Part Two

by Anita Louise

copyright 7/98

Chapter Eleven

Pagen and several of the servants watched as the two women hurried through the house. Selean looked at the woman and
said, "Ann must like this one, she is letting her lead her toward the bath."

With a skeptical look on her face Pagen replied, "This one is different, I sense it in the way Mistress Ann looks at her. I have
not seen her look like that since the woman Gabrielle came into her life." She scowled at Selean and added, "No one leads
Mistress Ann anywhere unless she wants to go. I was surprised to see the woman could handle her last night."

Nodding the woman said, "I know, with what has happened to her mother, she was venting her anger and everyone was trying
to keep out of the woman's way. It is sad."

Pagen asked, "What do you mean, sad?"

Sitting on a wooden chair the woman sighed, "What has happened to her mother and now having to live with the thought she
might have to turn herself into this evil man. I would not wish that on anyone, not even an enemy."

Walking toward the woman Pagen said, "You are right, our men were just laid to rest and we saw what this woman Asterea is
capable of doing. I am glad Mistress Ann sent a carrier pigeon to Saxton as well as Gabrielle."

Selean raised her eyes as she gazed at the woman and said, "Do you think they will be able to help?"

Shrugging her shoulders the woman answered, "I don't know, but it is always nice to have friends close by, especially when
there is going to be trouble."

As the two women entered the room, they were enveloped by the fragrance that was rising in the steam as it found its way in
every nook and corner of the room. Sea stood transfixed at the water and then at the room. The last time she had been there,
Gabrielle had been with her and it was leaving an emptiness in her stomach.

Gina smiled as she said, "Come on, best way to rid your body of any toxins and prepare it for what is coming."

Shaking her head, she backed away and said, "I, I can't do this."

Gina had walked toward the water and was leaning over as she placed her right hand in it. Standing up, she turned to gaze at
Sea and asked, "What now? The bath has had fragrances added to the water, tell me what I need to do?"

Walking toward a bench, Sea sat. Her eyes were still transfixed on the bath and the lovely blond that was beckoning her. Gina
shook her head as she walked toward Sea and sat beside the woman. She placed her right hand on Sea's and said, "Tell me,
what is wrong? I can feel there is something."

Turning to gaze at the woman, Sea's words cracked as she said, "It's been awhile . . . "

Raising her head, Gina patted Sea's hand. "I understand, you were here with Gabrielle and this is your special spot. I
will just be an obstacle in your reliving some sort of meeting with this woman."

Standing, Sea frowned down at her. "Oh no, don't go start that stuff. True, Gabrielle and I were here last but that
doesn't mean we can't be. I just need to get a few things straight with you."

The woman's light brown eyes sparkled up at her as she nodded.

Walking away from her toward the bath, Sea said, "You speak of you and your sister bathing together. I have told you before I
am not your sister and I . . . Damn it woman, I don't want to hurt you."

Gina was on her feet and was fast approaching Sea, Her eyes searched Sea's for some hint of what the woman was talking
about. She reached up and caressed Sea's cheek. "You will not hurt me, I know that. Is that why you would never go
to the springs with me?  I always thought it was because you didn't like me."

Reaching up, touching Gina's hand, Sea whispered, "Gods no, I didn't know how you felt. I thought maybe you wanted to be
alone and if I interfered you might get angry."

Stepping toward the tub of water, she reached down and grasped some water in her left hand. Immediately she flung it at Sea
and said, "I think it would have been fun."

Sea reached up and touched the droplets of water that had beaded up on her face and said, "I will try to be a friend, someone
who you will not be afraid of."

Smiling, Gina answered, "You are my friend and no matter how hard you growl or get out of sorts, I still will be. Now, about
that bath."

Sea smiled, as she loosened the cover that was wrapped around her. Watching how easily it fell to the floor she said, "Guess it
is your turn, unless you are going to take a bath in your clothes."

Gina wrinkled her nose at the woman and said, "I'll join you as soon as I get out of these." She was already loosening the
blouse she wore. Smiling up at Sea she said, "Go ahead, I'll be right with you."

It didn't take Sea long to enter the water and as she slowly felt her body ease into it, she sighed, "You are right, the water feels
wonderful." Sitting, she lowered her hands into the liquid and raised them as she let the water fall back into the tub. Sea had
submerged herself for an instant and came up sputtering as she reached up and pushed her hair back from her forehead. She
glanced toward Gina as her eyes transfixed on the beautiful woman that was climbing into the water. Gina let her body fall into
the water as she eased her way toward Sea. Gina reached out and touched Sea's nose with a finger as she said, "Cat got your

Emerald Green's twinkled at the mischievous face that beamed at her as Sea muttered, "No, anyone ever tell you that you are

Shaking her head then thinking about it Gina answered, "I guess my mother did once, no one else. Why would you say that to

Starting to move then thinking better of it Sea answered, "Because you are. Just remember this bath thing is all your idea."

Gina had felt around the bottom until she found the sponge. Bringing it to the surface, she said, "Want me to wash your back?"

Shaking her head, Sea replied, "Can do it myself."

Hurt was evident in the woman's face as she said, "I'm sorry, I should never have asked."

Sea stood, water running down her form. Droplets were setting on certain spots as if they were getting ready to take a high
dive. Gina moved back as she said, "How about you? I bet people tell you all the time you are ravishing."

Realizing she was standing in front of this woman, Sea quickly sit back down in the water and said, "A few, now I suppose you
will think I am full of myself."

Tossing the sponge at Sea, Gina laughed, "No, because I know you well enough to know you would never think that of
yourself. I guess it is pretty hollow coming from me after someone like Gabrielle has told you."

Catching the sponge in her right hand she answered, "What Gabrielle and I have discussed has no meaning here and now. What
is this for?"

Turning around, Gina replied, "So you can wash my back. Unlike you I relish someone doing this for me."

Staring down at the sponge in her hand, Sea pursed her lips and said, "How did your sister do this?"

Turning her head she gazed at the woman, her dimpled smile was radiant as she said, "It's just a back, how do you wash a

Easing toward the woman, Sea whispered, "Like this." She slowly brought the sponge up placing it on Gina's right shoulder.
Gently gliding it across her shoulders then starting down. Gina bent her head and held her blond hair off her back as she said,
"That's a good start."

Sea swallowed several times and felt as if she had caught a large piece of dried bread in her throat. It felt parched as she
coughed several times then said, "If I do anything that is uncomfortable, tell me."

Nodding her head, the woman sighed, "I don't know if you could do anything that would be uncomfortable, your touch is so
gentle. Lena was a lot rougher than that."

Dipping the sponge in the water then placing it high on the woman's back she watched the water run down Gina's creamy skin.
"You never got out much did you?"

Gina answered, "If you mean like you, adventure and all, the answer would be no. A village woman does not go many places.
Is something wrong?"

Sea leaned forward and as her body touched Gina's she whispered in the woman's right ear, "No, your skin is just so light."

Laughing Gina said, "My face, arms and legs have some tan but I never did get out and let my body feel the ray's of the sun on
parts that have been covered."

As Sea sat back, her eyes took in the flawless skin that glistened at her and she thought she saw the muscles in Gina's back
tense as she said, "I am almost finished, your back is easy to wash, the sponge feels right at home on it."

With one hand mapping out Gina's back with the sponge, she gracefully let the other trace the path following it downward.
Softly she let the sponge ease its way down, then crossing the lower part of the woman's back. Gina sighed as she leaned back.
The move surprised Sea and her eyes widened as she felt the woman push her back against her erect nipples. Stammering, Sea
said, "Gi . . . this is . . . "

Shifting and getting more comfortable the woman sighed, "This is heaven. To know you are this close I feel safe and warm."

Sea fumbled with the sponge and finally let it drift away as she placed her hands around the woman's waist and drew her close.
"Then by the Gods, we will stay like this."

Turning her head and gazing up at Sea's compassionate face, Gina whispered, "It has been a long time since anyone made me
feel at peace with myself. Thank you."

Placing her head against Gina's, Sea smiled and said, "Believe me, it is my pleasure."

The warmth of the water and the touch of their bodies caused  instantaneous burning within, which Sea fought silently to
control. Gina sighed, "I will wash your back in a little bit. And I won't take no so get ready."

The touch of this woman was sending signals through her and the thought of the woman touching her, as she washed her back,
was almost too much.

Gina had slipped back into her clothes as she watched Sea wrap the cover around herself once more. "Sorry, I forgot to have
Pagen put out some clothes for you. I hope you weren't too disappointed."

Looking up Sea answered, "Never, I was happy to share the bath. Now, if we are through here, I need to go get something to
wear besides this."

Gina nodded as she said, "Thanks, I feel at peace."

Sea smiled as she held out her right hand and said, "Well, your peace has become my war but I will handle it. Before you go
and say anything it has nothing to do with you, well, it does but not the way you might think. Tell me Gina, have you ever been
with anyone? I mean intimately?"

There was an immediate response as the woman said, "Oh no, I thought if I ever did it would be with my husband, that is, if I
ever decided to marry. It was not foremost in my mind. My sister and I were raised with the background of abstention unless
it's with the one you marry or love."

A deep sound emitted from Sea's throat as she said, "Thought as much. Let's go." They walked to the door then both of them
turned and stared at the sponge that set on the side of the tub. Gina's light brown eyes gleamed at Sea as she said, "If that
sponge could talk."

Laughing as she pulled the woman from the room Sea replied, "Thank heaven it can't. Shall we?"

Pagen watched the two dash up the stairs, the fragrance of the bath lingering in the air. She smiled enjoying the happiness that
shown on the women's faces. She had placed clean clothes for Sea on her bed. She took them to the bath but when she saw
the two enjoying each other's company, she felt it would be best to take them to Sea's room. She wondered what Sea's mother
would think of this woman. Nodding her head, she uttered, "Love her." Turned and walked back toward the kitchen.

Gina watched as Sea walked toward the waiting clothes then said, "I will go down to the kitchen and see what delectable
morsel's Pagen has fixed for the morning meal." Sea had picked up her black leather pants as she said, "I will find you." She
watched Gina turn and leave the room, then she sat on the bed. It took her a few minutes before she heard her own voice as if
far off. "You barely made it past that, from now on Ann Bounty watch your step."

Gina had bounded down the stairs and nearing the bottom she couldn't resist sitting on the rail and sliding down the rest of the
way. As her feet landed on the hardwood floor, she found herself facing Pagen. With a sheepish look on her face she
stammered, "So . . . sor . . . I couldn't resist it."

Trying to keep from smiling and losing the battle the woman said, "Reminds me of Ann, she used to do this all the time. Come,
let me show you what I have prepared for you two to eat."

Nodding, Gina followed the woman and found herself skipping a step. For some reason she was feeling jubilant for the first
time since that terrible day."

Sea was now on her way back down and the woman found herself humming as she took two steps at a time. The bath certainly
raised her spirits and would be all the more wonderful if she wasn't facing Calico and this woman Asterea. Her mother had
never left her thoughts and she was worried. She wasn't sure her worrying was because her mother had been taken prisoner or
for the man that had done the deed. She knew Kiera could hold her own and the woman had put many men to shame with her
prowess. Sighing, she felt all would be all right at least until she made an appearance.

Nearing the kitchen she peeked in and watched Gina listening to Pagen tell the woman about the food. She was deep in thought
and at that moment Sea changed her mind and left the house. It didn't take her long to make her way to the garden. Staring
around at her mother's pride and joy, she smiled. Walking to the large shade tree, she sat on the swing and as her hands held
the ropes, she could see that young woman, laughing as her mother pushed the swing. Sea's words echoed in her mind as she
laughed and cried, "Higher mother, I want to go higher!"

Kiera's look was warm as the woman answered, "I fear you might fall."

The young woman called back as she pumped her legs making the swing move faster, "I never fear falling because I will always
have you there to catch me."

One of the servants had walked past, leading a horse as he called out, "Good day to you mistress Ann."

This brought her mind back to the present as she waved at the man. Slowly she began to pump her legs as the swing began to

"There you are." Gina's cheery words rang out.

Sea slowed the swing as she smiled at the woman and said, "Don't ever tell anyone you saw Ann Bounty being a child again."

Grinning the woman answered, "Your secret is safe with me. Come on, food is ready."

 Chapter Twelve

There was a soft wind blowing across the land. The leaves on the trees were rustling, their sounds were like a musical aria. The dark-haired woman had been sitting on the ground, her eyes watching her friend. Gabrielle had been performing several thrusts and lunges as she made the sword in her hand talk to the breeze. Finally the woman called out, "Hey, time to take a break. I believe you when you tell me you can handle a sword. It certainly wasn't my teaching."

Gabrielle was in the middle of a circular motion as she stopped what she was doing. Gazing toward Xena she answered, "You would have gotten around to it." She slipped the weapon into a sheath at her waist and started toward Xena. As she neared, the woman tossed her a water skin and said, "Drink, after all that exercise, your body could use it."

Catching it she walked toward a fallen tree and sat on it. After taking several sips she turned her attention to Xena and said, "When do you plan on going?"

Getting to her feet the woman walked toward her. "In a day or two. I have said it before, you will not be going." She had sat beside Gabrielle.

Placing the water skin in the woman's lap, Gabrielle answered, "And I have already told you, I am going." Changing the subject, she gazed around at the beautiful forest and said, "The animals here all know how to live in peace, too bad mortals can't get along as well."

Grinning, Xena said, "Even in the forest, there lurks evil. If it were up to you, this would be a loving world."

Her blue green eyes staring into Xena's light blue's she said, "Just think about it, instead of wanting to cut someone's heart out, you would want to render all good things."

Sighing the warrior said, "It cannot be, there will always be someone that wants more and will do whatever it takes to achieve this. It will be people like you, lead the people to the light if that is all possible. Have I ever told you just how special you are?"

Placing her right hand on Xena's she answered, "You have, and even when you try to act as if you don't care, I know better. It has been a long journey. The patience you have shown by letting me tag along with you and Argo. After all, you were used to conquering and not many got in your way at least for long. So I am happy the fates allowed me to travel with you."

Xena's translucent blue eyes held warm overtones in them as she said, "And I am happy you did not let my barking chase you away. Gabrielle?"

Her face full of wonder as she gazed into Xena's and asked, "What."

Grasping Gabrielle's hand and holding it tight the woman searched for the words. They stayed like that for several seconds and Xena finally said, "I want you to know these last years since you joined me, have been the best years of my life. Even though it may seem at times, I don't care, I do."

Gabrielle stared at the hold Xena had on her hand as she placed her other one on top of it. Softly caressing the back of Xena's hand with hers. Slowly raising her eyes to meet the woman's she said, "I love you Xena and always will. You are the reason I want to wake each day. The thought of seeing you fills me with happiness. With you I have found a new reason to live. Because even if you don't say it, I know you care. I will not tell you I am not hurt over the young man at Diana's but I will get over it."

Xena released Gabrielle's hand and now placed her hand on the woman's cheek. Her touch was tender. "As the Gods are my witnesses, I pledge my love to you and if I should ever veer away again be it some sort of blunder, you have every right to do whatever to this body."

Gabrielle felt her face moving against Xena's caress as she said, "I just might take you up on that." Pulling back, she said, "I believe our exercises are helping, do you realize you just touched me and didn't pull away?"

Reaching out she placed a hand behind Gabrielle's neck and said, "I feel more like myself each day. I know it has been because you have been so patient with me."

Before Gabrielle could speak, Xena leaned forward and placed a soft kiss on the woman's lips. And when she pulled away, she smiled at the look Gabrielle was giving her and said, "Your lips are soft and warm, and I thank the Gods for each day I wake with you also."

Taken aback at the woman's words, Gabrielle leaned backward as she said, "You have rendered me speechless."

Holding out her right arm Xena said, "Then let me hold you if only for a short time."

Easing her way into the woman's embrace, she sighed, "I could stay like this forever."

Placing a soft kiss on Gabrielle's forehead, Xena whispered, "Would it could happen, but, your hunger would win out."

Gazing up at Xena, Gabrielle murmured, "Is it my hunger for food you are speaking of or my undeniable hunger to love you?"

Xena laughed, "Both."

Later when the two were back in the cavern, Gabrielle had started a small fire and put a pot of water on too warm. Xena had been checking the supplies and when she was finished she walked toward Gabrielle and said, "I was serious out there, I would not have gotten this far without your help."

Smiling up at her from where she was sitting, Gabrielle said, "Ever stop to think I would not be where I am without yours? Anyway I'm happy to see you are feeling better."

Xena had sat close by the woman as she cut in, "Better, but not well. Sorry I still cannot bring myself to display full affection."

Gabrielle's eyes traveled the woman's form and came to rest on her bottomless blue eyes as she said, "You have done well, you touch me and I have been able to touch you. Maybe not like it should be but it will come. Xena, we have had such a loving life together, some pirate and a woman named Asterea will not take that away from us. If I have to hunt the woman down and bring her to her knees to show you she is just mortal."

"I think it was always that spark of temperament that caught my eye. Back when that man was trying to hold you, he really never knew what a firecracker he had in his hands."

The smile lit up Gabrielle's face as she said, "You were the fire that packed a loud wallop. Your hands, feet, a body that moved in so many ways I was awe-struck."

Tossing a rolled blanket at the woman, Xena laughed, "I was taken by you and now you tell me you were in awe of me. It makes me feel . . . " she was rubbing her stomach as she continued, "feel as if something has moved through my insides sending these wondrous sensations."

They sat each gazing at the other and Gabrielle broke the silence as she said, "Water is probably ready, want some tea? No powder, just tea."

Nodding, Xena lay back on the blanket and said, "The fates have been kind to us. There have been times I thought we would not live to see the other and yet, here we are."

Crawling toward the woman, she stopped as she neared. Holding the mug in her left hand she said, "Here, it is hot so be careful."

Sitting, Xena took the mug and as her fingers touched Gabrielle's she said, "Hot is how I remember it."

The look the woman was sending to the bard made Gabrielle sit back as she asked, "Tea? Are you speaking about the tea?"

Blowing on the beverage, Xena raised her eyes to meet Gabrielle's and said, "That and . . . " hesitation in her voice as she continued, "a beautiful young village woman and a cantankerous old warlord."

Shaking her head, Gabrielle said, "Old you are not. You are speaking of times long gone. For I am not that young naive village woman and you have mellowed. I mean lately you have had your moments but these are not your fault. We both know there has to be something else at work here and if I had to make a guess I would say it might have something to do with Ares."

Shaking her head, Xena said, "Can't blame everything on the man, though he has done his share of causing trouble. I think maybe Ares has finally realized I will not go back and do his bidding." Her eyes lit up as she gazed at Gabrielle and said, "I only want to do yours. I know in time it will happen for us again."

Nodding, Gabrielle said, "You are right and each day we are closer to achieving what we had."

Free was making noises and both women stared toward the cage. They could now see the bird seemed disturbed by the new pigeon that had made its way to the cage and was perched on it. Getting to her feet Gabrielle started toward it, followed by Xena.

As they neared, Gabrielle reached out and removed the parchment from the bird's leg and said, "The red collar, it is one of Sea's. I wonder why she sent another?"

Looking just as surprised as Gabrielle, Xena answered, "Don't know, let's see what she is up to, maybe she is coming for a visit."

Holding the parchment in her left hand, she stared at Xena and said, "How would you feel about that?"

Shrugging, Xena said, "It would be nice, haven't really been able to thank the woman and though you try to hide it, I can see the glow in your eyes. Admit it, you would like to see this woman again."

Thinking over her answer as she stared down at the parchment she finally said, "Yes, I would like to see her again. Like you, Sea has found a place in my heart. You know that Xena it is no secret."

Reaching out she placed her left hand on Gabrielle's and said, "It is all right with me. I know the bond you two have and still I feel a strong connection to Ann Bounty. So yes I will be happy to have her come visit."

Gabrielle looked away then brought her eyes back to Xena as she said, "Things have not been easy for you, maybe this might not be a good time."

Laughing, Xena said, "We don't even know if that is what she is up to or not. If you are worried Ann and I might end up in a fight, forget it. I do not fight with the woman that has saved my life twice."

Gabrielle began to unroll the parchment as she said, "Even if you were to find out we had been intimate."

Xena's face changed as the muscles in her jaw began to move. She glanced up then brought her eyes back down and as she looked at Gabrielle she said, "I would want to know what brought this about. Then I would ask you to search your heart for the answer that lies within." Placing her left hand on Gabrielle's shoulder she managed a smile and said, "I would not challenge the woman. It would be like fighting myself and I have done this before, remember the dreamscape?"

Nodding, Gabrielle said, "I remember it well."

"So, love of my life, if Ann Bounty is where you wish to be, I will not do anything to prevent it."

