The Binding Tie

Part 3

By Maderlin Bidmead





Disclaimers:
This is an Alt/Uber story that is for people over 18 as it contains violence and sexual violence.
Warning: This chapter contains graphic violence. If you are squimish you might want to take a fortifying breath before reading this.
Feedback: Thank you to the people who have sent me feedback, more would be greatly appreciated. All of those who do e-mail me will become a piece of my disertation (you'll be famous for five seconds at Brunel University, London!). Send all opinions, good and bad to; santameada@hotmail.com




Chapter Twelve


Darla, honey, why are you sitting out here?” Salvatore leaned down and kissed his wife on the cheek as he lowered himself into the swing beside her.

“I'm so worried about her.” The slight woman sighed and laid her head against her husbands broad shoulder.

“I know.” He kissed the top of her head as he drew her closer. “When they moved in I couldn't believe how depressed she seemed. I know that all of the phone calls and the threats have been dragging her down, but she seemed happy, for a while. Was I just imagining that.” He locked his eyes with his wife.

“No, Sal, I saw it too.”

“Maybe I should talk to Douglas.” At these words Darla shot up and turned stunned eyes on her partner. “Or not.”

“You can't be serious, Sal. Our daughters marriage is falling apart right in front of you and you want to talk to Douglas?” She was incredulous.

“Look, I know that they don't sleep together, but lots of couples do that. Douglas loves the children...” He was cut of by an icy glare from his wife.

“You think that's enough for your Princess, a loveless marriage just as long as he loves the children?”

“Who said it was loveless?”

“Our daughters on the verge of a nervous breakdown at the very least and you can ask that?”

“Don't even think that I don't love my little girl.” His anger was rising.

“That's not what I mean and you know it!”

“Good, because I try to protect her. I love her and I give her everything she needs. What have you done for this situation?”

“That's the problem! You buy her things, you surround her with protection, you do what you think she needs. You smother her, you always did, but I don't think that's what she needs from you anymore. I listen to her, Sal. You need to talk to her more, I try to help her with her problems.”

“Such as?” The man's eyes were cool.

“Sal, sweetheart, don't get defensive. I don't really think we need this side of the house to explode along with your head. We only have so much money.” The attempt at levity was tempered by it's serious implication. Two sets of eye's scanned towards the ruins of their home. Even in his agitated state, Salvatore pulled Darla close to him and held her tight, keeping her safe in his arms.

“We should have done something, shouldn't we?”

“Like what? She's a grown woman. Short of finding him beating her...which is unlikely.”

“Yeah, he's not that sort of boy, thank god.”

“She's only ever done what she wants to do. We just need to stand behind whatever she decides.” Darla looked at her husband. “We need to watch her now, I think that she is tipping over the edge. I don't think that she and Doug have talked at all in the last week, not even when Becca came home yesterday.” She took a deep breath and looked wearily towards Salvatore. “Lets go to bed.” She took his hand and led him through the balcony doors.

“Thank God we only had one daughter,” breathed the tall man as he pulled the French-style doors closed behind him.

**********

SMACK.

Darla heard the sound of a hand impacting flesh and hurried towards it. What she found, round the bend in the hallway, left her motionless. In front of her stood a clearly furious Francesca glaring at her slave. Hunter's face clearly showed a mixture of sorrow and disgust, directed at who the older woman could not be certain. What she could be certain of was the growing redness on the slaves cheek caused by the slap. As her daughter began to tremble, Darla stepped into the fray.

“Hunter, please leave.” As the slave was about to interject she was silenced by a shushing motion. “I know your duty is to protect my daughter, but I think she will be quite safe with her father and myself. Go and watch over the children. I don't doubt that either Wolf or Phoenix could use a break and the children would like to see you.” Hunter looked chastened and turned away. She was almost out of earshot before Darla called out, “Get some ice for your face.” The blue head bowed further as she trudged away.

Darla spun towards her daughter who seemed to have regained some composure. To a casual observer she seemed to be in control of her emotions, but her mother could see straight through her facade. Of all her children, Francesca was most like her father and Darla could read him like a book. Without a word she reached for her child's larger hand and lead her towards her father's study. When the younger woman turned pleading eyes on her petite mother all she received was a glare in response. Letting out a noisy breath she allowed herself to be lead.

Francesca's mind was still in too much turmoil for her to put up any resist against her mother. She let herself be towed like a wayward child as she tried to come to terms with what had happened only moments before. She had hoped for answers from the warrior, but her own temper had flared. Now, walking behind her mother, it looked like those answers were very far away.

**********

Hunter found herself in the stables with an icepack pressed against her reddened cheek. She wasn't entirely sure how she got there, a thought that shook her to the core. She was aware of her surroundings at all times, it was part of her training, of who she was. How could she so totally lose focus? God, this was hardly a life threatening injury, and she had definitely had worse but nothing had affected her like this.

She rested her elbow on the table and propped her head against it, her mind going over the other woman's words. How had Francesca figured it out? She had been so careful to keep her distance, not wanting to get too close. She never got close, it put people in danger and just made her more vulnerable. She had learnt her lesson after they used Jordan's life against her. The other slaves weren't really her friends, they were her brothers in arms. The only one she trusted and thought of as something close to a friend was Shep and only because he could almost best her in combat.

She ran her hand through her hair and let out a weary sigh. Everything would change now, Francesca's respect and trust had certainly been lost. Back to being treated like an animal, at best, at worst she was probably looking at being sold on. Back to a life that she had thought she enjoyed. A life filled with pain and destruction, the give and take of violence.

“What have I become?” She whispered to the emptiness. “I'm afraid of going back! They've ruined me, just like before!” Her hand tightened on the cold bag before she threw it across the room. As it impacted the wall shards of ice flew out as the bag split.

She pushed herself up from the table and turned to the door, surveying the mess she had made on the way. A wry smile spread across her face, that just about summed up her day.

*********

“It wasn't what it looked like.” Francesca's tone was pleading.

“I should bloody well hope not!” Darla wanted answers.

“Excuse me, ladies, but could you fill me in?” Salvatore sat behind his desk looking at the two women opposite. He was a picture of confusion.

Darla turned to her husband. “I found our daughter outside her room, hitting Hunter.”

