by: Susanne M. Beck (SwordnQuill)

Disclaimers: The characters in this novel are of my own creation. That’s right, this is an ‘uber’ story. It’s also a sequel to my novel, Retribution, which, in turn is a sequel to my novel Redemption. (That’s right! It’s a trilogy!) You really will want to read those first before tackling this one. Some may bear a resemblance to characters we know and love who are owned by PacRen and Universal Studios.

Violence and Naughty Language Disclaimer: Yup, both. And quite a lot of each, to be truthful. We’re dealing with a bunch of ex-cons and assorted other nasty type people here.

Subtext Disclaimer: Yup, there’s that too. This piece deals with the love and physical expression of that love, between two adult females. There are some graphic scenes located within this piece, but I have tried to make them as tasteful as possible so as to not avoid anyone’s sensibilities. Let me know if I’ve succeeded.

Dedication: Well, it’s that time again, to thank everyone who made the writing of this work a pleasure. It’s a bit sad, as well, since this will likely be the last we hear of Ice and Angel, but heck, it’s been a fun ride, huh? So, deep debts of gratitude go out from me to the following people: Carol "you’d just better have a happy ending!" Stephens; Elizabeth "Four" Baldwin, Linda "Lola" Lynch, Lisa "Sulli" Sullivan, and the rest of the Angry Beavers; Judi "you just better have a happy ending part deux" Mair, Mary "is the Pope Catholic" D, Candace "Theodyke" Chellew, the members of my SwordnQuil list for their wonderful support and feedback, my dogs Kricket and Pudderbear, and a host of other people I’m going to kick myself in the morning for not mentioning. Thanks guys!!!

Feedback: As always, is most welcome. It not only makes this ‘job’ of writing (which is really a love) much easier, it also makes me better at it. And that is my goal. To become the best writer I can be. If the spirit moves you, you may reach me at with any questions, concerns or comments.

Final Disclaimer: As with my previous two novels, this story will be posted in blocks of thirty or so pages per night. It is fully completed, down to the last punctuation mark, so I won’t leave you hanging. J




"Why don’t you sit here and take off your shirt," I said, leading my lover into the bathroom and closing the door behind us, "and I’ll see what I can do about cleaning out that cut of yours."

Without a word, she sat on the closed lid of the toilet as asked, sure fingers making short work of the buttons on her shirt and easing it off of her broad, bronzed shoulders. She hadn’t spoken a word since ordering Rio to take the long route home, an order Rio followed to the letter, turning a twenty minute jaunt into a two hour trek.

She seemed deep in thought, buried beneath the weight of whatever emotions were going on behind the razor-sharp glare of her eyes.

I stole glances at her as I cleansed the dried blood from the long, narrow slice in her upper arm. She appeared absorbed in her hands, staring at them intently, turning them over, and back, and over again as I worked.

When I was finished, I replaced the supplies and moved to the front of her, squatting down between her spread thighs. "Hey," I said softly, looking up into her closed face. "You ok?"

The barest ghost of a smile graced her lips as her eyes cleared and focused on mine. "Yeah. I’m alright."

Things fell silent once again as I searched my mind for an opening gambit. "They say I’m a good listener."

Her smile became a tad more pronounced after a moment. "They do, huh?"

"Yep. Best listener in three countries."

She laughed softly, then dropped her gaze and looked back down at her hands, rubbing them together. After a moment, she spoke, so softly that I had to strain to hear her, even though we were inches apart.

"I used to think that if I tried hard enough, I could get it off."

"What?" I asked, in the same quiet tone.

"Blood. On my hands. So much blood," she whispered, clenching her hands into tight fists. "No matter how much I try, though, it’s always there. Always." She met my eyes then, her own glittering with such agony that my heart wrenched powerfully and tears sprang unbidden to my eyes. "Sometimes in the night, I ache to touch you, to hold you. But how can I taint you with all this blood?"

Taking her hands, I gentled them open, stroking each palm, each finger, before lifting them and placing them on my face, cupping them to my cheeks and nuzzling each in turn. "You don’t taint me, Ice. You complete me. In ways I never dreamed possible."

Her eyes darkened and she attempted to pull her hands back. I held fast, pitting my own strength and my own will against hers. An uneven match, yes, by far, but one I was determined to win.

"No," she said.

"Yes, Ice. Yes. You always tell me who I am to you. I think it’s time I tell you who you are to me." I locked gazes with her, not allowing her to look away or to shrink back inside her self imposed prison of guilt. "You are my hope. My strength. The joy in my life. You’re my teacher. My guide. And my light."

She shook her head slowly, trying to negate my statement.

"Yes, you are. No matter how much you want to believe it’s not so, it is. Whenever I find myself in a very dark place, all I have to do is look at you, or think of you, and it’s like seeing the sun after a month of rain. Because you’re inside me, so very deep, that I can never be alone, even if we’re miles apart." I smiled up at her, the joy of that truth shining from my face. "Don’t you see, Ice? You don’t taint me. You never could. And you know why?"

Lifting her right hand from my face, I placed a kiss in the palm, then placed it over my heart. "Because you’re here. In my heart. And with every beat, more of you comes in, until I’m totally full with the joy of loving you. All of you, Ice. The part that’s happy, and the part that’s angry. The part that loves, and the part that hates. The part that forgives, and the part that seeks vengeance."

Releasing her hand, I placed my own on her face, tenderly holding it in my palms. "All of you."

There was a look of wonder on her face, but it was the wonder of a man alone in the desert who views an oasis from afar and yet is, perhaps, afraid to walk to it, afraid to reach out to find only an illusion where the promise of life once stood shining bright with hope.

Knowing further words would never convince her, I let my heart speak instead. Rising from my crouch between her legs, I moved our faces together and covered her lips with my own in a kiss as full of tender promise as I could possibly make it.

After what seemed a small eternity, she responded, moaning softly as the hand which had been cupping my cheek threaded its way through my hair, melding us more closely together and deepening the kiss we shared. Deepening, too, the bond between us.

An eternal bond.

After a long moment, she pulled away and looked down at me, her face still filled with wonder. But this time, the wonder was of a man who has found out that the oasis is, indeed, real after all. "I . . .think I needed that," she commented softly, her voice husky.

"Dear god, so did I," I responded with the fervor of one newly converted.

"Would you . . .could I hold you? For just a little while?"

Her simple request filled me with a joy I couldn’t even begin to describe, and I know my face showed it in the beaming smile I could feel growing there. "You don’t know how much I’d love that."

Her answering smile was almost shy as she reached out to take my hand.

The bedroom was cool and dim, and carried a slight hint of my lover’s scent on the still air. I breathed of it deeply, then followed as Ice sat down on the narrow bed, then stretched out on her back, her feet hanging slightly over the edge, even with her head resting cocked against the wall.