At a loss for words, Gabrielle began to stammer, "It--you would just let us go at it and not care?"

The woman's fingers gripping Gabrielle's shoulder a little harder as the woman answered, "I never said I wouldn't care. Now want to tell me what brought this on?"

Gabrielle looked at the scribing on the parchment and said, "It was in Tunis, when Sea and I were masquerading as man and woman. One of us posed as a concubine."

Xena's eyes lit up as she asked, "Concubine, which one of you was the courtesan?"

Her words were slow as she replied, "Sea."

Walking away then turning, Xena said, "Let me get this right, you . . . " She pointed to Gabrielle as the woman nodded. "you were the man and this voluptuous woman was yours?"

Nodding once again as she answered, "It was a ruse, the only way we could get into the city. They had someone watching the room, this picture on the wall, the eyes moved and very late the evening before we freed you, I returned to the room. Sea was waiting and whispered we were being watched. Not wanting to blow our cover and end up at Calico Jack's hands, we had
to . . . "

Holding up her hands, Xena said, "Enough, I've heard enough. So you and Ann Bounty, had relations that evening. Tell me was she, or should I say were you, good?"

Gabrielle was becoming flustered and wished she had never mentioned it to the woman as she said, "It just happened. We were acting that was all."

Xena smiled, "Acting, I have heard it called a lot of things but never acting. You forget even though we have not been able to make love since our return, my mind still holds the visions of what we once did. You, my dear, are the most warm, loving individual I have ever known. Once you become aroused, and I have no doubt this woman aroused you. You would have to be dead and then her beauty still might find a way to reach you. Your love grows like a wild fire, possessing everything in its path. I am very fortunate."

Raising her left eyebrow, Gabrielle asked, "Fortunate why?"

"That two would go so far to see I was freed. And fortunate to know a woman like you."

Gabrielle looked at Xena for some sign as she said, "You are not mad?"

Xena quickly answered, "It does not make me happy to know you and Ann have been this close. But, if you hadn't, I would not be having this conversation with you right now. It is all right."

Gabrielle sighed as she said, "You amaze me, there would have been a time you would have taken a person's head off for this."

Xena cocked her head to the right as she said, "Ah, but there was none I loved like I do you. What does Ann say?"

Gabrielle handed the parchment to Xena and said, "You read it."

Xena's eyes gazed at the scribing as she read out loud, "Xena, Gabrielle, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but something has happened and I wanted to let you know. Mother has been taken prisoner by Calico Jack's, second in command, Asterea." As Xena spoke the woman's name, her voice froze.

Gabrielle took the parchment and read the rest of the message and when she was through she said, "I will go, Kiera is like a mother to me and to think of the woman being in that man's hands . . . "

Xena took the parchment and finished reading, as she said, "His hands are not anything to the woman's. This is not good. And you will not go alone. I have a score to settle with this woman as well as the man."

Gabrielle thought for a second then said, "There will be enough to go around. Xena, his place is well guarded, a lot of men and women. He will be even more guarded now. It will be hard to infiltrate Tunis and definitely not as easy as it was before if you could even call that easy."

Xena had taken several steps as she said, "Nothing is easy, we will find a way. Sea has been there for us both and we will not let her down now. You know I was going to go back anyway, this time it will be with all of us. Send her a reply, tell the woman we will meet her near the Amazon village."

Nodding her head, Gabrielle said, "Sea knows how long it will take us on Argo to make the trip there. I'll scribe the message."

Xena watched the woman as she scribed the words and when she was through Gabrielle turned to her. "Want to read it?"

Shaking her head, Xena answered, "No, just send it."

After the pigeon had left, Xena turned to Gabrielle and said, "Let's go have some tea."

Gabrielle smiled as she followed the woman toward the cheery fire.

After the two had sat back down, Gabrielle poured Xena a fresh mug of tea. Then she poured herself one and said, "Xena, I only told you about Ann and me because I don't want any secrets and if I had not told you it would have seemed to have been."

Taking a sip of tea, Xena replied, "I am grateful, grateful to know that after that and all the two of you have shared, you are still with me."

Managing a smile Gabrielle said, "I look forward to the day, you return fully, I want so badly to make love to you, to have you love me. I can't help it Xena, one never misses what they never had but we have had each other in the most delightful ways and I miss it. Do you think you would ever be able to tell me what happened with this Asterea?"

Gabrielle wished she could have reached out and taken the words back as Xena jumped to her feet throwing the mug across the room. She stared down at Gabrielle and cried, "Never, and I don't want you to go with me. I will not even take a chance you might become--in the woman's custody."

Gabrielle was standing as she said, "Throwing the mug and breaking it will not help anything, but telling me what happened to you might. If I can understand, I might be able to help you more."

Frowning the woman scoffed, "Then understand this, I don't want your help, not in understanding this. I can't understand it and would never expect to see you even try. You will stay here!"

Shaking her head, Gabrielle said, "I won't and if you leave me, I will just follow on foot. We both know, I may not be as tall as you but my legs are strong and I can cover a lot of ground."

Throwing up her hands Xena walked over and began to pickup the pieces of the mug. "Sorry, you are right, throwing the mug and breaking it is not going to help me. If you are going to be so bull headed, then I would rather you were with me than out on the trail somewhere by yourself. Not that you can't handle yourself but this way I can keep my eyes on you."

That evening after the two had returned from the springs, Gabrielle turned to Xena and said, "The spring has been wonderful almost since the day we found it."

Xena walked toward a wooden trunk, pulled out two shifts and said, "Except for that thing that Ares sent to disturb us." She handed a shift to Gabrielle and continued, "Was quite a sight, you sitting up top it's head."

Laughing as she took the shift she said, "And you down there asking me, 'what I was going to do, talk it to death?'"

After they had pulled the shifts on over their heads, Xena said, "We have had some interesting times. Want to try sleeping in the bed?"

Gabrielle stared at their large bed then back at the woman as she said, "Xena we haven't been back there since . . . "

The woman smiled as she reached out and took Gabrielle's left hand in hers. "Then it is time we did. We have so much ahead of us and most of it dark, chances of our coming out of this alive are not good. I want to feel you by me for what time we have left."

Following the woman as they walked toward the bed she said, "Xena, you don't have to do this."

Turning to face Gabrielle, Xena smiled as her left hand caressed her face, "I know I love you and you me, if nothing else we can sleep knowing we are close."

Grinning, Gabrielle replied, "And you won't send me across the room if my hands stray during the night."

Pulling Gabrielle toward the bed, Xena said, "No, I promise. I want to hold you in my arms, feel your heart beating and know we have one another. We may not get many more nights like this at least for a long time. I love you, I don't want to spend this night alone."

Gabrielle sat as she crawled across the bed and said, "All right, then let's see if this bed still holds all its mystical powers."

Xena sat as she turned and said, "There is no time like the present, come here you." She was laying on her side as she stared at Gabrielle, her arms outstretched and the woman found her way there instantly. Their bodies touching as Xena stroked Gabrielle's strawberry blond hair, her fingers tracing a path across the woman's face, slowly bringing Gabrielle's head down as their lips met. The touch was sweet as they caressed one another and Gabrielle sighed, "If we go no further, this is heaven."

Chapter Thirteen

As the longboat neared the ship, Kiera had noticed a lantern hanging on its bow reflecting in the water. There was some fog that seemed to envelop the bay. She was wearing a pair of dark brown breeches, and thankful at that. The woman had planned on taking a horse and searching for her daughter but when these people invaded her home, all thoughts of that had vanished. She knew the pants would become practical when climbing onto the ship's deck. She felt a chill and wasn't sure it was from the coolness of the night air or because she was in the position she now found herself and Alexia to be in. Knowing what Ann had recently gone through and now this. She loved her daughter with the last breath she would take of her own life and did not want to see the woman walk back into Calico Jack's domain.

As the men pulled the boat close to the ship it didn't take them long to tie it off. The tall woman was now standing, her dark eyes showed no sign of feeling as she ordered, "Get onboard, no heroics, I'd as soon run you through as your precious daughter!"

Standing, Kiera almost equaled the woman's height, her eyes glared into Asterea's as she said, "I will do this only because you have Alexia but the time will come when you will regret this act of skullduggery. I thought pirates lived under a code? What you are doing is treachery."

Tossing her head, the woman's long brown hair seeming to be confused as it shifted but the tangles, that had settled in it, kept the hair from flowing easily. A cruel smile curved her lips as she said, "You speak of treachery, your daughter is the one that has been treacherous and by the Gods, she will pay." She was pointing toward the rope ladder as she continued, "Let's get onboard, shall we?"

The minute Kiera's boots touched the deck, she knew there was sand spread on the planking. After they all were onboard, Asterea gave the men orders and as they walked away she said, "Now you two continue straight on. I'll be right behind you."

Kiera asked, "Where are you taking us?"

"Below, there is a narrow passageway down to the cabin. Be thankful I am not putting you both in the cargo hold."

Alexia followed close behind Kiera. Her eyes had been taking in all the surroundings she managed to see from the light that the moon was sending down on the water.

The passageway was lit by a few lanterns that hung in different positions along the walls. Alexia called out, "Stop, this is your room."

Kiera watched as the woman brushed past Alexia and her, stopping at a door the woman opened it. Her smile crooked as she said, "There you go ladies, your room. I'll be back later to make sure you are all tucked in nice and safe." She laughed as Kiera and Alexia stepped into the small compartment. And when the door shut behind them, Alexia rushed to Kiera and said, "Are you all right, I worry so, that woman is not to be trusted."

Staring around the small room, Kiera's eyes surveyed the two berths that seemed to be set into the side of the ship. Alexia placed a hand on Kiera's shoulder and said, "I'll take the top, unless you want it?"

Shaking her head the woman took several steps before she said, "Why? Why did you volunteer to come?"

Managing a smile the woman answered, "I would not see you take such a journey alone."

Walking back over to the woman, Kiera smiled as she softly said, "Always thinking of me, I will see you are well paid. I fear your stepping into this was not a good idea but I am grateful."

Alexia replied, "The only payment I want is to see you back at Spoon Island, and this whole incident forgotten."

Walking toward the lower berth, Kiera sat as she said, "I fear this is only the tip of what is coming."

Asterea was standing at the helm, she had spoken to several of the men and was now staring at the fog as it rolled past. Footsteps were coming up behind her and in an instant the woman whirled sending her right foot into the soft stomach of the man as he doubled over clutching it. He would have hit the floor except she reached out and grabbed the back of his shirt and brought him to his feet. "You fool, did you forget there was sand on the floor? What are you doing sneaking up on me like that?"

The man tried to see the woman's face through the fog and finally gave up as he said, "I only wanted to ask if you wanted to be relieved?"

Releasing the hold she had on him, Asterea answered, "Yes, take over and next time, say something or it might not be a boot that finds its way to your soft belly." Turning she strode away.

As she entered her cabin, she removed the belt that hung around her waist. Staring down at the cutlass that hung from its scabbard she placed it on the wooden table. Reaching out she found a bottle of port. Then searching for a mug, she poured some into it and took a long drink. The lantern that hung on the near wall was giving off a warm glow as she sat on the bed and began to remove her boots. Pulling the leather blouse from the waist of her pants she quickly pulled it off and tossed it toward the wooden chair.

Taking another drink, she walked toward the porthole and gazed out. There was a reflection of the moon's rays as they set in the fog but not much else and soon turned her attention to the bottle of port. When she had finished the bottle, she began to remove the pants. Her body was hot and all she wanted to do was rid herself of the trappings people felt they needed to wear. Asterea always thought they were a nuisance and would much rather have worn nothing.

She just couldn't figure out where to hide all her little toys without the clothes. Once the pants were properly laid to rest on the floor, she stared at her clothes. She stared at the boots and the daggers that were discreetly hidden in the left side of each one. The pants that had compartments sewn into them, each pant leg held the small razor sharp discs she loved to throw. Now staring at her right wrist, she smiled as her left hand caressed the small dagger that was strapped to it. Her leather shirt hid it well.

There was a knock on the cabin door as she called out, "Who is it and what do you want?"

Her first mate, Nathaniel's voice called back, "It's me, I have brought the woman Kiera and the other."

Cursing, she scrambled to get back into her clothes as she called out, "Just a minute."

It didn't take the woman long to get dressed and as she hopped around trying to get the last boot on she called, "Come in."

The women entered the room as she pulled the boot up and stood. Walking toward her cutlass, she drew it from its scabbard and said, "Forgot I had asked to have you brought here." Pointing the blade toward the bed she said, "Have a seat, ladies, I need to talk."

Kiera and Alexia approached the bed, both had been eyeing the woman as they sat and watched. Asterea pulled out the wooden chair and sat, straddling it. Placing both hands on the back of the chair she moved the cutlass easily as she said, "How long do you think it will take before your daughter gets the message?"

Kiera's eyes watched the woman cautiously as she replied, "I don't know, Ann has been gone for sometime. Before you so rudely interrupted me, I was going to go search for her."

A sadistic smile formed on the woman's lips as she said, "It will be too bad for you, if she doesn't return."

Kiera glared at the woman as she said, "Why must you all think that Ann would give herself up for me? I hope I have taught her well enough to know her life is worth much more than mine."

Standing she tossed the chair backwards. Asterea's stance was menacing as she snarled, "You had better hope she does, because things I have planned are not pleasant."

Kiera was standing as she set her face and said, "I am not afraid of you if that is what this attempt to intimidate is all about. I am not afraid to die either. My daughter will not just walk into your trap!"

Stepping up to her, Asterea held the tip of the cutlass against the woman's throat as she growled, "I see no fear in your eyes." Suddenly she turned the blade toward Alexia and said, "But, what if I cut off her ear?"

Kiera reached out and pushed the blade away as she said, "Stop these theatrics, it will get you nowhere. Now, if you are finished, we want to go back to our room."

Smiling Asterea said, "Oh you can go back but I want your little friend to stay for a while." She bellowed for the man and in seconds he was in the room. "Take her highness back to the room. This one will stay for a while."

Kiera looked at Alexia and the woman said, "Go ahead, I can take care of myself."

It was plain to see she did not want to leave the woman there but as the man's hands grew rough on her arms, she went with him.

After Kiera had been led from the room, Asterea turned her attention to the young woman that was watching every move she made. "You look like a smart woman, what are you doing hanging around with the likes of her?"

Jumping to her feet Alexia said, "You wouldn't even make a speck of dirt under her feet. She has been through a lot more than you might ever realize. Do not take her lightly!"

Laughing at the woman's mettle Asterea said, "She certainly has you in her corner. Tell me what is your connection to the woman? You didn't want to see her taken alone, what is your tie to her?"

Alexia answered, "I work for her and she is like family to me."

Snarling, as her upper lip twisted across her face, she bellowed, "Work for her? Are you daft? A servant, cares for her owner?"

"It's not like that, I work for her and with her. She treats me as family, I love this woman and will lay down my life for her. She does not own me, my life is my own and I can come and go as I please."

Walking toward the porthole, Asterea said, "Lay down your life, humph, you just may do that." Turning she sliced the cutlass through the air then said, "I have need of a little entertainment, thought you would fit the moment."

Hands on her hips, Alexia glowered at the audacity of this woman as she said, "Not hardly, if your libido needs tending to, call one of your men. I'm sure they can satisfy you if not sexually, in a way I am sure you are used to dealing out punishment."

Taken aback at this woman's words, she scowled, "You seem to know a lot about me, yet, I don't know you. How do you come with this realization?"

Alexia shrugged her shoulders as she said, "Anyone who looked at you could see the desire in those cold eyes and it is either, for sexual pleasure or just the pleasure you will feel as you dish out pain. Though you might mistake it for love."

Deftly moving her cutlass through the air she let it come to rest on the top button of Alexia's blouse as she said, "Enough of this useless talk, it is time I see what you are hiding under here." With several quick flicks of the blade she severed the buttons from the garment and as they scattered along the floor, she deftly moved the blade brushing the material back. The woman's eyes grew wider as she stared at the full breasts that were now exposed. Alexia didn't move, her eyes never leaving the woman's and it was then Asterea saw the leather pouch that hung from the woman's neck. Reaching out she grabbed it and jerked the leather free from Alexia's neck and as she gazed at the pouch she asked, "What is this?"

Raising her eyebrows, Alexia said, "It is what you think."

Carefully opening the pouch she stared at the fetishes inside then quickly closing it she said, "Pick up your buttons, I'll have Nathan take you back to the cabin."

Scurrying around the room, Alexia found the buttons and as she stood she said, "Then this is over?"

A calm had set on the woman's face as she said, "Yes, for now. Though I just might tempt your witchcraft at some time for a taste of those." She had run her right hand across the woman's breasts as she handed the pouch to her and said, "Take this but understand one thing, this may be your practice, it is not mine. I will let you go for now but mark my words, this is not over."

She called the man and when he appeared she told him to take the woman back to their compartment."

After they left, in a fit of anger and frustration she threw the cutlass sending it deep into the wooden wall. Pacing back and forth she found she was more pent up then before. She went to the door and called for Nathaniel once more. When the man appeared, she said, "Are you up for it tonight?"

His blue eyes took in the woman's form as he said, "With you, I am always up for it."

She smiled and said, "Then tell Baily to take the watch because as pent up as I am at this moment, it will take you the rest of the night if not longer to satisfy the need in me."

Nodding, he said, "I will go tell him, be right back."

She watched the man hurry away, a slow smile finding its way across her face. Nathaniel was a virile man, handsome, with muscles that just kept going. His technique had improved greatly since she had taken him under her supervision and there was not anything the man could not do. He wanted to please and she enjoyed letting him. At first he stumbled trying to find the way to please her and she took his hand in hers leading him along a path they both would soon come to relish.

Finding another bottle of port she began to drink from the bottle. Anger was crawling throughout her body, she kicked at the table as she shouted, "Damn woman! You had what I wanted but not enough to go against witchcraft!" Taking a longer drink she then set the bottle on the table and began to remove her clothes once more. The night was young and if Nathaniel didn't return soon, she felt she would burst. The door opened as the man entered, closing it he smiled at the form of the woman and said, "Every time I gaze at your body, it becomes more beautiful."

Walking toward him she said, "Let's get those clothes off, I want to look at you."

Kiera was sitting when the door opened and Alexia was pushed into the room. She jumped to her feet and ran to her as she said, "Are you all right? She didn't . . . "

Though she was gripping the front of her blouse together she said, "It's all right, she didn't. It was in her mind set but she stopped when she saw this." Holding up the leather pouch in her left hand she said, "Guess this woman is not too fond of witchcraft. Lucky for me."

"Come sit, tell me what happened and take the blouse off, I will sew the buttons back on for you."

Alexia smiled as she said, "I can do it."

Patting the woman's hand with her own, Kiera said, "I know you can, but I have need to do something and this will help. You can put that back around your neck. Now, give me the blouse."

Smiling as she easily slipped from the garment she said, "Here, these are the buttons. She cut them from the blouse so quickly with that sword of hers, I had little time to even know it was coming."

The two women walked to the berth and sat, Kiera searched for a needle and some sewing material and upon finding none she said, "Hold this over you, I will go get some."

When she tried the door, it was locked so the woman began to hammer on it. Finally it swung open as a man asked, "What is going on in here?"

Kiera was not intimidated by his look as she said, "I have need of a needle and sewing material."

He laughed, "Lady, I have need of a lot of things, it doesn't mean I will get them. Go back to whatever you were doing."

She grabbed his right arm and said, "I was getting ready to sew some buttons back on a blouse. Now, do me the courtesy of getting me the needle and material."

He reached up and grasped her hand in his as he bent it back and said, "Only the captain gives me orders."

Just as quickly, Kiera stomped on his right foot and within seconds, she had tossed the man to the floor. Staring down at him she murmured, "About the needle, or do we need to go get your captain?"

He shook his head as he said, "No, no I'll go get it."

She laughed as she watched the man hurry away. He had forgot to lock the door and she quickly looked out to see if they could escape. Walking toward the stairs leading topside she could see that door was closed and she was sure it was locked. Still she tried it and found she was right, sighing she headed back to the cabin and Alexia.

Entering the room, Alexia started toward her and said, "That was a fool hardy thing you just did. The man could have run you through with his cutlass."

Patting the woman on her shoulder, Kiera replied, "Not hardly, he expected a sniveling woman, he knows better now. I have no doubt this will make its way to the woman."

Alexia seemed concerned as she said, "Mistress, I worry about your safety."

A reassuring smile on her face, the woman said, "No need I can handle myself, besides, I have you here to protect me."

Laughing, Alexia said, "Some protection, I stand here covering my breasts while you put the man to the floor. You and your daughter are so alike."

Heaving a sigh, Kiera said, "I only hope my daughter has enough sense to stay away from Calico Jack and this woman. I do not even want to think what could happen to her."

