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.




Just a few seconds before Lane Sinclair burst through the door of Teresa’s cottage, she was startled… and relieved, to see the glow of a light reappear from behind its curtained windows. Still, she took the door on the run, not even thinking of knocking.

"Teresa! Teresa, are you—"

Nothing could have prepared her for the sight that met her eyes.

Teresa León, naked, save for the blood that spattered her chest, her arms, her hands; and the torn cotton skirt hanging askew, barely clinging to her slim hips. The cloth’s geometrical pattern was also marred with fresh, crimson highlights that were quickly turning rust-brown.

"Gotta go… gotta go," Teresa whispered, studiously ignoring Lane. With awkward, stilted motions, she shuffled from a small corner closet to an overnight bag that rested on a cane and bamboo chair. Christ, was she… packing?

Lane took it in, took it all in, including the purpling bruise on Teresa’s cheek and the blood that seeped from the corner of her mouth. In some bit of a shock, Lane let her eyes travel across the floor, past a León family-issued pistol that rested on a woven area rug, to the bed where a rumpled, bloodied form lay. She’d half expected to find that it would be Guillermo Ruiz, but no, it was that viper Manuel Diaz. His head was canted to one side, his dark eyes sightlessly staring towards the floor, and his trousers were slung low on his hips with his bare, hairy ass pointed towards the sky.

The fucking bastard. He’d better be dead.

"Teresa," Lane groaned, rushing towards her, wanting nothing more than to scoop her up and hold her, comfort her, but Teresa flinched away, edging around her, reaching for a hairbrush on the night-table.

"Gotta go… gotta go."

A trembling hand knocked the brush to the floor. Automatically, Teresa leaned down to pick it up, but the effort cost her, and a grunt of pain, of frustration, escaped her lips.

"Wait." Lane carefully took her by the arms, scanning her body for injury. Thank God the blood, most of it, anyway, did not appear to be hers.

"No." Teresa averted her gaze. She couldn’t… wouldn’t look at her. "There’s no time. We gotta go. Gotta go."

Barely able to hold back her own tears, Lane carefully reached for Teresa’s cheek, gently turning her face towards her. "What did that bastard do to you?" she whispered, fearing she already knew the answer.

Teresa stared past her blankly, her mind busied elsewhere, stuck in a place where Lane could not go. "I told him no," she replied, as though the logic of that answer explained everything. "But he wouldn’t listen. He wouldn’t, and… and--" Her voice hiccupped and broke and trailed off into nothingness, and her jaw clenched shut as she fought to hold it all in, her chest heaving.

"Sssh!" Lane guided her towards the chair, and, shoving the bag aside, eased her down into it. She winced at the pain she saw flicker across Teresa’s face. "It’s gonna be okay," she soothed, her eyes searching the room and finding a small blanket. She quickly draped it about Teresa’s shivering form. "Take it easy," she told her, gently daubing at her bloody mouth with the corner of the blanket.

Oh yeah. If Teresa hadn’t punched that motherfucker’s ticket, she sure as hell would have. "We’ll straighten this out and—"

"No! No… we gotta go!" The words ripped from her throat and Teresa did look at her then, the panic rising in her bloodshot, haunted eyes. She fought against Lane’s restraining hands, struggling to get to her feet. "He… he works for Benitez," she gasped, still in shock, still referring to Manuel in the present tense in the context of a fear that was so overwhelming and immediate. "He’s on the mordida."

"What?" Lane breathed, her brain rocking with this piece of new information even as she managed to coax Teresa to stay down. Manuel and Felix Benitez – working together? "Are you sure?" she asked, although she knew in her heart that it all made perfect sense – now. Why else would a man like Manuel Diaz, with his hubris and his ego, hang around to play second – no - third banana, to a dead boss’s wife? He had to have seen that there would be more in it someday for him. And the only person who could have guaranteed that, would’ve been the man who’d killed his boss in the first place.

"He knew Lane… he… he knew," Teresa continued. Her breath was hitching, and she was pursing her bruised lips together between each word, fighting to hold on to what little composure she had left. "I c-couldn’t fight him… I was going to let him," she stuttered, "but then… he t-told me he knew."

"Knew what?" Lane’s voice was a ragged whisper as she drew Teresa close. Only one thing could possibly have rattled Teresa to such a profound extent. With all the wife of El Halçon had already seen and done….

