By Bel-wah

Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle and any other characters featured in the actual TV series are copyrighted to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures while the rest of the story and other characters are my own.



Calling it a ‘highway’ was a generous term, but that was what it was known as, this two-lane strip of broken asphalt that wound its way over the Sierra Madres from just south of Mazatlán to Durango, over 150 miles away. Highway 40 began its route innocently enough, climbing gently through old mining towns, past white-washed buildings with red-tiled roofs, and through dusty, tired villages that looked more like abandoned movie sets, catering now to backpackers and day-trippers from the coast.

But the higher you went into the hills, the more you distanced yourself from the tourists, the Spanish-colonial styled furniture vendors, and the hucksters, and the more you found yourself surrounded by the sprawling spider-veined network of canyons, the arroyos, and the sheer drop-offs into breathtaking nothingness that made the Sierra Madres famous.

Highway 40 was no place you wanted to be after dark.

Even less desirable was to find yourself on one of the narrow, unpaved roads that cut away from the highway, the tortuous, barely navigable paths that led to sleepy towns nestled in the hills; small towns populated with Indian women, men driving broken-down pickups and riding horses, and lazy dogs passing the time in sunny, dusty plazas, barely lifting their shaggy heads whenever the rare, unfamiliar vehicle passed through.

It was mid-afternoon, probably a little past the time when they should have started back down; they really shouldn’t have come this far, this high, on this day, but Teresa didn’t care. It was too late to turn back now, just… too damn late.

She knew where she was going. She’d driven this godforsaken trail more than once.

Alone. Always, alone.

Lane had been quiet since they’d left Mazatlán behind, several hours earlier, and Teresa was actually grateful for that. She didn’t think herself capable of conversation right now, not after the harrowing episode on Benitez’s yacht, not after what she’d decided she had to do. Had to show Lane Sinclair.

Earlier, by the time the drug kingpin’s boat had returned to the dock, she’d already made up her mind that it was only right… necessary, even, that Lane know. Maybe then the tall woman would understand why she’d chosen to live the life she’d led… allowed herself to be held captive in a prison of her own making. She had to see, had to understand.

Otherwise, when it was all over with Benitez, Manuel, and the others, when she was gone, then it would be as if she had never lived at all.

A ghostly shade, slipping away into the mists.

Teresa directed the Suburban towards yet another hairpin curve and she slowed, hitting her horn. A faint, high-pitched bleat sounded from around the hard slope of the mountain to her right, and as she cautiously proceeded, mentally shutting out the dizzying drop-off to her left, she sensed a tensing in the quiet form seated next to her.

"I’ve done this before, you know," she softly murmured, lifting a hand to wave at the dark-skinned driver of a battered blue Ford pickup who had pulled to the side, dangerously close to the cliff’s rim. The maneuver safely completed, she coaxed the Suburban onwards, higher into the clouds; towards that place that existed, she sometimes fancied in her drug-addled imagination, as a safe haven, as a place where the ugly realities of her life as Señora Enrico León could not find her… or hurt her.

San Pedro.

She felt a tear sting her eye, unbidden, as she remembered the first time she’d found the place, a ciudad in the sky. It had been the first time and the last time she’d tried to get away from Enrico. She’d been lost… afraid… hurting, and then she had found San Pedro.

Or, maybe it had found her.

"Hola, Señorita!"

The kindly faces, the warmth in their voices, the willingness to share what little they had with the total stranger who’d arrived in their midst… they had been the answer to the quiet prayer she’d never voiced, these women of the poor convent school of San Pedro.

Too tired, too exhausted to go any further, already frantic that she’d been followed, she’d allowed the sisters to lead her through a hard-packed dirt courtyard, down a cool stone corridor, to a small cell of a room secured by an ancient wooden door.

"Of course you can stay here…."

A rustle of a white cotton habit and the quiet clicking of rosary beads as she was eased down onto a small cot.

"As long as you like, niña. For we are all children of God, here."

And so she had stayed.

While Enrico angrily searched the terra caliente for her and the lover he’d wildly imagined her to have run away with, she had stayed in San Pedro with the sisters, helping out in the kitchen at meal times, and during the days with the barefoot school children whose bright, open faces struck a chord deep within her.