Alexia retorted, "Knowing Mistress Ann, she will not let this go unpunished. Her first thoughts will be to see you freed."

Clucking her tongue against the roof of her mouth the woman said, "I pray you are wrong. I will not be a catalyst for my daughter's torture and pain." Gazing at Alexia she added, "don't call me mistress, the name is Kiera and would be best suited here." She raised her right hand and placed her fingers on the woman's chin as she said, "I am no way your mistress."

Alexia brought her eyes down toward Kiera's soft touch as she said, "I know, I just feel better when I say it."

Kiera leaned forward and placed a tender kiss on the woman's forehead as she said, "You do what you feel you need. For me, Kiera is fine, we both have been through a lot and I wouldn't know what to do if you were not by my side."

The woman's eyes were warm as she murmured, "Always, until you tell me to leave."

Walking away, Kiera said, "Then it will never happen. Come sit, while we wait for that oaf of a man to bring the materials."

It was mid day when Asterea found herself waking to the sounds of water splashing against the hull of the ship. She was sprawled across the bed on her stomach. Rolling onto her back, she groaned, her body ached and as she stretched, the memories of a wild night of passion crept back into her mind. Nathan had done his part well, there wasn't a spot on her body that she could not feel the fervor this man had vented.

Smiling to herself she sat up, her eyes staring down at her body, she knew if she looked like this, he must be quite a sight. Getting to her feet, she found her clothes and after donning them went on deck. Glancing around for Nathaniel she spied him near the bulwark and strode toward the man. He looked up when he saw the woman approaching. A twinkle in his eyes he said, "Good day, I trust you slept well."

 She pursed her lips and said, "Very, how about you?"

 His eyes took in the woman's shape as he said, "Like a baby."

She looked around at the other men, they were all going about their own business as she said, "You are getting better. When you have a moment, I want the woman Kiera brought to the cabin." He nodded as she turned and walked back toward the stairs.

Chapter Fourteen

Kiera had been watching Alexia as she said, "It is good, you brought the pouch. I am surprised this woman paid any heed to it."

Alexia was standing as she walked toward the woman and said, "Here, let me put this around your neck."

Reaching up to stop the woman, she replied, "No need, she is smart enough to know it is yours."

A worried look settled on the woman's face as Alexia said, "I am concerned after last night, the woman will harm you."

Smiling Kiera said, "Don't be, I am not afraid of her and she will not harm me at least until they have Ann in their hands. I only hope my daughter knows better."

Patting Kiera's left hand, Alexia said, "We both know that is just wishful thinking. Ann is probably on her way or has plans in motion. She will not set back and let this happen."

Heaving a long sigh, the woman walked away as she said, "I fear you are right, but, I still worry. We both know this man will not let Ann live. If not for me, my daughter would be sailing the ocean."

Alexia approached the woman, reached out and grasped her right arm as she turned Kiera to face her and said, "If not for you, Ann wouldn't even be in this world. You have been there for her always and she loves you. It is not your fault this has happened. Ann has had problems with Calico for a long time. We both know just recently she did battle with the man again. This time not only defeating him in front of his people but also freeing Xena. It was bound to happen sooner or later."

Kiera bit at her lower lip as she said, "It doesn't make me feel any better. For the longest time I have been worried about Ann's profession. When Gabrielle came into her life, she changed. It is good to know she is not the person she was. Oh, I know, she has always been kind to me but not always to others. The daughter I have now is the warmest individual you would ever want to meet."

Alexia walked toward the berth as she said, "I think I hear the proud words of a mother. There isn't anything we can do except try to stay alive. Ann will do what she feels is right."

The door to the cabin opened as the first mate Nathaniel stood in the opening, He gazed into the room as he said, "Captain wants to see you." He was pointing to Kiera and as the woman started to step toward the man, Alexia stepped between her and the man and said, "No, if she goes, so do I."

He laughed, "If the lady wishes to have a full-blown skirmish in the cabin, me and a few mates would love to oblige."

Kiera reached out and gently pushed Alexia aside as she said, "No, that is all right, I will go with you." Turning to face the woman she said, "It will be fine. I will be back before you know it."

Alexia felt helpless as she watched the man take the woman by her right arm and lead her from the compartment. After the door was closed, she ran to open it and found it locked. Kicking at it she fumed, "If you harm this kind woman, pirate, you will pay dearly!"

Asterea looked up from some crates she had been examining in the cargo hold, when Nathaniel pushed the woman into the room. "Brought you the woman, want me to stay?"

Shaking her head she answered, "Outside the door, if I need you I will call." He smiled as he turned and left the room. Kiera stood tall as the woman approached, her eyes motionless. Asterea gazed at her and said, "I understand you were a little physical with one of my men last night. What do you have to say for yourself?"

Kiera watched as the woman circled her and at that moment she felt like a mouse being taunted by a cat. Asterea was directly behind her now and the woman brought her mouth close to Kiera's right ear and said, "Hard of hearing, answer my question."

Kiera turned to face the woman, their eyes close as she said, "Since you deemed it necessary to remove Alexia's buttons from her blouse last evening, all I wanted to do was sew them back on. There was no needle or thread and all I did was ask for some."

Taking several steps back from the woman, Asterea said, "That why the incompetent buffoon ended up on the floor?"

"That and the fact he tried to strong arm me."

Asterea walked toward a wooden crate and sat as she stared at this woman. Getting back to her feet she approached Kiera once more and as she reached out and traced the scar on the woman's cheek she said, "How did you get this? If not for this, you are a beautiful woman."

Kiera frowned as she said, "Where or how is no concern of yours. Are you through?"

Laughing Asterea answered, "I have only begun. You think the sins of your daughter will only be punished on her, hardly, she committed the acts, and when she did this, she placed her family, and friends in a volatile situation. Like the one you are in at this moment."

Kiera stood her ground. "I am not afraid of you, I have met worse. You know, you might not be a bad looking woman, if you would take care of a few things."

Her hand playing with the hilt of her sword, Asterea said, "I'm sure one like you would know all about that. Well, I am not trying out for a beauty show of any kind. Now back to business, I want to hear an apology for your treatment of my man last night."

Kiera shifted from one foot to the other as she said, "It is he that should apologize but if it will make you happy, I am sorry, he walked into my pin."

As she stepped near, Asterea reached out and grabbed a handful of hair as she glowered, "That is hardly an apology. Get down on your knees and sound real sincere!" Kiera grimaced as the woman pulled her hair but never said a word. Finally she released the hold she had on the woman and said, "You just don't get it do you? I am the captain, you are the prisoner and you will do anything I tell you or I will see you pay."

A confident look on her face Kiera glared at her and said, "If anything happens to me before your boss gets what he wants, it will be you that will pay."

Asterea was becoming angrier as this went on and finally bellowed, "You do what I say or by the Gods, I will wreak havoc on your friend and servant!"

Kiera stood her ground as she said, "What you and Alexia do is your business, not mine."

Swallowing as she took in the woman's words she said, "Then you are really not the wonderful employer, friend, and family the woman thinks she has. All right, if Alexia will not bring you to your knees how about I tell you just what I have in store for your daughter and I might even let you watch." She leaned close and whispered into Kiera's right ear and when she stepped back, Kiera struck out at her with all her might, her left fist, making solid contact as it smashed against Asterea's nose. The blow knocked her off balance and as she fell to the floor, blood spurted from her nose. Holding it with her right hand, she managed to stand and shouted, "Nathaniel, in here now!" The man burst into the room as he hesitated for an instant. Asterea yelled, "You fool, get me something to stop this, first, tie the woman to the wall."

He looked at Kiera and said, "Best you come with me, you will be subdued anyway."

She walked with him willingly and as she walked past Asterea she smiled. The woman was holding her head back as she tried to set the broken nose.

It was a long time before they were able to get the bleeding under control and by this time her nose had swollen two times its size. Asterea sat on the floor, her legs weakened from the loss of blood and it was only the anger she felt within that allowed the woman to get to her feet. Her hands were covered with blood as were her clothes. She weaved toward Kiera and as she neared she said, "That was a lucky blow, you will not get another chance to do that." Turning her head to look at Nathaniel she said, "Take the woman down."

He removed the ties that held her arms to the wall and when he was finished he held Kiera's arms behind her and said, "Want me to take her back to the cabin?"

She twisted her mouth as she said, "Just hold her." Her right fist struck out as she ran it deep into Kiera's stomach and as the woman doubled over she reached down and grabbed a handful of hair and pulled her back up. "I'll teach you to hit me!" Kiera had closed her eyes waiting for the next blow as Asterea reached down and said, "Open them, you open those eyes or I'll put them out for good."

Opening her eyes she glared at the woman, defiance on her face and said, "Think better of what you said, for if my daughter does not kill you, I will."

The woman's left fist lashed out striking her once more in the stomach as she said, "Let the woman go." Nathaniel released the hold he had on her as he said, "Are you sure?"

She had looked at the pain in Kiera's eyes as she said, "I'm sure." Walking behind the woman, she struck out hitting Kiera behind her knees sending her to the floor. Then walking back around she said, "There, I have you where I wanted you. See, all things happen." She reached down and ran a bloodied hand across Kiera's face as she slapped it and said, "Killing you would make it too easy." Glaring at the man, she added, "Take her back to the cabin."

The man helped her to her feet as he took her from the room. Asterea watched until the woman was out of sight, then she collapsed on the floor, darkness overtaking her.

As the door opened and Kiera was shoved into the room, Alexia was on her feet in seconds as she ran to the woman.
"Gods . . . " Her eyes fell on the woman's bloodied face and clothes as she reached out to touch Kiera's face. "What, what did she do?"

Patting the woman's hand, Kiera managed a smile and said, "Looks worse than it is. The blood is from the woman."

Totally confused by her remark, Alexia said, "Let's get you over to the berth. I'll wash the blood off while you remove those clothes." Alexia had an arm around the woman's waist and as they went to walk, Kiera stumbled. Noticing she was clutching her stomach, Alexia murmured, "It might be her blood, but, you are hurt."

Leaning against Alexia she started toward the berth and said, "Thought my stomach was a punching bag, it will be all right, I have hurt myself worse than this."

Helping the woman to the berth, Alexia's voice quivered, "I will clean you off then I will go talk to this woman."

Reaching out she grabbed Alexia's hand and said, "No, leave it be. She will not be in the mood to see either one of us. I think she will be tending her broken nose for quite awhile."

The woman's eyes widened as she said, "You amaze me, you broke the woman's nose?"

Nodding she answered, "Said something I didn't like."

Throwing up her hands Alexia declared, "That settles it, from now on, I go with you. Someone needs to watch that Celtic temper of yours. This is not Spoon Island and these people are evil. You have to be more careful."

The woman managed a smile as she said, "Always worrying about me. You needn't be, I am fine, probably have a stomachache for a while other than that, the woman is feeling much worse."

Walking toward a basin, she poured water into it and said, "For now maybe, but when this woman recovers, she will be like a coiled snake, just waiting to strike."

Kiera had taken off her blouse and tossed it to the floor, she laid back on the berth and said, "I'll worry about that when the time comes."

Placing the basin on the floor, Alexia dropped to her knees as she said, "Just close your eyes and let me do this, I will be gentle."

As the woman brought the sponge down on Kiera's bloody face, she said, "I know." Her eyes were warm as she whispered, "you always are." Closing her eyes, she found herself drifting off to sleep.

The woman began to rid Kiera of any trace of the pirate's blood. She was meticulous as she cared for her. Caressing Kiera's face she whispered, "Sleep, it will be good for you." Her eyes showing emotion as she continued, "you should not be taking chances with a woman like this one."

Alexia tried to clean the blood from the clothes, she was able to remove some of it. Laying the woman's blouse and pants to dry she turned her attention to Kiera. Her sleep was restless, and she knew when the woman was awake, she was going to pay this pirate a visit. Although Kiera still liked to have everyone believe she was twenty again, the woman was not. She had been sitting on the floor, staring up at the form of Kiera when there was a knock on the cabin door. Getting to her feet she hurried to it and said, "Whoever it is, go away."

The door opened as Nathaniel stared in, his eyes looked past Alexia at the woman who seemed to be sleeping as he asked, "She all right?"

Smirking at the man, Alexia answered, "As if you cared." He pushed past her and walked toward Kiera. Standing near, he looked at the blanket that covered the woman then at her wet clothes and said, "What happened?"

Alexia stepped between him and the berth as she snapped, "Your captain, that is what happened. Since you are here, I want to go see her."

He shook his head and said, "Captain is not feeling well at this time, I will tell her you have asked for an audience."

Her hands were on her hips as she said, "You do that, and make sure she realizes I mean an audience real soon."

He nodded and as he went to leave the room he said, "She seems fine, I'll send down some food and drink." He turned and left the room. After the door was closed, she kicked at it. And at that time Kiera's words reached out to her, "You tell me I have a temper."

Turning, a radiant smile crossed her face as she said, "You are awake, how do you feel?"

Kiera sat up and said, "Fine, I can see it in your eyes and before you even speak the words, all right, not fine but better."

Alexia was near as she said, "I tried to clean the clothes but with only water, it was not easy."

Kiera's eyes drifted toward the door as she said, "Promise me you will stay away from her."

Shaking her head the woman answered, "I will do anything for you, but not that. I will go see her and we both know I can get just as hard headed as you. Do you feel like eating something? The man said he was sending down some food and drink."

Seeming deep in thought, Kiera said, "I just hope it hasn't been doctored with anything."

Placing her left hand on Kiera's left leg she said, "I would know." As they were talking the door opened and a man entered the room, he carried a large tray of food and behind him another walked in carrying several bottles of port and two goblets. They acknowledged the women then left the room. Kiera's eyes beamed at Alexia as she said, "You think they . . . "

Grinning as she stood, Alexia replied, "Probably, come on let's eat something. Or do you want me to bring it over to you?"

Shaking her head as she got off the berth, Kiera said, "No, I can walk over there." She had wrapped the blanket around herself and it was as she was doing this, Alexia saw the bruises behind her knees. "Those marks, did the woman do that also?"

Noticing the concerned look on the woman's face she walked toward her and said, "Only way she could get me on my knees. Come on, pull out a chair and let's eat."

Alexia pulled out a chair and said, "You first." After Kiera had sat in the chair Alexia was holding onto, she walked over and pulled out another chair and said, "Meal looks good, would you like some port?"

Kiera nodded as she put some of the food in a plate and said, "I could use that, anything to make some of this nightmare dull."

Alexia had poured a goblet and handed it to the woman as she said, "I'm sorry."

Looking up at her, the woman quickly said, "You have nothing to be sorry for. I feel bad that I am the reason you find yourself here with me."

Smiling, as she poured a goblet for herself, she said, "Don't be, we both know there is no place I would rather be."

Nathaniel knocked on the captain's door as he called out, "Captain, can I speak to you?"

It wasn't long before the woman opened the door and stared at him through small slits. Her nose was huge as was the color that ran from it toward her eyes. The swelling had almost closed her eyes and she looked like she had run into a very large door. Trying to glare at the man but finding the pain too excruciating she said, "This had better be good. What do you want?"

He stared at her discolored face as he said, "I bring you a message from the woman Alexia, she wants to seek an audience with you."

Each time she moved her mouth, she would cringe as she carefully said, "See this face? No one seeks an audience with me, not until this goes down. What does the woman want?"

He shrugged his shoulders and said, "Probably something to do with the other woman, they seem close."

She glowered, "Then you tell her I will see her when the mood strikes me and not before. Nathaniel, see their every whim is taken care of except for letting them leave ship." He nodded and left. She walked toward the bed and carefully fell back on it. The pain she was suffering only made her hate this woman Kiera more, and if she had her way, this woman would pay dearly for what she had wreaked on her, as would her daughter.

Chapter Fifteen

Sea had been supervising the loading of cargo onto her ship. The men were working hard trying to make sure all was in ready for their long voyage. Saxton was walking toward her and she turned to smile at the man. "Looks like everything is on track."

He beamed as he said, "The day I knew you had returned, life got back on track. Now, if we could only convince . . . "

Reaching out, she touched the man's left hand and said, "Don't go there, it is past. We must look to the future and freeing mother."

He stared at her as if to try and see into her mind and said, "Are you trying to tell me it makes no difference?"

A far off look in her eyes gave way to the words, "It will always make a difference but I have accepted what will not be. You, my friend, must also."

He walked toward the water skin and picked it up as he said, "I might have to accept it but I don't have to like it. She will always be 'little one' to me."

She watched the man take a long drink as she said, "And if you ever stop calling her that, it would probably hurt her. Gabrielle will always be in our hearts, it is not like we will never see the woman again."

He stepped toward her and said, "Here, take a drink. Ann you might try to convince yourself with all this talk. Maybe you are even convincing a few others, but, not me. I know you all too well. I am just happy she will still be in our lives even if it is not as your . . . "

Laughing, Sea said, "She will always be that. Now, let's get this finished. There are going to be some long days coming up as we sail to the Amazon Village. I want to make sure we have everything we will be needing for this trip, onboard."

His eyes gazed toward the beautiful blond that was ambling toward them as he said, "And her?"

Turning to gaze at Gina she said, "She will stay." He turned to walk away as he said, "But does she know that?"

Gina smiled as she approached the woman, Sea was wearing a pair of light brown leather pants, her white low-necked blouse hung loosely from her waist. "Hello there, You look nice today." Sea's eyes glimmered as she smiled at the woman. Gina walked past her and said, "Thought you might like to drink or eat something." She was carrying a basket in her right hand.

Sea smiled and waved as she said, "I need to take a break, let's go over there." She was pointing to the trees and grass not far from where they were standing. Nodding, Gina said, "How are things coming, are we about ready to go?"

Sea reached out and took the basket in her left hand as she said, "Let's go sit."

Saxton watched the two women walk toward the trees as he mumbled, "Can't even see it can you Ann? This one is a replacement for the one you can't have." He turned and went back to work.

Gina had tossed a blanket onto the ground and said, "I love the way you take charge. Everyone scrambles to do what you ask and it seems they all enjoy it."

Setting the basket down, she smiled and said, "Not everyone does my bidding, but those that do, are well paid."

Sitting, the woman stared up at Sea and said, "I think they would do it even if they weren't. These people love you and your mother."

Sea sat as she peeked in the basket and said, "I see Pagen has sent some of her baked bread."

Laughing, Gina said, "Among other things. I told her there was enough food in here for an army."

Sampling, a piece of chicken, Sea asked, "And what did she say?"

Grinning, Gina said, "She said, 'Ann has a ravenous appetite.'" Her eyes gazing into Sea's, she continued, "I'm not too sure it was food she was talking about though."

Sea had opened a bottle of port and poured a mug of the beverage as she handed it to Gina and said, "What do you think she meant?"

As Gina reached for the mug, her hands wrapped around Sea's and for a moment neither spoke. Finally, taking the mug she said, "I think she might have meant you have a hunger for life and all it holds."

Wrinkling up her nose at the woman, Sea said, "Got out of that one real easy. Let's just enjoy a nice meal."

Gina gazed back at the men carrying supplies onto the longboat and said, "When can I go onboard? I would love to see what your ship is like."

Sea glanced toward Saxton and the men as she said, "How about tonight, after things have calmed down, I will take you onboard. Actually if you would like, we can spend tonight there. I can have you stay in one of the smaller cabins."

Gina stopped what she was doing and said, "How about your room, isn't it big enough for the two of us?"

Taking a long drink of the port, she found herself at loss for words as she set the mug down. Gina's dimples were deep as the woman smiled and said, "If my being in the same room is going to leave you this speechless . . . "

Realizing what she was doing, Sea said, "Not--it's just--I guess I am at a loss for words."

Gina was staring intently at the woman now as she said, "I, I'm sorry, it's just a big ship and the last time I was on one I ended up in the cargo hold."

Cursing under her breath Sea finally said, "There's only one bed in my cabin. I thought you liked to sleep alone?"

Gina got to her knees and crawled over to Sea, her eyes bright as she said, "I promise I won't hog the bed."

Sea's eyes were warm as she said, "You need to know, the last time someone slept in the bed with me it was Gabrielle."

Leaning back on her hands, the woman gazed at Sea and said, "You know for someone who captains a pirate ship, a large crew, seems to come and go at will and takes no flack from anyone, you amaze me."

Taking another long drink of the port, Sea asked, "What about me amazes you?"

"Well, everything, most of all how you are when it comes to the two of us being anywhere close to one another. If this woman Gabrielle slept with you, then what is wrong with my doing it? Or is it you never want anyone but her there?"

Setting the mug down, she turned her full attention on this vibrant woman. Taking several swallows she finally said, "Listen to me, I need to tell you . . . "

Gina leaned closer as she uttered, "What?"

