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




Pneumonia came calling, as I knew it would, setting up residence in my chest, throat and head. I don’t remember much about those long days and longer nights, especially since I spent most of them viewing the world through a haze of fevered delirium. What I do remember is that every time I opened my eyes, Ice was there to cool my fever, ease my aches, calm my cough, and love me through it all.

I also remember my fever breaking fully for the final time, leaving me incredibly clear-headed and incredibly exhausted. I remember turning my head on a sweat-soaked pillow, and looking down to see one of Ice’s hands clasped so tightly in my own that I’d wondered if I’d cut off her fingers’ circulation with my obvious death-clutch. She’d been sitting in a chair pulled up to the bed, and her head was resting on the mattress next to my hip. Her deep, even breathing proclaimed her fast asleep.

Smiling slightly, and a little teary-eyed, I reached with my free hand and laid the most tender of touches to her dark, bowed head, relishing the feel of her thick, silky hair beneath my fingers. "I love you," I whispered on the smallest of breaths, pleased I could do so without coughing.

Her head snapped up quickly, her eyes fully awake and fully aware as they came to rest on my face. After a moment, those magnificent eyes warmed and softened, and my entire world became the look in them.

If the essence of love could be distilled into just one thing, it would be the color of her eyes when she looks at me that way.

"Hey," she said softly, her voice rough from sleep.

"Hey yourself," I replied, grinning as if my face would break. Reaching up, I tangled a lock of her hair around my finger.

"How do you feel?"

"I feel . . .good."

And it was true. Every word.

How could I have felt any differently, wrapped up as I was in her love for me?

"You don’t look so good, though," I said, gently tugging the lock of hair I held.

A ghost of her cocky grin came over a too-pale face. "I’m fine."

"Nothing a year’s worth of sleep wouldn’t cure, huh?" I teased.

"Nah," she replied, gently grasping the hand which held her hair and kissing my fingers before pulling away and standing. "Let me go get some dry sheets so you’re not laying in a pool."

I nodded, accepting her need for some distance. An exhausted Ice was a brittle Ice, and I knew I’d probably gone one step too far in teasing her about her own state of health. Still, I had the feeling that once I was in a dry bed, I could convince her to lay down with me and rest. Especially if I told her it would help me rest better.

Which was, of course, only the absolute truth of the matter.

Scarcely a minute after Ice left, Critter entered, carrying a mug in her hands. When she saw me awake, she grinned and crossed the room quickly. "Welcome back, Angel! How do you feel?"

"Not bad," I allowed. "What day is it?"

"Saturday. You’ve been sick for a week."

I slumped back against the pillows, stunned. "A week?!"

"Yup. You had us all pretty scared there for awhile. Ice wanted to get you to a hospital back across the border, but you kept begging her not to." Putting the mug down on the bedside table, she sat next to me on the bed and rubbed my arm. "I think it took everything in her not to just pack up and leave here, but you can be pretty persuasive when you want to be."

"Was I really that bad?" I asked, cringing inwardly.

She tilted her head to the side, pondering. "Well . . .you made some very good points, Angel. If Ice gave up on her deal with the Feds, the two of you would never have any peace."

I felt my eyes widen as I stared at her. "I said that?"


"Ice told me that. Not so long ago. When I was the one arguing that we should just leave."

She smiled. "Guess you listened, huh?"

"Guess so." I peeked up at her through my lashes. "Was she angry with me?"

Critter snorted. "Are you nuts? God, Angel, she was so worked up with worry over you, it was all any of us could to do just get her to drink something. Forget about eating or sleeping."

My chagrin must have shown clearly on my face, because she reached out and cupped my cheek. "It’s her way, Angel. You know that. You’re the most important thing in her life, and she wouldn’t have it any other way."

I nodded, accepting the truth in her words. The only thing which made it better was that Ice meant as much to me and she knew it.

"Besides, you’re better now, so things should get back to normal around here." She paused. "Or . . .as normal as things ever are with you guys."

Laughing, I poked her in the thigh for her impertinence. Then I sobered, as a new thought occurred to me. "If it’s been a week, what happened with Cavallo? We were so close. . . ."

"Relax," Critter soothed. "We still are. Rio and Pony have been keeping an eye on him. He’s not going anywhere anytime soon." She shifted a little on the bed, crossing her legs. "A few days ago, Rio took Nia over to that friend of hers who used to work at the house Cavallo’s saying in. Now we’ve got the whole layout, inside and out. So when it comes time to do the deed," she grinned, "we’re ready."

Ice returned then, her arms filled with fresh linens.

"Let me help," Critter said, jumping up from her perch next to me and grabbing the bottom sheet from the stack. "No, you just stay there," she said as I struggled to get up. "We’re pros at this by now. We’ll be done in a jiffy."

Giving in to the inevitable, I laid my tired body back down and accepted my passive role in the whole thing. In short order, they were done and I was left feeling much better for their efforts. The tea Critter had brought for Ice was by that time cold, and after she’d gone off to get a refill, I looked over at my lover, on her feet through sheer, brute strength of will. I flipped back the sheets and patted the bed. "It’s been a week since I’ve remembered feeling you close to me. I sure could use some of that now."

I knew by the look in her eyes that she knew I had ulterior motives, but I think she also knew my words for truth. I simply needed to feel her against me, like I needed air in my lungs and blood in my veins.

And, smiling at me slightly, she acquiesced and I found myself wrapped up in the only world in which I wanted to live.



The next several days were devoted to recovering my lost strength, and trying to get Ice to keep still long enough to do something about the deep, dark circles which had taken up semi-permanent residence beneath her eyes.

The second task consumed a great deal more energy than the first, but was, for me, much more rewarding. I was actually quite proud of myself for accomplishing the gargantuan job of getting her to relax in bed with me for seven hours straight two nights in a row. Of course, the hours before and after the "relaxation" period were anything but relaxing, but heck, making love for hours on end does help get a body back into shape, right?

One day, while Ice was off with Rio scouting out Cavallo’s place, I made myself a little nook in what passed for a front yard of the hovel we were living in and sat outside, letting the gentle breeze and warming sun do its magic on my body. Coming outside with a small sack in her hand and a smile on her face, Critter plopped down beside me on my blanket. "How ya feelin?"

"Almost back to my old self, I think."

"Good to hear. You had us worried there for awhile."

