It was an average early afternoon in Marietta, Georgia. Hot but not too hot, sunny, but not too bright and for a January in Georgia it was kind of nice.
Yep, just your average day and I am going buggy. Dylan sat, thinking and staring out the window; this was the fourth "Welcome Home" ceremony she had attended in as many weeks. She was happy to be back in the United States, but she wasn't thrilled that she had somehow become the ambassador of goodwill for the entire US Army.
Her orders were to follow a schedule of appearances while in route to her home in North Carolina. This obviously included stopping at every major town between Washington, DC and Cherokee, in the Carolinas. The politicians were milking her experience for all it was worth.
Initially, she had not minded, after all the end result was that she was going home and had been given four months of R and R to decide what she wanted to do with her future. Uncle Sugar was anxious to keep her on active duty, but Dylan had been an unwilling civilian now for a three years and she was not sure if she could go back to the rigors and restrictions of the military. Her former Commander, Colonel Fowler had spoken to her personally and had urged her to take the time and really consider her options. That was precisely what she had planned to do, but so far her mind had been preoccupied with speeches and polite political bullshit as she shook hands with mayors and Governors, all eager to be seen with a female combat hero.
Yes, at first it had been a bit exciting, but the constant repeated oration of her experiences was beginning to really trouble her. She had not actually realized how many people's lives she had directly affected. Now she heard it every day and the numbers seemed to get bigger each time she heard it.
Rubbing her temples she turned away from the sunny, perfect view. The normalcy of all the activity seemed to be giving her a painful headache.
It was so strange watching people drive freely up and down the streets, going about their mundane lives. They had no idea what it was like to be amazed and relieved that you woke up each morning. The idea of hunting for food and water or fighting to keep your children alive and your woman from being raped would never occur to those strangers walking in the streets below. Sometimes she felt as if she had been on a different planet and had finally been rescued and beamed aboard the mother ship.
She watched in amazement as people performed the simple acts that made up their daily lives like crossing the street at the crosswalks, pulling into gas stations and fast food places or chatting on the phone while they drove to and from work. That was one activity that she really had a hard time with. Sometimes she still expected to turn a street corner and see the market with the foods hanging in the open air, flies buzzing around it while a small child lazily waved a fan to deter them. Now it seemed like that last three years had all been a horrible dream and she had finally waken to find herself in her own bed…almost.
Thinking again of her location, she was amazed that she was still "on tour". You'd think the country would be tired of hearing my name.
She stared around at the huge, cream-colored room where their escort had left them. A beautiful cherry wood table graced the center of the room, its claw toed legs seemed to clutch at the thick blood red carpet. Tall ladder-back matching chairs were scattered in strategic locations against the walls. The standard patriot prints were displayed in matching imitation cherry wood frames. It was all a bit heavy, but overall, the county courthouse was really quite beautiful.
They had already put in their appearance with the Governor and were only waiting on their driver in order to leave. Being use to the vastness of the desert Dylan found staying in the large room uncomfortable. She felt trapped. Unable to remain still and craving the open space of the outdoors, she turned again to stare out the window. She and Lura had arrived earlier that morning and reporters had surrounded the duo immediately, bombarding them with questions and the glaring lights of cameras. Looking down into the street below Dylan could see the limo that had been assigned to them for the duration of their visit. It sat patiently outside and she sorely wished they were in it now. With a deep sigh of resignation she turned to glance at her roommate, slash fellow captive, in all this confusion. Lura sat staring at her folded hands, her hair was dulled and her skin was pale from their extended stay in the hospital following their rescue. Since they had returned from Europe they had had very little time alone and even less in the fresh air and daylight, at least not unescorted. It seemed they were the new stars of the camera and their every movement was top headline news.
She looked closer at her lover and noticed the dark circles under her eyes and the dazed look on her face; exhaustion was evident in the slump of her shoulders.
My poor little falcon looks lost she thought.
Dylan smiled gently at the small blonde; Lura had stuck by her through all the stress and strain of the physical rehab and the mental anguish of reliving and retelling the events in the debriefing session and in front of the crowds at the ceremonies. She had also relived the assault and the death of her friends over and over again.
When they had first arrived back in the States, Lura had suffered from nightmares, calling out in her sleep. Dylan had waken her and held her through those horrible times. They often found themselves making love in an almost desperate frenzy trying to wipe the memories from their minds. Finally, the dreams had stopped. Dylan thought it might have been because Lura had been lucky enough to have closure.
When they had recovered enough to answer questions, Dylan had told the investigators about the camera crew and had given them the coordinates for the destroyed terrorist camp. The remains of Lura's friends had been recovered and given a respectful burial. They had attended the funerals, both were at Arlington and the men were buried as heroes for their actions in the terrorist camp. Following the funeral Lura had cried all night, but afterward the nightmares were gone. Dylan envied her; she had not been around when her men at the camp had been recovered all those years ago. Because of the location of their rescue, the recovery and burial of the remains from the cave had occurred while she was still in the hospital. Her last memories of her men were of the skeletal remains she had been forced to crawl over when she had gone back into the cave for her radio. Now it seemed that every time she entered a closed, dark room she was back in the cave, surrounded by the bones of the dead.
Shaking her head in an effort to drive the morbid thoughts from her mind, Dylan stared again at her lover. Lura was exhausted; that was apparent in the dull glazed look in her eyes and the slight pallor of her cheeks.
"This was the last one, Lura. No more. We're going home."
Lura lifted exhausted but smiling eyes and sighed. "We will do whatever it takes Dylan, but to tell ya the truth, home sounds really, really good right now. I think I could use the break." Slowly she stood stretching her tired body and walked to Dylan, wrapping her arms around the slim waist of the soldier.
Dylan raised her dark blue uniform-clad arms and placed them on the shoulder of her soulmate. Smiling gently down into the soft green eyes, she felt herself relax.
"How do you do it Lura? Just a touch, just a sigh and I turn into a neatly pressed and starched, dress blue uniformed wuss." She smiled, happy to think of more pleasant thoughts.
"Hmm, must be love, sweetheart," came the warm, muffled reply from somewhere deep in the front of her blue jacket.
Lura pulled back far enough to glance up at the beautiful soldier she held in her embrace. She was so proud of her woman, her Hawk. Dylan looked incredibly regal in her Army dress blue uniform. The brass buttons glittered against the dark blue jacket and three rows of multi colored ribbons graced her left breast. The incredible star-studded, deep blue ribbon of the Medal of Honor lay gently nestled against the stark white of her uniform blouse. The medal had been awarded the day she had arrived back in the United States and Lura still remembered the ceremony.
They had arrived at the White House in the early morning. It was still gray outside and the security lights around the huge building glittered off the dew on the lawn. Huge ancient oak trees lined the drive, each one like a gnarled guardian. A police escort, sirens blasting, had taken them straight to the front door of the palatial estate.
Their car doors were opened by their assigned security. They were assisted out of the car and through the front doors into the home of the leader of the most powerful nation on earth.
Lura was concerned about her partner. The injuries they had both suffered had not quite healed and they were exhausted. Dylan was even more so after having withstood a grueling debriefing the day before. She had been through so much already which included months of rehabilitation just to reach the point where she could move under her own power again. Though the tall soldier had healed quickly, the injuries had taken a lot out of her. What really concerned Lura was that, while she had suffered nightmares and depression, Dylan had seemed to deal with it all. She had been understanding, strong and patient, holding her through the worst of it, and often staying up through the long nights just talking. Through it all though, Dylan had not shed a single tear.
They were escorted inside the main foyer where a Secret Service Agent stood with a wheelchair at the ready. She quickly rolled it forward towards Dylan, but stopped when her eyes met the icy daggers of the woman in blue.
Smiling silently, Lura remembered how it had taken her a good ten minutes of arguing to talk the damn stubborn woman into sitting in the chair even though it was obvious to her that the soldier was ready to pass out on her feet. Dylan finally agreed to the chair but only if Lura offered to push it.
With a tired smile she had settled into the padded chair and, motioning forward, had ordered, "Onward, McDuff."
Lura had leaned forward and whispered into one creamy ear. "Now I'm McDuff? Damn, close your eyes for a nap in a military hospital and see what happens. That's the last time I do that." Her comment had been answered by a gentle rumbling chuckle from the chair.
Lura rolled them towards an indicated door where they exited the building and entered the plush grandeur of the South Lawn. A platform, with a wheelchair ramp, stood at the edge of the manicured grass, the podium on it bearing the seal of the President of the United States.
When they had settled into their assigned seats on the platform the doors opened again to admit the viewing public, those that had been invited specifically for the ceremony. Lura saw the man from the cave again, the one who claimed to be her love's father. She felt Dylan stiffen as their eyes met. Senator Cameron assisted his wife, a beautiful dark haired woman, to her seat then turned and climbed the stairs to his daughter. Dylan began to struggle in her chair to rise and face her father but was stopped by a gentle hand on her arm. She turned and looked into a pair of pleading green eyes. Resigned to having to stay seated, she sat up and leaned forward, her hands gripping the arms of the chair. Lura expected a low growl to emanate from the tight throat and was genuinely surprised when it did not.
Dylan waited for the man to speak. He stopped directly in front of her chair and stared down into eyes that mirrored his own. Kneeling in front of the injured woman he bowed his head as if in deep thought then raised his eyes and spoke.
"Dylan, when your unit was attacked and you were reported lost three years ago, I made a promise to God." He paused, catching his breath. "I promised that if he were to give me another chance, just one, to have my daughter back I would do everything in my power to work things out. When we couldn't find you, when you were reported dead…" He stopped, his eyes filled with tears and he reached out blindly for her hands. Grasping them in his as if to draw strength and reassure himself of her existence, he cleared his throat and continued.
"When you were reported dead, I made it my life's work to understand your lifestyle and try to find a way to come to terms with it. I did a lot of reading, I attended meetings and most importantly, I spoke with your Grandfather. I am still not real sure of it all, but I can understand that love comes in a lot of different forms and you don't always have choices about who you love or why. I understand that there is no shame in love and most of all I understand that God does not make mistakes. I have waited three years to ask you one question." He stopped here and looked deep into confused blue eyes.
"Please, please, can you forgive me?"
Dylan stared into the tear-streaked face of her father, then lowered her head and shook it side to side. "I don't know, I don't know," she mumbled. "I need time to think. Please, give me time."
Standing, her father dropped his gaze to his shoes and nodded. What had he expected? He had treated her badly and deserved nothing more. He was still amazed that her mother had taken him back after his reprehensible behavior. He knew his daughter was right; she needed time and so did he. This would be quite an adjustment, first finding her alive and then nearly losing her again, and finally meeting the woman she loved. He had promised God anything for a second chance to be a part of Dylan's life. God had fulfilled his part of the bargain, now he had to give Dylan the freedom to choose if that was what she wanted as well. He would wait, forever if necessary. He would wait. With a slight nod, he rose and returned to his seat.
Dylan turned as her gaze following the tall man and finally settled on the figure of her mother. She looked beautiful and distraught. They had spoken at length on the phone from her recovery room in the hospital, but this was their first face to face in six years.
There was a bit more gray in her hair but her features were still stunning. Her dark eyes were fixed on the activity on the elevated stage; a small frown was all that marred the beauty of her still line-free face. Her mother had always been a quiet shadow in her life and she had never really realized how beautiful she was until that moment. Her father had been a fool to abandon such a woman and his only child. Dylan had a lot to think about. With a shake of her head she redirected her gaze to a third figure.
Following her lover's gaze, Lura could see where Dylan had gotten her incredible looks, but it was the figure behind the couple, the same figure Dylan now stared at, that caught her eye. A tall gray haired warrior sat proudly beside the senator's wife, the copper skin tones enhanced by the almost white buckskin shirt and pants.
Dylan's Grandfather, Gray Hawk, War Chief of the Southern Cherokee, had come to witness the ceremony honoring his granddaughter. He was stunning and proud in his traditional Native American regalia. His thick gray hair had been combed back into two heavy braids that were tied off with leather wraps. A single eagle feather had been braided into one and lay on his chest like a badge of honor. The bone and stone beads that adorned the shirt formed a screaming hawk with talons outstretched. His decorated buckskin pants and leather moccasins glittered the early morning light. In his gnarled hands he held a tall staff decorated with beautiful stones and the names of animals.
Lura watched as his alert black eyes turned to gaze proudly at his granddaughter. Again she felt the shoulder under her hand stiffen, but this time in pride. Dylan seemed to sit up taller; her head rose higher and a bit of the old sparkle appeared in her eyes when they met those of the old man. In turn the gray haired warrior threw his shoulders back and puffed his chest out with pride as a smile appeared on the wrinkled face. Lura now knew where her mate had acquired her courage.
They all settled into padded chairs in front of the podium and within minutes the ceremony began. Lura vaguely remembered the introduction of the Secretary of War who read the citation out aloud for the hungry eyes of the nation's premier news stations. Her eyes were on the President as she walked to the microphone to address the nation. She spoke of the boundless courage of a young Captain, alone in the desert facing insurmountable odds, of her battle with a ruthless enemy who had made it his mission in life to destroy for his own benefit. She told of those last days in the cave and the firefight that ended in the death of "an enemy of humanity" and the horrendous injuries suffered by this "defender of freedom". The President, moved by her own speech, had tears in her eyes as she turned and called Captain Dylan Hawke to the podium.
Lura stood to roll the chair forward, but was stopped by a raised hand. She looked on as the woman she loved slowly struggled from the chair; her pale shaking features telling of the strain that simple action was taking on her.
Lura remember again, the way the uniform hung loosely on the tall frame and the way the soldier swayed gently as she valiantly fought to stay on her feet.
The warrior stepped forward and bowed her proud dark head to allow the President of the United States to lay the Medal of Honor around her neck. It was the reward and thank you for a job well done, from the people of a grateful nation.
Though she was there in the final days, Lura still had not been able to grasp the full enormity of Dylan's accomplishment until that moment. She had survived for three long grueling years virtually alone in the desert and had caused serious damage to an enemy of the United States in the process.
Lura would always remember every moment, every smell and every feel of that day.
The cameras loved the tall dark haired hero and were constantly focusing on the beautiful, haggard face and brilliant blue eyes. That face had graced the cover of more than one magazine over the last month and the demands on her lover's time were as taxing on Lura as they were on the soldier.
