The Preacher laughed lightly. "And I believe the good Lord said to give an eye for en eye." He lifted his gun and let loose a few shots. "Yup. Gotta give them what they’re giving us."


Cyrene could hear the sounds of battle and anger spurred her on. She rounded a bend and could see the fighting. Men hidden from view by those trapped in the house firing, while others moved in closer. She drew her weapon, let out a loud battle cry and began shooting, her horse moving all the time, guided by her knees.

In the house Tobin smiled. "It’s the girls." He turned to the others. "Cover me. I’m going out there."

The Ex-Sheriff backed away from the small window he’d been shooting out. "Boy, you come here." He nodded at the window. "You see anyone peek their head out from behind those trees you shoot. Don’t worry about hitting them just keep them pinned down." He looked into the boy’s face. "Okay?" He smiled as the boy nodded. Turned and faced Tobin. "I’ll cover you."

Tobin smiled although it never reached his eyes. "Good. Stand back and just spray the doorway."

Tobin pushed the door open, before dropping to the ground and rolling through the door. Once outside he shimmied along the ground til he was undercover. Carefully he eased himself forwarded to a selected firing position. He peered along the rifle barrel, then stopped. The Hunter was in the yard and the sight took away his breath. Lyceus was wrong about her.

Solari raced behind her friend. Fear and wonder at the woman’s sudden race causing her heart to pound harder. She pulled into the yards amidst a rain of bullets and screams, and dove off her horse. Somersaulting to a halt behind a tree she flinched. "Oh. Hi boys. I didn’t realize this tree was taken. I’ll just find another." She made to leave.

"Oh no." The big ugly blonde reached for her arm.

She grabbed the only thing she could reach. A big branch. She swung it, startled by the loud crack it made as it landed on the man’s head, but that didn’t stop her from hanging on to it. The smaller, dirty balding man turned his gun on her, but she swung the branch again. The gun went flying. She crouched warily watching the man as he leaped into the air swearing and waving his hand. She flipped the branch in her hands, and rammed it at his stomach. He doubled over and she whacked his head. She smiled. Two down. She turned to watch the Hunter.

Cyrene was in berserker mode. Her yells filled the air. A strange eerie sound that reeked of death and the men’s hearts trembled with fear. A bullet tore through her shoulder and she dropped one weapon from suddenly numb fingers. She flipped off her horse, landing on one leg and rolling to the left. Fired at the man hiding behind the trough. A shot rang past her head and buried in another man. She laughed and rose from her crouched position, ignoring the pain in her shoulder, barely feeling it as another ripped through her side.

She whirled around, catching sight of a the dark skinned, thin faced weasel that had started this whole thing. "Halden!" She shouted. "You lousy coward." The battle stopped as her words penetrated. "Afraid to face me?" She waved her gun. "Come on. How about it? Just you and me! We solve this now. I die you win. You die everyone wins."

Silence filled the yard as the men and women waited for a reply.

Jake Halden cowered behind the rocks and looked into the eyes of hired guns. "It’s your job." He hissed.

Red Symes made a show of holstering his guns. "In this country when a man is called out it’s his battle." He rose to his feet and moved away from the rock. "I’ll fight no man’s battle for him."

Cyrene waited. Blood spilling from her wounds. She swayed. Her body ached and she fought to remove herself from the pain. That woman and her kids were depending on her. She had to do this. She was burning up inside. The old, driving recklessness was in her urging her forward.

Solari bit her lip in fear. Her eyes roamed the yard. Anger filled her heart as she saw a man raise a rifle. She ran and using the branch as a pole vaulted toward the unsuspecting gunman. "Not nice." She said as she landed, knocking him to the ground with a back swing of the branch. "I don’t like it when people don’t play nice." She stared with frosty green eyes at the men that remained.

Cyrene’s lips quirked up. "Thanks." She kept her eyes on the rock that Symes had backed away from. "So I was right." She taunted. "Coward…that’s all you are. A mean little coward…bet you used to hide behind your daddy’s pants." Her voice took on a whimsical tone. "Daddy that boy scares me. Daddy help he hit me. Daddy."

Jake Halden clenched his fists tightly. Anger blinding him to all but her taunting voice. Why was he crouching here? He was fast. He’d proved it many times. He rose. "You lousy bitch!" His lips curled in a snarl of mingled rage and fear. He stepped toward her, drawing his weapon as he moved.