"So you’ve said. I think I’m over the worst of it, though. It doesn’t hurt anymore when I breathe, and hey! I even managed a run in the desert with Ice! Well, not really a run. More like a slow, groaning jog, but it’s progress, right?"

Critter grinned. "Yup." She tossed the small, cloth sack into my lap. "I don’t know if you’ve forgotten about this, but you gave it to me the other day. I found it when I was washing some clothes."

Curiously, I lifted the package, noting its weight was heavy for its size, and opened it. Reaching inside, my fingers brushed against something cool and solid, and when I pulled the object out, I saw it was the bracelet I’d been given the day of the accident. I looked upon it with awe. If anything, it was even more beautiful than it was the first time I’d seen it.

"Thank you, Critter," I breathed. "I thought it was lost forever. I forgot I gave it to you. I was gonna give it to Ice for . . . .shit!"

"Shit?" Critter asked, laughing. "Doesn’t sound like a very fair trade, if you ask me. Even for Ice’s."

I spared her a mock glare. "I mean I was going to give it to her for Christmas. But if I’ve been sick for a week, Christmas is already over, isn’t it."

"Fraid so," my friend replied, sobering. "It was last Wednesday."

"Damn." I could feel my shoulders slump under the weight of the unhappy news. Christmas at the Moore household was pretty much a grab bag from year to year. I had vowed while still a child that when I grew up, every single Christmas would be as special as it was possible for me to make it. And though I knew enough not to blame myself for being out of commission this particular Christmas, there was still a sadness there because a day I held so dear in my heard passed by without my knowledge.

Critter laid a warm hand on my shoulder. "It’s alright, Angel. None of us was really in the mood to celebrate anyway. And we pretty much figured that Ice’s heroics during that accident, and your heroics in battling death and coming back to us pretty much beat any store-bought gift all to hell anyway." Leaning over, she gathered me into a soft embrace. "We love you, Angel, and we know you love us. Isn’t that pretty much what Christmas is all about?"

After a long moment, I nodded against her chest, acknowledging the truth in her words to me.

Pulling back slightly, she grinned. "There ya go, then. So . . .are ya gonna give it to her?"

"Yeah, I think so. Maybe when she gets back."

"Which would be right about now. I think that’s their car trailing all that dust down there." Grinning and clapping me on the back, she stood up. "I’ll leave you two lovebirds alone. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t."

"As soon as you let me know what that might be," I replied with a cheeky smile, "I’ll be sure and not do it."

A lurid wink later, I was on my own once again.

Replacing the bracelet back in its little cloth bag, I laid it to the side and stretched my legs out, enjoying the pull of muscle in my thighs and calves and the warmth of sunlight on my skin.

She wasn’t noisy. She never is. But I knew the second she came close. Call it a third eye, or some sixth sense. Call it crazy, or karma, or pheromones, if you want.

I’ll just call it love and leave it at that.

Though my eyes were closed to the brilliance of the sun, I still followed her movements easily, my mind playing a pleasing mental picture of a long, rangy body as it dropped to the ground beside me with incommunicable fluid grace. I pictured her eyes, darkened with concern, and the little furrow between her brows and the tense set of her mouth that spoke of the same.

Opening my eyes to that exact picture, I found myself smiling with the joy of knowing her so well. "Hey there."

"Hey yourself," she returned, her eyes intent. "You alright?"

Leaning over, I stole a kiss from the softest lips in the world, then sat back, a smug grin on my face. "Just perfect, thanks."

Her eyes brightened as a smile tugged at one corner of her mouth. "Glad to hear it."

"Me too." I shifted a little so that I was facing her. "So, is Cavallo still behaving himself?"

"Seems to be. I want to get this wrapped up soon, though. He’s gotten too lucky too often. It’s about time he paid the piper." That shark-like grin flickered briefly across her face before disappearing once again into whatever darkness housed it.

Nodding, I picked up the sack from beside my leg and fumbled with it a bit. "I’m . . .um . . .sorry I missed Christmas."

"You didn’t miss it. You just don’t remember it."

I nudged her. "Same difference, smart aleck."

"Not to me, it isn’t."

My eyes widened as I realized what she meant. "Oh. I’m . . . ."

One long finger covered my lips. "Don’t. Don’t be sorry. No one takes any blame, remember?"

As much as I hated getting shot in the foot with my own words, I couldn’t help but admit she was right. If I forbid her to feel guilt, I couldn’t either. Fair was, after all, fair. Even if I didn’t like it.

"Ok, ok. I’m not sorry for not remembering Christmas. But I am sorry for not being able to give you this." I held the bag out to her. "I’d gotten it on the day of the accident. Critter kept it for me. I’d like you to have it."

She took the bag from me and opened the ties. Reaching in, she pulled out the bracelet and held it so that the sun played across the shining silver. I watched her throat move as she swallowed. "It’s beautiful," she whispered, tracing the intricate engraving with the very tip of her index finger.

"A Native American silversmith made it. He said he saw the scene in a vision and knew I was the one to give the piece to. I don’t know how much I believe in his mysticism, but I do know that it has ‘you’ written all over it. I know you’re not much for wearing jewelry, and you don’t have to wear this either, if you don’t want to, but . . . .oh!"

My ramblings were cut short in the sweetest of ways as my lover’s lips covered my own in a tender, yet fiery, kiss of thanks.

After she pulled away, I watched through blurred eyes as she slipped the bracelet onto her wrist, adjusting it so that the cuff fit perfectly, the silver a breathtaking contrast to the bronze of her skin. "Thank you," she said simply, and her expression let me know just how deeply that expression went into her heart.

Suddenly shy with the intensity of her emotions, I felt myself color, and I smiled back, a little. "You’re welcome."

"I have something for you, too," she said finally, reaching into the pack she wore at her waist. "I made it quite some time ago, but never got the chance to give it to you. It’s something I thought of after I’d been shot this last time."

Pulling out a flannel-wrapped bundle, she handed it to me, her own eyes just a little shy, as they often were when giving me a gift. Especially one she had made with her own hands. Which were, of course, the best gifts I’ve ever received.

I opened the wrapping, then froze, tears immediately sparking my eyes as I looked down at the gift she’d so expertly made for me.

It was a wooden figurine, a little smaller than the palm of my hand, but heavy, and carved with exquisite attention to detail.

It was a carving of the two of us, together.