Today Lura noticed the sunken cheeks and shaking hands. Dylan had not quite recovered from the extensive surgery that had removed several bullets from her beautiful body. She occasionally complained of what she called 'twinges' that woke her in the night. She had told Lura that the aches and pains were what had forced her to restlessly pace the floor of the hotels.
Lura had watched as Dylan tossed and turned night after night. The journalist knew it wasn't just the injuries; it was the also the nightmares that came from the deep horrid memories of the last three years. The nightmares woke Dylan in a shaking, cold sweat night after long night.
Lura glanced at the ribbon around Dylan's neck, thinking of the real meaning behind the star shaped bit of metal. It didn't just represent the pain and suffering her mate had been through, she knew that it also represented servicemen and women who had willingly placed the lives of others ahead of their own. Ordinary people, who at some point, were called on to do the extraordinary, people who had willingly sacrificed all for the survival of others. These were the few who were awarded the country's highest honor. She also knew that most recipients received the award posthumously.
As they toured the sites of Washington DC with their entourage of security and cameras, she had been amazed to notice the reaction of military personnel. Even general officers saluted the young Captain first when they noticed the ribbon around her neck. They would stop, snap to attention and render a sharp salute that Dylan returned just as sharply. When Lura asked her about it, Dylan shyly replied that they were saluting in respect of the ribbon, its recipient and all those who had gone before.
Squeezing the waist again, Lura felt as if her heart would burst from pride whenever she saw her mate in uniform, Boy, they were right when they said a woman couldn't resist a soldier in uniform. Oh Boy, were they right!
Drawn again from her view out the window, Dylan glanced down at the other woman. As she watched, a slow satisfied smile brightened her face as Lura attempted to burrow even deeper into the front of her blue-black jacket, inhaling deeply then sighing gently in contentment. She wondered what had brought on the sudden change. Whatever it was, she was grateful. She had been worried that it had all been too much on her soulmate.
Lura, feeling the warmth of the gaze, glanced up again to the still pale cheeks. The drawn expression told it all. Dylan was barely holding it together and Lura knew it. Time for a break. I'm gonna get my woman away from all this and let her unwind before the super glue she is using to hold herself together wears off. Nuzzling back into the deep blue coat, Lura sighed again. She knew that to address the issue of her concern or to point out any weakness would only upset the soldier. There was only one way to approach this.
"Dylan, I don't know about you, but I really need a break. Is there anyplace we can go and just be… well, normal?"
Dylan looked deeply at her companion and as a slow smile crept across her face, one sable eyebrow raised and the sparkle returned.
"I know just the thing," she said chuckling. Taking her companion's hand, she led her out the door.
Dylan was tired of waiting. That cussed driver is probably out smoking. Well, too damn bad. We are out 'a here. Long strides took her across the room where she slowly cracked open the door and cautiously peeked out. The hallway was empty save for a few scattered copies of the same ladder back chairs as in their 'prison'.
Grabbing Lura's small hand in her own she stepped out into the hall. Quickly striding down the corridor and past a startled security guard, Dylan reached the limo. Opening the passenger door she helped Lura in then ran around to the driver's door just as the first reporter raised the alarm.
Smiling with wicked glee, she locked the doors and started the car. Glancing back over her shoulder, she slipped it into reverse and eased the large car through the crowd of flashing bulbs, out into traffic and down the road. The squeal of tires a peal of laughter and the gray puff of exhaust were all that lingered in the air.
On reaching the hotel, Dylan retrieved their key from the front desk and led Lura to their room. As the blond watched with a bemused expression on her face, her partner unlocked the door, pulled the smaller woman in and snapped the Do Not Disturb sign on the outside knob. She locked the door, pushed the dead bolt home, and slipped the chain on. She walked quickly to the window and drew the curtains shut after which she turned and pulled Lura into a bone-crushing hug. "Sometimes you have just the best ideas," she mumbled into the soft blonde hair. "Let's change, then I am going to take you out for the most normal food you have ever eaten."
Quickly changing, Lura and Dylan escaped the confines of the five star hotel the state had paid for and were searching for what Dylan referred to as one of her many "vices". She absolutely had to have a large order of McDonalds' French fries.
"I'm not sure how they make 'em, but, as every true fry connoisseur knows, McDonalds makes the best French fries. Not too hard on the outside, nice and soft on the inside, with just the right amount of salt," Dylan had assured Lura.
Lura knew exactly how much salt Dylan considered "just the right amount." She noticed that the tall woman had a love for the seasoning and tended to overdo it just a bit in that area.
Having gotten directions from the front desk, the two women walked three blocks down the street and into the nearby McDonald's. Minutes later they were seated quietly in a corner booth, munching on crisp hot French fries and slurping down their drinks. Neither noticed the arrival of the news van or the cheerful reporter who stood outside talking to the television camera.
Dylan felt the disturbance first and raised her head. Still munching on a, heavily salted, golden crispy fry, she watched from her corner seat as the other customers began pointing and chatting in excited voices.
"Uh oh," she moaned. Reaching over she place a hand on top of Lura's head, turning her towards the window.
"Oh my. Oh no. Not here," Lura groaned, watching as the perky anchorwoman motioned her cameraman towards the silent couple.
Was I really like that before I met Dylan? YUCK! Lura thought with disgust.
"I am not giving one more God blessed interview," Dylan growled. "All I want is to eat my fries in peace. Make them go away, Lura," she whined, presenting Lura with a pitiful puppy dog pout.
Lura stared into the big blue eyes of her companion and nodded her head. "I'll take care of it baby, don't you worry. I won't let those big bad nasty news people near you," she said in the perfect Mommy voice. "You just sit here and finish your fries, I'll be right back." She stood up, dusted the salt and fry crumbs from her jeans, pulled her shirt straight and headed toward the camera crew. There was a look of staunch determination on her face.
"Go get 'em girl," Dylan mumbled, smiling as she munched on another salty treat.
Holding up her hands to stop any further advance towards her partner, Lura began to speak. "Miss Hawke is not giving any more interviews today. If you have any questions, you may speak with her attorney."
"Are you Lura Grant?" the perky reporter asked, sweeping past Lura's upraised hands. "How does it feel to be nominated for the Pulitzer Prize?"
"Whaaa? Huuu…? I'm not …but, the Pulitzer Prize?" Lura stammered. Suddenly she felt strong hands lightly grasping her shoulders, turning her back towards the corner booth.
"Miss Grant is not giving any more interviews today. If you have any further questions, you may speak with her attorney. Thank you," Dylan said. She turned and ushered the still stammering, confused blonde back to their table leaving the reporter to stare open mouthed at their retreating backs.
"The Pulitzer? The Pulitzer. B..b..b..but…the Pulitzer." Those were the only words that Dylan could hear from her companion as she guided the still mumbling woman down the aisle, ignoring the stares of the other customers.
Finally reaching their seats, she pushed the stunned journalist down into the booth and slid in next to her. She picked up a French fry and placed it into Lura's hand, guiding the small hand to her mouth just as the words, "The Pulitzer" spilled out again.
Dylan watched the news crew packing up and the frustrated reporter waiving her arms as her camera crew silently ignored her tirade. Turning back to watch the dazed, mumbling blonde, Dylan picked up on the conversation of a couple standing in line next to them. A petite, smiling woman stood next to a tall young man. The young man looked to be around seventeen or eighteen.
"Aww Aunt Char, I want two Super size Big Mac meals. I have been soooo good and I'm really hungry," he whined, turning large, pleading gray eyes to his aunt.
"No, Michael, you know what your Mom would say. Sam would kill me if she knew I let you talk me into more fast food. You're doing so well on your diet and, for a short woman, your Mom has quite a temper."
"Yep," the young man replied with pride. "But she never stays mad for long," he finished with a grin.
His Aunt Char seemed to be considering this comment for a moment when a loud noise in the rear of the restaurant drew everyone's attention. First there was yelling, then screams closely followed by gunshots.
Dylan reacted instantly. Drawing Lura to her and shielding the smaller woman with her own body, she threw them both to the floor. Lura felt the tall soldier stiffen just before she was folded into two strong arms.
"Dylan, what's going on? What happened?"
Dylan immediately recognized the sound of the gunshots. Her first thoughts were to get Lura to safety. Suddenly she was back in the cave facing the big gun of the tank. Dylan's vision tunneled until all she saw was the threat.
As Lura watched, Dylan changed. Gone was the smiling soldier. Gone was the gentle, sweet lover. The person rising to stand over her was dangerously familiar. The face was a chiseled mask and the eyes were an icy blue.
The Hawk had returned. She stood and silently walked out to face the thief.
The commotion and the gunshots were caused by, a slender young man with dirty blonde hair, who stood boldly in the back of the restaurant. He was dressed in a dark green jacket two sizes too big, black gloves that could not hide his slender hands and a blue baseball cap turned with the bill in back.
Jarrod had been in this McDonald's before and had his routine down pat. Like his mind, his n plan was simple. He would wave his gun around, fire off a few rounds, threaten a few faint-hearted customers and employees and rob the popular eatery. It had always worked before and he needed a few bucks for the new speakers he was wanted to go with the sound system he had stolen last night. Yep, he would impress the girls when he rolled out in his low rider with the new boomers. His mind had already installed the speakers and he was rolling down the streets in his dreams, leaning back in the seat, the windows down and the paint vibrating off the car.
When he arrived in the restaurant he expected some resistance, but he had not counted on the creature he now faced. Before him was a demon with a woman's face. The lips were drawn back exposing white teeth in a chilling grin. Her mane of hair seemed to dance, alive around her shoulders, but it was the eyes that were the most frightening of all. The irises were almost white and as cold as death.
Lura watched as the would-be thief froze in place. His hands trembled as he stared into the face of the very tall, very angry soldier. He stood still, not moving a muscle, the way one would if facing a rabid wolf.
Lura watched in utter amazement as he stopped in his tracks with arms outstretched, palms down. His eyes still locked with Dylan's, he slowly bent and lowered his weapon to the floor, then stood, waiting. Dylan had not moved. She had not spoken or threatened him in any way. Dylan Hawke had simply glared at the trembling man while he, to his total embarrassment, wet his pants in sheer terror.
A quick thinking employee had picked up a phone in the manager's office and dialed 911. The sound of the siren and the arrival of the police brought a cheer from the crowd, but there was nothing from the still figure of the soldier or trembling form of the thief.
The police special operations unit rushed the restaurant, guns drawn, expecting to find cowering customers. Instead, they too faced a very angry Captain Hawke. Lura knew that Dylan was not herself. She had tried to stop the police from further escalating the situation, but it was too late and they moved too quickly.
Rushing towards the tall woman the SWAT team attempted to reach for the arms of the two people facing each other so threateningly. Dylan felt them coming and she spun around ready to face the newest threat. Crouching low, she now placed herself firmly between the guns and Lura.
"Put your hands up, Miss!" a stunned young police officer ordered, training his weapon on the angry dark haired woman.
"No!" Lura screamed, rushing forward. She dodged around Dylan and, standing with her back to the policeman, spoke in a soft voice.
"It's alright, Sweetheart. These are the good guys. These are the cops. Everything is okay now. Calm down, we're okay."
From what seemed like a great distance, Dylan heard Lura's voice. Struggling in a daze, she began to focus on the soft green eyes. Shaking her head she began to listen to the voice of her soulmate.
"Everything is okay, these are the police," Lura repeated. Slowly, Dylan realized that the threat was gone. She was no longer in the desert, and most importantly, Lura was safe. Reaching out like a blind woman searching through the dark, she folded the smaller woman to her chest, breathing in the smell of familiar shampoo.
The same perky reporter and cameramen rushed forward shoving the cameras and mike into the soldier's face. She stepped back when the mike picked up a low rumbling growl. She frowned, tapped the mike to check the sound level then, undaunted, pointed it again towards the couple.
"Can you tell us what just happened here, Ms. Hawke? How do you feel right now, having just stopped a hold up"?
This time it was the blonde who answered; she had had enough. Lura turned from Dylan to face the reporter, pushing her back and glared into the camera until the cameraman finally caught a hint and lowered the thing. Sparks seemed to fly from the green eyes of the small woman. She suddenly seemed very, very intimidating. He had thought at first that the tall dark woman was the one to watch out for, but now he was not so sure. He looked first at the little blond then the quiet dark haired woman.
Dylan stood there her eyes tightly closed, arms wrapped around herself, in a state of shock.
The manager of the McDonald's stepped in front of the camera; he had already talked to the stunned law enforcement officers about the dark woman. He told them how she had subdued the thief before they arrived. He was attempting to explain what they all had seen, but could not believe: a woman stopping a robbery with a glare.
As the police cuffed the thief, the manager finished his conversation with the camera and slowly approached the two women. "Thank you for stopping that asshole. That is the third time in two months that he's been in here. The police have never been able to catch him. Somehow, I don't think he will be coming back this time," he said, smiling. "Now I know you weren't here for the 'entertainment', so whatever it is you wanted, it's on the house."
Lura smiled and thanked the manager. She started to turn the offer down when she heard a deep voice respond, "French fries, and a Dr. Pepper."
Lura turned and glanced back at her partner. Dylan still had the disturbed look in her eyes, but if she wanted French fries, by God, she was going to get them.
"Super-size that and add a Strawberry shake to it."
"I'll do better than that." He walked to the counter and pulled out a slip of paper. He quickly wrote out a note and signed it, then passed it to Lura, still staring at her dark friend.
The note read: "Free French fries, Dr. Pepper and Strawberry shake for life at this McDonalds." It was signed: "John Wilson, owner/manager." Lura chuckled and passed the note to Dylan, who glanced at it briefly before stuffing it into the pocket of her jeans and turning an expectant glare at the manager.
John Wilson had not flipped a burger or salted a fry in years, but he jumped to fill this order. Pushing aside the startled teenager behind the deep fryer, he shook out the fry basket and dumped the hot fries into the bin.
"She likes lots of salt," Lura added, trying to keep the smile out of her voice. Turning again to face her lover, Lura took Dylan's hand and led her back to their seats past the looks of gratitude on the faces of the other patrons.
Dylan sat with her back to a wall, her eyes scanning the open spaces between their seat and the door. Waiting. Lura watched as Dylan pulled a napkin from the dispenser on the table and slowly tore it in half then half again and again until there was nothing but a small pile of white confetti.