"Like being back in the Bog, huh?" I joked, grabbing one foot playfully.

"It’s not so bad," she responded softly, crossing her ankles and resting her clasped hands on the flat plane of her belly.

Taking her word for it, I crossed to the side of the bed and, at the last second, stripped off my shirt, needing more than anything to feel her skin soft and smooth against my own. Her eyes glittered as she watched me, and her arms opened wide and welcoming as I lowered myself onto the narrow bed. I melded myself to her side, throwing a leg over her thighs and wrapping an arm around her belly as I laid my head once again on her chest.

It was a sense of homecoming as brilliant and as perfect as sunlight upon new-fallen snow and I felt tears sting at my eyes from the sheer beauty filling my soul to overflowing.

Her hand came up to stroke my hair, her touch warm and tender and loving. My body flowed through with warmth and as sweet an ache as I can ever remember having. I willed my tears not to fall, well knowing that she’d stop the minute she felt their heat on her skin.

"I love you, Angel," she whispered.

It was the last thing I remembered as the day finally called in its marker and I fell asleep to the music of her heart beating in my ear.

I love you too, Ice. More than you’ll ever know.


A knock to the door roused me from my unintended slumber, and when I opened my eyes, I saw the door crack open and a shaft of light lance its way into the pitch-dark bedroom. Pony’s head materialized almost out of nowhere, a small grin gracing her lips. "Dinner’s almost ready, if you’re hungry."

"We’ll be out in a bit," Ice replied, stretching her long body slightly and settling herself back on the bed.

Nodding, Pony closed the door, casting the room back into darkness once again.

"Hey, sleepyhead. Get a good rest?" Her voice burred out of the darkness above me and sent a warm, welcoming tingle down the length of my body.

I was glad the darkness hid my blush. "Sorry. I didn’t mean . . . ."

"Don’t be sorry, Angel. You needed the rest."

"But . . . ."

"Shhh. It wasn’t any hardship to hold you as you slept. Believe me."

Bowing to her superior logic, I laid my head back down on her chest, breathing in the scent of her with undeniable pleasure. Not surprisingly, my hand had crept upward as I slept and now lay covering one of her breasts. I trailed my fingers lightly over the warm, soft flesh, smiling as I felt her unmistakable response.

Since she didn’t seem inclined to halt the proceedings, I felt myself growing bolder, and repeated my actions as I lowered my head just slightly to lay a line of gentle kisses down her exposed chest.

She tasted of salt and sunlight and mysteries to be explored. I felt my hunger growing, but it wasn’t for food. Her fingers tightening in my hair, she guided me gently, and when I closed my lips around her, suckling, the soft sigh of pleasure she allowed was a homecoming all its own.

I would have continued growing still bolder in my attentions had my stomach not chosen that very moment to announce its own demands; demands having very little to do with the hunger that was consuming the rest of my body.

Releasing her fingers from my hair, Ice gentled herself out from under me.

"Hey! I was enjoying that!"

"I think your belly would enjoy something a little more nutritious first."

"Then my belly can just walk itself out to the kitchen, ‘cause the rest of me’s staying right here." I reached for her again, only to be halted by tender hands.

"Food first. Fun later."

"Awww . . . !"

She chuckled softly. "I’m not going anywhere, Angel. We have all night."

As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could see the faint shadow of her face above me. "Promise?"

Her smile was full of love. "Promise."

"Alright then. What are we waiting for?" I asked, as I scrambled off the bed and grabbed my shirt while tossing Ice’s at her.

Catching her shirt, she exited the bed much more gracefully than I. Yanking the garment over her head, and smoothing it on, she paused to run her fingers through her hair, settling it back into order. An action which caused my hormones to dash off a rather pointed note to my stomach for spoiling their fun.

My stomach growled in response to the missive, which sent the hormones back into hiding, cowards that they were.


"Oh, yeah."

We both knew I was talking about far more than food.


Dinner, as it turned out, was fantastic. Rio proved herself an excellent chef, and all but ruined me for any other Mexican food anywhere. The brief respite we’d had seemed to have relaxed Ice, which, in turn, allowed the others to relax as well. The conversation was pleasant, if forgettable, and even Pony lightened up enough to crack a joke here and there. All were invariably horrid, but at least it was better than sitting there looking as if her best friend had died and she was next on the list.

After the meal was consumed and the dishes were washed and put away, though the night was still quite young, everyone claimed exhaustion and were ready for sleep. There was a second bedroom in the house, with two single beds, where the policemen guarding Ice had slept. To Rio’s immense relief, Ice doled out sleeping assignments, which had Critter and Nia sharing the bedroom and Rio and Pony sleeping in the living room.

As Ice went off to make some phone calls, Pony and Rio took a last walk around the outside of the house, checking for any signs of trouble. I chatted with Critter for a bit while Nia washed up, and once the bathroom was free, I decided to treat myself to a long, hot shower to wash the last of the day’s pressures away.

Not that anything as simple as a shower could wash away the images of blood and death the day had wrought, but perhaps a physical cleansing could affect a spiritual one as well.

At least, that was my hope.

Stepping into the shower, I closed the curtain behind me and grabbed the soap as the hot, steaming water cascaded down over me. Hot water, a luxury I would never again take for granted, no matter how long I lived.

As I drew the sweet-smelling soap over my body, the images of the day began to be replaced by other, more personal visions. Scenes of bodies wrapped tight in loving, of sweating skin gliding effortlessly together, of lush moisture and quiet moans.

So wrapped up was I in this waking dream that I didn’t, at first, notice that fantasy had become reality as if my thoughts had willed it so. I stiffened at first, at the belated awareness of a body pressed close behind me, but the feel of that body and the tender strength in the hands which captured the soap from my own turned my muscles from cement into jelly within a beat of my heart.

Strong, tanned hands worked the bar into a full, foaming lather, then replaced it on the ledge. Those same hands then traced a silken path over my body, teasing my breasts in maddening circles until I thought I would go insane with need.

Unable to take the sensual teasing any longer, I grasped her hands and drew them up my body until they cupped my breasts. Long fingers glided effortlessly over my nipples, lightly pinching, lightly pulling. My breathing kept time with soft sighs and whispered moans.

Soft lips and sharp teeth nipped at the skin of my neck and shoulder, her tongue darting and teasing and tasting as I squirmed beneath her hands.

Then she turned me to face her. Cupping my face in her large, gentle hands, she lowered her head and melded our mouths together as the water cascaded down over both of us. I tasted the sharp tang of minerals and the sweet hunger of her lips as she opened them and drew in my tongue for a tender duel.