I was the figure behind, on my knees, angels’ wings arched forward in an all-encompassing embrace of Ice, who was half-laying in my lap, her head back against my breast, her eyes closed, and the most beautiful expression of peace I’d ever seen on her face.

"You’re my Angel," she whispered, raising a hand and tenderly drying the tears from my cheeks. "You always say that I’m the strong one, but this is what I see when I close my eyes at night. I love you, my Angel. And I always will. Merry Christmas."

Holding the precious figure against my heart, I once again closed the space between us and kissed her with all the love in my soul.

If I live to be a million, I’ll never understand the magic she uses to make the impossible happen. To make me fall even more in love with her than I was the second before.

And I hope I never do.


Desert nights can be blacker than any other. Or so I’ve found during my relatively short time on this earth of ours. Even with a billion stars sparkling coldly overhead and a huge half-moon hanging low.

They can be quieter, too. Quiet enough so that the blood rushing through your ears with every beat of your heart is the only sound you hear. Except, perhaps, for your breathing coming harsh and fast and tasting almost electric as it rushes in and out of your mouth and nose.

And if you’re scared, so scared that every second is a toss-up between vomiting and fainting, well, then the nights are blacker and quieter than ever.

And I was scared.

So scared that I felt a weird sense of detachment. The kind you feel when fever is sitting hot and heavy in your brain.

And yet at the same time, I felt totally grounded. My eyes, wide and dry and aching, darted everywhere at once, taking everything in, over and over, as if they’d never get the chance to prove their worth again. My body was wound tight, muscles trembling with the unconscious effort to keep still and silent. My heart thundered painfully in my ears, and the scent of my panic curled up around me, hot and sour like three day old summer sweat.

When a hand brushed against my back, I nearly jumped out of my skin. Only that same hand firmly gripping my upper arm kept me from making a mad, screaming dash back down the steep hill to the safety of the cars that waited below.

"It’s only me," Critter’s voice whispered mere inches from my ear. "How are you doing?"

Frozen shut, my jaw refused my summons to move. I couldn’t even turn my head to look at her. All I could do was stare ahead into the blackness.

The pressure of her hand changed from a stern grip to a warm clasp. "It’s alright. I’m scared, too."

Somehow, the tone of her voice gave my body the permission it needed to shake off—at least temporarily—the icy grip terror had over me. I was able to turn my head, and I could tell, just by looking, that she was speaking the truth. Her eyes were as wide as mine, and the area just above her upper lip shimmered with sweat, even though the night was anything but warm. She smiled at me a little. That sickly kind of smile a seasick pleasure cruiser gets just before he goes to the railing to evacuate his dinner into the ocean.

"I’m glad to know I’m not the only one," I finally managed to whisper.

"Not by a long shot. And I’ve done this kind of thing before."

I looked at her.

She blushed. "Well, not exactly this kind of thing, but I did break into a lot of places where I wasn’t welcome back when I was younger."

"Oh. Yeah." Though it might sound strange, I’d managed to forget that most of my friends had criminal pasts. "How did you deal with the fear?"

"Alcohol," she replied with brutal honesty. "I’d get blind drunk. It was the only way I could go through with half the jobs I did. They call it ‘liquid courage’ for a reason, ya know."

"Wish I had some of that kind of courage about now."

"No you don’t," she said, squeezing my arm. "You’ve got more courage in your little finger than you could ever get out of a fifth of whiskey, Angel. Even though you’re scared, you’re here. And that takes a lot of guts."

"You’re here too, Critter."

That threw her off for a second, and she blinked at me. Then a slow smile creased her face. "Yeah, I guess I am." Then she straightened and released my arm, touching me briefly on the shoulder. "I’ll talk with you in a bit."

Then she left me staring after her in confusion as she blended back into the darkness.

Only until I felt another presence next to me.

But this time, I didn’t flinch.

Ice crouched down before me, dressed all in black from the tip of her soft-soled boots to the top of the ski-mask which covered her head and face. Only her vibrant eyes, glittering silver, posed a counterpoint to the monochrome. And even in them there was a darkness swirling that I could feel as well as see.

"You doin’ ok?" she asked, voice low and only slightly muffled behind the knit material of the mask. A gloved hand reached out and cupped my cheek and her eyes warmed in concern.

Instead of answering her question right out, I leaned into her palm and took that dark, exciting, dangerous scent of leather deep into my senses. Paradoxically, perhaps, that had a calming effect on me.

I looked at her, examined her, asked her, silently, the same question she asked me.

Was she doing ok?

The answer was an easy one.

She was more than ok. Like a prize thoroughbred prancing at the gate, she was ready.

It had been a week since I’d finally gotten out from under the sickly weight of my bout with pneumonia, and in that week, we had practiced, practiced, practiced for this very thing. Practiced until I could go over every move every one of us was supposed to make in my sleep.

Which I did. Often.

And here we were, at this proverbial ‘D-day’, and if all I could think of was running away, all she could think of was running ahead.

I could see it easily in the dark sparkle of her eyes, in the loose and easy set of her shoulders, in the coiling aura of danger and intensity which swirled around her like a living thing. Not only was she ready. She was able. And willing.

She was born for this, I thought, startling myself with my insight.

Perhaps not for this very thing, no. But so close to it that the syntax made very little difference. "Close enough for jazz," my father might have said.

Ice is a hunter. Pure and simple.

And this time, Cavallo was the prey.

To my great surprise, I found myself sparing a brief second to feel a spark of pity for the man who had no idea who, or what, was coming for him.

That spark extinguished itself quickly beneath the weight of the memories of what that man had done to Ice, to me, to us.

Part of me was sad that she was only going in there to take him out alive. Part of me would have gleefully watched her hold him down as I pulled the trigger of a gun I didn’t own.

A very small part, perhaps, but I won’t deny it was there. If ever a bastard had it coming to him, Cavallo was that bastard.

"I’m doing ok," I answered finally as her eyes started to show a deeper concern. "A little nervous, but basically alright."

The way those same eyes subtly changed their shape told me she was smiling beneath her mask. "You’ll do fine."

"I wish I had your confidence."

She shifted a little, her expression going a bit hard. "Be glad that you don’t. Confidence in this type of thing is a wasted art. You’re not a murderer, Angel. Never wish for that kind of surety."