She laughed, disarming him as her own hand whipped down and her gun leaped into her hand. Shots rang out. All heads whirled to see who went down. Many amazed as they saw Jake stagger, his shirt darkening with blood and a look of pure shock on his face.

And as he fell Cyrene felt her legs collapse. The world grew dark and she went down on her knees. She struggled to see. She heard a scream. Felt an arm around her. Her head clasped tightly. She fought to rise.

Solari slipped an arm around her waist. "Let me help you."

Cyrene whistled for Tors and the big horse came running. "Come on."

"What?" Solari’s mouth opened in surprise.

"They’ll be fine." Cyrene managed to say. "It’s time for us to be going."

‘But you’re in no condition to ride." She protested.

"I’ll manage." She struggled to get on the horse.

"Oh." Solari clenched her fists tightly, sighed exasperatingly and mounted her own horse.

Men came running to help the two women, but Cyrene waved them off. She looked at Red Symes and spoke with a strength that surprised all that stood there. "You have two days to get all your people together and clear out of town. If all the scum that was willing to help you aren’t gone by then I will be back and none will survive." Her eyes glittered icily.

"What makes you think I’m afraid of you?" Symes stood apart in the yard.

"If you’re not then shut up and draw." She snarled.

"You don’t scare mer, Hunter. Symes words rang out loudly against the silence. "And I’m not leaving." As he spoke his hand dropped to his gun.

Cyrene saw it. She reached. Both hands dropped…she felt the solid comfortable grasp of her guns her fingers tightened and she was firing. Red went flying backward and another man tried to draw. He went down. And then all was silent except for the ringing echoes of gunshots in the air.

Cyrene bit back a sigh as Tobin stepped up to her. He held out her hat. She jammed it onto her head and peered pout from beneath it’s rim. "It’s over." She glanced toward the house. "They’ll be safe now." She raked her eyes over the yard. Bodies littered the ground. The Sheriff held a burly young man in his arms. She moved past it back to Tobin. "Lys?"

Tobin looked down at the ground and raked his hand through his hair. "He’s a good man…runs the town with an iron fist but he’s fair." He risked a look at her iron hard face. "He looks like you."

"He should…he’s my brother." She ignored the pain and looked him in the eye. "You going back there?"


"If you do," She leaned down. "Never mind…" She shook her head and rode away. Solari following closely behind her.


Time passed slowly as the two made their way silently through the mountain trails. Solari noted with mild interest that they were heading back towards the caves they’d sheltered in not once, but twice.

She bit back a word of caution as Cyrene swayed in the saddle.

Her body ached and she fought to stay upright. If she wasn’t careful she’d be ripping open the wound in her side. Carefully she stuffed an old shirt inside to help sop up the blood and hold it closed until she…they got somewhere safe. She glanced back at Solari. The young woman was keeping up and staying silent. How could she explain her need to get away…it was too similar…too much like home had been so long ago. She shuddered. She was cold. That wasn’t good. They’d have to stop soon…but where.

Solari watched the older woman sway again. She sighed. Perhaps? "Hey," She called out wearily. Maybe I can play on her sympathy. "Have we gone far enough yet? I’m really beat."

Cyrene reined in her horse and turned to face the younger woman. She read her face carefully. She did look beat. And it wouldn’t hurt to rest myself. "Ya, we can stop. As soon as I can find a good place to camp."

"Ahm," She hesitated, but at Cyrene’s questing look, "What about the cave?"

"The cave?" Cyrene replied shocked and looked around. I really am in trouble…I didn’t even realize…she shook her head. Must have been subconsciously wanting to come back here. She grinned despite her exhaustion. "Good idea." She pointed her horse towards the caverns.

They walked the horses into the cave and Solari suggested Cyrene get a fire going while she took care of the horses. Cyrene started to protest, but one look at Solari’s angry face and the lancing pain from her wound and her throbbing head convinced her to do as the younger woman asked.

Solari smiled surprised that Cyrene had listened to her. She took her time rubbing down the horses and feeding them. Turning she took in the sight of the hunter slumped again the cave wall a small fire casting an uncanny glow along her body. She stood uncertainly across from the woman. "Hey?" The blue eyes blinked open. "You okay?’

