The Binding Tie

Part 2

By Maderlin Bidmead


Disclaimers: This is an Alt/Uber story that is for people over 18 as it contains violence and sexual violence. All the characters are mine I tell you, mine!

Feedback: Please! This is my dissertation for my degree and all of the feedback I get is going into the analysis section, you'll all be famous at Brunel University, London: santameada@hotmail.com


Chapter 6

What do you want to be when you grow up?"

"Go way... I'm sleeping."

"Well I'm awake!"

The dark girl propped her head up on her elbow and looked down at the peaceful face of her friend. The sun was high and the rays danced off the surface of the water and made dappled patterns of the other child's face as they struggled through the canopy of leaves. The lights hid the brown and green bruise marking the right side of the small face like camouflage. The darker child gleefully pinched the snub nose of the other girl closed. With a wheeze and a splutter the reclining girl opened green eyes and glared upwards.

"What!"

"Answer my question!"

"Don't want to!"

"Do you want to be seven?"

"You've been listening to my dad again haven't you?"

"Answer my question!" The blue eyed girls voice was becoming louder and louder.

"I'm just fooling with you Chess. I want to be our PA." A big smile followed her words.

"What's a PA do?"

"I dunno but your dad's gets to spend loads of time with him."

"Cool!" The dark haired girl laid back down.

"Hay, what about you?"

"I'm going to be a star!"

**********

The pulsing beat of the music filled the room, bouncing off the walls and feeding on itself. Francesca immersed herself in the music, feeling it travel through her body as she watched her choreographer intently. She began to sway and writhe to the music, soon the bodies of the dancers became a blur of synchronised motion. The two tall bodies, one blond the other brunette, moved with a feline grace under the watchful eye of the tiger at the back of the room, seemingly performing for an audience of one.

After hours of almost ceaseless activity both bodies shone with sweat and glowed with vitality. Clapping from the open French doors of the gymnasium drew both athletes attention and caused them both to smile a quick greeting to Rodrigo Prince before falling back into step. As the music began to slow the lithe blond man called the session to an end, his wide smile and shinning eyes letting his student know that her performance was excellent. Rodrigo walked towards them in time to catch the end of the choreographers words.

"...fantastic today. Your fitness level is way up, the routines in the videos for the new album should be the sharpest yet. How did you manage to get even fitter." He playfully nudged.

"I have to admit that I've been watching how our new bodyguards train and I've been adapting it to my own needs." Francesca looked inordinately pleased with herself over this little revelation.

"Well just keep doing what your doing. Nice to see you again Rod." He shook the bigger mans hand. He looked towards the lone figure in the corner, intent on every move that affected the woman beside him, and nodded in acknowledgement. It was not returned. "I'll see you in a couple of days Fran."

"See you Thursday Daniel." The dancers moved to opposite sides of the room and entered their respective shower rooms. Hunter followed her mistress while Rodrigo made his way towards one of the garden's many benches to wait for his sister.

Moments later he watched Daniel exit the building and waved to the man as he made his way to the path that would take him the front of the house. He relaxed back into the wood and stretched his legs out on the grass. His arms spread across the back of the bench on either side, fingers idly tapping the wood as he waited less than patiently for his sister. He had always been the type of child who would fidget, and although now a grown man he still could never sit totally still.

Ten minutes passed before Francesca walked from the building into the vibrant sunlight. She smiled as she saw the sprawling form of her big brother, the faint breeze ruffling his dark hair. The smile that he caste her way was dazzling and not for the first time she understood why so many women fell for him, and why so many foolishly married him. He was already well on his way to ending his second marriage and yet still seemed as carefree as when he was an adolescent. She envied that, but did not begrudge her brother his lifestyle, she loved him too much for that. As she sat next to her brother, with his arm around her shoulders she felt loved and secure.

Hunter moved away from the reclining couple. She stood behind them, close enough to still protect her ward, but not within hearing range of a private discussion. She was becoming more at one with her role as a guardian, and realised that the free required more privacy than the indentured. From her vantage she had a perfect view of any potential routes of attack, the pair would be safe.

"So," concerned eyes turned towards a pale face. "You talking to me now?"

"Sure."

"Well I thought I better check, you weren't exactly too pleased to see me and Nate after that wacko called." Before Francesca could interrupt he placed his fingers over her lips. "I know you were pissed off that we went behind your back, but we really didn't choose Dick-Head Dougie over you. You have to believe that we love you. Hell, your the only stable female relationship that I have ever had!" He tightened is hold around her shoulders and she smiled softly up at him.

"I know Ro, but I was so upset."

"You had anymore threats? Dad hasn't said anything but it's been over three weeks since that last call." His usualy animated face was sober.

"Nothing, and that makes me more afraid than the threats. It's so ominous, it makes me feel constantly on edge. I should have apologised to you and Nate because the slaves are a godsend. At least I know that the children are safe." Her voice bagan to falter and Rodrigo realised it was time to move away from talk of the stalker.

"How are things going between you and your guard?" He had been concerned with Francesca's obvious distaste about the slaves, and especially the great warrior that they had chosen for her.

She lowered her voice further to ensure that Hunter could not possibly hear her. "I gave her a chance, like Papa said I should. I wish I could say it was because I was a bigger person and put aside my prejudice, but I'd be lying. A few days before...that phone call...I saw her playing with the children. She was so gentle and patient with them. I've tried to make our relationship better. I don't know if it's working, she's just so reticent." A soft sigh punctuated this statement.

"What have you tried?" He was really interested in his sisters change of heart.

"I turned off the vocal inhibitor the day after I watched her and the children. I thought that it might make her interact with me."

"And? What did she say?"

"That's just it, she hasn't said a word. She still signs to the other guards. I don't think that the remote works. I feel really bad about it, she'll be a mute forever because of what they did to her." She raised her hand and rubbed her temples to forestall the start of one of her regular headaches. "I guess I stopped thinking of her as an animal."

"That's a good thing Fran, trust me, thing will get better. It only been four months and maybe she's still feeling displaced." He grew concerned as he noticed the paler of his sisters skin as the exercise induced blush receded. "Fran, are you alright, you look a little sick?"

"It's nothing. I think I just worked too hard. Met any nice girls lately?"

**********

Wolf walked through the gate to the slaves stable and found himself confronted by the grim faces of Savage and Polar. They were huddled in the doorway to the living room, apparently trying to look in without loosing a limb. Wolf was amused by the spectacle, and was about to ask what was going on when a loud crashing sound came from the sleeping quarters, drawing even his attention through the door. He turned back to the other two men, he needed answers. A slave going berserk could be punished with death.

"What the hell is going on?" His voice was low and controlled.

"She has gone off the deep end, that's what's going on! I told all of you that this would happen, she's a fuckin' psycho! Nobody listens to me!" Savage said with smug certainty.

"Thanks for the psychological profile. Now any idea why she's gone nuts?" Exasperation was clear in his voice.

"Hello? That's why she's a psycho, she doesn't need a motive!"

"You haven't asked her have you?" Wolf folded his arms across his chest and glared at his two comrades. Polar squirmed under his stare.

"We were going to ask her what was wrong when she came in, looking sort of down. But...um...she started to throw her stuff in a sack, and get really twitchy. Before we could really talk she was throwing stuff around and we ran for it." The big man looked like a frightened little boy.

"Thanks Polar. You two stay out here, I'll go and see what is going on." He composed himself and strode resolutely towards the closed door of the sleeping rooms.

Inside the room was in disarray, the beds stripped and overturned, the table smashed into splinters. Hunter stood with her back to the door visibly shaking with rage. He walked towards her slowly and stopped several feet away, not wanting to be close enough for her to strike.

"What's wrong, Hunter?"

She took a deep, noisy breath and turned to face her friend. Her face was stony and her body rigid, lines of stress creased her brow. Wolf at first thought that no explanation would be forthcoming as her hands continued to clench and unclench by her sides. Her hands shook with emotion as she began to gesture towards her brother in arms.

"I thought I was getting somewhere." The gestures were sharp and fast, almost frenzied.

"Somewhere?" He was honestly confused.

"With the 'Princess'!" She began to pace as she gestured, making it increasingly difficult for Wolf to understand what she was signing.

"What has she done?"

"I am no longer allowed to sleep here. Now she wants me to sleep in one of the walk-in closets in her room! What am I, some sort of animal!"

"You could look at it that way, Hunter." Wolf tried to quell her ire. "Maybe she's trying to show you that she feels safe with you. She wants you around more."