She’d been so fearful she would be found out, and with each passing day, week, month, she’d become more agitated, knowing that Enrico would not rest until he reclaimed his ‘property.’ Knowing that the longer she tarried in San Pedro, she put the good sisters themselves in jeopardy.

She was afraid for them. Afraid for….

"Empujar, niña! Empujar!"

She’d pushed, all right, crying out in a hoarse, distant voice she failed to recognize as her own.

Kept her eyes focused on the rough, exposed wooden beams of the ceiling, panting, struggling to breathe as Sister Eva had told her she must.

Felt the sweat pouring off of her, soaking the sheets she was lying on, in a bittersweet dreamscape that seemed to go on without end.

She’d cried as the pain overtook her, rendering her nearly senseless; screamed as the thunder crashed and lightning lit the room… a storm swept down from the heights of the Sierra; and wept, finally, as in the dim light of the candles she saw the dark crown of hair and heard the first mewling cries of her baby.

"It’s a girl, niña!" The joyous face of Sister Eva told her what she needed to know, that her baby was healthy, and whole, and safe.

A daughter.

Something that was hers… that belonged to her, only to her.

Later, when the sisters had left and the storm was but a rumbling echo in the distance, she’d gazed into the tiny face, into the innocent, blue-green eyes, and she’d known then without a doubt what she had to do.

The very thought of it had nearly broken her.

She had to leave, to get away from San Pedro, or the sisters would never be safe. Her daughter… would never be safe.

The sisters, who had been so kind, who had saved her, really, did not understand.

To them, she’d been a single mother, a ‘Señorita Maria,’ perhaps a runaway from a good family in the lowlands, a girl who would make her peace with her family, eventually, and return home with a bouncing baby girl in tow.

But that was impossible.

If they’d only known, perhaps even then they would not have understood, being so kind of heart and mind. There was nothing, in their view, that could not be remedied by a penitent heart and the love of a merciful God.

And so she’d left as soon as she was able, too cowardly to turn back that day to see the sadness, the sympathy in their eyes, too shattered to gaze upon the squalling infant whom she knew held what was left of her battered soul. It was the only way… the only way her baby would be safe.

From them all.

The trail straightened as they approached San Pedro, and the landscape flattened out with a few low-standing pines and big discs of prickly pear cactus. The white-washed mud and adobe buildings of the small town came into view, and with them, the taller church, bell tower, and convent schoolyard.

Teresa pressed the Suburban diligently forward, nosing her way towards the convent, as she had done secretly, so many times over the past four years. She’d never been able to stay away, not entirely, returning periodically with gifts of food and money for the sisters, telling herself it was merely a chance to repay their kindnesses.

Her heart leaped into her throat as she stopped the truck. Lane shifted next to her, taking in the scene of at least twenty small children of varying ages, chasing after several soccer balls in their dusty bare feet. Siesta would be just over now, Teresa surmised, and she let her gaze rest on the children, searching, as an aching hopelessness fluttered in her chest.

She had been dreaming, she knew that, ever thinking she could escape forever in this town forgotten by tourists and time. Dreaming… that she could ever get away from Enrico León, El Halcón, he whose raptor eyes had probed far and wide, and who had spitefully welcomed her home when she’d returned, more in control of her than ever. Dominating her, crushing her spirit.

But this was a part of herself that she had never wanted to belong to him. She’d never wanted him to know, lest he take it from her and defile it, make it into a bastardized image of himself… or of what she herself had become.

It was when she’d returned to him that she’d stepped up from the cocaine and marijuana to the heroin, eventually preferring the numbing bliss of the white powder exclusively.

Hoping to lose herself in it… to forget.

Hell, it even worked, sometimes.


Through the thundering in her ears she heard Lane’s voice.

"What… what is this place?" Blue eyes searched hers, asking endless questions whose answers she felt incapable of providing.


Teresa could not help it, that flare of parental pride as she spotted her, a small, dark-haired girl with her long hair pulled back in a clasp; a girl with fine, delicate features, tanned skin and emerald green eyes the mirror image of her own. She had separated herself from the rest of the children, and now stood near the sagging doorway to the school, a finger plucking at her mouth as she bashfully regarded the new arrivals.

Teresa could not find her voice, and all she could do was point a trembling finger.