Taking the woman's left hand in hers, she said, "I lead a life of abandonment, this means at times, I sleep with others."

Seeming to get riled the woman said, "If you can sleep with others, Gods, what is wrong with me?"

Trying once more, Sea spoke softly, "I don't know what your sister or your mother ever told you about people like me but it is time I told you. I have needs, and I don't mean food. There are times I get aroused and need or want someone to lay with me."

Gina shook her hand loose as she stood and glowered down, "So, you have all these needs to sleep with someone, tell me what is wrong with me?"

Looking up at the woman, Sea couldn't help but grin, she was so defiant and it only endeared the woman to her more. Holding out her right hand she said, "Take my hand and come back down here, before Saxton and the men think we are fighting."

Gina did as she sat and said, "All right, tell me what is wrong with me. I will do whatever needs to be done to correct the problem."

Pursing her lips, Sea said, "You are fine, in fact, you are wonderful but . . . "

Gina asked, "But?"

Looking away then finally letting her emerald green eyes search the woman's she said, "I have been without someone to love for a long time, I am speaking of a sexual nature. I fear if the two of us were so close, I might do something to hurt you or cause you to fear me."

Slowly a smile traveled Gina's face as she said, "Oh, that all, I was beginning to think there was something horribly wrong with me."

Sea scoffed, "'That all.' Isn't that enough?"

Gina traced her middle finger across the back of Sea's hand and said, "I know, I have never been with anyone like that, but, if I ever did, I would want to be with someone as wonderful and caring as you. I do not fear you will hurt me but if my sleeping in the same bed near you will cause you distress, I could sleep on the floor."

Sea gazed at the tenderness of this woman and knew the time was not right as she said, "If the desire was strong enough I could seek you out on the floor. It is settled, you will sleep in the same bed as me and I promise, I will not do anything to cause you distress."

Laughing, Gina said, "Good, because I was trying to figure out just what I could do to get you to change your mind. I hate to sleep alone, that is one reason I have been sleeping on a pallet in your room."

Grinning Sea chided, "That why, always thought you thought the bed too little for us both."

Gina reached for the bottle of port and said, "Looks like you could use a refill, I know I sure could."

Holding out her mug as she watched the woman pour the drink she said, "I look forward to seeing the ship tonight."

Raising the mug toward the woman Sea said, "To tonight."

The moon had cast a beautiful glow down onto the water. It was a still night, nothing moving as the longboat pushed its way toward the large ship. Gina sat listening to the sounds the oar made as they lapped at the water. In the light of the moon, she was enjoying the woman that sat in the middle of the boat. Her delicate fingers wrapped around the wood, as the muscles in her arms rippled each time she pulled the oars through the water making them do her bidding. The woman's long red hair, laid gently upon her shoulders and cascaded down her back. Some very opportunistic strands finding their way down the front, seemed buried in between the woman's full breasts.

"Are you all right?" Sea's words found their way to the woman.

Gina grinned as she replied, "I've never been better. I can't believe, I actually know Ann Bounty."

Resting for a bit, Sea relaxed and stared at the woman. Gina was dressed in a pair of cotton pants, dark-blue cotton shirt, she had left her boots at the island. To her, at that moment, Gina looked like a young child, excited about their first excursion. Her mother had told her at one time, the moon had a special quality about it. She remembered stories about the full moon, like the one that was playing with their souls this night. She had even told Gabrielle the story. Now, sitting in front of her, was a woman of whom she had grown very fond. A woman who had taken her mind off herself and the woman she knew she could never have. Sighing she heard Gina ask, "Ann, what is wrong? The look on your face is far away and the hurt in your eyes, it scares me."

The longboat was floating, there was a slight rocking as it made its way through the water on its own speed. Sea held out her right hand and said, "C'mere. Sit by me."

Gina slowly moved forward and soon found herself sitting beside the woman. Her golden brown eyes sparkled at the woman in the moonlight as she said, "I apologize for staring, but, you, you are a picture of . . . "

Sea laughed as she placed her left arm around the woman's waist and said, "A picture of a tired old Sea Captain, getting ready for what may be her last adventure."

"Oh no!" Gina snapped as she stood.

Sea yelled, "No . . . "

The boat rocked and within seconds, tipped sending the two women into the waiting water. Immediately Sea searched for Gina and spying the woman, laying against the side of the boat she swam toward her. Sea realized the woman had been hit by a portion of the boat and was dazed. "Gina, Gina listen to me."

Her eyes seemed foggy as she mumbled, "Try."

"I am going to remove you from here, and when I do, put all your weight onto me. Now, get onto your back and float. I will turn the boat over and get you onto it. Do you understand?"

There was a slight movement of the woman's head as Sea went about doing exactly what she had told Gina. It didn't take her long to get the boat right side up once more. She was glad it had been a beautiful night, the woman was easy to spot and didn't take her long to pull her onboard. Gina lay in a wet heap, coughing as Sea made her way to the woman. She was on her knees as she reached out and brushed the woman's hair back from her face. "Gina, you have a nasty cut on your head, how do you feel?"

Gina gazed up at her as she said, "Like an idiot. You must hate me."

Smiling, she reached down and cradled the woman in her arms as she said, "Never, I just need to tell you about a few things, one, never stand up like that in a boat. Especially when there are only two of us in it, throws it off balance. I'm just sorry you have hurt yourself."

Closing her eyes, Gina muttered, "Then you are not mad at me?"

Sea glanced around as she said, "No, but I do need to get us to the ship. Stay in one place do not move, I'll be right back." She gently laid the woman's head down as she edged her way into the water once more. Treading water, she glanced around, her eyes searching for the oars. Spying them, she swam toward the floating oars. It didn't take her long to toss them into the boat and pull herself up. Gina was laying still as she said, "Did you get them?"

Sea replied, "Yes, we should be onboard soon and then I'll have a look at that head."

As Sea guided the boat toward its tie up, she sighed, this had taken its toll on her as she gazed at Gina. There were so many things she needed to teach this woman if she were going to survive in this sometimes God's forsaken land. After she tied off the boat, she said, "We are here, let me help you to your feet."

Gina shook her head as she said, "Might throw us over again."

Smiling as she reached down to grasp the woman, Sea said, "Nope, you only get to do that one time. Come on, the cabin awaits. You go first."

Gina stared at the rope ladder as she said, "I don't know if I can do this, I'm dizzy."

Sea pushed herself up against the woman's back as she said, "I'll be right here if you falter. I will make sure you make it to the top."

Slowly, Gina began to climb, ever heedful to the woman's body that pressed against hers. Stopping from time to time to catch her breath, Sea would place her lips close to Gina's right ear and whisper, "Doing good, almost there."

Gina felt herself falter as Sea's strong arms held her body against the ladder. Placing her right arm around the woman's waist she half-lifted her the rest of the way. As Gina's feet touched the deck the woman fell to her knees and kissed it. "Sea stood over her, clothes clinging to her form as her body cried for release. "If you are through making out with the deck, we need to change."

Gina was on her knees as she raised her head and stared at the woman. "Thank you," with these words, she passed out. Sea checked the woman's beat in her neck as she smiled, "Well, you have finally been inducted into the life of a seafarer, not all glamour but definitely tingling. Let's get you to the cabin." She easily picked the woman up and stood, holding Gina. The woman's head was laying against Sea's right shoulder and in the light from the moon, even wet, this woman was beautiful. Turning, Sea gazed at the deck. It was empty as she strode toward her cabin. Each step was cautious as if she was holding a most precious cargo.

Approaching the cabin door, she kicked it open with her right foot. It didn't take long to place Gina on the fur-covered bed. Noticing the trickle of blood that was finding its way down the woman's left cheek, she walked toward the desk, poured water into a basin and grabbed several pieces of material. Dropping to her knees, she began to wipe the blood away. Pushing back her hair she could see the cut and taking a cloth she placed pressure on the spot. One hand held the cloth in place as her other caressed Gina's face. She wasn't upset over what had happened, and if the woman hadn't been hurt, it would have been fun. Sea loved playing in the water and on a night like this one, it brought back many fond memories.

Once the bleeding had stopped, she wrapped the head and said, "Gina, can you hear me?"

Gina groaned as she said. "I know you must hate me."

Smiling, the woman's emerald green's twinkled as she said, "Never, and if you hadn't hurt yourself, it might have proved fun."

Opening her eyes she stared at the ravishing face that beamed at her and said, "I've said it before, you amaze me. I'll get up." Starting to move, she groaned and let her head fall back down.

"Nope, I think you will just lay there and rest."

Realizing her clothes were sticking to her body, she muttered, "I am going to get your bed wet."

Sea glanced at the water and said, "It has already happened. So, you just lay back and let me get these clothes off you." As her fingers reached for the first button on the blouse, she found Gina's hand on them. "I, I can do it."

Taking her hand, she placed it beside the woman and said, "I know you can but right now, you're not too steady. Have to get you out of these wet clothes, don't need you catching a sickness."

Gina's light brown eyes glimmered as she said, "And you, you're all wet."

Smiling as her fingers began to loosen the buttons on the woman's shirt, Sea said, "I've been called a lot of things and all wet suits me, believe me . . . "

Gina glanced down at the woman's fingers and closing her eyes she said, "I hate myself."

Meticulously Sea loosened the buttons and soon had brushed back the material. "Sit up, I'll put my arm behind your back and help you, need to pull this off."

Gina shuddered as the woman's arm helped her, Sea was proficient in the removal and as she helped Gina lay back down she said, "There, that wasn't so bad was it?"

Gina had searched the woman's emerald green's. Sea was now focusing her attention on the two lovely, wet mounds that glistened up at her. She felt her body ache as Gina asked, "What is wrong? You didn't hurt yourself did you?"

Shaking her head she murmured, "Not in the way you are thinking. I'll have you out of these breeches in no time." Her fingers, seemed shaky as she looked up at Gina then back at her hands. It was as she slowly slid them from the woman's hips, she felt Gina's skin tense, raising her eyes toward the woman's face she said, "Are you ok?"

Gina swallowed as she said, "Fine, this--this is--just awkward."

Sea had pulled the breeches off and laid them on the floor. Walking toward the desk, she found a towel in one of the drawers and hurried back to the woman. Sitting on the bed next to her she said, "I'll dry you off, then get you some dry clothes."

The dimples in Gina's cheeks moved rhythmically as she smiled, "This is hard on you, I can see it in your face, I can feel it in your touch. You want me, don't you?"

Dropping the towel, Sea searched for words, "Wa--I--do you know what you are doing to me?"

Her eyes gleamed as she said, "I know you are a woman, a beautiful sensual woman and have need of release."

Gently Sea began to pat the woman's body. It was as her hands were rubbing Gina's breasts, she stopped. Pulling the towel back, she stared at the woman's erect nipples, they were harder than before and it definitely wasn't from the water. Bringing her eyes to the woman's she said, "Even if you don't know what arousal means, your body does. I will not deny, I want to savor those in the most delectable ways."

Gina went to move as Sea continued, "I said want to, I won't." She brought the towel down and dried off Gina's legs, reaching out she pushed her legs apart and said, "Need to get it all." Gently patting, the insides of the woman's legs, she found her hands trembling as she stroked the golden hair that caressed and tantalized her with each touch. Gina reached up and grasped Sea's right hand as she said, "I want you to have what you want. We are going on a long and dangerous journey and neither one of us may come back. If it is your desire to love me, then I will not object." She had placed Sea's gentle fingers between her legs. Sea moaned as she felt the wetness that seemed to taunt her. Gina was just as excited as she was. Her fingers, began to explore, touch on the silky liquid Gina's body was pouring forth for her. Gina felt her body tense as Sea hit upon her center. It was then Sea realized what was happening. She wanted this woman more than she had ever wanted anything, but not like this. Her body ached, she felt the wetness between her own legs as she pulled away. Standing, she said, "I have something to do, you will find clothes in the small trunk, change into something suitable. I'll be back."

Before Gina could say anything the woman had left the cabin. Gina curled up into a ball as she cried, "She doesn't like me."

 Sea barely made it to the deck. Her body wracked with the feeling of love lost. She could not do this to the woman. Her lust was ravaging her body and she could not subject this woman, who had never been with anyone, to her needs. When it happened for Gina, she wanted it to be wonderful, there was nothing like love to make it all the worthwhile. But, for now, she had a need and didn't know what she was going to do. Staring out at the water, she shed her wet clothes and boots, and dove into the water hoping a long swim would soothe the fire that raged between her loins. She was glad she had decided not to take Gina on this voyage. Having the woman this close for such a long time would mean many nights of ocean swimming and she didn't know how long she could control her ache.

Chapter Sixteen

An insistent, increasingly urgent sense of hunger nagged Gina out of a deep sleep. She was totally disoriented, the bed was too soft, she was alone. The pleasing aroma of food seemed to find the right senses as Gina slowly opened her eyes and was pleasured to see the face of Ann Bounty staring down at her. Ann had placed a tray of food near as she smiled, "Good morning, trust you slept well. How does the head feel today?"

Sitting up, as the cover fell, Sea could see Gina was wearing one of her shifts as she said, "Slept fine, how did you sleep?"

Looking away for an instant Sea answered, "Don't remember. Here, I fixed you breakfast." Gazing at the tray of food, she said, "You have been cooking. Smells wonderful." Noticing Sea's look, Gina asked, "What did I do now? You look at me with . . . "

Sea interrupted, "I look at you with love in my eyes, so don't go start some tirade about how you are sorry, or I hate you or anything that resembles this."

Smiling, Gina said, "Aye, Aye Captain. I take it then, you are not too upset at me over my foolish attempt last night."

With a satisfied grin crossing her face, the woman answered, "No, it was wonderful of you to make the offer. "Reaching out Sea placed her right hand on Gina's and continued, "I am honored to think you would choose me to be the first."

Gina glanced at Sea's hand on hers and said, "I am still sorry. You are a woman of the world, where was my mind, to even think you would consider having anything to do with me--that way."

Sea set the tray on the bed and said, "Better eat, while it is still warm. I don't do this very often, though mother has told me many times I would make a good wife if I set my mind to it. Never let me hear you belittle yourself again. You are lovely, captivating and I can think of no one else I would want to share my bed--my life. I just want you to know when it happens if it does, it will be wonderful for you. I want your first time to be something you can always look back on and say, my body soared to unimaginable heights and I never wanted to come back to earth. So yes, I want to have you but only when the time is right for both of us."

Gina seemed surprised at Sea's words as she asked, "Ho . . .  how will I . . .  you . . . how will we know?"

Smiling, Sea whispered, "You will, mark my words." She was holding a strawberry in her fingers as she said, "Open, nothing like this to start off the morning."

Gina gazed at the plump red fruit as she asked, "You are going to feed me?"

Smiling, Sea replied, "Well, since I have decided it is not the right time to have you in the way I want, I think it is fitting, I feed you. Unless you object."

Grinning, Gina whispered, "Oh no, whatever you say." She opened her mouth as Sea slid the berry between luscious lips that were almost the same color as the fruit. Gina was a nibbler and it took her several bites before she had eaten half of the strawberry. Sea put the rest into her own mouth and said, "Good start, now, how about some scrambled egg?"

Gina smiled as she leaned back against the wall and said, "Come up here with me, you look so uncomfortable there. "Her eyes flashing golden light as she said, "Looks like we have a meal fit for a king."

Sea was buttering a piece of bread as she said, "Fit for a queen. I hope you like it."

Glancing at Sea's trembling hand Gina said, "Why do you tremble so? Did you really mean the words?"

Leaning forward, Sea brought her head down as her lips searched for Gina's. The touch was soft, pleasurable and definitely one worth waiting for. When she pulled her head back, she said, "Does that answer your question? You are beautiful, and you have got this pirate thinking things she shouldn't. Now, let's finish breakfast. The crew will be coming aboard soon."

Gina's eyes widened as she said, "Are we leaving today?"

"Eat now, talk after." Sea brought a buttered biscuit toward the woman's mouth and said, "Open."

When they had finished eating, Sea turned to the woman and said, "Better get dressed, we will be hoisting anchor soon."

Scrambling from the bed, Gina said, "Can't wait."

Sea stood as she said, "I'll go topside, come up when you are through."

Smiling at Sea, she nodded and said, "Be right there. I don't want to miss any of this."

As Sea left the room, a dismal expression came over her face as she hurried topside to see if she could spy any of the longboats coming toward the ship.

Leaning against the bulwark, she heard the woman's footsteps as she approached and said, "How are you really feeling?"

Standing beside Sea, Gina answered, "I feel fine, a slight headache but other than that, ready to take the voyage with you."

Turning her full attention to the woman, Sea said, "You know I am fond of you, but I have to tell you something that will not make you happy."

Gina stepped back as she said, "I knew it, you despise me. All that other, was just a ruse to hit me with this."

Managing a smile, Sea placed a hand on Gina's and said, "No, I do not hate you. Just the contrary, I feel myself falling more and more under your charms every day."

Gina's eyes widened, her glance was nervous as she asked, "Then why the look on your face, I don't think I am going to like this."

Sea paused for an instant then said, "I'm not taking you."

She barely got the words out before Gina went on a tirade, "I knew it, no guts, can't tell me in bed, have to get me up on deck. With all your men coming to your aide. What kind of a person are you Ann Bounty?"

Sea replied, "I am a person who has grown to care for you. A person who does not want to see you fall into Asterea's hands again. The woman will not be kind or gentle. Believe me, this is for your own good. I may not come back from this and I know Pagen will see you get back to your village."

Gina looked away as she said, "Back to my village, and to what? You promised to take me there. I will not be treated like some child. I know what can happen and I don't care. I only care about being with you. I want to know at least my life has been for something. I care for you and will not see you take the voyage alone."

Sea smiled, "I will not be alone, Saxton and the crew will be here and after the Amazon Village, so will Gabrielle and Xena."

Throwing up her hands in protest she said, "That is what I mean, a crew, Gabrielle and Xena. Two people who only have eyes for each other. You are going into a den of Hades and I will not see you go in alone. Forget the other two I am talking about someone to be by your side. Even if I cannot fight like you, you will have plenty of time to teach me."

Shaking her head, Sea said, "Sorry, not this time. I will see you back to the house."

Tears were welling up in the woman's eyes as she said, "I will go, only because you will take me. But I will not be happy about this. If you die, Ann Bounty, I will haunt you till your dying day."

Both women realized what Gina had said as they broke into laughter. It was at this time they heard the sounds of boats pulling up alongside the ship. Sea reached out and drew Gina close, her arms caressing the woman in their hold. Gina lay her head on Sea's shoulder as she said, "I love you, you know."

Feeling a catch in her throat, Sea whispered, "I know . . . " She reached down and placed a finger under Gina's chin and tipped her head upward. Bringing her head down, her lips sought the woman's in a highly emotional kiss. This time when they pulled apart, Gina was out of breath and Sea's face was crimson. Gina reached up and caressed Sea's face with her left hand as she said, "Be safe, the world needs you in it, I need you in my life."

Sea grinned as she hugged the woman tighter and said, "Let's get you home."

Saxton had climbed onboard, he looked from one woman to the other as he shook his head and walked away. Gina gazed at Sea and said, "He doesn't much like me does he?"

Walking toward the ladder, Sea replied, "He is an old seafarer like me, it takes awhile to get adjusted. He thinks the world of Gabrielle. He will come around. No one can look at your face for long and remain a block of salt, all will melt under your charms."

Once they were in the boat and Sea began to row toward shore, Gina said, "Promise to stay still this time."

Grinning at the woman, Sea replied, "Though we got all wet and I do mean all wet, it was a pleasing time. Except for the head."

Reaching up to touch the bandage, Gina smiled, "Was worth it, to get Ann Bounty to pay me all that attention."

They were close to shore by now as Sea stared at her and said, "Don't need to fall into the water like that to get my attention, you had it the first time I opened my eyes."

Sea had left instructions with Pagen if anything were to happen to her, the woman would make sure Gina was able to stay on or taken wherever she wanted to go. It hurt the woman to leave Gina, but she thought it was for the best. The way things were going for her, the one thing this lovely woman did not need, was her and all the excess baggage she carried. Smiling as she climbed back into the longboat her heart felt light and it was odd considering what lie ahead of her. As she rowed back toward the ship, her mind began to play over and over what had occurred last evening. It made the trip back faster and it also made her heart ache more than before. Climbing on board, Saxton approached her and said, "Almost ready Captain. Soon as the last crewmen get here we can set sail."

Nodding, her eyes never leaving the island, she said, "Right."

He stood next to her and said, "You really like this one don't you?"

She turned to gaze at him as she said, "Yes, yes I do."