"Getting ready for a parade love?" Lura asked.
"Huh, what? Oh, sorry sweetheart. What did you say?" Dylan asked, focusing worried eyes on her companion.
"I asked if you were getting ready for a ticker tape?" Lura asked smiling.
"No, sorry. I guess I am a bit distracted," the dark woman said. "That guy just shook me up a bit. I kinda forgot where I was for a minute there," Dylan said as she stared at the small pile of snowy napkin bits. She gently gathered the pieces and placed them in the brass colored ashtray at the next table.
Turning to Dylan, Lura noticed the worried frown on her face and reached up to stroke the dark hair from her lover's eyes. "Honey, what's wrong? Is what happened still getting to you? I know that things moved pretty quickly, but it's over now so lets just enjoy our snack and go back to the hotel. I know it has been a long month, but we can go home after this."
"Home?" Dylan asked just as John brought over a tray loaded with fresh hot fries and two large drink cups. Lura was sure she had heard Dylan mumble something, but wasn't sure what it was.
I need to get her back to the hotel so we can get into some soft clothes and do some serious cuddling, I think my big bad warrior could use a bit of snuggle time she thought, watching the still frowning woman munch on the hot fries and glare at the door.
The walk back to the hotel was thankfully uneventful. Lura spent the majority of it trying to revive the atmosphere and by the time they turned up the drive she had succeeded in getting Dylan to unwind enough to allow the circulation to return to the hand gripping hers. The ride up in the elevator resulted in a poking tickle fight and by the time they had reached their room, Dylan's good humor was on an upswing.
Lura knew what would keep that happy mood. She reached for her toiletry bag and walked into the bathroom. Turning on the hot tap she squirted a generous amount of scented oil into the running water. Adding a touch of cold she filled the tub as the crisp sent of evergreens filled the air. Satisfied that the water wasn't too hot she turned and called out, "Dylan honey, take off your clothes!"
A laughing disembodied voice replied, "Lura, I know I usually take charge in the bedroom, and I know I promised that you could be in charge sometimes, but Sweetie you are going a bit overboard don't ya think?"
"Dylan!" Lura laughed, coming out of the bathroom holding a large towel while advancing on her lover with a look of determination on her face.
"Now you listen to me, Hawke. If you are not naked in the next fifteen seconds you are gonna see one very pissed off little falcon. You hear me?" Lura stood there, her hands on her hips and watched as a grinning Dylan stripped. As she turned to place her clothes on the bed Dylan felt the towel smack her naked butt.
"HEY!" she yelped turning to face a smiling pair of green eyes.
"Get that cute butt of yours in the tub, Hawke, before the water gets cold," Lura laughed.
"Alright, alright, just keep your flippin' towel to yourself," Dylan said as she ran bouncing into the bathroom and stepped into the tub. "Ya gonna join me? It looks big enough for two."
"Nope, not this time, lover. This one is all yours; you earned it. But hey, if you ask really nice, I might be persuaded to scrub your back," Lura replied
Dylan sank into the hot, scented water of the tub and allowed the soft oily water to caress her body. "Lura, this is great. All I need is a…"
"Dr Pepper?" Lura said, appearing in the doorway with a sweating can of cold Dr. Pepper.
"God, I love this woman," Dylan said as she reached for the can.
Lura smiled as she watched the exhausted woman sip on the cold soda, a crooked grin on her lips. Her eyes traveled the length of the beautiful bronzed body peeking through the steam, frowning as they touched on the still healing scars made by the bullets. Her Hawk had been through Hell. The question wasn't if she survived, but did her soul make it as well?
Dylan lay back with a deep sigh, relaxing and finally feeling a measure of security behind the locked door of the hotel room. Her soulmate was here and safe, she was here and safe. The doors were locked and she was on the fourth floor, in her own room and in her own country. There was no need to worry, no worries, no worries…
As Lura watched as Dylan closed her eyes and slipped deeper into the tub. At first she was worried that the sleeping woman would slip under the water but her long legs prevented that from happening. Lura decided to let her relax. "This is probably the first decent rest she has had in days," Lura thought. Turning, she headed back to the bedroom. "I'll give her a few minutes, but I swear if she comes out of there looking like a prune…"
Dylan felt the sweat dripping down her face; she was hot and it was nighttime. He was coming, no not for her, for Lura. He was going to hurt Lura! I have to get to her before he does! The sand was so thick, she was sinking into it. Quicksand! I can't run! Have to get to Lura! She is in the cave surrounded by my men. They can't fight him, they have no arms, no legs, no heads. They can't protect her. She will die, like they did. I have to get to her! Lura!
"LURA!" Dylan screamed, leaping from the tub, sliding on the now wet floor and crashing to her knees.
"Lura!" she cried, fear in her voice. Lura heard her from the bedroom and rushed in to find a sodden Dylan on her hands and knees beside the tub. Her face was streaked with tears and her hair was in disarray.
"Dylan honey, are you okay?" She bent to help the tall woman to her feet. Reaching for a towel to wrap around the wet body she guided the still stunned soldier into the bedroom and onto the bed. She ran back into the bathroom and returned moments later with two towels. She wrapped one around Dylan's shaking shoulders and she knelt in front of the soldier and with the other towel, began drying her shaking legs, rubbing briskly to warm her blood.
A stunned Dylan watched her soulmate. Drawn by the need to reassure herself of Lura's presence, she reached up with an unsteady hand to stroke the creamy cheek. "So soft." She glanced into gentle green eyes. Placing her hand behind Lura's head she slowly drew the soft pink lips to her own, kissing the blonde gently. She released Lura from the kiss, her hands pulling the shirt from Lura's waist.
Lura threw her head back offering her lover a choice bit of neck to nuzzle and moaned softly as Dylan took advantage of the opportunity. Her lips brushed a pale throat, pausing to enjoy the throbbing of a quickening pulse. Her tongue gently reached out to touch warm flesh and she was pleased to feel the pulse become more rapid. Slowly her hands reached around Lura's trembling body, her palm slipping up and around an expanding ribcage, lifting a soft shirt over blonde hair.
"I love you, Lura." Dylan pulled Lura to her and began to undress the other woman, kissing each portion of flesh as it was exposed.
Lura felt the chilled air touch her skin, her flesh trembled with anticipation and she felt Dylan slip her hands around her back and release the catch on her bra. Warm hands slipped up and gently stroked her breasts and she felt her stomach knot with anticipation. The hands moved up under her arms and lifted her up and forward. Lura opened her eyes and stared into the deep blue crystals of Dylan's eyes. She saw the pain and love reflected there. She reached out and pulled the towel from around the trembling shoulders, her eyes never leaving Dylan's. Slowly her fingers traced trembling lips. She slipped one inside and watched as the blue eyes closed and the lips closed around her finger. A warm tongue stroked the soft pad of her fingertip.
Dylan's hands slid back down Lura's body, and slipped into the waist of the soft denim jeans. Buttons released their hold on the pants and they slipped down slender legs. Panties quickly followed jeans and Lura now stood naked and exposed in front of her lover.
Dylan rested her hands on Lura's hips as she gently pushed her back and let her eyes roam every inch of the beautiful body. Lura waited patiently, her eyes heavy lidded as she watched Dylan examine her. The blue eyes roamed her body, stopping at the now glistening mass of golden hair at her groin. The tip of a pink tongue emerged from Dylan's mouth as she licked suddenly parched lips. Her eyes continued on their journey, stopping again at exposed breasts, the pink nipples now erect and tempting.
Slowly she pulled Lura back towards her as she slid to edge of the bed. Watching the blonde's face she slipped her knees between Lura's legs. Spreading her legs she forced Lura to a sitting position. Her legs wide and her thighs resting on Dylan's, Lura could feel the cool air caressing her wet groin as hands now reached back to cup her ass.
Bending slowly, Dylan drew an erect nipple into her mouth. She sucked gently as she massaged the soft skin under her hands. Lura buried her hands in Dylan's hair and held on for dear life. She felt one hand move up towards her waist but paused only to continue around her thigh, the fingers tickling the curls that covered her now aching clit. Slowly, gently the fingers parted her and slipped inside.
Dylan felt the wetness on her fingertips and groaned in pleasure. She pressed two fingers around a hardening clit and gently squeezed. Lura groaned in ecstasy and tightened her thighs, lifting her body to meet the searching fingers.
Dylan stroked two wet slick fingers deep inside Lura, stroking her clit with a thumb as she slowly pumped in and out. She could feel the muscles inside her lover tighten around her fingers; Lura was close to the edge. She slowed and pulled out, smiling when she heard the groan of disappointment. She leaned back releasing the tortured nipple and staring into hot hungry green eyes. She lowered her gaze to the neglected nipple and brought her hand up to carefully paint the pink flesh with the wetness clinging to her fingers. Sure that every bit of the nipple was covered, she watched Lura's face as she brought the fingers to her lips and slowly licked them clean while closing her eyes and groaning out her enjoyment.
Lura felt the wetness flowing again from her body as Dylan now locked her lips around the glistening nipple and sucked gently. She turned on the bed and lowered Lura to the mattress. With one last tug on the aching nipple she released it, only to let her tongue train down her lover's body to bury itself deep in the blond curls. She licked the hard clit she found there. Lifting her head she stared deep into green eyes as she reached down and captured Lura's thighs, spreading her legs wide. Dylan knelt before her lover and buried her face in the sweet wet moistness she found there. She pushed Lura back onto the bed and forced her legs further apart. Lying between them, she relaxed to enjoy her meal.
Lura felt as if her body would explode as Dylan sucked and nibbled on her clit. Her hips thrust upward in an effort to offer more of herself to her hungry mate. Finally, with a deep guttural moan, she came. Her body trembled with an exquisite orgasm, her hands buried in the glossy black mane. Exhausted, she watched, fascinated as Dylan licked her thighs clean of every glistening drop she could find and then smiled up at her.
Lura smiled back. "My turn, Hawk," she purred.
Later that evening, Dylan lay awake, the hum of the room's air conditioning the only sound she heard. Her left arm pillowed her head; her right was wrapped around the smaller woman that clung to her side like a limpet. All should have been right with her world; she was home, safe, warm, fed and deeply in love. She could not understand why she lay there staring at the ceiling. Her mind was alive and refused to allow her eyes to close. Every time she felt herself drift off, visions would appear in her head. Visions of her men, of the tank, of the men she had killed, and of her soulmate, beaten and bloody. She knew the visions were all in the past, but she could not seem to convince her mind to leave them there. The incident earlier in the day simply triggered the memories again and this frightened her. She was afraid of her response; she had lost control. What could have happened if Lura had not been there, what would she have done to the cops, to those people in the McDonald's, hell even to the thief?
I have to control this. I can't let it control me. Dylan lay there staring at the ceiling, seeing the incident repeat itself over and over again. That was how Lura found her the next morning, still staring at the ceiling, dark circles under her exhausted, dull blue eyes.
"Dylan honey, you didn't get any sleep last night. Why don't you lay here and let me get us some breakfast? Then I want you to go back to bed and stay there," Lura said
Dylan looked up from her place on the bed staring into the eyes of her soulmate. At first she was a bit upset, not liking the idea of being coddled, but then she realized what Lura had said.
"I will make a deal with you sweetheart. I will stay in bed if I am not alone," Dylan said, wiggling her eyebrows and giving Lura a decidedly wicked grin.
The small blonde grinned back thinking that Dylan must not be too tired if she was having those kinds of thoughts. Yipee! "I'll be right back," she said. Grabbing her robe she ran from the room to the laughter of her roommate.
As soon as Lura left the room Dylan began to remember again the horror of the dream. As she lay there her mind began to run through the events of the previous day again. What if I had hurt someone? What if Lura had been hurt? What could have happened to those people in the McDonald's? I could have really caused some damage. My God I could have hurt someone. Dylan was so lost in thought that she did not hear the door open or Lura call out. Suddenly, she was just there.
"Dylan honey, I have the…"
Dylan jumped and swung a fist towards the intrusion. She tried to stop herself, but she was too late. The tray held by the smaller woman went flying, the hot coffee spilled down the blonde's chest and she screamed, slapping at her robe. Dylan sprang from the bed, grabbed the linen sheets and dabbed at the brown liquid running down the front of the robe.
"Lura! Baby, I am so sorry. Are you okay? Please, I am so sorry, tell me if you are burned anywhere. I am so sorry. Please, Lura."
"Calm down Dylan, I'm fine. It didn't get me; the robe got most of it. I'm okay, really. You didn't hurt me. I should know better than to slip up on a soldier without any forewarning. I am really sorry I startled you." Lura gently sat on the edge of the bed taking Dylan's hand in hers, feeling it tremble from the recent shock. Her heart went out to the stunned woman and she gathered her close, rubbing her back gently to calm her.
Dylan could not believe her reaction, it was everything that she had imagined in her nightmares. The only difference is that it had happened to the one person that she would give her life to protect. She sighed deeply and buried her face in her hands.
Oh God, what is going on? I nearly hurt Lura. I have to get control of this thing.
Lura sat, watching the woman she loved, feeling the intense pain she was suffering but having no idea how to help. So she sat quietly rubbing Dylan's back and offering her silent support.
Finally Dylan straightened and turned to Lura. "Can we get out of here for a bit? I need a break. I need some air. Maybe it will help me get my head together."
"Sure sweetheart, let's get dressed and go for a walk. How does that sound? Hey maybe we can stop at that McDonalds and try a breakfast, okay?"
"No, not the McDonalds, I…I….I'm not hungry."
Dylan never was a good liar and this lie was as clear as glass. Lura looked at the worried expression on Dylan's face and realize the problem. "Okay honey, no problem. Maybe you will be hungry after our walk," she said, rubbing Dylan's back in a soothing circular motion. "Tell ya what, there's a bagel shop right down the road near a park. We can walk there, pick up some breakfast and eat in the park. Maybe we will be hungry by the time we get there. How does that sound?"
"Great, that sounds great, Lura. Yeah, let's get dressed and go."
Suddenly she couldn't get out of the confines of her sanctuary fast enough. Dylan sprang naked from the bed and moved to the dresser. Finding and slipping into a clean bra and panties, she reached in again and pulled out a pair of black jeans and a sleeveless white polo shirt. She quickly slipped them on then, reaching back into the dresser, she located a pair of clean socks and crawled under the bed for her Nike's. Finally dressed she stood by the door waiting, not so patiently, for her partner.