“Excuse me?” Salvatore was incredulous.

“Papa, it wasn't like that. Mama, please sit down and I'll try to explain what you saw.” The young woman held back a sob. “I thought you knew me better than that.”

Her parents exchanged a glance, thinking back to their conversation only days before on the balcony. Salvatore locked eyes with his youngest child and could see the depth of sorrow in them. He tried to give her a reassuring smile, but she turned her face away, studying the carpet.

“Just tell us the truth, Princess.”

“I've never lied to you,” it was almost a whisper. “Can you say the same.”

The couple looked startled. “I think you better tell us exactly what's going on.”

**********

“What's going on, Hunter?” Wolf was looking intently at the other warrior. He had noticed her reddened cheek almost immediately but had waited for the children to go to dinner with Morgan before confronting her.

“What do you think of the name Rhani?” Was the reply he received. He watched as his companion reclined on the floor.

“It's nice, pretty. What has that got to do with your face?” The sound of his deep voice hung in the air for several heartbeats before the woman answered.

“That was my name once, Rhani Campbell. I was born free and raised right here, in this very house.” She turned to survey the impact of her words on the other slave, smiling wearily as she noted his slack jaw. “Francesca, it seems, has worked out my identity. She seemed a little pissed.” She rubbed her cheek self consciously.

“Why didn't you tell her who you were? Surely they would have set you free. Hell, why didn't you tell me?” He didn't know whether to be angry or just hurt at the revelation.

“I can't ever be that child again, Shep. I didn't want to care, I've done that and it broke me.” She suddenly let out a bitter laugh. “Why do you think they'd set me free? They let my father sell me when I was five! I stayed living here till I was nine years old, all that time I would be sent off to be trained. Why would they give a shit who I was now?”

“I really can't know everything about you, can I?”

“Nope.”

“Tell me something, did Jordan know?”

“Of course. She knew it all, I told her everything.”

“I think you need to talk to your owner. Before you go mad, just listen. The two of you have got over a rocky start and you were hitting it off. Maybe the distance was a part of your plans not to get involved, but it's too late for that now. The children like you and they need their mother to be stable. Fighting with you and doing whatever she is with the master is not doing that.” Hunter still looked defiant. “Look you don't have to explain the story of your life, just your reason for hiding the truth. Tell her what you told me.”

The short woman let out a gusty sigh and collapsed completely onto her back. “Fine, When Morgan gets back I'll go and face the music.”

Still waters certainly do run deep, thought Wolf smiling at the old cliche, as Hunter stared at the ceiling.

**********

“You never really told me what happened to Rhani, did you? I mean, you said that she'd gone away and wasn't coming back, but I thought that was a euphemism. I thought that meant that she was dead! It was what you told me when my kitten died, for God's sake!”

With their daughter becoming so agitated in front of them, Darla felt pity wash through her. She knew she shouldn't have been so harsh earlier, but she detested violence. To see her daughter abusing another living creature had shaken her badly. “Sweetheart, what are you talking about? What has Rhani got to do with Hunter?”

“You lied to me! All of you lied to me, you and Papa, the boys, Rhani's parents. Why didn't you tell me!” At the puzzled looks form her parents Francesca took in a gulping breath. “Hunter is Rhani!”

“What?” Both parents sad in unison.

“What happened? Was she snatched?”

“Now listen here young lady, we had no idea she was alive. Mark told us that he was having her trained to use computers, that's where she went al the time. One day she didn't come back and Mark told us there had been a car accident. Why shouldn't we believe him? He and Liz had worked here for years, we raised you girls together. You know how the big computer corps are, recruiting children to learn how to interface with the AI's. Rhani was so bright we never had a reason to doubt.” Salvatore looked appalled. “How do you know it's her anyway? You haven't seen her nineteen years!”

“I figured it out from things she said. I confronted her and she admitted it!” Francesca was trembling again.

Darla looked at her husband and he nodded for her to take the lead. She stood up from her chair and knelt in front of the dark woman. She took her little girl's trembling hands and pulled her forward, bringing her into a warm hug. Francesca let her head rest on her mothers shoulder as she tried not to cry.

“I think we should find Hunter and find out what is going on.”

**********

“Why did you lie to me?”

Hunter found herself alone in Salvatore's study with her owner. She could see the stress etched on the face of the other woman as she threw out her accusation. Having not been in this position before Hunter was unsure how to react. All she could be sure of was anger would only make things worse. She took a deep breath, ready to attempt an explanation. She hoped that this would prevent her from being sold on, as much as she hated to admit it, she liked it here.

“I didn't lie to you. I haven't been Rhani for almost twenty years. I wasn't trying to hurt you, but I didn't want to be hurt either. I keep my distance from everybody.”

“But you were my best friend!” The pleading in the other woman's voice was clear. “Everybody is trying to control me, even you!”

“I don't know what you want me to say!” Hunter felt like she was drowning.

“You hold all the cards, can't you see that? You have power over me!” The dark woman's voice was rising.

“WHAT! How can I possibly have power over you! I'm a slave!” The warrior's anger was starting to flare.

“You know everything about me. About my entire childhood and the space in between, I know you read the magazines!”

Something clicked for Hunter. “You want to know where I used to go when we were children, don't you?”

Francesca nodded wordlessly.

“I need to know one thing first...Did your parents know what was happening to me?” She held her breath in anticipation.

“No, they really didn't.”

“Alright. Um...When I was five dad needed money so he sold me to a slaver. I guess he knew that I couldn't just vanish, you'd be too upset, so he made a bargain with the buyer. Dad could keep me here but I had to be trained offsite until I was ten. You'd be old enough to not care if I disappeared. The first time they took me away...”

**********

“...I think I should leave now. I'll just be outside now.”

The large wooden door closed softly leaving Francesca in total silence. She hadn't looked up as the other woman left, still caught up in the warriors story. In two hours Hunter had laid bare her childhood and it didn't match her own. Francesca remembered a time of fun and total happiness, Hunter remembered pain and brutality. She talked of dance lessons followed by beatings, rape and gymnastic practice going hand in hand. She had been taught to be a concubine, a seducer with trips home as her reward. It seemed that the young Chess had been her reason to be good, to take it.