Knowing I’d well and truly blown the moment, I reached up and captured her hand before she could pull it away. "Ice, even if you’d never killed so much as a spider in your entire life, you would still have confidence in your ability to do this. It’s as much a part of you as the color of your eyes or the pitch of your voice. It was something you were born with, not something you were made into."

"Ya think so, huh?"

I smiled as I felt her body relax. "I know so."

A soft rustling, and Pony squatted down next to us, her expression apologetic. "I thought you’d wanna know. They just changed the guards."

Ice nodded. "Alright. Round the others up. It’s showtime."

And with that, my nervousness came back as if it had never left. "Ice . . . ."

Coming to her feet, she brought me easily up with her, then steadied me as my suddenly trembling legs threatened all-out rebellion. A moment later, Pony, Critter and Rio crowded around us, awaiting last minute instructions. Waiting in the car below, Nia was the only one absent.

For a brief second, I felt a flash of blinding hatred for her, sitting so safely while the rest of us ran down to danger. I pushed that counterproductive emotion down with a savagery Ice would have been surprised to see, had she known of its existence.

"Is everyone sure on what they have to do?"

Nods all around from women with somber, pale faces. The fear was there, palpable, like a sixth member of our group. But there was also something else sharing space with us. A keen sense of anticipation which dulled the fear’s sharp edges just enough to prevent panic.

Pale eyes pinned each one of us in place for a long, silent moment, and all around me, spines stiffened, jaws firmed, and shoulders squared.

Ice nodded. "Let’s go."

Then she disappeared over the breast of the hill while we, for now, stood watch.

As soon as Ice disappeared into the darkness, Critter drew up the sleeve of her long black coat and illuminated the dial of her watch. The soft light bathed her face in an eerie green glow as she watched the seconds scroll rapidly by.

"She’s over the wall," Pony whispered from her position half-behind a thick pine. She was staring through a night-scope attached to her rifle and tracking my lover’s every move, together with the movements of the guards who patrolled the grounds.

Though the plan was to leave everyone alive, if perhaps a little worse for wear, that was only if things went according to schedule. One hint that something was going badly and that rifle on Pony’s shoulder would be doing a great deal more damage than its current incarnation as a simple spying tool.

"Behind the house now."

My sigh of relief was an audible one. She was now out of sight of any guards, at least temporarily, and only an alarm system and a locked door stood between her and gaining entry into the house.

"Fifty seconds," Critter remarked, checking her chronometer. Ice had requested one full minute before we put phase two of the plan into effect.

As Critter watched the changing numbers on her watch, I stared out over the darkened compound. My heart hammered triple time in my ears, so loudly that I felt as if I’d been somehow transported into the very middle of a Jamaican steel drum competition. My head and stomach swam in queasy syncopation, and the spit in my mouth was sour and hot.

"Twenty seconds."



Pony relaxed her grip on the rifle, then shouldered it as she turned to look at Critter and myself. "You guys ready?"

"As we’ll ever be," Critter replied for the both of us.

"Alright then. Let’s do it."

With a shuddering breath, I forced myself to move and prayed I wouldn’t break my neck while trying to navigate my way down the mountain wearing the ridiculous choice of footwear I was. "Come fuck me’s", Pony had called them, right before her instep was nearly speared by the heel of one such shoe. The pejoratives got a great deal less pleasant after that.

As if reading my mind, Rio came to stand beside me and offered one well-muscled arm. Smiling up at her, I took the assistance gratefully, and almost laughed out loud as her eyes darted shyly away from my own.

Within moments, we were at the bottom, and Critter and I held our places while Rio and Pony sidled up to the stone wall and eased themselves into position very near the wrought-iron gate.

When Pony gave us the thumbs up, I looked to Critter, who nodded. Together, we removed our long coats and dropped them down to the desert floor.

"God, I feel like a two-dollar whore in this getup," Critter grumped as she painfully adjusted the barely-there top which was cinched so tight across her chest that she could have rested her chin on her breasts if she’d had a mind to. "Could I look any cheaper?"

"Yeah, you could look like me." My face was sweating through enough makeup to send Revlon’s stock soaring to stratospheric heights. My clothes, what there were of them, were three sizes too small, and if my breasts were pushed up any higher, I could use them for a pair of fleshy earmuffs.

"Yeah, well if there are any pornographers around, we just might get that one big break we’ve been looking our whole lives for," Critter joked as she finished adjusting the seam of her stockings. "Now, for the finishing touch." From the sack at her feet, she withdrew a tall bottle of liquor and twisted open the cap. "Just what the doctor ordered."

"But I thought . . . ."

"Not for courage, dear. For veracity. We can’t just look the part. We’ve gotta smell it, too."


"Watch the Mistress in action."

Tilting her head back, she took a long swallow of liquor, then did an all-over body shiver as she swallowed. "Ahh. That hit the spot. Here, have a belt."

"No thanks," I replied, waving the bottle away, and watching as Pony gave us the ‘hurry up’ sign. "C’mon, we’ve got to get moving."

"Alright. Just let me . . .there. Eau de Cuervo. What all the trollops in the low-rent district are wearing this year."

"Hey! That stings!" Some of the flying droplets had landed too close to my eyes for comfort’s sake, and I felt myself tearing up from the fumes.

"Quit being a baby and let’s get a move on. Time’s a’wasting."

"Great," I muttered as she slipped an arm through mine and almost pulled me right out of my cheaply made shoes. "You really are drunk."

"Nah, just acting the part. C’mon."

One hell of an acting job, Critter, I thought to myself as she yanked her arm away from mine and instead slung it over my shoulder, forcing me to bear most of her weight as she swayed against me. Together, we tottered somewhat unsteadily toward the gate, taking care to make as much bumbling noise as possible so as to announce our presence to anyone who might be listening in.

"Hey Candie, look! There’s a light on in there. Our prayers have been answered!"

"Prayers? What prayers?" Critter snorted. "Only prayer I got right now ish for another bottle. This n’s ammost empty. Heloooo in there! Anybody home?" Striding up to the gate, she wrapped one hand around the bars and shook, giggling madly all the while. "C’mon, open up! Ish cold out here."

"Shhh," I whispered overloud. "You’ll wake up the whole neighborhood."

"I wanna wake ‘em up! I need more booze, dammit! C’mon, open up!"

Though the racket we were making should have caused an entire army to come down upon our heads, the darkened area beyond the gate remained resolutely silent and still.

"Mebbe they don speak English," I said, giggling a little.