Lura had been watching this entire exercise with amazement. She knew how fast Dylan could undress but she had just set a new land speed record for dressing. Shaking her head she finished tying her own shoes and stood, smoothing down the front of her green polo shirt and tucking the tail into the dark blue jeans she had chosen to wear.
Leaving the room the two quickly walked down the hall and into the next elevator. A smooth silent ride down took them to the lobby where they checked for messages and left their key cards. Since they were walking they didn't want to risk losing them. They walked side by side through the busy town, past the McDonald's that was in the midst of the breakfast rush, and on towards the park. Lura was nearly trotting to keep up with her partner's long legged stride.
"Dylan, Dylan honey, please slow down," Lura panted. "My legs aren't nearly as long as yours and I never was real good in track events."
"Huh? What was that…?" Dylan was distracted, her mind a hundred miles away. All she could think of was the forest.
Lura reached out a hand and grabbed Dylan's arm. "Please Dylan, slow down. I'm out of breath." Dylan stopped when she felt the tug on her arm. Glancing down she realized that Lura wasn't at her side. She stood for a second a bit disoriented then, as if realizing something odd, she turned and saw her blond companion several feet away. Lura had stopped and placing her hands on her hips had tilted her head back and was sucking in large lungs full of air.
Seeing the obvious distress she had caused her mate Dylan looked down at her shoes in embarrassment. "Um, sorry Lura, I guess I was a bit distracted with the idea of getting out," she stuttered. "Are you okay? I'll slow down, promise."
Lura waited catching her breath before she answered. Walking up to Dylan she placed a hand on her shoulder and smiled. "Hey, I understand, you have been cooped up so long I'm surprised you didn't bolt sooner. Come on, let's get to the park and then I can take a real break." She slid her arm through Dylan's and turned them both in the direction on the park.
"Wow, do you smell that?" Lura asked Dylan. Frowning, the taller woman paused and tilted her head, closing her eyes to concentrate.
"Oh yeah, cinnamon and walnut, with just a touch of honey," she commented.
"How does she do that?" Lura asked, no one in particular. Dylan smiled overhearing the comment.
They reached the bakery where Dylan held the door and with a bow and a wave, allowed Lura to enter first. Smiling at the wonderful warm smell of freshly baking bread, Lura walked up to the counter and began examining the selection. There was quite a bit to choose from. Cinnamon raisin, honey and walnut, whole wheat, blueberry and the choices went on. Dylan stood back with a smile on her face as her partner selected first one then another, changing her mind at least three times before settling on the blueberry with strawberry cream cheese already on it. Dylan selected the cinnamon raisin with honey walnut cream cheese in a separate plastic container. Smiling, she paid for the bagels and took the brown bag from the extremely patient waitress and handed it to Lura as they left the bakery.
"Honey?" Lura asked the silent smiling woman pacing next to her. "Um, why did you insist on your cream cheese be put in a separate container instead of on your bagel?"
"Well, the true 'bagel connoisseur' knows that the only way to correctly eat a bagel is with the cream cheese slathered on all available surfaces," Dylan informed the curious blond.
"Slather? Is that really a word?" Lura asked, trying in vain to keep the smile out of her voice.
"Of course it is." the tall woman replied with confidence, "I just used it in a perfectly good sentence, didn't I? The only way to truly slather is if you have plenty of cream cheese. Thus the need for the separate container."
She wrapped her arm over the blonde's shoulder and gave her a friendly hug as they continued on towards the park.
It took Dylan a good fifteen minutes of dedicated evaluation to decide on the perfect location to enjoy their meal. Lura was at the end of her patience and ready to find any handy spot of shade when the tall soldier finally settled on "the perfect spot" near the edge of a large field beneath the arms of several huge ancient oaks. Dylan explained in some detail how the only avenue of approach to their location was straight on and that she could handle any flanking maneuvers because she would have plenty of time to prepare. Lura simply smiled indulgently and nodded her agreement even if she didn't understand half of what she had just been told. If Dylan was happy, she was happy.
The two women found a shady spot under one of the huge old oaks and settled down to have their breakfast. Part way through they began to watch the young people playing Frisbee football on the field in front of them. Lura was amused at the intensity of her companion's viewing, Dylan sat yelling out encouragement to the young would-be athletes and laughingly cursing at their sometimes clumsy efforts. All in all it had turned into a wonderful morning.
Having finished her bagel, Dylan stood and shook the crumbs out of her shirt. "Lura, I'm going over to the rest room and clean the cream cheese off my face. Slathering tends to be a bit messy." The dark haired woman smiled down at her companion, bits of bagel and cream cheese still evident on her lips.
"Bend down a minute, honey," Lura called reaching for the slender bronzed hand. She pulled Dylan down to her and gently but thoroughly cleaned the cream cheese from her mouth, much to the happy chagrin of the soldier. "Um, just couldn't let you walk around with slathering on your face, darlin', " Lura commented with a heavy, sexy southern drawl.
"Oh, well, we can't have that now can we?" the laughing woman commented. She smiled down at her companion then with a quick kiss, turned and strode off towards the restrooms. Lura watched the tall slender woman, admiring the gentle sway of her hips and the rolling gate of her long legs. Momentarily distracted, she did not notice the Frisbee game coming closer and closer. As she watched and waited for Dylan's return her mind had drifted back to the oasis in the desert and that wonderful afternoon bath they had shared. She still remembered the tall beautiful soldier standing naked in the sun, the light glittering off the drops of water sliding down the beautiful bronzed body. With that thought in mind and a dreamy look on her face she continued to stare in the direction her love had gone and missed the young man running straight at her.
Dylan had just finished cursing at the hand blow dryers and had left the rest room when a sudden movement caught her eye. Her head jerked up as she saw a man struggling with her partner. All sound stopped as she heard Lura scream. She didn't remember running, she just remembered suddenly being there. She reached down and pulled the man off of Lura and threw him against a tree, her strong hands locking onto his shirt collar and holding him off the ground, his feet dangling.
"You will not touch her!"
"Dylan!" Lura screamed, "Let him go, it was just an accident. Let him go." Lura reached out her hand and rested it on a tense arm, the corded muscles straining in the effort to hold the man against the tree. "Please, honey, put him down." The voice was calm and broke through the red haze in her mind. "Please, Dylan, please."
Lura watched the face of her lover change from anger to realization to shock as her words registered. Dylan finally realized exactly what she was doing. She lowered the young man gently to his feet, releasing his shirt and staring as he scampered off looking back over his shoulder as he reached his concerned friends.
"Boy that is one crazy, strong ass bitch," he said, brushing off his shirt. Now, in the midst of his cronies, he felt his heart rate slow to a normal rhythm and was a bit embarrassed at his behavior and fear. His friends gathered around him, patting his back and agreeing with him in an attempt to reassure themselves that he had indeed survived a meeting with a most dangerous adversary.
Dylan stood facing the tree, gazing down at her hands, the same hands that had swung at Lura, the same hands that had almost killed a thief, the same hands that almost harmed an innocent young man and the same hands that had taken so many lives. All she saw was blood.
Lura watched as Dylan froze in place her hands held palm up in front of her. Something was not right, she did not know how to help but she wanted to desperately. She couldn't stand to see the lost and hurt look in the face of the woman she loved. Reaching out slowly she placed her smaller hands in the long, slender powerful ones of the soldier and squeezed. "Let's get out of here, honey. Let's go for a drive. Better yet, let's go home."
"Home?" Dylan looked into the worried green eyes and thought of the word. "Yes, home," she said with a sad smile. She took Lura's hand and led the way back to the hotel to pack.
By the time they reached the hotel, Lura was exhausted. The stress of the morning had taken a lot of her scanty energy and she knew that she needed to rest. "Dylan, honey, can we leave in the morning? I am really worn out and I want to help you drive. If we stay tonight, we can leave first thing in the morning and avoid most of the early morning work traffic."
Dylan, still in a daze, nodded her head in agreement and went to sit on the bed. Lura watched her mate, concerned at the quiet, forlorn attitude in the usually active woman. She was worried and hoped that returning home would eliminate some of the stress Dylan was under and allow her body and mind to heal.
She went to the dresser and removed the two sleeping shirts they habitually wore, handing the soft worn gray Army shirt to Dylan. Slipping out of her own clothes she nestled into the soft Tigger shirt that she loved. It was very early, but she figured that they would probably not be going out again today so getting comfortable and relaxing was the only other option.
Having changed, she turned to see Dylan still sitting on the edge of the bed, the shirt held forgotten in her hands. "Honey, why don't you change? I'll see what's on television and we can relax on the bed. How does that sound?"
"What? What did you say Lura?" Dylan looked up confused.
"I said, why don't you change and we can get comfortable and watch television."
"Oh, yeah, sure, that's fine. I'll just change and we can get comfortable and watch a little TV, okay?"
"Um, sure Dylan, a little TV sounds good," the confused blonde said.
Dylan slipped out of her clothes and into her sleeping shirt. She pulled the covers back and slid in between the cool sheets. Holding her arms wide, she invited Lura to snuggle. Lura couldn't seem to move fast enough to crawl onto the bed and into the strong waiting arms. Snuggling down into the warm embrace she sighed contentedly and smiled as Dylan reached for the remote and adjusted the picture.
Things are almost back to normal she thought. I am not sure what is going on in that beautiful dark head of yours but I need to get you somewhere you can think, my big bad warrior Lura thought, gazing up through sleepy lashes at her companion.
Dylan lay in bed in the dark, the only light coming from the television that was now showing a rerun of a Conan Doyle show. Her mind was a million miles away. She lay staring at the silent figures, she had turned down the sounds so as not to wake her bedmate. Though she was watching the host go through the motions of the interview, her eyes were seeing the scenes that had taken place over three yeas ago. Silent tears glistened on her cheeks and she made no effort to wipe them away as she was almost unaware of them.
I have got to get a grip. This flying off the handle is really going to cause some serious problems. I just don't know what to do and how to handle it. I can't stay around, Lura; look what has already happened. She glanced down at the sleeping woman and pulled her closer, placing a kiss on her blond head. I know who can help me. I just have to get to him. I have to find him. Sorry, I can't take you with me, Little Falcon, but I will be back, or at least I will try to come back. I just can't stay around you any longer. I won't take the chance of hurting you.
Silently, Dylan slipped her arms out from under the mumbling woman and slid out of bed. She quickly dressed and packed her bag. She turned to walk out and then gazed one last time at the beautiful sleeping woman. I can't just leave. I'll leave her a note so she won't worry.
Sitting at the small desk in the room she opened the drawer and pulled out a pen and the hotel note pad.
I am not sure what is going on in my head, but I can't take the chance of hurting you or causing you any pain. My nightmares are becoming impossible to distinguish from reality. I need to go somewhere where I can't hurt anyone, especially you.
Know that I love you and I will until the day I die.
She placed a soft kiss at the bottom to seal the note then placed it on the pillow her head had been resting on scant minutes before. Reaching out with a long slender hand she caressed the soft cheek, her eyes tearing at the smile she received from the gesture. Then, quickly, before she changed her mind, she turned and walked silently out the door and out of Lura's life.
Lura felt the cold air hit her skin. She had kicked the sheet off in her sleep and the air conditioning was working overtime. She was surprised that Dylan had not replaced the covers.
"Dylan? Dylan honey, its cold. Come back to bed and let's snuggle," Lura called, her eyes still closed.
"Dylan? Dylan where are you?" Lura opened one sleepy green eye and scanned the empty room. Climbing from the bed she staggered to the bathroom and peeked inside.
"Dylan are you in here?" That was a dumb question she thought glancing around. Now where did that woman of mine get to?
"Dylan, Dy…" she paused spotting the note on the cold pillow. Picking it up she quickly read through it.
"Oh my God. No. DYLAN?!" Running to the door she jerked it open startling the maid cleaning the room across the hall.
"Um, sorry, have you seen a tall dark haired woman leave this room?" The maid smiled and glanced at Lura's sleep shirt.
"Uh, no ma'am, I haven't. You might try the desk, but I would put on some clothes first if I were you."
Blushing Lura thanked the maid then went back to her room. Sitting on the bed she picked up the note and read it again slowly, her fingers brushing the soft lip prints left by her Hawk.
Where have you gone? How will I find you? Don't you know I can't live without you? Teardrops struck the paper, blurring the ink and causing Lura to cry even harder. Suddenly, the phone rang, startling her from her thoughts.
"Yes? DYLAN?" she asked
"No dear, it's your mother," came a cheery Southern voice on the other end. I just finished reading the article about you in the paper. We are proud of you dear, being nominated for that nice little writer's award, but enough of this nonsense now Lura. Your father and I have been waiting for you to come home. When might that be, dear? I need to plan a proper homecoming celebration. Your sister is here visiting and we just can't wait to see you," the voice on the other end of the line exclaimed.
"Mother? How… when…what?"
"Well dear we have now covered the four critical issues, haven't we? When are you coming home, sugar?"
"Today mother, I am coming home today," Lura said dejectedly, crumbling the note in her trembling hand. If Dylan didn't want her anymore then so be it. She told her mother that she had to make some arrangements, but she would call later with the plane departure and arrival information.
"Wonderful dear, your father and I will be there to meet you. You be careful now. You don't know what sort of strange people you might meet in those public waiting areas." With that remark, the phone went dead.
Lura stood there for a few minutes staring at the receiver, unsure of what to do next. Then she felt the paper in her balled up fist. Lifting her hand she started to throw the hated piece of paper into the trash bin, but could not bring herself to open her hand and release it. Slowly she sat back down on the bed and carefully flattened out the wad. She read the short note again and again, but the words didn't change. Dylan had left her.
Finally she pulled herself together. Home, I have to go home. I can think there.
Now, having made the decision, she couldn't move fast enough. Kneeling on the floor, she opened her suitcase and noticed the single set of toilet articles where there had earlier been two. They had just repacked everything yesterday with the idea of leaving today. Well, the plan really had not changed only instead of an 'us' decision it had been a 'me' decision. In a slight daze, Lura removed a pair of soft jeans, some under things and a pale yellow polo shirt. Slipping out of her nightshirt she quickly tossed it into the bag and pulled on her street clothes. Glancing around, she looked for her Dockers. Finally rooting though her bag again she found them in the bottom of the suitcase. Holding them she sat on the bed and reached for the phone, dialing a number from memory.