Francesca raised her head to look at the closed door, picturing the woman behind it. Silent tears tracked down her face while she considered how much she still didn't know. The years being a gladiator and the killing of one of her owners all lay after that violent infancy. She suddenly needed to comfort the other woman in some way. She wiped her eyes and made her way to the door.

Before she was halfway across the room the door burst open, admitting a smirking Douglas. She stood in front of him, totally stunned. Why hadn't Hunter stopped him coming in? She couldn't handle a confrontation right now. She tried to walk past him, but he grabbed her arm and jerked her to him.

“What, no hello?” He leered at her and crushed his mouth down on hers. She struggled to free herself, but Douglas just held her arms tighter.

“Listen to me Princess, I've decided that I want more control over our money. I should be able to protect the children, you obviously can't, so I need access to everything. I also think you should step back with your record label, let me resume my role.”

“Doug, please let me go!” She could see the intent in his eyes. “We talked about this, you said you didn't mind me working with the record label.” She was too tired for this.

Douglas wasn't in the mood to be disobeyed. “Maybe your forgetting who abandoned the children when the house exploded? Don't you feel any remorse!” He knew it was a low blow and he relished the wince of pain on face.

“You can't blame me for that...” The slap to her face whipped her head back.

As Douglas drew his hand back for another blow the door flew open, admitting Salvatore. He had been talking to Hunter around the corner, apologising for what her father had done. They had been on their way back to the study when he had heard the struggle from within. The sight of his daughter being restrained by Douglas, his hand raised to her brought out his rage.

“Get out of my house! Nobody touches my daughter.” Douglas opened his mouth to respond but was stopped when he felt a powerful hand on his neck. “Get rid of him Hunter!”

Hunter nodded and dragged the tall man out of the room. Salvatore rushed to his child's side, rapping his arms around her as she collapsed, sobbing. He cooed soft words to her, stroking her hair. He wanted answers, but he could wait. He could do anything for her.




Chapter Thirteen



Damn that fuckin' bitch!, fumed Douglas, slamming down the phone. How dare she refuse to talk to me! I have as much right to see my children as she does...Hell, I have more! I'm not having a nervous breakdown, I was there for them while she was out with that whoring slave! It had been three days since Salvatore had him thrown out of the house. In that time all of his phone calls had been refused and any attempt to visit his children had been denied.

He picked up his glass of scotch, taking a large gulp, before placing it back on the coffee table. He caste his eye's around the living room, noting once again the subtle changes made by the cleaning ladies. It had been months since he had shared this apartment with his family and he realised that without the children it was a cold and sterile place. He angrily shook his head, it was not the time to dwell on what had been. If Francesca wanted a fight, he was going to win.

Douglas stood and paced towards the calendar on the wall, tapping the boldly written date with a thick finger. In two days he would be seeing his lawyer and then the Prince family wouldn't know what hit them. He was confident that if Francesca persisted with this foolishness he would win the case. He was stable, caring and they had no proof that he had ever laid a hand on her before. Of course, he would rather retain Francesca as well, having a beautiful, talented woman on his arm gave him a certain kudos among his peers that was hard to buy.

The sudden knocking drew him to the front door. Having been left with no bodyguard when he was thrown out, Salvatore had confiscated both Savage and Snake, Doug had to be cautious. He turned on the surveillance camera located above the door and assessed his visitor. Since a glut of shootings a couple of years ago, peepholes had been quickly phased out; it was too easy to shoot the homeowner through the door. Running a cursory eye over the beaming face outside, he opened the door.

“I didn't expect you today.” His voice was rough from the alcohol.

“I thought you could use a little company.” An elegant hand lifted up a bottle of Champaign.

“What the hell have I got to celebrate?” His brief good mood was beginning to sour.

“You're going to be free very soon.” The tall, lean woman purred as she walked over to the couch.

Douglas looked at her, lounging on the plush leather. She was like an animal, all passion and fire. He had met her almost a year ago, she was so different from his wife. This woman was strong, resourceful, sexual and she really turned him on. She didn't cry when he smacked her a little, she relished it, begged him for it. She liked it rough, this was the woman that he needed. She was a hooker, but she looked good. With enough money he could make her a princess. Not quite the prize that his wife was, but owning her, possessing her would never be dull.

A loud pop drew his attention back to her as foam spilled over her hand. She extended her velvet tongue and licked it off her fingers. A huge grin spread across his sullen face.

“You gonna' share?”

**********

Hunter stood in the garden, holding Rebecca in her arms. The little girl sat perched on her hip with her arms rapped tightly around the warriors neck. The pair silently watched the antics of the other two children as they ran through the grounds being chased by their mother. Becca was still too weak to run around, but she didn't mind, she liked to be with Hunter.

Rebecca rested her head on the muscular shoulder and watched her mummy play. She looked so happy that the little girl was glad that her daddy had gone away. In her short life she had never seen her mother smile like she had in the last three days and she liked it. Not that she didn't love her daddy, he played with her, read her stories and carried her, but Hunter could do that stuff. She didn't really need daddy while she had Hunter.

Thinking about the slave whose arms she was wrapped in the child's thoughts naturally turned to her two friends, Polar and Grizzly. Mummy had explained that the two men had been hurt really badly in the accident and that they hadn't got better. Rebecca could still feel the pain of her injuries, so she knew that they must have been hurt a lot. She didn't really understand what dead meant, but she knew that they weren't coming back and that she would probably be really old before she saw them again.

She was starting to get tired from being out in the fresh air. She snuggled closer to Hunter who tightened her embrace so that she wouldn't fall. The child couldn't really understand why her mummy was acting differently around Hunter since daddy left. First of all mummy had hated the blue haired slave, then she liked her a lot and now mummy was really cautious around her. She had even called her a weird name a couple of times, but Hunter didn't seem to like that at all. Adults were way too complicated.

“Feeling tired Tiny?” Cooed the warrior.

“I am not tiny.” A yawn split her cherubic face.

“But you are tired. Lets go tell your mum.” Rebecca could feel the rhythm of Hunters steps as she walked to the laughing group.

“ 'kay.” The sleepy response trailed off as she fell asleep. Hunter's hair isn't blue anymore, was her last though before dreamland.