He leaned against the mast as he said, "They told me back there, what happened. I'm sorry if I seemed brash or rude. It is good this woman has entered your life. To think you tried to kill yourself over a love that hurt so bad you could not live any longer."

Smiling as she patted the man on his right hand she said, "Sad to say but it did happen. If not for Gina, I would be gone."

He patted her hand as he said, "Remind me, when we get back, to thank this woman properly."

Seeming puzzled, Sea cocked her head to the right as she asked, "Properly? I know you have let her know you do not care for her. Gina understands, I have explained about Gabrielle."

His eyes seemed to dance as he said, "Still she stayed with you. Mark my words Anne, this one is a keeper."

Laughing, Sea said, "Well, if I were fishing, I might agree with you."

His eyes searched hers and he finally said, "I see it in your look, the woman, I don't know how she did it but she has found a place in your heart. It pains you to leave her behind."

Nodding, she said, "That it does, but it is for her own good. I know there is a good chance I will not return from this voyage. I just pray the Gods, mother is all right and I can at least do the right thing and get her out of that place."

The man smiled as he said, "You will do that, and I have no doubt, before long, you and Gina will see one another again. I'm happy for you. It has been hard to see you so torn up over Gabrielle."

Turning, Sea said, "I'm going to the cabin, if you need me let me know. About Gabrielle, she will always be here." She had placed a hand over her heart as he nodded. Sea sauntered away, her walk was light, and there seemed to be a bounce he had not seen for a long time.

Gina, had watched the hustle and bustle as she asked, Pagen, "What is going on?"

The woman turned her attention to the blond as she said, "Just the last minute stragglers, getting the rest of the supplies."

Gina raised an eyebrow as she asked, "You mean, they will be going out to Sea's ship?"

Nodding, the woman excused herself saying, "Have to finish packing the basket of food for Sea."

Watching the woman walk away, Gina got a devious smile on her face as she headed down toward the basement. It didn't take her long to find the trunk and began sifting through clothes. Finding a large leather shirt, a pair of loose leather pants, a cutlass and sheath along with a nice pair of black boots, she smiled and began to remove her clothes. Sea had taken her down here and shown her all the clothes, this is when she first got the idea. She wasn't sure the woman would allow her to go with them. Coughing as the musty odor of the clothes almost took her breath away. She decided to let the shirt hang loosely from her waist. This way, it hid her curves and when she strapped the sheath on, it too hung loose.

Sea had told her about the black rock that they used to heat the rooms in the winter. Now, finding the tub of rocks, she rummaged through them, looking for just the right size. As her fingers found the piece she was looking for she found a section of metal and gazed at her reflection. Taking the blackened stone, she spat into her hands and rubbed them on the rock. Then carefully she painted the blackness onto her face, leaving only her brown eyes. Finding a cap, she pinned her hair to the top of her head and placed the cap over it, pulling down snugly. She didn't recognize herself so had no thought that anyone might question her.

It didn't take long to find the kitchen and Pagen. The woman had just closed the large basket when she walked into the room. Nodding toward the woman, she picked up the basket and left the room. Pagen watched her skeptically but went back to other chores. She did make a mental note to ask Sea why her crew members weren't a little cleaner.

Gina barely made it to the group of men before they started off toward the inlet. She carried the basket on her left shoulder, trying to shield her face from prying eyes. Even doing this, they had already noticed the young man, and his hygiene needed a lot to be desired. She noticed many were sniffing and guessed they might be coming down with a cold or something. It was more noticeable on the longboat. She beamed when she saw the ship nearing and was happy when they started up the ladder, remembering all to well her faux pas from last night.

Once on deck, she looked around and could see Saxton heading toward her. Turning to walk away she heard the man call out, "You, take that basket to the Captain's cabin."

Nodding, she turned and sauntered in that direction. He gazed at several men as he said, "Is it me or does the lad smell bad?"

They all nodded as he said, "Have to take care of that."

Knocking, she heard Sea's voice, "Enter, if you have brought the basket, set it down and leave."

Gina could feel her heart pounding in her chest, she was afraid Sea would recognize her and at the same time, excited to be near the woman again. Opening the door, she peered into the room. Her eyes caught sight of the bed, and finally found Sea, she was sitting at the desk, her back was to her. The woman seemed to be studying a parchment. Carefully entering the room, she set the basket down and turned to leave.

Sea had been deep in thought as she pondered the course she was going to take. A strong scent, found its way to her nostrils as she began to sniff. Turning as the man walked from the room she called, "Hey, you, stop!"

Gina's feet almost froze but she managed to find her way down the corridor and hid behind a large trunk. Sea was heading toward the deck and it gave her the opportunity to follow the stairs down to the cargo hold. There was no one in sight and she opened the door and entered the room. It didn't look too much like the one she had been held prisoner in and for this she was grateful. Walking toward the far wall, she found a bed of straw and lay down. Everything that happened since last night and now this had taken a toll on the woman. Closing her eyes, she prayed for sleep.

Saxton saw Sea when she stepped onto the deck. He waved and she hurried toward him. "You just send someone in with the basket?"

He nodded as he said, "Yes, did you get it?"

"Strangest thing, I was preoccupied but this smell overtook my senses and when I turned around, the man was leaving the room. I called for him to stop but he kept going. Who is he and if you find him, have the lad brought to my quarters."

He nodded as he said, "Caught the smell when he came aboard, I'll see he cleans up."

Sea nodded as she said, "I'm going back down, looks like we will have smooth sailing."

He looked up at the mainsail and said, "Always look for warm winds and smooth sailing. I think this trip will be both."

Turning to walk away Sea said, "Until we near Tunis." With those words she disappeared below and the man pursed his lips as he said, "Seems it may be a problem." Tossing his head, he went back to the work he had been doing. Calling several men, he ordered them to search for the young man that had recently come onboard.

They had been sailing for several days, the weather had held and the ship was making good headway. Sea was standing at the helm, her hair tossed about her head as the wind swept it like a fine tooth comb. Gina was hiding in one of the longboats, she had raised the cover so she could sneak a peak every now and then. The onboard men had been searching the ship for her and she had eluded them at every step. Her eyes caught sight of the tall woman, standing as if made of stone. She felt a gasp deep in her throat and put her right hand over her mouth. From the tight black leather pants, the form fitting leather shirt that closed with leather ties crisscrossing the front to the shiny black boots that adorned her feet, the woman was mesmerizing.

Sea turned her head as if looking right at Gina. The woman's face radiated warmth even as far away as she was at that moment. Her green eyes sparkled like precious stones and Gina felt a flush start to travel her body. Slipping fully under the cover, she hugged her body as her mind spun out of control. Her life had been sheltered though she had seen a few pretty women but there had never been anyone with the commanding essence of sexuality in just a look, a glance. She now realized she was in awe of this magnificent woman and if Sea were ever to touch her with love, she felt she would die.

Sea waved at Saxton as the man stepped toward the woman. He stopped before he fully approached her and she said, "What is the matter?"

His weather-beaten face radiated as a full smile took him by storm and said, "It's just you, I see my Anne and I see a woman so full of love, it warms my heart. I never thought I would ever see that look again."

Sea raised her head toward the heavens as she shouted, "Aye, this pirate's heart has been harpooned. Though it is hard to admit, you are right, either I am in love or this is the best simulation of love I have ever encountered."

Saxton watched as Sea began to dance a jig, throwing herself into the mood. Her leaps were lively and he watched like a proud parent. Sea did a somersault and landed on the bulwark, walking the length of it as she flipped and danced. Leaping onto the rigging and grabbing a rope, the woman swung through the air as if a bird soaring. Soon she landed at Saxton's feet, her red hair glimmering in the sun, those emerald greens speaking stories untold as she said, "How was that?"

He clapped as he said, "Best dance I have seen in a long time."

Sea's hands were on her hips, her leather ties had loosened, her full breasts were now seeking the light and she was a picture of beauty. He held out his hands as he said, "Haven't done this in awhile, want to try?"

She grinned as she grasped his outstretched hands and the two of them did a very difficult Celtic dance. The crew had been standing around cheering them on and Gina couldn't help taking a peek. She was enthralled at what was happening, the woman could even dance.

Saxton had been looking at the island in his spyglass. Sea approached the man as she said, "See anything interesting?"

He shook his head and handed the round cylinder to her and said, "Take a look. Might be able to go ashore and restock a few supplies. Definitely need fresh water."

She gazed through the instrument then handed it back to him and said, "When we are close enough, drop anchor and take part of the crew over, check it out. Might be a good place to rest and have a relaxing evening."

He smiled as he said, "Sure thing, still, funny how the lad keeps eluding us. We've searched every spot on this ship and all we can come up with is the scent, we know he has been there."

Grinning, Sea replied, "That seems to be the operative word where the lad is concerned, been there and don't forget done that."

He looked sheepish as he said, "I know, seems we have been missing food, water and a few other things. He may smell bad, but seems to be an elusive one."

As Sea watched the man walk away, she smiled, "Oh, I think I may have just the trap to catch our boy. Have a good trip and look forward to your report."

He waved as he walked away, she could have swore she heard the man chuckling.

Sea decided to take a walk through the ship, she thought it was time she checked the compartments. It would give her something to do and since she had left Gina with her soulful look and tears falling down the woman's face, she had not been able to sleep. When she would finally seek refuge in Morpheus' world, the woman's face would invade her, even there. She had consumed many bottles of port and cussed herself for being so self-centered. The question still nagged at her, did she leave Gina behind because she was worried for the woman or was it because she was still feeling hints of Gabrielle and just couldn't let the past go.

This young man had been elusive and she didn't want to go into any battle not knowing who he was or what he was doing there. For all she knew he could be working for Calico. She was standing in the cargo hold, staring down at the straw, it was formed and she could tell someone had been sleeping there. Looking around the room, she called out, "Anyone in here? If you are in here, come out, it will be a lot easier if you do. I promise I won't hurt you unless you plan me harm."

There was no sound only the scurrying of a rat as she muttered, "Have to tell Saxton about that, can't have rodents running rampant, it's bad enough to have a two legged one out-besting us." She couldn't help smile as she left the room.

When Saxton returned, he told her the island was abundant and they would be able to get the provisions they needed. Sea agreed and said, she would be over soon. She thought the crew could use a night on the island, relaxing, because the next day would be another long one and from the looks of the sky she felt they might encounter some bad weather.

Sea had made sure all the food, water and the likes were locked in the cargo hold. She was going to get this stowaway to feel the pangs of hunger and thirst. This was the plan, that is, until Cedril heard a sound in the galley and hurried topside to tell her. Sea drew her cutlass as she slowly edged her way toward the area. Nearing the door, she heard the sound of pots and pans rattling and knew someone was in the galley. Reaching out with the tip of her cutlass, she pushed the door open and stepped into the opening. There, five feet from her was the man, he was going through the cupboards.

"Looking for something?" Sea's cool voice rang out as the man froze. Sea took a step into the room as she said, "Have to admit, you have been pretty elusive but food always is the way to a man's stomach. Who are you?"

Turning, Gina reached up and held her cap tighter as she stared at the ominous woman that stood four feet from her, holding a very sharp weapon as if she meant to use it.

Sea's eyes gazed at this man, he was pathetic, clothes were too big, the sword that hung from his waist looked out of place and the blackened face and hands, were too much as she said, "Anyone ever tell you, it's not polite to steal, now you have to pay." The woman stood, her legs spread as if enjoying this encounter.

Gina darted for the door and as she neared, she dove between Sea's legs and rolled. Sea was amazed at how fast this young man could move and obviously outmaneuver her. She cursed as she turned to follow the easy scent. For some reason she thought it a lot like, old clothes.

Gina had made it to the deck and as her feet landed she stared around at the men that were closing in. Reaching up she grabbed a rope and easily swung over their heads as Sea stepped into the open. She watched the man as she nodded her head toward one of the men. He tossed her his coiled black whip and as she caught it she began to stride toward the young man. The crew stepped back when they saw the cold set to the woman's jaw and the glare in her eyes. Gina had landed on a large crate and had just jumped to the deck, she turned to run and at the same time, the loud pop rang out as she felt the sting of something grab her ankles sending her plummeting to the deck. She lay on her stomach, wishing she could close her eyes and go back to the island. These pirates were not playing, and from the ache around her ankle, she knew they were dead serious.

The icy tone rang down toward her as she heard the words, "Finally caught you! Not only do you smell bad but you have been taking things that are not yours."

Gina felt fingers remove whatever had struck her down as Sea growled, "Get up! I want to see the person that would dare defy me!"

Getting to her knees she slowly got to her feet. Turning, she closed her eyes, waiting for the final blow that would ease her from this world.

Sea stared at this unkempt person as she said, "Who are you? Are you working for Calico?"

Shaking her head Gina tried to speak but the words were not coming. Before she could mutter anything, Sea had reached out and grabbed her by her collar, pulling the woman toward the bulwark she said, "One thing I know for sure, you need a bath!" Within seconds, her strong arms threw Gina overboard. The crew watched in fascination as this man's body hurled toward the deepness of the ocean. Sea was standing, a smug smile on her face as she watched the man hit the water and go under. Soon a cap could be seen floating and then the man's body surfaced.

Sea felt a deep moan climbing her throat as she gazed at the beautiful blond hair that trailed the person. Finally she got the words out, "G--Gods--Gina! Is it you!"

The woman raised a hand as she sputtered, "Sorr . . . " She went under and at that time, Sea dove into the water. Swimming toward the spot, she had last seen the woman. After several dives, she found Gina and brought her to the surface. Looking at the men on the ship she called out, "Don't just stand there, get us out of here!"

Sea sat staring down at the white face. It had been a chore washing the black from it and the woman's hands. Gina had not regained consciousness although she was breathing and Sea was becoming distraught. Reaching out, she caressed the woman's face as she whispered, "I'm so sorry, if I had listened to you and brought you this wouldn't have happened. Gods, I may have killed the best thing that has happened to me in a long time." Feeling the coolness on her hands, she bent down and placed a soft kiss on the woman's lips. Standing she turned and left the room. Saxton was stationed at the helm when she made it topside. He turned to gaze at her and then went back to his watch. She approached as he asked, "Still no change?"

Shaking her head she said, "No, I am such a stupid fool."

His eyes searching hers as he said, "No you are not, the fool is your friend, she should know better than to go masquerading like that."

Trying not to scowl at the man, Sea replied, "The fool is me, I should have brought her with me. This would all have been avoided. I will never forgive myself if she dies."

He sighed as he said, "She won't, if this one had the stamina to do what she has done, a little water will not take her from you. You are lucky Anne, two loves in one lifetime."

Sea walked away as she said, "Yeah, well I will feel lucky when I look into those beautiful brown eyes once more. I'm going to go get something to drink."

He called after her, "Something to eat would be good. Keep up your strength."

She nodded but never said another thing as she disappeared below once more.

That evening, quite a few of the crew as well as Sea, went to the island. They built a large fire and enjoyed an evening of drink and carousing. Two of the men were playing instruments and after several hours, they didn't need music to quench their thirst for fun. All were having a good time, all that is, except Sea. The woman sat near a hanging rock as she stared at the ship bobbing in the distance. Saxton found her as he called, "Look lonely up there, want some company?"

Managing a smile she said, "Come on up, your life is in your hands."

It didn't take the man long to make the climb and as he sat beside the woman he said, "She will be fine, I feel it in my bones. Fate would not be so cruel, taking Gabrielle from you and now this."

Sea looked at him as she said, "I never had Gabrielle, she had me. Her hold has been all I ever wanted."

He interjected, "That is, until recently."

Drawing her knees to her chest, Sea gazed at him skeptically.

He met her gaze and said, "Until this one, I am happy for you. You run a pirate ship, most fear you and give you respect wherever you go. You have a lot on your plate to deal with and it is time you are given some joy." Noticing the look on Sea's face he said, "There are a few stragglers like Calico and they will get their comeuppance. You are like a daughter to me and like Kierea, all I want is for you to be happy. If Gina does this and it is obvious, I say happiness to the two of you forever." He handed her a bottle of port. Sea took it as she raised the bottle and took a long drink. Wiping her mouth, she said, "To you my friend." She handed the bottle to the man and watched as he took in the sweetness of the port.

They sat there for half the night. Enjoying one another's company. Sea finally stood as she said, "Got to get back to the ship, see if she has woke yet."

Saxton beamed at her as he said, "If she has, after what you did to her on board in front of the crew, will not set well with this one."

Starting her descent, Sea said, "Good, at least I will know she is alive. See you back at the ship."

The days had past and Gina seemed to be getting stronger, though the woman slept most of the time. Sea had been able to keep her awake long enough to eat. She had even taken the woman up on deck a few times. The crew gave them a wide berth as they watched the two women. Saxton viewed them with concern on his face. The woman, Gina, seemed to be far off and nothing Sea did would make any difference. He had concerns things just might not turn out the way Sea had hoped.

They were two days away from the Amazon Village and their rendezvous with Gabrielle and Xena. Sea had been on deck, giving the crew orders and making sure everything was tied down. The weather looked as if it might wreak havoc on them at anytime.

Gina had made her way out of the bed and was rifling though the small trunk. She found a shirt and pair of pants to wear. Holding the pants up she realized they were too long and proceeded to put them on anyway. Sitting, she rolled the pant legs up until they were just below her knees, then slipped the leather shirt over her head. Looking down at herself, she laughed, what a sight she made. When Sea had tossed her into the ocean and all the air had been knocked from her body she felt her time had come. It took a long time to recuperate from the fall and the water she had taken in at this time, made her angry. Furious at herself for being so foolhardy as to think Sea would ever want her around and at herself for getting caught. Her eyes glanced to the black coiled whip that hung on the wall. Walking over she took it from its hook. Her hands caressing the leather, she whispered, "So, this is what you brought me down with." Turning she left the room. It didn't take long to make it topside and her eyes gazed around searching for the woman.

Sea was standing near a large crate, it was almost at the center of the ship's hull. Her hand still holding the coiled leather, she started to stride toward the woman.

Several crew members saw the woman and called out. Sea had been deep in conversation with several men and when she heard the warning, turned to see what was going on.

Gina was a sight, wearing a pair of her pants, rolled to the knees, a leather shirt that fit the woman almost too well, barefoot and holding a whip in her right hand.

Turning her full attention toward Gina, she said, "Good to see you up and about. Must say the pants look better on you."

Gina had let the leather trail, a long black strand as she walked. It almost looked like a python searching its prey.

Gina stopped as she gazed at Sea's crew. She could see they were ready to defend the woman. Before Sea could move, Gina snapped the whip sending it flying toward the woman. Barely jumping out of the way, she yelled, "Are you crazy?! You can hurt someone with that!"

Smiling, as she coiled the leather with her hands, she answered, "That's the idea, you felt the need to humiliate and almost kill me, thought I would let you know what I went through." She snapped the whip back as it reached out and grasped a large stick one of the men held. Gina seemed surprised when she was almost hit by the object as the leather flashed past on its way toward Sea.

Hands on her hips, the woman said, "Enough, Gina stop this before you hurt someone or yourself." Sea could see her men were ready as she shook her head and said, "I can handle it boys."

Seething, Gina said, "Guess you can, certainly know how to knock a woman off her feet."

Sea threw up her hands as she said, "I am not playing this little game. So go back to what you were doing and leave me to what I was before you interrupted." She turned to walk away and it was then that Gina cast the whip as a loud crack riveted the area, the leather sought Sea's ankles sending the woman crashing to the deck. Rolling onto her back, she gazed up at the woman as she sauntered toward her. Gina was smiling, as she held the leather tightly in her hands, it was as if she was roping an animal and was coming in for the kill.

Looking up at the woman, Sea said, "I'm sorry, I've said it before, I really am. I didn't know it was you."

Reaching down she removed the leather and said, "But I knew it was you. Don't you ever do anything like that to me again."

Sitting, she asked, "Oh, what would you do?"

Coiling the leather once more, Gina smiled, her eyes twinkled down at the woman as she said, "I'll have you on your knees, pirate."

Sea's eyes darted to her men and she could see they wanted to laugh but the look she was giving them told them not to. Turning to walk away, Sea called out, "Is this the way you are going to leave it?"

Turning back, Gina said, "Until the next time."

Sea was standing as she said, "I told you I was sorry, damn it! What else can I do?"

Gina called back, "Seems you thought it was best to leave me back there, you might think on it."

Throwing up her hands in frustration, Sea bellowed, "Is this what you want, I'm on my knees, I apologize, forgive me?"

Gina looked at Sea then at her men, it was obvious they were enjoying the spectacle as she walked toward Sea. Reaching out her left hand she grasped the woman's and said, "I'm sorry, don't know what got over me. Get up."