She heard the words as though from a distance and forced herself to keep her eyes open. So tired. She sat back up, and her head screamed a protest. "Ya. I’m fine."

"Let me check your wounds." Solari ordered. And at the raised eyebrow, "Please." She spread their sleeping gear. "Lay down and I’ll clean you up." She put a pan of water on the fire.

"Doesn’t this hurt?" She asked peeling the blood-soaked and dried cloth away from her side, trying not to wince at the mess.

And much as the hunter tried to ignore it she had to admit it hurt. Her head throbbed in time with the ache in her side. "Yes." She gritted her teeth.

"Then why don’t you yell or something. It might make you feel good."

"It isn’t going to do me any good to howl, much as I’d like to." She grinned and winced at the pain it caused. Despite the pain she was enjoying the feel of the girl’s hands on her skin. She had a very gentle touch and despite her weakness she found herself becoming aroused by it. She forced her thoughts away from that area and concentrated on what Solari was saying.

Solari carefully cleaned the wound. "The bullet went clear through." She bandaged the side and moved on to Cyrene’s head. "Oh, this isn’t too bad it just glanced along the top." She washed off the blood and sprinkled some herbs onto it. "Now that’s all set let me get you some tea. She rummaged in the saddlebags.

"Why?" Cyrene finally asked as she watched Solari.

Solari’s hand shook slightly at the question and she spilled a bit of the tea as she turned and handed it to Cyrene. "Why what?" She asked innocently.

"Why come with me?" Blue eyes probed a solemn face. "You could have stayed. They liked you…liked your stories…you coulda become a schoolmarm."

"We both could have stayed." She replied.

"No." She sipped her tea. "I have too much to make up for…besides I’m not what most towns would call a proper woman…and I won’t change for anyone."

Solari smiled. "I think you’re fine just as you are."

"You do?"

She nodded. "Oh ya…now you get some rest."

Cyrene laid her head back down. She wanted to question Solari some more, but she was tired…and her side hurt. So did her head. Maybe she shouldn’t sleep. She struggled to rise.

"What are you doing?" Solari rushed to her side.

"I shouldn’t sleep." Solari was trying to push her down. She wanted to fight but was afraid of hurting the girl. "It’s too dangerous."

"No, it’s not." Solari tried to soothe her. "Trust me." Her voice was low and melodic. "The wound isn’t that bad. Besides I’ll be right here…watching you."

She sounded so sincere…maybe she could trust her. She yawned. Besides she really was so very tired. She gave up the battle and laid her head back down. "If I run a fever-"

"I know." Solari said reassuringly. "Don’t worry…I’ll be right here."

Strangely comforted by that thought Cyrene let herself drift off to sleep.

Solari spent the early evening mending the Hunter’s shirt and preparing a thick stew. She hummed softly to herself as she once again checked on the wounded warrior. She grinned to herself. "Warrior huh? Wonder how she’d react to that title? I sure like it better than Hunter." She laid her hand upon the woman’s brow. "Tch." She clucked. "A wee bit hot. Time for some cool clothes."

Solari eyes were full of tears. She held a wet clothe to Cyrene’s damp forehead. Her face looked drawn and tired. "Come on." She urged the woman. "Wake up for me." She lowered the clothe and held a mug to the parched lips. "There you go. Just a couple of sips. Easy does it." She sighed as the liquid went down smoothly. She’d been at it all night. Dawn was coming and with it she was hoping the fever would break.

Solari waited all through the morning. Bathing the hunter’s hot forehead and murmuring soothingly whenever she cried out. Around noon the fever broke. A little while later she watched as eyelids fluttered.

Cyrene looked through bruised eyes. "You stayed."

Solari frowned. "Of course I stayed." She placed her hand upon her brow. "It’s cool now. How do you feel?"

"Like I been stomped on by a dozen steers." She quirked her lips. "How bad is it?"

"You’ve lost a lot of blood but everything cleaned up nicely." She smiled. "And if last time is any indication you’ll be up and about by nightfall."

"Ha." She drew a breath in pain. "Last time was necessary. This time I think I’ll lie here a little longer and let you wait on me."

"I’m glad." Solari’s eyes glittered with relief.

"Really?" One brow raised and her lips twisted in a quirky little smile. "Like waiting on people do you?"

"No." She lowered her eyes, suddenly afraid again. "Just you - not people in general."