**********

Douglas laid on his back, satiated and completely oblivious. He was floating somewhere between asleep and awake, feeling like a million dollars. He felt like a God who had been thoroughly worshipped by a very skilled acolyte. He allowed himself to be further lulled by the sounds of her soft breathing as she slept beside him. He pulled the covers closer to his chin and drifted into a deep and dreamless sleep.

The lithe body turned and studied the peacefully sleeping man. A smirk spread across the angelic face as she allowed her eyes to focus in the dim light of the bedroom. It looked different when somebody was living here, it was something she had noticed on her previous visits. When the whole family were living in the apartment it was filled with energy, an almost hyperactive aura hung over the place. Douglas lent the place an air of lethargy and casual aggression. When empty the place held an almost ethereal calm.

She rose slowly, careful not to disturb his sleeping form. She stood beside the bed and stretched languidly, idly noting the popping as her spin realigned itself. She paced softly to his side of the bed, noting the heavy wooden bat that he kept there for his own protection. Moving beyond him she picked up her bag and headed into the bathroom, pulling the door closed behind her.

Flicking on the light she had to squint so as not to be blinded by the brightness, once she was comfortable she set to work. Pulling out a pair of latex gloves and slipping them on she was ready to pull on a black cat suite, shoes and a hood. She meticulously made sure that no hairs escaped from the hood. Settling the rest of her belongings in the bag she hefted it and walked into the lounge. Scooping up the Champaign bottle and glasses she threw them in with her clothes. Brushing off any hair on the sofa, using adhesive tape, she straightened up and moved to the next room.

Once more in the bedroom she lent over her side of the bed. Once again she removed any hair fibres, also removing as much skin debris as was possible. She straightened the sheets and smoothed the pillow. There was no evidence that she had ever been in the house, let alone in the bed. Now she was finally ready.

She climbed onto the bed, straddling the prone form. Letting her weight rest totally on his stomach. Douglas awoke with a whoosh as all of the air left his lungs with the sudden impact. For a moment he thought he was dreaming until his eye's focused on the dark figure looming over him. He frantically looked around for his bed-mate, worried for her safety when he couldn't see her. He was ready to lung for his assailant when he saw the hooded head shake in censure.

A hand reached over him and came back holding his bat. All of this had happened in moment, leaving him too stunned and bewildered to realise that he should call for help. By the time that his brain caught up with his heart it was too late. He opened his mouth to scream when the bat came down heavily across his skull, breaking his jaw and turning any he scream into a gurgle.

The first blow disabled the man below her, leaving him gasping through the bloody pulp of his mouth and nose. His eyes looked at her pleadingly, his fear palpable in the quite room. The only sound was his breathing and the rustle of the sheets beneath them. Once again she hefted the bat high above her own head before bringing it down with crushing force against his temple, again and again until with a satisfying crunch his skull shattered. In the dim light she could make out the grey matter as it oozed out of his head. He was still breathing shallowly, his body writhing spastically. With one final blow his head totally caved, his body stilling. The room became utterly silent.

Replacing the bat where she had found it, leaning against the wall, she stood carefully. Padding across the floor, avoiding the patches of blood and gore near the bed she moved to her gear. Moving once again to the bathroom she stripped of the black clothing and bundled them into a plastic bag, sealing it before replacing it in her pack. Quickly showering, using a fresh pair of latex gloves, she dressed in the clothes she had arrived in. She skill fully cleaned the shower, then with high heeled shoes in hand she walked to the door. Using the door camera she scanned the empty hallway before slipping out and disappearing back into the night.

**********

“Thank you.” It was said quietly, breaking the uncomfortable silence that hung between them.

“For what?” Francesca turned to look at her companion.

“Um... For letting Shep, I mean Wolf and Phoenix spend the evening together. They were really shaken up about the twins dieing. What with Snake and Savage guarding the house they were starting to snipe at each other a little.”

“It's hardly a chore Hunter, I love my children and sitting on a soft couch outside their room is a pleasure.”

She looked thoughtful for a moment. The two women were still uncomfortable around each other. Hunter's revelation still hung between them and there was still so much that Francesca wanted to ask, but was too afraid to alienate her old friend. When her father found out about Douglas he had been furious. His anger had been focused at the other man, but had almost seeped over at his family. He felt powerless and Francesca could see why. Hunter had stepped into the maelstrom, explaining what she knew to Salvatore and taking the abuse he threw at her. He was angry that nobody had told him about it and Hunter was a scapegoat. Francesca had only allowed that to last a day before she started to open up to her father.

She wanted to have a conversation. “So, Wolf's name is Shep?”

“Actually, it's Mathew and Phoenix is Megan. Savage never lets on about his real name, like me I guess. We don't know why. Snake used to be called Colt, but that was another stage name. He was never given a real name.” Hunter had turned on the couch to face the other woman.

“I don't really understand, weren't Wolf and Phoenix born into slavery?”

“Sometimes the breeders allow the infants to be named by their parents. They then give the baby the company name as a last name. Wolf is Mathew Shepherd, Shepherd Haulers Ltd.”

“Oh.” A pregnant pause. “What were the twins called?” The guilt was clear in her voice.

“They never had a different name. I think they were named after their father. He was called The Bear, made them look small. I saw him fight once, it was all raw power. He got killed about eight years ago.” Even as she spoke she could see the questions swimming in the other woman's eyes.

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Hay, I'm yours.”

“Funny. You don't have to answer this, okay?” On receiving a nod she continued. “I read the literature about you and it said you killed one of your owners, is it true?”

Knowing that a simple yes or no wouldn't be enough Hunter took a deep breath. “Until I was eleven I was a sex slave. All the times that I came back here covered in bruises, they were from servicing men...Well, some of them were from punishment, but mainly they were gained in service. I was used to it, I'd probably still be doing it now, but one day a customer came to the club that my master owned and started to assault one of the maids. She was my friend, so when I saw what was going on I knew I had to help her. I grabbed the handle from a broom she'd been using and hit him in the head as hard as I could. I must have caught a soft spot because I knocked him out cold. Unfortunately I was seeing red and dived on his unconscious body and strangled the guy. He died.”

“What happened to the girl?” Francesca was pretty sure who the maid was, but needed conformation.

