Chapter Nine

Remorse

"Never part without loving words to think of during your absence. It maybe that you will not meet again in this life."- Jean Paul Richter

 

"Hey." Dusty tried to say casually, she was all too glad to be home again. Home?

Alex looked up. "Hey. Randy give you anymore trouble?"

"Nothing I couldn't handle." Dusty mumbled. Then clearer, she said, "I put the paint in the pantry. Read over the labels too. All of them say it's too cold to paint now."

Alex sighed and shut off the computer monitor. "I kinda figured."

"So, what now?" What excuse do I have to stay? Dusty slid down onto the edge of Alex's bed.

"Dinner?" Alex stood and stretched, cracking and popping her spine back into place. "Damn, I'm getting old." She groaned.

Dusty just smirked, taking the rare opportunity to study the young woman's lithe form as she shuffled papers and put away pens.

Light golden hair fell to strong shoulders and Dusty wanted nothing more then to touch the silky smooth strands. To run them through her fingers, breath deep Alex's scent of lilac's and hay...

"Dusty?" Alex waved her hand in front of fixed blue eyes.

"Ah hmm?" Dusty blinked and looked into familiar greens eyes that were on level with her own.

"Dinner?" You up for some?" Alex asked with a gentle smile. She wanted to reach out a hand and touch Dusty's cheek. And her hand was halfway there before she realized it. She turned abruptly, startling dust bunnies, and headed to the kitchen.

 

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Alex was quiet all through dinner and Dusty was worried that somehow she'd done something wrong, offended Alex in some way.

Between bites of spaghetti she glanced over, occasionally bumping eyes with Alex. She would turn quickly away, trying to hide the blush that heated her face each time Dusty caught her staring.

Neither could come up with something brilliant or clever to lighten the mood. Clean up was the clanking of china, pots and pans, till Dusty asked Alex if she'd like help. Alex politely declined the offer of help. Washing dishes was something people had to be close together to do and she didn't think she could resist the urge to touch Dusty any more.

So Dusty retired to her room.

A short time later Alex wondered the halls, wishing Dusty's door wasn't closed, and they were sharing hot cocoa and laughter by the fire, or watching TV together on the couch.

She stepped into the cold darkness of the front porch, once again brushing off that uneasy feeling, and trudged through the snow to the woodpile. Alex gathered a large bundle and headed to Dusty's room.

Tentatively she knocked on the door.

"Come in."

Dusty's deep, warm voice made her knees turn to Jell-O. Alex juggled the pile of wood around until she had a hand free to unlatch the door. Then unceremoniously she turned and thumped the door open with her butt.

Dusty rose gracefully on her long legs and took most of the wood form Alex's arms. Their fingers brushed, but beneath the beat of a small radio the electricity couldn't be heard.

Alex couldn't help but notice that Dusty's legs were bare beneath flannel boxers, and that she looked unbelievably cute in an oversized NAVY sweatshirt.

Warmth spread through her belly and down her thighs, and hastily she tore her eyes away.

"Thanks for the firewood. Thought I'd have to put on some long johns to stay warm." Dusty grinned, revealing perfectly white teeth.

Mmmm. "We wouldn't want you running around in long johns, now would we?" Alex nearly choked. Am I flirting with her?

"Bet you've already got on a pair." Dusty winked, settling onto the edge of the bed.

Is she flirting back? Alex began to blush before she realized this was exactly what she wanted. What she'd come to enjoy. This casual, light hearted flirtation. "Anyway I hope I didn't interrupt anything?" She waved to the stack of papers on the narrow table, glancing around the room as she did so. The room looked completely different now with the bed, bench, table and chair. It felt warmer, lived in. Alex regretted the day it would be empty and Dusty would be gone.

Unexpected tears gathered at the corners of her eyes, threatening to fall and humiliate her. Alex quickly lost her smile.

"Hey," Dusty stood, startled at the drastic change. "Are you alright?"

"I- I don't want you to leave." Alex stuttered. Oh god... She turned abruptly to leave but a strong, warm hand grasped her shoulder. She shivered at the contact but didn't break away.

Dusty turned the young woman to face her and gently cupped Alex's chin in one hand. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing." Alex didn't move as Dusty's thumb unconsciously caressed her cheek.

Dusty realized what she was doing and began to withdraw her hand, but Alex reached out and covered Dusty's hand with her own, leaving it's warmth against her cheek.

"Kiss me?" Alex whispered, heart beating rapidly.

Dusty's eyebrows rocketed up under her bangs. Her lips parted around a startled gasp. "Alex," she breathed, "do you realize what you're asking?"

"I- I- " Alex stammered, "I don't want you to leave me."

"And you want me to kiss you?" Dusty asked, not sure she could trust this unexpected turn of events.

"I thought that if we... um... you wouldn't want to leave." Alex looked, shamefaced, at the floor.

"Do you want to do something that could forever ruin our friendship?"

"No." Alex whispered. "It wouldn't ruin our friendship. Don't you feel it?" Alex wondered.

"It?"

"T- T- there... something's happened.." Alex looked into Dusty's eyes, seeing the past, the present and the future all summed up in one word. Soulmates.

Dusty refused to look, to see the truth, even though she knew it in her heart. "Just because you miss your husband, and I haven't had... ah, shit... doesn't mean we should-" Dusty choked on those hasty words as Alex's face flushed red with anger. Shit, now I've done it.

"I am not lonely!" The young woman yelled. "And I am not desperate. I thought you were feeling the same things I was, but obviously I was wrong." Those last bitter words said she stormed out of the room and down the hall.

"Wait! Alex!" Dusty cried, jogging after her. "Let's talk about this."

"No." Alex stomped into her boots and shrugged on her coat. "No talking. If you want to leave, I'll understand." She didn't look back as she ran off the porch and across the snow covered ground.

"I don't want to leave." Dusty murmured, sadly. "Gods above. What have I done?"

 

 

 

Chapter Ten

The Unknown

"When you come to the edge of the light you know, and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith in knowing that one of two things will happen: There will be something solid to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly."- Barbara J. Winter

 

Alex vaulted off the fence onto Jack. Goddamn, how could I have been so stupid?

Jack's restlessness had turned to anxiety as the anger and desperate sadness of his owner touched him. He pranced and sidestepped, waiting for her commands.

Stupid! I thought.... ok, yeah, I miss Mark...

With a nudge, none too gentle, Jack bolted, stretching his lean body into a full out run across the fields.

...and I've been attracted to women before.... just nothing that felt so... right. And I thought Dusty felt it too.

The icy wind ripped the tears from Alex's cheeks, pulling them into ice. Her body shook with sobs and she hunched down until her face was buried in Jack's tousled mane.

What the hell was I thinking? There was defiantly something between us. But now I've destroyed a valuable friendship in one moment of unbridled passion...

Jack topped a low rise and stopped, snorting wearily.

I never once felt like that with Mark. Not once...

She realized suddenly that Jack had stopped. With a loud, exhausted sigh she lifted her head and looked out across the snow covered landscape. It sloped down a little, ending in a sudden, violent crack of the earth.

Alex and Jack had explored the area several times in the last two lonely years, but there were still many miles left uncharted.

She headed to the unknown with a much gentler nudging against Jack's flanks, and a red-hot fire still racing in her belly.

The snow became deeper and deeper. First to Jack's knees, then suddenly his belly and finally to his chest, and he refused to move any further.

"Come on, babe, just a little further, ok?" But Jack refused. "Fine," she was angry beyond belief at everything. If the wind had chosen that moment to turn on her, she would have cursed it too.

Scowling, she slid off Jack's broad back and into waist high snow.

"Goddamnsonofabachea." She plowed through the snow like a swimmer through water. The ground began to shift and snow caved in around her body. The ground cracked in one ear shattering moment and she screamed.

"Dusty!"

Jack reared and bellowed, helpless.

All became darkness as the snow closed over her head and she fell into nothingness.

 

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She should be back by now. Dusty paced the length of her room, then hurried down the hall to pace in front of the livingroom's front windows. It was too dark now to even see past the porch rails.

God, I can't even remember what I said now. All Dusty could see were those wide green eyes and trembling lips before Alex had turned and stormed out of the house.

Dusty struggled into boots, coat and hat, nerves shaking her to the core. In the last few minutes of pacing a dark premonition had settled over her like a storm cloud.

Jack was waiting for her beside the rail.

"Oh God..." Dusty whispered.

The stallion pawed the earth and shook his massive head.

Nick at Nite reruns played oddly through her mind, and the inescapable image of "Lassie" crossed her mind. 'Where's Timmy, boy? Where's Timmy?'

"Where is she, Jack?" It never hurt to try.

Jack snorted again, tossing his head side to side. Dusty glanced to the field and the mountains, so much distance, so little time.

She ran into the barn, grabbing the first bit of sturdy rope she could find, then crossed the drive back to the horse. She threw the coil of rope over her head and one shoulder, and with one look to the field then a look to Jack she vaulted up onto his back. Oh god, hang on.

She'd barely twisted her fingers in his mane and wrapped her long legs around his torso when he took off at breakneck speed.

No one had ridden him before, but he was willing to let this woman, who smelled so familiar, help save his master. And surely she could save her?

 

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When Alex opened her eyes the cold was all she could feel. Darkness surrounded her, terrified her, till she remembered vaguely what had happened.

She tested her arms and legs, satisfied she was all in one piece, and tried to reach up, grab onto something and pull herself out of the darkness. There was nothing but cold snow that crumbled at her touch. She slid farther in her panic, till she slammed her heel into the snow and punched her arm through, making two temporary ledges to hang from.

"Help!" Her voice echoed back, and died in seconds. No one would hear her. If there was anyone even searching. Dusty would have left, she was sure of that.

At the moment a cold, lonely death seemed suitable. Born into the world alone, die alone.

No, a little voice screamed, itís not supposed to be this way. Can't you see that?