"Look, this means I won't get to see any of you off duty!"

"You don't exactly see us now, you just sleep in our presence," he reasoned.

She had began to calm as she mulled over the tall man's words. "I see your point. Trust me I won't go off at a freeman again, I remember too well what happened last time." She walked towards her bag, which only contained the clothes that she worked in, and hoisted it to her shoulder. She walked from the room and the stable without a backward glance for the three men. Brushing past Snake as he walked into the compound.

"Hunter Okay?"

"No idea, Wolf will fill you in. Where's Douglas?" Savage prepared to go on duty.

"I left him in the nursery with the children, Grizzly and Meg are there to watch him. I thought I better come and get when you were so late."

"Cool, see ya!"

The bald headed man walked into the living area to find Wolf talking to Polar, whose face was troubled. He sat down with the pair, around the large dinning table. "You two going to tell me what happened earlier."

"Hunters upset," volunteered Polar.

"I thought I heard her cry out in her sleep," Snake was thoughtful.

"You heard what?!"

"Oh, you didn't know? What's she pissed off about then?"

The rest of the table sat in stunned silence.

********

The drunken figure lurched down the hallway muttering obscenities. It was closely followed by a weasel faced man wearing a smirk. The duo made their way slowly towards one of the plush bed-chambers of the estate where the drunk could sleep it off. The more alert of the two reached the door first and opened it, ushering the other man in. As he was about to follow, he found himself pushed back into the corridor and ordered to stand guard and let no-one in. Savage turned his back to the closing door, slumping against it when it clicked shut.

Douglas leaned against the wall, his head pounding. He was angry. No, he was beyond angry. He was furious! How dare his own wife go behind his back at a time like this! She was supposed to run everything past him, he was meant to know her whereabouts at all times! She had no right to put herself in the line of fire, she was his. Even with that thing to protect her she was still vulnerable.

His irrational thoughts began to grow and build until he found himself in a frenzy, he needed to vent his anger on something. Or someone. His eyes fell on the door leading to his wife's room. He smiled sadistically as he lurched towards it. He fell back on his favourite way to vent his displeasure at his spouse. He took a deep breath as he reached the door, trying to steady himself. He quietly pushed the door inwards.

He padded softly across the carpet without creating a sound on the deep, plush carpeting. He could see her, laying in a pool of moonlight in the centre of the bed. She had her face turned to the window, with it's partially opened curtains. The rest of her was shielded by a thin red sheet that rose and fell with her breath as she laid on her stomach, blissfully unaware.

A new wave of anger crashed over Douglas as he watched her peaceful form. He lost the last of his self control as he stood touching the side of the bed and leapt on the still body. Terrified blue eyes snapped open as he began to rain heavy blows down over her back. She could feel her kidneys taking the brunt of the attack. As he began to snarl abuse at her she realised the identity of her attacker and fear turned to resignation.

Douglas suddenly found himself ripped from his wife's body and hurtling across the room, only coming to a stop when he hit the wall. He sat, for a moment, dazed by the sudden turn of events. Head spinning from a combination of too much alcohol and the blow to the head, it took him several minutes to realise the nature of his wife's protector. Before him, looking like some sort of avenging angel, stood Hunter. Clad in only a white vest and boxer shorts, touched on only one side by the moonlight the other in relief she struck fear into his heart. Until he remembered who he was.

"You'll pay for that, Slave! What is she doing here at this Francesca, she should be in the stables." His voice was commanding and hard as he dragged himself from the carpets embrace. "Well, answer me!"

No sooner had the words left his lips than he found himself pressed to the wall by the throat. He couldn't struggle, so powerful was the body that he now found crushing him. She was so close that he could feel the growl as it emanated from her chest. The warriors eyes were cold, dead, as she stared at him. He felt a cold sweat form on his top lip as he saw that look, totally void of emotion. She glanced away from him for a second, much to his relief, to look at the huddled figure at the head of the bed. Her gaze almost immediately fell back to him. A new look fills her unnatural eyes, this time it is rage. Douglas' mouth takes over from his brain as he tries to save himself.

"I can have you killed for this! You won't get away with killing your master again! Put me down and I might only let them send you to a research institute, it's the best you could hope for!" Her grip lessened for just a moment before she tightened it to almost choking intensity and replied to his threats.

"You are not my master!" The his was quiet but dripped with loathing. "Francesca Prince owns me. I am ordered to protect her from all harm. You have tried to damage her. Get out and I won't kill you." She pushed his trembling form to the connecting door. "Try it again and I'll rip your arm off and beat you to death with it!" He bolted from the room upon hearing her final words.

The rigid form of the bodyguard moved to the hastily closed door and locked it from the inside to prevent his re-entry. As she turned to walk back into her new sleeping quarters she caught the eye of the woman on the bed. Her face was pale and her eyes were red as she looked at Hunter with gratitude and respect for the first time. The compact fighter could also see surprise on her mistresses face and could easily tell why.

"Formica is the secret of the universe." She said this with a totally straight face as she walked to the huge closet.

"What?" Came the stunned response.

"That's what I have to say. Hope it was worth letting me talk." She disappeared behind the sliding door of the cupboard.

Francesca sat for a while, bemused. She smiled as she realised that, in her own way, Hunter had both been trying to be funny and say thank you. The smile slipped as the events of the past ten minutes overwhelmed her as her mind tried to process that fact that she had been saved from her husbands whim. She had never thought that he would get so physical in her parents house, he had truly sunk to new depths. Suddenly the idea of having a bodyguard sleeping in her room seemed like her best idea in a long time.

**********

Sweat poured off of the body standing in the hazy morning sunlight. The rays seemed to caress the toned skin, highlighting muscles and the fine blond hair covering corded forearms. The black tattoos, clearly visible from under the sleeveless t-shirt, seemed to absorb the light and writhe above the muscles like living things. Francesca found herself transfixed by the athletic movements of the slave. She had just finished her combat exercises and walked towards the bench-press.

Francesca had cut short her own programme when she became too distracted by the other women. She watched her now as she laid down on the leather surface and positioned herself under the bar. One of the other slaves was their to spot for her, Francesca couldn't tell who it was or how much was being lifted, she was focused solely on the warrior. She stared as the motion of her arms made the muscles almost seem to slide as the bar went up and then bunch as the bar came down. Her eyes roamed the body and saw the stomach muscles clench through the translucent, sweat covered shirt.

A single bead of sweat broke away from her hairline and began to travel away from the slick hair. It moved across her temple and found itself captured by a thin scar on her cheek, creating a path for it down to her jaw. As it reached the end of it's journey it fell from the clenched jaw and shattered on the bench.

**********

"Why are you so skinny? You eat more than my Papa's horse!" The chubby girl stormed.

"I dunno. I guess I run around a lot." The other girl just shrugged.

"So do I!" She was feeling indignant now.

"You'll get skinny when you get older. We're only little. Anyway, your pretty and smart, do I have to be skinny and sporty!" This came with a charming smile.

A shy smile spread across her. "Your pretty too."

Chapter 7

Bodies packed the miniscule space, shoulder-to-shoulder. The smell of cologne and perfume mixed in the air, sickly-sweet in their intensity. Hunter found herself overwhelmed by the close proximity of so many strangers. She had positioned herself at the back of the elevator, ensuring that her back was not vulnerable to attack. He eyes scanned the enclosure, flicking from person to person, catching the occasional glance which would quickly move away at seeing her scowl.

In the cramped quarters, plummeting rapidly downwards, the guard was forced to stand close to her owner. Francesca stood with her back to Hunter, the fabric of her silk blouse brushing the shorter woman's chest. Hunter could feel the heat coming off the dark woman as she fidgeted with excitement at being out of the house. Such intimate contact with the woman who, until yesterday, had only looked at her with total distain was disconcerting. It brought up emotions in her that she had not felt for a long time, emotions that she was quick to bury under years of pain. Francesca appeared oblivious to her slaves discomfort, focused only on her goal of the day, shopping.

Francesca was glad to be out of the house. She could, for at least a day, be free from her husbands prying eyes and her fathers smothering love. She could be alone and totally herself today. Well, not completely alone, her shadow was by her side to watch over her safety. After Douglas' attack she had began to look at the blue haired woman as her avenger rather than another jailer. Three days had passed and the pain in her kidneys had lessened enough for her to leave the house and reward her dark protector. She too was acutely aware of how close the other woman stood inside the metallic box. With every breath she was aware of breasts brushing her back through sheer fabric.