“They were going to have me exterminated, killing the free is a big 'no-no'. Jordan, the maid, told them what had happened, but that didn't save me. It was the fact that I had killed him with my bare hands that kept me alive. My master sent me to a gladiator stable so I could still make him money. He knew I was friends with Jordan, so to keep me sweet he let her visit me and made no reprisal against her.”

“What happened to her? If she was free, why did she still work in a place like that? You told me about a girl called Jordan the last time you came home, you said she was four years older. Why was she working?” The questions flew out of her mouth before she could censor them.

“Her mum was a maid, she would come and help her out when she wasn't at school. Mainly the guests left the free girls alone, they were mainly too old for their tastes anyway. Her family had been working for my master for years, that's why they stuck around.” She had to look away from the other woman, letting her eyes drift down to her hands in her lap. “She was my lover, after a while. We loved each other a lot, so even when she could get another job she stayed to be with me. I started a bit of a revolt when I was sixteen. I was idealistic and thought we should be free, it scared the establishment. They tortured me a lot but I just kept on going. I should have stopped, I wish I had every day. They killed her to teach me a lesson. They showed me her mangled body a couple of days after they told me. There was no doubt it was her.”

Francesca found herself once again stunned by the tragedy of the other woman's life. I must not cry reverberated through her mind, she knew that Hunter would not appreciate it. “Is that why you didn't want me to know who you were?”

A bark of mirthless laughter. “That's why I stopped caring.”

“Mama, I need a glass of water!” The sound of Terrance's voice stopped any response Francesca may have made. She looked sheepishly at her companion before she went to fulfil her son's demand.

As she passed through the door to the temporary nursery, she heard Hunter whisper. “Damn you and your kids for making me start again.” Francesca had to stifle a sob on hearing those words. She quickly moved towards her little boy, who seemed to have gone back to sleep.

**********

Sabina let herself into the apartment at ten. She came every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to clean up Mr Rose's home. Considering he had only been home for a few days he had managed to mess up the place quite well. This was only the second time that she had cleaned since he had arrived on Sunday and to her amazement the place looked rather tidy. Knowing that Mr Rose rarely made his own bed she made her way to his room first, ready to start her routine.

Lifting her cleaning supplies in her left hand she reached out with her right to open the door. She pushed it open and headed in. Her forward momentum was halted as she looked at the bed and the carnage that lay around it. There lay Mr Rose, or what she thought was Mr Rose, in a pool of his own blood. The bed was saturated, gore from the head had oozed onto the pillow and the carpet.

Sabina stood transfixed by the horror until her stomach rebelled and she found herself on the floor retching onto the carpet. Once she finished vomiting she ran from the room with the taste of bile fresh in her mouth. The frantic woman rushed to the phone, knocking over a flowerpot in her haste. She dialled the emergency number and waited impatiently.

“This is emergency, which service do you require?” The operators voice was bland and emotionless.

In speech almost too rapid to be understood the cleaning lady relayed what she had found. At once a squad car was dispatched to the scene. Poor Sabina would have to stay with the body until the authorities arrived. The receiver hit the floor with a thud as the young woman feinted.




Chapter Fourteen



She sat with her head in her hands, rocking back and forth. Occasionally she would look out at the water while brushing a stray tear from her cheek. She couldn't stay in the house, it felt too small and the walls were pushing in on her. She knew she should stay for her children, they were scared and crying for a daddy who would never come home. She had calmed them down and put them to bed, but could not watch over them. Her mother seemed to understand and patted her daughters shoulder as she left the room.

She had run from the house to this place, her sanctuary. She knew that it was foolish to leave the house alone, but she couldn't stay. In her shocked state she managed to rationalise her recklessness, the police were crawling all over the estate so she wasn't in danger. It wasn't true, she knew it, the stalker could be anywhere, be anyone yet she had ceased to care. Life wasn't supposed to be this way.

When she was young she had wanted a life like her parents shared. She thought that she had found that with Douglas. When they met she had still been an impressionable teenager and he seemed like a prince charming to match her princess. He was intelligent and funny, he engaged her in a way that nobody had since she was a child. He seemed perfect, so when he asked her to marry him she had jumped at the chance. They had three beautiful children, just like her parents so why weren't they happy? She hadn't worked that out until the threats started coming and now he was dead.

A throat cleared somewhere behind her and she instantly knew that it was Hunter. She felt the fear in the pit of her stomach loosen it's hold on her at the sound. Her protector was here, she would be alright. She didn't turn to the other woman, but remained staring at the calm water.

“Um...I have no idea what to do, but can I sit down?” Hunter seemed hesitant and shy, not something the singer associated with her. Francesca patted the ground beside her and Hunter lowered herself to a cross legged position.

Hunter studied the other woman's profile. She couldn't help but be in awe of the face so close to her own. Francesca was an incredibly gorgeous woman and Hunter was only human. Silently she traced the contours of her cheeks, the dip of her nose, the strong chin that was quivering as her eyes passed over it. Tears slipped slowly over those cheeks leaving their sorrowful trail.

“You really loved him?” It just sort of slipped out before Hunter could stop herself.

Francesca nodded without turning her head. Hunters face screwed up in consternation. How could this rich, successful woman actually love a man who beat her? The thought was totally incomprehensible to her. The idea of the other woman having such strong feelings for the man also troubled her and she couldn't understand why.

“Look I know that it's out of line, but I have to ask this. Why?”

Francesca looked at her for the first time, her eye's bleak. “Why what?”

“Why did you love him, after what he did to you?”

“You're right, you don't understand. He was so kind and loving when we met that I fell in love with him. He was a great husband until the twins came. I had depression and he just drifted away from me. It was really my fault.”

“How can you say that? If he loved you he would have supported you, not hit you!”

“He only did it when he was frustrated. I know he loved me!”

“Well that's alright then!” The sarcasm oozed from her words.

Francesca wanted to lash out at the body beside her. How could she talk about Douglas like this? The man was dead! He had been a good husband and father. She looked at her childhood friend and realised, for the first time that they would never again be the friends that they had been in their youth. Their lives were too different.

“What do you know about love anyway?” She wanted to take the words back as she saw the total agony pass over Hunter's face.

“I know what love is. Love is looking into someone's eyes and seeing your whole future there. It's pain and sacrifice and joy. It's your entire world coming to an end when they're gone...Is that how you feel? Will your world never be the same?” It was the slaves turn to focus on the water.