"Dusty," she sobbed. Alex slipped another inch in the crumbling snow. The Fates decide our future, her aunt use to say. Was this Fates destiny? To die alone? So close yet so far away from the one she loved?

No! She punched her other arm through the snow, and held on.

 

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As Dusty had crossed the fields a light snow had begun to fall. Now it swirled madly and obliterated everything more then a few feet in front of them. Jack stumbled and fell to his knees in the snow.

"Whoa, easy boy." Dusty jumped off as he struggled to regain his footing. "Easy." She backed off a few steps as he thrashed in the snow and finally stood, breath heavy and labored.

"Alex!" Dusty cried, heart racing wildly. The wind carried her voice up and down, filling every hollow and everything heard. But nothing answered in return. She patted Jack's neck absently as she searched through the blinding glare of white.

There! Something moved. Alex? Dusty pushed through thigh high snow towards the misty white. But it was white in a sea of white and she lost it. She cupped her hands to her mouth and yelled Alex's name till her throat was raw.

To her left the white shadow moved again. She leapt towards it, sinking into snow up to her waist. The image of an almost forgotten dream came to her. Another snow covered landscape... dying. "Alex!"

Suddenly she stopped as the tiny hairs on the back of her neck raised in alarm. She whirled around, sure something was breathing down her neck. Nothing.

Dusty turned back, taking one more step before hesitating again. The whispers of the wind teased her ears and for a moment she thought she heard a small voice calling her name.

"Alex?" The ground was open before her, footprints barely visible in the snowstorm. Another step and she was sliding. She turned quickly and scrambled back.

"Alex!"

"Dusty?"

A half-strangled sob escaped Dusty's lips at the barely heard voice. "I'm here. Just hang on!" She lifted the rope from her neck, and uncoiled it. "I'm sending down the rope, grab it."

Dusty tied one end to her waist then sent the remainder into the hole. She braced her feet in the snow as best she could and waited. There was a small tug, then another.

"Got it." Alex's voice carried slightly through the opening.

"Hang on." With every ounce of diminishing strength Dusty had she pulled. She slipped and slid but before long Alex's head peeked over the snow. Dusty kept the rope taught and made her way to Alex's arms clamoring for a hold at the top. She grabbed gloved hands and pulled Alex up into her arms.

Dusty held her tight for an impossible second then pushed her back. "Are you alright?" She got a glimpse of pale lashes, with snowflakes precariously balanced on the edges.

"You didn't leave?" Alex gazed into pale blue eyes, trepidation clear in her voice.

"No," Dusty whispered, "I didn't leave." Once again she pulled the smaller woman into her arms.

Alex's teeth were chattering, but she had to know. "Why?"

"Why what?" Dusty held the shaking woman tighter.

"Why didn't you leave?" Tears ran unbidden down her ice-cold cheeks, and she pushed away from the embrace to see Dusty's face.

"Because I had to... "

"Apologize?" Alex pushed further away. Apologies weren't necessary. They meant nothing.

"No, because I had to do this... " And Dusty pulled the woman close again, bending her head to touch icy lips against icy lips.

Alex responded, tangling her fingers in Dusty's dark hair, passion rising in one heated kiss, till they pulled breathlessly apart.

The snow was soaking through their clothing, and both women were shivering. Jack snorted somewhere in the distance, impatient.

"Let's get you back and get you warmed up." Dusty helped Alex to her feet, drew her in close, and kissed her solidly on the mouth, a promise of more to come.

 

 

 

Chapter Eleven

The Night

"If my mind can be deceived by dreams in the night, then what is the guarantee that when I open my eyes in the morning, I am still not seeing a dream?"- Bhagnwan Rajneesh

 

Alex gave a sharp, short whistle. Jack snorted and made his way through the blinding snowstorm on pure instinct to find them.

Dusty pulled the shaking young woman up with her, barely suppressing her own icy shudder. "Up ya go." She boosted Alex up onto Jack's broad back, then jumped up herself. "Can you find your way back in this?" She waved her hand at the winding snow.

"No. "Alex shouted above the whistling wind, "but Jack can, can't ya baby?" She patted his solid neck, silently promising him whole bushels of apples and carrots if he could find his way back, then gave him a gentle nudge on the flanks.

Strong arms encircled Alex's waist and she leaned back into Dusty's embrace as Jack slogged through the snow. She was beyond cold now. Images were beginning to fade around her. "Dusty?"

"I'm right here. I've got you." Dusty's arms circled tighter, and she leaned into Alex.

Dusty's warm breath sent shivers up and down Alex's spine. She smiled slightly and closed her eyes. "Ok," she mumbled.

"Alex?" The dark woman shook Alex gently. There was no response. "Just hang on."

 

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"Good boy." Dusty slid off Jack's back and pulled Alex into her arms. Good, good boy! On shaky legs Dusty carried Alex's prone figure up the porch.

Jack snorted and sighed, meandering back towards the barn and the slightly open door. The moonlight led the way and the soft merry snowflakes that had gone from mad swirling to gentle falling eventually stopped all together when they'd been less then 200 feet from the old farmhouse.

Dusty hurried through the front door, down the long hall to Alex's room, and carefully laid Alex on the bed. Dusty kissed her gently on the forehead, lingering longer then necessary and promised to be right back. Fear galvanized her down the hallway again to find more blankets, and start some water warming.

With an armload of blankets she returned to the dimly lit room. She deposited them on the floor, started a fire in the fireplace and returned to the trembling woman on the bed.

Ok, first, off with the clothes. Had she been anything but near panic the experience could have been a lot more... arousing. The clothes ended up in a heap by the fireplace. Her own clothes followed soon after, and she crawled into the bed, pulling the blankets up over both of them.

Dusty took a small, guilty pleasure in wrapping her arms and legs around Alex's naked body and sharing her own warmth. Not that she wasn't shivering herself, but she seemed to be able to retain a lot more body heat then the smaller woman.

She tucked Alex's chin into the hollow of her shoulder and neck, cradling the back of Alex's head with a strong arm.

Slow minutes later both women dozed in the warm cocoon of bodies, blankets and heat from the fireplace.

 

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Dusty woke, some time later in the dark stillness. Alex's body was wrapped around her, thighs capturing her thighs, an arm across her stomach just below her breasts. She stifled a yawn and stretched carefully, trying not to wake Alex.

The warmth and intimacy of their bodies melded together and bare skin touching bare skin sent another heat through Dusty's body. She groaned slightly.

"Mmm, thought you were still asleep." Alex mumbled against Dusty's collarbone. She smelled of snow, soap, and something so familiar that Alex couldn't place it just then.

"Just woke up." Dusty looked down into green eyes half-concealed under sleepy lids. "Feeling better?"

Alex chuckled. "Defiantly warmer." Her breasts were pressed against Dusty's side and her thigh was draped over Dusty's. If it all hadn't felt so... right... she might have been a little embarrassed at taking such liberties with an almost virtual stranger. She pushed upward till her face was level with Dusty's. They were less then an inch apart on the shared pillow.

Without taking the chance to second-guess herself Alex brushed her lips against Dusty's. They were soft and sensual.

Dusty let out a startled breath as Alex pulled away. My god...

Alex watched the play of emotions across Dusty's face in the dim light of the fire. "Are you all right?"

Dusty struggled with everything she knew and believed in with all her heart. And it all came down to one thought: Kiss me again. She lowered her voice an octave, passion coursing through her veins. Undeniable. "Just fine," and she leaned forward to capture Alex in a long, heated kiss.

Well, if I wasn't warm before, I sure as hell am now. When they broke apart Alex raised up on her elbows and looked down into Dusty's face. Her pale, blue eyes reflected the fire in sparkling glints, and behind that was something darker. Something Alex couldn't put a name to, but she hoped it was the same things she was feeling, because she suddenly slid her body across Dusty's.

Warm skin brushed against warm skin. Two hearts speed up, and one soul raced home.

In the warmth of the blankets hands tentatively explored and passions flared. The moon shone down on dark hair and light, woven together. Bodies rose and fell, while someone on the other side of the large, open bay window watched.

He hissed in a dark, angry breath. Fornicators, he thought. Devil seed, he cursed. This won't go unpunished, he swore.

 

 

 

Chapter Twelve

Prejudice

"...There is little hope for us until we become tough-minded enough to break loose from the shackles of prejudice, half-truths, and downright ignorance."- Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

"Wake up, sleepyhead." Dusty smiled down at her sleepy lover, stroking Alex's cheek with gentle fingertips. When one eye cracked open slightly she took that as a good sign.

"Don't wanna wake up," Alex mumbled and closed her eye, snuggling deeper against Dusty's bare side. They'd made love throughout the night and Alex was damned if she was getting up before the sun had fully risen.

"Not even for a kiss?" Dusty teased, brushing silky strands of golden hair behind Alex's ear.

"Mmm, well..." Alex reluctantly opened her eyes to the bright sunlight and sparkling blue eyes. "Ok." She smiled and shared a good morning kiss. Then another and another, till hands sought out sensitive areas of flesh, the kisses turned deeper, passion filled and traveled southward.

 

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Sleepily Alex watched Dusty's tall, naked body stride out the door. God, she's beautiful. She came back a moment later in boxers and a tank top. Dang.

"Want some breakfast?" Dusty asked, flinging some pants and a shirt in Alex's direction.

Alex raised one pale eyebrow. "Don't you mean lunch? Or even dinner?" The sun had traveled lower in the sky as they'd spent most of the day in bed.

"Ok, lunch then..." Dusty grinned down at her lover before heading out to the kitchen.

 

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Somewhere the phone was ringing. Alex propped one eye open and wondered if Dusty would get it. Geez, it's my own goddamn phone, I can get it. She threw back the covers, threw on her clothes and raced down the hall to the phone before they hung up.

"Hello?" She asked, a little breathlessly.

"Ms. Casings?" Randy asked.

Oh geez, I should have stayed in bed. "G'morning Randy, what's up?"

"The part you ordered came in."