Instead of rising to her feet, Sea grasped Gina's hand and pulled the woman to the deck with her. She reached out and grabbed the whip throwing it across the deck. Placing her hands on Gina's shoulders she said, "I love you woman, that was a foolhardy stunt, now can we get back to just being Sea and Gina?"

Gina smiled at the woman as she said, "Might have been foolhardy, but for a few minutes I had Ann Bounty dancing to my tune."

Leaning forward, Sea's lips sought the woman's in a tender kiss. Gina placed her hands on Sea's shoulders and gave the woman a push sending her falling backwards and she followed, easing her body onto the woman's. Sea stared up at the light brown eyes as she said, "Only if I let you. I must say, this is different."

Gina nibbled on her left ear as she trailed her lips to Sea's. The woman, slid them slowly, enjoying the sensation it was giving. She knew Sea was not going to be able to endure this much longer as the woman quickly turned the tables, sending Gina onto her back. She hovered over the woman, like a vulture checking out its prey as she grinned, "You learn quick. Now that you have made me a fallen woman in front of my crew, what must I do with you?"

Reaching up Gina placed a hand behind Sea's neck as she pulled the woman toward her she said, "Kiss me."

Chapter Seventeen

Sea and Gina had made peace with one another. Gina had taken a lower cabin, Sea was disappointed the woman chose that route. She had become fully infatuated by the woman and wanted her close. Gina had admitted to Sea her escapade on the ship's deck had not been thought through and she was sorry for what she had done. But the one thing it had accomplished was, she was no longer fearful of sleeping alone. Sea could not be angry with her, she had every right to be upset at the woman leaving her behind. Even tossing her into the sea although she didn't know at the time, it was Gina.

The ship had stopped and the crew was checking out another island. Sea had been standing at the bulwark, gazing toward the land. His words were kind yet held a bite to them as Saxton said, "Big trouble Captain."

She turned to face the man and said, "I suppose you are talking about Gina and I acting like a couple of fools on deck."

He nodded as he leaned against the bulwark, "Aye, some of the lads think the woman overstepped her bounds. You being the Captain and all."

Pursing her lips, Sea seemed deep in thought. Finally managing to say, "I made a terrible mistake once, I hurt the person I grew to love and I will not make that mistake again."

He gazed at the longboat that was nearing shore as he said, "Might not have any say in the matter. Seems I have heard scuttlebutt that some of the crew is planning a takeover." His eyes narrowed as he finished, "unless you take your rightful place as Captain and dole out punishment as you would anyone else."

Sea walked away as she scoffed, "Easy for you to say, this is not anyone else." Her eyes seemed to burn a hole in the man as she growled, "I will not punish her and that is that. If a member of the crew has a problem with it, they can take it up with me."

He shook his head as he said, "It will happen but not when you expect it and they will probably take the woman first."

Sea turned to the man, her face calmer now as she said, "All right, if you were Captain, what would you dole out for punishment, and I am talking about the two of us."

He grimaced as he answered, "It's not that simple, you are the Captain, she made you dance to the tune of her whip, damn, the woman took you down on your own ship. How do you expect the men to follow you into battle when someone like her can do that?"

Reaching out, she touched the man's right hand and said, "We both know, it goes deeper than that. I could have taken the whip from her at anytime, I let Gina do this."

He looked away as he said, "I know that but does the woman? And I don't think the crew does, even if they did, it looks bad for you. You let a woman do what she willed, why should they follow you into battle?"

Shrugging her shoulders Sea answered, "Can't answer that. I'll be in my cabin if you need me." She strode away, her head held high as if she hadn't a care in the world. Saxton shook his head and followed. He had decided to talk to the woman, Gina. Maybe he could make her understand what had happened before this got so far out of hand, and no one could turn the tide.

Gina had been scribing on a parchment when she heard a knock on the cabin door. Stopping what she was doing, she walked toward the door and asked, "Who is it?"

"It's Saxton, I need to have a word with you."

She opened the door and stared at the man. He gestured with his left hand and said, "Can I come in, or do you want to go up on deck?"

She waved him into the room then said, "What brings you down here? You never have need to speak to me. Is something wrong with Ann?"

He shook his head and said, "Not physically--there is a problem."

Gina's eyes darted back and forth as she asked, "What kind of problem, can I help?"

He pointed to the chair and said, "Maybe you should sit."

"That's all right, I am fine standing. Now tell me what it is?"

He took several paces then said, "Damn it woman, do you know what you have done?"

Gina jumped at the man's change of mood. She shook her head as she answered, "Except coming on board, I don't know what you are talking about."

He pulled out a chair and sat as he said, "Well, if you aren't going to sit, then I will . . . "

Gina stood listening to the man tell her about pirates and their code. And when he was finished she walked over to the small bed and sat. She had been fumbling with her hands as she said, "I know nothing about pirates or their code. I was raised in a village, Sea is my first contact with the outside world. She was right, I was playing a game of sorts. I would never have hurt her."

He laughed, "Hurt her, you have no idea, do you? She let you do what you so aptly did on the deck. She could have disarmed you at anytime. Instead she let you make a fool of her in front of her crew. This is a bad thing to do."

The woman's light brown eyes were beginning to mist up as she said, "What can I do?"

He stood and walked to the door and said, "You can do the right thing, you can take your punishment the same way Gabrielle did or you and the Captain can join one another in whatever punishment the crew is planning."

Gina stood as she said, "Do with me what you want, it is my fault. I don't want to see Ann harmed in anyway." He nodded as he said, "You must not breathe a word of this to Sea, she will try to stop it."

Gina approached the man and said, "Tell me, will I live?"

His look was solemn as he said, "It depends on how strong you are and how much will you have to survive. I will try to do all I can to make this as painless as I can. Promise you won't tell Sea?"

"I promise, just please tell me when this is going to happen?"

His voice was calm as he said, "Tonight." He left the room, Gina felt a sickening feeling in the pit of her stomach, she had never felt such pangs before. Staring down at her hands, she could see they were shaking and she knew the feeling was of fear. If she could take it back. Suddenly she kicked at the door as she screamed, "Take it back, nothing can ever be taken back! Gods, what have I done!" She fell to the floor and let the tears that had been building pour forth.

Sea opened the door when Saxton knocked and said, "If you are here about Gina again, forget it."

He smiled and said, "Nope, brought you some food and drink."

Sea looked at the tray of food and asked, "Will Gina be joining me?"

He shook his head and replied, "No, said she wants to stay in the cabin tonight. She is working on some scribing." He set the tray of food on the desk then turned and left the room. Sea walked toward it and reached for the bottle of port. Removing the cork, she tipped the bottle and drank heavily. She was hurt the woman wasn't going to join her and even more hurt she thought staying in a cooped up room with a pen and parchment was more appealing.

Saxton had leaned against the outside wall, his heart was racing, if Sea knew he had put powder in her food and drink, she would skin him alive, at least, she would stop what was going to happen. Taking a deep breath, he headed for Gina's cabin and what he had to do.

Gina had scribed a note to Sea, apologizing to the woman, she had just finished when Saxton knocked at the door. Feeling a lump in her throat as she tried to swallow, she got to her feet. Her legs were shaky and she felt she would pass out. She had been afraid on Asterea's ship but she was the enemy. Gina had grown to like this man, and now he was going to punish her for calling out the Captain, these people had strange lifestyles. Opening the door, her eyes immediately saw the rope in the man's hands. She stepped back and said, "Maybe we should talk this through once more . . . "

He looked at her, it was serious as he said, "Don't make this any harder than it has to be. Sea will not be intervening, it is time." He reached out and placed the rope around Gina's wrists and said, "Let's go, there is little crew on board, most are on the island."

Gina held back and said, "I'm not strong like Sea, I am fearful."

His eyes seemed to cast a warmth for a minute as he said, "Think about the woman, know you are doing this for her. By all that is right, the Captain is the one who punishes."

When the two reached the top of the stairs and made their way on deck, he led her toward the main mast. Several crew members watched as he said, "I'm sorry about this."

Gina bit her lower lip as her voice cracked, "Just--get it over with."

He reached up and grasped a loose line and secured it to the woman's ties and hoisted it. Soon Gina found herself hanging, her toes barely touching the deck.

Saxton had stepped behind her and reached out, ripping the cotton shirt, exposing the woman's skin. He nodded to one of the men and the man brought him several strands of wet corded material. Placing his right hand on the woman's shoulder he said, "This starts it." As the wet material found its way onto her back, the woman cried. She closed her eyes praying for darkness, anything that would take her away from this pain. The corded material had now found its way around the woman, wrapping itself hungrily around her body, biting at her and with each strike her body jerked. Suddenly it stopped and she felt happy for the reprieve, that was until she heard the words, "Each crew member that is onboard will now deal out one strike per man."

Gina tried to move but the way she was secured she was unable. Calling out she asked, "Why? Wasn't yours enough?"

He answered, "For what you did, most would die. Since the Captain will not render punishment then it is up to the crew."

Gina cursed, "You lied--damn you!" It had started all over, the lashing's each seeming harder than the one before. The cord had wrapped several times around her body, finding her breasts as the woman cried in agony. When they had finished, she hung limply from the ties at her wrists, her back covered in red welts. He nodded his head as her body was hoisted several more times. Turning he ordered the men back to work.

They stayed anchored for several days, The crew went about their work. Many of them felt sympathy for the beautiful woman that hung for all to see. Saxton wanted to cut her down right after but knew better. Gina's sleep had not lasted long. The torment of hanging in front of all the men like a piece of meat getting ready to be butchered, had taken its toll on the woman. By the second day, she prayed for death. Her body throbbed, the pain was unbearable and the sun had managed to burn into her as if it was a red-hot poker. She was thankful for the nights, at least there was shade. She kept her eyes closed most of the time, she had no desire to stare into the faces of the men. Her thoughts were on Sea, where was she and how did she let this happen.

Saxton had watched the woman, he prayed each day she would survive for if she didn't, he knew Sea would end his life. He hoped he had done the right thing but at this moment, as he stared at the limp body of Sea's love, he felt remorse. He knew any day Sea would be waking and he had to get Gina to her cabin. On the third day he lowered the rope and released her wrists from the main mast. Carrying her in his arms, he took Gina to her cabin, placed her on the bed and began to administer to the woman.

Sea woke to a bad headache, clutching at her head she moaned. Sitting, her eyes spied the empty bottle of port on the floor. The food was still laying on the tray. Thinking she had too much to drink, she got to her feet only to fall back on the bed. This was a different feeling than just too much to drink. Reaching down she fought to grasp the empty bottle. Bringing it to her nostrils, she sniffed. The aroma of port was there but she could detect something else. Her mind was foggy as she shook her head trying to get it to clear.

Making it to her feet she wove her way to the basin and the pitcher of water. It was sloppy but she did manage to get most of it in the basin. Trying to bring the water up to her face she finally gave up and held her breath and submerged her face in the liquid. Standing, as the water ran down her face and onto her clothes, she cursed. Someone had drugged her and the person that brought the food and drink was Saxton.

Stumbling her way to the door, she opened it and headed for Gina's cabin. A sinking feeling was overtaking her as she stumbled hitting the wall and continuing. Finding the door to the cabin she opened it and fell into the room.

Getting to her knees, her eyes searched for the woman. Seeing her laying on the bed, she crawled toward her, all the time a gnawing fear had gripped her.

She reached out and touched the woman's face and said, "Gina, wake up."

When she didn't respond, she patted her face, still the woman did not move. Sniffing, she could smell ointment and reached down to pull the cover back. Emerald Green's widened as she gasped. Gina had welts across her breasts, her middle and as she pulled the cover off the woman, she could see her legs had not been spared. Laying her head on Gina's shoulder she cried, "Gods no, no I didn't want you harmed. Who did this? They will pay!" Her right hand caressed Gina's face softly, and tenderly as she whispered, "It will be all right, I will make it all right." Her body ached for this lovely woman, who would probably never want anything more to do with her, if she lived.

Saxton had approached the doorway and noticed Sea by the woman. He turned and left, knowing there would be time to tell her what had happened. She would not hate him anymore than he did himself at that moment.

Sea stayed by Gina's side day and night. She tended the woman and each day grew more angry. The ship was still anchored and she had sent a message to Xena and Gabrielle telling them they would be late. All her thoughts and will power were aimed at this fragile woman. A woman that had taken a terrible beating and from the cracked lips and dry skin, a woman that had been hung out in the sun. She knew the deep welts around the woman's wrists were indications she had been hanging. Her first thoughts were to see Gina well, then she would take care of whoever did this to the woman.

Saxton knocked at the door and said, "Brought some porridge, maybe you can get it down her. If not, you need to eat."

She raised her eyes to gaze at the man and said, "Just set it down and leave."

He turned and walked away, leaving the tray of food setting by the door.

Sea had been tending to Gina's legs, her fingers placing ointment when she heard the words, "If this is how I get you to touch me, we won't be touching too often."

She looked up to see the woman staring down at her. It took Sea a few seconds to make it to the head of the bed. Her eyes shone as she said, "What happened? I have been so worried."

Gina went to move and groaned as she said, "I did the right thing for a change."

Brushing Gina's hair back from her forehead she said, "You call the beating your body took the right thing. Why didn't you come talk to me?"

Managing a smile, she grimaced as her lip cracked even more, "Couldn't, you would be as bull headed as always and we both would've ended up worse."

Sea laid her head on the woman's shoulder as she said, "There will be time to talk later, for now, I am just glad to see you with me again. I care about you."

Gina reached across with her left hand and touched Sea's face as she said, "I can tell, missed
me . . . "

Sea raised her head and gently brought her lips down on Gina's forehead as she whispered, "Something terribly. And as soon as you are able, you are moving into my cabin with me. It's either that or I move in here with you."

Gina had drifted into a restless sleep and Sea took the opportunity to sit at the desk. Her eyes taking in Gina's scribing, she picked up the parchment and as she read the woman's words, she smiled. Gina was scribing a story about her. Setting the parchment down she saw the smaller one, it was inscribed with Sea's name. Opening it, she read the scribing. When finished, she cursed under her breath. Her hand still grasping the parchment. Checking on Gina, she turned and strode from the room.

Stepping onto the deck she looked for Saxton. The man was standing at the helm and it didn't take long to make up the distance between them. He looked up when he saw the woman nearing. The look on her face, and the clinched fist, told him what he was dreading to know.

She stopped in front of the man and said, "How could you? You know how I feel about her. Tell me how could you talk her into something so harmful?"

He stepped back and said, "It was the only way to stop what was happening. The woman could have said 'no.'"

Sea gritted her teeth as she said, "Did you tell her what was going to happen to her? I bet not. No one in their right mind would have gone through the torment she just did, if they knew this was the way they would end up. Damn you!" He never even saw the fist as it careened across his jaw, the blow knocking the man to the deck. Saxton looked up at Sea, she was seething as he said, "She agreed, ask her."

"Sea turned and walked away then turned back as she said, "Get up! You have a beating coming and I can't wait to give it to you!"

Scrambling to his feet he said, "If it will make you feel any better, do it, but you and the other are alive because of it."

Sea made several quicksteps forward, leaped into the air and flung her right foot into the man's stomach. He fell against the bulwark and it was here she began to hammer his face with her fists. Several of the crew had stepped forward, as one said, "The man has had enough. Unless you intend to kill him, better stop."

She glowered at the man then turned and walked back toward the stairs. Calling back, "See he is cared for and tell him I want to see him at first light in my cabin." With these words, she was gone.

Sea went to Gina's cabin and when she entered the room, she could see the woman was awake. Gina smiled up at her when she walked into the quarter. Her eyes saw the bloodied fists as she said, "Gods, what happened to you?"

Sea sat in the wooden chair and said, "Read your note. And I paid a visit to an old friend." Gina had managed to sit as she said, "You didn't, I hated the man when it happened, but he more or less told me it was my choice. It saved the ship from a mutiny and it saved you from feeling the wrath of a discontented crew."

Leaning back in the chair, Sea replied, "Seems it saved everyone except you. Don't you ever do anything so stupid again."

Gina wrinkled her nose at the woman as she said, "Not my mother, I am my own person and though I didn't ask for this, I got it. I will never call you out again in front of your crew, count on it."

Sea's eyes had softened as she said, "When you do that, I think it just makes the indentations in your cheeks deeper."

Holding out her right hand she said, "Take my hand, come over here and sit with me. I think you like the indentations in my cheeks more than you do me."

Approaching the bed she took the woman's hand in hers and sat. Gina kissed each hand as she said, "Put something on these, I hate to see what Saxton looks like, he loves you, you know."

Her eyes seeming distant for an instant, Sea murmured, "He has a funny way of showing it. He knows I . . .  He knows how I feel about you. I told him I would not punish you and that was that. He went behind my back and did this. I cannot forget what the man has done."

Gina pressed a soft kiss on Sea's cheek as she said, "Can you forget all the years with the man, and all the times he has saved your life. I think this is best forgotten. I will have a hard time dealing with it but you have your mother to think about. This is not the time to lose friends."

Sea pursed her lips as she said, "You are right, but for this night, let's just lay quietly and try to think about us."

Gina smiled as she said, "You mean there is an us?"

Sea's lips brushed against the woman's as she said, "You had a doubt?" They both laughed as she laid down next to Gina."

Chapter Eighteen

It took sometime for the welts on Gina's body to dissipate. Sea hardly left the woman's side. She and Saxton had reached an understanding of sorts. She would not retaliate at what he and others had done and he had promised never to interfere again. Sea seemed to have only one thing on her mind and that was seeing Gina back on her feet.

Sea had been sitting at her desk, contemplating their destination. She was following a line on the parchment when she heard someone enter the room. Looking up, her eyes caught sight of the woman. Gina smiled, "You are deep in concentration once more, this is good."

Placing a finger to her own lips, Sea asked, "Oh, and what is good about it?"

Gina had walked toward the porthole as she answered, "You have your mind on your mother and the trip once more. I seemed to have messed that up for a good while."

Standing, Sea reached out and grasped the woman's left hand as she pulled her toward the chair. Sitting back down, she drew Gina onto her lap as she teased, "Is that it, I thought maybe you were enjoying the view."

Turning her head and staring into Sea's gorgeous eyes, Gina's dimples seemed to delve deeper as the woman answered, "Have to admit, your sitting around without your clothes on does give a person something to contemplate."

Laughing, Sea drew the woman closer as she wrapped her arms around her. "Might try it, it has been so miserable, we have had hot to stormy weather and now this, it is so humid, might as well leave the clothes off. They will be all wet soon anyway. Always told mother, I hated the confinements of clothes."

Caressing Sea's face with her left hand, Gina softly uttered, "When I am this close to you, I forget myself. I think you cast a spell on those that are fortunate to care for you Ann Bounty."

Placing several kisses on Gina's forehead, Sea said, "I have told the crew to set sail once more."

Placing her head on Sea's shoulder, Gina whispered, "About the confinements of clothes, not all are so fortunate as to have a body to die for like you."

Hugging the woman tighter, Sea laughed, "Are you sure you have never been outside the village? You seem so different."

"Not different, just finding out what the world holds in your hands. Oh, and the clothes never looked better on anyone. They seemed to be made for you."

"Speaking of clothes, I have to put the confounded things back on. Need to go speak to Saxton."

Gina stood as Sea moved and asked, "Are the two of you all right? I would hate myself if I caused anything between you and him."

Walking toward the leather pants, Sea answered, "We are as good as can be, I will never forgive him for drugging me and doing to you what they did."

Gina watched as Sea aptly slid into the pants and when she turned to search for her shirt, she said, "Then you must hate me, because I started the whole thing."

Placing a hand on Gina's' chin, her emerald green's sending out warm vibes, the woman said, "Never, I have to admit you surprised me, didn't know you could handle a whip. Is that something you are taught in your village?"

Gina watched as Sea slipped the leather shirt over her head and went about pulling the leather ties as they crisscrossed the shirt. Realizing she was enjoying this way too much she answered, "No, I have seen people use them for different reasons, we have a villager, named Olsein, he herds his oxen with one."

Sea was standing directly in front of Gina as she fidgeted with the leather ties. Gina reached up and slapped the woman's hands as she said, "Let me." As she pulled the leather together, she continued, "About enjoying the view, when it is you, I always do." She gave a few tugs and said, "There, all snug."

Sea glanced down and said, "Nice, couldn't have done it any better." Turning to walk away, she loosened the leather and breathed a sigh of relief.

Gina had been watching as she said, "You are a handful Ann Bounty."

Sea turned to gaze at the woman as she offered, "And so are you, we go together quite well."

Approaching the woman, Gina carried her sword and sheath as she said, "Saxton told me, you let me do that with the whip. He said you could have stopped me at anytime. Why didn't you?"