Francesca thought hard about what the other woman said. Would her world be irrevocably shattered by his absence? She found herself coming to the same conclusion again and again, she would go on. Already she was contemplating her next relationship, whether she would find somebody else and have more children. She found that she could not understand the depth of the other woman's pain even though
she herself was the recently bereaved.

“Is that how you felt about...” For some reason she couldn't bring herself to save the name.

“Jordan? Yeah, I mean we were really young, but you grow up fast when you have to. I haven't felt like a child since I lived here. She used to look at me with this look of devotion on her face that I knew was reflected on mine.” Suddenly realising who she was talking to and what she was saying Hunter clamed up. This did not go unnoticed by the brunette.

Francesca realised how hard this was for her companion. She was strong and stoic, forced into herself by circumstances. She suddenly felt very small and scared sitting with such a strong woman. She wanted to be comforted, but she also wanted to comfort. She hesitantly moved closer to the muscular body and rapped her arm around the strong shoulders. Hunter tensed, her body turning to stone. Nobody touched her, she was not a thing, but this was Chess. As much as she had told the other women that they were not the same, that she did not care for her in that way now, they would always have their time in this place. Francesca needed a shoulder to cry on, she could be that. She wished she'd had one.

Francesca felt the tension ease from the other body and stopped herself form pulling away. As she felt Hunter relax she leaned into her warm body and rested her head on a broad shoulder. Instantly a wave of peace flowed over her, Douglas' death and the threats to her life seemed very far away. She felt herself begin to drift in this safe haven. She gave into the tranquil feelings and began to doze.

*********

Hunter heard the police before they reached the clearing. Not wanting the other woman to be embarrassed by their intimate position she gently shook her awake. Francesca came to with a start, pulling quickly away from the slave and wrapping her arms around herself. Hunter tried to explain but was silenced when three police officers crashed out of the tree line.

“Mrs Rose?” The first uniformed officer said, looking at the singer.

“Yes?”

“Mrs Rose, you need to come to the station and make a statement. We have a car waiting.” He ushered the woman towards him.

Francesca stood and walked towards the uniformed men. Hunter made a move towards her mistress and found herself held back by the youngest if the three cops. Francesca noticed this and motioned with her eyes for Hunter to stay calm. She turned her attention to the officer standing beside her.

“You don't have to restrain her, she'd my bodyguard.”

“We know that, ma'am. Your slave also needs to come for questioning.” His voice was cool and distant. “We really need to go.” He turned and strode into the foliage. Francesca followed at a more sedate pace.

Behind the two retreating figures Hunter found herself forcefully pushed forward by one of the two young me. As she put out her hands to stop her forward motion she found herself grabbed by the shoulders. With an officer on each side she was yanked off of her feet and roughly hauled in the same direction as Francesca who had disappeared out of sight many minutes before. Allowing her body to go limp in their grasp she gave in to the humiliation of being man handled.

With the decline in racism in capitalist countries and the recognition of gay marriage, people's prejudices had become focused in new directions. The ever growing slavery market had produced an underclass who could be treated badly with no recourse. Slaves had become the whipping boys of the world, they could be blamed for negligent actions and beating them was no crime. The worst offenders were not those who owned slaves, they had made an investment. Those who could not afford slaves, the common man, took out their resentment on other peoples property.

The two young officers would never make enough money to live like the Prince family. In ten lifetimes they wouldn't make enough money to own seven slaves. It was human nature. Therefore Hunter was not surprised when she was thrown to the floor just inside the tree line and kicked repeatedly in the ribs. She didn't cry out, this was a pain she was familiar with.

“I saw this one in action once at the arena, not just on TV, it was amazing! Wait till I tell the guys that I got to fight her!” The red haired man looked like he'd just won the lottery.

“This is hardly fighting, Nick.” Even as he said it the dark haired man kept a lookout.

“Yeah, well as I see it, she panicked and resisted us and we had to 'subdue' her.” He looked speculatively at his partner.

“Whatever, you've had your fun. We better get her to the car otherwise they'll come looking for us.” They once again picked her up of the floor and dragged her along. They began to talk over her head, acting as if she wasn't there. “I heard that she used to be a pleasure slave.”

“Nah, look at her! She's built like a tank.”

“She is cute though, Nick.”

The other man's response was cut short as they came within view of the house and the many milling police officers. They quickly moved towards the police car, waiting on the gravel driveway. Nick yanked open the door and the two men all but threw the limp body into the seat. Before she was even settled the door was slammed behind her, leaving her in the car with Francesca.

“That took a while?”

“They were fans.” It was gritted out between clenched teeth.

“I know about that.”

The drivers door was suddenly opened and a uniformed figure positioned them self behind the wheel. With a look in the rear view mirror to check the passengers, the cop turned on the ignition and put the car into gear. With a wave to one of the surrounding officers they were off. Once they were on their way Francesca struck up conversation with the cop. They were laughing and joking like old friend before they hit the road, leaving Hunter in her own cocoon of pain and silence. Francesca simply thought the other woman was nervous and left her alone to bolster her courage.




Chapter Fifteen



Agony shot down her left side, from shoulder to knee, white hot in it's intensity. As she slowly regained her senses she realised that she was in a dull room and that her hands were bound tightly behind her back. She took a deep breath, taking an internal inventory of her injuries as she had been taught to do in years of training. She had broken ribs, they hadn't been as badly damaged when she got into the car. A long gash covered the length of her thigh that steadily oozed blood. Her am was bruised and blackening from shoulder to wrist, but she couldn't feel any broken bones.

Satisfied with the her condition, she could fight if she had to, she turned her attention to the room. Grey light filtered through the bare windows, painting the room in it's shades. The room was empty except for two piles of cloth on the floor. Cloth that Hunter suddenly realised were crumpled bodies. Francesca's face suddenly swam into her cloudy mind and she realised that she had failed to protect her mistress. She tried to focus her eyes on the two lumps, fighting back the nausea that the act caused. She passed her eyes over the first body, draped in a dark uniform and dismissed it. The officer was not her responsibility.

Biting back the pain she inched her way towards the woman in the corner. Pain lanced through her leg as she shuffled forward. In slow motion she reached the younger woman's side and lent over her. For a second she thought that Francesca wasn't breathing and her chest constricted. This could not happen, not to another woman she cared about. She had once loved this woman as a sister and could not fail her.