Damn that bastard Manuel. How could she have missed it? And how could she have let Teresa fall into this trap? A trap where people got hurt.

Teresa gazed into her eyes, searching, with a despair that cut her to the quick. And then the floodgates broke, and the tears began to stream down her face. She finally began to let herself feel it, the hurt, the pain, the fear. "Oh, Lane," she sobbed, "he knew about Mia."

Lane held her as tightly as she dared, feeling the frailness of the body that shook in her arms, and the wetness of the tears that dampened her shoulder. She let Teresa’s pain fill her own heart, as surely as the coppery, metallic scent of the blood and the death filled her nostrils. Death… she could smell it, all right. What to do? Lane’s mind raced. What the fuck to do?

The tramp of footsteps coming down the path and the muttering of Spanish voices snapped Lane to attention.

Oh, shit!

This would take some work.

"Be quiet, Teresa, please!" Lane pleaded, planting a light kiss on her forehead and giving her arms a reassuring squeeze. Moving quickly, she grabbed the pistol up off the floor and made for the bed, wiping it clean on the comforter. Swallowing down her revulsion at the ghastly scene, trying not to think of Manuel’s hands pawing at Teresa, she pulled the blanket over him as best she could and moved towards the doorway of the cottage. She stepped across the threshold, pulling the door closed behind her, just as a couple of Ruiz’s goons arrive.

"Hola." She lifted her arm in half a wave, twirling the pistol nonchalantly in her other hand while she slouched against the doorjamb, effectively blocking the entrance.

"We hear a gun," one of the guards said in heavily accented English, and Lane recognized him as her tall, curly-haired buddy from the hacienda who’d given her his pack of smokes. He eyed the spinning pistol warily, his posture, as well as the rifle in his hands, demanding a response.

"The Señora," Lane chuckled, shaking her head, "she loco, eh? A little too much to drink… a little too much up the nose," she shot a glance back towards the door of the cottage and then she returned her attention to the guard, adding a conspiratorial whisper to her voice, "first she howl at la luna, then she think she can shoot it down!"

"Señor Ruiz, he no like—"

"Why does he have to know?" Lane shrugged her shoulders. "The moon still hangs in the sky. I put the Señora to bed. In the morning, she have a big head, and won’t remember a thing." She paused, eyeing the guards carefully. "And I no have to tell Señor Ruiz that it take his guaruras so long to get here, si?" She grinned, taking the edge off her words. "Why, the Señora could have taken down half the stars in the sky by now, if I no get here when I did." She stopped twirling the pistol and stuffed it inside the belt of her pants. "No harm done, eh?"

The tall guard looked past her, as if straining to see inside the door. "The Señora – she asleep?"

Lane folded her arms and drew herself to her full height, hoping like hell that Teresa stayed quiet, and idly wondering whether the guards could see the bullets she was sweating. "Like a bebé."

"But the light—"

Shit. "The Señora, she no like the dark," Lane smoothly replied. "Just like a baby."

The tall guard faced his shorter companion, and a silent agreement passed between them. Her buddy turned to her. "Okay," he said simply, shouldering his rifle, visibly relaxing. He pointed towards the cottage door, and smirked. "She loco, eh?"

Lane threw up her hands as though surrendering to it all. "Muy loco, mi amigo. Muy loco."

They all shared a knowing laugh, and the guard offered Lane another cigarette, which she accepted with a great show of thanks. He took the time to light it for her and she let him, worrying for a moment that he showed no desire to leave anytime soon. But with a final chuckle and a glance skywards towards la luna, he started back up the path with his companion trailing after him, back towards the hacienda, where the sounds of music and laughter still drifted out into the night.

For some reason, the damn cigarette didn’t taste good at all, and as soon as the men were out of sight, Lane stubbed it out, fighting against the surprising rise of bile in her throat.

Swallowing hard, she went back into the cottage, closing the door softly behind her. Teresa hadn’t moved. She sat still, so still in the cane chair, the blanket draped around her slumped shoulders, the glaze of shock taking root in her dulled eyes. And the blood… the damned blood was everywhere.

Enough! Enough of this bullshit! She had to get Teresa out of here now. She had to contact Jay Irvine. Arrange a rendezvous point. With Manuel on Benitez’s payroll… how the hell long had that been going on? Just how much did Benitez know? What had Manuel told him?