"Thanks," Alex smiled as Dusty came around the corner, laden with a tray of food. "I'll come and pick it up in, say, an hour?"

"K, then. Have a good afternoon, Ms. Casings."

"Thanks, Randy." But he'd already hung up. She looked puzzled at the phone for just a minute then set it back in the cradle.

"Who was that?" Dusty leaned her shoulder against the wall, partially blocking the hall.

Alex leaned slightly forward, sucking up the pleasant smell of bacon, eggs and toast. "Mmm, smells good." She snatched a piece of bacon off the tray. "That was Randy, my tractor part came in. I'm going to have to go pick it up." She snatched another piece as they made their way down the hall to the bedroom. "After breakfast though."

It was longer then an hour, but it was certainly worth it, in Alex's opinion. She left the house with an apple in her pocket, Dusty's keys in her hand and a goofy grin on her face.

She checked on Jack, made sure he had hay and water, promised him a good brushing when she got back, and left him crunching happily on the apple.

The Jeep purred to life under her tentative hands. God, it felt good to drive something that didn't backfire, stall and groan. She wore a happy smile all the way to the Emporium and even up to the counter.

"Hi Randy." She smiled. "I came to get my part."

"You said you'd be an hour." His eyes were uncharacteristically cold.

It sent a small shiver up her spine, but she wasn't yet ready to give up her smile. "I'm sorry. Jack threw a shoe, didn't want him to go lame," she lied, but what was it going to hurt? Her life was none of his business.

His scowl deepened. "I sold it off to Carl."

"You sold my part, Randy?" Now she did loose her smile. What the hell was wrong with him? Ok, shit, she'd never liked him, but she'd never been mean about it. It was a small town, word got around. If one person hated you, they all did.

"Yep," he drawled and made his way down the counter to the folding partition, "since you never came to pick it up."

"I said I was on my way here."

"I'd suggest you go'wan buy it from Carl." Randy kept his self-satisfied smile to himself.

"Fine. I'll go and do just that." She stormed down the isle and to the front door, barely looking where she was going as a red film of anger coated her sight. She threw open the door and nearly collided with Howard. He hastily grabbed her forearms and kept Alex on her feet.

"Whoa, where ya off to in such a hurry?" He smiled his best smile down at the lovely young woman.

"Goin' to see Carl." She bit off the end of each word and turned towards the Jeep. He hadn't let go of her arms.

"How 'bout I accompany you, and we see a movie later?"

"No, thanks, Howard. Let go." She shrugged his arms off.

He smiled apologetically. "Sorry, how 'bout dinner then?"

"No thanks, Howard." She stepped around him and hurried to the Jeep, feeling his eyes on her, shivering for some unknown reason.

"Yeah," he mumbled, " I thought that's what you'd say."

 

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Alex drove home in a rain of fury. Carl had sold the part to George. The part hadn't quite fit his tractor, so he'd given it to Mark. And Mark had used it in his John Deere, when Alex knew, KNEW for a fact that he had just replaced that exact part no less then three weeks prior.

To say she was pissed off was an understatement. She didn't understand this sudden hostility. Of course the 'boys' had distrusted her, a woman, alone, running the farm by herself. She knew they thought it was too much power for a woman, but today something had changed.

She could feel the undercurrent of evil in their words. In their glares, even in the way they refused to look at her at all.

Suddenly it dawned on her. They knew. Somehow they knew about her and Dusty. And they didn't like it one bit. But how the hell had they known?

After she parked the Jeep and traveled wearily up the stairs she came to the conclusion that this would only lead to trouble. But do I tell Dusty?

One look into those beautiful blue eyes and she knew she couldn't destroy the peace she saw there, or the happiness. Dusty had been just as hostile when she got here, what if she knew? Another thought occurred to Alex. I caused that peace, didn't I? Ok, not a word. I won't be the one to destroy it.

She kissed Dusty to forget, to pretend that nothing was wrong, and for a time it worked.

They sat in front of a cheery fire, snuggled within blankets, warmed by cocoa and lovemaking. Dusty hadn't questioned the lack of the tractor part, and for that Alex was grateful.

Both women were relaxed, arms and legs twined together, eyelids drooping when the sudden shattering of glass caused both their hearts to skip a beat.

Dusty reflexively covered Alex's head with her arms and pulled them both down to the hardwood.

"Shit!" Alex cried.

Something solid thudded onto the floor with a showering of glass. Minutes passed as Dusty listened for voices and footsteps. When she heard nothing else she jumped out of the covers and hurried to the broken window.

"Dusty," Alex hissed, "get down. What if they're still out there?"

"No one's here, Alex. Most chicken shits that throw stuff through windows hit and run."

"Oh." Alex grabbed frantically for her clothes and joined Dusty by the window.

Dusty had a large stone in her hand. She hefted it, and turned it over. Scrawled in large, red letters was one word; Sinners.

Being careful of the splinters on the floor Alex walked over and took the large rock from Dusty. She studied the letters for a long, silent moment as Dusty returned to her clothes and sat on the couch to put on her boots.

Sinner, sinners, sinners. The whole afternoon came back to Alex. They knew. Oh god...

"Alex?"

Dusty's words broke into her panic.

"Are you all right?"

Alex looked up, face pale and shocked in the moonlight trailing in and bouncing off the jagged edges of glass. "No," she whispered.

Dusty wrapped strong arms around Alex's shoulders and led her to the couch. "No one got hurt, Alex. Everything's all right. It was just some bored farmer boy taking a dare."

Alex's dark, disbelieving eyes looked up into Dusty's clear blue. She shook her head miserably. Even now she couldn't say anything to Dusty.

The cold winter wind gusted through the opening, sending swirls of snow into the room, making the fireplace dance dangerously.

Dusty took the rock from Alex's hand and kissed her gently on the forehead. "Why don't you go get a broom and clean up the glass? I'll get some boards from the barn and cover the hole, ok?"

Alex stood slowly. "Ok, check on Jack while you're out there?"

"Sure." As Alex wandered into the kitchen Dusty's eyes followed her while her thoughts tumbled into anger. You better not let me catch you, lil' rock throwing bastard... she stood and made her way out to the porch, flinging the rock angrily out into the darkness. Because if I do... you'll regret ever being born.

Dusty knew. She'd seen it before, and damned if she was going to let bigoted, small town prejudices hurt Alex. She made it a promise, a mantra, as she hunted for boards, nails and a hammer.

You'll be leaving before it ever goes that far, a little voice reminded her. You won't stay, you can't.

Yes, I will stay, she screamed back at the voices.

All but one shut up.

Wherever you go, Dusty, trouble follows. Do you want Alex hurt?

No, I won't let them hurt her. Dusty's fingernails gouged into the wood with sheer conviction as she crossed back over the snow covered drive. She stopped, transfixed, as Alex was silouhetted in the broken window.

I didn't say that... the little voiced berated her, I said YOU would hurt her.

She hung her head in defeat, eyes closed. "No," she whispered, "I won't hurt her. I've found the other half of my soul." As she looked back to the window and the lithe form sweeping up the glass the little voice just laughed.

 

 

 

Chapter Thirteen

Whispers

"Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without words,

And never stops at all."-

Emily Dickinson

 

"Come to bed, Alex." Dusty beseeched her young lover who was seated across the room at her laptop.

"Jus' a sec," Alex mumbled, tapping furiously, "let me just get this chapter down."

Dusty smiled, rolling onto her side, snuggling deeper into the flannel pillowcase. Another hour then. I could get up and bother her... nah, this is important to her. What if I was on a gig, surveillance, or something and Alex came up and started nibbling on my neck... hmmm, I think I wouldn't mind that too much.

Dusty also knew Alex was still agitated and anxious, clearly showing no desire to remain in the livingroom after the 'incident' with the rock, and writing seemed to calm her.

So, Dusty closed her eyes and relaxed. She was pleasantly surprised when, less then five minutes later, a warm body slid under the covers and curled up against her side.

"Finished already?" Dusty asked, wrapping her arms securely around Alex.

"No," she murmured, trying to get closer, trying to find something she just couldn't find, "I just needed you."

Dusty blinked rapidly. She NEEDS me? "Well, ya got me." She replied quietly, wanting, needing to say so much more.

But for Alex, for now, it was enough. She captured Dusty's hand in hers, surprised to find small tremors going through it. Idly she played with it, running her fingers over the smooth skin on the back of Dusty's hand, the slightly callused palm and up and down each finger. She kissed Dusty's palm and laid it against her cheek.

"Goodnight." She whispered and closed her eyes.

Dusty's thumb caressed the smooth plains of Alex's cheek. "Goodnight, Alex." She traced her lover's eyebrows, her cheekbones and jaw, finally running her fingers over soft lips. She placed a gentle kiss there, smiling around it as Alex kissed her back, murmuring something sleepily.

Dusty pulled back slightly. Did I hear that right? Did she just say what I think she said? No, there's no way... she can't love me...

 

____________

 

Alex woke, fully rested for a change. The events of last night seemed dim in the early morning sunlight. She could almost, almost believe that it was a bored farmer boy out on a dare.

She stretched, finally noticing there was no warm body beside her or anywhere in the bed. With a groan she threw back the covers and stepped out into the room's chill air. A shiver traveled up and down her spine and she hurried into warm clothes.

Dusty was in the kitchen, fixing breakfast when she heard footsteps at the door and looked up from the fry pan as Alex wandered across the room. Dusty smiled and held out an arm in silent invitation.

Alex sagged into the one arm embrace and buried her head in Dusty's chest. They stood like that as Dusty continued to cook the bacon. Only when Dusty had to move the fry pan from the stove did the embrace break apart, and Alex drifted over to the cupboards to get the plates and coffee mugs.

"So, what do you want to do today?" Dusty laid bacon, eggs and hash browns on the plates and carried them over to the table.

Alex turned from the coffeepot. "Well, I was thinking that if we heated each room individually with the space heaters and the fireplace we could paint one room at a time." She joined Dusty at the kitchen table, sitting across from her.