"Reservations, please." She wiggled into her shoes into her shoes while she waited to be connected. "Yes, I need a ticket to Richmond, Virginia, one way."
Dylan stared out the window of the bus as the road signs whipped by. All she could think of was Lura. Was she awake yet? Was she all right? Her heart skipped as she thought of the events of the last few days.
I'm doing the right thing, I know I am. So why do I feel like shit? She listened to the hum of the tires and the muted music coming from her seatmate's headset. The young man sitting next to her was in uniform, a brand new soldier. She sighed and wondered if he really knew what it was all about. Glancing at him out of the corner of her eye she noted the crossed rifles of the infantry insignia on his lapel and smiled. A grunt. He had his rifleman badge proudly displayed shining on his left breast pocket right below his Army service ribbon. The walkin' and breathin' ribbon. Probably just finished boot camp and heading home to his girl, Dylan thought, smiling sadly.
Looking at this young boy soldier with his short cut hair and his freshly shaved face brought back memories of another young man, a young officer who had just begun to live, a California boy who died before he reached his 23rd birthday. Dylan closed her eyes, seeing the fresh suntanned face again, the strawberry blond hair and the contagious smile.
"Um, are you alright, ma'am?" A voice startled her from her memories. She opened her eyes and realized that the young soldier was speaking to her.
"I just… well, I kinda saw you were crying. Is there someone bothering you? Is there something I can do?" He held out a clean handkerchief, the sound of genuine concern in his voice.
Dylan stared at the small white cloth, and was startled to realize that she was crying. "No, but thanks for the offer and the hanky," she said, taking the cloth and wiping her face.
"No problem ma'am, you keep that," he said, pushing the handkerchief back at her. "I will be close by if you need some help. Okay?" He offered, puffing out his narrow chest with confidence.
Dylan smiled remembering all the young men she had killed over the last three years. I wonder if any of them had girls back home waiting for them? Outwardly she thanked the young soldier again and turned back to the window to continue her silent vigil. Watching the landscape change like the setting sun, from the congested traffic and tall buildings of the city to the open freedom and evergreen scent of the country. She was going home.
The droning of the tires seemed to be chanting, 'Going home, going home, going home." The clean scent of pine even overrode the faint smell of the diesel fuel floating around the bus. Finally, with her head resting against the cool pane of the window and the hum of the tires rumbling in her ears, she nodded off.
At that same moment, Lura's flight was taking off for Richmond. The pull of the plane's powerful engines reminded her of another flight, one much longer and into the unknown. The end of that flight had led her into life threatening danger and the death of friends. While those thoughts were painful on bright memory shown through it all. That flight had also led her to the woman she loved. The one person she believed to be the other half of her soul. Now she was on another plane, and this trip was very different. She knew exactly where she was going. There was no threat at the end of it and the only death she would face was the death of her heart. She could not understand how a heart torn in so many pieces could continue to beat. She sat, going over the last few days in her head. Her mind was so distracted she wasn't sure what day it was much less aware of the fact that the plane had landed and all the other passengers had already left.
A voice broke into her thoughts and she looked up to see a smiling stewardess calling her. "Miss, we have landed. Are you alright, do you need some help?" The concern in the woman's voice made Lura aware of the tears streaming down her face.
"No, no, I'm fine, just a bit stressed," she stated, taking an offered napkin and wiping her face. "Sorry, I didn't realize we had arrived. I'll just get my bag and be out of your way." She stood and reached into the overhead compartment and pulled out her small carry-on bag. Sighing deeply she shouldered the bag and made her way out of the plane.
The lobby of the airport was crowded and noisy; the airport authority had gotten the passengers into long lines to clear airport security. She moved into one of them and while she waited patiently for her bag and identification to be checked, her mind was reading the note over and over again. She still had one question, why? Why had she left? Her heart hurt with every beat and she felt so alone. There was no one waiting, no blue eyes smiling at her. She was alone.
Finally leaving the long lines behind, Lura was looking around for any familiar face when she saw a stranger holding a sign with her name on it. Thomas looked around, hoping that the person he had been sent to pick up would hurry. He had a cold dinner and a hot wife waiting at home. He noticed the small attractive young blonde approaching; she wore a pair of faded jeans and a pale yellow polo shirt. A small bag was slung over her shoulder and she pulled a larger matching bag behind her.
For someone who just got back from vacation she sure don't look happy he thought. Well, that ain't my problem, I just got to get her home in one piece. Aloud he said, "Ms Grant? Lura Grant?"
"Yes," came the soft reply.
"Um, your folks sent me to pick you up. I'm the new chauffer, my name is Thomas." He held out his hand for her bag and was surprised to find her hand grasping his in a firm handshake.
"Nice to meet you, Thomas. Where is the car parked?" the quiet woman asked, looking into the startled brown eyes of the young man.
He reached again for her bag, but she turned towards the street looking for the car. He was finally able to pull the larger bag from her grasp and was surprised when she didn't protest. "Right this way ma'am, I have the car parked right outside. Do you have any other bags?"
"No, I have nothing," came the soft reply.
Somehow, I don't think she is talkin' about bags the young driver surmised.
They reached the stretch Lincoln and he held the door open for the slender woman to enter. He ran to the rear and with the flick of a switch popped open the trunk and stored the larger bag in the back.
Lura sat gazing out the window as they pulled out, listening to the hum of the tires. They seemed to talk to her. "She's gone away, she's gone away, she's gone away." The tears began again.
The bus finally stopped and Dylan woke to a scene of confusion. People were standing outside waiting to get on and people were standing in the aisles waiting to get off. She stood and grabbed her duffel from under her seat. The young soldier had disappeared, possibly leaving at an earlier stop that she had slept through. She shouldered the heavy bag, shuffled down the aisle and off of the bus. Looking around, she got her bearings and began walking. She wasn't sure how long she walked or how far, but she remembered crossing over a highway on a nearly barren overpass. It was dark and the lights of oncoming cars blinded her. She ducked her head and kept walking.
Finally, she reached Shaconage, 'the place of blue smoke' the Qualla Reservation and the Oconaluftee Village in particular. She needed her Grandfather Gray Hawk. Walking through the reservation she did not notice the new stores that had sprung up since her departure or the crowds of tourist snapping photos of young men dressed in traditional costumes. She followed a memory of a Dylan that had left that place three long years ago. She passed the carved figurehead of Sequoyah, the inventor of the Cherokee alphabet, a brave powerful man who had led his people a hundred years ago. She staggered on drawing the attention of several of the tourists who frowned at the drawn, tired figure stumbling down the street. Dylan continued on, finally stopping far out of town in a secluded glade in the back of the Oconaluftee Village. The village was a reproduction of a Cherokee village of 250 years ago and was the home of her grandfather. He lived near the village, but rarely ventured out while tourists were about. She reached the wooden door of the small lodge and knocked. To her ears the sound was deafening, echoing off the mountains and drawing the attention of all around. She hung her head in distress and waited until the door slowly opened and moccasin covered feet came into her line of vision.
"Granddaughter?" The voice was warm and strong and loving, the tears came immediately. Dylan felt her knees buckle as she slowly crumbled at her grandfather's feet. She was exhausted, heartbroken and confused. She needed the understanding arms of her grandfather.
Gray Hawk was startled at the knock on his lodge door and even more surprised to see the distraught woman nearly unconscious in his doorway. He bent to help his granddaughter to her feet and led her into the lodge. Setting her in the rocker he had just left, he hurried into the kitchen and heated some water for tea. Returning, he grabbed a blanket from the sofa and wrapped the trembling woman in it.
Dylan was in a daze; she had not eaten since the bagels in the park almost two days previously and with the exception of the light nap on the bus had not slept in 48 hours. She was at the end of her still meager reserve.
"Grandfather? Grandfather, you have to help me. I don't know what to do. It seems like my mind is slipping, I see things that aren't there. My God I almost killed an innocent man." Dylan looked up, her eyes large and nearly black in her pale face.
"Tell me, Granddaughter, when was the last time you slept?"
"I am not sure Grandfather, one maybe two days ago. I…I am afraid to sleep. When I sleep, the visions come. They make my heart hurt from the memories."
"What is it you remember Dylan?" came the softly spoken question.
"Faces, the faces of the dead. I remember my men and I remember those men that I, that I…" Dylan hung her head, the tears spilling out onto the bright pattern of the blanket as she pulled it closer around her body. Silently the old man stood and walked to the kitchen as the kettle whistled. Dylan could hear him stirring the liquid in the tin cups he always used.
He returned from the kitchen holding two steaming cups. One he passed to Dylan, the other he placed on the table in front of him. Dylan blew gently on the hot liquid in her trembling hands, careful not to spill it. Bringing it slowly to her lips she was surprised to find it to be herb tea, bitter herb tea.
"Grandfather, what is this? It tastes awful."
"You drink that all down now, Dylan. It's good for you," he replied in a stern, no nonsense voice, his arms crossed as he stared silently down at the exhausted woman. Dylan scrunched her face at the bitter taste of the tea, but swallowed it down quickly. The heated tea landed in her stomach and burned gently, warming her from head to toe. As she lowered the cup she noticed the paper napkin with a thick BLT sandwich resting on the low table in front of her. She turned a quizzical look to her grandfather.
"I suppose you want me to do something with that, right?" He simply smiled, raised an eyebrow and waited patiently until she had finished the entire sandwich.
"Now Dylan, I want you to go upstairs and take a hot shower. You will find fresh towels and a nightshirt. It's one of mine but I figure it should fit ya."
"But Grandfather, I'm not sleepy, I need…" Dylan was halted in mid sentence by a scowling old warrior who, again, folded his arms stubbornly and simply stared at her.
"Dylan you will take your tail down that hall and shower, then if you still feel like talking, we will. You can put your bag on the bed in the spare bedroom. Go on now and quit your fussing." The old man shooed her off like an errant child. Dylan smiled indulgently then grabbed her bag and turned for the hall. Fifteen minutes and one hot shower later she returned to the spare room to put away her toiletries.
"I'll just sit here a minute and get my thoughts together." She sat on the edge of the bed and stared out into space. Five minutes later the old warrior peeked into the room to see his granddaughter sprawled out over the bed, snoring softly. The tea never let him down. Smiling gently, he lifted Dylan's legs and slipped them under the covers tucking in the edges, then finally placing a kiss on her forehead he slipped from the room turning out the light.
She had been home now for two days and she had not left her suite. Her mother was worried sick, her father had given up trying to communicate with her through the heavy door and all the servants who wanted to keep their heads on their shoulders, avoided her door like the plague. Finally, Lura decided to roll out of bed and rejoin the living. Dressing in a pair of faded jeans and a pink and white t-shirt, she slipped her feet into a pair of Nikes and headed down to the kitchen.
Lenora, the main cook, bottle washer and guardian of the kitchen and all that entailed, was busy cutting tomatoes for the lunch salad when she slipped in. Grabbing a carrot from the pile of freshly washed vegetables waiting to be sliced and diced, Lura pulled up a stool and sat, twisting the unlucky orange vegetable like a washcloth.
"Okay, young lady, you know my kitchen rules. You come in my kitchen you better be working, eatin' or just passin' through."
"Sorry Lenni, I just wanted a nibble," came the soft reply as she relented and began to chew at the carrot stick.
"Humm sounds like you need more than a nibble, girl. What's wrong? You been cooped up in that room of yours since ya got here. Not answering the door and when ya do someone loses a head. You got man problems? Or should I ask if you got Whoa-men problems?" the older woman asked with a sharp twinkle in her hazel eye.
"Wha…what did you say, Lenni?" Lura stammered, almost choking on her carrot stick.
"Listen youngin, I have known you since your Mama and Papa brought you home. Plus I wasn't born last night, ya know. You been upset ever since you got home and left that tall, long legged, dark haired soldier gal I saw you all cozy with on TV. What'd she do that's got you all upset?"
The cook had not even glanced up nor missed a stroke on the chopping block. Lura smiled sadly and felt her shoulders sag,
"She left me, Lenni. She just up and left. There was a note on my pillow one morning and she was gone." Her voice choked on the last bit.
"Well, what did the note say, lovie?"
"Just that she didn't want to hurt anyone so she was leaving and she would love me…forever." Lura stared out the window, twisting the carrot stick until it snapped. She stared at the two broken pieces, surprised when a warm tear fell onto her hand. I though I was over all that crying business she thought.
Lenni glanced up at the snap of the carrot stick. This child is really hurtin'. I hope her Mama's plans aren't gonna hurt her worse. "Tell me bout' your soldier, child."
Lenni listened as Lura explained all that had happened in the last few months. The deaths she had witnessed, her own personal trials and the surprise she felt when she discovered the famous 'Desert Hawk' was a woman. Shyly she told of the beautiful, fierce soldier that had saved her life and stolen her heart. In halting tones she relived the horror of watching the woman she loved, fall in a hail of bullets. She spoke of the personal pain she had suffered watching her as she fought her way back to health. Finally, in tears and broken words, she told Lenni how her soldier had struggled, fighting an unseen enemy and herself to control the nightmares that haunted her even now, in the bright light of day.
"I just want to be with her Lenni. She needs me; she just doesn't know it. And…and I need her. I feel like there is a giant hand squeezing my heart and there is no relief in sight." Lura tucked her head, her small fist still wrapped around the broken carrot stick, clutched at her chest in an effort to stop the pain.
"Why would she leave me Lenni? I love her so much."
"Now you listen here, Ms. Lura. That soldier gal loves you. She just needs some time to get her head on and then you watch, she'll come a looking for ya. You can bet on that. She just don't strike me as the kind that would give up something she wants, and you, baby girl, are what she wants. You just give her some time." Lura still sat staring at the mutilated vegetable, not really hearing anything.
"Yeah, she loves me," she said. Sighing, she stood, tossing the orange remains into the trash bin as she left, her mind a thousand miles away.
Lenni's gaze followed her, shaking her head at the sad figure walking out the door. "That poor child, that woman of hers better get it together quick before her Mama is done with her planning." Lenora dropped her graying head back down and continued making the salad.