"Wha—" Lane looked from the little girl to Teresa, and back again. "Teresa?" she said slowly, and in the agent’s voice she could hear the dawn of an understanding.


That was what this was all about, right?

She blinked back the tears, cursing herself for losing it like this as she always did whenever she came here. God, you’d think she would’ve been used to it by now. "I… I wanted you to know," she said at last, her voice thick with emotion. "If something happens to me—" She lifted a shaking hand to her eyes, and could not go on.

This was the one thing Enrico had never been able to take away from her. The one thing he’d never been able to destroy. Regardless of the pathetic disaster that her own life had become… in this one thing, she’d beaten him.

But sweet Jesus, at what a price.

Taking in the tiny, solitary image of the daughter who didn’t know her, the cold emptiness she felt inside was suddenly contrasted by the warmth of a strong hand covering her own. "What’s her name?"

Say it.

The name so familiar to her, the constant companion to her every waking moment, the shredded thread that kept her barely clinging to her sanity. Yet the name was so foreign, spoken so infrequently by her tongue. But she had nothing left to hide anymore, not from this woman beside her.

"Mia," she breathed at last, finding an absolution of a sort with that confession.



Holy shit!

Lane Sinclair prided herself on never being taken by surprise, on always knowing in advance what was around the next curve in the road, what the next play would be. But damn, she must be finally losing her grip! First, there was her prick of a boss, David Starks, getting the drop on her. Her partner, Clarence, had paid the ultimate price for that little oversight.

And now… Christ! Who would have thought it… the beautiful - and she was that - little daughter of Enrico and Teresa León, residing in what amounted to a broken down orphanage high in the Sierra Madres? Well, if it were any consolation, there was no freakin’ way she ever could have predicted that.

But the revelation went a long way towards explaining a helluva lot. With Enrico’s contacts in both Mexico and the States, there would’ve been no way that Teresa could ever have left him without him finding out about it – not if she’d had a small child with her, along for the ride. It would have been easy for him to guess, then, what had happened; how Teresa had deceived him. And then… who the hell knew what he might’ve done?

Lots of things, and none of them, good.

And so, having no choice, Teresa had chosen to stay with him, knowing that by doing so it was the closest she’d ever be able to be to Mia, and still keep her hidden, keep her safe.

Several of the sisters had come out to greet Teresa when they’d pulled up, calling her ‘niña,or ‘Señorita Maria’ – an alias the blonde had assumed, Lane guessed.

Smart girl, in a land where the León name was both worshiped and reviled.

One older sister, a Sister Eva, seemed particularly happy to see her. She’d regarded Lane curiously, her dark eyes peering hawkishly out of a starched white habit, but she’d asked no questions. Lane surmised that she and her fellow sisters had already seen quite a lot in their day.

Over Teresa’s protestations that they could not stay, one of the sisters had brought little Mia over. Tentatively, Teresa had squatted down to her, eye level, and reached out a hand. Lane’s heart had lurched at the way Mia had shrunk back, shy, scared, anxious to return to her friends. Sister Eva had held onto her shoulders and whispered a few words of Spanish into her ear about the ‘nice lady,’ and then Mia had relaxed a bit, and offered a stricken Teresa a timid smile.

There was no mistaking the rich pools of green, the upturned nose, the hint of a willful chin.

The innocent child Teresa might once have been, framed by the darker hair and skin of her father.

Even a fool could have seen it.

Or any drug dealer.

Teresa had made the best she could out of a ‘Solomon’s choice’ of a situation. There were no winners, here. And a little girl who had no parents to call her own, had lost the most of all. Lane herself knew a little something about that, about wishing and waiting for a parent to walk through your door, not understanding why that moment never seemed to come.

"Gracias, niña!"

Lane had seen Teresa, sniffling, reach into her purse and press a wad of bills into Sister Eva’s hands. Then the nuns had kindly offered for them to stay for a meal, a comida, but Teresa had been obviously anxious to be on her way.

The hurt had to be excruciating, Lane knew.

The way Mia had shied away from Teresa, without even the faintest hint of recognition present in the eyes she owed to her mother. So instead they’d hastened back to the Suburban, after grudgingly accepting a sack filled with fresh bottled water and tortillas from the sisters. With a final embrace from Sister Eva and a half-wave goodbye to the rest of the nuns, Lane had watched as Teresa keyed in the ignition and turned her back on San Pedro.