Her breasts, full and firm, brushed against my sensitized skin, sending prickles of sensation through my body and pooling the moisture building between my legs. Her hands left my face and trailed over my spine, reaching lower to curve over my hips and pull our bodies tight together along their lengths. Soap and water provided a delightful slickness, and we slid together as if dancing to a sound only our hearts could hear.

God, I ached for her. An ache as strong and as needing as anything I’d ever felt before. It consumed me. It robbed my breath from me. It made my heart thunder in my chest, my body throbbing with every forceful contraction.

Our mouths still entangled in a passionate kiss, she lifted me slightly off my feet, and as my legs spread of their own accord, she placed her long, strong thigh between them, and rested me back down on top of it. I groaned in pleasure as she steadied me, then moved against me, my back pressed flat against the warm, slick tiles of the stall.

Sure, tender hands glided me along the length of her thigh and I gasped at the sensations which raced through my body, turning it to a searing flame which knew no bounds. Slowly at first, then gaining delightful speed, she pressed into me, her warm, supple flesh and iron hard muscles relentless in pursuit of my pleasure, and hers as well.

Moaning softly, she broke the lock of our lips and rested her forehead against the tile next to mine, turning her head and tracing her tongue along the shell of my ear. "Come for me, sweet Angel," she growled low in my ear, searing my nerve endings as she suckled on my lobe. "Let me feel you."

Gasping for badly needed breath, I tipped my head back, well past any semblance of rational thought, baring my neck to the assault of her lips and tongue and teeth, my hips gliding in a timeless, primal rhythm of hunger and aching desire.

Her tongue lapped at the hollow of my throat, and then at the pulsepoint bounding strongly, rapidly in my neck. And when her teeth gently bit down on the flesh she’d so lovingly captured, it was the trigger which released me as the darkness behind my eyelids burst into a brilliant pattern of light and shadow.

My soul was free, floating on a sea of bliss and sensation. Ice was my anchor, her warm hands and softly murmured words of love keeping me tethered to the real world as my spirit soared to the heavens and beyond.

Slowly, so slowly, I came back to earth to find myself tight in Ice’s fiercely tender embrace. The water had since turned cold and the icy spray sent uncontrollable shivers through me. A quick hand cut off the water, and before I knew what was happening, I was borne up in strong arms and carried out of the stall.

I was placed gently on the floor, and steadied as she reached for a large, fluffy towel. She dried me carefully, tenderly, making me feel like the most cherished person on earth, then wrapped me in the towel and lifted me into her arms again, the look of absolute adoration on her face almost painful in its intensity.

We walked down the short, dark hallway, Ice uncaring in her nakedness. She shut the bedroom door behind us with her foot, and placed me gently on the bed, her expression sweet and loving. "How ya doing?" she asked, brushing the bangs from my eyes.

"Oh, I’m . . .I’m . . .wonderful."

Her smile was slow and sweet. "I’m glad."

"So am I," I replied with fervor.

Tousling my hair, she straightened and stepped away slightly, stretching her shoulders back and rolling her neck. to loosen the bunched muscles there. I looked on silently, drawn, as always, by the sheer magnificence of her naked body. The cold water and her undeniable arousal had done wonderful things to it, as I’m sure you can imagine, and as I watched, spellbound, a single bead of water, fat with moisture, rolled slowly between her breasts, down the muscled ridges of her abdomen, and nestled in the well of her navel.

I watched that journey through blazing eyes, licking lips suddenly desperate for moisture. Catching me in my fantasies, a secret smile spread over her face, and she crossed to the nightstand. My eyes were glued to her; glued to every sensual shift of muscle over silken skin, glued to the light sway of her hips and to the inky trail of wet hair as it spilled down her tapered back. My hands closed in fists, fighting desperately against the need to just reach out and pull her to me and ravish her senseless.

Opening a small drawer set in the nightstand, she reached in and pulled out an object which made my whole body implode with renewed, raging desire. Holding it in the dim light of the small bedside lamp, she shook the straps free, then looked at me, eyebrow raised and a tiny smile playing over her lips.

"Yes," I gulped, suddenly wondering where all the air had gone in the room, "please."

I spared a brief second to wonder just how she’d come by such a prize, but that thought was quickly lost in the blaze of her eyes as she closed the drawer and crossed back over to my side of the bed. She handed the phallus to me, and I took it with faintly trembling hands. It was of medium size, medium length, and double-ended, with the slightly shorter end to be inserted into the wearer.

I ran my fingers lightly over the warm, pliant skin, then looked up at her, smiling with anticipation. Eyes dark and glittering, nostrils flaring just slightly, she slowly lifted one long leg and planted her foot on the bed, opening herself to me.

She was glistening with moisture, so open and ready for my touch. I spread her fully to my heated gaze, drawing a finger through the lush wetness and watching as a shudder ran through her body. Unable to help myself, I leaned forward and drank deeply of her, moaning with the taste of her readiness on my lips and tongue. Strong fingers threaded themselves through my hair, holding me to her as her hips rocked against my feasting mouth.

I couldn’t get enough of her, this woman who was hot, and wet, and oh so very sweet. The more she offered, the more I took, like a greedy beggar at the feast of a king.

And as I felt her reach that place of no return, I reached up and eased the phallus into her, filling her full as I tasted the musky beginnings of her climax on my tongue. Her body shuddered, her inner walls clenching down hard on the toy in my hand and her hips thrusting uncontrollably against me. Her growl of release was sweet music to my ears.

When her shudders slowed, then halted completely, I pulled away after pressing a tender kiss into her flesh. Then I looked up at her, grinning cheekily. She stared down at me, her gaze half-lidded and searing as her fingers worked the harness over her hips and buckled it into place.

I found myself on my back, not quite sure how I’d gotten there, with Ice looming over me on all fours, like some great hungry predator with prey in her grasp. Her lips covered mine in a kiss of boundless passion as her fingers worked to unwrap me from my towel.

That task finally completed to her satisfaction, she lowered herself, lapping up each and every bead of moisture which had escaped the towel’s absorption, attending to her duties with great relish. Her tongue and lips seemed to be everywhere at once, and I shivered, my body taut and aching with desire. She blazed a heated trail down my body, pausing at each breast to suckle and nip, before moving lower, ever lower. When her tongue delved, thrusting, into the recess of my navel, I thought I would release then and there from the sheer erotic power of it.

Lower she moved, her tongue grazing the insides of my thighs, over my knees and calves and down to my toes. As she took the first one into the heat of her mouth, the release denied before came blazing full force and I cried out as the contractions flared through me like a windswept fire on a grassy plain.