“Francesca.” She spoke directly into her ear. When she didn't get a response she spoke more loudly while nudging the dark head with her own. This elicited a faint groan from the unconscious woman as she began to come to. She shook her head from side to side before opening her crystal eyes and locking them onto the blue above her.

“What happened?” It came out as a croak, but Hunter understood.

“I was hoping you could tell me. I was in the car, trying not to think about my sore ribs and listening to you and the driver talking. Can you sit up?” Francesca nodded wincing as she did. Slowly she slid up the wall behind her. Her arms were bound in front of her allowing her more comfort than her companion.

“I remember. We were rear-ended by another driver and you were thrown forward, you must have passed out. We polled over and Officer Gross got out to talk to the person who hit us...Then I woke up here.” Francesca thought for a moment. “Why were your ribs sore?”

“The police aren't known for extending human rights to slaves, they were making sure I knew my place, that's all.”

Francesca pulled her eyes away from the odd blue of Hunters and look at the other woman's condition. She let out a gasp as she saw the pool of blood welling up underneath her thigh. As she travelled up the stocky body she took in the huge black bruise covering her arm and another blood stain on the light shirt the slave wore. She looked down at herself and saw nothing more than a few bruises, and possibly a sprained ankle.

“We need to check on him.”

“I'll do it.” The badly injured warrior tried to get to her knees.

“No, I'll do it. You rest, your hurt, I can take care of us...Um, this.” Glossing over her slip she staggered to her feet and moved to the uniformed body.

She knelt beside the body and rolled it over. Officer Gross flopped onto his back limply. Francesca didn't like that at all, she tentatively reached out to his neck and laid her fingers there. She waited and waited, but there was no pulse. With shoulders slumped she moved back to her protector. Hunter looked ashen, sweat was beading on her forehead and her breathing was ragged.

“He's dead. Your not going to die on me too, are you?” It was meant as a joke, macabre as it was, but looking at the other woman it fell flat. “Are you?”

“I'm going nowhere.”

“Where do you think we are?”

“Your admirer's place.”

Francesca was amazed at how calm she felt, she would get out of this. She had to get back to her children. She had to get Hunter to the hospital before she bled to death. “What do you think he wants?”

“I'd have to go with...You.”

“That's what I thought.” Hunter was visibly wilting. “What can I do?”

“My ribs need binding and I need a tourniquet to stop the blood from my leg.”

“I don't have anything.” Hunter weakly pointed at the corpse. “All right. You'll have to talk me through this.”

Half an hour later Hunter was asleep, resting on her good side. Francesca was exhausted from her exertions. Dragging the corpse around and shredding the clothes had taken a lot of effort with bound hands. Hunter was little help; her body was like a limp rag doll. Francesca had never seen her look weak and felt the overwhelming need to protect her.

She decided to watch over the slave, as she had been watched over. She settled beside her and unconsciously started to stroke the damp hair. Touching the sweat soaked head gave her a sense of purpose. Without realising it, she followed Hunter into slumber.

**********

The light streaming down on her woke her up. For the briefest of moments she thought that it would be a dream, that she was laying in her bed with the sun pouring through the window. The throbbing in her ankle quickly dispelled that hope. Tentatively she cracked open her blue eyes, and snapped them closed again. The light shining on her was too intense to look into. She tried to tilt her head away from the beam, but couldn't.

Panic began to race through her. She was restrained, flat on her back. She didn't exactly remember falling asleep, but her last memory of the previous night was sitting against the wall with Hunter. Now she was here, wherever here was. She felt a tickling on the side of her face, like an insect. She scrunched up her nose and wiggled it, trying to dislodge the intruder.

The tickle didn't abate, it became firmer. Rather than tracing above the skin it pushed down, becoming a caress. Francesca's eyes shot open, heedless of the light. She was filled with overwhelming dread. Somebody was standing over her, touching her. She was powerless to get away. The harsh light put the figure looming over her into silhouette, concealing every feature.

Slowly the light was moved to the side, enabling Francesca to regain her sight. She kept her gaze directed at her captor, waiting for the red and white dots to clear from her vision. She regained focus, and found herself looking up into the face of an angel. The woman above her had a halo of blond hair and a sculpted face. Her eyes were large and liquid brown, high cheekbones and full lips lent her ethereal beauty. She seemed so calm.

Then she smiled. Her face turned from angel to devil in the blink of her eye. Malevolence covered her face, shone form those expressive eyes. Her white teeth were bared by the expression, lending her a feral air. Something about the woman was familiar but Francesca didn't know what it was. She did know that she had never seen this woman before.

“Who are you?” Her lips trembled as she forced the words out.

“Well, I'd like to say that I'm your biggest fan. But, honestly I think your work is too cliche. I prefer epic classical music to throw away pop or the rock that you sing.” The blond woman began to pace beside the table. Francesca was able to make other actions from the corner of her eye. “That really doesn't answer your question, though, does it?”

The blond walked away from the prone heiress. Francesca could hear the rhythmic beat of her steps as she was carried further and further away. The captor reached a low table and picked up a remote laying their. With one long finger she pressed the button. With a quiet hiss the restraints holding Francesca loosened and the table tilted up. Francesca found herself in a seated position. Her wrists and ankles were still cuffed to the surface however her head had been released.

From her new position the captive could see around the room. She was sitting in a device that looked very much like a dentist's chair. The chair was located in a well furnished lounge room. The walls were burgundy and cream with sofa's to match and huge viewing screen on the wall. All of this went unnoticed by Francesca as she focused solely on the bloody figure on the floor. The carpet of the room was covered in a clear skin of polythene to keep it clean. At the moment it was being protected from Hunters blood. The stocky slave looked very small as she lay on the floor. She was curled onto her side, in a shallow pool of blood.

“Please, tell me why?” Francesca's voice was pleading. Her fear for herself and Hunter overwhelming.