The lift bounced to a stop, Hunters stomach flipped at the unfamiliar sensation. She sighed in relief as the doors hissed open expelling the crushing bodies. Expecting to step out into a sparsely populated area she felt a sudden moment of panic as the shopping mall was revealed to her. All around her there were people, walking, running, standing in idle conversation. Used to an economy of motion and the quiet of captivity, Hunter was momentarily stunned before regaining her senses and striding out behind her master.

Walking in the taller woman's shadow, Hunter immediately noticed a change in her walk and the poise with which she held herself. Gone was the dutiful daughter, polite and eager to please. Gone was the wife, submissive and cowed. The person before her was new, she walked with a bounce to her step and a swagger to her hips. She seemed to watch the crowd taking n the details as if committing them to memory. Hunter realised that this was Francesca Rose, superstar. This was the woman who sold millions and who was worshiped by them.

Francesca was looking forward to her meeting. Gazing around the mall she could make out the figures of the security people MagPie Recording had laid on for her. Hardly unobtrusive, the big men in tailored suits littered each exit creating a familiar atmosphere for the brunette. She briefly turned her attention to the figure behind and to her right. The discomfort was clear on the slaves face as person after person brushed or jostled past her. Francesca found herself grinning as she wondered how the warrior would react to the barrage of fans that she knew would descend on them at any moment. All it would take was one person looking at the casually dressed woman the right way and the hysteria would start. Each store knew that she was on her way and would be emptied before her arrival so that she could shop in safety. She was almost buzzing with excitement.

As though reading her mind, a young girl walked out of a nearby record store and locked eyes with her idol. Unable to tear her eyes away, she elbowed her friend in the side and pointed in Francesca's direction with a trembling finger. The second girl let out a loud squeal of excitement attracting the attention of the other patrons of the store that the star was about to pass. As one the shoppers surged to the entrance and the site of the commotion. The site of the singer galvanized the crowd and as one they rushed towards her.

Francesca was ready for the onslaught, as were the hired security who quickly covered her position, Hunter was not. Surrounded first by a circle of suited bodies and then by a screaming mob, Hunter was totally overwhelmed. She knew the men were security, she's been briefed. She knew people would want autographs, she wasn't a fool. But never in her life had she been caged in this fashion. Put in looked rooms, squeezed into small spaces, but never closed in on all sides by people. Isolation she could deal with, this was overwhelming. Francesca was once again pushed close to her chest, arms were reaching towards them through the wall of bodies. The slave was becoming increasingly aware of the cool metal of the gun at the small of her back, her palm itching to feel the steel in her grasp. As her arm snaked around to draw the firearm the taller woman tilted her head and began speaking.

"Hunter, relax," Francesca whispered. "It's like standing in front of a stone pillar. They don't mean any harm, they're just over excited. It really is exciting for me. We'll be out of here soon."

Hunter was as shocked by the reassurance from her mistress as she had been by the entire situation. This week was turning out to be too strange for the taciturn warrior to handle. Too many changes in such a short time. It seemed as though the younger woman was making an effort to see her as a human being. The big question for Hunter, was why?

"Hi everybody," Francesca called to the crowd, who quieted immediately. "I haven't got a lot of time today, but I will sign for the children." Almost the at the speed of light sixteen children between eight and thirteen appeared at the front of the crowd.

Smiling and laughing at the stories of each child and giving every individual her attention, she was a vision. Hunter had definitely never seen the woman this alive and engaged in an activity. Sure, she gave all her love and devotion to her own children, but this was different. This was a woman filled with energy. This was the captivating little girl who had charmed food out of cook. This was not Hunter's, Francesca. This was Rhani's, Chess. Hunter had believed that everything of the girl she had known was gone, leaving only an empty, sad woman who sleep walked through her life. Hunter felt her mind begin to spin out of control, too much was happening to her, old and new sensations combating with her painfully crafted persona.

Before she had time to sink further into her revelry she saw the last child get their autograph and the crowd begin to disperse. The security guards moved off to created a looser perimeter as the two women made their way through the masses. Francesca led the way with confidence, smiling as they passed ogling shoppers. They were headed towards the most upscale area of the colossal mall, the restaurant district. This was where corporate business people wined and dined their customers. No entry without reservation, no reservation without the right credit limit. This was where stars met their agents and talked with their record labels.

**********

"You have got to be kidding me?" The dark haired woman wheezed out through her laughter.

"No, seriously, there she was spread across this guys car and there were paparazzi everywhere!" The agent sat back and took another long swallow from his glass of wine.

"How does that woman still have an agent?" Francesca was wiping the tears from her eyes.

"She only works with people who really do believe that all publicity is good publicity!" This came from the record label executive sitting across from them. "Well, we're almost done here. I've put through all of the changes to your contract that you asked for. We can't wait for you next platinum album..."

"I get the hint. I go into the recording studio to lay down the last three tracks next week and then it's all yours."

"Excellent." Looking down at his watch, a sincere smile spread across his lips. "I've got another appointment. It has really been good to see you again Francesca. Give my best to Douglas, a shame he couldn't make the meeting today." He let out a small laugh. "That has to be a first."

Francesca rose with him, leaning across the table to kiss the young man on the cheek. "You have no idea." As he walked away her gaze flashed to her bodyguard, standing quietly in the corner, which did not go unnoticed by her agent.

"Why isn't Doug here?" The man's dark eyes bore into hers.

Francesca looked at the thin, scruffy man sitting next to her. He was the antithesis of what a singers agent should looked like. Jake's brown hair looked like it hadn't seen a comb in a week and his clothes, although not dirty, could stand to make the acquaintance of an iron. That was why she had begged Doug to let her hire him, he was unconventional and over time he had proved himself to be a good friend.

"He finally realised that I don't require a babysitter." She couldn't meet his sympathetic eyes and instead looked at her fingers as they idly traced patterns on the white linen of the tablecloth.

"You let your thug smack him then?"

Her head shot up with such force that Jake thought she might snap something. Her eyes were wide and she seemed to be holding her breath. Her jaw was moving up and down, but not a word left her lips. Jake couldn't help himself, the picture before him was too funny, and he started to laugh softly.

"That's a yes then?"

Once she was able to think clearly, Francesca levelled a baleful glare at him. "You take liberties. Give me one good reason why I shouldn't fire you for even suggesting that!"

"Where would you find another agent as handsome and debonair?" His eyebrows waggled manically.

Francesca's laughter peeled out across the diners in the crowded restaurant.

**********

When the two women left the restaurant Hunter realised that her mistress had been right. The crowds of shoppers in the mall had dispersed considerably. She began to follow the taller women, behind and to the side, as she had done before, when suddenly the other woman stopped. If not for her fast reflexes Hunters momentum would have led to the couple being sprawled across the floor. Fortunately she managed to pull up short of hitting her owner. A puzzled look must have settled over her face as the brunette turned towards her.

"Hunter...um...I haven't really thanked you for what you did." The younger woman looked like a nervous teenager asking for a date. "I'd like you to pick out some clothes, as a reward. I noticed that all of the other guards have clothes for leisure time and all you have are those suits. I know you don't really have any free time, but when I relax, you should be able to as well." She looked at the other woman from under lowered lashes, feeling suddenly shy.

The shorter woman looked like a deer in headlights. Her face had gone slack and her eyes were as wide as Francesca had ever seen. Slightly worried she waved her hand in front of the blue eyes, trying to snap the other woman back into the present. When that failed to garner a response she raised her hand to touch the scared cheek when a lightning fast hand captured her wrist.

"You alright." Francesca bit back her fear of this powerful creature.

"Yeah...Sorry." She quickly released the other woman's hand. "Nobody's given me a reward before." The blue haired figure looked lost.

"Well, it's about time then isn't it?" With that Francesca began to walk towards the shops, Hunter falling into step behind her.

After an hour Hunter felt like they had been shopping forever. How anybody could think that this was pleasurable was totally beyond her, it was more like a battle. Francesca was like a general; organising their destination, planning their purchases, trying on clothes with speed and not selecting one bad outfit. Hunter was truly amazed by her approach to this mundane activity. this was yet another facet of the other woman which she had not been privy to before. Francesca had bought clothes and jewellery for herself, but Hunter hadn't seen anything she wanted.