"Oh." That took the sail out of her wind. She sat back shocked by the girl’s truthful answer. Staring wide-eyed in wonder. Her lips suddenly parched beyond reason and her throat tight. "Just me?" She repeated. And as Solari nodded a smile burst through. "I’m glad." She breathed the words. Solari’s head snapped up and she continued. "I don’t normally like being waited on, but I love it with you."

"Really?" Solari’s eyes were wide. She realized that they’d moved past the topic of serving. She wet her lips. Feeling deep blue eyes burning into her with a passion that couldn’t be denied.

Cyrene unconsciously mimicked Solari’s movements. Her tongue coming out and wetting the tip of her mouth sensuously. Her breath quickened and she forgot about her wounds.

Solari made a move to stand up half afraid of the sudden urges she was feeling.

Cyrene reached out and grabbed her hands and slowly, quite deliberately drew her towards herself. She looked into orbs of the prettiest green and her eyes lit with a warmth she’d never felt before. "Do you feel it?" She whispered. Her hot breath fanning the younger woman’s face, blowing her hair back like a summer’s breeze. "Your heart has laid claim to my soul." She moved her left hand up the girl’s arm and drew her down.

Solari landed on her knees between Cyrene’s legs. Her eyes never left the older woman’s face. Her heart beat faster and tears were in her eyes. She shook whether from fear or anticipation she couldn’t have said. "I." She swallowed and a single finger caressed her lips.

"Shh." Blue eyes held her captive. "Let me." She lowered her head. Held her lips just above Solari’s and hesitated. Her eyes seeking the warm green ones. She grinned as the owner of those misty green eyes closed them and leaned into her, closing the slight distance between their lips. She chuckled low in her throat, as she lay claim to lips that tasted like fresh spring grass. Her hands slid around the tiny waist and she lifted the girl up into her lap despite the stretching complaint of her wounds. She deepened the kiss and Solari moaned. She pulled back, brushing the hair out of her love’s face.

Solari looked at her with eyes full of both wonder and fear.

Fear? Cyrene pulled back. How the hell could I have been so wrong? She didn’t want this. She bit back her anger. Once again I’ve ruined everything. No way the kid is gonna wanna stick by me now. Dropped her hands away from the girl. "I’m sorry." She said tersely. "I’ll take you back to the town tomorrow. You can forget you ever met me." Her breathing was ragged. She fought for control. In the past she would have just taken what she wanted, but not anymore. Never with her…

Solari could hardly think straight let alone speak. I knew it. They were right I am flawed. She doesn’t want me. One kiss was enough to let her know. "No." She pleaded. Tears welling up in her eyes. "Not again…please don’t throw me away." She sniffed. "I’ll improve. I promise…whatever you want of me…I - " She broke off as the tears came down. She ran to the far corner of the cave. She doesn’t want me. Her anguish threatened to tear her heart from her body and she collapsed in a heap on the floor.

Cyrene rose uncertainly. Wanting to comfort her but knowing she was the cause of the girl’s pain. These were new and strange feelings for her. Slowly she walked to her and crouched by her side. She reached out a hand and let it fall to her thigh. "Hey, I’m sorry." She tried to look at her, but Solari refused to lift her eyes. "Look I obviously read something in your face that wasn’t there. It’s no big deal…I won’t touch you again…I promise." She shrugged. "What do I have to do so you won’t be afraid of me?"

Solari sniffed. "Afraid?" She breathed deep. "I’m not afraid of you. How could I be?" She shook her head. "You saved my life…I can never repay you." She looked at her shaking hands. "I’m just sorry I can’t be what you want."

Cyrene bit back her desire to cradle the small woman in her arms. "It’s okay." She smiled sadly. "You don’t have to be what I want." She tried to keep her voice low, her words reassuring, whether for herself or Solari she wasn’t sure. "I understand…and I don’t mind. We can still be friends. I can live with it…can you?" Inwardly she cringed, somehow knowing that she could never touch another in love again. This precious woman was the only one she’d ever want and she was untouchable. "Can’t we still be friends?"

"After knowing what I am you still want to be friends?" Solari looked up now. Her face a mess; eyes swollen and red, nostrils dripping and cheeks all blotchy from her tears.