"Course they do! Everybody does! Hey, in there! Como . . .como . . .como whatever. Open up, dammit!"

"C’mon, Candie," I said, tugging Critter’s arm and beginning to feel a little nervous. "Nobody’s home."

"Bullshit," Critter replied, shaking me off. "Course they are. I can see people movin in there. Yoo hoo! Boys! Open up and I’ll show ya why they call me Caaandie."

The brilliant beam of a flashlight suddenly pierced through the darkness, blinding me for one heart-stopping second. "Beat it," came a menacing and heavily accented voice from behind the gate.

"Please, sir," I said, blinking rapidly and trying to see through the afterimages imprinted on my stinging retinas. "It’s cold out here and our car broke down a mile or so back. Could we use your phone?"

"I said beat it. We don’t got no phones here."

"Bullshit," Critter said, pressing her face against the bars. "Places like this got phones in the bathrooms. Jes let us in, willya? Jes a quick phone call and we’re gone. Unless ya wan’ us ta stick around for a little while and show you how grateful we are." Her purring voice trailed off suggestively. "Big strong man like you must get lonely out here in the middle of nowhere, huh?"

"Heh. Heh. You’ll have to excuse my friend here. She’s a little tipsy."

"I ain’t tipsy. I’m drunk. And horny. C’mon, mister, help a gal out, won’t ya? I’ll make it worth your while." And with that, she upended the bottle and . . .well . . .what she did next to that bottle is something they named a movie after.

If we’d have been anywhere else, I might have been tempted to ask just how she’d come by that particular talent. Especially without triggering her gag reflex.

On second thought, perhaps it’s better that I don’t know.

I heard some shuffling from the darkness behind the gate, then the low murmur of at least two male voices speaking rapid Spanish. A moment later, keys rattled in the lock, and the gate swung slowly open.

The flashlight was turned off and the face of one of the men came in out of the gloom. "Come on in, ladies. I think we might be able to help you both."

Before we could step through, Rio darted between us. A few muffled thumps later, and two unconscious guards were being dragged outside the gate.

Pony hogtied and gagged them quickly, then slipped her arm through mine while Rio did the same for Critter. In the darkness, they could easily pass for the men they’d just disabled, being of the same height and build. Just two lonely guards escorting a pair of willing women into the compound for a hour or so of fun and debauchery.

"The garage is off to the left," Rio whispered. "You guys head over there while I take care of the other two. I’ll come back when I’m done."

Pony grabbed my arm as Rio melted back into the darkness, and the three of us headed in the indicated direction, our pace no quicker than a somewhat leisurely stroll, despite the tension.

By the blueprints we’d been given, I knew the garage was huge and could house each of Cavallo’s five cars with room to spare. It was also locked, but the muted tinkle of lock-picks being tossed to Critter let me know that that particular situation would be remedied rather quickly and without much of a fuss.

Sure enough, very little time passed before the click of a lock giving way sounded in the silence of the night. The door opened quietly, and our senses were assailed by the scents of motor oil and rubber. They were smells I was well used to, and having them there gave me a strange sense of comfort in an otherwise terrifying situation.

Once we were inside, Pony closed the door and removed a flashlight from the belt at her hip. Soon, the garage was bathed in a faint, white glow.

I looked into the shadows of the far end of the garage, then stopped, my heart freezing in my throat. "Pony? Shine the light down that way, will you?"


"Just do it, please."

Penetrating the shadows, the beam confirmed my suspicions. A black oil stain marred the pristine white of the garage floor like a spot of decay on an otherwise healthy tooth. "One of the cars is gone."


"What are we gonna do now?" Critter asked from her place on my right.

"Nothing much we can do," Pony replied, sweeping the flashlight’s beam over the remaining four cars. "Except to get on with the plan."

"What if they come back?"

"We’ll burn that bridge when we’re crossing it. Let’s just get this over with. Critter, start with this car here. Bust in and open the hood. Angel and I’ll take it from there."

Just as Critter began to jimmy the first lock, the garage door opened. The only thing that kept me from screaming in fright was Pony’s hand clamped over my mouth.

"All clear." Rio’s voice floated in from the darkness beyond.

"Thanks," Pony replied.

"Everything ok in here?"

"One of the cars is missing."

"Shit. Should we do anything about it?"

"Just stick with the plan. Get outta here. We’ll meet you at the rendezvous point."

"You sure?"

"Yeah, I’m sure. Now go."

"Alright. Good luck."

"You too."

After the door closed, Pony released her grip on me just as Critter made her way into the first of the cars and popped the hood from the inside. Turning away from my friend, I made my way over to the exposed engine and began my part of this stage of the plan.

Disabling cars is a quick, easy and mostly mindless task. So much so, in fact, that I made two of them completely undrivable while Pony was still working on her first. Walking over, I pushed my friend out of the way, and quickly finished her task as she looked on with something akin to awe on her face.

"Pretty handy around an engine," she said finally.

"I should be. I’ve helped Ice often enough." Pulling the last part free, I handed it to Pony, who stuffed it in a sack with the rest of the pieces. "What now?" The fourth car would be left intact for our getaway, since Rio had left with ours.

"We wait."

"Time?" I asked Critter, who was leaning against the only working vehicle of the lot.

"Five minutes."

"Alright. I’m gonna keep watch. You guys be ready."

Without waiting for an answer, I headed for the door and opened it up a crack.

The house and the grounds surrounding it were silent as a graveyard. It was killing me, not knowing what was going on inside, and I gave vent to my frustration by repeatedly pounding my thigh with a clenched fist, heedless of the small amount of pain my actions brought me.

According to the almighty plan—set in stone as if the burning bush itself had delivered it unto us—we were to give Ice ten minutes total to carry out her part, then, in her own words, "get the fuck out of Mexico, with or without me."

I think I surprised her when I didn’t immediately protest.

I wonder if she realized that I didn’t agree to it either.

Knowing Ice, she probably did.

"Damn you, Ice," I whispered as each second took an hour, and each minute took a century. "Where are you?"

In my hyperaware state, I easily tracked Pony’s movements by hearing alone as she left her place by Critter’s side and walked slowly toward my position. I whirled on her just as she was about to put a hand on my shoulder. "No," I whispered savagely, "no way. You and Critter can leave if you want. Take the car. I’ll fix one of the others. But I’m not going anywhere without Ice so don’t even bother opening your mouth, Pony."