A lot… or maybe nothing at all. Either way, she couldn’t take the chance. By the time Guillermo Ruiz sobered up, she planned to have Teresa long gone from here. Back in the good old U.S. of A., if she had anything to say about it.


A blonde head, its hair matted and limp, slowly lifted up.

"You’re right." She went to her, and gently helped her to her feet. "We don’t have much time… we have to get going." She slowly ushered her towards the bathroom, starkly aware of Teresa’s delicate state… of how little it would take now to push her over the edge, to lose her entirely. She sat her down on the commode, and began to run cold water over a washcloth. She hated to push her, but there was more she needed to know, and she owed it to them both to find out what she could.

"Teresa," she began, wringing the cloth out and tenderly pressing it to her bloodied lip, "did Manuel tell Benitez about Mia?" She involuntarily stiffened, waiting for her response.

"I—I," Teresa seemed to be searching for an answer… any answer. "He didn’t actually say," she finished weakly.

Lane released a heavy sigh, knowing there were no good choices here. They had to proceed on a worst-case scenario basis, as if Benitez knew everything. It was the only way.

"I’m calling in Jay Irvine. We’re getting out of here."

Teresa slowly blinked, as the words registered. "We’re going?"


"To get Mia."

A muscle in Lane’s jaw twitched, but she said nothing, instead focusing on the task at hand: removing all signs of this hateful night from Teresa’s person. That… she could do. What had stained the younger woman down deep inside, she had no hope of reaching. Only time could wipe that clean… if ever.

"Lane." A voice hoarse, but suddenly insistent. "We’re going to get Mia, right? And we’ve got to go back to San Raphael… to the casa. We’ve got to get those encrypted discs."

Lane turned to rinse the cloth, her jaw stubbornly thrusting out her answer. No, way. It was too damn risky. Later… once the fires had been put out. But not now!

"Lane," Teresa persisted, grabbing her hand, "those discs are the key."

"No!" Lane wrenched her hand away, feeling the anger spike within her. "You’re the key, Teresa, you are!" She fell to her knees in front of her. "Don’t you see – it’s you! Once you’re safe—"

"We need the discs. The information that can bring down the entire cartel is on them, not in my head! Names. Locations. Bank accounts. That was the point to this whole fucking mess," she added bitterly. "Wasn’t it?"


"Well, wasn’t it?" Teresa took a deep, shuddering breath, before she continued. "And I’m not leaving here without Mia." Her swollen lip trembled at that. "I won’t. Don’t ask that of me, because I won’t."

"It’s too dangerous for that now," Lane insisted, taking Teresa’s hands in her own, pleading, hating herself for her selfishness. "We get out of here, get back across the border, and then we’ll send for her."

"You think it’s better to leave her here?" Teresa’s voice was incredulous. "Where she’s a target? No." Her bruised face was set in a firm, almost manic resolve. "I’m not going without her, Lane. Find a way. You promised."


"You promised me."

Teresa lowered her head and began to cry, softly, and that was all it took to shatter Lane’s resolve.

She was fucked. Everything… was fucked.

She pulled the smaller woman into an embrace, and threaded her fingers through her hair in helpless, gentle motions. "Yeah… I did."


The War Against Drugs.

A war that had been lost long ago, Lane Sinclair knew, but a war whose battles were still being fought; soldiers remaining out in the field, going through the motions, feinting, parrying, fighting over ground that had been won and lost a thousand times over.

When she closed her eyes, in her mind’s eye Lane could see the killing fields; fields of marijuana, cocoa, and the deadliest of all, the colorful fields of poppies. The poppy, so deceptively beautiful, a plant whose reddish flower is as soft as any rose petal; it is carefully tended by those who cultivate it, requiring constant watering and nurturing. When the time comes to harvest it, its bulb is carefully scored with a small knife or razor so that it weeps its opiate lifeblood; the milk-colored gum that dries and eventually becomes heroin.

It was all so damn… innocent, wasn’t it?

People had smoked opium for centuries, and even today its derivatives, codeine and morphine, were just a prescription away for anyone who wanted it badly enough. But heroin… well, that was a devil of a different sort. Widely marketed as a cough suppressant and a pain reliever, for a time in the late 19th century, nearly 75% of all pharmacy prescriptions contained opiates.

Ah, the sweet bliss of ignorance.

Funny, how heroin seemed to cure whatever ailed you. The name "heroin" even came from the German word "heroisch," meaning large, powerful, or heroic. In a perverse way, it was exactly that.