“I'm a scientist. My parents were scientists. They used to experiment on slaves, actual human test subjects. They invented the technology to make the animal over there stronger, smarter, fitter. I bet you thought that was just natural ability. Selective breeding and steroids. It's all in the genes, my dear. They wanted me to further their research. Trained me from childhood, but I was never really interested in research.” The blond looked contemplative for a moment. “Although I can't deny that I always liked dissection. My interests lay in the mind. How far can a person be pushed. The definitive fight or flight study. I started out with slaves, but then I had an epiphany. How could I get a real reading from captives. I took it to the next level. You are my grand experiment.”

She was standing over the slave now, her eyes fixed on Francesca. “I found the most high profile free citizen that I could. You're perfect; raised in luxury, loved, talented. I met you in hospital, just in passing, while were pregnant with your daughters. That's when I met Douglas.” Francesca still looked confused. “Doug wasn't the same after the twins, was he? He got distant and started to hit you, didn't he? I was manipulating him, for rough sex that man would do anything. Leave him wanting for a few days and he'd lash out at you. You never ran away, or fought back. You were great to study. Then I wanted to see what other responses you'd have.” She kicked Hunter in her injured ribs, hard.

“The threats brought a new dimension to my research. Your extremely strong reaction to the explosion and your children's lives being at risk. You reacted perfectly, until now. Your reaction to Doug's death was unacceptable. It lacked any lustre, yet at the same time was not surrender. I had to intervene, look at you under more clinical circumstances.” Another kick landed. This time Hunter let out a whimper. “You're going to watch while I kill this.”

“Why kill a slave? I can always buy another.” Francesca was trying to think on her feet.

“Don't try to outsmart me, deary. I've been watching you. The two of you have become quite close. Douglas was ranting about her when I saw him last.”

“I have a question?” Obviously engaging the other woman in conversation would slow her down. She had a propensity for exposition.

“Yes?”

“How did you get us here? Officer Gross got out of the car and then I can't remember anything else.”

“I stunned the car with a light pulse. Simple really.”

Francesca could see Hunter's hands twitching. The warrior was waking up and testing her bonds. The second kick must have bought her to consciousness, the pain drawing her to intense to sleep through. If Francesca could keep the other woman talking then maybe, just maybe Hunter could get free. That was the only choice.

“Did you get the cops to beat her?” The other woman looked at the still form and, not seeing any movement, moved back to the heiress.

Brown eyes locked with blue, they studied each other in silence for several moments. “You are quite lovely. Apparently crap in bed, but to look at you each day I think most people would live with that. Douglas was a fool, fortunately for me.” She quickly looked behind her at the body, Hunter still had not stirred. “To answer your question, the beating was a happy accident. Softened her up nicely. I honestly don't think that I could have taken you and her otherwise. I would have had to kill her to get to y...” The sentence was never finished as the blond crumbled to the floor.

“Damn right.” The soft, pained words came from Hunter. She pitched forward onto Francesca as her weak legs and blood loss took over, banishing all adrenaline.

“Hunter? Hunter wake up! Hunter we need to get out of here! Rhani please.” The limp figure looked up.

“Don't cry Chess, I'll make it all better.” Her voice sounded distant and childlike. With jerky movements she un-strapped one wrist before sliding to the floor lifelessly.

Francesca frantically pulled at the buckles on the other restraints. She began to curse as her left leg got caught, fighting hard to free it. Once out of the chair she leaned over the warrior, desperately looking for a pulse. She let out a sigh of relieve as she felt a faint thud under her fingers. Groaning form the other figure on the floor moved her into action. She grabbed one wrist and dragged Hunter as fast as she could from the room. She couldn't even feel the pain in her ankle anymore as she rushed out of the house.

“Stop.” It was so feint that she barely heard it.

“Hunter, what's wrong?”

“We need to know who she is and im...immobilise her.” With great difficulty Hunter broke away from her mistress. “You should leave now. Get out of here, send...send the cops and an amb...ambulance.” Francesca looked like she would refuse. “Just this once let me control my des...destiny.”

Francesca couldn't speak through the lump in her throat. She nodded and headed towards the door. The last thing that she heard before she was out the door would stay with her on the fast drive for help. “You'll always be my Chess. I've always been your Rhani.”




Epilogue



"You're all free now. The paperwork came through this morning. What are you going to do?”

The four former slaves sat in the drawing room with Francesca. Their one-time owner sat in a plush armchair. Beside her on a long coach Mathew and Megan snuggled close together. Snake was cross legged on the floor at their feet. Savage was perched on the window seat, his attention split between the proceedings in the room and the strange allure of the outside world. He was the first to speak.

“I'm going to call myself Larry. I want to head out on my own. I figure Larry Savage, one time warrior can get a good job as a bouncer. See what being free is all about. Live a little.” His usually weasely countenance was softened by his exuberance.

“You sure you can handle that?” Snake looked the other man in the eye. He received a lecherous grin as a response. “Guess so.” The bald man ran a hand over his head before he spoke again. “I'd like to stay here, if I could. I like the house, you're a nice family and the children are fun. I thought maybe I could help in the garden. I like the flowers.”

“Of course you can stay. You can do whatever you want. Garden for now and if you don't like it you can have a new job.”

“Then you can call me Isaac Hassam.”

“A pleasure to have you on staff.” Francesca grinned down at the smiling man. She turned her attention to the couple cuddling.

“In the last few weeks, since the action died down, we've been talking to Salvatore. We're staying too. Thought we'd help open the stables, we're going to help get a blood line and train the horses. We know a lot from the arena.” Mathew looked pleased with himself.

“And we are getting married. Maybe have a couple of kids now that it's allowed.” Morgan pointedly looked at her lover who blushed at missing this information out. “What about you?”

“I'm going on tour. The children are staying here with mama and papa. I'm starting short, just a four week national tour to promote the new album.”

“This is cool, life with a real rock star and a horse breeder!” Isaac looked like a kid in a candy store.

“I haven't had friends in a long time. I like it.” Francesca's smile lit up the room.

“So do we.”

**********

“Stand back! Princess will be available for interviews after the concert!”

They cut a swath through the assembled media towards the waiting limousine. The bodyguard held the door open for the star before turning to survey the crowd. Running a hand through short strawberry hair she let green eye's scan the crowd. Always alert for danger, it was what she got paid for. Satisfied with her inspection she ducked into the dark interior. The door slammed shut behind a leather clad leg.

The car sped towards the next engagement.

THE END

 

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