Dusty nodded. "And while that rooms dries we can clear out the next and get it ready."

"Sounds like a plan, Stan." Alex smiled. Her grinned widened when Dusty gave her a dazzling smile, and the events of last night were forgotten.

 

___________

 

"No, I'll climb the ladder." Alex brushed Dusty's hand off the rickety step. "I'll take top and you take bottom." Then realizing what she said she couldn't help but snicker.

Dusty raised an elegant eyebrow. "Have it your way then."

Alex placed a foot on the ladder, then another, hiding a grimace as it creaked under her slight weight. They'd set up the heaters and fireplace, laid down some tarps, got the brushes and buckets, and had decided on a baby blue color for the small room that faced east.

When the sun rose in the mornings Alex had no doubt it would be bright and cheery. A few bright colored rugs, blankets, curtains... She forgot to grimace and smiled as the paintbrush dipped into the paint bucket and made the first stroke on the wall.

They worked for an hour, steadily making their way down the wall. Alex was almost out of paint. "Hey," she looked down at Dusty, who was carefully painting above the trim, "can you hand me up the other bucket?"

"Yeah." Dusty grabbed the other tray and roller. "Hand that one down and I'll refill it."

Alex leaned precariously forward, small bucket in hand. The ladder groaned and started to tilt as well. "Shit." She shifted her weight back and steadied the ladder as Dusty rushed over to grab the ladder as well.

"You all right?"

"Fine." Alex took a couple steps down and handed the bucket to Dusty who shot her a glance then refilled the bucket. Alex made her way back up the ladder without a word. Her shoulders were beginning to ache. Maybe it was time for a break?

She set the paint on the top step and picked up her brush. The bristles caught the edge of the bucket and tumbled it over the edge. "Ahh, shit, heads up Dusty." She made a valiant grab for the paint, but the ladder groaned ominously and caught her off balance. She reared back to counter balance, but she leaned too far.

Dusty looked up in time to get a splatter of paint across her face and chest.

Alex and the ladder titled dangerously backwards, and in one split second of crystal clarity Alex saw herself, Dusty reaching out in slow motion to grab the ladder, as if from a distance, and falling into the freshly painted wall. Then she was back, her shoulder banging into the wall, breaking through the ancient plaster with a stab of pain.

"Alex! Dammit, I knew I should have been the one on the ladder." Dusty berated herself as she knelt next to Alex.

"I'm fine." Alex rubbed her shoulder, coming away with sticky paint on her fingers. She looked up at Dusty and her jaw sagged open. "Blue is definitely your color," she said, wickedly.

Dusty absently swiped away the paint on her face.

Alex laughed. "Now you look like a native, in war paint."

Dusty stuck her tongue out over blue lips. "You got paint in your hair."

"Not nearly as bad as you." Alex stood, grinning, and turned to assess the damage. There was a softball-sized hole where her shoulder had hit, and an impact area of about two inches out all the way around it. "Damn, I thought they made all these old houses out of wood, not plaster."

"Mmmm," Dusty ran her finger around the perimeter of the plaster, "they usually do." She studied the hole closer, and pulled at the edges of the plaster.

"Hey, what are you doing?"

"There's something here." Dusty pulled out a good-sized chunk and stepped back. Light shone in, glinting off something metallic.

"What the hell?" Alex murmured. She dug her hand inside and pulled out more plaster. Soon both women were pulling off the plaster. Billows of plaster dust hung in the air and settled on the wet paint on the wall and their bodies.

Pausing for a breath Alex stepped back. "Well, I'll be damned," she whispered, "it's a door."

"But where to?" Dusty eyed the hidden door warily.

"I haven't the foggiest. Let's find out."

"No." Dusty grabbed Alex's wrist before she could try the rusted knob. "Don't touch it."

"What?" Alex blinked at her. "Why not?"

"Because..." Dusty swiped a paint covered hand over the dusty door, revealing a dark red stain. Then she stepped back and pointed mutely to the ancient symbol drawn in blood.

Alex's eyes widened. "My god... " she breathed, eyes glued to the warning. Simply put the design meant; Death.

 

 

 

Chapter Fourteen

Unfinished Business

"Summoned or not, the god will come." From the inscription carved above the door of Carl Gustav Jung's house.

 

 

"Should we go inside?" Alex ran a paint-covered hand over the rusted doorknob. A shiver went up her spine and she stepped reluctantly backwards.

Dusty raised an eyebrow at Alex. "It could be a quarantine."

"Then I would have been infected a long time ago. These old walls aren't airtight. Who do you think covered it up? Painted on the sign?" Alex asked.

Dusty didn't touch the blood sign, just cast her eyes over it thoughtfully. "I've seen it before, or something similar. Down South, New Orleans and the like. It's voodoo, I think. Behind this plaster the walls are probably covered in protection signs..." Her voice trailed off thoughtfully. She was no expert in the area, and had only come across it once in a murder case.

"That fits. One of the maids was from Africa or Jamaica. " Alex touched the knob again, twisting it with trepidation. "It's locked."

"Then leave it that way."

"Dusty. Don't you have any sense of adventure?"

"Nope, not an adventuresome bone in my body." Dusty began to clean up the paint, pouring it back into the bucket and capping it off.

Alex still stood by the door, as if drawn by some magnetic force. She had to get in there... had to know... it was like an unfinished puzzle, taunting her.

"I'll be right back," and Alex raced out of the room, back downstairs. She returned a few minutes later with a flashlight and a long kitchen knife.

"What's that for?" Dusty raised an eyebrow at the butcher knife.

"Um, for whatever might be in there?" Alex replied, a little sheepishly. Not that I expect whatever's in there to be living anymore, but ya never know.

"Bound and determined aren't cha?" Dusty let the paint be and crossed to the old wooden door. Ya know she's going in there. So don't let her go by herself, a little voice chided. "Come on." Dusty took a step back and raised her leg experimentally. She lowered it, then brought it up with enough force to send the door flying back against the inside wall with a resounding thud.

Alex's mouth gaped open at the show of strength, but she quickly wiped it off and tried to step around Dusty to be the first one into the murky blackness.

Oh no you don't, Dusty thought as she snatched the flashlight and gently put Alex behind her.

Dusty flicked the flashlight on and shone it into the darkness. The beam was too small to delve more then a foot inside. She squared her shoulders and stepped forward. The air was chilly, not unusual, but it crept into her bones, like a spirit seeking refuge. She shivered and walked farther into the charged air.

The electricity raised the hairs on Alex's arms and neck, her breathing became ragged and her heart raced double time. It was if she was unsealing the past, merging it with the present.

As she completely crossed the door's threshold there was a sudden snap and she whirled to face the door, raising the knife instinctively. It was still open.

Fear snaked through her veins. "Dusty, let's go back," she whispered urgently.

"You're not going to chicken out on me now, are you?" But Dusty reached a hand back and grasped Alex's hand firmly within hers.

Alex scooted forward, till she was inches from Dusty's back and peered around her side. "What do you see?"

"Not much," Dusty whispered, shining the light around, "looks like some book cases, sofa... fireplace... a library or a den?"

Alex cast her eyes around the darkness, the flashlight's beam sending shadows dancing merrily around the room. "Candles." She pointed, retrieving the lighter from her pocket and handing it to Dusty.

They made their way over to a small table with a large candelabrum. With shaky hands Dusty lit the cobweb-covered candles.

As they flicked and sputtered to life Alex turned her back on Dusty and faced the room as a faint breath played across the back of her neck. "Oh god..." The shadows swayed and settled. The knife clattered to the floor.

Dusty turned. "Ah, shit..." She looked where Alex's eyes were riveted. Instinctively she drew Alex closer to her, surrounding her with her free arm. "Don't look, Alex." She turned Alex away from the ghastly sight, and pulled her firmly against her chest. Dusty could feel Alex's heart beating erratically through her shirt.

But Alex couldn't turn her back on it, felt the empty eye sockets burning into her back. "Can we take him down?" She whispered as she turned, but stayed supported against Dusty's chest. "Please."

Dusty's glance traveled over the body that hung from the ceiling. From the old leather boots, up the old fashioned suit and finally the rope twisted around the surprising well intact, though decimated body. My god, I don't want to touch him. "Who do you think it is?"

"Samuel Jacobson," Alex whispered. "I- I... God, he's been hanging in here... since... shit." She felt the nausea welling up inside her stomach and fought to keep it down.

"Shhh. Go outside, get some fresh air. I'll take care of it." Dusty's voice was solid and brave, even though she was shaking inside.

"O-ok," They made a wide arc around the body, leaving the knife, and back to the door. Alex rushed out and down the stairs to stand on the front porch, sucking in great gulps of fresh, cold air. Dusty made sure she was ok before going back up to the small den to take care of the body.

 

_____________

 

Alex had regained her composure a few minutes later and traveled across the snow-covered yard to the blackened pile of wood a distance from the barn. She took more of the boards and junk from inside the barn and built up around it. Then she got the can of kerosene and doused the wood.

Alex went back to the porch and stuck her head inside the front door. She could hear Dusty struggling down the stairs. "Bring him out here." As she yelled it up the stairs she stepped back and off the porch.

Dusty came outside a few minutes later, a bundled sheet thrown over her back.

Alex waggled her hand in the direction of the make shift pyre, her voice caught in her throat.

Dusty threw the bundle on top, unconsciously mumbling an apology, then flicked the lighter at the base of the woodpile. She stepped back as a small flame ignited, caught, and raced up to consume the body.

They stood side by side before the raging fire.

"Should we say something?" Alex asked.

"You're the writer..." Dusty mumbled.

"Ok." Alex fumbled for words as she had the night Jo and the filly died. "May you find peace, and may your spirit finally rest."

The fire snapped and popped and Alex jumped in her skin. Goddamn, too much death... Her eyes stung with unexpected tears. May we all find peace. A warm arm encircled her shoulders and she sagged gratefully into Dusty's side.