Taking the weapon and strapping it to her waist, she answered, "Because you were having such fun with it. Because I almost drowned you. If I had known it would have led to what happened, I would have stopped you."

Shrugging her shoulders, Gina said, "They would have come after me anyway, I had already made the mistake of defying you. Next time, if there ever is a next time, can we do this somewhere off the ship? A deserted island, or someplace with just you and me and no one will ever know." Raising an eyebrow, Sea's facial expression was one of pure pleasure as she teased, "Oh, does this mean I get the opportunity to see you in control once more?"

Placing a hand on Sea's face, Gina smiled, "If the future holds for us what I pray, I hope to have you dancing to my tune."

Placing a hand on Gina's, Sea replied, "And with that, I am supposed to go have a business meeting." Leaning down she kissed the woman's hand and said, "Do you know what you are doing to me?"

Gina beamed, "Know, and loving every second of it."

Sea turned and left the cabin, once more her body was on fire and with each step she took toward the stairs, she repeated, "Calm down, calm down, damn it, damn it . . ."

Xena and Gabrielle had been at the Amazon Village for sometime, they were beginning to wonder what happened to Ann, that is, until the pigeon brought the message the woman had been delayed.

Xena had been visiting with Queen Melosa and was now on her way to the inlet. She was carrying the message as her mind drifted back to her conversation with the Queen.

Melosa gazed up as Xena entered her chambers, she stood and said, "Xena, so good to see you and Gabrielle once more. Please, come sit and have something to drink with me."

Taking several long strides, she approached the woman and grasped her arm in friendship, "Same here, you are looking in fine health these days."

Melosa clapped her hands and a woman scurried into the room. She asked her to bring goblets and port and then said, "A lot better than finding an arrow embedded in me. If I never thanked you for all you did, I am now."

Xena pulled out a chair and sat, her blue eyes, surveying the woman as she said, "You are welcome. We were glad to be able to have been of assistance."

Melosa's eyes darted past the woman toward the opening of the chamber then flashed back to Xena as she said, "Gabrielle, where is she?"

Xena leaned back in the chair as she smiled, "Went to the bay, wanted to see if she could spot The Bounty."

The woman lowered her gaze as she blurted, "Oh."

Catching the reaction, Xena asked, "Oh? What is the matter?"

Standing, she walked toward the chamber opening and called out, "Where is that port?" A woman stepped into the room, carrying a tray of port, goblets and some food, she set it on the table then left. Melosa walked toward Xena and said, "Have some with me?"

Nodding her head Xena said, "Tell me, what is the 'oh' for, it is pretty obvious there is a hidden meaning there."

Pouring the two goblets, she handed one to Xena, then sat as she said, "It is better Gabrielle tells you."

Taking a sip of the port, Xena smiled, "Oh, you are talking about Gabrielle and Sea doing it in Tunis."

The woman's eyes flew open as she said, "Th--the-- you are all right with this?"

Xena seemed relaxed as she said, "Gabrielle told me, it won't happen again."

Melosa was on her feet as she began to pace the room. Xena finished the goblet of port and set it down as she said, "You are making me nervous, come over here and tell me what has you in such a twist?"

Melosa's voice was apocalyptic as she asked, "You don't know, do you?"

Xena was on her feet by now as she glowered, "Know what? I suggest you tell me what you are hinting at!"

Walking toward the woman, Melosa said, "Sea and Gabrielle, were pledged to one another on the summit."

The woman might as well struck Xena down. Her face was covered in shock and disbelief. She stood like that for quite a few minutes and when she finally found her voice she said, "Pledged? As in one another?"

Nodding, the woman walked back toward her chair and sat. Gazing up at Xena she nodded then said, "I am surprised Gabrielle has not told you. I thought you were fine with it. It is not like these things do not happen."

Xena tried to regain her composure as she said, "If you will excuse me, I, I need to leave."

Melosa nodded and said, "Try to understand this, your love for Gabrielle is deep and so is hers for you." Before she had finished, Xena had disappeared.

Now she was getting close to the inlet. Having time to ponder the Queen's words, she was still as upset as when she first heard them. Gabrielle and Sea pledged. Gods, where had she been all this time, under a rock?

Gabrielle sat high on the rocky knoll, she was gazing out at the horizon. Her blue-green eyes searching for the ship she had grown used to seeing. Drawing her knees to her chest and wrapping her arms around them, she knew it was the dynamic red head that she really was looking forward to seeing once more. Ann was a part of her life and it was a part she had grown to understand. Xena seemed fine with what happened in Tunis and the two of them were growing closer each day to taking that final step toward their happiness. Xena had balked at first but the woman was really trying, she had let Gabrielle, touch and caress her body with gentle whisperings of love. Though, she still would not let the woman go all the way, she was progressing. Gabrielle shook her head as if to rid it of demons as she said to herself, "Just take it one day at a time. You love her that much is for sure and Xena loves you."

Gabrielle heard Xena approaching and waved at the woman. Xena acknowledged her as she called out, "Come down here, got a message from Ann." She was holding something in her hand.

Smiling, she quickly got to her feet and made her way down over the rocks. As her feet touched the ground in front of Xena she asked, "What does she say?"

Xena handed the parchment to her as she replied, "Read it."

Taking it, Gabrielle's eyes scanned the message and when finished she said, "Wonder what could have kept them?"

Xena bit her lower lip as she said, "What the matter, can't wait?"

Gabrielle immediately caught the woman's tone as she gazed up at Xena's eyes, they had gone from warm to cool. She pondered the woman's look as she swallowed and said, "What are you talking about, 'can't wait' we both decided to make this trip. I had already told you I could go alone."

Xena took several steps away from the woman as she said, "I should have known when you said you would go alone. It's kind of hard, being so close to your intended with someone else tagging along."

Her hands were on her hips as she stepped closer to the tall woman. Gabrielle was totally confused as she said, "All right, I give, if this is another of your moods, I don't understand. You are not making a lot of sense, 'intended,' 'should have known' let me in on what it seems to be you are talking about."

Xena's face had grown hard, her jaw was set and the muscles tensed as she scowled at the woman.

Gabrielle had seen the look before and she was not feeling too comfortable as she said, "Xena, for God's sake tell me what has you so upset?"

The woman never even saw it as Xena struck out with such fury, her right hand cracked along side Gabrielle's face sending the woman to the ground. Gabrielle sat up, rubbing her cheek with her right hand as she said, "Xe--wh--why are you . . ." She didn't get the rest of the words out because Xena had reached down and grabbed her by her right arm pulling the woman to her feet. Gabrielle tried to pull loose from the woman's grip but found it useless. Xena's left hand caressed Gabrielle's face as she said, "How did you like it? Was it good for you or just for her?" She slapped Gabrielle repeatedly, never releasing her hold on the woman's arm. "There, how does that feel, don't worry, your precious Ann will feel my wrath when she comes on land."

Gabrielle reached out and touched Xena's hand as she said, "Tell me, what has you so upset, I love you."

Lowering her head Xena's lips pressed against the woman's, caressing as they slid with ease on the blood that was trickling from the woman's cut lips. Gabrielle flinched at the pressure and tried to pull away but Xena was relentless and seemed to be enjoying this meeting. When she felt the time was right, she pulled away and said, "Should have told me, you have played me for a fool for the last time." She released the hold she had on the woman and started to walk away. Reaching up to touch her throbbing lips, Gabrielle called out, "After this, I deserve to know, why?"

Turning to scowl at the woman, Xena growled, "Your pledge to Ann Bounty on the Summit. All the Amazons know but not the woman you claim to love. Guess the laugh is on me." Walking away, she heard, Gabrielle cry out, "It's not what you think, Xena! Gods, Xena listen to me--please!" She crumbled to the ground, her body wracked in pain at the loss she was feeling. Tears fell freely and her cries of, "No, no, no . . ." Reverberated the area.

With each step Xena chastised herself. She was angry because she had not seized and controlled the situation before it got out of hand. Stopping to gaze back, she cursed herself for hurting the woman. Though Gabrielle had done the worst thing possible to their relationship, she still felt something for her. Xena turned and started back to the village, her mind was full of rage and anger and at that time, she hoped no one stepped in front of her.

Gabrielle lay for a long time before she finally got to her feet. Each movement was pain in itself. Her chin was damp and she knew it was blood, because her lips were still reeling from the blow. She walked toward the water's edge and kneeled. Seeing her reflection in the water, she grimaced. The woman had not only split her lip, she had placed several tell tale imprints on her face. The one closest to her right eye looked the worse. She placed several fingers on the cut lip then rose. Slowly she started her trek back to the village and maybe this time Xena would kill her.

Ephiny had been standing near the hut when she spied Xena walking into the village. Gabrielle was not in sight and she started to walk toward the woman. Nearing, she noticed the red on the woman's lips and hand. "Xena, what happened?"

Looking up to see her friend approaching, Xena managed a smile and said, "Ran into something, I'll get over it. Where is Epinon?"

Ephiny reached out to touch the woman's hand as she answered, "Went to the Centaurs camp, probably won't be back tonight, why?"

Shrugging her shoulders, Xena replied, "Just wondered."

Taking Xena by the hand, Epinon coaxed, "Come home with me, let me tend to your lip's and hand."

Pausing for a moment then thinking it over, she replied, "All right, better than me doing it."

As they neared the modest structure, Ephiny smiled, "Not much to offer in the way of amenities, but it is home."

Staring at the spacious room and all its furnishings, Xena said, "It's nice, I can see your touch in everything."

Ephiny's eyes sparkled as she drew the woman toward a wooded chair and said, "Sit, I'll get some water."

Collapsing in the chair, Xena watched the woman as she walked toward a basin and pitcher of water. Her step was like an orchestrated dance, each one different and each one bringing out feelings she had kept hidden for a long time.

The Amazon was not one to miss much and she definitely had seen the glint in Xena's eye. She hurried toward the woman, her smile radiant as she said, "Just relax, I'll have you as good as new before you know it."

Xena reached up and touched her hand and said, "Maybe I don't want to be new."

Slowly wiping the blood from Xena's lips, the woman moved her body rhythmically as she whispered, "Then old it is."

After Ephiny had taken care of Xena's lips, she took the woman's hand and soaked it in the water. Taking it out, she dried, and held it in her left hand as she cajoled, "Your hand is swollen, want to tell me what happened?"

Xena gazed at the care the woman had in her eyes as she answered, "Take my word for it, the other person looks worse."

Ephiny removed the basin and cloth as she said, "How about a nice drink?"

Leaning back in the chair Xena asked, "What do you have in mind?"

Walking to a cupboard, she removed a bottle of port and said, "This, made it myself."

 Xena nodded as she said, "So when I drink this, I will know you put your all into making it."

Grinning as she poured a mug and handed it to the woman, in a voice cast full of sensuality, she whispered, "My all . . ."

Xena waited till Ephiny was seated then she took a long drink. As she set the mug on the table Ephiny's eyes searched the woman as she asked, "Well?"

Smiling, Xena uttered, "Good."

Laughing before she took a drink, Ephiny said, "Coming from you, good is wonderful. Speaking of wonderful, where is your other half?"

Xena finished the drink as she scowled, "I could use another."

Ephiny noticed Xena had ignored her question and knew better than to broach the subject again. The two women finished off three bottles of Ephiny's home made port and by mid afternoon, they were both feeling no pain.

Xena managed to get to her feet as she said, "Better go, need to lie down."

Ephiny got to her feet after several attempts and made her way over to Xena as she said, "Don't have to go, I have a bed right there." She was pointing as her eyes blurred and she changed directions with her finger and continued, "maybe there, anyway if you can find the damn thing, lay down."

Xena laughed as she reached out and placed her right arm around the woman's shoulder. Turning to gaze down at the woman, she said, "Then let's both find the damn thing,"

Chapter Nineteen

After making her way to the village, Gabrielle made a straight line for the hut her and Xena had been staying in. Pushing the curtain aside, she stepped into the room. It was just as she had left it. Everything in its place and it looked like Xena had picked a bouquet of wild flowers and placed them near the bed. The woman had been so attentive and now this sudden about face. It frightened her and she knew she had to get to the bottom of it.

Walking toward the basin, she grasped the pitcher of water and poured it. When finished, she washed the blood from her face and let the coolness of the water set for a few minutes before she patted her face with a towel. She could feel the lip was still bleeding and placed a small strip of material over the area. Pressing it, she left the building and headed toward Melosa's chambers. Maybe she knew what had happened to the Warrior.

Melosa was going through several parchments when Gabrielle entered the room. She looked up and when her eyes viewed the woman's face she stood and said, "I didn't know she was going to do this. Please, come sit."

Walking toward the woman, Gabrielle asked, "What do you mean and what happened?"

Melosa's face was full of regret as she said, "When she told me you and Ann had been together in Tunis, I assumed she knew the two of you had been pledged on the summit."

Jumping to her feet Gabrielle screamed, "Gods! You told her about that, it was not your place, it was mine, damn you!"

Melosa had noticed several of her guards enter the room as she said, "It's all right, go back out." Then staring at Gabrielle she said, "I could have you slain for talking to me like that. Since it is my fault, it seems for telling Xena, I will let your outburst go unpunished, but, I suggest you watch your actions and words. It really is your fault you know, you should have been honest with Xena."

Gabrielle wanted to reach out and rip the woman's face off as she said, "At this moment I don't care if you do kill me. I have nothing left you have seen to it. You are right, I should have told her, I told her about the ruse Ann and I used in Tunis to free her but not about the pledge. It was something I had completely forgotten about, after all, we never did consummate it."

Walking toward Gabrielle the woman lowered her tone as she said, "The two of you pledged, and if you did what you have said in Tunis, then regardless, you have consummated the union."

Tears rolling down her face as Gabrielle gazed at this woman and said, "Then what can I do to take it all back?"

Melosa heaved a heavy sigh and replied, "Nothing, once it is done that is it. Only death of one of you will end it."

Gabrielle's lip was bleeding again as she scowled and said, "That is not an option so guess I will just have to get Xena to understand."

Melosa spoke slowly as she said, "After a good look at your face, I would hate to be standing too near the woman when you try to get her to understand."

Gabrielle turned and walked away as she said, "I have to."

Leaving the Queens Chambers, she walked around the village, searching for Xena. No one had seen the woman and she was close to giving up when she remembered, Ephiny might be somewhere in the area. Walking up to a tall brunette, she asked, "I'm looking for Ephiny and Epinon, can you tell me where I might find them?"

Her smile was pleasant as she said, "Epinon is nearby at the Centaur camp and Ephiny probably is at home."

Getting the directions, she began to walk toward the far end of the village. The huts all looked alike and she prayed with each step she took, the fear she had been feeling creeping over her was unfounded. Stopping, she stared at the curtain that covered the doorway, she hesitated then pushed it back and peeked into the room. Her eyes fell on the couple immediately and she placed her hand over her mouth to keep the sound from coming out. She wanted to scream but instead just froze.

The large wooden bed that set in a corner of the room was fully occupied. Xena lay on her stomach, both arms stretched out above her head and next to her lay the blond Amazon. Ephiny's left arm lay relaxed across Xena's back and the right side of the woman's face was snugly resting there. Their clothes were laying on the floor. Stepping back, Gabrielle turned and hurried from the area. She knew that Xena and Ephiny always had a thing for each other but the woman swore they had never been together. These two were too comfortable never to have been in close quarters before. If Epinon were to walk in on them, there would be Hades to pay.

It didn't take Gabrielle long to find the messenger hut. Entering she noticed there were many pigeons and all making a great deal of noise. She hadn't stood there long when a woman approached her and asked, "Is there something I can do for you?"

Gabrielle looked at the birds and said, "I need to get a message to The Bounty, the ship should be in the area."

She smiled and asked, "Are you talking about the pirate?"

Nodding her head Gabrielle said, "Some call her that, I call her friend."

She watched as the woman walked toward a golden cage and said, "This one, will take the woman the message. There is parchment on the desk, when you are ready I will send it."

It didn't take Gabrielle long to scribe the message as she said, "Just see this goes out as soon as possible."

She nodded as Gabrielle watched the woman attach the note to the pigeon's leg. Once the bird was in flight, she said, "All done, will there be a reply?"

Shaking her head Gabrielle answered, "No, thank you." She turned and left the sounds and walked toward the cliff. It was a steep climb, and she used all the energy she had to make the ascent. Reaching the top, she heaved a sigh and said, "Think I would learn."

It took her a few minutes before she stood and turned, taking in the awesome spectacle of the ocean in the distance. The Amazon's called the place, "The Summit," and she knew many ceremonies had taken place on top this scenic marvel. She stepped slowly toward the altar and as she neared, dropped to her knees. It seemed the demon she was facing both in her head and body had been relentless. Her restless nights of sleep to visions she knew nothing about, all had been filled with the lovely face of Ann Bounty. Now, she feared for the woman and for Xena. If Xena called the woman out, if she turned this into a blood-fest, neither woman would win, she knew this in her heart. Ares would be the winner, he would have the old Xena back in his arms and she would be lost.

A seagull flying by caught her attention. Her eyes searched for the bird and it was then she saw the ship. It was still a good distance but the shape and masts, left little to wonder, it was The Bounty. Her heart skipped a beat as she took in the sight. Any other time she would have been happy to see Ann, but not now. She hoped the pigeon made it to the woman before she stepped ashore and into Xena's waiting hands.

The coolness of the breeze felt good as it swept against her body. Closing her eyes, she thought back to a time of decision and a time that seemed to be edging its way back into her life, whether she wanted it to or not.

Melosa had talked with her about Sea's visit to her at "The Cave of Purification." The woman had informed her she would have to make a decision. She would have to pledge a union to the woman or Sea would be dealt the ultimate punishment for breaking their laws. It was as if it were yesterday as she could see the Queen pacing before her. The woman's words were powerful as she spoke, "You have already said she has no control over you and that you are your own person. Make your decision now, it will be a celebration of your union or Ann Bounty's death."

Holding her hands tighter as the images became clearer in her mind, Gabrielle knew she had wanted to talk to Xena and Melosa caught her in her own words of independence. The Queen was sneaky, but, at the same time, she was not going to see Ann perish because the woman had made the mistake of wanting to see her. Ann had been wonderful, she didn't force herself on Gabrielle, she just wanted to see and talk with her.

Gabrielle herself would probably never get all the Amazon's laws and rituals clear in her mind. This was not anything she felt a need to worry over. The cold icy look Melosa had given her along with the ultimatum, gave her little choice and she could see herself speaking the words, "Then the answer will be union."

A lovely melody made her open her eyes as she stared at a beautiful white bird. It was setting on the altar, flapping a wing. At first she thought it was doing this routine for her, that is, until the other bird gently glided down beside it. Smiling, she turned her gaze away, her eyes searching for the ship once more.

It was obvious the birds were mates and seemed even they knew the altar was the place to cement their love for one another. Seeing the ship once more, her mind drifted back . . . "

The minute Gabrielle's eyes saw Ann, her heart skipped a beat and a delightful spasm bounced across her stomach. She felt as if she would faint.

The statuesque woman was dressed in a pair of black leather pants. She wore a leather vest that was held together by one button. Her black boots shone and the woman's arms were adorned with golden bracelets. As the woman neared she could see a lovely ivory, necklace adorned her neck. Ann Bounty was breathtaking and she certainly had taken the Bard's.

The ceremony flashed before her as if in a dream and when she opened her eyes, she knew it was not. Though this had just been a farce, a ploy to keep Ann from harm, the two had gone through a real ceremony and the only thing left would have been to have consummated the union. Of course neither planned on this and the large black bird took care of that anyway. Gabrielle had not thought about this or what it might cause in the future, because she felt it was all over. Now, she was faced with the realization of it.

Tunis, the two of them putting on a good show for Calico's spy. If all she wanted was Gabrielle's body, the woman could have taken her long before this.

Sitting, she kept her eyes glued to the ship in the distance. Pursing her lips she muttered, "You try, try tell yourself it was all a ruse." Her thoughts seemed scrambled for an instant, then she began to muddle through the actions of that night. Though it started out as a ploy, she knew the two of them lost all thought of a spy and became caught up in the mood. Their bodies, moving, gliding with the tune that had been playing havoc on them for so long. It had been a night of passion and lust and the next morning when they awoke in one another's arms, both felt the angst of what had happened. They both had agreed it was something they had to do to save Xena, and it was that, but both knew it had been more.

If she knew what was going to happen, she would not have taken the steps that night. She would have hoped the spy would not report to Calico. Laughing, she said, "Yeah, that is just hopeful thinking. Gods what am I going to do, what can I do to stop what is happening?"

There was no answer for her, only the soft howl of the wind as it grasped her strawberry blond hair tossing it about the woman's head.