The damn stuff was finally outlawed in the 1920s, not that anyone really noticed. The damage had already been done.

Large. Heroic. Bigger than them all. This delicate, harmless flower was an enemy they had no hope of ever conquering; a mistress of all desire, of need, of want… the most powerful of all elixirs.

How could you ever possibly give up the one thing that had become your everything?

There was a time, back when Lane had been going through the motions with the DEA, when she’d thought it could be done. When she’d looked down with some disdain on those who’d wallowed in their addictions, content to stay right in the hell where they were, ignoring any attempt at a helping hand. Then, they had been the fools.

But now…. Lane simply didn’t know. She’d been shocked, in retrospect, at how back in the cottage she’d been so willing to give up everything else, in favor of that one thing… that one person, who’d become her own personal addiction.

Yes, she’d been ready to ditch it all. To hell with the plan to snare Benitez, to bring down the cartels, to nail her dirty boss – the man who’d killed Clarence, and tried to kill her, too. None of that had mattered. She’d panicked… thinking only of Teresa, of getting her out of Mexico and to safety as quickly as possible, even if that had meant leaving a helpless little girl behind.

God, Sinclair. You are such a worthless shit!

Not to mention, where in the hell had she been when Teresa had needed her last night? She should have been watching over her, looking out for her, and instead she’d spent her time plumbing the depths of a bottle of booze. And when she’d realized what that had almost cost her, what she’d almost lost, she’d simply wanted to go, to get away with Teresa, and never look back.

Thankfully, despite the nightmare she’d been through, Teresa had managed to wrestle her fleeing conscience to the ground, and drive some sense into her. She still didn’t like the idea of remaining in Mexico any longer than they had to, but hell, it was what Teresa wanted most in this world right now, and Lane knew – in her own world of dependence – that she could refuse her nothing.

A shower and a change of clothes had shaken the remaining cobwebs from their heads, and it had been a relatively easy matter for Lane to ‘convince’ – for a few extra pesos – one of the departing campesinos to give them a ride down the mountain back to the small airport.

The pilot and co-pilot of their private jet had dutifully stayed with the plane, and once she’d roused them, they were quickly airborne and heading back to Mazatlán. Like the good employees they were, they did not question the middle-of-the-night hour, did not question the noticeable bruise on Teresa’s face, did not question why they were one passenger short.


They had until dawn, at least, until they were found out. And maybe a little longer than that, since Lane had taken the extra step of bundling up his body in the comforter and dragging him out into the deep, heavy growth at the edge of the compound. Ruiz would wonder where they’d gotten to, surely, and it would be unpleasant enough once they found Manuel. Ruiz was an idiot, but it wouldn’t take long before even he put all the pieces together. The question was, once he did – would he give a damn? As far as he was concerned, they had a deal. One Manuel was not a part of.

The clock on the time-bomb was ticking.

It had started ticking, in fact, at that moment when Teresa León had pumped two bullets into a man who was trying to rape her. Now, the frantic race was on, a race to get the encrypted discs safely out of the casa without arousing any suspicion, and a race to scoop Mia León up from the San Pedro convent school and get her over the border; a little girl, wrenched from the only life she’d ever known, spirited away by a mother who was a stranger to her. God, if there was an upside to this mess, Lane sure as hell couldn’t see it now.

The sun had just barely begun to peek over the hills of the Sierra Madres as the jet glided into the airport at Mazatlán, and she’d regretfully woken an exhausted Teresa from a much-needed slumber and quickly gotten them off the plane. Their black SUV was just a few yards away where they’d left it here in the VIP area of the airport – God, had it been only yesterday? It seemed like years ago.

Teresa hadn’t said a word as she’d helped her into the Suburban, but Lane noted how slowly she was moving, due to the stiffness in her limbs and the ache in her head, no doubt. This was some ‘good morning,’ Lane considered. With the coming of the dawn, the lights of the downtown were starting to wink out one-by-one, leaving the agent feeling more and more exposed. Every face, stranger or acquaintance, could be the enemy.

Teresa simply sighed, leaned back into the soft leather seat, and closed her eyes, trusting her.

Lane punched the motor to life, and directed the SUV back over the windy roads towards San Raphael, and the Casa Mariposa.

One last journey, one final time.



Teresa León understood everything.