Francesca had also been talking, a lot. She was having fully fledged discussions with her slave. Granted Hunter's responses had been brief, but she really did seem to be engaged by the other woman. She was funny and captivating, even to an audience who had been treated so badly by her. They were on their way to the last of the stores, Francesca explaining that she was an Emancipation-ist and that she really regretted her recent actions, when they passed the store. Hunter's eye was caught by a pair of pants in the window of the small establishment.

"I want them!" Her voice was filled with excitement.

Francesca turned her attention to the window to be greeted by the site of a pair of leather biker pants. They were black and padded at the knee and shin. She looked at the rest of the clothes displayed in the window and realised that this was a retro clothes store. She motioned the other woman forward and followed her into the shop. It reeked of leather, rubber and cotton due to the piles of pants in these materials and the racks of jeans and t-shirts that could be seen in the large room. Francesca was amused at the look of awe on the other woman's face.

"You can choose three pairs of pants and five t-shirts."

"Really?"

"Don't question your mistress, now go and choose, we have to be home in an hour."

Fifteen minutes later found Hunter the proud owner of two pars of blue jeans and the biker leathers as well as two sports bra-style tops, two cotton shirts and a skin-tight rubber vest. She was more content than she had been in a very long time. It was as surprising as much for what happened as for who it happened with. The walk back to the car was spent in companionable silence as the pair thought about the day.

**********

They had found out a lot about each other on their little trip and both were still thinking about the revelations as Francesca drove them home. Although not terrible talkative yet, Francesca hoped that her bodyguard would come out of her shell, given some nurturing. Her choice of purchases and her obvious joy in them had spoken volumes on their own. She turned to speak to her companion in time to see a spasm pass through the slouched figure.

Hunters body was rocked by the pain and suddenly she had no control. Spasm after spasm passed through her deadened limbs. The only sensation left to her deactivated nerves was the pain being inflicted on them. In her peripheral vision she could see the panic on her mistresses face as she tried to concentrate on the road. Unable to raise her head, Hunter knew that the other woman needed information.

"My chip," she gasped. "It's active...Can't move."

The dark woman suddenly went very still as her hands clasped the wheel tighter. The air in the car almost crackled with the force of her anger. She knew that she was the only person with access to the other woman's punishment controller. Only one person would dare to go into her room and rifle through her belongings. She put her foot down and sped towards home.

Towards Douglas.

Chapater 8

Click, another moment captured in time, frozen for posterity. Frozen like ice, cold and unfeeling soaking into the pores of any who wonder too close. Cold and empty like the eyes behind the lens. Sounds, so close to those of a machine gun, fired from the camera as picture after picture was captured. The end result would be almost a flick-book, enough images to seem animated. The photographers intent was not so pure.

The three children, held captive by the viewfinder, were blissfully unaware of the photographers scrutiny. Summer was a good time to be a kid in the park. The weather was hot and the sun was high as the siblings played soccer on the grass. Terrance had stripped off his shirt and was using it as one half of their impromptu gaol, a young sapling providing the other. Polar stood in goal, smirking at the children's antics as Becca and Shell tackled their big brother by jumping on his back. Grizzly stood off to the side, watching over the park while his brother watched over their charges. They were as alert as a pair of Doberman hounds. A shame then that their sense of smell was not as great, a telescopic lens keeps you well out of sight.

The lens zoomed in on each child, focusing in on their individual faces and capturing a little of their personality. First was Terrance, eight years old and full of little boy pomp. His dark brown hair curling around his face and his cheeks were flushed. He ran around with seemingly limitless energy and the devil in him. He was continually pulling faces at the his sisters, tongue out, eyelids folded back. Beside his little sisters he looked huge, tall for his age thanks to the combined genes of his mother and father.

The twins shared their brothers colouring and Rochelle's hair had the same waves while Rebecca's was poker straight. Rochelle was a little chubby and spiteful, pulling her brothers hair to get him to give her the ball. She was also loud and tried to take charge, even though her brother was three years older. Her twin was much smaller, thin, delicate and fragile. She played with the same energy but without the competitive edge.

Long fingered hands carefully laid the camera onto the grass as the tall figure sat down in the grass. Pulling forward the heavily laden backpack an arm snaked in and drew out several manila envelopes, sliding out the contents onto the springing grass. The title of each file clearly visible: TERRANCE ROSE, ROCHELLE ROSE, REBECCA ROSE.

**********

Pasting threatening letters was an art. It took skill and precision. A flare for the dramatic and the sublime. Combinations of colour and the style of text had to be carefully selected. Amateurs and recipients though that it was simply random, an ill conceived disguise which bore the message. They didn't realise that it was the message.

The razor sharp scalpel felt cool through the creamy film of the latex gloves. Tools of the trade, a must have for anonymity. The magazine pages were spread across the polished surface, headlines screaming for attention. Like a surgeon assessing a patient, the first letter was carefully picked. Placing it with reverence on the cutting board, the first incision was made...

**********

The office was large, palatial even. The decor was tasteful, if a little cluttered. It was the work area of a man who valued his family. You could see it from the moment you walked through the lacquered oak door. Photographs of his children hung on the walls, drawings were framed and took the place of commissioned art, swimming certificates hung beside diplomas behind the wide desk.

The camera drank it in, tasting it like a fine wine. The man behind the room was captured in every nuance and colour. Detail upon detail building into the tapestry of a families life. When the intruder was satisfied with the artistic portion of the mission the camera was set aside and the information stage commenced.

Moving to the desk the dark figure moved into the leather chair, settling in the body moved sideways and opened the first of six draws, riffling through the contents. With a clear purpose files were removed, those of no consequence to the mission left untouched. A small pile of papers took up residence on the tabletop as the chair wheeled towards the file cabinet and the hunt continued. Within minutes the pile had trebled and the dark thief was ready to get out. White paper carefully hidden within the folds of a black shirt insured nobody would notice their departure.

The door clicked shut on an empty room. D. ROSE it's only comment on what had gone on behind it.

**********

Phone calls gave you a rush like letters never could. They took courage and strategy. No simple matter of dialling a number and speaking. The whole plan was location, location, location. You couldn't slip, you certainly couldn't use your home phone, that was suicide. Outside locations were the simplest, find an audio stall and send your message on a delay. By the time that the call is sent the sender is already home. The alternative was much more expensive, but could be achieved from the comfort of your own home.

The Micro-phone had replaced the old style cellular phones only ten years ago. They could be used with hands free adaptors or, with the right equipment, connected to a land line. The brain child of a teenage student, the concept was simple a pad, two inches high and one inch wide acted as the key pad. Highly touch sensitive and only half and inch thick. The cordless earpiece received the call and a sensitive microphone picked up responses. The pad was easy to store and the earpiece had been a huge hit, sweeping the market. Dialling from a standard phone simply meant patching the pad into the line. The Micro's were almost untraceable, but you had to rotate between more than one, just to be safe.

One must, of course, have a well rehearsed script. Hesitation would infer weakness, which in turn would not create fear, and that was the desired effect. The piece had to be read again and again until it fell like liquid from the tongue. The basic content of the text was always variations on the same themes; 'I've been watching them/you.' 'I'm going to kill you/them.' It was all about delivery.

Naturally the last order of business was to disguise your voice. Voice distortion was a thing of the past, with computers now powerful enough to create an original human voice. This was used for their AI, its hidden beauty was that you could hook it to the phone and it would alter your voice. No good terrorist should be without one.

The Micro pad felt like lumpy skin as the familiar number was dialled in...

**********

Town apartments were always desirable, none more than penthouses, and this was certainly a fine example of the breed. Taking up two entire levels the penthouse was an amazing construct, complete with roof garden and outside pool. Floor to ceiling windows decorated the family room an dining room, while in the other rooms they were three quarter length. The place was positively bathed in light.

A lone figure stood at the window, bathed in sunshine, casting a long shadow across the tiled floor. Mission accomplished. The bedrooms had been ransacked, the place was trashed. More was to be learned about the woman of the house by what was absent in her bedroom than what it contained. No wedding pictures, no love letters, no photographs of her husband. Only her children and her birth family. No love for herself, as though she gave and did not expect to receive. The only personal touch seemed to be the walls of gold and platinum discs, testament to a career in high gear.

Easy access was assured after the keys to their family home had been found in one of Doug's desk drawers. In and out was the plan, trash the place and trash it again. More psychological ploys would be pointless as they were staying at the estate. They had run in fear almost from the start, a testament to the power of fear.

Sipping the last of the red wine, salvaged from the carnage of broken glass and spilt liquor, the figure moved towards the door. No time to ponder what it would feel like to sleep on a four-poster bed in a multimillion dollar home.