Turned her back on the daughter she barely knew.

The big SUV jounced along the road of loose stones and dirt, with Teresa taking hairpin turns once again on the fly, Lane noted with some dismay. To add to that, the weather was beginning to turn, and dark thunderclouds roiled threateningly overhead. They were still quite some distance from Highway 40, and a storm in the mountains could be brutal, causing flash floods and washouts that caught up to you when you least expected it.

"Look," Lane cautiously began, knowing Teresa had to have nearly reached her emotional breaking point, "do you want me to drive?"

"No." Muscles worked in her jaw, and she kept her eyes on the road ahead.

"Do you want something to eat?" She gestured towards the sack furnished by the sisters of San Pedro.


Raindrops began to splash against the windshield, and Teresa violently switched on the wipers.

"Teresa… is there anything I can do?" Lane asked, wanting desperately, inexplicably, to find a way to reach out to this woman, to heal her pain.

The blonde laughed. A mirthless, bitter sound.

"Can you bring me back the last four years of my daughter’s life that I’ve lost?" Green eyes flashed sidelong at her. "Could you have spared me the marriage that’s destroyed my life?"

The sky opened up and the rain began to pour down, thick, blinding sheets, lashing against the windshield and turning the track they drove upon into a dangerous river of mud.

"Can you kill Benitez for me? And Manuel? Because I want them dead… just like I wanted Enrico dead, and look what happened to him."

"Teresa… you didn’t. I know you didn’t," Lane said helplessly, noting with some alarm as she stared out the steamy windows of the SUV that the road ahead had become nearly invisible in the blinding cloudburst.

"How do you know I didn’t?" Teresa’s voice was ragged as the Suburban’s wheels spun out for a moment, then regained their purchase on the rapidly liquefying earth.

"Because I know you!"

"No, you don’t," Teresa shouted above the drumbeat of the rain against the SUV. "You don’t know me at all. You think you do… but you don’t! You don’t know what I’m capable of! I’m a mother who abandoned her daughter. A wife who stole that child from its father. A woman…" she choked, "who… who can’t stay clean to save her life!"

"Look out!"

At the last possible moment Teresa jammed her foot down on the brake pedal, hard, as the road in front of them disappeared into a roaring, dirty brown flood. The rushing water had to be at least 20 yards wide, pouring down from the hillside above.

"Shit!" Lane breathed, perspiration soaking her shirt despite the coolness of the air conditioning. Damn, she wished she had a cigarette. "That was close." And indeed, just a few feet farther and the SUV would’ve been swept up by the torrent, and cast down the side of the mountain to God-knows-where.

Teresa’s face remained taut, impassive, as though she either didn’t realize or didn’t care about the direness of their predicament.

"We can’t stay here," Lane said firmly, twisting around in her seat to look out the back window. "It’s too dangerous to stay put, and there’s no way I’d try going in reverse in this crap. I think I saw a spot a little way back where it flattened out—"

"I know a place." Teresa cut the engine and pocketed the keys. "Follow me."

"What the—" Lane grimaced as the door was thrown open and Teresa disappeared into the storm. God, this woman was fucking nuts! Muttering a few select oaths, she grabbed a blanket from the back seat, scooped up the sack of provisions, and ducked out the door after her.

"Teresa!" Lane could barely see the smaller woman just ahead, plunging forward despite the sloppy footing and pellets of rain that peppered them like thousands of tiny knives. "Watch---" she barely caught herself as her own boot slipped. "Be careful, would ya?"

And then Teresa suddenly disappeared from view. Lane sputtered, imagining Teresa tumbling down the mountainside riding on the crest of a muddy wave. But as she drew closer, she grew flummoxed. It was as though the younger woman had vanished into the hill itself, as though she—"

"Lane, over here!"

A hand reached out from behind a drooping wet chaparral bush, and Lane suddenly found herself pulled along a path that ran parallel to the hillside. A path that sheltered them from some of the weather, in fact, so who was she to argue. She kept her head down, focusing solely on Teresa’s muddied feet in front of her, until the path curved inward on itself - and then it was dark. Pitch dark, or so it seemed to Lane.

It was startling, to say the least.