Hands upraised in a gesture of placation, my friend took a careful step back. "I . . .wasn’t gonna ask you to leave, Angel," she assured me, her voice even. "I was just gonna ask what you thought we should do now."

Though I should have apologized, I’m afraid I didn’t have it within me to do so at that moment in time. As each second passed, I became more and more certain that something had gone horribly wrong. "I don’t know about you, but I know exactly what I’m gonna do."

So saying, I stepped forward and grabbed Pony’s rifle, which was leaning against the wall nearest the door. "I’m gonna find Ice, and so help me God, nobody better stand in my way."

Like some deranged GI storming a French beach half a century too late, I hefted the rifle and marched off into the night, my eyes staring nowhere save straight ahead at the door centered firmly in my sights.

I could hear Pony’s half-whispered epithet behind me and her determined footsteps as she struggled to match my determined stride. "Don’t try to stop me, Pony. I’m warning you."

"Wouldn’t dream of it, Angel," she grunted. "Just figured I’d give you a hand."

When we got about halfway between the garage and the house, the door opened wide. The interior light silhouetted a tall figure with what looked to be a large sack slung over one shoulder like some hellish underground film’s version of Santa Claus.

I came to an abrupt halt, and Pony slammed into me from behind, sending both of us forward for several more steps until I dug my heels in and stopped us both again. If it were possible for hearts to leap for joy, mine did just that.

"That’s Ice!"

"How do you know?" she asked, peering over my shoulder.

I spared a brief second to give her a pointed look, which caused a sheepish grin to come to her face.

"Oh. Yeah. Forget I asked."

"Go tell Critter to get the car out here."

"Will do."

As Pony left, I started forward again, this time breaking into a flat-out run. "Ice!"

"Hey, Angel," she replied, her voice and manner as casual as if I’d just met up with her coming out of the grocery store. "Just taking out the trash." She paused. "Nice gun."

I blushed. "Yeah, well, you were supposed to be out of there three minutes ago."

She shrugged her unencumbered shoulder. "One of the guys had a little problem with my bedtime story. He’s sleeping like a baby now, though."

I rolled my eyes and shook my head. "Any other problems?"

"Piece of cake. You?"

"Not really. Except one of the cars is missing."

"I figured. There were three fewer guards than I expected inside."

Further conversation was cut off by the arrival of Critter, Pony and our getaway car.

"Pop the trunk," Ice ordered.

Walking to the rear of the car, I pulled open the compartment and stood aside as Ice dumped Cavallo inside. The small light illuminated his face, where a bloody nose and a rapidly swelling jaw bore mute testament to his meeting with my lover. He was deeply unconscious, though still breathing, and his hands were bound tightly behind him. After a moment, I looked up. "I didn’t know you brought handcuffs with you."

Ice smirked. "I didn’t."

"Kinky bastard, isn’t he."

As Ice slammed the trunk closed, the courtyard was suddenly lit by the twin beams of approaching headlights.

Grabbing my arm at the elbow, Ice opened the rear driver’s side door and pushed me in, then followed quickly. "Go," she ordered Pony, who’d replaced a slightly drunk Critter behind the wheel. "Drive out nice and easy if you can. If they follow us, floor it."

"I’m there."

"You can’t think they’re just going to let us go by," I said, disbelief plain in my voice.

"Stranger things have happened. But I doubt it."

Three men got out of the car after it had pulled through the gate. Three heads swiveled as we passed by. I resisted the urge to wave. Shouting "we’ve got your boss in the trunk, suckers!" was out as well, though I must admit I was sorely tempted. Giddiness does that to me, and having Ice alive and whole made me very giddy indeed.

"I don’t fucking believe it," Pony muttered as we left through the gate and headed down the dark road without any signs of pursuit. "They just gonna stand there with their thumbs up their asses all night?"

"You sound like you want them to chase us," I accused.

"Let’s save the arguments for when we get home, alright? Hit the gas, Pony."

"You got it."

If there was one area where I couldn’t find fault with Cavallo, it was his taste in cars. The acceleration was so smooth that, though I could tell we were moving at a high rate of speed by the shadowed scenery blurring by my window, it didn’t feel as if we were moving at all. The rich scent of leather wove a seductive cocoon around me, and when Ice reached out and gently cradled my hand in hers, I smiled and sank into the soft-as-butter seat and allowed my eyes to close.

The brief respite was over almost before it started. I felt Ice’s hand carefully withdraw from mine and felt her body twist, one broad shoulder brushing against my own. "What is it?" I asked, my eyes coming quickly open.

"Company," my lover returned, peering out the rear window, eyes narrowed to slits.

Squirming in the seat, I turned to look just in time to see the twin beams of headlights breast a small rise a mile or so behind us. "Could just be another traveler."

"If so, he’s in a hurry," Critter remarked, eyeing the rearview mirror. "He’s gotta be doing a hundred ten, easy."

"Take that turnoff up ahead, Pony. Let’s see if we can lose him in the desert."

Grunting in acknowledgement, Pony jerked the wheel hard and spun us onto the off-ramp with a minimum of fuss, though doubtless if Cavallo was awake, he didn’t enjoy the maneuver overmuch. Not that I would be spilling any tears over that particular thought, but it helped keep my mind from harping on the probability that we were being chased through the desert by a group of madmen at speeds humans were never meant to travel.

This close to the ground, anyway.

Twisting back in my seat, I snapped the shoulder harness over me, then checked the latch several times to make sure it was secure. No use tempting Fate any more than I already had, especially since cars and I weren’t the best of friends lately.

Next to me, Ice also turned to face forward once again, but not before giving me a grin that was half confidence, half glee.

"You’re enjoying this, aren’t you," I groused.

She shrugged, her expression unrepentant. "Beats doing laundry."

I had to laugh at that. If there is anything Ice hates more than doing the laundry, I don’t know what it is. While I, on the other hand, absolutely love it. There’s just something so satisfying in putting dirty, smelly clothes into a machine and pulling them out wonderfully clean and fresh. It’s just another example of the odd nature of our partnership, I guess. And one which I wouldn’t change for anything in the world.

"So far, so good," Pony remarked softly, her gaze split between the road and the rearview mirror. "Though with all the damn dust I’m kicking up right now, it’s hard to tell for sure. I’m just glad we’re doing this in the middle of the night. If it were during daylight, we might as well be sending up fucking flares."