Alison Gillum-Grant sat at her antique Edwardian writing desk in her private day room finishing the list of guests. She had her daughter home and it was time to get down to some serious arrangements. After a quick review of the social registrar, she was sure she had the names of the most eligible bachelors of the Richmond 500. Now all she needed was to contact the caterer, the decorator and talk that hardheaded daughter of hers into a dress. She had already had her year of running free, it was time to settle down with a nice young lawyer, or doctor and give her some grandchildren.
She ran the last stamp on the wet sponge and glued it precisely onto the corner of the cream colored invitation and with a nod of approval added it to the stack waiting to be posted.
In the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the silence of the late night was broken by a scream.
She watched as her finger pulled the trigger, the man she was aiming at stared in surprise as half his head exploded in a red burst, splattering his brains on the wall. Glancing up she saw skull fragments imbedded in the ceiling.
A sound to her right caught her attention, a young boy struggling with a dark man in robes. He was the only thing standing between the man and the fallen body of an old woman.
She felt her finger squeeze again but nothing happened. She threw the useless weapon aside and reached into her boot for her knife. Diving for the man she felt her body impact and tangle in his long robes. They struggled until she finally straddled him, her knife now protruding from his chest like a tiny third arm. She backed away from the quivering body but the robes held her bound to him. She struggled, fighting against the cloth but it had taken on a life of its own and wrapped itself around her tighter and tighter. It suffocated, her filling her mouth and lungs, choking her, wrapping around her throat. She struggled, fighting the cloth, falling and falling and falling.
"Dylan? Wake up! Dylan? It's only a bad dream, wake up!"
Her eyes opened to the gentle light of the moon streaming into her window. Her grandfather knelt beside her as she realized she was laying on the floor tangled in her own sheets.
"Grandfather?" Her voice came out in a whispering croak. She struggled with the sheets but her own body sweat caused them to cling to her exhausted body. She crawled like a small child to her grandfather, throwing her arms around his neck as the torrent of tears streamed down her cheeks. Her chest heaved with great gasps of air as the anguished filled sobs racked her still weak body.
Finally, the crying subsided and Gray Hawk helped the emotionally drained woman back into the bed. Covering her with fresh sheets and blankets he left her for a moment to heat up the kettle for tea. Returning to the tiny bedroom he slid the chair from the desk by the window next to the bed. Sitting down he took her cold trembling hand in his own as he stared into the vacant blue eyes.
"Dylan, can you tell me about the dream?" he asked, anxiety in his voice. At first he didn't hear her, but as he leaned closer she repeated her softly spoken word.
"So much blood, so many dead. I killed them, I killed them all. My fault, my fault." The words were full of self-loathing and pain; the long slender hand trembled in his own.
The whistle of the kettle pulled him away from her, but he returned minutes later with a large cup of hot tea. Sitting again in the chair he held the cup as Dylan sipped the bittersweet liquid. Having taken in as much as she could, she lay back and stared up seeing again the deep red stain that dripped like macabre paint from the stucco ceiling. Her eyes grew heavy and she felt her mind slip into oblivion.
Gray Hawk stared down at his granddaughter, his forehead wrinkled in concern. Her spirit was in danger. He knew that she had many trails to travel before she would be safe. He was just not sure if she would be strong enough to travel it alone.
Dylan woke to the smell of fresh coffee and cooked bacon. Her head was clear but her heart was heavy. Climbing slowly from the bed, she slipped on a pair of socks and dressed in her dark blue shorts and gray sleeveless t-shirt and headed out to find the source of the intriguing smell. Down the hall and around the corner she found the kitchen with her grandfather stirring up a golden pan of scrambled eggs. She paused long enough to evaluate the older man.
He stood straight and tall, in his sweat pants and a white t-shirt, his lanky, muscular body belying his age. He had braided his silver hair into two long braids that hung over his chest, each wrapped in bright red cloth. Dylan remembered back to the days of her childhood when she had watched him slowly braid then wrap his hair. It had been black as a raven's wing then, the blue highlights glowing in the sun. He had taught her how to braid and had given her two strips of leather died bright blue to tie to the ends of her own glossy plaits.
Dylan smiled as she watched him scoop the hot breakfast onto a plate and place it on the small white kitchen table. "Good morning, Granddaughter, did I pass inspection and did you sleep well?" Dylan was startled, she had not made a sound and she did not see her grandfather look up.
"Umm, yes Grandfather, thank you. And you are not fooling me; you slipped me a 'mickey' last night in my tea. You are a very sneaky individual, you know that?" she said, attempting to be stern with the old man who had an annoying ability of being one of the few people who could ignore her anger and not fear retribution.
"Not last night Dylan, two nights ago. You have been sleeping for two full days and two full nights." Dylan felt the air leave her lungs, and her heart thumped in her ears. She had been asleep for forty-eight hours! How could that be?
"But…but, Grandfather how, why, what…?"
"Hush Dylan," the old man said, "you know the answers to all those questions. The simple truth is your body needed the rest; I just gave it a little help. Now sit down and eat," he added sternly, placing a heaping plate of food down on the table in front of her.
She did feel better having really slept for the first time in several days. Sitting down on the wooden chair by the food, she gazed down at the steaming plate, feeling, for the first time since leaving Lura, the gnawing bite of hunger. With her grandfather sitting nearby and looking on, she devoured the bacon, eggs and toast in minutes, then gulped down the still hot coffee, surprising herself with her appetite. Finally finishing her meal, she sat back and enjoyed the feeling of a full stomach. Dylan knew that the questions were coming. She knew and she dreaded them.
"Granddaughter, you are well now? You have healed from your injuries?" he asked, stirring another scoop of cream into a steaming cup of coffee. He sat in front of Dylan, carefully examining the dissolving cream, not even looking up.
"Yes Grandfather, my body has healed but…" Her voice choked as she thought of the nightmares, her eyes staring at her hands, looking for the blood stains.
"But what Granddaughter? Do you fear the memories, the dreams, the dead? They cannot hurt you. You have no reason to fear them."
"But Grandfather, I have killed so many, so many…" Her voiced cracked as she slid her hands from the table, hiding them from view. She hung her head in shame as the tears fell again.
"Granddaughter? Dylan…Dylan, did you kill innocent people? Did you kill in pleasure or for enjoyment? Did you enjoy the thrill?" he asked in a quiet calm voice, waiting for Dylan to respond.
"NO!! Never! I could not kill for the pleasure of killing." Dylan felt her stomach rebelling at the thoughts of the dead men. "At first, there was much I did not remember. I had many injuries and it took time to heal. I hated the men responsible for what happened to my unit and I wanted to kill them all," she said in a hard bitter voice.
"One day in a small village I was fighting, I saw one of the villagers shoot one of the raiders that had just fired on a woman running with her child. He fell at my feet…he was a boy. No more than 15 or 16, just a child killing children. It was as if someone hit me in the stomach with a board. I fell to my knees, crying. I have no idea why I wasn't shot that day, but after that, it became harder and harder. I couldn't stand to see the villages attacked, but every shot I fired I knew I had killed someone's child." Dylan's voice spoke softly; she stared at her hands again expecting to see the blood of the men whose lives she had ended.
"When you killed these men, were you fighting?" the old warrior asked in a quiet steady voice. He sipped his coffee, his eyes still focused on the creamy brown liquid.
"Yes Grandfather, whenever I heard of the fighting, I would come and…and stop them. Some times I would lure them to a village with the rumor of hidden weapons or money. They would come into the village and I would be there…waiting," she finished quietly, her eyes glazed over as she remembered.
Her grandfather sat quietly contemplating her comments, still staring at his coffee. "So you killed to protect? You protected the helpless? The women and children? And you protected yourself? And you feel there is no honor in that, Granddaughter? Would you rather they had been left alone to be killed or raped? You rather they had killed you?"
"NO! Yes! I don't know, I don't know…" she cried, tears streaming down her cheeks.
"Granddaughter, think of what you have told me. You killed to protect the innocent and to protect yourself. The people you killed had slaughtered your unit. They had killed many innocent people. They would not have thought twice of putting a bullet through you. Yet you agonize over their deaths? Remember this, Dylan; they were killers. If they claimed to be soldiers, they knew what they were doing. All who kill for a living know the consequences of their actions. These were not needy people. They were not defending their homes or families. They were not honorable warriors. These "soldiers", these "men", were not human, they were less than animals. They destroyed everything they touched not for their loved ones, not for their country. They did it for themselves, for the sake of their own greed. They needed to beat down the people to make themselves feel tall. There is no honor in that. You saw this injustice. You could have joined them and lived off of the anguish of the people. Would you feel better then?"
Dylan did not raise her head just shook it slowly.
"Granddaughter, you were the only thing between death and the people. As long as you were there they could not succeed and the people lived. These men were evil, taking all they could, destroying what they could not take. They would have destroyed you if they could. Do not let them win now in death what they could not win in life." The old man quietly collected the dirty dishes and placed them in a sink of hot soapy water then turned and walked out.
Dylan thought about the words of her Grandfather and she knew he was right. The men she had killed were terrorists. They made a living by taking whatever they could from the innocent people around them. They claimed to be soldiers and they knew the possible consequences of their actions.
Still mulling over these words, Dylan returned to her room and changed into her running gear.
It was morning again. Lura rolled out of bed and shuffled into the bathroom. Looking into the mirror she saw a pale face surrounded by ruffled dull hair and sad eyes.
I have got to pull myself together. I look like poop. Heck, I feel like poop. Maybe I need to get out, go for a run or something. A bit of fresh air to help clear my head might help. Hell, maybe I will get lucky and get hit by a truck. At least if I am unconscious maybe I can get some sleep.
Sighing she turned and went back to her room. Reaching the dresser she opened the top drawer and pulled out a pair of running shorts, a pair of jock socks and a sports bra, closing this she opened the second drawer and selected a black shirt. Slipping out of her nightshirt she slid the shorts on over her panties and pulled on the bra and black top. Sitting back on the bed she pulled on the socks and slipped her feet into her running shoes. Still sitting there she stared down at her shoes, her mind a million miles away. Finally she stood, gathered her energy and headed out of her room and down the stairs. She crossed the hall, passed the foyer and stepped out the front door. The wind and the cool air immediately reminded her that she was in Northern Virginia and fall was definitely in the air. Trotting down the long stairs she jogged down the driveway, across the lawn and out the front gate.
An hour later she returned, sweat pouring off of her and her breath coming in ragged gasps. She staggered up the front stairs and into the house, exhausted and no closer to understanding her feelings than when she had started out. She leaned against the front door thinking about Dylan, why had she left and where was she. I know she loves me. Deep in thought, she didn't hear her mother calling to her.
"Lura, Lura honey where are you? Lura? Oh, there you are. Goodness dear, you are half naked and covered with perspiration; I hope you didn't go out in public dressed like that. People can see… well almost everything and what they can't see I am sure they can provide from their dirty little minds. What were you thinking parading around with your legs exposed like that, and where in the world did you find those clothes?"
Lura finally realized that she was wearing a pair of Dylan's gray Army shorts and a black and gold Pembroke State University shirt. It was Dylan's favorite. She rubbed her hand across the raised lettering trying to feel closer to her soulmate when what her mother was saying finally sank in.
"What? What did you say, Mother?"
"I said that you need to go upstairs and get cleaned up then get some rest. We are having a small social get together tonight and I want you looking fresh."
"Oh, sure, alright." Lura turned, her thoughts miles away, and headed towards the stairs. "Whoa, wait a minute, what do you mean a 'social gathering'?" she asked, turning to face her mother
"Well, yes dear, I have invited some of my dear friends over for a small party and they are bringing their children. I hope you will not embarrass me by staying in your room or presenting yourself in those disgusting blue jeans you are so fond of wearing."
"Mother, back off. I am not in the mood to argue with you over clothes and if this little get together of yours is a hen party to set me up with one of your friends eligible mutant sons, forget it."
"Now you listen to me young lady," her mother interjected. "You promised that if we gave you time to try out this 'working thing' you would come home and settle down. Well, it has been a year. It is now time for you to find someone socially acceptable and settle down. No more of this gallivanting all over the world with strange persons and getting shot at. My goodness, what were you thinking?"
I was thinking about a wonderful woman with beautiful long legs and eyes to die for but if I told you that you would just flip out Lura thought
"Alright, I will attend your little head hunting session, Mother, but I will not, and hear me loud and clear on this, I will not be paraded out like a prize filly for any man there." She turned and climbed up the stairs, ignoring the ranting of the woman below.
Dylan returned from her run feeling exhausted but clean. The run had burned much of the self-hatred and doubt from her mind, at least for the moment. All that was left was the confusion of her memories. Would she still be haunted by memories?
"Grandfather? Grandfather?" she called running from room to room, calling to the old man.
"I am here Dylan and though I am old, I am not deaf" the old man responded entering from the kitchen, his arms loaded with firewood. Dylan rushed forward to relieve the senior of his burden carrying the wood to the fireplace, neatly stacking part of it and arranging several small logs over some kindling. She reached for the long matches to light the fire.
"Grandfather, I have been thinking…"
"Well, it's about time you stopped moping and started using that brain the Great Spirit gave you," the old man whispered under his breath.
"What was that, Grandfather?" Dylan asked, knowing that there was nothing wrong with her hearing either and smiling at the remark she had overheard.
"Oh nothing Dylan. What did you need? I heard you calling like a wounded wolf."
"Well, I have thought about what you said earlier about…about the men I…I killed." Dylan glanced down at her hands expecting them to be covered with blood. "I have tried to remember all of the men. Thinking of each one at a time. I cannot think of one that was an innocent, not one who did not already have blood on their hands. Those men, the ones I killed were all soldiers. You are right; they knew what might happen, they understood the laws of the warrior. Some fought with honor, most did not. I will not carry their spirits on my shoulders any longer, but I cannot understand why my mind returns to the desert, to the killing. I have lost control of my thoughts. I am no longer safe around my family, my friends, the woman I…"
She stopped her and raised her eyes to meet those of her mentor. "The woman I love," she said strongly, tilting her head back and her blue eyes sparkling in challenge.
"Do not stare at me in challenge Little Hawk. I can still put you over my knee," the old man said in a stern voice.
"I am sorry Grandfather, it is just that…well it is so… argh! My brain is in knots!"
"Dylan, I have known you since the day your mother brought you home screaming and fighting because they wanted to put you in diapers and even then you rebelled. Funniest thing I ever saw. All you had to do to keep you from crying was let you run around buck naked." He smiled, watching the faint red creep up the young woman's cheeks.