"Right here," came the voice, sounding as a hollow echo. And then she could feel Teresa’s presence standing next to her, felt the rawness, the vulnerability that lurked beneath the coolness of her drenched clothes and skin. It took a few seconds, but then she realized they were in some sort of a cave.

She turned around the way they’d come, and now she could see the cave’s entrance outlined against the stormy sky outside, a hidden window on the world. It was hard to tell with these mountain storms; from what she knew they could last a few minutes or a few hours. Then they’d be able to leave… to hike back to the SUV and, if in fact it hadn’t washed away in the newly formed arroyo, they could head back down into Mazatlán, back to the ocean of troubles they’d left behind.

"Well." Lane cleared her throat. "This is some place. And at least it’s dry." She ran a hand through her wet hair. Her eyes were beginning to adjust to the dim light, and she turned and dropped the damp food sack and blanket down onto a flattened, table-like rock she’d spied a few yards deeper inside the cave. She stopped, and turned back to face Teresa, who stood like a statue at the cave’s entrance, her arms drawn tightly to her middle, shivering.

"It is dry, right?"

"Yeah." Moist green eyes glanced over a shoulder. "I’ve had to take shelter here before. These storms are quite common in the mountains." She released a heavy sigh. "It’ll be over, soon."

"Where exactly is ‘here’?" Lane inquired, sidling up behind her and wanting for all the world to reach out to her, to hold her, to take away her pain. And so she was surprised at the calmness she’d been able to inject into her voice.

Teresa kept her eyes on the curtain of rain outside. "We’re in a tomb, actually."

"What?" Lane yelped, peering sharply behind her as though some ancient Aztec god might appear at any moment, come to claim a human sacrifice. "Are you kidding?"

Teresa softly laughed. "Don’t worry," she said through chattering teeth. "The occupants are long gone."

"Jesus Christ!" Lane swore, only slightly mollified. "Why didn’t you say so?"

"I just did." Teresa moved away from the entrance and Lane followed her. "It’s called a ‘shaft tomb,’ she explained, patting her hand against the cool stone wall. "There are lots of these in the Sierra Madres. Nobody knows who built them. By the time scientists came around, all they found were a few bits of pottery and some bone fragments. They’d been plundered millennia ago."

"How far back does this go?" Now that Teresa had pointed it out, Lane could see that the stonework was obviously hand-tooled, and the ‘cave’ itself was actually more like a shaft, sloping downwards at a twenty-degree angle into inky darkness.

"Sixty feet or so, at the most," Teresa told her. She dropped down onto the flattened rock as a shudder skipped through her body. "Plenty of time to explore when you’re on your own."

"Here," Lane said, finally jolted into action. "You’re shivering."

"I—I just can never seem to get warm," the younger woman said as Lane threw the rough-hewn blanket around her.

"I’m afraid this isn’t doing much good." Lane could feel how wet the blanket was, adding to the discomfort Teresa had to be feeling. Truth be known, Lane herself had welcomed the drenching, had enjoyed the feel of the water soaking her; a preferable alternative to the oppressive atmosphere that had been smothering her inside the SUV.

"You don’t seem cold."

"I’m fine, actually," Lane said, and it was the truth.

Fine, fine, fine, right?

Nothing ever got to Field Agent Lane Sinclair. Not the cold nor the heat, not some fucked up boss with the DEA who was on the take… not the loss of her partner… her father… and certainly not the loss of the possibility of forging any sort of relationship at all with the barely functioning wreck of a human being huddled before her.

So Lane therefore had no reasonable explanation for why she found herself sitting down next to her, hesitantly sliding her arms under the blanket, wrapping them around the trembling form of Teresa León.

"Thanks." A small voice that was barely audible.

Lane felt a hot burst of emotion suddenly flare within her, churning at her gut, robbing her of her breath, over-ruling what little grip she had left on what was logical… proper… by-the-book.

"It’s gonna be okay, Teresa," she said, her lips involuntarily brushing against soaked blonde locks. "Everything… with you, with Mia… I’m gonna get us out of this. You’ll see."

Sad eyes the color of dew-covered grass at dawn lifted up to her. "I have so little hope left, Lane," she said, gulping, fighting back the tears. "I—I don’t think I can afford to believe you. If I were to lose that—"

"Believe it," Lane said firmly, drawing Teresa more closely to her, and feeling the blonde’s arms tighten convulsively around her in return. "I’ll take you away from here. From all… this. Far away. You—and Mia. You can be together."