"What you are?" Cyrene wiped away a tear, resting her hand along the side of Solari’s face. "Since when is it wrong to be straight?" She laughed at the irony of it. "Sweetheart. Most people consider my kind flawed and want nothing to do with us…not women who like men."

Solari twisted her head and ran a hand through her hair. "But I don’t like men." She protested. "They’re hairy and loud and hurtful and…" She started to hyperventilate, the memories of their hands on her body and them moving within her overwhelming.

"Hey." Cyrene moved forward now and gingerly wrapped her arms around the girl. "What’s going on? Take it easy. Breath slowly." She talked quietly trying to ease Solari’s fears. The girl clung to her. "Those men, they hurt you didn’t they?" She cradled the girl closer. "Those bastards." Solari’s body shook with tears. "Hush." She murmured and hummed to the girl trying to clam her down and gradually it worked. "You know just because they hurt you doesn’t meant there isn’t a good man out there waiting for you. One that will take the pain of t hem away from you."

"No." Solari shuddered at the thought. Even knowing she’s trying to find a way to pawn me off on someone else. "Don’t send me away. I’ll do whatever you want." She pleaded again.

"Hush." Cyrene looked down at the precious face. "Don’t worry. You can do whatever you want…I’ll make sure of that I promise." She gently caressed the girl’s cheek, keeping her wrapped in her embrace.

Solari lay comfortably in Cyrene’s arms. Cradled in the warmth and protectiveness in a way that made the smaller woman feel like a beloved child. If only it could stay this way. She sighed contentedly and snuggled closer.

Cyrene tensed. The girl was sending her mixed signals and she wasn’t sure how to deal with it. Oh, but it felt good to hold her safe. Maybe this would be enough. And what did she mean she didn’t like men? That had to be a reaction from having them touch her. She couldn’t lose her…not now…gotta find a way to make her want to stay. She swore softly. No I can’t do that. She’d be better off without me.

Cyrene waited uneasily, but Solari never moved. Instead she fell asleep. Poor kid. She brushed back a strand of the red-gold hair and smiled down at her love. Here in the darkness of the cave, with no one not even Solari to see, she could admit it…she loved her. She sighed. No doubt the kid was exhausted from caring for her. She braced herself against the ache of her wounds and rose with Solari still cradled gently against her chest. She managed to make it to the bedrolls and lay her precious burden down, smoothing the furrowed brow and tenderly brushing her hair back tucking it lovingly behind an ear. Tired and aching herself she lay back down and soon drifted off to sleep.

When she woke Solari was still sleeping. She lay still listening to the noises. Normal, all fine. She decided to enjoy the luxury of taking her time about fully waking up. There was no hurry; she certainly wasn’t going any where. Especially with her young friend tucked up against her. She only hoped Solari wouldn’t freak out when she realized they’d slept entwined in each other’s arms. Maybe if she was careful she could free herself without waking Solari up.

Slowly she extracadited herself. Moving gingerly. She was one long ache. From the tips of her toes to the top of her head. Today would be a good day for a long soak in that hot spring. She grinned in spite of her sores. Perhaps I can entice Solari into joining me. As if the woman heard her thoughts Solari opened her eyes. Cyrene smiled.

Solari blinked sleepily. She felt eyes upon her and turned to stare openly at a smiling Cyrene, who was laying next to her propped on one elbow.

"Good morning." Cyrene smiled tentatively, unsure of how Solari would react after the events of the past night.

"Hi." Solari whispered shyly. "Um…I just want to say thank you for taking care of me."

"Me?" She laughed. "You’re the one that saved my life not once, but twice. I owe you."

Her smile was gentle and filled Solari with a sudden warmth. "Yeah, I did didn’t I?" She said shyly, throwing the blanket back and running a hand through her hair, grimacing at the feel of it. "Ugh. I feel filthy."

"That’s easily remedied." Cyrene rose to her feet and padded silently over to the saddlebags where she rummaged for a few minutes. Turning around she threw a careless smile toward Solari. "You coming?"

"Coming?" Solari sat puzzled. "Where?" She looked around the small cave and wondered if the tall woman had bumped her head once too often.

Cyrene grinned. "Come on." She nodded toward the back of the cave. "I’ll show you." She walked rapidly to the back of the cave and Solari followed warily. Placing her bundle down. The raven haired hunter braced her legs and rolled a large boulder to the side. Turning in triumph Cyrene smiled at the sight before her. Solari stood with a look of dumbfounded surprise etched onto her face. "After you." The hunter waved a hand toward the newly revealed opening in the wall.