She was relentless, though, this woman who was my lover, moving back up my body with the same slow, sure deliberation, until she reached the place where I was all fire and pulsing need. She took me into her mouth, growling as she tasted me, her tongue darting and teasing and stroking and dancing, pushing me higher than I’d ever thought I’d go, and then, still higher, responding to my cries with deep moans of her own.

My body finally reached its straining limit and stiffened forcefully as another climax seared its way through me on tendrils of hungry fire. She held me tenderly in her mouth as my climax ended, then moved back up my body quickly, nestling against me and looking down into my eyes, her own ablaze with love. My spent muscles trembling, I relaxed beneath the secure, warm weight of her body, my eyes closing as I felt her tenderly stroke my hair and face, gentling me and bringing me back home.

"God, I love you."

I don’t know if those whispered words were meant to reach my ears or not, but reach them they did and caused a smile to break over my face. I opened my eyes to see hers, brilliant with unshed tears. Reaching up, I cupped her face and ran a tender thumb across her cheek, catching a single tear as it escaped beyond her lashes. "And I love you. More than the air I breathe."

Smiling through her tears, she lowered her head and kissed me. It was a kiss of promise and of unbounded love, delivered from her heart to mine in the sweetest of ways.

Though there was nothing passionate in this sharing of breath, incredibly, my body began to respond again just from her nearness and warmth. "Please," I whispered with the last of my breath. "I need to feel you inside me." It was a need which had become all-encompassing, a last act of completion to put my heart and soul fully at rest.

Still kissing me tenderly, almost reverently, she shifted most of her weight off of me and ran her hands slowly down my body, the tips of her fingers caressing peaks and valleys and everywhere in between with a grace that was, to me, beauty incarnate.

Her hand finally nestled between my legs, preparing me for her entrance into me. I was well past ready, and she smiled when she felt the evidence presented her. Gentle hands spread my legs as she continued to press kisses deep into my mouth, our tongues dancing a slow, sensual ballet.

Then she was covering me with her body once more, resting her weight on her arms as she looked down at me, an unasked question clear in the smoky depths of her eyes.

"Yes," I whispered, wanting nothing more than what she so silently, so lovingly offered. "Please, yes."

One hand disappeared from my sight, and I soon felt the smooth, rounded tip of the phallus being drawn through my heated wetness. A brief moment later, it was poised at the entrance to my body. Leaning down, her hair forming a curtain around our faces, she kissed me deeply and slid smoothly within, filling me more completely, more wonderfully, than I’d ever before felt.

Fully sheathed, she hovered there, waiting for my body to adjust, her deep and passionate kisses taking my mind from muscles strained to their limit and onto something infinitely more pleasurable.

She fit into me perfectly, like a puzzle piece, and my body adjusted quickly to this new sensation, quickly demanding more. I trailed my fingers down her muscled back until I had her hips in my hands. Grasping those hips, I pulled her to me. "Now," I growled into her ear.

Groaning, she did as I asked, pulling smoothly out before thrusting in once again. The pleasure was indescribable, and I nearly cried with the joy of feeling it.

Together, we set up a perfect rhythm. We kissed passionately until neither of us had the breath for it and were forced to pull away. Ice’s head rested next to mine as she thrust into my willing body, her sweat-soaked hair gliding wetly over my cheeks and lips, its fragrance as intoxicating as the scent of our loving which hovered in the air surrounding us.

I pulled her to me, quick and forcefully, needing everything she could give to me, and more besides. She responded as if born to do this very thing, surging into me with unbridled desire, unleashing the darkness and lightness inside of her, the passion and the tenderness, the power and the strength. All of this she delivered to me as her soft grunts and low moans filled my hearing like a symphony.

She crested first, her back arching, her neck thrown back to expose her throat to me, her hips thrusting blindly, forcefully, without thought or intent. Sweat poured down from her and dripped onto me, a baptism of fire and passion.

A bare second later, I too was drawn into the whirling vortex where life as I’d come to know it ceased to exist, and only pleasure resided.

I think I must have passed out for a moment, because when I came back into my body again, it was to find her full weight atop me, her chest heaving in time to her exhausted gasps for air. When she felt me move, she attempted to roll from me, but I was having none of it, and wrapped my arms around her, my body still throbbing around the phallus as it rested, still, deep within me.

"No. Stay. Please," I gasped, badly out of breath myself. "Need this. Need you."

She settled back over me, a living blanket of love, warmth and safety, and from that moment on, I knew no more until the sun rose once again.


The next morning, I woke up to something unexpected and very, very much welcomed. As my fuzzy thoughts came to sharper awareness, I realized that the gentle thumping beneath my ear was the sound of Ice’s heart beating. The tickle on my back was the feel of her hand as she gently rubbed aimless circles across my flesh. Though we’d been together for nearly eight years by that time, I could count on one hand the number of times I’d woken up in her arms, and probably still have a finger or two left over.

Her fingers hesitated briefly as she became aware of my awakened state, then resumed their gentle caress of my skin. "Morning, sweet Angel." The deep tenor of her voice rumbled up from her chest, filling me with a most comfortable warmth.

"Mmm. Morning yourself, my love."

"Sleep well?"

"Like a baby. You?"

"Very well, thanks."

Her touch tickled slightly, and I shivered, then stretched, wincing slightly at the twinge of soreness I felt.

She stiffened beneath me, as always, zoning in on my emotions with uncanny accuracy. "Are you alright?"

Cocking my head, I smiled up at her reassuringly. "I’m great. Just a little sore."

Her face immediately froze as her eyes darted away from mine. "I’m . . . ."

"Don’t," I warned, laying two fingers across her full lips. "Don’t say it. Don’t even think it." Shifting a bit so I could see her more easily, I slid my fingers beneath her chin to direct her gaze back to me. "Ice, last night was one of the most wonderful in my life. Please don’t say you’re sorry for making it that way."

She finally met my gaze, but the look of shadowed guilt still haunted the pristine blue depths of her eyes.

Smiling, I gently squeezed her jaw between my fingers. "C’mon, Ice. Wasn’t it you who said that there are two kinds of sore? The good kind and the bad kind?"

The guilt in her eyes faded a little. I stretched again, my grin broadening at the telltale signs of a body well loved. "This is most definitely," I added, yawning, "the good kind."

That got the smile I was looking for, and I reached up to capture it with my lips, savoring the warm contact for a long, wonderful moment, before pulling away and resting my head on her chest once again. "So," I began, trying hard to sound nonchalant, "what are our plans for today?"

She laughed softly. "Your plans, Angel, are to get some more sleep. We’ve got a long drive ahead of us."

I lifted my head to stare at her, sure that my fear could be easily read, and not caring. "Not back to the border . . . ."

Her eyes were gentle, her hand tender as it stroked my hair. "No. Not back to the border."