"Let's go inside. I think I found something you'll be interested in." Dusty gently kissed the top of Alex's head then titled Alex's face up to look into her eyes. "Are you all right?"

Alex nodded mutely. Just remembering, but she didn't say it. Just smiled bravely into Dusty's brilliant blue eyes. "Think I need a shower now, though."

"Me too." Dusty's eyes sparkled, "care to join me?"

"Mmmm." A genuine smile crossed Alex's face, "I think I can be... persuaded..."

"Oh really?" Dusty grinned as they walked back to the house.

 

________________

 

Two pairs of eyes followed them from the shadows of the woods.

"Do you see?" One of the men asked.

"Yeah," was the dark response as the other man shifted his sights from the fire to the women walking back to the house.

"Pure evil," the first man mumbled, "they should be stopped."

"They will be," the second replied, convinced that God would not want such abomination in the peaceful little town of Bluerock, and if he had to he would personally see to stopping the fornicators.

 

 

 

Chapter Fifteen

Promises

"I will find you."- From the motion picture "The Last of the Mohicans"

 

The sun had long since set after Alex and Dusty had returned from an... invigorating shower. They now sat on the living room couch in front of the fireplace. The pyre had burned itself out, and no sparks had set the world afire.

The two women were now reading over the journal that Dusty had found on a small table beside Samuel's hanging feet.

April 15th, in the year of our lord 1752

All has come to pass as it should be. The Fields have been cleared and the foundation made. I will send word to Alexandria tomorrow that work on the house is progressing at a record pace. She will join me in our new life here, shortly.

April 30th, in the year of our lord 1752

Two more workers are dead. We have been delayed, yet again. The storms rise and fall with an intensity I have never seen. America was to be our new beginning, but I fear it will be our end.

Dusty leaned comfortably against Alex's shoulder as she read aloud. The entries went on to include the rest of the construction of the house, the planting of the fields, storms, losses, the arrival of Samuel's wife and children, and finally the day Samuel left to pick up his new purchases and returned to death.

January 1st, in the year of our lord 1755

The house is empty now; none remain but Johva and her mate. My family, my children have been consecrated to the heavens. There is nothing left for me here. This was to be our home, forever. But he has taken it all from me! I swear on my last breath that I will have REVENGE.

January 5th, in the year of our lord 1755

I have burnt the barn to the ground, because I can not stand to see it standing with death inside, yet they call me mad. Had it been the mayor or the Sheriff's families would they have done any Less? My poor Alexandria. My children. My life crushed and lost to HIM. I WILL FIND HIM.

"Geez, a little obsessed?" Alex commented.

"Well," Dusty stretched with feline grace, "think about it. What if everything you loved was torn away from you in one fateful night-" Dusty stopped abruptly. "I'm sorry."

"It's all right. I understand the point you're trying to make." Alex blocked memories out of her mind as Dusty straightened and gazed into her eyes.

"I wish..." Dusty suddenly averted her eyes. I wish so many things.

"What do you wish?" Alex asked softly, placing the closed journal beside her and taking Dusty's hand.

Thoughts battled to form into sentences as Dusty clutched Alex's hands almost desperately. "Look, I've only know you for a short time," her brow furrowed and she raced to form words before she lost her courage, "but I wish I'd met you before... before and saved you from a lot of pain."

"I wouldn't change anything that has happened, if it meant that we weren't right here, right now, feeling what we feel." Alex titled Dusty's face to her and cradled it in her palms. "I love you."

Dusty sucked in a small, startled breath. "You d-do?"

"Yes." Oh god, just say it. If she runs terrified, she runs. "From the moment I met you, Dusty, I knew you'd change my life," for the better, she added silently. "I was lost, I wasn't living. In the truck that day... I... I knew something was missing, and when I saw you looking in my window... I don't know," she finished, tears and emotions threatening to spill over and drown her.

"I know." Dusty said simply, and pulled Alex onto her lap and into her arms.

She didn't say it! The tears came fast and free now and Alex collapsed against Dusty's strong chest. It's all right, just give her a little time, a gentle voice said.

Another, almost silent voice wondered how much time was left.

As Dusty began to kiss her all other thoughts were brushed aside. The journal fell to the floor, opened to the last page.

The entry was undated. In the glowing light of the fire, the words read;

I've found him. It's taken me so long, but I planned and my plans have seen fruitation. I am an outcast, an outlaw in my own land. He will pay for this, for all of it, no matter whose son he is. I will cut off his evil, cut out his line and wipe his father's name off this world. Then I will join my family.

 

 

 

Chapter Sixteen

Seeds of Hate

"Darkness thick and heavy/ Black and steady/ Screaming darkness/ Anybody who hates his brother/ Who plans evil for another/ Walks in darkness."- (snippet) 'Love in the Light' by Michael W. Smith

 

The voices called in the darkness, a single mass of white robed men on a single Godly mission. First they would warn the evil to depart, and if it did not listen measures would be taken to eradicate the evil.

They twisted the cross into the frozen ground, pushing some handy rocks around its base to keep it from falling over. Then, all but one stood back. He raised the burning torch in his hand.

"Evil has plagued this house and our town for far too long. It's time something was done about it!" He yelled.

The ghostly crowd cheered.

"Heed our word!" He brandished the torch towards the farmhouse, then turned and placed the flame against the cross. The fire crackled and hissed it's way up the rags soaked with gasoline. It illuminated the front yard and sent fire shadows skittering across the ground and across the front porch.

 

________________

 

Dreams plagued Dusty, tinny voices shouting damnation in her ear. With a start she sat up in the living room. Alex slept peacefully, nestled against her side among the blankets.

The fireplace had burned down to ashes, yet the room was bathed in glowing red. Voices called out in the front yard and she raised her head carefully over the edge of the sofa.

"Shit." She disentangled herself from Alex's embrace.

"Mmm?" Alex mumbled sleepily. "Where are you going?"

"Shhh, just stay down." Dusty slipped onto the cold hardwood floor and pulled on her jeans and sweatshirt.

The urgency in Dusty's words brought Alex fully awake. She struggled around the blankets to sit up, but Dusty frantically pulled her back down. "There's some people outside, and I need you to stay right here, ok?"

"People outside?" Alex blinked the sleep out of her eyes, and noticed the strange glow of the room. "D-dusty?"

"Shhh," Dusty kissed Alex gently and made her promise to stay where she was, "I'll be right back."

I'm not a child. Alex slipped out of the blankets and kept low to the ground. I can take care of myself, she fumed as she shrugged into her clothes.

At the front door Dusty slipped her barefeet into her boots, squared her shoulders and unlocked the front door. She stepped out onto the porch, and fifteen sets of eyes turned to stare.

Dusty advanced across the porch, using all of her six-foot height to intimidate them. "Go home, NOW."

The men stood in the yard, some mouths agape at the angel of death on the front porch. The fire highlighted the angular planes of her face, casting half in mysterious shadow. Her eyes glowed with more then firelight.

"I SAID. Get. Lost." She took a step down the porch stairs, hair billowing out behind her in a dark cloak as a cold winter wind swept through the yard.

The men shivered as it touched their spines and sent icy shivers through their veins.

Evil had come to Bluerock.

She smiled then and they stepped back as one. She studied each robed man and though their masks held their identity she recognized at least one pair of weasely gray eyes.

The man who had lit the torch held his ground. "You have been warned!"

Dusty cringed. He sounded like a fire and brimstone preacher on too early of a Sunday morning. "I have been warned?" She raised a dark, sultry eyebrow, "No, YOU have been warned! Stay off this land."

"God does not allow sinners!" The torch wielder spit.

"Strange. You're still here." Dusty said coolly, as her wry side surfaced in full force. I love a good fight.

"You are an abomination!" He screamed. The robed men around him gathered courage with his words and stepped forward again.

Ok, now the fun begins.

"And you... you are a sick little bastard!" Alex yelled from the safety of the front door.

Dammit, I told you to stay inside Alex, this could get dangerous, but Dusty kept her face a mask, revealing nothing.

"Get off my land!" Alex yelled and threw open the front door, unable to bear Dusty outside, alone, with this angry mob. And for the first time she saw clearly past the raging fire and to the white robes and masks. Her fingers loosened momentarily on the baseball bat but then a surge of anger and adrenaline coursed through her body and she raised the bat menacingly, in full sight.

Dusty gently touched Alex's shoulder as the young woman stood even with her and glanced into dark green eyes. With a look back at the gathered men she took one more step down the porch stairs, keeping Alex behind her.

"Shall we settle this right now?" Dusty asked, her voice surprisingly calm and cool while her blood boiled and begged for a fight.

"WE will settle nothing!" The man screamed. "God will decide your fate!"

"Uh huh. God has never done anything for me. I tell you what. Why don't you have your God come and tell me to leave, then I might think twice about it." Dusty grinned, but the smile never reached her eyes. She was taunting them, she knew, just asking for a fight.

A small step behind Dusty reminded her suddenly that this wasn't just her fight, that Alex was here, and in danger.

"You have one day to leave, bitch. After that..." He let the words trail off menacingly, "God won't need to decide what to do." He retreated a step and the others turned to leave.

"Ok, bye bye... boys." Dusty waved.

Alex opened her mouth to scream a departing epithet, but Dusty quickly gathered her in her arms and covered Alex's mouth with her hand.

Alex struggled briefly, till Dusty whispered in her ear.

"Shhh," Dusty warned, "now is not the time."

"And when will the time be to beat their asses silly?" Alex whispered as Dusty's grip loosened and she struggled out of Dusty's arms to look up into her face.

"I don't know," Dusty replied, as she watched the robed men disappear into the darkness, "I don't know."

Alex shrugged Dusty's other hand off her shoulder, went down the porch stairs and stood in front of the burning cross. "Fucking bastards!" She took a swing at the cross with the bat. Sparks shot up into the air and the cross tilted dangerously. "Stupid, idiotic, fucking bastards!" She struck again and sent the large wooden cross into the snow. It hissed and protested against the wet ground, sending wisps of smoke into the air.