"B…but how?" Solari began then laughter bubbled up from her throat. "Nevermind…you placed the boulder there. Right?"

Cyrene nodded and pushed the girl through the opening. "Didn’t want to share this with anyone." She whispered in the girl’s ear.

Solari stood spellbound by the sight that filled her eyes. The hidden room held a wonderful pool. There was a small ledge, where one could rest. And a stream that carried the water away. A metallic tang filled the air and steam wafted toward the ceiling. A slight breeze carried it up and out through a small hole in the ceiling. Cyrene pushed the younger woman playfully. "It’s wonderful." Solari looked up at the hunter with bright smiling eyes. "Thank-you for sharing it with me."

She chuckled. "My pleasure." She felt young again. The only way this could have been better was if Solari loved her the same way she loved the smaller woman. She faltered. Her smile slipped.

What is it?" Solari reached out and slid an arm around her waist. "Your injuries?" She shook her head. "I knew you got up too soon."

"No." Cyrene protested, but stayed in the circle of her arms. "I’m fine." She smiled reveling in Solari’s actions But the feeling didn’t last. She remembered her rejection and stepped away. "Lets get in the water now."

Self conscious Solari averted her eyes and quickly removed her clothes, slipping into the water in a rush. It was wonderful, the water was hot, but comfortable and she relaxed into it with a smile. Her eyes closing involuntarily as the water lapped lovingly around her flesh.

Cyrene watched with an inward smile as Solari slipped into the water. She really was beautiful. She eased herself out of her shirt and removed the bandage from her side. She took a moment to probe the wound. The kid had done a good job. She quickly removed the rest of her clothes and stepped into the pool. She closed her eyes and sat back, deliberately emptying her mind, and enjoying the heat as it removed the aches from her long abused body. Waves lapped against her side. The smaller woman was moving in the water. She opened her eyes as she sensed Solari approaching her.

She changed her position so she was sitting with her back against the edge of the pool and quickly reached behind her for the soap she’d placed there. Solari had paused in the middle of the pool. She smiled. "Come’ere." She called the girl closer. "I’ll wash your hair and your back, if you’ll do mine."

"Deal." Solari’s eyes lit up and she continued walking toward the resting woman, stopping as she reached her.

Cyrene motioned for her to turn around and she complied a little nervously. She’d never taken a bath with anyone. Cyrene knelt in the water so she could more easily reach Solari’s back. She soaped up her hands and slowly rubbed them up and down the girl’s back. She forced herself to breath normally. Perhaps this wasn’t a wise idea. The skin beneath her fingers was smooth and warm, flawless and soft. She pulled her hand away. "Okay." She swallowed hard. "Duck." She placed a hand lightly on the girl’s head.

Solari chuckled softly. This was fun. She could get used to this. She slipped under the water and came up smiling, water streaming down her head She shook her head slightly to get the hair out of her eyes, and whipping it in Cyrene’s face at the same time.

"Hey watch that." Cyrene laughed and grabbing the offending hair began soaping it up. At first roughly, but gradually turning it into a sensuous massage. Carefully she tilted the girl’s head back, and Solari closed her eyes. Holding her in her arms Cyrene gently lowered her till she lay in the water, and cupping her hand began dribbling the water over Solari’s head rinsing the suds out slowly. Her eyes began to wonder the beloved face. Imagining kissing each and every spot. The high cheekbones, the fine eyebrows, the long lashes, and the full red lips, her heart quickened.

Solari lay quietly in Cyrene’s arms. How can she do this to me and not want me. Tears of frustration stung her eyes and she bit her lip to stop from crying out. Her eyes flew open and she found herself staring into deep sapphire eyes. Eyes moist with a deep longing and her heart spasmed at the flash of emotion she saw. She opened her mouth. "Please." She begged.

Cyrene gasped and almost dropped the woman. She quickly sat her up and let go, turning away.

"Please." Solari repeated reaching out a hand and stopping her from leaving. "Stay with me…help me." Her words tumbled over each other. "Just hold me."

"You don’t know what you’re asking." She responded angrily pulling away from the girl.

"But I do." She protested. "I know you don’t want me, but can’t you pretend for a little while?" She felt herself blush, but she needed at least one good memory. "Please."