Sea and Gina had just stepped topside, she had placed her right arm around the woman's waist as she said, "It is time this is settled, I will not have the crew looking at you in that way anymore."

Gina pulled back as she whispered, "It's all right, I can handle it as long as I know you are here."

Shaking her head, her eyes reaching into Gina's, her voice warm and soft, "Then we will do this for me." She stepped forward and the woman walked beside her. They stopped as they looked down at the crew, they were all standing gazing up at the two women. Saxton stood against the bulwark his eyes never leaving the two.

Sea gazed at Gina then turned her attention to the crew as she said, "This woman, Gina, has been dealt a punishment few of you would have returned from. I think her outburst on deck has been amply satisfied. Saxton has taken the heaviness of rendering the discipline and some of you felt the need to help. I want to see those crew members step forward."

The men's eyes darted from one to the other but no one moved. Sea's left hand was hanging at her hip, her fingers were twitching as she continued, "If I don't see you step forward, then you all will feel my wrath."

She barely got the words out as crew members began to push others forward. Five men were standing out in front with fear in their eyes as they stared at the woman.

Sea removed her cutlass, raising it toward the sky as she said, "If there is one among you that will lay a hand on this woman again, you will feel this blade, do I make myself clear?"

They all nodded as she said, "Take them, do to them what they did to her." Sea held Gina close as she continued, "Hear me now, this woman, Gina, is special to me. She will be treated as you would me. I care for her and if there is one among you with the backbone to say anything against this, step forward."

The men shook their heads and said, "We will not challenge this."

At this time a young man stepped forward, he drew his sword and said, "Maybe they are all cowards, not me. I will not be ruled by two women and one that cannot keep her hands off the other. When we fight, I want to follow a captain that will have her mind on business, not the bed." He laughed and Sea looked at Gina as she whispered, "Better go below, this will get messy."

The woman shook her head as she said, "No, I will not. This whole thing is my fault, can't you just leave it?"

Answering, Sea replied, "The lesson to learn is, never defy the captain and get away with it. You lose the trust of your men. Now, go below."

Nodding, Gina's eyes glimmered as she asked, "Did you mean it, you really care for me?"

Smiling, Sea replied, "More than anything."

Turning to walk away, Gina felt good at what the woman said, and bad at what was about to happen. She had a lot to learn about pirates and it seemed there was an awful lot of hurt and pain involved. Sighing she thought she would try to keep the more pleasurable thoughts and deeds in mind.

The fight, if you could call it that, with the man was over before it started. Saxton had taken him down with one throw of a dagger. Sea walked toward the man, coldness in her eyes as she said, "Why did you do that?"

He pointed toward the island and said, "We are close to the village, and I just saw a messenger pigeon fly in. You need to save your energy for something else. Your orders will be obeyed."

Staring down at the form of the man, the knife had pierced his heart as she said, "Throw him overboard, and get on with it. We will be docking soon."

She slid the sword into its sheath and headed toward the pigeon. It didn't take long to remove the note and read the scribing. The words were Gabrielle's but the scribing was different. After she read the message, she crumpled it in her hand and uttered, "So, it has happened. Gabrielle does not deserve this."

Turning to leave, she was blocked by Gina. The woman had a questioning look on her face as she asked, "What is wrong?"

Sea's face held a look that was unreadable as she answered, "Received a message from Gabrielle, there has been trouble at the village."

Gina bit at her lower lip as she asked, "Is she in trouble?"

The woman's eyes warmed as she stared at the fixed look on Gina's face. Placing a hand on the woman's shoulder, she said, "Come over here, sit, let me tell you a story."

Nodding, she walked toward the steps and sat, Sea watched, then sat beside the woman. "You know Gabrielle and I have a relationship, you also know it had to be a little deeper than just friendship."

She nodded and said, "I know, you tried to kill yourself over her."

Pausing then continuing, Sea said, "Well, someone else may just do that for me."

Gina's eyes grew wide as she uttered, "Oh no, this cannot happen. Tell me, please?"

Managing a smile, she took Gina's left hand in hers and said, "Then let me fill you in on the whole story. If you are planning any further contact with me in your life, you need to know."

Gina nodded as she said, "The Fates threw us together when you entered my life. I want to know all you choose to tell me."

When Sea had finished, the woman was silent, it had been hard hearing about the love these two women possessed for one another. Sea stood and walked down several steps as she said, "Say something, tell me you hate me, stand up and hit me, do something."

Gina stood, she stepped toward the woman, Sea's back was to her and the woman braced herself. She just knew Gina was going to hit her and she felt she deserved it. Instead, the woman pressed her body against Sea and wrapped her arms around the woman as she said, "It doesn't matter, that is past, this is now."

Turning in the woman's embrace, Sea stared down at the soft brown eyes that shone up at her and said, "You say I amaze you, just when I think all hope is dashed, you amaze me. Then it is fine, my going to the village?"

Shaking her head as she hugged the woman, Gina answered, "Never, I don't want to see you and Xena at odds with one another. Gods, you are all supposed to be going to save your mother. Can't the two of you put this aside at least until after that?"

Sea held the woman close as she answered, "If only, this is something I need to deal with, Gabrielle did not deserve the woman's beating, if anyone it is me."

Taking a step back, Gina raised her voice and said, "I'll not have it, Ann Bounty, I will go talk to this woman."

Laughing, Ann whispered, "I think not, my petite protector, but this I have to do on my own. You can keep Gabrielle company."

Gina smiled as she said, "Uh huh, you would trust your other love and me in the same proximity?"

Nodding, Sea answered, "Yes, Gabrielle is well experienced in the art of defense and weaponry and you are not. She will not harm you and I am sure can dodge anything you might decide to throw her way."

Gina laughed, "Promise, no whips. Maybe just a little woman to woman talk."

The two started back topside as Sea said, "Might not be a good idea to go up here." The sounds of men groaning in agony had already reached their ears as Gina said, "You are right, I don't want to see this. It is still too vivid in my thoughts and sleep."

Turning, Sea whispered, "I know, remember I sleep by you. Your nights are full of fearful dreams, maybe this will help ease them. It had to happen. Though Saxton had told the crew your beating was ordered by the Captain, who had been taken ill, others had to feel my wrath. Don't look at me like that, I know how some of the men have been treating you. I will not have it on my ship, I will not have it in my life."

Reaching up to touch Sea's face. Gina smiled, "You amaze me."

Before they walked into the cabin Sea retorted, "Maybe this woman to woman talk is not the best thing . . ."

Gina laughed as she teased, "Still, might prove very interesting."

Chapter Twenty

It was the constant itching of the woman's nose that finally woke her. She had been between sleep and waking as she subconsciously scratched at it. Opening her eyes, she groaned, how could anything that tasted so good make a person feel so bad. Her right hand quickly sought the nose, her fingers caressed and soothed the irritation.

Feeling the arm across her back and the pressure of the woman's head, Xena smiled, It had all been a bad dream, she and Gabrielle had been sleeping. Feeling the woman this close to her sent warm sensations clear down to her toes. She was sure the treatments were working, because she was looking forward each day to the woman's touch. Turning onto her back, she wanted to wake Gabrielle with a soft kiss on the back of her right ear. Something she had found to be very stimulating not only to her, but it sent Gabrielle into spasms of delight.

Xena's translucent blue eyes grew wide and her mouth gaped open. She held a look of sheer surprise on her face as she gazed into the sleepy face of Ephiny. Her roll over in bed had just transferred the woman. Ephiny's arm was now draped over Xena's breasts and the woman's head was settled comfortably above her left breast.

Ephiny didn't wake, she had the pleasurable look on her face of a woman that was content. Carefully Xena got out of bed, reached down and grabbed her clothes. It didn't take her long to dress as she took one last glance at the room, turned and left.

It was still dark but there was a hint of light and from the look of the sky she figured it was probably getting close to time for sunrise. No one was in the square as she found her way to their hut. He mind playing over and over what had happened. Her hand ached and when she stared at it, she felt the hurt she had caused the woman. Without knowing she spoke, she heard her own words, "Why? Gods why?"

Stopping as she approached the doorway Xena hoped Gabrielle was safe inside, sleeping. She was filled with hurt and anger at what she and Ann had done behind her back. At the same time, her heart pained and every nerve in her body ached for the woman. She had no idea what would happen when she saw the woman once more, she only knew she would never hit the bard again. Their love had grown, it took years of traveling together, confronting one evil after another and all were bent on destroying the relationship the two had. She had destroyed this all by herself in one vicious episode of anger.

Gently moving the curtain back, she stepped into the room. She would not wake the bard, she would ease in the bed and pray to all that would listen to her, the woman would have a good explanation for what Melosa had told her. She stopped as her eyes stared at the empty bed. Stepping close, her left hand reached out and touched the cover, it was obvious Gabrielle had not been there. A gnawing fear gripped her as she said, "Where are you?" Her thoughts, though jumbled, came back to the same perception. Had she hit the woman harder than she thought, maybe Gabrielle was still there, maybe the woman was injured? She turned and hurried from the hut. With each step, each attempt to run, her head felt like it would explode. Whatever Ephiny had put in her own special port, was certainly playing havoc with her every step.

The early morning light was beginning to touch upon the area like golden hands lighting the path for her. Nearing the inlet, she could still see Gabrielle sitting up high, waving at her and that smile that lit up even the darkest recesses of her body. She was radiant when she spied her, there was no look or desire for any other on her face just her. Stopping she stared at the area. She wasn't there, the soft lapping of the water as it rolled in then dissipated were the only sounds she heard. Walking toward the area where she had last seen Gabrielle, she stopped and stared at the sand. Dropping to her knees, she gazed at the telltale sign where Gabrielle had hit the ground. Getting to her feet, she called out, "Gabrielle! Gabrielle, where are you!" She quickly covered the area but the woman was nowhere to be seen and she decided to go back to the village. Maybe Melosa or someone else had seen the woman.

By the time she made it back to the village, people were out, going about their business. She pushed toward Melosa's chambers and when she reached the entrance was met by two amazons, both blocked her entrance with spears. Her hands were on her hips as she glowered at the women and said, "Tell the Queen, Xena needs to speak to her and it is urgent."

One left and when she returned she said, "The Queen will see you now. First, you must leave your weapons."

A crooked smile crossed Xena's face as she handed the chakrum and sword to the women. They stepped back and she walked into the room. Melosa had quite a few candles burning, they were sending out a pleasant light as well as captivating fragrance.

Melosa was dressed in a flowing robe, her hair was loosely laying upon the woman's shoulders. The curl was gone and Xena had to admit, the woman looked different.

Looking up, Melosa pursed her lips and said, "It's early, what are you doing out at this time?" The woman had a tray of breads and cheese setting in front of her as she continued, "Come sit, have something to eat. Perhaps a mug of tea."

Xena stepped toward the table and as she stared down at the woman, Melosa was pouring two mugs of steaming brew. The woman stared up at Xena and said, "Well, sit."

Pulling out a chair, Xena sat, though not too happy about the woman giving her the order. Melosa reached out and handed her the mug as she said, "I feel I know why you are here and I can tell you, I have no idea where she is." Raising her eyes to meet Xena's she added, "Even if I did, after I saw what you did to her yesterday, I would not tell you."

Xena had taken a drink of the tea and set the mug down as she glared at the woman. "Oh, and did she come running to you for protection?"

Taking a bite of sweet bread, she answered, "Hardly, if that is what you think, then you don't really know the woman that has shared your life these past years."

Lowering her gaze to the table, Xena said, "I'm sorry about that."

Melosa retorted, "It is not me that needs to hear the words, it is Gabrielle."

Xena leaned back in the chair and said, "Where is she, I need . . . "

"You need to finish the job."

Trying to keep herself composed, Xena answered, "No, I need to talk to her."

Melosa set the food down and had turned her full attention to the woman as she said, "Seems you might have done that before you hit her."

Standing, Xena growled, "You are the one that turned my life upside down with your enlightenment of this damn ceremony."

Shrugging her shoulders, Melosa whispered, "If I could take it back, I would. Gabrielle is an Amazon Princess, your striking her could cause repercussions among the people."

Stepping toward the woman, Xena slammed her fist onto the table and bellowed, "Hades in Tartarus, it is our life, not yours. Now, tell me where I can find her!"

Shaking her head the woman replied, "Cannot, I have no idea. She came here yesterday after what occurred, looking terrible. She wanted to know if I knew what had happened and why you were so upset. I told her what took place between us and the woman was not too happy with me when she left. I will tell you this though, Gabrielle was devastated, it was as if her world had ended."

Xena took several steps back as she said, "You, you are not telling me she . . . "

Standing, Melosa interjected, "I am telling you, the woman asked what she could do to take this union with Ann Bounty back and I told her there was nothing she could do. The only thing that would dissolve it would be the death of one of them."

Xena's face showed the emotions of fear as she said, "Have to find her, Melosa, if she does something stupid, I will never forgive myself."

Placing her right hand on Xena's shoulder the woman said, "I can see it in your eyes, you still love the woman. I will call out a search group and hope it is not too late for the two of you."

Xena's eyes had teared up as she uttered, "Thank you."

Melsoa had clapped her hands and as she waited for an attendant she said, "Also you might know this, the union, Gabrielle only did this to save the woman's life. If things had not happened that were unforeseen, she never would have pledged. This you can believe."

Xena bit her lower lip as her voice cracked, "Find her, even if she never speaks to me again, she has to be all right."

Managing a smile, the woman talked to the attendant that had approached her. When finished she said, "Why don't you go spend some time in the springs, let your body rid itself of the drink."

A sheepish look traveled the woman's face as she stuttered, "We--l--it--port . . ." Melosa called another amazon and said, "Take Xena to the springs, see she gets everything she desires and make sure she is not disturbed unless it is me or Gabrielle." The woman nodded as she looked at Xena and said, "Been to Ephiny's?"

Xena noticed the look on the Queen's face as she followed the woman from the chambers.

She quickly asked the woman, "How did you know I had been to Ephinys?"

She turned and gazed at the woman and said, "The smell, she makes the only drink that has that scent. Odd though, she usually saves that for Epinon and herself. Few others have tasted the fruits of the woman's personal touch."

Scowling, Xena said, "I'd just as soon you forget this, I have enough problems without any more."

The woman smiled as she said, "It is forgotten. There, the springs, if you need anything, just call. I will be outside the door."

Nodding, Xena entered the room and the aroma of the steam from the water enveloped her.

Sea was sitting in the longboat as Saxton rowed it through the water. His look was sorrowful and the more she gazed at the man, she felt empathy for what he had done. Angered at what had occurred, Gina had talked and talked to her. The woman did not hold a grudge against the man and had been putting her all into getting Sea to understand that what he had done was to save her. It had been obvious to the woman, a total stranger to Saxton, the man loved Sea with a deep caring only for the woman.

Glancing back at the ship, anchored in the deep waters, she hoped this trip would yield a good meeting between her and the woman that Gabrielle lived each day to see.

Sea was trying to control an undercurrent of anger that was trying to make its way to the top of her being, and throwing away caution and all reasoning. It had been the lovely blond, and her irresistible charms that had kept the feelings under control. Her eyes turning to the coastline, she searched the trees, rocks for signs of life. The soothing sounds of the water lapping against the boat gave her a peace she felt deep within as her mind traveled back to a meeting on the summit that was coming into her
view . . .

Gabrielle was beautiful, more than she had ever imagined. She was standing in front of an altar, her strawberry blond hair gently blowing in the wind. The leather skirt and top she wore was striking and on the bard, it was enchanting. Her hair was adorned with flowers and she wore a necklace of ivory around her neck. Leather Gauntlets adorned her wrists and the golden belt around her waist shone as if it was the sun itself. She closed her eyes as the image of that day filled her every thought.

She had smiled, and Gabrielle's face lit up, her eyes sparkling at her. Melosa stepped forward she was dressed in royal attire. She looked at both of them and said, "We have all come here today to join Ann and Gabrielle. Great God of our people, protect them and help them through difficult times."

A soft smile took her face to a pleasurable moment in time and she could see Gabrielle. The beautiful strawberry blond, beamed up at her and squeezed her hand as she said, "Glad you could make it."

The vision was so fresh, almost like it was yesterday as she whispered, "For you always."

The boat had stopped moving and she opened her eyes staring at the man she asked, "What is the matter?"

His face seemed to emit a radiance toward her as he said, "I know." He pointed toward The Summit and continued, "It was there, your face has always given your feelings away to me. I thought maybe we should pause, I need to rest my arms."

She nodded, turned her head in the direction of The Summit. They sat in silence and try as she could to chase the visions from her mind, they came back stronger and she could now see Gabrielle and her exchanging vows to one another. The bard was a picture of heaven and all its wonders as her soft words still echoed in Sea's mind . . . "I don't know when it happened but it did, I found myself falling into your world and couldn't stop. With every breath you take and every look you give me, my life begins anew. I have grown to value your friendship and while you were being my friend, I fell in love with you."

Sea's eyes were reaching out to her and Gabrielle added, "Yes, Ann Bounty, I love you. I will always."

The lone tear that traveled the woman's face did not go unnoticed even if Sea tried to ignore it. He looked away, the woman was going through something that was tearing at her heart and the man could not watch it happen all over again.

Sea remembered the look on Queen Melosa's face when the woman gazed at her and asked, "And You Ann what do you have to say to Gabrielle?"

She could see herself standing so still as if a movement would erase what was happening. Her eyes gazed into Gabrielle's. She could still feel the wind as it tossed her hair and was fascinated by Gabrielle's flowing with the breeze. She swallowed and felt the chills of want and the warmth of this woman's love as she smiled and said, "From the first day I laid eyes on you, I wanted to conquer your every being. Then something happened and I found myself being conquered by you. It was subtle, but you slowly worked your way into my soul. I can not imagine a day without you in it. Your smile warms my heart and tells me there is good in the world. If I were never to love again, knowing you would be all I would ever desire."

Melosa's final words echoed over and over in her mind. "You are united in love. May the Gods bless you."

The lone tear had now been joined by a family of streaming wetness. She reached up to brush them away and noticed Saxton looking at her as she said, "All right, I will always love her, she brought light into my world. I only pray Gabrielle is ok. Let's go, I am ready to face whatever I have to."

He began to row once more as he said, "It will always hurt you like this, but, it will hurt less as the years go by. I thank the Gods Gina has entered your life."

Sea sniffed as she reached for the water skin and took a long drink. Setting it down she said, "As long as we both inhabit this land, the feelings and thoughts will be there. It will be the way we deal with these feelings that will make a difference. And you are right, it was a fateful day, the day Gina saved my life." Her mood mellowed as she uttered, "Saxton, about that . . ."

He smiled, "It is forgotten, gave you a good workout though."

Sea finished, "I am sorry, it won't happen again."

The two went the rest of the way in silence and when the man pulled the boat onto the beach she stepped down. Turning to him, Sea said, "Go back to the boat, I'll signal when I am ready to come aboard. And, if something should happen to me, see that Gina gets to wherever she wants to go."

He nodded and watched the tall woman stride away.

Nearing the village, Sea turned away and followed the path. She had taken it once before and now for some reason, she felt the need to do this one last time. Her stride was long and it didn't take the woman long to make it to the cliff. She looked for the foot holds and proceeded to make the climb to the top. Her thoughts had been filled with the union she and Gabrielle had pledged on the top of this cliff and she couldn't stop the need in her body to be there again. As her right hand reached up and grasped the top, she pulled her body up and onto the ground.

The wind, was whistling across The Summit and she closed her eyes and enjoyed the feeling of the wind against her face. The tears that had fallen down her cheeks were drying from the breeze and she knew no matter how many times the tears were erased, the feelings would never be. Getting to her feet, she gazed around the area. Her eyes froze and she felt a sharp pang in the pit of her stomach when she saw the limp body laying by the altar. The strawberry blond hair, moving with the breeze, the legs, the curves followed by an abdomen that revealed the muscles she had touched and loved. The halter top the woman wore defining full breasts, Sea stumbled several times trying to run to the woman.

Dropping to her knees, she viewed the cut lip, and marks on the woman's face. Reaching out she gently caressed her, whispering, "Gabrielle, Gabrielle, it's me." She had sat and was now holding the woman in a siting position, cradled in her arms. Sea sat like that for what seemed an eternity although it really was only a few minutes. Her heart beating faster than she had ever felt. Placing soft kisses on the woman's head, she sobbed silently. For the first time this woman who had controlled ships, people, had gone into battle without fear, was deep in the fear and sorrow of a love lost. She had never been in so much pain. She gently rocked the woman as she whispered, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." Her emerald green eyes staring at the sky, she cried, "Not her, please not her, if you have to punish someone, take me . . ." The lamenting cries echoed from the cliff . Anyone hearing the mournful sounds knew it was a cry of grief and condemnation.


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