Then in a serious tone he told her, "I have known ever since the first trip with the young warriors that you were touched by the Great Spirit and blessed with the spirit of the hawk. I knew then that no man would tame you. What is she like, this woman who has tamed the hawk?"
Dylan smiled at her grandfather, her heart and eyes filled with love she told him about her falcon.
Standing by the fireplace in the large formal living room Lura resembled a burning emerald in a deep green satin tea gown. The front was cut low revealing the golden skin, still tanned from the desert sun. The back was cut even lower, accentuating a slim waist and strong back. Matching deep green sling back shoes finished the outfit and a slender gold chain with a single large deep green emerald graced her throat, her ears were pierced with matching emerald studs.
Glancing around the room her eyes skipped over each handsome, perfect male face and she categorized the young male members of the party into three distinct categories: No, Never and Not as Long as there is Breath in my Body.
There is really a fourth category she thought, but I am definitely keeping that one to myself. It's the 'They could never hold a candle to Dylan' Category. They all fall into that category.
Sighing aloud she lifted her glass of ginger ale and sipped. She never had acquired a taste for champagne, it always seemed to give her a headache. Her eyes returned again to the room, scanning the faces of the men as they laughed, making bold gestures in an attempt to draw her attention.
"Just like a bunch of strutting roosters. The one that crows loudest is the one that gets the hens."
She smiled, her mind slipping to the gutter for a minute as she thought, It's just that this hen doesn't like cocks. Oh that was bad! Naughty, naughty Lura, shame on you. she smiled as she sipped again silently on her drink in a vain attempt to hide her chuckle. Ginger ale tastes great down the throat, but heaven help you if it comes out your nose.
"Is there something you would like to share with us, dear?" a voice sounded at her elbow.
Lura inhaled, startled at the voice and even more so to realize it was her mother. The ginger ale that mere moments ago had acted as a helpful disguise now rushed its chilling way down her windpipe and up into her sinuses. Her eyes bulged as she coughed, choking on the bubbly drink. Her mother patted her gently on the back, a useless gesture since it did not carry the strength she needed to knock the breath back into her lungs. Finally gathering herself she turned to face her parent, her hand still covering her mouth, her eyes watering from the recent fit.
"Mother, you startled me." Boy is that the understatement of the year she thought, still catching her breath. "What can I do for you?"
"Well, dear, if you are sure you are okay?" her mother questioned.
"Yes, mother, I am fine." Lura replied, already frustrated with the small woman.
"Well, then, let me introduce to you Mr. Nathan Bedford Owens the Third. His mother and I attended the University of Virginia together, we are sorority sisters."
Lura turned to smile at the young man that her mother was presenting, her mind vaguely catching the rather formal introduction her mother was making.
"Nathan, this is my lovely daughter, Victoria Lura Gillum-Grant," she said. Finally my daughter is meeting the proper people and Nathan is from such fine stock. I hope she has the sense to see what a wonderful opportunity this is for her. My, she is just speechless with pleasure Alison thought.
Lura, felt the smile freeze on her face as the hairs on her neck rose. Her eyes made contact with those of the young man and a shiver ran involuntarily down her spine. He gazed at her with cold dark eyes that seemed to undress her and assess her all in one glance. She quickly withdrew the hand she had raised to his, instead using it to brush an imaginary strand of hair from her eyes.
"Mr. Owens," she said, her voice chilled and the smile finally gone from her face. She did not like this man. She was not sure why but she knew there was something not quite right. Her internal alarms were sounding and she had learned long ago, when dealing with men, to listen to those alarms.
"Ms. Grant, it is a real pleasure, your mother has told me so much about you." Nathan bowed his sleek head a thatch of blond hair fell forward giving him a rakish appearance which he knew most women found devilishly attractive.
This man is dangerous that is what is setting off my systems Lura thought.
"Funny, she has never mentioned you, Mr. Owens," Lura stated coldly. "Please excuse me, I must go freshen up," she said as she turned away and headed towards the stairs.
"I am so sorry, Nathan. I have no idea what has come over her. She has just not been herself since she returned from that dreadful experience overseas," Alison gasped in an effort to smooth ruffled feathers.
"I understand completely, Mrs. Grant. Perhaps you would allow me the opportunity to provide your daughter with a distraction. Would it be possible to stop by tomorrow and perhaps take her for a ride in the country?"
"That sounds like a wonderful idea, Nathan. It may just be what Lura needs to snap her out of her little doldrums," Alison added with a smile.
My God, what is mother thinking? Doesn't she have any idea what kind of man that is? I know a predator when I see one, and that guy is a shark! Lura stepped into the bathroom and leaned against the sink, her back to the mirror and her arms folded.
"Dylan baby, I love you, but I am gonna give you such a thump on the head when I find you for leaving me in this situation."
Lura sighed, stood up straight, brushed the front of her tea gown, squared her shoulders and turned to march back out into battle.
Dylan sighed as she sipped her coffee; her grandfather had always been an understanding sort and had always supported her. He seemed to be fascinated by Lura. The conversation had distracted her from her morose thoughts but now she reluctantly remembered the reason she had left the beautiful blonde.
"Grandfather, I am troubled," she began, "Twice now I have reacted on reflex to situations and both times I have come close to harming someone who was completely innocent." Dylan remembered Lura's expression when the coffee spilled down the front of her robe and the terrified expression of fear on the face of the young Frisbee player. "I can't seem to stop myself, I react without thought. I am afraid…" She stopped here unable to voice her thoughts.
"Yes, you are afraid of what, Dylan? That you will hurt someone innocent? Dylan nodded in silence.
Humm, I understand," Gray Hawk whispered. He leaning forward resting his elbows on his knees, a gesture his Granddaughter unconsciously mirrored. "You have been through much in the last few years, perhaps it is time you took a little vacation," the old man whispered.
"Huh? But Grandfather, I have been on vacation ever since I returned to the United States, I am sick of vacation. Maybe if I go back to work…"
"No Dylan, that is not the sort of vacation I mean. Ever since you returned you have lost yourself. You have not had the chance to stop and touch the earth. I believe it is time for you to go on a vision quest."
The day stretched into late afternoon and Dylan strolled at her grandfather's side, enjoying the brisk air and the sound of leaves crackling under her sneakers. The trees were beginning to shed their green coat in favor of the colorful gold and red of fall. This was an ancient forest; the tall and gnarled trees had dropped their dead leaves and a few branches that were the size of small trees themselves. Dylan paused as one rather large tree cracked. She glanced up just as a thick branch, the size of a sapling, fell at her feet.
"Cedar," she said, "I love the smell of cedar." She bent and retrieved the broken limb that was nearly as long as she was tall. Snapping off the shorter, dead limbs she continued down the path following the old warrior.
"Okay, Grandfather, I know that you have some plan in mind. I trust you, I really do, but I am not sure about this 'quest' business. If I remember correctly, young braves went on a vision quest to discover their destiny and learn of their totem animals. Do you really think that going into the forest and starving myself into unconsciousness is going to help?" Dylan asked, becoming frustrated. Her grandfather had spent the better part of the morning gathering some of her clothes, a first aid kit and a minimum of food, stuffing it all into a large backpack. He also seemed to have suddenly become completely deaf. He went from room to room gathering items and shoving them into the pack all the while humming a disjointed tune that sounded strangely enough like an ancient lullaby that her grandmother had sung to her on long stormy nights.
"Dylan." The old man paused and turned to the young soldier. "The vision quest is not just a trip into the woods to starve yourself; it is a journey of discovery. While you are there you will find out which totem animals guide your life and are the key to your destiny. You may learn where you future lies and ways to control the memories of your past."
Dylan frowned, she had always believed in her grandfather and she knew that he had powers that were mysterious to say the least, but she was still skeptical about the ability of animals to guide her future. However if there was one person in her life, one person besides Lura, who could convince her to go on a quest, it was this wise old man.
"Okay, Grandfather, I will go. What do I need to do?"
"Nothing, Granddaughter. Well, nothing yet. Let's go home and I will fix you a nice meal. We can talk more then," the old man replied. He watched Dylan strip the small branches off of the limb and start to use it as a walking stick.
They turned and headed back down the trail towards the large cabin. Dylan paused at the door to throw the branch away, then turned and entered the cabin. Her grandfather smiled quietly as he followed the tall soldier into the warm interior.
"Mother, I have no intention of going anywhere with that pompous ass Nathan! He is as thickheaded, bias and chauvinistic as they come and I am not so sure he is interested in a wife. What makes you think that I would even give that wanker the time of day?" Lura ranted as she paced back and forth on the plush eggshell white carpet in her bedroom, waving her arms about for emphasis.
"Victoria Lura Gillum-Grant! I am your mother and you will watch your mouth when you speak to me. You lower your tone right this minute!" Alison yelled back. She was shocked and appalled at the terms her gently raised daughter was using. She certainly did not learn them at home.
It never occurred to Alison Grant that her daughter certainly had learned those terms at home. She spent many a day on her Daddy's knee listening while he conducted business and Harrison Grant was never one to bite his tongue. Bite off a head or two yes, but his tongue, never. It seemed that though she got her blond haired green-eyed good looks from her mother, Lura definitely inherited her father's temper and colorful repertoire.
Lura winced, knowing that she may have stepped just a bit too close to the edge for her mother. Taking a deep breath, she tried again.
"Mother please, you can't be serious. Nathan is a snake and you know how I feel about snakes," she added under her breath for good measure. She turned and faced her mother, her green eyes large and pleading.
Don't even try that puppy dog look on me Lura, you know it doesn't work," Alison said as she turned and walked towards her daughter's large walk-in closet. She peeled back the door to reveal a long narrow room lined on both sides with every imaginable style dress, slacks, shoes, boots, and of course evening wear. She sniffed as she passed an open suitcase containing three faded pairs of Levi's, one pair of well-worn hiking boots, a pair of sneakers and a large assortment of t-shirts. She made a mental note to tell the upstairs maid to remove those atrocious garments right away. She smiled, remembering that the gardener was raking up the first fall of leaves and thought those horrid pants would make wonderful kindling.
She walked past the dresses and went through the racks of expensive slacks selecting a pair of camel tan business slacks and a deep green turtle neck sweater. She continued to thumb through the clothes until she found a dark brown tweed jacket, brown short boots and a matching leather belt. Laying all these on the bed she turned placed her small fists on her girlishly slender hips and glared at her child.
"Now what?" Lura asked throwing her arms in the air in a fit of exasperation. Her mother simply pointed to the bath and began tapping her foot. Feeling suspiciously like a six year old caught with muddy britches, Lura hung her head in resignation and headed for the tub.
Hours later Lura found herself belted into the front seat of a sporty bright red BMW 330Ci Convertible Coupe racing at breakneck speed down the drive of her family's estate. She stared out the front windscreen fully expecting to see her life pass before her eyes. She gripped the center console with one hand and the leather wrapped door armrest with the other. Apparently the pompous ass only knew one speed… fast as hell.
"Umm Nathan, the drive ends here. Don't you think you should slow down a bit? The road turns really sharply at the end," Lura gasped in a frightened voice.
"Aw Lura, where is your sense of adventure? I know you have lived a sheltered life, but allow a bit of excitement into it every once in a while, will you," Nathan stated, smiling in what he hoped was a debonair manner.
He hoped this little Virginia wallflower would not dampen his style after he married her. His family had a name and a place in society, but the finances were getting a bit slim and though the Grants were relatively new money, merely from the time of the Civil War, it would be an acceptable arrangement. He had hoped that Lura would be into a bit of excitement, but so far he had been very disappointed. Apparently this was a sheltered woman who would faint at the slightest bit of thrill.
Oh well, I suppose her parents will give us a small summerhouse as a wedding gift. I can put her there so she won't interfere with my life. She is passably attractive; I suppose we will breed nice children. Huh, as long as one is a male, then father's will would be satisfied and I can get my money he thought as he rounded the hairpin curve at the end of the drive.
He smiled at himself as he heard her gasp in alarm. This may turn into a fun drive after all he thought.
Gray Hawk carefully placed two steaming hot plates on the table. He had taken special care with this meal and intended make sure that Dylan filled up before she headed out on her quest. The steaks were large, thick and rare just like they both liked them. A pile of homemade mashed potatoes, fresh biscuits and a large pile of sweet yellow corn finished the food. Two tall sweating glasses of sweet iced tea provided the refreshment. He watched with a smile as Dylan's eyes grew large staring at the plate in front of her. "Dylan, it will not get to your stomach through your eyes," he stated with laughter in his voice
Dylan looked up and grinned, her grandfather always knew how to make her smile and boy, steak could put a smile on her face faster than a crispy French fry.
She picked up her fork and knife and dug in. They ate in silence, each humming and groaning over every bite until the plate was clean. Dylan sat back, rubbing her aching belly and eyed the senior.
"Okay, Grandfather, why are you feeding me like the fatted calf? Not that I am complaining mind you. Just…curious," Dylan commented, adding a smile to ease the bite of her words.
"Well Granddaughter, since you will be leaving on your quest tomorrow and living off the land, I thought it best to make sure you had a good meal in you to live on for a bit," he commented, still staring at his plate while chasing the last yellow kernel of corn around with his fork.
Dylan smiled and thought about what her grandfather had just said. She remembered the summer they had spent in the forest with the young men of the tribe earning the rights of the warrior. She looked back and thought of those almost carefree days of her youth. Her mind envisioned the younger Dylan competing with the young men, challenging them, nature and her own young body. Learning to live off the land had helped her survive for years in the desert. There was little she did not know about survival and, she thought with a grim smile, little she could not handle. She glanced again at her grandfather, smiling as he finally captured the sweet tidbit and popped it triumphantly into his mouth.
"Thank you for the wonderful meal Grandfather. I am sure my belly will be content for many days to come. Now, how about moving into the living room so we can talk?"
Lura slammed the door of the BMW coupe.
"Nathan, I don't want to ever see you or hear your irritating voice again. I have no clue what gave your poor excuse for a brain the idea that I would allow you any liberties! And as far as your thoughts of marriage are concerned, if we were the last two humans on the planet then the human race would be in deep shit because we would be the last two humans on the planet!"