**********

Click.

Duuuuuhhhhhhhhhhhh.

The dead receiver once again crashed to the floor from frozen fingers. The look of horror on Francesca's face was so extreme that Hunter's heart dropped to her knees. She didn't need to ask who had been on the line, that much was obvious, Hunter just wished that she could guard her owner from that. The calls had intensified and were coming almost daily. They were usually intercepted by Mr Prince or Mr Rose, but on rare occasions, like today, Francesca would pick up the handset out of habit.

Each call left the other woman in a near catatonic state as the voice on the other end threatened her life and the lives of her children in grizzly detail. Although still wary of her owner, Hunter was beginning to see that she was really a generous and caring woman pushed to the edge. Often the slave thought that the only thing keeping the darker woman from a nervous breakdown was her children, she was certainly teetering dangerously close to the edge. Her recent kindness had made Hunter resolve to protect the other woman form herself as much as she could. She had treated her badly, but so had countless others. For a little respect, Hunter was willing to forgive, at east a little.

She replaced the receiver and pushed the intercom button. "This is Hunter, that was our friendly nut. I'm with the Mistress. I think it was bad..."

"Thank you Hunter, look after my daughter. Does she need a nurse?" Darla's voice was filled with concern. Salvatore could be heard cursing in the background.

"No, thank you, ma'am. I think she'll be fine after some tranquillisers." She passed a concerned eye over the rapidly paling woman.

"Get to it then." Raged breathing. "Thank you." The line was dead.

Hunter turned to the taller woman, intent on steering her towards the stairs. This was becoming a familiar ritual. Getting the body to the bedroom, was like controlling a puppet. So accustomed was she to pushing the other woman that she was unprepared when Francesca crumpled to the floor in a feint. Concerned Hunter took the only resort open to her and hefted the other woman into her arms and proceeded towards the stairs, her cargo safe in her arms.

Chapter 9

Once upon a time..."

"Mama, that's lame," griped the small boy.

"Yeah," piped up Rochel.

"Can Hunter tell us a story?" Rebecca turned trusting eyes towards the guard.

"Hunter probably doesn't want to..."

"It's alright." For the first time in years the guard felt shy. "Long ago, in a land far awa..."

"Awww, that's Star Wars, Hunter!" Terrance began to pout. Foot stomping was becoming a real possibility.

"Um..." Francesca tapped a well manicured hand against her chin, deep in thought. "I've got it! Would you like me to tell you a story about some of the things I got up to when I was your age?" She raised an inquiring eyebrow.

"Really, Mama?" Rebecca's eyes were shining.

"Yep. Now everybody get into bed." Three small whirlwinds scrambled under their bed covers. The beds were set out like a fan along one side of the nursery room creating an a semi circle into which Francesca pulled a rocking chair. Sitting up, each child could face their mother. "Is everybody ready?" One little hand raised. "Yes Becca?"

"Mama, can Hunter come and sit with me?" The little girl was so shy that it was almost painful.

Francesca tilted her head towards her warrior and looked for her response before she answered. In the three weeks since seeing the other woman writhe in agony, Francesca had begun to view the other woman as, if not a friend, then at least an ally. Her strong response to seeing the soldier in pain had surprised her and she had to repress a shudder as she recalled the horrific events of that day...

She watched, terrified, as spasm after spasm passed through the slouched form. The strong limbs jerked spastically in their wake and her head hung limply on her neck. Francesca knew that she shouldn't panic, but she couldn't help herself, she had never been in a situation like this and had no idea what she should do. She was about to pull the car off the road when Hunters voice broke into her thoughts.

"My chip," she gasped. "It's active...Can't move."

Francesca felt the blood freeze in her veins and clutched the steering wheel tightly in her fist, anchoring herself in the car. The air in the car almost crackled with the force of her anger. She knew that she was the only person with access to the other woman's punishment controller. Only one other person would dare to go into her room and rifle through her belongings. She put her foot down and sped towards home. Douglas had gone too far this time. She would not let him torture this innocent who had become caught up in their twisted marriage through no fault of her own.

The drive seemed to take forever even with accelerator floored. Finally the house came into view, growing larger and larger every second as she flew down the driveway. She caste a nervous glance at the twitching figure in the passenger seat. Hunter's pain had grown so severe that that she had finally passed out ten minutes ago, yet the effects could still be seen throughout her body. Francesca felt a wash of sympathy for the smaller woman who had no peace even in sleep.

The car came to a screaming halt outside the main doors of the huge house. Francesca leaped from the stationary vehicle and flew around to the passenger side, wrenching the door open. She leaned across the unconscious form and unsnapped the seatbelt, supporting Hunter's shoulder to stop her from falling, face first, into the dashboard. The noisy entrance of the car had brought Salvatore to the window of his study. On seeing his daughter in such obvious distress, he ran to her, barrelling through the heavy doors and to her side.

Salvatore couldn't believe what he saw as he approached the four-by-four. The tableau before him, in the open doorway was so unexpected. There stood his daughter, holding up the weight of the warrior and looking tenderly into the unconscious woman's face. As he watched she attempted to lift the shorter woman out of the car, she had the other woman half way out when the weight became too much and her grip slipped. Salvatore reached forward quickly and grabbed the comatose woman around the waist and hefted her into his arms. He turned towards his wide-eyed daughter, her bodyguard cradled to his chest.

"Papa, please take her inside."

"Princess, what's going on?"

"I need to find Douglas." She almost growled the words.

"He's out back with the children, but..."

"Thanks. Please take her inside and call someone." Her father didn't have the opportunity to respond as she stalked towards the back of the house.

When she turned the corner into the huge lawn used as the children's play area she saw him. He was laughing as he swung Rochel around. He placed her small feet on the ground and straightened up, his eyes catching those of his seething wife. His smile dropped and his face took on an evil smirk. He purposefully strode to Francesca, out of the children's earshot.

"Douglas, please come to the summerhouse." The words were bitten out, the tone strained. Douglas followed his distressed wife, his smirk growing wider as he did. Snake followed in their wake, watching over his master.

When they reached the wooden structure Douglas asked Snake to remain outside, as he entered and closed the door behind him. He turned to face his beautiful wife and really looked at her for the first time since she had arrived. Her eyes were dark and stormy and held a hardness that he had never seen before. He had seen her happy and lately he had seen the resignation in her eyes, this was definitely new. Her lips were pursed in a thin line and he could see a vain throbbing in her forehead as her fists clenched in time with it.

Smack! The slap to his face made him rock back on his heels. This was not his wife. He was waiting for Snake to burst in when Francesca was suddenly in his face, hands tightly clenched around his colour. She was breathing heavily in his face as they stood nose-to-nose.

"Give me Hunter's remote!" He opened his mouth to deny her accusation. "Don't even think it! Hand it over now."

On the outside of the door Snake had been ready to break through and intercede. He had been stopped in his tracks by Francesca's words. That bastard had tortured his friend. He could suffer at the hands of his wife. Douglas had just lost the modicum of respect that the warrior held for him.

Within the closed quarters Doug handed the remote over and Francesca hastily switched it off, fumbling in her haste. She gazed back into his eyes and noticed the pink huge spreading across his cheek. In the pit of her stomach she felt something settle, this felt right. She should have done this years ago.

"She got what she deserved..." He knew it was a weak arguement at best in the face of his wife rage.

"Try anything like this again and I'll encourage Hunter to rip you a new arse hole. Stay away from me. I suggest you move to different quarters, as far away from mine as you can get and still be in the same house would be good!" With these words Francesca stormed out of the wooden building feeling more triumph than she could ever remember.

"Mama, can Po and Griz come and listen two?" Francesca was snapped form her reverie by her sons voice.

"Sure, go to the next room and ask them." She smiled indulgently as he scrambled out of bed. She refocused on Hunter who was looking at her strangely. Francesca suddenly realised that Hunter must have answered her question and she had been so deep in her own thoughts that she'd missed it. Sheepishly she asked, "Is that a yes?"

"Yes." Hunter made her way to the little girls bed and sat with her back to the headboard and her feet stretched out. Like a limpet Becca attached herself to the muscular woman's side and snuggled close. To Francesca's surprise the warrior wrapped her arm around the child's shoulders and held her gently.