Alex kicked more snow on top of it, till it smoldered and hissed into silence. Then she stood, bat in hand, tears running freely down her cheeks.

"Feel better?" Dusty asked, once again at her side.

"No," Alex choked, "I don't feel better at all." She dropped the bat and turned to Dusty's open arms. "How can people hate so much?" She whispered, leaning into the embrace and soaking up Dusty's warmth and solidity.

"I don't know." Dusty wished she had some answers, wished she had a way to keep her lover safe. Would they leave Alex alone if she left? She didn't really think so. Tomorrow she'd go to the sheriff, and see what, if anything could be done. She tightened her arms around Alex, wondering if Alex would leave this all behind, hop in the Jeep, and find somewhere to start all over.

They retreated back into the house, where they turned on numerous lights and waited for the sun to rise.

 

 

 

Chapter Seventeen

Suspicion

"Is this the air you breathe? Are these the lies you've believed all your life? ... Could this be why you feel so incomplete?"- Snippet from 'Air You Breath' by Karthi

 

The drive into town was quiet; the blackened cross on the front lawn a testament to anger and hatred, souring their already sour moods.

Dusty parked the Jeep in front of the Sheriff's office and opened the door for Alex. They entered into the main room. On the left was a half wall, half fence and two openings to shove paperwork through to whoever was on shift. No one happened to be on shift at the moment.

A secretary's desk sat a little off to the right, and the sheriff's door was just behind it. A hallway led off to what Dusty could only assume were holding cells and maybe an office for the deputy.

"'Morning, Betty." Alex stepped up to the secretary's desk, smiling down at the woman dressed all in gray. Gray hair, gray eyes, gray sweater and gray tweed skirt. "Is the sheriff in?"

"Yes, but I'm afraid he's busy with a meeting right now." Betty replied coolly.

"Busy, my ass." Dusty murmured and stepped around the desk.

The old secretary was surprisingly agile and she jumped up to stop Dusty before her hand fell on the knob. "I'm sorry. You can't go in there."

She doesn't sound the least bit apologetic, Alex noted as Dusty effectively moved the woman out of her way and entered the office anyway, Alex hot on her trail.

Just as Dusty opened the door Randy's face appeared. His eyes went wide with shock and he took a step back into the room, right into the sheriff.

"Good morning, Randy," Alex said dryly.

"M-morning," he stammered back, "just tellin' the sheriff 'bout the vandals we had at the Emporium last night."

"Oh really? Vandals?" Dusty arched an eyebrow in disbelief.

"Yeah. Ladies." He tipped his green John Deere hat in their direction and beat a hasty retreat around them all to the door.

"Sheriff," Dusty began, coldly, stepping into the sheriff's office.

Alex stepped in behind her and took a seat, waiting as her lover anxiously paced in front of the desk.

"Please, have a seat." The sheriff sat behind his large oak desk and waved a hand at the last vacant chair.

Dusty gave him and the chair a brief scowl then decided that maybe a little civility would help and sat as well.

"How can I help you, ladies?" The sheriff, Brock Thompson, carefully shuffled papers and replaced pens before he neatly folded his hands on the desk and smiled kindly at the two women.

Dusty silently studied him for a moment. His gray mustache was neatly trimmed and so was his hair. In fact everything about him was neat and tidy, from his perfectly knotted tie to his clean fingernails.

"There were trespassers on my land last night, sir." Alex glanced into his kindly eyes. They'd never had reason to meet before and she was sorry to be here now, meeting this way.

"Trespassers? You're Lilly James' niece, aren't you?"

"Yes," Alex replied, a little surprised, "Lilly was my aunt. Did you know her?" She leaned slightly forward in her seat, almost tasting the story that lurked behind this man.

The sheriff chuckled lightly. "In my younger days your aunt and I courted each other."

"Really? She never-"

Dusty cut her off, impatiently. "I believe, sheriff, that we were discussing trespassers?"

"Of course." The sheriff visibly straightened. "Please, go ahead." He was all business now.

"The other night someone threw a rock through the farmhouse window-"

"Miss?" The sheriff interrupted.

"Sheller. Dusty Sheller."

He knew who she was. There wasn't anybody in this town that he didn't at least know their first name, especially if they caused trouble on the first night they arrived in town. "Miss Sheller you said there was a trespasser last night?"

"Yes," she responded with a weary sigh, "I was getting to that part."

He nodded, and she continued.

"Like I was saying, the first incident was someone throwing a rock through Alex's window." She cast bright eyes on him, carefully gauging his reactions. "The latest incident was last night, when a group of white robed... people... set up a burning cross on the front lawn."

"Did you see who any of them were?" His voice was quiet, professional and oddly curious.

"No." Dusty lied. "They all wore masks."

"Well," he paused, deep in thought, "then there's not much I can do. Unless you can identify at least one of them I have nothing to go on."

Dusty's eyes grew icy cold as she studied the sheriff. "You mean to tell me that people burning crosses on front lawns is all right with you?"

"No," Brock answered carefully, "but till you can give me names there is nothing I can do. Except to give you some advice."

"And that would be?" Dusty asked coldly.

"To stay out of trouble." His voice was measured, even, no true indicator of what he was saying.

Alex could usually read people so well. This man fascinated her. He was all sharp angles and subdued words. A contrast. Did he say one thing when he meant another? Or did he say just what he meant?

Alex saw her lover stand abruptly, sending the chair backwards. She caught Dusty's arm as she raced to de-fuel what could quickly become a confrontation.

Dusty turned slightly and caught Alex's green-gray eyes, and her anger dissipated to a small red coal in her belly.

"It's not a threat, Miss Sheller, just a few words of advice." The sheriff stood, indicating that this discussion was now over.

Dusty gritted her teeth; fists clenched angrily, but let Alex lead her out of the office.

"It was nice to finally meet you, Alex." The sheriff's parting words carried them out the door, and into the icy air of the little town of Bluerock.

"Fuck him," Dusty mumbled as she unlocked the Jeep door for Alex and rounded to the other side. She slammed the door as she sat down and turned the key harshly in the ignition.

"Dusty," Alex settled her hand on Dusty's thigh, "he's right you know."

"About what?" Dusty's words came out a low growl and she felt Alex's hand tremble.

"He can't do anything. We don't know who did it-"

"He's one of them then." Dusty floored the Jeep and peeled out onto the main road, headed back to the farmhouse.

Alex blinked wide, startled eyes. "You don't really think... he wouldn't... he's the sheriff..." Had he been one of them? Had he been the one holding the torch?

"Just because he's the sheriff doesn't mean he's one of the good guys Alex." Dusty lowered her anger and lowered her speed as they traveled the snowy road back to the farm.

Alex sighed. "Too bad this isn't the movies or a book. Good and bad is always so black and white."

Dusty's lip turned up in a wry grin. "Nothing is black and white, love."

Alex's hand went still at the sudden term of endearment.

Dusty bit her lip.

"Except my aunt's old TV." Alex decided to ignore the affection as she noticed Dusty's white knuckled death grip on the steering wheel. "The good guys always wore white hats and rode white horses."

"And the bad guys rode in on black horses, with shiny silver guns and black Stetsons." Dusty relaxed a little.

"Yeah! Did you ever notice..."

And Alex rambled on as Dusty concentrated on the road ahead, letting her lover's sweet voice soothe her tense body and the coal of anger in her belly. She knew it wouldn't take much for that coal to begin to burn. One wisp of air, one spark and she'd explode... all over whoever got in her way. She just prayed that it wouldn't be Alex bearing the brunt of it.

 

 

 

Chapter Eighteen

Intimate Danger

"Smell the burning powder? There's danger in the air... You must beware. The enemy is watching."- snippet 'Minefield' by Petra

 

"Of course," Alex slapped her head. "Brock 'The Sledgehammer' Thompson!"

"Huh?" Dusty glanced at her lover's profile as they trudged up the porch stairs into the farmhouse.

"Come on," Alex grabbed Dusty's hand, tugging her down the hall, "I'll show you."

They ended up in a rarely used room, and Dusty realized it had once been Alex's aunt's room. As Alex rifled through the closet Dusty stood in the doorway waiting.

Finally Alex gave a triumphant grunt and backed out of the closet with a worn, grimy book in her hand. Dusty sauntered over as Alex slid to the floor and began rifling through the pages. Dusty knelt beside her.

After a moment Alex tapped a page of the old yearbook. "Brock Thompson. Caption of the football team. Nicknamed 'The Sledgehammer.' He signed aunt Lilly's yearbook." She ran a finger gently over the fading words as she read. "Dearest Lilly, Our paths have diverged and though you have declined to come with me to the city I will always carry you in my heart. Love, Brock."

Dusty followed the words then studied the picture closer. The city, he'd written. Is that where he'd trained to become a police officer? Of course, there was no training facility here in Bluerock, or even within two hours drive. He was much younger in the picture, still neat and tidy, though his skin was darker. Tanned or natural?

Alex was thinking the same thing. Had Brock gone willingly or been forced out of town because of the darkness of his skin and the intolerance of the fools that lived here? Why hadn't aunt Lilly gone with him? So many mysteries crammed her head, and one thought slammed them all to a stand still.

Why had he come back?

Alex slammed the yearbook shut and jumped to her feet. "I'm going to take Jack out for a ride." She tossed the yearbook over to Dusty who was struggling to her feet as well.

"Alex?" Dusty hurried after her lover, stopping as Alex stood at the front door briskly throwing on her coat. "Are you all right?" Dusty resisted the urge to put her hands on Alex, to sweep the hair from her face, to brush those incredibly soft lips with her fingertips.

Alex blinked. "Yeah," she said slowly, "I'm fine. I just need to clear my head."

Dusty nodded, understanding. If she had her old, beat up punching bag she would have liked to clear her own head by beating the shit out of it. "Ok, I'll make some dinner for when you get back. How does that sound?"