In fact, things had never been so clear to her as they were right now. Maybe it was due to her being off the drugs at last, despite her little mis-step yesterday. Or maybe it was thanks to the throbbing ache in her jaw from last night… the pain cutting through the haze, giving her a sense of focus. Or maybe… probably, it had everything to do with the fact that when you absolutely, positively had nothing left to lose, an infinite number of choices suddenly became available to you. She could see them now, arrayed before her for the taking, as she emerged from her own personal ‘vision within a dream,’ like the mystical, shimmering city of Xanadu.

For instance, she now understood that Felix Javier Benitez, Enrico’s main competitor and kingpin of the Juárez cartel, was more savvy an adversary than she’d given him credit for. But he would go down just the same, once she exposed all the information she’d gleaned about his operation as a result of their newfound ‘partnership.’

She also understood that once you thought hell didn’t have a lower floor, somebody like Manuel Diaz came along and tried to show it to you. But Manuel was dead and she had killed him, and he would never hurt anyone else, ever again.

And lastly, she understood… believed, that for the first time in her life, a life she’d done her outright best to destroy, that she’d been given a second chance.

A chance to start over and get it right this time.

A chance to be a mother to the daughter she’d told herself that she hadn’t the right to call her own.

Yes, she understood it all. And maybe, if she really let herself think about it and dig down deep to the source of it, maybe it really was Lane Sinclair to whom she owed everything; it was Lane whose strength had given her this clarity, whose belief in her had let her believe – for once – in herself.

Teresa had let Lane drive the SUV, choosing instead to close her eyes and order her thoughts; unwinding as best she could from the chaos of the last twenty-four hours as she breathed in the faintly salty scent of the ocean air. She heard the whine of the front gates opening as Lane pressed in the code, heard her give a low greeting to the guard on duty.

She opened her eyes then, taking it all in for the last time; her cobbled courtyard, the fountain burbling away quietly, the carefully landscaped gardens. This place had become her prison, and Lane Sinclair was breaking her free of it at last.

With a soft groan, she pushed open her door and stepped out into the pre-dawn morning. The air was thick with moisture and the scent of the sea and hibiscus. There would be a late morning shower here in the terra caliente, not that she would be here to see it. She turned her gaze upwards towards the side of the casa, where the first golden fingers of the sunrise were reaching out and touching her balcony. How many troubled dawns had she seen in from that private aerie after so many restless nights full of nightmares and needles?

Never again.

She was surprised at the sudden wave of emotion she felt at that, at the freedom that was now beckoning to her, if only she had the guts to take its hand. Her throat seized up and for a moment she felt light-headed, until a hand on her elbow steadied her, and the low rumble of a familiar voice in her ear made her soul take flight.

"Let’s get what we came for, and then we’ll go get Mia, okay?"

Teresa did not trust herself to speak, but it didn’t matter. Lane already knew her answer.


The location of the discs was always changing, for security purposes, of course. The amount of damning information on them was mind-boggling, Lane knew. Information that was incriminating against Teresa, too, a fact they were both well aware of, although neither of them had spoken of it.

However, there were so many mitigating factors, like saving the life of a DEA agent, not to mention turning, and working in co-operation with - hell, she supposed it was the government, to bring down the cartel; those factors, together with the little matter of the discs she was gifting them with that contained the framework of the entire expanded operation, left no doubt in Lane’s mind that Teresa would be the government’s star witness. And afterwards… well, they’d have the rest of their lives, probably in some damn witness protection program, to figure that out. But they’d all be together, that was the only thing that mattered.

Teresa led Lane straight to the discs, hidden within a wall safe inside the library. Not very imaginative, but effective. With steady hands, Teresa opened the safe, and removed several thick stacks of U.S. currency. "Just in case," she said, placing the cash into her bag, and Lane found it hard to find fault with her. You never knew when a little mordida would come in handy. Then Teresa produced the discs, at least a half dozen in number, and passed them over to Lane. "Here. You take care of them."

"Are you sure?" The agent regarded her carefully in the murky light, thinking how another woman might have wanted to hold onto them herself, as a guaranteed ticket to freedom.

"Yeah," Teresa softly responded. "It’s important that… well," her bruised lips formed a thin line, "I just think they’re safer with you."

"Okay." Lane took them from her, accepting that trust for what it was.