The peaceful scene was broken when Terrence can charging back in followed by the two giants. The two big men settled themselves on the floor beside each bed. Polar sat beside Rochel and Grizzly with Terrance. It was show-time, as five pairs of expectant eyes turned to her. She launched into a story about one of Rhani and Chess' more risky schemes, while she tried to process the apprehensive look that she had seen on Hunters face.

**********

Hunter sat awake in the dark of her 'room' trying to clear her thoughts. The huge walk-in closet was illuminated by the moon as it peeked through the blinds in the main room. The door was open, like always since the attack, so that she could get out fast. The interior of the cupboard was so dark that an intruder would be unable to spot her prone form unless they were looking for her and even then it would be difficult. She sat, cross legged, on a pile of blankets and thought about the nights events.

The story Francesca had told tonight had shaken her to the core. She had never imagined that the rich, cultured young woman would remember her childhood companion. They had been so young when they were separated and she had assumed that too many exciting things would have happened in the darker woman's life for her to remember a servant's daughter, no matter how close they had been. The obvious affection in the younger woman's voice, as she related their exploits to her own children, had overwhelmed the warrior.

Ever since they had returned to the room and the lights had gone out, she could not draw her mind away from thoughts of the past. She tried not to think about the past, the memories were too bittersweet. Her parents had used her as a pacifier for their employers daughter and sold her into a life filled with pain and misery. Yet among the pain of her parents there was always a small black haired, blue eyed, child who had been her best friend - her Chess.

She had felt these memories and emotions begin to stir the moment she had stepped back onto the property where she had been born and raised. She had known that none of the Prince family would recognise her, her appearance had radically changed in the last twenty years. They had last seen her as a tall, waiflike, child with big green eyes and sun coloured hair. That was a long stretch from the short, heavily muscled woman covered in scars and tattoos whose hair and eyes were blue.

She had tried to stay aloof, and Francesca's original treatment of her had made it easy. Rather than falling into any old habits, Hunter had become her usual difficult self. Most of her scars were reminders of her wilfulness and disobedience, things that she often found herself unable to control, as well as her mouth. Why could she never keep her mouth shut? She had been asking herself that since she was a child and eventually others had dealt with the problem for her.

She shifted her weight. Thinking like this wasn't going to achieve anything, thinking about the past just made her regret her life more. All the happiness of her childhood burned brightly in her mind, casting everything since into shadow. Everything except Jordan. She had kept the young girl sane and replaced Rhani as her closest friend. She had filled a void that Hunter had never been able to fill again. When Jordan was taken from her she knew that happiness with other people was not for her and never pursued companionship again. She used other slave girls and had a friend in Wolf, and she knew that the other Predators respected her, but it wasn't the same.

She looked at the sleeping figure on the bed. Little chubby Chess had grown up into the beautiful and majestic Francesca, Hunter was only human and had appreciated the other woman's beauty even as she was willing herself to hate her. Being unable to talk to anybody, even Wolf, about her animosity towards their new home had been hard and seeing that face close to tears had almost broken her heart, but not her resolve. Nothing could destroy that. Seeing Douglas hit the sleeping woman so brutally had simply changed her resolve. Why the woman was married to such an animal was beyond Hunter. What she did know, was that he was never going to do it again.

Unfortunately that incident had almost totally transformed their relationship. Francesca would engage her in conversation and ask her questions, event buy her gifts. Hunter enjoyed the time they spent together, how could she not? But they were also too painful, giving her a glance back into a life that she might have led. The effect of the threats had also elevated their interaction in a way that had deeply unsettled the warrior. She had never expected that she would have to touch the other woman, much less carry her after she feinted. God only knew what would happen if the woman was ever confronted by her attacker. Not that she'd have to worry, Hunter would be their to protect her

She took one last, lingering look at the vision on the bed before laying back and pulling covers over her torso. She curled into a tight ball, her hand straying to rub her neck. The damn chip always left residual pain for weeks after the incident. She was smiling as she fell asleep, thinking of the story she had heard Snake tell about what Francesca had done to Douglas as retaliation on her behalf. Chess was definitely in there somewhere.

**********

Darla sat looking at her little girl with worry etched into her face. She knew that Francesca and Douglas were having problems in their marriage, Douglas was sleeping at the other end of the wing, and the pressure of that added to the threats was really taking it's toll on the young woman. She had lost a lot of weight and her cheeks were beginning to look a little sunken. She needed to get away and relax for a while, and Darla knew just where she should go. Thank goodness she and the blue haired girl had settled their differences.

"Princess, you should take Hunter to see the river. You two could make a day of it, take a picnic and you could show Hunter how to fish." She looked for her daughters reaction and was pleased with the hundred watt smile that she received. She quickly looked at Hunter who looked incredibly uncomfortable with the suggestion. Darla didn't pay it much attention as she turned back to her child.

"That sounds like a great idea Mama, thank you!" She stood up and walked to her mothers chair. Se knelt in front of her and hugged the older woman tightly.

Darla kissed her daughters forehead gently. "That's what I'm here for, darling. I'll have the cook make you a picnic basket in the morning and the pair of you will be all set. You can even show off and show Hunter that she's not the only one with quick reflexes." Francesca blushed as her mother continued. "You can catch a few fish, and then you and the babies can cook them."

"I love you, mama."

"I know, Princess."

********

The clearing was a secluded and peaceful as Hunter had remembered, it had obviously been lovingly tended over the years by the woman sitting beside her. The walk to this hidden spot had been strange for Hunter, like a flashback to her past but from Francesca's point of view. Hunter had always been the one to go first, she was taller, stronger and older. She had made it her job to clear the path and carry the food. Today she followed a tall form who cleared the way and held the picnic basket in a long fingered hand.

"I think I'm going to take a nap before lunch, I didn't get much sleep last night."

"So I heard."

"Oh God, Hunter, did you manage to get any sleep?" The tall woman looked remorseful.

"I was raised in dormitories, I can sleep pretty much anywhere." The reassurance seemed to work and the taller woman visibly relaxed.

"Wake me up when you get hungry." The tall woman laid down on the spread blanket, close to the seated warrior, and was soon dozing.

"Sleep tight Chess," whispered Hunter.

Several hours passed with Hunter taking in the tranquillity as her mistress slept beside her. Hunter had been shocked earlier when Francesca had turned onto her side and wrapped her arm around Hunter's thigh and snuggled close to it as though it were a stuffed toy. Hunter hadn't dared to shift her position for fear of waking the other woman and breaking the moment. It had been a long time since anybody had freely touched the gladiator without expectations or malice. She relished the feeling as she watched the fish flick like silver highlights in the clear water, her hand unconsciously straying to Francesca's dark hair.

Chapter 10

She's so soft, mused Hunter, running her fingers through raven locks. She snorted softly to herself, why wouldn't she be? She raised her hand form the tousled head and studied it intensely. She traced the map of thin scars criss-crossing the knuckles and meandering towards a pale wrist. The golden tan covering her hand and forearm was interrupted by a white band of flesh, another reminder of her days spent in bondage. Turning her hand she looked at the calluses coating the hills and valleys of her palm, each fingertip crowned with a rough halo. These were the hands of a warrior, a worker. Hands, she realised, could define their owner. Her lean, strong, scarred hands were the epitome of who she was both inside and out.

Eyes flickered to the pale hand laying beside her thigh. Long fingers curled inwards towards her palm revealing red polished nails, perfect in every way. Smooth porcelain skin over sleek muscle, flawless. Not a single blemish marred the perfection, yet they looked so vulnerable. The fingers twitched in sleep, closing into a tighter fist. This woman was beautiful, unique but ultimately fragile. Without thought Hunter began to trace one rough fingertip across Francesca's wrist. The sleeping woman flinched away from the touch as if she had been burned, recoiling away form the seated woman.

Francesca woke in a blind panic as she felt the touch on her arm. Why was Douglas in her bed? He never came to her any more, not since the twins were born, he had playmates for this. Her body was rigid and her eyes screwed tightly closed, trying desperately to distance herself form the pain that she was sure was coming. In this state it took her several moments to realise that the touch had ended almost as soon as it began. Confused, Francesca extended her senses cautiously noticing for the first time the sound of birdsong and the scent of grass. She slowly opened her eyes and found herself looking at the concerned face of her slave.

Forcing a smile she sat up. She was not going to let thoughts of Douglas spoil her day, it had started so well. She knew that her mother wanted her to relax and the slave was quite good company, once you loosened her up a bit. In her heart Francesca knew that she needed a friend and had found herself placing Hunter in that role in her mind. Wanting to alleviate the tension that had grown around them Francesca's smile turned sheepish.