"Thank God," I replied on a sigh of relief as I rested my head back down on her warm skin.

I held up a hand. "And before you say anything, I know that it’s dangerous. And I know I’d probably be safer with Montana on the other side of the border. But that doesn’t matter. None of it matters. Not as long as I don’t become a distraction or a danger to you by remaining here." I looked up at her again, meeting her eyes dead on. "Will I?"

She returned my look measure for measure, her eyes showing no deceit or guile. "I’ll always worry, Angel. As I have from the first day you set foot outside of the Bog and decided to make your life with me. I’ll always bear the guilt of having you live through the mistakes of my past."

"You never forced me into this, Ice," I replied with some heat. "It was my own decision from the word ‘go’."

"I know." Her words were barely above a whisper. "And part of me will always damn myself for not taking that decision out of your hands when I could have. But now . . . ." Her hand lifted, then dropped back to rest on my shoulder. " . . .now . . .I wouldn’t trade one second with you, in danger or out, for anything in the world."

I knew I was beaming, but I couldn’t stop myself. For a woman of so few words, she had the ability to make my heart overflow with love and joy with the simplest of phrases. "So, we’re in this together, then?"

After a moment, she nodded. "Together."

Lifting my head, I sealed the vow with a kiss, which led quickly into another kiss, and then another, and still another, until my twinges of soreness were replaced with twinges of a far more pleasurable kind. We made long, slow love by the increasing light of the rising sun, and afterwards, Ice’s plans for me were realized.

I slept.


"I’ll get you, my pretty! And your little dog too!! Ahahahahaha!"

I shot a scathing look to my left, then glanced back into the mirror held before me, realizing that Critter was correct in her assessment. In fact, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the Wicked Witch of the West was the goddess Aphrodite compared to how I looked with that particular wig on my head.

"At least I don’t look like a family of rats set up condos in my hair," I replied, just to lob my own truth back at her.

She didn’t even try to volley, knowing I was right. Instead, she grinned sheepishly, and shrugged. "They looked better on the mannequins we stole them from."

I turned to her, eyes wide. "You stole these?" I wasn’t sure which shocked me more. That she stole, or what she stole.

"Well . . .not in the traditional sense, no."

"I think you’re gonna have to explain that one to me . . . ."

Before she could answer, the door to the bathroom burst open and Pony strode in. "What the hell are you two . . .oh Jesus, give me that!" Snatching the wig from Critter’s head with one hand, she grabbed a brush with the other and began combing out the tangled mess that might once have borne a faint resemblance to actual hair.

In mere moments, she transformed it from rat’s nest to work of art.

Critter and I stared on, dumbfounded.

"You’re scaring me, Pon," Critter said, looking very scared indeed. As if her lover had vanished into thin air and a rather butch Martha Stewart had appeared in her place.

She shot us a look that was the epitome of the word ‘withering’, and put some final touches on her masterpiece. "My father was a barber and my mother owned a beauty shop. I can’t help it if some of the shit they tried to teach me actually sunk in."

Finishing her masterful transformation of the first wig, she held out her hand for the second. "Gimme."

"With pleasure," I replied, pulling the wig off of my head and handing it to her, watching as she applied her talents to that one as well.

The wigs were Ice’s idea. And it was a good one, to be sure.

From what I was told, the area called the Scorpion’s Nest was a rather large, and mostly empty, part of the desert, dotted here and there with tiny towns. Trying to find one man in such a place was akin, I was told, to searching for crystal of sugar on a white sand beach.

To find him, we’d need the help of the townspeople. We’d also need to remain as anonymous as possible so as not to arouse undue suspicion. Suspicion which could get back to Cavallo and cause him to either go deeper to ground, or come out, full force, against us.

Suspicion which would be raised if a couple of blonde-haired, light-eyed women just suddenly showed up in the middle of nowhere and started asking questions.

Of course, the wigs wouldn’t cure all of the difficulties inherent in such a task. Such as the fact that neither Critter nor I could speak more than a couple words of Spanish.

Still, Rio, Pony and Nia were all brunettes, like Ice, though unlike my lover, their eyes were brown or a dark hazel. All of them also spoke fluent Spanish. Since Critter and I would be with them like bees on honey, it was my hope that we’d go unnoticed in that particular crowd. Unless, of course, we came off looking like a couple of cast extras in a grade B horror flick.

Beckoning me to her, Pony replaced the wig on my head just as the door opened and Nia stepped through, her arms full of clothing. "Cool!" she remarked, grinning at me. "Cher-ette on an acid trip!"

Pony and I scowled at her, which, of course, did absolutely no good whatsoever. In fact, the twin scowls only caused her to launch into a particularly horrid rendition of "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves" that nearly cracked the mirror in my hands.

All of my life, I was sure that there was no one more tone deaf than my own dearly departed father. Pretty crappy time to find out just exactly how wrong I was on that particular subject.

Mournful pleas for silence only spurred her on until finally Pony had had enough and shoved her bodily out of the bathroom, slamming the door behind her, and locking it tight against further intrusion. Nia’s laughter echoed in the hallway, but that soon faded away, leaving only blessed silence in its wake.

"That woman is in serious need of a shrink," Pony groused as she turned Critter away from her and replaced her wig over her lover’s blonde hair. After fussing with it, she stepped back and appraised her lover, a wide grin curving her lips. "The gypsy fortune-teller look. I like. I like!"

"Down, Fido," she joked, turning to me. "Well? What do you think?"

I grinned as she faced me. In actuality, Pony wasn’t all that far off in her assessment. "Would you read my palm, Madame Fifi?"

Slapping my hand away, she grabbed for my mirror instead. "Hopeless, the lot of you. Just hopeless." Looking in the mirror, she scowled as she straightened her bangs. "I look like an idiot."

"No, that would be me," I assured her, remembering my own image in the mirror.

"You don’t look like an idiot, Angel. You look . . .um . . . ."

"Freakish? Demented? Insane?"

"Groovy!" she shouted, grinning. "Nia was right, now that I think about it."

My hands went to my hips. "Sing one word of one Cher song and I’ll tie your lips in a knot."

Pony snickered, which earned her a growl from Critter. No fool, Pony, she shut up mid-smirk. Clearing her throat, she offered up the pile of clothes Nia had left behind after her unceremonious eviction. "Try these on and come outside after you’re done," she stated, obviously trying to regain some sort of control over the situation. "We’ll be leaving as soon as Ice and Rio get back."

"Where’d they go, anyway?" Critter asked as she picked out a garish purple wannabe silk top and held it up against her chest, eyeing me with eyebrows raised.

I shook my head in a very definite and vigorous negative. Sighing, she threw the shirt back into the pile, and rooted for another one.