They grabbed fresh changes of clothes from their bedrooms, stuffing them into their overnight bags, and Lane took the time to fish an extra box of shells for her pistol from her bureau. She knew Teresa noticed, but the blonde said nothing. This was the world they lived in… for now, and hopefully for not that much longer.

The sun was rising, streaking in through the window shutters, and they hurried, their feet scuffling along the cool, blue-tiled floors. Outside, the birds had begun to trill a greeting at the new day. They had to get going. But--

"Wait." Lane held out an arm as they passed by Teresa’s office. "One last thing." She ducked inside, exchanging her cell phone for a new one from the supply that was switched every three days. She’d get only one chance to make a call to Jay Irvine, and she wanted it to be on as "fresh" a phone as possible, in terms of its potential to be tracked, thereby revealing their position.

"Okay," she breathed, clasping Teresa’s hand and leading her down the staircase and into the foyer. "Let’s grab some supplies from the kitchen, and we’re outta here, okay?"

"Zaida hates it when I interfere in the kitchen," Teresa grinned as they rushed along, thinking of her head cook, even as she tried to ignore the nervous pounding in her chest. "But I’m sure she won’t mind, just this once. In fact," she said, as they spun around a corner and entered the large kitchen, "it’s too early for—"

A weathered, brown-faced woman, with silver hair piled high on her head as though it were a crown, snapped up from her work with a startled gasp. A knife clattered from her hand, and a half-peeled potato rolled off the cutting-table and onto the floor.

"Dios mio, Señora!" Dark eyes flew open wide.

"It-it’s okay, Zaida!" Teresa rushed to the cook’s side and retrieved the wayward spud. "It was my fault." She offered the old woman a reassuring smile. "I know you’re not used to seeing me this early."

"But she is used to seeing me, aren’t you, Zaida?" With an easy familiarity, Lane strolled towards the double-sized refrigerator, peeking into cabinets and containers as she went. "Got any of them coyotes lying around?"

"No –no, not for you!" The cook cried out, the indignation plain in her voice. She slapped at Lane’s roving hand as the tall woman passed by, but she could not keep the hint of a smile from twitching at the corner of her mouth. "This one," she pointed her paring knife accusingly at Lane, "this one here every morning, early. She make trouble. She got a sweet tooth, she does, and then she go outside and find my Pedro. She smoke his cigarettes, she get him talking, telling his tales." The cook shook her head. "She let him go on and on… when he should be working!"

"Ah, he enjoys the break," Lane insisted, her eyes lighting up when she found the sweet biscuits she’d been searching for. "And anyway," she bit into the biscuit and turned to Teresa. "Zaida would never tell you – I’m her special test project. If I eat it and live," she paused and winked at the cook, "it shows up on your table. If not—"

Zaida bit back a retort and instead clamped her mouth shut, suddenly aware that she was discussing her husband’s work habits in front of his employer. Lane inwardly chuckled, knowing that the elderly cook and her husband Pedro, one of the gardeners, were probably the only two people working in this godforsaken castle who were even remotely trustworthy. They were hard workers, good people, and a job was a job in tough times, so she didn’t blame them for working where they did. In that sense, Teresa was lucky to have them.

"What I get for you, Señora?" Zaida changed tactics, and decided to ignore Lane. "Juice? Tea?"

"Nothing, thanks, Teresa answered. "But if you could pack us some lunch for the road… maybe some tortillas? Lane and I have some business in… ah, Culiacán, and we may be gone a day or two." Lane noticed a slight hint of nervousness creeping into Teresa’s voice, and she looked up from the bottles of water she was packing into a plastic sack.

Zaida was staring at her mistress; her eyes had zeroed in on the bruise on her cheek. A shaft of golden light had crept through the kitchen window, highlighting the injury in all its glory.

"Señora!" The cook gasped, reaching a gnarled hand to Teresa’s face.

"It – it’s okay." Teresa turned her head away, but there was nowhere to hide. "It looks worse than it feels. It was just… just an accident."

The old cook frowned. She’d seen it all and probably heard it all in this place, Lane knew.

"Si." Zaida respectfully lowered her eyes – not for the first time was she shielding her disapproval from her employer – and she busied herself with assembling enough food for a half-dozen people, or so it appeared to Lane.