"Great," and Alex stood on tiptoes to brush her lips against Dusty's full lips and tangle her fingers in the hair at the nape of Dusty's neck. How much she wanted to say 'I love you,' but she feared Dusty would back away from the sentimentality. She shouldn't have worried.

Dusty wrapped her arms around the slim blond woman, hugging her fiercely against her chest, reveling in the closeness of their bodies, even through the thick winter clothes. "I love you," Dusty murmured into sweet smelling hair.

For a moment Alex's throat caught and she looked blindly up into blue eyes, darkened by love and passion. "I love you too," she replied huskily, "I won't be long."

Dusty nodded silently as the embrace broke apart and cool air rushed around her body where Alex's warmth had been.

 

__________________

 

In town a frantic phone call was made.

"She's not leaving." His hurried, miserable voice carried over the phone line too loud.

"Shhh," the other hissed, "it's being taken care of as we speak."

"Taken care of?" He questioned.

"Yes, she'll be eliminated, and so will the other if she gets in the way."

"No, the little one's mine," the man smiled, decision made, his fears resting momentarily. "When?" He wanted, no needed, to be there.

"One hour."

"I'll be there." He hung up the phone, an excited smile curling his lips. Oh yes, he'd definitely be there because he was never one to have loose ends hanging around. And if he could kill two birds with one stone all the better.

He could feel the sudden, aching need in his groin as he envisioned what he'd be doing in an hour.

 

__________________

 

Dusty was at the stove, flipping hamburger patties in the fry pan, when the short hairs on the back of her neck bristled. A cool breeze caressed her neck and lifted her bangs.

She turned abruptly and saw the wooden bat flying towards her face. It all happened in a split second. Too late to do anything.

As she fell to the floor in a haze of pain she caught sight of familiar eyes. A curse left her lips as the darkness rose to meet her, "Bastard." He couldn't even face her like a man.

Her last thought was of Alex, in the barn, alone.

 

_______________

 

Alex rounded the barn doors and was met by a wild breeze flying down from the open hayloft. Sharp needles of hay wafted down and stung her cheeks. She turned slowly and faced the doors she'd just come through.

Nothing was amiss or out of place, she'd just forgotten to put the trapdoor down earlier after she'd shoved a bale of hay down for Jack.

She resumed walking to Jack's stall, the silence finally dawning on her. There was no snort of recognition or agitation that she'd been gone so long.

Jack wasn't in his stall and the gate teetered on it's hinges. Dammit, was I in that much of a hurry this morning? No, she distinctly remembered the parting carrot she'd given Jack, his soft lips nuzzling her icy fingers as she'd latched the gate.

A board creaked and she froze in her tracks. Dusty?

The wild wind assaulted her again, skittering hay bits all around her. An acidic smell made her nostrils flare. It was familiar. Tentatively she sniffed the air again. Past the smell of hay and horse was... smoke.

She raced from the barn, to stand gaping in the snow covered yard.

An inane little voice told her to shut her mouth and stop gaping.

The old farmhouse was going up like a tinderbox. Oh God, Dusty was in there.

She raced to the porch, the old boards protesting under her weight. She'd been gone only a moment! The fire was already licking across the living room floor and up the staircase.

Smoke spiraled in ghostly tendrils along the ceiling. "Dusty!" Alex screamed as she pushed her way through the thick smoke.

"Dusty!" she cried again, and broke into a fit of painful coughs. She dropped down to her knees and groped her way across the floor.

Those goddamn bastards, they'll pay for this! You steal my horse and you burn a cross on my front yard and make our lives a living hell. Now you try to burn down my house... with Dusty in it. And you don't think I'm going to be a little pissed?

And if so much as a hair is singed on Dusty's head... oh god, what if I can't find her? What if... She crawled faster in her desperation and her hand struck Dusty's soft flesh.

Her fingers came back sticky, covered in blood. "Dusty?" Alex knelt down at her lover's side.

"Alex?" Dusty's voice was ragged and hoarse, but she was alive.

"Come on, love, we have to get out of here." Alex doubled over in another fit of coughs.

 

____________________

 

"You stupid idiot," the man hissed, "she's going to be killed in there!"

From the safety of the nearby woods the two men watched the house burn.

"Like I was going to stop her if she wanted to go back inside for the bitch?" The other man asked incredulously.

"I told you I didn't want her harmed," he snarled in rage, turning angry gray eyes on his older brother.

"Don't worry," he said quietly and pointed back at the house where Alex was struggling out with Dusty leaning heavily on her shoulder.

"Well," he whispered, "I'll be damned, those bitches have nine lives."

"Less now," the other snickered, and immediately shut up when he received a withering glare.

"Are the others ready?" He asked.

"No, not yet. An hour maybe."

"Fine," his anger withered. There was still time.

 

 

 

Chapter Nineteen

Got to go on

"Dear Shame: You're oh so eager to toy with me. You're always stealing the joy in me. You love to whisper my name, Dear Shame, Dear Shame... "- Chorus 'Dear Shame' by Newsboys

 

No fire engines roared down the road as the house was consumed in smoke and fire. There was nothing to do, and it no longer seemed to matter.

Alex had torn a strip of cloth from her shirt and was applying it to Dusty's bleeding forehead. She was on her knees, holding Dusty in her arms, against her chest.

The frozen ground beneath them traveled up through their thin jeans and left them shivering. She couldn't let Dusty get too cold and go into shock.

God, everything was a mess. Alex shivered uncontrollably, tears threatening on her lashes but unable to fall.

Dusty went in and out of consciousness, the red-hot coal in her belly intensifying and blinding her with rage.

The sun was setting on a long, hard day, with none of it's usual brilliance.

Alex struggled out of her jacket and laid it across Dusty's shivering shoulders. The sound of tires on frozen gravel snapped Alex's head up and towards the road.

Help was finally coming.

A caravan of trucks and a couple cars pulled up the drive. She recognized almost every one of them. Doors clicked open and white robed people stepped out.

"Shit, shit, Dusty wake up!" Alex shook Dusty's shoulder. "Wake up," she cried as they walked closer and closer.

No, no, no! Alex struggled to make Dusty sit up, but she had turned into a dead weight.

They surrounded her, looking down with contemptuous eyes. Two of them stepped out of the crowd. Two sets of gray eyes looked down on Alex and Dusty.

Alex gulped around the sudden nausea and fear.

"Get her up." The taller of the two motioned into the crowd and three robed men surged forward to grab Dusty from Alex's arms.

"No," Alex grabbed hold of Dusty's waist and was dragged up with her, "let us go."

The shorter of the two gray eyed men stepped around behind her and Alex swiveled her head fearfully as her arms were captured in strong hands and torn from Dusty's body.

"No!" She screamed and struggled against him.

"Shhh," he crooned, "relax. It's her we want, not you. Her evil has influenced you. Take away the evil and we- I- will set you on the right path once more." His hot breath came through the white cotton onto her neck.

Her stomach convulsed. Oh God. "Dusty!" She tried to reach out her arms to her love but the man held her tightly. Hot tears tracked down her cheeks and a sob hitched in her throat.

He pressed her small body against his, soaking up the fragrant smell of her hair and the fear emanating off her body. He was glad no one could see the wicked smile on his face.

The men were a means to an end. He had what he wanted. "String her up!" He yelled harshly.

Alex screamed.

A rope materialized from the group and Alex struggled uselessly in the man's grasp. Bile rose in her throat. The group loosened the rope and then tightened it around Dusty's neck.

"No," Alex screamed again and again, her throat becoming raw with the useless effort.

The rope swung up and over a sturdy branch.

Darkness hung around the shadows, diminished by the blazing fire in the house.

Let her go, Alex begged silently. Please, let her go. She kicked and twisted. The man simply held tighter. Her chest hurt, she couldn't tear her eyes from Dusty.

She stopped struggling and the man laughed. He didn't walk to join the others, instead stepping slowly backwards and into the woods at the side of the driveway.

"Wha-"

His hot, sweaty palm clamped over her mouth.

The woods were solid darkness where the moonlight couldn't shine through. It was oddly quiet as he dragged her through the woods to a predetermined spot.

 

_________________

 

"One." The men counted and braced their feet.

"Two." They tightened the muscles in their arms.

"Three." A collective groan went up as they pulled the rope over the branch.

The wind whipped across the fields, gathering in intensity, sending the fire spiraling and wafting dangerously. Someone in the back of the crowd cried out.

Some of the tension slipped from the rope.

"Help!" The cry became louder. "Fire!"

The rope slipped from the men's hands as they rushed to help one of their own fallen as he thrashed around, fire curling along his robe.

Dusty's body crashed to the ground and her breath escaped her lips in a huge rush of air. Her fingers struggled against the rope on her neck. Red-hot anger coursed through her veins. Where was Alex?

A gentle breeze touched her arm as she staggered to her feet, clear of the noose. She struggled to see around the blood dripping into her eyes, wiping at it absently as she followed the ghostly breeze as it tugged on her arm.

When the fire was out and the men turned back to the tree the woman was gone.

 

___________________

 

Enough, Alex cried. She worked her lips around the hand that dug into her mouth and sank her teeth into soft flesh.

He cried out and shoved Alex roughly to the ground. She staggered back up and he knocked her down with a vicious backhand.

"Stupid bitch." His face contorted in anger and rage. "Fucking dyke!" He'd show her, teach her what it was like to be with a man.

He fell on top of Alex, pinning down her arms. She struggled terrified beneath him.

"Don't do this," she gasped.

"Shut up bitch," he held her arms down with one hand and slapped her again with the other, "I've wanted you for a long time, but you always said no."

"H-Howard?" Alex stammered.

"You won't get way with no this time." He seemed oblivious to her question as his meaty hand tore the front of her shirt. He tugged off his mask and smiled savagely down at her.

"No, Howard. Please don't do this." Alex whimpered as his pelvis pressed against her hips and his crotch ground into her.