Cyrene turned to face Solari. "Not want you?" She spoke slowly, questioningly. "Whatever gave you that idea?" She stepped forward. "How can you think that? My god you’re beautiful, you’re smart, and loving, and everything I can imagine ever wanting in my life." She stood towering over the smaller woman. Water pouring off her slick body, and her eyes flashing with passion, droplets of water falling off her eyelids, and dripping down her cheeks. "But last night you backed away…let me know with one look that the mere idea of my kisses had you shaking in your boots." She tore her eyes away. "I don’t go where I’m not wanted. So stop playing games with me."

"But I do want you." Solari replied confusion etched on her face. She reached out, catching her wrist again before she could get out of the water. "I do!" She insisted. Her eyes searching Cyrene’s face.

Cyrene shook her head violently and refused to look at her. "I saw the fear."

"Please-look at me!" She pleaded, pouring her heart into the moment. "I want you-it wasn’t your kisses I was afraid of." Her voice shook and she bit her lip. "It’s me - I’m no good!" She cried. "I was ashamed." Her tears fell. "I didn’t want you to know that I was no good."

"No good?" Cyrene turned back. "How could you think that you were no good?"

"They told me often enough." She hung her head. "They said I better keep my mouth shut when we got to the fields. They said they’d be lucky to get enough to pay for my keep I was so bad."

Cyrene listened with astonishment. And as the realization of what she was hearing hit her, her face hardened. Anger suffused through her body. She clenched her fists and now the girl did draw back, biting her lip in fearful confusion Solari started to turn away.

"No. Don’t go." Cyrene held an arm out and Solari fell into her embrace. She carefully wrapped her arms around the young woman and murmured into her hair. "It wasn’t you. It was them. Nothing is wrong with you. Trust me." She pulled back and looked into trembling green eyes. "And I’ll trust you."

She cupped Solari’s face between her strong hands, and gently brushed the tears away with hesitant fingers. She stared deeply into Solari’s eyes for so long and so searchingly that Solari thought she must surely be reading from her soul. Solari held her gaze willing her own eyes say that she meant what she said and that she trusted Cyrene. Finally Cyrene nodded and tilting her head claimed the trembling lips for herself.

Time seemed to stand still. Solari melted into the hunter’s arms as though it were the most natural of places for her to rest. It felt like she was coming home. The heat of the water faded away as the heat of the hunter’s body filled her.

Cyrene gasped as their lips met. It was like dry tinder being touched to a flame. She was burning with need. She molded the smaller woman closer to her. Fire. It was like a prairie fire burning out of control. Her hands moved restlessly up and down Solari’s back pressing the smaller woman ever closer. Solari’s kisses were like honey. Her lips greedy on hers. Her tongue slipping inside without hesitancy. She felt her hands inch up her back and curl around her shoulders. Familiar. It felt as though they had done this a thousand times before. She pulled the smaller woman up into her, stepping into the flames with no more thought. Letting the fire carry her where it would.

Minutes later she lifted her head and eyes dark with passion bore into hers. Solari touched her finger to Cyrene’s lips wonder in her eyes. Cyrene reached out and nipped at the finger.

In a voice trembling with emotion and eyes smoldering with unspent passion Cyrene caught and held Solari still. "If that didn’t show you that there is nothing wrong with you I don’t know what would." She wet parched lips, and lifted the smaller woman out of the water, cradling her in her arms. She walked deliberately not watching where she moved. "I want you."

Her breath backed up into her throat. Her heart was pounding so loud she was surprised that Cyrene didn’t say something about it. "I…" She couldn’t say it instead she grabbed her head and entwining her fingers in the tangled hair drew the hunter’s lips back into touching distance.

Cyrene almost missed a step then. The connecting lips causing the fire to flare out of control. She collapsed to her knees, clasping the smaller form tightly against her chest as she fell. With shaking hands she gently laid Solari down, thankful for the sandy ground. She pulled back.

Solari protested and tightened her grip around the muscular neck. "Want you…" She said throatily. Her tongue licking the side off Cyrene’s ear.

Cyrene shuddered. "Are you sure?" She caressed her cheek. "I don’t want to do anything you don’t want." She rubbed her thumb along the trembling jawline. "You don’t have to do this to stay with me."