"To pick up another car, since the other one got trashed to shit yesterday."

Shaking her head in mock disgust, Critter grabbed another shirt, this one a teal number that was slightly better than the purple one. Slightly. As in the width of a hair. "Sometimes, Pon, I wish I was your mother. I’d have you over my knee for that mouth of yours."

"You can have me over your knee any time you like, babe," Pony replied, waggling her eyebrows and leering. "You bring the paddle, I’ll bring the edible soap."

Snorting, I turned and rooted through the pile of clothes for something to wear while Critter pushed her leering lover out of the cramped bathroom, closing and locking the door behind her and ignoring the indignant pounding that issued forth soon thereafter.

"Why I put up with that woman, I’ll never know."

"Cause you love her."

She grinned. "Yeah. I do."


"I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name. It felt good to get out of the rain. In the desert . . . ."

"Nia . . . ."

" . . .you can remember your name, cause . . . ."


" . . .la la la la la la la, la la la, la, la . . ."


The discordant voice trailed off and I was shot a sullen look through the rearview mirror. Under other circumstances, being the cause of a friend’s upset would have concerned me.

These weren’t those circumstances.

Four hours into our trip through a featureless, monotonous desert, and the little men with jackhammers were just about to break out of my skull through my temples.

It wasn’t so much the absolute and utter boredom of the trip thus far. It wasn’t the "hair-trigger" shock absorbers that did everything but absorb the shock of the rutted and broken road. It wasn’t even the blinding sun which insisted on glaring at me through the window, forcing me to squint so hard that my cheek and eye muscles threatened to freeze that way permanently.

No, it was something worse than all of those things put together.

It was the grating sound of Nia’s voice as she ran through her rather extensive mental and vocal catalogue of what she called "traveling songs". I rather thought that "songs to commit suicide by" was a more apt title, since that is certainly what I was contemplating doing after the third encore of "Send in the Clowns" assaulted my eardrums.

When that was swiftly followed up by "Don’t Cry Out Loud", thoughts of merciful suicide gave way to thoughts of vengeful homicide, complete with vivid (and curiously satisfying) mental pictures.

Ice seemed totally unaffected, but I really expected nothing less. Her focus on the task at hand was the stuff of which legends are made, and this task was no different than the rest.

As blessed silence descended, I leaned my throbbing head back against the cracked vinyl of the bench seat and closed my eyes against the harsh desert sun, willing my headache away.

With only the sounds of the humming motor for company, I felt myself begin to drift into a light sleep, the pain behind my eyes dimming as my breathing evened out.

Just before sleep could fully claim me, however, I felt a not so gentle prod to my kidney area. Thinking that Nia was just shifting her legs, I ignored it.

Until the prod came again, and then again, becoming less gentle with each repetition. Then the humming started, softly at first, though discordant and grating in my ears. As my eyes opened, I could feel my fists curl tightly of their own volition to match the clenching of my jaw. Anger welled within me, deep and strong, banishing the last of my sleepiness with its searing heat.

I could tell my eyes were flashing, even without benefit of a mirror, and I could feel my body, stiff from so many hours in the car, start to turn toward the back, where the source of my frustrations sat, in her own little world.

Whatever I might have done (and truthfully, I don’t think it would have been all that much) was stopped almost unborn by a firm, warm hand on my thigh. My anger drained away like water through a sieve as I gazed into liquid crystal eyes peering into my own over the rims of mirrored sunglasses.

The look in those eyes convinced me to think up a different plan. So I did. Quickly.

"Nia?" I said, calm as I could.


"I was thinking." Oh boy, was I.

"About what."

Was it possible for her to sound more petulant?

"Well . . .since we’re in Mexico and I need to fit in here . . . ."

A derisive snort.

"Yeah, right."

It was possible alright.

Calm, Angel. Be calm. Think happy thoughts. Happy. Happy. Happy.

"Do you think you can teach me some Spanish? You know, just enough to get by?"

Mercifully, the kicking stopped, followed shortly thereafter by the humming.


"Yes, really. I know hello, goodbye, thank you, a few swear words, and I can count to ten . . . I think. None of which is going to get me very far."

She laughed softly.

"So . . .could you help me? Please?"

"Sure! That would be cool!"

Thank you, God.

"Hey! There’s this great song my Spanish teacher in Elementary School taught us. Let me see if I can remember how it starts."

I sagged back against the seat, defeated.

In a deliberate ploy for sympathy, I rolled my head in Ice’s direction, just in time to see her turn attention back to the road, the corner of her mouth lifting just slightly.

I scowled at her, knowing she could feel it.

Just you wait, love of my life. You’ll pay for that smirk. Later.


Two hours and one crash course in "Spanish for the tone-deaf" later, my grateful eyes spied a town coming up quickly on the left. If two houses sandwiching an ancient gas station could be considered a town, that is.

"Ice, do you think we could . . . ."

She had already started to pull into the gas station before I could even finish my question, a small smile playing over her lips.

"If I didn’t know you any better, I’d think you were enjoying this," I muttered out of the corner of my mouth.

Silence was my only reply.

Sighing, I turned my head and peered back out the window, only to have almost half my face taken off by Nia’s swiftly thrust hand pointing forward.

"Where are they going?"

Blinking and shielding my eyes from the glare of the merciless sun, I could see Rio’s car shoot past in a long cloud of desert dust.

"Yeah. Where are they going?"

"There’s another town about fifty miles down the road. They’ll scout it out and we’ll all meet up beyond that and compare notes."

"So I guess this isn’t just your average ‘potty break and stretch your legs’ type stop, is it."

She laughed softly, turning to face me as she pulled the car smoothly in front of some antique gas pumps. "It’s that, too."

I returned her chuckle with one of my own. "Good, because my kidneys were getting ready to file a grievance with their union, and I don’t think either one of us would like it if they went on strike."

As soon as the car stopped, I eased myself out, groaning in combined pain and relief, my over-stressed tendons singing out their anger like a guitar string turned one notch too tight. Stretching toward the sky, I chanced to look around, and saw the opportunity to put my newfound (not to mention hard-won) bi-lingualism to its first test.

"Hmm. Let’s see. Pedro’s Gas and Market. Hot Food. Cold Drinks. P . . . ." I blinked, rubbed my eyes, and looked again, trying to convince myself that what I thought I was seeing was not, in fact, what I was seeing.

The words refused to change, though.

I turned, looking for Nia, only to see her disappear quickly into the market, searching, no doubt, for a bathroom. Ice was busy inserting the gasoline nozzle into the tank.

I turned back to the sign. "Hot Food. Cold Drinks. Petting . . .Zoo." My eyes roved lower. "Rattlesnakes. Tarantulas. Scorpions."