"God, Lane," Teresa’s lower lip trembled and she started to pull away. "I can’t do it… I can’t!"

"Ssssh!" Lane held her as the tears started to flow. "Yes… yes you can," she told her, willing the warmth of her own body into her as she stroked her hair. "You can do it. Believe in me… in us," she said hoarsely, realizing with some small degree of horror just exactly what she was saying, what she was doing, and that if things went very much further there would be no turning back.

She hadn’t even realized she’d closed her eyes until she felt a cool palm caress her cheek. She leaned into the touch, craving it.


Her eyes blinked open.


"Kiss me." A request. An appeal. A plea.

She gazed down into Teresa’s eyes and saw the desire there, and she saw the doubt, too, and knew that the widow of Enrico León didn’t quite believe her yet; perhaps she was even incapable of it, and in a fleeting moment of desperation, of passion, Lane realized that she’d have to believe enough for them both.

She gently lowered Teresa back onto the rock, haphazardly arranging the dampened blanket beneath them – hell, it was better than nothing. She let her eyes feast on Teresa’s face for a moment, drinking it in, so beautiful in the half-light, so pale, but with an artist’s brush of color in her cheeks, and a pair of full lips parted, waiting, wanting.

And then there was no hesitation as she dropped down to taste those lips, feeling the electricity arc through her body as contact was made, felt Teresa’s torso lift slightly beneath her to meet her in a kiss that scorched the wet and the cold away.

Oh, God!

It was everything that had haunted her since that hellish, angry night in Teresa’s bedroom, everything that she’d hoped it would be those times late at night when she’d been able to stop denying to herself the truth of it, and now she gave into the intoxication, let herself go spinning out of control, drunk on the sweet nectar of Teresa’s lips.

Her hands raced over cool, dewy skin, peeling off Teresa’s wet blouse, then reaching under the yellow tank top that clung to her and tugged it away, even as she felt fingers tracing a hot path down her back, and then fumbling for the zipper on her khakis. Lane groaned, burrowing her face into the side of Teresa’s neck, giving in to her ministrations, breathing in her heady scent, tasting her, nipping at her, feeling frustrated as the fire stoked within her, fearing she could never get enough of this woman to satisfy her yearning.

"You are so beautiful," she whispered, letting her lips travel lower, letting her tongue dance over the swell of a breast, the curve of a rib, the dip of a belly.

Lane felt herself falling, as though she’d gone plummeting over the side of a bottomless cliff of the Sierra Madres.

She needed… this.

Needed Teresa’s trust in her, needed her to give herself over to her totally, completely.

So she’d stopped herself in Teresa’s bedroom that night – so what? It wasn’t any more right now than it had been then, but she was too far gone to give a damn. No one had ever made her feel this way before... God, she was over the edge! And she’d never wanted to give of herself this way with anyone before, not the way she did now with Teresa.

She wanted to be the spark to the light in her eyes, wanted to hear her name cried out on her lips, wanted to please her, to steal from her the memory of any other lover she’d ever had.

"Oh, Lane!" Teresa’s cry echoed in the chamber, surrounding her, enveloping her. She could feel the younger woman’s hands, feel her fingers running through her slick hair, raking her back, urging her on.

And then Lane found Teresa’s heat, her fire, and she poured it on, letting the flames burn them both in a mindless explosion of senses, of thought, of need. The last thing that occurred to her, before her mind completely reeled off into the abyss, was that Teresa León had been right.

They all had their addictions.

And right now, her soul understood clearly, at last, that there was one thing, one person, she could not ever, ever do without.


The storm was over.

Or maybe just beginning, Lane Sinclair considered, depending on how you looked at it.

She could hear the faint drip-drip of the water outside as the remnants of the rainfall trickled away. She inhaled deeply, smelling the moisture in the air, the damp mustiness of the cave, the earthy scent of the ages.

Not to mention the entrancing scent of the woman tangled in her arms. But with the receding of the storm off into the distance, spirits of the past drifting away, the realities of the present, shadows lurking at the edge of the firelight, made their presence known.