Solari grasped her hand and kissed the knuckles. "I’m sure." Her voice shook slightly. Inside a slight fear remained. What if she couldn’t satisfy the hunter? Her breath quickened.

A soft smile curled around Cyrene’s face. She played with hair that glinted with a touch of fire. She rose to her feet pulling the girl up with her. "I will not take you like two dogs in heat." She ran her hands over the lithe body that was pressed up against her. Stepping back she admired the view. "Wait." Her eyes danced with joy. "I’ll be right back." She stepped away from the smaller woman and immediately felt cold.

She grinned openly as Solari closed the small space and laid her head upon her naked chest. Don’t leave me alone." Solari said her breath caressing the side of her breast.

"I was going to come right back." Laughter bubbled up in her throat and a shudder ran through her body. She bent and recaptured the swollen red lips that reminded her of honey. The fire flared again. Her intent to make a comfortable bed for them to lay in forgotten as together they fell back to the ground. Passion robbing them of the desire for softness.

Solari was aware of nothing but the feel of rough hands grazing her soft skin. Her heated blood churning as a moan escaped from her throat. Needs clamored through her inner most self, bursting free as Cyrene nibbled her way down her jawline. She tilted her head to allow freer access to her neck. She pressed the beloved head tightly to the swollen tips off her straining bosom. Her moans growing larger as the hunter suckled like a baby. She turned her eyes to look upon the beloved figure and winced openly at the wound that greeted her eyes. Gingerly she touched her lover’s wounded head. "Does it hurt?" She questioned softly.

"A bit." Admitted the hunter. Before moving to claim her other breast. Her hand curling around the first breast claiming ownership.

Hesitantly Solari lowered her head until she could reach the dark woman’s head. Softly she began kissing the wounded area and murmuring words of love. Encouraged by the slight moan she moved further down the perfectly sculpted body, licking and nibbling in an increasing frenzy.

Cyrene reached down and pulled until Solari came shimmying up her body. They kissed, Solari pressing herself tightly against the dark woman. Cyrene moaned. Her heart was hammering in her chest and she forced herself to take a deep breath, to go slowly. For both their sakes.

She sent her hands threading through Solari’s beautiful burnished hair, letting the strands fall back in a cloud to frame her lovely face. Her fingers traced the features of her face. She skimmed along a silken eyebrow, across the bridge of her small nose, along her cheeks, and circling her stubborn chin.

It was so easy. They fell into a pattern of loving and sharing that felt as though they’d been doing it for years. It was wonderful to feel her body come alive under Cyrene’s touch. Her heart beat furiously. Her skin quivered as Cyrene took her mouth on a journey of her skin. She arched and bucked under the skillful handling of her raven haired lover. She clenched the raven head tightly as she felt long fingers move within her. She cried out in ecstasy as the first powerful wave took her. Her eyes closed in acute pleasure and she screamed out her lover’s name.

Cyrene watched the expressive face as Solari let go. The sheer joy of her love’s happiness causing a rush of warmth to flood her own body and she buried her face in the softness of her love’s bosom. A slight movement made her look up.

Solari lay with an expectant smile playing along her lips, lips slightly swollen from Cyrene’s kisses. Their eyes locked and Cyrene’s mouth dropped open at the depth of the love she saw staring back at her from moist eyes of emerald.

"My turn." She breathed. "Please let me give to you what pleasure you have given to me." When the Hunter made no move to stop her she renewed her assault. Solari swallowed around a dry throat and licking parched lips ran her hand along the hunter’s rib cage before moving lower, wriggling her way down the hard, lean body. Her hands circled around to her back and she moved even lower. Her fingers dancing lightly over the sunburned skinned and her mouth dipping in to taste every bit of exposed skin she could find. She rested her head along a muscular thigh. Her hand playing in the dark curls that lay between Cyrene’s legs. The heavy moistness pulsing beneath her hand in tandem with her own inner ache. She slowly inserted one finger, then a second into the dark cavern and bringing her mouth closer licked at the swollen entrance. Then she lost herself in the taste. Sucking and nibbling at the hard little nub. She felt the hunter grasp her shoulders in a strangling hold, heard the scream rip forth from her throat and hung on as Cyrene tumbled from high above the Earth to land safely in her arms. She whispered words of love and joy cuddling in as close as possible, until the both of them drifted off to sleep.

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