A shudder of revulsion skittered down my spine on spider’s legs. I turned quickly away from the sign, only to come nose to chest with my lover, who embraced me quickly to keep me from bowling us both over. "Where’s the fire?"

"Oh! Sorry," I mumbled into her shirt, hiding my blush from her keen eyes. "It’s . . .um . . .nothing."

"Mm. Hm." Gently grasping my arms, she stepped back apace. "Thought you were gonna go . . . ." She cocked her head in the direction of the restrooms.

"I . . .um . . .changed my mind."

Her eyebrow hiked itself up over the rim of her glasses. As I watched, she turned her head just slightly, and I knew she was reading the same sign I’d just turned away from. I blushed again at my own foolishness.

After a second, she looked back at me. "I don’t think they’ll have them crawling around on the floor, Angel."

"Maybe not," I replied, my voice full of doubt, "but I’m not real sure if I want to frequent the establishment of someone who thinks that petting scorpions is a money-making venture."

Her laugh was low, and gentle, and soothing. "I don’t think you have anything to worry about." She looped an arm casually over my shoulders, holding me close to her side. "Besides, I haven’t heard Nia scream."

"She died silently," I replied darkly. "They’re probably burying her in the back right now."

She laughed again, more loudly this time, and bumped me with her hip. "C’mon, Angel-mine. I’ve got some gas to pay for, and you’ve got some kidneys to relieve."

"Sure, fine," I grumbled. "Just remember I don’t want an open casket at the funeral."

Goodbye, cruel world.


It was coming down evening as I spread my blanket atop a long, flat rock that sat on a small hill overlooking the Mexican desert. The rest of the afternoon had been relatively uneventful.

After Ice had finished her business with the gas station owner, she’d driven us back out into the desert to meet up with Rio and company, who’d parked by the side of the road five miles past the town they’d stopped in, ostensibly to fix a flat tire.

From there, we’d continued on for another few hours until we pulled off the road and found ourselves in a small, secluded valley surrounded by small hillocks on every side. It soon became obvious we were going to camp out for the night. Nia surprised me. Rather uncharitably, I’d figured her for a city girl, objecting to any hint of living rough.

Such wasn’t the case. She took to the idea much like a fish takes to water, and pitched in quickly, helping us unload the gear and set up camp, as if she’d been doing it her whole life.

The ground was cleared in short order, the tents—three in all—were quickly pitched, and a fire was started, surrounded by a ring of desert stones. Pony and Nia set to cooking up something for dinner as Ice, Critter and Rio stood off to one side, deep in conversation.

With no more chores to keep me occupied, I decided to take a blanket to the top of the westernmost hill and watch the sun set. It had become a habit since my introduction to the desert, and one which I was loathe to break.

So I sat on my rock which was still warm from the strong sun of the day, and watch the sky turn a myriad of colors as the sun moved inexorably closer to the horizon. Closing my eyes, I tilted my head back and felt the last heat of the sun stroke my face as the cooling desert wind gently ruffled the hair (I’d removed the godawful wig the moment we made camp with a sense of blessed relief) back from my brow.

Suddenly, I felt a warm, soft sweatshirt drape itself around my shoulders, bringing with it the sent of the woman I loved. I opened my eyes slowly, a smile curving my lips unbidden as I saw Ice standing above and behind me, her eyes brilliant with the last of the sun’s dying rays reflecting in them.

"Hey," I said, surprising myself with the huskiness of my voice.

"Hey yourself," she replied, smiling in that cockeyed way I so adored. "Mind some company?"

"Not at all."

Lowering herself behind me, I watched as her long legs appeared to either side of my own, and sighed blissfully as her arms wrapped themselves around my waist and pulled me slightly back until I was resting against her chest, wrapped in the warm nest of her arms, legs and body.

"Mmmm, I like this."

"Ya do, huh?" Her head lowered until her chin was resting on my shoulder. Her hair tickled against my cheeks, and the warmth of her body sent tingling heat through my own.

"Yup. A warm rock, a sunset, and you. There are worse things a body could wish for."

"Mm. Guess so." She squeezed me once, and then we both fell silent as the sun shone its last and sunk beyond the rim of the world for another day.

We celebrated the event with a kiss. More kisses followed, until they merged into one, single, passionate melding of lips and quickening breath.

Who knows how far we might have gone if a shout of "dinner’s ready!" hadn’t come from the valley floor below us?

"It’s a conspiracy," I muttered darkly, rearranging my T-shirt and buttoning my jeans as I made a concentrated effort to dampen down the fire raging though me.

Laughing softly in response, Ice rose gracefully to her feet, then pulled me up with deceptive ease. Pressing one more gentle kiss to lips still flushed with passion, she slipped an arm around my waist, and together we made our way down the hill to where our friends waited.


"Oh . . .dear . . .God!" I managed to gasp out as the last of the tremors washed though my body, leaving me weak and breathless and not quite all there.

The tremors—more like the spastic twitches of someone touching an electrified fence than anything else-- started anew as Ice made her way up my sweat-slicked body, pausing here and there to kiss and nip several of the more sensitive spots as she did so.

Her dark head popped out from beneath the sleeping bag, her eyes twinkling and still dark from the love we’d made. Stretching out full length next to me, she tenderly stroked my stomach and breasts, getting me used to my own skin again as she gentled me and brought me back home.

The expression on her face was love mixed with just a tinge of smugness.

Not that I blamed her in the slightest. With an alchemist’s precision and consummate skill, she’d managed, in just a few short moments, to turn me from a human being into a boneless octopus.

"You alright?" she asked after a moment, the husky timbre of her voice and the warm glow of her eyes filling me with a different sort of heat, no less welcomed than the fire we’d just shared.

"Mmm. Perfect, as always," I managed to mumble, my lips and tongue only grudgingly giving up their afterglow lassitude. "This camping out stuff has some merit to it, lemme clue ya."

Her subtle smirk became a full-out grin as she reached up and gently ruffled my hair.

"We’ll have to do it more often then."

Returning her grin, I rolled to my side and buried my face in the warm valley of her breasts. "I like that idea."

The flannel material of the sleeping bag tickled my face as Ice pulled it up to cover my rapidly cooling body. Her arm then wrapped around my waist, strong fingers stroking random, nonsense patterns against the damp skin of my back.

I had almost fallen asleep to the music of her heart when a thought intruded my fog-drenched thoughts and I stirred, untucking my head and looking up at my lover, who was staring ahead, seemingly lost in thought. "Ice?"

She blinked, coming back into herself and looking down at me, her gaze sharp and attentive. "Yes?"

"What’s the plan? For tomorrow, I mean. Did Rio get any good information?"