She could feel the beat of Teresa’s heart as she lay against her, the slow, hazy bongo rhythm of a junkie’s heart; felt the butterfly whisper of each tell-tale slowed breath against her skin, and she told herself that it didn’t matter, that they would get through this.

It was late.

Teresa stirred and she knew why.

Lane let her hand slowly stroke her blonde hair, soothing her restlessness, knowing that it would not be enough.

"I love you, Teresa."

Knowing that might not be enough, too.

She felt a tongue snake out and lazily lick her nipple, which instantly demonstrated its appreciation. "We’ve got to get going," Teresa said, lifting her head and turning a feline, aquamarine gaze upon her.

"Sure," Lane said simply, calmly, even as her soul cried out and railed against the injustice of this other lover who stood between them. A lover who gave her what she could not… would not.

Teresa seemed to feel the need to say something; Lane could see the slight furrow to her brow as though she were trying to remember an important point – or maybe it wasn’t so important if you couldn’t remember it anyway.

"I—I believe what you said earlier, Lane," she finally allowed. "That you can get us out of this. That it’ll all work out." She started to pull away then, scratching distractedly at the skin of her forearms.

"It will." Lane would not let her go so easily. She wrapped an arm around her waist and reached for her hand, planting a soft kiss on her palm. "I promise. We’ve got a good plan… we’ll stick to it. And when everything’s over, we’ll come back and get Mia, and go someplace safe. Far away from this place."

"You promise?" Teresa wanted to know, but already Lane could see her mind was elsewhere. The smaller woman twisted in her arms, smiling faintly, and niggled at her to get moving.

"Yeah," Lane said, surrendering to the enemy. This was a battle best fought on another day. But that day would come soon, she would see to it.

Slowly, she reached out and handed Teresa her blouse.

"I promise."


He didn’t hear the phone ringing those first few times. He was otherwise engaged.

"Oooh, give it to me, big man!"

He felt her nails, painted in a chipped blood red, digging into his back. Her legs were wrapped around him, spurring him on his journey.

"You do it soooo good!" A breathy moan in his ear. "Hiole! You the best I ever have!"

Okay. She was laying it on pretty thick, but what the hell. That’s what he was paying her for.

Elena… Eliza… Alissa… damn, if he couldn’t even remember her name right now! Not that it really mattered. She’d probably lied to him about that, the same as she most likely had about her age.

Eighteen… sure.

Eighteen going on fifteen.

"Oooh…. Dios mío!"

He liked it when they lied.

With limp dark hair and bloodshot eyes betraying only the barest hint of shame, of any sense of revulsion at the desperateness of her situation, she was the pick of the litter from the usual crowd outside the dive bar he frequented. It hadn’t taken much to get her into his car, just $20.00, and nothing extra to get her up into his apartment.

Jesus, didn’t she know how dangerous that could be? Once a cop, always a cop.

But she didn’t seem to mind, or maybe she was too stoned to give a damn, and that was fine with him. Because it would never do for Special Agent-in-Charge David Starks to get busted in a flophouse, or found in a car in a dark El Paso alleyway, with a hooker’s face in his lap. He’d tried hotels in the past, but the money was still so damn tight, what with the cash that bitch ex-wife of his had taken in the divorce settlement, that he’d taken to bringing his ‘dates’ home.

It was a question of resource allocation, after all, and he had his priorities.

Even with the air conditioning on, he was soaked in perspiration, the bed was soaked, and Christ, how the dark skin of the young girl beneath him glistened! So young, so tight, so hot, and he was the man, all right! Giving it to her like she’d never had it before.

Gasping, thinking his heart might burst through his chest, he thrust into her again and again, feeling the power, making her beg for it, driving for home.


"Wha – shit!"

He wanted to ignore it, to make it go away.

"El teléfono!" the girl bellowed this time, as though she were working 3rd shift at the canning factory. What the hell!! It wasn’t as if she were expecting a goddamned call!

Gritting his teeth, panting, he awkwardly grabbed for the phone.

"Starks!" he barked in a strained voice.

Silence. And then, "Hola, David."

Despite the heat, a chill stabbed at his gut. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end, and the blood drained away from his face and other critical body parts.


How had Benitez’s man gotten his number? Up until now they’d always made contact in person, the better to avoid leaving any electronic trail.

"What the fuck are you doing calling me here?" he growled, rolling off of the girl and swinging his feet over the side of the bed.