"Wow, guess I was more tired than I thought!" She joked as she glanced at her watch. "You hungry?"

"You have to ask?" It was the one joke that the women shared. Hunter was a bottomless pit where food was concerned and the amount she could pack away fascinated the free woman.

"Chicken or ham?"

**********

"Mrs Prince said that you might show me something?" Hunter was honestly curious as to her owners special skill.

"Oh, that." Francesca ran a hand over her face to hide her embarrassment. It had been a cool talent to have when she was in school, but in front of this warrior her little feat seemed silly.

"You don't have to, I'm only here to serve. You don't have to feel obligated, you own me." Hunter really didn't want to upset the other woman. She had been distressed by the way in which she had woken up, and wanted to know why the dark woman's reaction had been so extreme (although she had an idea). Yet the divide created by their positions forbade her from prying too deeply.

"Promise not to laugh?" Hunter could see that the other woman was genuinely concerned. The other woman had been playful all day and had even tried to teach the warrior some of the games that her children enjoyed. She hadn't even asked why the slave had been touching her in her sleep, something Hunter could only be grateful for.

"I promise." Her voice was softer than she had intended and took her darker companion by surprise.

"Alright!" As suddenly as she said it, Francesca was up and running straight towards the clear water. Rather than stopping at the edge as Hunter had expected, she ran straight off the bank and splashed into the river only stopping once the water was mid-thigh.

There she stood, rising out of the water like a sun bathed goddess. Her blue eyes reflected the exact colour of the water that lapped against her. She was completely still, breathing slowly, allowing the water to calm around her. Hunter was mesmerised by what she saw. In the time that she had been with the woman she had watched her dance and workout, but had never really thought of her as a physical person. Now, watching her, Hunter was struck by her sleek athleticism. This woman could be formidable if she'd just let go.

Suddenly Francesca darted forwards, her hands disappearing under the water. She rooted around under the surface and with a triumphant grin brought her hands up. In her grip she held a single silver skinned fish. The sunlight gleamed off it's skin as it struggled valiantly to regain it's freedom. She turned, holding up her prize for her audience to see.

"Damn, I could never do that." The words just slipped from Hunters mouth before she could censor them. She mentally crossed her fingers, hoping that the other woman had misunderstood.

"Of course you could, it just takes practice." Francesca waded out of the water as Hunter let out a mental sigh of relief.

The heiress reached the shore and stripped out of her linen pants, leaving herself clad only in a long shirt and panties. She laid her soaked clothing on a nearby rock to allow the warm sun to dry the thin fabric and turned towards her protector. She was amused to note that the other woman was respectfully turned away from her, looking anywhere but at her. At that moment, looking at the shorter woman, Francesca felt a pang of something deep inside. Francesca took in the bowed head, for the first time noticing that the blue was growing out, being replaced by blond roots.

I wonder why she's so embarrassed?

BANG!

Idol thoughts ceased as both women's heads snapped in the direction of the house...and the ear splitting sound.

**********

The wing laid in ruins, flames licking towards the blue sky as if worshipping the sun. What had once been three storeys was reduced to ground level. Blue and red light bathed the scene as emergency vehicles surrounded the building. Firemen clustered around the perimeter of the blaze, hoses pointed at the fiery menace, water arcing forward at high pressure.

Francesca ran for the three ambulances on the lawn, her body numb with fear as her legs drove her forward. Hunter was hot on her heels, her fear for both the victims and the woman running to them. As the dark haired woman reached the stretchers should was almost knocked off her feet at the sight of two crisp, shinny body-bags laying side-by-side on the grass. Her heart leapt into her throat before she realised that the figures in the bags were almost unnaturally large. Not her children, or even Douglas, she couldn't help but breath an audible sigh of relief. She swept towards the open back of the first ambulance.

Hunter's feet stopped of their own accord as her eye's fell on the black bags. Looking at the dimensions of the bags she knew instantly who was in each one. The identical bags held identical men, gentle men who didn't deserve to die like this. They should have gained their freedom and had a life. She tore her eyes away from her comrades and turned them to the ambulances. Francesca was leaning over a small reclining figure, tears streaming down her face. On two other beds sat Douglas, Terrance and Rochel. The three of them looked battered but mostly fine. At least the boys hadn't died in vein.

**********

Francesca sat in the uncomfortable plastic chair in the emergency room's waiting area. Trying not to think about what was happening to her children she couldn't help but muse about progress. In a world where genes could be mapped and planets could be reached, a comfortable plastic chair was still out of reach. This line of reasoning didn't last long as once more the waves of guilt came crashing down on her. She should have been there to protect her babies not playing in the woods with a slave!

As soon as they had arrived at the hospital Rebecca had been rushed to into surgery. Her beautiful littlest girl had been caught in the worst of the blast, in the same area as Polar and Grizzly. Her left arm had been burnt but the rest of her had been protected from the flames by the body of one of the men. The impact of the falling body must have been extreme as she had four broken ribs and a collapsed lung as well as a possible skull fracture. Francesca desperately wanted to be outside the operating room, but first she had to wait for her other children, then they could all go up together.

Terrance and Rochel had only suffered minor injuries. They and their father had been outside the nursery when the bomb went off and thrown clear of the blast. Terry had suffered a broken arm and minor cuts while his sister only had a sprained ankle. They were presently being treated. Douglas had suffered a broken collar bone and was waiting to be treated.

The singer raised her head from her hands and looked at her slave. The old resentment of the animal was resurfacing as a defence mechanism, she could blame Hunter for all this. They shouldn't have gone to the woods. She was on the verge of lashing out at the silent figure when their eyes locked. In the depths of the artificially blue eyes she saw despair. It was like looking into a bottomless pit of sadness, she started to be pulled into the void and had to tare herself away before she fell too far to escape. She turned her gaze back to the floor.

"Mummy, it hurts!" The small tearful voice instantly pulled her forward and she swooped up her son and held him like he was the most precious thing in the world. One of a priceless set of three.

Chapter 11

She wanted to be anywhere but here. She wanted to be upstairs with her parents and her children. Instead she was waiting for Douglas while her babies were being watched protected by slaves. Slaves like those who had failed and allowed this to happen. Once more she felt a welling of intense emotion directed to her own property, but she squashed it. She was neither ready nor prepared to face the implications of the strength of her feelings towards Hunter, either good or bad.

The room was eerily silent, even though it was filled with people, each one waiting for news on a loved one. The air would occasionally be invaded by a muffled sob or a snore as people became agitated or submitted to the blissful oblivion of sleep. Francesca just felt numb. When she had seen her little boy stumble towards her, his arm in a huge, obscenely white, caste and his face bruised and cut she had crumbled. She had clutched him to her so tightly that she had feared that he might break, afraid to let go. When, minutes later his sister had been carried in by a tall, red haired, nurse the relief that had flowed over her had an almost physical impact on the singer. She had fallen back into her chair and held out her arms for Rochel. Her foot was strapped and her eyes were red, but she was in much better condition than her big brother.

They had stayed like that for thirty minutes, until Salvatore and Darla arrived from the police station. They and the rest of the household had been interviewed for hours about the events leading up to the explosion. Francesca and Hunter had also been quizzed, but their absence had made them less valuable witnesses. The police had allowed them to head directly to the hospital from the house, with the condition that they head to the station in the morning. Darla looked at her daughter with pity in her eyes and offered to take the children up to wait for Rebecca. Francesca had nodded in thanks and watched as her parents carried away her offspring, flanked by the dour countenance of Wolf, Phoenix and Snake. That had been two hours ago.

Now here she was looking like the dutiful wife waiting for her husband. The reality couldn't be further from the truth. She wanted to know why Douglas had let this happen. She wanted to blame the man who had been ruining her life for almost ten years. So she sat and waited, alone. Hunter had long since stood and walked away to stand beside the admit desk. Her eyes were constantly looking over the room, never landing on the other woman.

Hunter felt isolated and confused. She had spent years taking other people's lives without remorse, it was what had made her such an exceptional gladiator. Death shouldn't have any impact on her after what she had done, but here she was caught up in thoughts of the men that she had lost. They had been so childlike in their outlooks, they had never become the jaded old soldiers that the rest of them were. She would not cry, she couldn't, but she felt another piece of her heart break off and float away.