"Just drive, Pony," Critter ordered, thumping her lover solidly on one well-muscled shoulder.

"I’m drivin! I’m drivin, already!"

"Make that right up ahead, then the second left. There are some mountains to the right. We might be able to ditch them there."

I looked over at my lover, my eyes opened wide. "Do you have an atlas in your head or something?"

"Or something," she replied, throwing me her best smirk.

"Looks like we lost ‘em," Pony replied after several moments without a sign of pursuit.

"Oh, they’re around," Ice murmured. "Take the next right you can and let’s get back on the highway. Once you’re there, run her as fast as you can. We need to get to the rendezvous point while it’s still dark."

"I’m on it."

Out on the highway, Pony opened up the throttle and we sped through the desert like the devil was on our tail. An hour passed quietly, and then another, before I felt Ice stiffen once again. "What?"

"They’re back."

"Damnit!" Pony shouted. "How in the hell could they find us? We took enough turns to confuse a compass, for Christ’s sake!"

"This car’s got a tracer on it," Ice replied.

"Like hell it does! Ice, I checked it out myself! It’s clean!"

"Tell that to our friends. Floor it, Pony. There’s nowhere to turn off for another ten miles. We need to outrun them."

"I say we stand and fight."

"We can’t. This area is too exposed, and too far from anything if we run into trouble. Just do as I say and drive. We’ll make our stand at the rendezvous point if we need to."

"You’re the boss," Pony grumbled, then stomped her foot hard on the accelerator. The car responded, dredging up extra power from somewhere, and we flew down the road at impossible speeds.

Ice gently removed my hand from it’s white-knuckled grip on my short skirt, and held it gently in her own. "We’ll make it, Angel," she said in a comforting tone.

Drawing in a shuddering breath, I nodded, wanting more than anything to believe.

Time passed. It could have been ten minutes, it could have been ten hours. I was too scared to tell the difference, to be truthful.

I knew enough, however, to know when we were finally close to our destination, especially when the headlights of our purloined car lit up a long copse of trees indicating a water source in the near vicinity.

"Left at the crossroads up ahead, right?" Pony asked.

"Yeah. Then go an eighth of a mile. There’s a small loop there. Go around it and park. Rio should be waiting for us there."

"Are they still following us?" I asked, not daring to turn around. A shootout was the last thing I wanted to be a part of, though if it came down to that, I’d be right there at my lover’s side, doing whatever I could to keep us whole.

"We’re clear for the moment," Ice replied. "Get ready to run the minute this car stops, though."

"You don’t have to ask me twice."

Following Ice’s directions to the letter, Pony turned on a sharp, if ill defined, hairpin curve and pulled off onto an unpaved path which was surrounded by tall, thick trees on all sides. As soon as the car stopped rolling, the four of us opened our doors and hopped out. Critter and I ran in the direction of Ice’s pointing finger, down toward the river, while Pony stayed behind to help Ice with Cavallo and the small amount of possessions we’d managed to accumulate during our stay south of the border. Rio jumped from behind a large tree, and brushed by me on her way to help Pony and Ice.

Hearing a rustling in the bushes to my left, I turned that way, to see a white-faced Nia peering out. "Hey," I whispered. "It’s just us."

"Oh thank god," she half-sobbed. Standing up, she came out of the bush and wrapped me in a desperate hug. "I never want to go through that again. I’ve been so scared, waiting for everyone, thinking that the border patrol was coming down the road any minute. And Rio wasn’t any help at all."

"It’s alright. We’re here now," I replied, hugging her tightly to me. "And we’re getting ready to go home."

"God, that sounds so good to me right now."

Pulling away, I smiled at her. "Yeah. Me too."

Grabbing my hand, she led me down the short path to the river. "C’mon. We got a boat. Not very much of a boat, but as long as it floats, I’m not gonna complain."

The river was wide, black, and silent as death. It also stank of decay, and I was quite glad that I would be crossing it in the dark, because I had absolutely no desire to see what, exactly, was causing such a stench.

"Ta-da!" Nia sang, throwing out her arm in a dramatic gesture. "There it is."

I looked. Then squinted. Then cocked my head. Well, I supposed, technically what I was looking at could be called a boat. Course, I’d seen larger beds, but Nia was right. As long as it floated. . . .

"Um . . .are all of us going to fit in there?"

Was my first question.

"Who’s going to row?"

Would have been my second, had I time to ask it. Which I didn’t.

Ice led the way down to the shore, and after gesturing Nia and Critter to the very back, she dumped Cavallo’s still unconscious bulk in the middle. Pony came behind her and tossed the duffel bag with our gear in it on top of him. "Now what?"

Ice’s answer was interrupted by several soft ‘popping’ sounds coming from behind us. "Angel, Pony, get in the boat! Now!" Reaching behind her, Ice pulled her gun from the waistband of her jeans. "I said now!"

Before I could even think to move, Pony grabbed my wrist and all but threw me into the boat, which rocked wildly with the action and almost capsized. Then she jumped in, pinning me inside with no chance to escape.

"Get outta here!"

"No!" I screamed. "Not without you!!"


Reaching forward, Critter grabbed the oars and began rowing the second Ice kicked the boat away from the shoreline.


More popping sounds, and Ice turned away and ran up the embankment toward the sounds of shooting.

"Goddamn you, Critter! Stop!" I grabbed for the oars at the same time as Pony grabbed me, and the resulting flailing almost caused the boat to tip once again.

Critter regained her grip on the wooden oars, and we began moving again as I struggled against Pony’s tight hold.

"Let me go, goddamnit!"

"Stop struggling, Angel! I’ll knock you the fuck out, I swear I will!"

"Try it, you son of a bitch! Ice!!!"

Two small splashes sounded to our immediate left. It didn’t take a genius to know they came from bullets attempting to halt our getaway.

"Critter! Faster! C’mon! Row!!!"

Grunting with effort, Critter put her back into it and I could feel the boat pick up speed beneath me as Pony shielded my body with her own, still taking care to hold me so tightly I feared my ribs would shatter.

"Let. Me. Go!!" My teeth were so tightly gritted, I thought sure they’d break off at the gumline.

"I won’t warn you again, Angel." Pony’s breath was hot on my cheek. "Keep struggling and you’ll tip us. Critter can’t swim and neither can Nia, so you’d best be still or I’ll crack you one. I swear it by any fucking god you wanna name."