"We have business to attend to, amigo. Would you rather I call you at your office?"

"No!" Starks shouted, in spite of himself. "Listen, Mario," he continued in hoarse whisper, "I told you before! After that business in Mazatlán, my work for your jefe was finished!"

"Ahhh." A note of feigned understanding. "But that’s the point, amigo. Your job. It ain’t finished, you hear? So we got a problem. And the jefe, he ain’t happy, you know what I’m sayin’?"

A hand snaked around him and began to trace circles his stomach. "Come back to bed, baby!"

He swatted the hand away.

"What are you saying, Mario?" He felt the panic begin to stir. "Jesus Christ! Will you spit it out or get the hell off this line!"

After Enrico León, El Halcón, had met an untimely death, Starks had thought that was it – the end of the line. All the smaller deals, the more insignificant operations, all of them had led up to the moment, as he’d always known it would, when Benitez would ask him to kill for him. And so he had, taking out León and getting rid of his own problem of Lane Sinclair in the bargain – or so he’d thought.

In any event, with León dead, what the hell was Benitez’s problem? He’d done the job, hadn’t he? And the paper-pushers in Washington were pleased that there was one less drug lord to worry about – so what if he’d died in a ‘car accident’ as the local papers had ended up reporting. So what?

Dead was dead.

Except when it came to the minor detail of Lane Sinclair.

He’d been stunned to hear from her – God, how had he ever been able to hide the initial shock when Clarence Hayes had first approached him, telling him he’d heard from her? It was a masterful acting performance, that.

So another agent had met an ‘accidental’ death – so what? Everyone had bought it, and it had gotten Clarence out of his way.

But having Lane Sinclair on the loose out there, that was another matter. He hadn’t heard from her save for that one phone call, but he knew she was simply biding her time, the bitch! It was like having a noose around his neck, just waiting to be yanked tight. He was still trying to figure out what the hell to do about her; there was nothing much he could do right now, really, but wait. And in the meantime, girls like Eliza or whomever, and a bottle of vodka, helped him to forget about that little problem for a while.

"What I’m sayin’ is the boss-man ain’t happy. León is dead, but he can’t move in like he wanted to. ‘El Halcón’ has been replaced by El Pequeño Halcón."

"What?" The Little Falcon? Starks ran a hand through his thinning hair. Mario wasn’t making any sense. And his entertainment for the night wasn’t helping his powers of concentration any.

"Love me, baby!" The girl scooted up closer behind him and began to massage his shoulders.

"I’m talking about Enrico. He had a wife, David. The bitch has taken over, and she’s makin’ trouble.

"That’s impossible!"

"You tell that to the man, not me." Harsh laughter. I’m sayin’ you got to go back and finish the job. And take care of the puta advisor she’s got helpin’ her, too. A gringa, just like her. And a real devil woman. Big, real big, and dark. She made Juan sing like a soprano, from what I heard!"

It was as though a thunderclap had sounded in Starks’ mind, scattering his frazzled thoughts, allowing him instead to focus on one thing… the most important thing.

"A new advisor…." He breathed to himself.

"Somethin’s gotta be done, David, you hear me, bro? One way or the other. You think about that." A pause, and then. "I’ll be in touch."

Starks gazed numbly at the phone buzzing in his sweaty palm.

"You come back to bed, big man, eh?"

"Get out."

A hand grabbed at his crotch.

"I said, get the hell out!" He shoved her away. "Lárguese!"

She stared up at him with her dark round eyes, pulling the sheet to her chest, looking for all the world like the scolded, small child she was.

"Just… go!" He cried, shoving another twenty dollars at her and tossing her clothes towards the door.

The hurt quickly spilled over into anger. "Chinga tu madre!"

He ignored her sniffling tears and her litany of choice oaths as she quickly gathered her scattered clothing, dressed, and left his apartment with the shuddering slam of a door. But she took the money, as he’d known she would, and in the next week or so, maybe sooner, when he returned to the bar and the pros who worked its corner, he would find her again, and by then she would have already forgotten this night thanks to the junk that filled her veins.

And in the meantime… well, Mario was right. He had a problem out there, in the person of the widow León. But it seemed that the death-defying Lane Sinclair had surfaced at last.

So maybe he’d found a solution, too.


To be continued.

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