"Shut the fuck up." Rivulets of sweat ran down his forehead, landing on her exposed chest. His breathing became labored as he pawed her breasts with his callused hand.

Sobs tore from Alex's throat. Dusty. Dusty, she begged. But Dusty was... no! She'll find me, she'll survive.

Howard ripped at her jeans, snapping the buttons off.

She whimpered in the cold night air as he pulled frantically on the elastic band of her underwear. "No, please stop."

Howard hissed, spittle flying from the corners of his mouth. "I said shut the fuck up!" He screamed at her again and sent an angry fist slamming into her stomach.

She sucked in a lungful of cold air, pain shooting up her chest.

A cold hand passed across the back of Howard's neck and he swiveled around just in time to see a shadow moving swiftly among the trees.

He opened his mouth to call out to whoever was there when a strange cry broke the electric air.

The dark shadow sailed pass and knocked Howard off Alex's body.

Dusty rolled and staggered to her feet. Before Howard could blink she was straddling his chest, fists pummeling him senseless.

With a savage snarl she continued to beat the shit out of him even as his head lolled to the side.

"No!" Alex cried, jumping up painfully. Her shirt flapped open in the breeze, torn tatters like ghostly fingers. "Dusty, stop!"

Howard was an incoherent bloody mess under Dusty and still she didn't stop.

"Dusty!" Alex screamed, hurling herself across the small distance, knocking her lover off Howard. "Stop it!" She grabbed Dusty's flailing arms and sat across her thighs.

"Let me go. This is FAR from over, Alex." Dusty's voice was a feral snarl. Blood seeped out of the wound on her head, staining her white cotton T-shirt a dark shade of black.

Alex blinked back tears and held on tighter. "No, it's over, my love."

Dusty focused then on the soft words and looked into deep, moonlit filled eyes. Always my anchor in the storm, aren't you? Her body sagged against the rough bark of a young tree.

"Can we just go now?" Alex whispered, keeping her eyes carefully averted from Howard's bloody body.

Dusty's strong fingers traced Alex's collarbone and her eyes traveled down Alex's tattered shirt. Dusty stifled a moan as she tied the tatters together over Alex's breasts. Dusty's hands shook and Alex took them gently in hers, kissing each palm.

"I love you." Dusty drew her partner into her arms, saying the words, emotions spilling over into tears.

Alex's sob hitched in her throat and she was speechless. She buried her head in Dusty's chest, absorbing the solid strength and smell of leather and spices. "I love you too," she managed to whisper, at last.

"Come on, let's go-" Dustyís words froze in her mouth as a familiar ghostly hand tugged on her arm. She hurried to her feet, dragging Alex with her.

"What is it?"

Dusty dragged them rapidly through the woods towards the red glow of the house.

Around them feet trampled the bushes in hot pursuit.

Oh God. Once again Alex's heart leapt into her throat. They broke through the woods and into the clearing beside the house.

Dusty stopped abruptly as the sheriff waved a shotgun in their direction. "Fucking shit." Dusty swore, ready to wrestle the gun from the sheriff with her bare hands.

"Down," he ordered and switched off the safety.

Alex and Dusty sprawled hastily onto the ground as the woods snapped and crackled behind them.

The sheriff raised the shotgun slightly above the robed men's heads and fired a deafening shot. Everyone froze in their tracks.

The echoes diminished. "You are all under arrest."

One robed man stepped forward, his gray eyes glinting angrily in the fire's light. "Don't be stupid, Brock," he scoffed, "you don't want to interfere."

"I don't?" Brock locked steady eyes on the masked man. "And tell me, Randy, just what are you going to do?"

Dusty and Alex crawled silently to the side and stood by the sheriff.

Randy tugged off his mask with a muffled curse and threw it to the ground. "I'll-"

"What?" Sheriff Brock lowered the shotgun till it was level with Randy's belly. "You'll what? Tell everybody my little secret?"

Randy sneered. "I just might do that."

"Go ahead." Brock smiled.

Randy suddenly paled. The only ammo he had against the sheriff and it didn't seem it was going to fly anymore.

"Go ahead, Randy, tell them my father was a drifter. A black man that happened into town and had an affair with my mother."

Dusty and Alex both looked wide-eyed at the sheriff as he chuckled wryly.

"It's not a secret you can use against me anymore. We grew up together Randy and everyday you never let me forget who my father was." The sheriff fingered the trigger on the shotgun, caressing it.

Brock's finger tightened.

Alex slipped from Dusty's hand and stood directly in front of the sheriff, her back to the robed men. Dusty rushed froward but stopped suddenly when Alex gave her a slight smile and held up her hand.

"Brock, don't do this."

Slowly his eyes focused on the young woman in front of the shotgun. Her shirt was tattered, her pale skin peeking out from beneath. He averted his eyes. "Get out of my way."

"Please, Brock. I know you left Bluerock to get away, to make a name for yourself somewhere where people didn't know you or your past." Alex took a small step closer. "You came back because you wanted to make things right in this town, but you couldn't. Randy blackmailed you and got away with it because no one would respect a man with a black father in this town." She took another step forward as he focused haunted eyes on her once again.

"Would they?" She demanded gently.

"No, they wouldn't. I came back, for Lilly, and for this town. I- I thought I could..."

"Do some good?" She smiled around her own pain, focusing intently on this man she suddenly knew so well.

"Yes," he murmured and his arms lost the strength they'd had only moments earlier. The shotgun slipped from his fingers and Dusty grabbed it before it hit the ground. She shucked the shells, flipped on the safety, and hung it open over her arm.

"You did good tonight," Alex continued softly, laying a sympathetic hand on his arm. "You did real good."

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty

Epilogue

"There is only one way to end this cycle of hatred and it's through love, and forgiveness."- Gabrielle to Xena in 'Callisto'

 

"Black and white," Alex murmured. She rested against Dusty's chest as they stared up at the remains of the house. The charred, black ruins stood stark against the fresh white snow that had fallen after the harrowing events of last night.

"Everything's gone Alex." Dusty rested her chin against her lover's head.

"No baby, I still got you," Alex turned in Dusty's arms and looked up into her soot stained face.

"Jack... Your stories-" Dusty started but Alex's fingers on her lips silenced her.

"Nothing matters except that we are both alive," her eyes traveled sadly to the harsh red marks on Dusty's neck. They had both come so close...

Dusty's eyes darkened with emotion. "What now?" she asked softly.

Alex was silent a moment. What now indeed. "The trial will be held in the city. Both Randy and Howard are there." She looked over to the Jeep, soot stained as well, but still in running condition. "We'll need to be close." She looked back up into brilliant blue eyes.

Dusty nodded, understanding that they'd have to find a place to stay in the city until the trial was over. Together, she could see that much in Alex's eyes. Dusty leaned down and placed a lingering kiss on Alex's lips. "I love you."

Alex sank into the warm, safe embrace. "I love you too," her words were muffled against Dustyís strong chest.

They didn't go back into the remains of the house, just held on tight to each other as they got into the Jeep and headed out of Bluerock without any good-byes.

 

_________________

 

Jack snorted as he raced across the snow swept fields. He'd watched his master and the familiar woman drive away with a deep sadness but he knew he had other places to go. Other people to bring comfort to in their time of loneliness...

He pawed the snow packed earth and rose up on his hind legs. He screamed his good-byes across the rolling landscape.

 

______________

 

Samuel Jacobson stood watch over the fields where evil had played. He had succeeded, this time, but he wasn't at rest. He never would be. This truth greatly saddened him as he walked away from the charred ruins of Raven's End.

He finally stopped in the mountains beside an old grave. He knelt beside the graves of his wife and children, a slow, sad smile breaking out across his face.

"I have a promise to keep my beloved family, then I shall rest in your arms." He kissed the tips of his fingers and laid them reverently upon the ground.

He whispered the curse that had been laid upon his deathbed in bloody writing all those centuries ago.

"Till evil be wrought asunder, you are cursed to wander.

"Till you hear their voices cry, you are forced to die. Over and over again.

 

"The cycle of hate must be broken by one of the circle. Till this be done you will not rest in the arms of love."

Samuel straightened and looked out over the mountain to the setting of the sun. The horizon was splashed in hues of purple and pink, a canvas of deep, rich colors.

Who would break that cycle of hate? Had it been the women whose lives had been tossed upside down he would be free now. Had it been the sheriff he would certainly be free soon. But what if it was one of the others? What if it was Randy or Howard? Then Samuel would never find rest for they would not give up their hatred so easily.

When would it ever end? When his revenge on the ancestors of the stranger who'd destroyed his life was complete? No, he no longer sought revenge. He'd had centuries to see how it destroyed the people of Bluerock with their secrets and lies and anger.

Of course. He could see it so clearly now and wondered why he'd never seen it before. His hatred had blinded him to everything. In fact it was his own hatred that he had to overcome.

Was it really that simple? Could he stop hating after so long?

"Daddy?" A little voice called from behind him.

He froze, breath and heart caught in his throat.

"Daddy?" The little voice called again, and a cool hand touched his.

Samuel looked down into eyes he hadn't seen in so long. His beloved youngest son stood gazing up at him, questions in his eyes.

"What took you so long, daddy?" His little boy asked.

Samuel's rich booming laugh was so sudden that it shook his body to his knees and he fell beside his son and engulfed him in a sudden, overwhelming hug. "I've had some forgiving to do, son. I've missed you," he pushed back to look fondly at his child.

"Come home with us, daddy?"

"Yes, yes." He took his son's hand, taking one last look at the vanishing sun. He had broken the cycle. But, he admitted silently, he never would have been able to if not for the brave women who'd held fast to love and shown him the way.

There is only one way to end the cycle of hatred, and it's through love, and forgiveness. He'd have to find whoever said that and shake his hand.

"Daddy?" His little boy tugged on his hand.

"I'm coming," Samuel smiled. "Finally, I'm coming home."

 

The End


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