"Well throw me overboard, then, because I . . . ."

The rest of my words were cut off as I heard Pony give a soft groan and felt the weight of her body collapse over me, bearing me right off the wooden seat and to the floor of the boat.

"Pony!!" I could hear Critter’s muffled scream as I tried to struggle from beneath her lover’s limp, full weight

"Keep rowing!" Nia’s voice was pitched high with terror. "Oh god! Keep rowing!!"


I could tell Pony was still alive by the movement of her chest against my back and the soft moan of pain near my ear, but I didn’t know how to tell Critter that from my position.

Then I heard splashes, loud ones, and suddenly our boat was moving again, twice as fast as it had before. We hit the riverbank hard, and Pony’s weight drove into me, causing my face to slide against the splintered wood of the boat’s bottom, the resulting sting bringing tears of pain to my eyes.

Then, like a blessing from on high, the weight was lifted from my chest, hips and head, and when I looked up, I met the concerned expressions of people I knew.

Like some sort of modern-day cavalry, the Amazons had come over the hill once again.

Montana and Cowgirl quickly, but gently, grabbed Pony, while others hauled Cavallo from the bottom of the boat and onto dry land, none being particularly careful with where or how hard he landed.

I scrambled to a sitting position just as Cheeto stepped forward and offered me a hand. "C’mon, Angel."

"Not a chance," I growled, moving up so that I was sitting on one of the benches and grabbing the oars.

"Angel! Don’t!!"

"Watch me."

With swift, sure strokes, I pulled away from the bank, determined to make it back to the other side as quickly as I could. Some of the Amazons jumped back into the river in an attempt to halt my progress, but I made sure that their efforts were futile in the extreme.

Nothing, not heaven nor hell nor anything else was going to stop me from getting back to Ice.

Halfway across, I bumped into . . .something . . .hard enough to rock the boat. When that something grabbed onto the side with a bloodied hand, I almost tipped it over myself scrabbling to get away.

"It’s me!" came a harsh whisper from below.

I froze for a split second, then scrabbled back the way I’d come. "Ice? Ice, is that you?"

"Yeah, it’s me."

"Oh, thank you God! Wait a second. I’ll try and pull you in."

"Can’t. Rio got hit. Just row back for shore as fast as you can."

"Where is she?"

"I’ve got her."

"Where are the others?"

"Taken care of. Just row."

"Ok. Let me turn around on the seat."

It’s amazing how fast and how easily you can move when you’ve a mind to. Switching positions quickly, I grabbed the oars and began rowing. Ice’s hand disappeared for one heart-stopping second, before reappearing over the stern.

Then I rowed for all I was worth, the extra weight I was towing slowing me down not at all.

Once again, the Amazons met the boat in the shallows and helped pull it onto shore. Ice lifted Rio and carried her onto the bank before laying her gently down on her back. I scrambled out of the boat and knelt down next to her.

It was bad.

Very bad.

Rio’s normally deeply tanned face was white as a newly-laundered sheet, except for the wide streams of blood which drained from her nose and mouth.

"Ice?" I whispered, looking up into the stone mask she’d pulled on to hide her emotions.

Ignoring me, she ripped Rio’s shirt open to expose a vastly muscled chest and torso which was marred by three tiny holes, no larger than American dimes, if that. The two in her belly were oozing a slow, but steady stream of blood. The third, in her upper right chest, was bubbling with pink froth with every breath she took.

Tearing her own shirt off, Ice quickly folded it, and pressed it hard over the chest wound. "C’mon, Rio," she murmured as she reached with her free hand to the side of Rio’s neck, searching for a pulse. "C’mon. Fight."

At the touch of Ice’s gentle fingers, Rio’s dark eyes fluttered open. They were painfully aware, and my heart seized in my chest. "Hey," I whispered, smiling as best I could.

"Aaaaaa . . . ." One hand lifted from her side and hung there, trembling. "Aaaannnn . . . ."

Grasping it, I pulled it up to my cheek and held it there, the tears starting to fall freely down my face. "I’m here, Rio. I’m here."

"Ssssooo." She coughed and dark blood streamed from her mouth, but her eyes never wavered. "Sorrrrry."

I choked out a sob. "Don’t be sorry, Rio. You saved our lives. You just concentrate on pulling through this, alright?"

"Sorrrry!" she said again, her hand curling to a fist in my own.

Taking in a shuddering breath, I nodded. "I know," I whispered. "I know. I forgive you."

Her hand relaxing in mine, the faintest ghost of a smile twitched her bloodied lips. "Thaaank youu."

Then she turned her head, just slightly. Her other hand lifted, and Ice caught it and held it tight. "Aaam . . . ?" She coughed again and her eyes rolled briefly up in her head, before returning their intense stare to my lover. "Aaamazon?"

Ice’s lips pursed, and I knew she was holding back tears by sheer force of her formidable will. Her eyes, though, were bright and shiny. "Yes," she replied, her whisper harsh with unshed tears. "Yes, you’re an Amazon."

With those words, Rio relaxed, seeming to fold back into herself. Her chest lifted once more, then fell and didn’t rise again. Her eyes became doll’s eyes which stared blankly into the canopy of trees overhead.

"Rio! Rio, no! Oh, no, please!" I turned to my lover in time to see one single tear roll silently down her cheek. "Ice! Do something!"

Lifting her free hand from the makeshift pressure dressing, Ice reached up and gently closed Rio’s eyes. "Goodbye, my friend," she whispered.

"No! No! It’s not goodbye! It’s not! Damnit, Ice! Do something! Save her like you saved me!"

Soft hands descended on my shoulders. I tried to shake them off, but their grip was iron. "It’s over, Angel," Corinne’s voice whispered from the darkness surrounding us. "Let her go."

"No! I won’t let her go!" Moving quickly forward, I dropped Rio’s still hand in an attempt to start some sort of CPR on her.

But Ice was quicker still, and stopped me with a forearm to my chest.

I looked up at her, eyes full of fire, but the look in her own stopped me cold.

I collapsed into Rio’s unmoving body and sobbed into her chest until Corinne gently gathered me up and pulled me into a firm, gentle embrace.

I sobbed like a child in her mother’s arms as the rest of the Amazons surrounded us, their faces somber and grieving.

Behind me, Ice stood, lifted Rio into her arms, and headed silently away.


To Be Continued - Part 10

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