As the old woman quickly chopped and sliced, Lane could see her eyes darting from time to time to Teresa; her paleness and bruised cheek were anything but the picture of health, and to the overnight bags on the floor, stuffed with God knew what, and to Lane herself, knowing that while her own presence in the kitchen at this hour was not out of the ordinary, Teresa rarely put in an appearance here before noon – if at all.

Zaida had to know something was up, Lane considered. Ah, what the hell.

"Zaida," Lane said softly, moving closer to the cook, the humor gone from her voice. "We could use your help."

The cook licked her at lips and then slowly put her knife down. She raised her dark eyes to Lane, and the agent was taken aback at the spark she saw flash in them. Oh yeah. She knew. "I do anything to help the Señora," she swore. "Anything. She so good to me and my Pedro. When he need that operation," she swallowed hard, and reached into her pocket for an embroidered handkerchief that she quickly brought to her eyes. "Nobody… nobody else would help— not that Señor Enrico—"

"Sssh." Teresa lightly placed a hand on the cook’s back. "It’s okay, Zaida. I was happy to do it."

"Zaida," Lane pressed, "Does Pedro have his truck with him today?"

The old woman snorted. "That broken-down mule? It decide to start this morning, so si, he have it here."

"Bueno." Lane’s blue eyes narrowed. "I have a proposition for him."


‘Broken-down’ was too kind a term for the gardener’s battered Chevy pickup truck, Teresa thought, what with its bald tires, torn upholstery, and balky transmission. But the sale of it got Zaida and Pedro enough money to disappear to her sister’s ranch in the hills for a month – or forever, if they so chose, and it got her and Lane out of the compound with nary a second glance from the guards.

In any event, Teresa was grateful to Lane for her idea to make their escape in a vehicle slightly less conspicuous than a brand new Suburban. And she felt better, knowing that she was leaving the kindly couple to a better fate than that of being grilled over and over – or worse – by the likes of Carlos León, her completely inept brother-in-law, or by the family attorney, Ernesto García.

Thinking of those men, and men like them who’d played a part in making her life so unbearable, a part of her perversely wished she could see the expressions on their faces when they finally realized what she’d done, where she’d gone, and with whom.

Just a day… just one more fucking day, that’s all she and Lane needed, and they’d be out of this country that she’d wished she’d never set foot in, back in the day when she’d been a jet-set party girl. God, those days seemed so long ago, and that person she was… seemed no more familiar to her now than a pretty face in a magazine.

Ernesto would worry, at first. Why had they not returned from Guillermo Ruiz’s hacienda? But the pilots would confirm that they had, and maybe by that time, word would have gotten back to the casa regarding the untimely demise of one Manual Diaz.

Oh, God.

Teresa’s stomach knotted at the mere thought of the man, of his rough hands, his rank breath; forcing himself on her, laughing at her… at his great success at her expense. And she’d been content to be patient, to let him have his victory, for the moment. Her misery would eventually come to an end, as it always had with Enrico.

She hated guns, hated them. She’d seen the damage they could do.

The news about Manuel’s alignment with Benitez, well, that had been a shock. Next, he’d threatened to kill Lane, but Teresa had known that the instant the agent found out about what he’d done to her, it would be Manuel who would end up dead. But when he’d spilled it about Mia… something in her had just… just snapped. She couldn’t stand the thought - not for even a moment longer - of that man on top of her, living, breathing, grunting… knowing of her child’s existence in this world.

There had been only one thing to do.

She’d had to put a stop to it… to him. She’d known where he carried his pistol, guessed he’d be too drunk to even think about her going for it, and in the end, it had become less about killing him, and more about preserving the ‘someday’ dream she had of living with Mia, happily, safely as mother and daughter.

And then the life or death decision became an easy one.

Teresa released a sigh, and adjusted the sunglasses on her face. Lane had told her that with the glasses on, and with a little makeup, that you could hardly see the bruise, but she knew her lover was lying to her. Still, she appreciated the sweet effort.

Eventually, Ernesto would think to look for the discs, and find them gone. And then the shit would truly hit the fan.

"You okay?"

She felt Lane’s warm hand cover her own, as the pickup rumbled its way on non-existent shock absorbers up the mountainous Durango highway. Soon, they would reach the turn-off for San Pedro.

So what if she were beaten-up, hung-over, and shivering from a mild case of withdrawl?

‘Someday.’ By God, it was here.

Despite the painful tug on her still-sore lip, she could not help but give Lane a brilliant smile. "I am very okay."


To be continued.

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