She looked back to where her owner sat. She had felt the change in the other woman as they had sat beside each other. It seemed to ebb and flow between pent up fury and despair and most of the fury seemed to be directed at her. She could see it in each glance that the dark woman threw at her, like a weapon. The woman was breaking down and she was not looking forward to the confrontation to come. When the slave had looked at the injured children she had felt a pain in her gut, a sensation that she hadn't felt since Jordan was taken from her. Looking at the pale, tiny form of Rebecca, death did seem like a terrible thing. Nothing like that should have to happen to this little girl. Things like this were only meant for her.

**********

Douglas was seething. How dare she not be there to look after her own children. She'd rather be out gallivanting with that creature, doing God knows what together. That though led to it's own chain reaction of rage, the indignities in his mind building up in layers. She belonged to him, he had marked her years before and she had never so blatantly disobeyed him as she since that slave came along.

Buying the slaves had seemed like such a good idea. He would further exert his power over her, having his eyes, ears and hands close to her all the time. Hunter was too wilful for that to be a possibility. The second rate killer had a set of scruples, a moral code that did not gel with his world view. No, she was not the asset that he had hoped she'd be. He had realised almost from the start that Savage would have been the perfect choice for Francesca. The weasely man was snide and vindictive and cherished the violence. He would have done whatever Douglas asked. When the bitch had hit him things had started to change. Francesca was like a different woman. No, that wasn't it, she was becoming the girl he married again. Not the woman he owned.

He was beginning to be cut out of her business dealings and she was controlling her own money. The physical domination he had used on her for years was no longer an option and he was loosing his hold. There was no way that Salvatore would side with Douglas against his daughter. But this new development might play into his hands, he could use the children to show what a bad mother Francesca was becoming. Blackmail would be a far less strenuous control mechanism than he was used to. He smiled to himself, this just might work out after all.

**********

The doors to the waiting room were flung open by the brown haired man. His arm was close to his body and secured in a sling to prevent him form further damaging his collar bone. His face sported a large gauze over the right cheek and a matching black-eye. His eyes were dark and his countenance was stiff, edgy. His was looking for a fight and he was about to find one.

Francesca stood up when she saw Douglas enter the room and cringed at the look in his eyes. She had seen that look a thousand times before. It always manifested itself before he hit her, with good reason, or so he always told her. She pulled her courage together and stood in front of him. He couldn't hit her in the hospital and even if he tried Hunter would put him down.

Douglas shot a look at his wife's guard and them turned his eyes back to the beauty before him. He reached out towards his wife and grabbed her arm tightly, satisfied when he saw her wince in pain. He quickly pulled her after him out of the room, Savage closely following the couple with Hunter close behind him. Once far enough away from the waiting area that Douglas knew they wouldn't be heard he spun Francesca to face him. The sound of her shoes on the polished floor echoed through the sterile corridor, making the woman painfully aware of it's near deserted quality.

"What the hell were you thinking!" Douglas began in earnest. With each word it seemed as though his hold on her grew tighter. "What sort of mother are you? You leave your children alone so you can go and do who knows what with your precious slave!" Francesca opened her mouth to reply but was cut off by a rough shake. Hunter moved to intervene but was held back by the other slave. Savage shook his head slowly and pulled the warrior further away from the couple.

"You really do think your a princess now, don't you? Seems I've given you everything you ever wanted. I gave you children, a home, a career, servants, slaves and now I've given you a new playmate! Now you can stop dreaming about that kid, I've given you a real live grownup to fantasise about!" The slap to the good side of his face was sudden and unexpected, sending him reeling for a moment. When he regained his senses his face was red, his temple throbbing.

"I'm sorry Douglas." She raised a hand to cover her lips. "I'm so sorry, your just worried about the children, I know you don't really mean it." Her eye's began to mist with tears as her voice broke.

"It's time you made some choices, Princess. I don't know who you are anymore. Do you?" With these hissed words he turned on his heel and headed out of the hospital.

**********

The shadowed figure smirked as the little drama unfolded before their very eyes. The raised voice of Douglas had drawn the watcher to the corridor and the scene that played out could have been choreographed by the warped mind. This was what the stalker had been hoping for. The fact that the house had been easier to get into had been a bonus.

Most of the family had been out when a maintenance person had arrived to fix the air-conditioning. With both Francesca and Douglas out of the house and accompanied by the children all of the slaves had been absent, leaving only the regular security in position. After a cursory search access into the house had been granted. The worker had been escorted by a guard and then left in the maintenance room with a guard on the door. Slipping out had proved simple, what with all the resent practice at the other premises.

Looking for the best place for the bomb had proved difficult with time constraints and the explosive had to be planted in the closest family room. That room happened to be the nursery, as good a place as any. The children would be in a prime location, and at least one parent would be in the blast. What more could be asked for. Quickly getting set up and back to the maintenance room the man on the door didn't suspect a thing and soon the terrorist was home free.

That had been two weeks ago, the watcher was nothing if not patient. The bomb had been a little more powerful than intended, it wasn't intended to destroy the wing, just the room. However, the results were more than pleasing. Three injuries and two deaths, granted not of family members, but it was sure to set the family reeling. There was also the minor detail of one child in surgery, still the chance for a fatality there. Slightly shuffling black boots seemed to alert the blue haired freak to a presence in the shadows. Time for a strategic withdrawal. Douglas had already left, he could be followed. With that the figure was gone.

*********

Terrance was asleep with his head cradled on her lap, his slim body stretched out on the bench. His soft snores filling the corridor with a sense of life that it was otherwise lacking. On her other side sat Rochel. Tucked under her mothers arm, with her head cushioned on her breasts she was as deeply asleep as her brother. Periodically a whimper would sound from one of the two children prompting Francesca to softly stroke the head of the child in question until it subsided.

Francesca was glad that they could sleep almost untroubled. She on the other hand was not able to shut down. Her mind kept running over the events of the day over and over again. It had started so well, she had been happy playing in the grass with Hunter and making pictures in the clouds. It had been like reliving her childhood. These had been the games she had played with her best friend and later on with her own children. Then it had all come crashing down on her.

The house was ruined. Her children were hurt and her husband hated her. Douglas had been right, she didn't know who she was anymore, she was so confused. Hunter was certainly influencing her whether it was a good or bad influence was yet to be seen. What would she do if Douglas left her? They had been married for ten years and she had no idea of what adult life was like without him. He had been a good man when they married, but something had changed when Terrance had come along and the twins had proved to be the last straw for him, apparently. She had been on the receiving end ever since.

She needed to relax, get some sleep. Rebecca had come out of surgery several hours ago and was now in ICU. The doctors said that she was stable and should make a full recovery. She had wanted the children to go home with her parents and sleep in their own beds, but they had refused to leave. They had both started to cry and held their mother as tightly as they possibly could. Darla assured her daughter that they'd be fine in the hospital and that she and Salvatore would be back first thing with a change of clothes and some breakfast. All was calm, yet she was still afraid. Douglas hadn't come back and at this time of night she knew that he wouldn't. He was probably being pampered by one of his 'friends' right now.

Trying to think happy thoughts and get to sleep she looked over at Hunter. The bodyguard had retreated back into herself and stood stoically against the wall. She looked like a tireless machine, scanning the empty hallways, alert for danger. Francesca tried to catch her eyes and when she did the sadness in their depths ran deep. The heiress offered her a reassuring smile in lieu of an apology, which the shorter woman accepted with a weary smile of her own.

She let her mind wander back to the morning. The other woman certainly held a lot of surprises. She had been so gentle when Francesca had fallen asleep, stroking her hair in the same way that Rhani had. In her dream Francesca had even heard herself called Chess by the other woman. Nobody knew that nickname but her family, and they never used it. Nobody had ever used it in front of Hunter.

"I could never do that."

Rhani had never been able to catch the fish in the water, she'd always been put off by the refraction in the water. The fish would be a few millimetres away from where she would strike. Hunter was blond, the roots of her hair showing through the dye. Hunter had seen 'Star Wars'. How could somebody born into slavery have seen any movies?

Hunter knew how to play Chess and Rhani's games. Hunter knew things that slaves couldn't know. Francesca studied Hunter's face more closely than she ever had before, looking beyond the scars and the contact lenses. Hunters attention was elsewhere so she was free to do this. The pert nose and round cheeks made the face look young, the defiant chin giving voice to her true nature. The face was familiar. The face was nineteen years older, but it was her, Francesca had been too blind to see it.

Hunter was Rhani!

Rhani was alive!

Even Rhani had betrayed her...

 

Part 3


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