"Actually, she did." Pulling back slightly, she stretch, arching her back. I winced at the sound of several vertebrae slipping back into place. "Seems that our friend Cavallo has been hiring some local thugs as henchmen. Looks like some of his own men weren’t too keen on spending god knows how long stuck in the middle of nowhere without any place to spend their ill-gotten gain."

"Is that good for us?"

She shrugged. "Depends. They’ll be harder to spot, but I’ll take them over a trained professional any day. They’re generally easier to outsmart." The gleam in her eyes told me everything I needed to know about how much she was going to enjoy testing them.

"So . . .what happens now?"

"There’s an open air market that opens every Saturday. Rio’s contact says it’s a pretty big deal, especially since it’s close to Christmas. People from the surrounding towns and farms come to sell their produce and other wares. Rumor has it that Cavallo will send some of his men down to pick up some supplies that he can’t get from the smaller markets where he’s hiding."

"Where is he hiding."

Her eyes went far away again. "I don’t know. Yet. But if those idiots do manage to make an appearance, I’ll track him down to his lair." A cold smile curved her lips, chilling me to the bone.

Unable to stop myself, I reached up and stroked her face with the tips of my fingers, trying to bring her back from whatever darkness she’d gone into.

After a long moment, she was back and looking down at me with a bit of chagrin in her eyes. "Sorry."

"No need," I replied, smiling and keeping my hand cupped to her cheek. I felt my smile turn into a cheeky grin. "So, what will the rest of us mere mortals be doing while you’re making the world safe for humanity yet again?"

She laughed softly, reaching up to squeeze my hand, then bring it to her lips to lay a kiss to my palm. "Helping me."

My jaw dropped. "Excuse me? Would you mind repeating that?"

She laughed again. "You heard me."

"Well, yeah, I heard you, but . . . ."

Her face turned serious. "Angel, it’s one thing to go into a guarded compound with the express purpose of assassinating someone. It’s a different thing entirely to go into that same compound and try to bring that person out alive. I’m gonna need help, and I trust you guys to provide that for me."

"You know we will, Ice. No matter what."

She smiled. "I know."

The vow was sealed with a kiss.


I awoke the next morning to the sight of the morning sun filtering its way through the nylon fabric of the tent. I could tell straightaway that the air was brisk and cool, but I was warm, tucked in a soft nest of sleeping bags and blankets. I was alone, of course, but that realization didn’t really bother me, as I knew without doubt that Ice was somewhere very close. The thought of her, and the love we had shared well into the night brought a smile to my lips as I stretched and yawned. The scent of bacon cooking over a Mexican wood fire assailed my senses and caused my mouth immediately to water.

Yup, this camping stuff is pretty much alright in my book.

Just as I was considering rolling over and catching a few more winks, the tent flap eased open and Ice ducked in, her hands occupied with carrying a plate of food and a tin mug of what smelled like coffee. Straightening almost to her full height (it was a pretty tall tent), she looked down at me, a smile gracing her lips.

She looked magnificent in her soft, warn jeans, ribbed black T, and roomy flannel worn open over her rangy, muscled frame. Her black hair was loose and flowing over her broad shoulders, and her face sported a sun-kissed glow, giving her the appearance of rugged immortality that I just couldn’t seem to tear my eyes away from.

Not that I wanted to, of course.

Her beauty always took my breath away, and I would gladly live with that particular affliction for the rest of my days and beyond.

Quirking an eyebrow at my blatant appraisal, she lowered herself gracefully down to the floor of the tent to sit crosslegged next to me, balancing plate and cup on her knees.

"Sorry," I managed to finally get out, blushing under the weight of her return, if patient, stare. "Um . . .is that for me?"

"Sure is," she replied, nodding. "If you’re hungry."

"I could eat," I allowed, untangling myself from my comfy nest and sitting up. The cool air from the outside hit my naked body with a slap, causing an all-over shiver. "Brr."

Putting the plate and cup on the ground, she pulled her shirt from her body and drew it over mine, helping my arms through the sleeves and deftly buttoning it over my chest and belly. I couldn’t help but laugh as I held out my arms, a full four inches of spare fabric dangling uselessly over the tips of my fingers.

Rolling her eyes and shaking her head, she helped me roll the cuffs up so that my hands were finally exposed, then handed me the breakfast she’d brought with her.

"Oh, this is good," I managed, around mouthfuls of eggs and bacon washed down by strong, bracing coffee. "Remind me to thank the cook."

"If you don’t kill her first," she replied, eyes twinkling mischief.

"Nia made this?" I asked, disbelieving. In all the time I’d known her, I’d never seen her anywhere near a kitchen, let alone actually in one.

"Yup. She’s pretty handy with a cookfire."

"Wow," was all I could think to say in return.


Ice left after I was finished, taking my dirty dishes with her to clean. Left to my own devices, I got up and dressed quickly, more due to the cold rather than any particular hurry. After pulling on the damnable wig over my hair and straightening it to the best of my ability, I opened the tent flap and walked out into the morning air, squinting at the bright sunlight shining down on the campsite.

My friends were working like a group of industrious bees clearing out a hive. As I walked over to where Ice was stowing some gear in the trunk, I couldn’t help but notice Pony and Critter dismantling one of the tents, grinning and giggling like a couple of schoolgirls. Their faces and eyes had a glow about them. Almost as if . . . .

"Did they share a tent last night?" I asked my partner, handing her our sleeping bags and blankets.

Looking back over her shoulder, Ice smirked. "And a good deal more than that, if this morning’s any indication."

"But . . .how . . ?"

Ice shrugged. "Rio got tired of Pony’s whining, so she switched."

"But what about Nia?" Looking back at the campsite, I saw Rio and Nia working together to scatter the ashes of the cookfire, chatting amiably.

"Rio said that Nia was a perfect gentle . . .person."

"Amazing." Reaching up, I scratched the back of my neck. "Guess the crush is gone then." Just to be sure, I looked over my shoulder once again, only to see something I didn’t expect.

Nia was staring past me and to my right, the expression on her face giving a whole new meaning to the word "dreamy". When our eyes met, she looked quickly away, guilt stamped clear on her youthful features. "Uh oh."

"What?" Ice asked, turning around, then looking back at me, her eyebrows drawing twin question marks across her forehead.

"Another one’s fallen for you," I replied in my best "long suffering" tone.

She snorted. Rolling her eyes, she turned back to her work. "You’re dreaming, Angel."

"Oh, I don’t think so, my beautiful love. I’m wide awake, thank you very much."

"You’re seeing things, then."

"I have perfect vision, as you well know."

She looked over at Nia, then back at me.

"You’ll see." I warned, adding a smirk that told her more than any words could say.


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To Be Continued ... Part 8


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