On that note Lura turned on her heel and stomped her way up the stairs and into the house leaving Nathan fuming in the driveway. Hell, I just wanted to give her the chance to sample the wares before we get married. This is all I need to be tied to a frigid woman for the rest of my life. You would think she would be happy to have any attention after she moved back home. My God, who would want a woman who has obviously been around? Maybe she's just looking for an excuse, yeah that has to be it, why else would she turn me down? Oh yeah, that has to be it. Well, then it looks like Ms. Grant may be a bit more of a challenge after all. Yep this is gonna be fun, well until we get married, then all that independent shit has to go. Nathan slammed the gearshift into first and threw gravel down the drive as he sped off.
Lura was mad, no not just mad. Mad was just not a strong enough word; she was furious beyond comprehension. "How dare that overgrown, whiny assed excuse for a man try that with me?" she fumed, pacing back and forth in the foyer.
She had been invited to go for a drive into the country and had finally agreed to go after being pressured by her mother. They had no sooner reached the edge of town than Nathan decided to pull off, complaining of car trouble.
"If that isn't the oldest and lamest excuse in the book..."
He pulled over at the first rest stop and steered the little car into a secluded section of the parking lot. He then proceeded to extol Lura on his pedigree, his family wealth and last, but certainly least, his own personal "assets". He pulled her quickly to him and began to kiss her, trying to force his tongue past her clamped teeth while his hands were busy roughly squeezing her breast. I really don't think he was expecting that punch to the gut but he really had it coming. "He should be glad I am such a lady, if Dylan had been here… Dylan, where are you, love?"
As she strolled through the forest, Dylan's mind went back over the conversation she'd had with her grandfather before heading out.
"Now Dylan make sure you find a location that is open to the sky, you will know it is the right place when you see it. You must build a sweat hut, the sweat will help purify your mind and body." He stepped out the front door and returned an instant later with the long cedar stick she had found in the forest the day before. "Take this with you. As your spirit guides visit you must carve their names on it. It is powerful medicine and will protect you on your quests."
Dylan glided through the forest using the stick to move aside small branches and to steady her steps as she crossed streams. She remembered that her grandfather had also carried such a staff when he had taken her and the young men of their village on their summer excursions. He had called it his totem stick and told tales of the four animals whose names had been carved on it. I liked the tales of the wily fox the best she thought smiling.
The forest was cool and a soft breeze pushed at her back, encouraging her to move on. The trail she was following was narrow but clear; the hoof prints that marked the trail were those of a large buck. Dylan bent to check the fresh spoor she found on the edge of the path, smiling at the knowledge that the forest skills her grandfather had taught her so long ago were coming back to her. Standing, she looked around at the bright, clear Carolina blue sky and inhaled the crisp, clean smell of the evergreens. The Blue Ridge Mountains were beautiful this time of year, the leaves were just beginning to change color and the forest was dressed in shades of gold, yellow, scarlet and green. She had been on the march since early morning and gauging from the location of the sun it was approaching noon. She would have to stop soon and eat. She looked around for a likely place to rest and noticing a smaller path off of the main trail, she turned to follow it.
Alison Grant heard the disturbance in her foyer and followed the sounds. She reached the main hall and saw her daughter pacing, her arms flailing in the air and her agitated voice rose to a level that echoed in her pristine entry.
"Lura, what in the name of heaven are you doing? Lower your voice, lower it this instant young lady. Proper ladies do not raise their voices above the conversational tone, proper young ladies maintain their composure and…"
Before she could go any further, her young progeny interrupted her. "Mother, 'proper young ladies' do not have to mace their dates to save their virtue!" she exclaimed. "That…that… that person you had me go out with nearly raped me in the parking lot of the rest stop on I-95!" Lura stated indignantly. She was still fuming over her educational ride with Nathan.
"But Lura dear, he seemed like such a nice young man. He comes from an old Virginia family, is well spoken and well educated. Couldn't you be mistaken?"
"NO! Mother, Nathan is a slimy, disgusting multi-armed excuse for a man. And, make no mistake about this mother, I WILL NOT under any circumstances go anywhere with him again." On that note she turned and, still mumbling under her breath, headed for the stairs.
Alison stood there for a moment watching her daughter stomp up the stairs muttering to herself the entire way. The younger woman turned down the long hall and disappeared. Moments later she was startled by the slamming of a bedroom door.
"Well, that went better than I expected," came an amused voice behind her. Alison whipped around and saw her husband standing in the doorway of his office, leaning against the frame.
"What do you mean, Harrison? Lura offended that young man and has refused to see him again. How are we suppose to find her a suitable young man if she behaves that way?" Alison asked, turning angry green eyes on her spouse.
"We aren't going to find her a 'suitable young man' because our daughter has already found someone," Harrison stated, folding his long arms across a barrel chest.
"What do you mean, she has already found someone? She hasn't been out of the house since she got back from that dreadful trip to that horrid desert country," Alison stated, her hands now firmly planted on her hips.
"Well, if I remember correctly, our daughter came home with a young soldier. And if I am not mistaken, she spent quite a bit of time with that same soldier in the desert and in the hospital. Seems our daughter has already fallen in love." Harrison grinned watching as reality finally dawned on his wife.
"No, you mean to tell me that our daughter is, is…one of them?" She gasped, her hand at her throat.
Harrison frowned at his wife, he had not realized that she was homophobic, but understanding that she did come from an old Southern family he was not really surprised.
This time he took the aggressive stance. With his fists balled up and placed firmly on his hips he glared at his wife. "What exactly do you mean, 'one of them'? Our daughter has always had good judgment when it comes to people and if she has decided that this woman is who she wants to spend her life with, then so be it," he bellowed. "That soldier saved our daughter's life. Had she not been there we would have lost Lura, so as far as I am concerned, if that is what Lura wants then that is what Lura will have, and you and I will support her. I love my daughter and if this is her decision, then we will stand by her one hundred percent!" On that note, he turned back to his office and, like his daughter, slammed the door, leaving Alison standing gape jawed in the foyer.
Down the hall in the kitchen a soft click was heard as the kitchen door quietly shut. "Well, I didn't think he had it in him, I thought that wife of his neutered him years ago," Lenni chuckled. "Hmm, seems that nearly losing that little gal woke up that old bear. So Miss Lura may have a chance with that soldier gal of hers after all." Lenni smiled and hummed to herself as she returned to the kitchen to finish the dinner preparations.
Nathan turned into the drive of his family home, the house that had been the home of the Owens family for five generations. To those not familiar with the estate, it looked palatial. The huge Georgian pillars, white and majestic supported the front portion of the entry, the giant double oak doors, the winding gravel and brick drive and the beautiful green lawn dotted here and there with flowering shrub, all the picture of Southern charm. But Nathan noticed the tarnished brass of the oaken door's handles, the drawn blinds which hid the missing furniture, sold a year ago to pay debts, and the dead flower beds that once housed a variety of beautiful plants and flowering bushes, gone along with the gardener.
All this will be restored just as soon as I marry the little twit Grant Nathan thought. And I will marry her. Then I will restore the estate and plant her in it. Once she is pregnant, I will have fulfilled my obligations and then I can do as I please. With her money and mine I can fix the place up and then travel. Germany is beautiful this time of year. Nathan chuckled to himself as he pressed the button to open the garage and slide the BMW in next to the classic old 1964 Rolls Royce sedan. It would have gone too except it did not run and the cost of repairs made fixing it out of the question.
Plus, it will look great once I get it fixed and hire a driver, Nathan smirked.
He shut the car door and skirted around the old car and entered the house. He strolled through the mudroom and into the kitchen, glancing around he imagined the cooking staff snapping to attention at his presence. Smiling to himself he walked to the large aluminum covered refrigerator and opened the freezer compartment, removing a store brand frozen meal. He crossed the kitchen to the microwave. Reaching into a drawer along the counter he pulled out a fork and, after poking holes in the plastic covering the meal, he tossed it into the oven and slammed the door. Adjusting the timer to four minutes he leaned back against the cooking island with his arms folded across his chest, deep in thought. His mind was picturing the changes he was going to make and the clubs he would be able to return to with the money he would finally inherit after the marriage produced an heir, combined with the money his new wife would bring.
Yes life is definitely looking up, he thought as the bell on the oven rang.
Having refreshed herself with a cool drink from her canteen, Dylan rose and began walking again. The trail she followed was faint and she suspected that it was a deer trail, but her instinct told her it was also the right path for her vision quest.
What exactly am I suppose to discover on this quest? I have no idea where I am going or why in the hell I am doing this, but it feels right. I know that I am going where I need to be, I just hope I figure out what I am suppose to do once I get there. Using her walking staff to part the hanging vines and overgrown tree branches she continued on her path, drawn as if on a tether towards an unknown location.
Pushing aside the last prickly branch from her path Dylan found herself in a small clearing, and what she saw took her breath away. In front of her was a huge cedar tree, its branches full and heavy with green. Around the base of the tree were fallen needles and debris in all shades from dark green to golden mahogany. The ancient tree was the only thing in the clearing; the other trees around and beyond the giant seemed to have retreated leaving this old monarch standing alone in its space. The ground was covered with soft dark emerald green moss. Tiny white flowers spotted the moss giving it a surreal look. Dylan realized that she had reached the end of her search; this was where she would stay until her quest was complete.
Slipping her pack from her back, Dylan rolled her shoulders to relieve the tension then twisted her neck, smiling when she heard the soft pop of the vertebrate as they realigned themselves. She glanced around and then bent to remove a small hatchet from her pack. Whistling softly to herself she headed into the tree line to look for kindling and saplings for the sweat lodge.
Lura was not happy, it wasn't that she didn't like her mother, it wasn't that she didn't appreciate what her mother was doing, but what was driving her nuts was the driver her mom had procured. She loved shopping, she loved spending her mother's money, but what she hated was the fact that somehow Nathan had finagled his way into being their driver. Now she was stuck between her mother's efforts to pair her up with a man she was quickly beginning to hate and keeping Nathan out of groping range.
"Lura honey, could you come here please? I have got to see you in this dress," her mother called, holding up a strapless black dress. With a sigh of resignation Lura walked over and took the dress, turning full circle she finally located the dressing rooms and headed off that way.
Nathan watched as the blond stepped through the portal and down the short hall into a dressing booth. Thinking this might be his only opportunity for the day, he followed her.
Heh, Mama Grant is a real Godsend, for an old bat he thought, trying the handle of the dressing room door he had just seen Lura enter. The door swung open easily on its solid brass hinges and Nathan smiled with anticipation. She is going to love this he thought with a smile.
Dylan had just finished laying the last rock in the pit in the center of the sweat lodge, it had taken the majority of the afternoon to build but she was pleased with the construction. The lodge was actually more a hut, shaped much like an igloo with a small center hole, the door which pointed east was covered by a blanket.
The majority of the hut was made of bent saplings, canvas, mud and bits of leaves that she had gathered. Inside, the Spirit Path was laid with stones leading from the opening to a small depression she had scooped out in the center of the path and directly under the hole in the roof. This she lined with more mud and large rocks. These would be heated, then water would be poured over them causing steam, the steam would cause her to sweat. That sweat would release the impurities from her body and carry her prayers into the sky. Inside the lodge Dylan lay four large logs, one in each direction: North, South, East and West. This final task completed, she left the lodge to relax before her ordeal. Tomorrow she would begin the cleansing ritual and heating the ancestor stones that were in her pack.
Now she needed to build her shelter for the evening then prepare dinner. This was to be the last food or drink she would have until after her vision quest.
The sound of flesh meeting flesh seemed to echo up and down the aisles of the store and spill out into the outer courts along the walk in front of the boutique. The stream of words accompanied by the slap seemed to travel even further.
Nathan was stunned; she had actually struck him. What was she thinking? He held his hand to his injured cheek and quickly exited the dressing area, Lura close on his heels.
"How dare you! What possessed that weak brain of yours that allowed you to assume I would welcome your slimy presence in my dressing room?" Lura roared, not caring who heard. Mrs. Grant was, for the first time in several years, speechless. She would never have presumed that Nathan was anything other than a gentleman. But to enter her daughters dressing o, this would definitely not do.
"Nathan?" she asked calmly, "Am I to understand that you took it upon yourself to assist my Lura with her attire?" A brow was raised in inquiry over flashing gray green eyes.
Oh boy, this is not good. How was I to know the girl was a prude? Aloud he said, "Um, well, it was like this Mrs. Grant, I though I heard Lura call out to me and…"
"And you what?" the indignant matriarch asked, ice dripping from each coldly enunciated word. "You assumed my daughter was being attacked by the Armani? I am sorry, Mr. Owens, but it would appear that we are no longer in need of you assistance. Good day," Alison stated, coldly turning her back on Nathan, effectively dismissing him.
Nathan stood there, his mouth open as if gasping for air as he watched Alison and Lura Grant turn and re-enter the dressing room together. At the last minute, Lura turned as she reached the doorway of the dressing room and stuck her tongue out at Nathan. She knew it was childish but, what the Hell, it felt good, she thought smiling at her mother as she pulled her cell phone from her hip to call their regular driver.
Nathan balled his fists and groaned. His meal ticket was slipping though his fingers, he would have to do something quick. He reached into his pocket for his keys and stalked out of the store. He had some damage control to initiate. As he reached parking lot he glanced around for the BMW, pressing the alarm he waited for the horn to alert him to the location of the car.
"Damn mall parking, never can find the car," he muttered to himself. Just then he heard it, the high-pitched honking horn of his beautiful Coupe. Turning his head he watched in stunned amazement as a tow truck passed directly in front of him hauling away his prized sports car. The sign on the side of the truck read, "BIG RED's REPO - You call 'em, We haul 'em"
A huge light skinned black man waved at him from behind the wheel of the truck, a cigar butt clenched in his grinning white teeth.
Dylan sat on a log in front of the warm fire, her thoughts drifting to a woman, a little bit of a thing, with hair the color of the Indian corn, shades of gold and red and yellow all as fiery as the sun. And a spirit to match, she thought smiling. Where was Lura right now? Was she okay?
Her mind drifted back to their first night at home together. She had felt so bad and Lura had been so sweet, helping her out of the tub, carefully drying every part of her so tenderly. She was so exhausted her body trembled just trying to stand. Lura had wrapped the towel around her and led her to the bed.
Dylan shifted, sliding off the log to stretch her long legs out to enjoy the heat of the fire; she allowed her back to rest against the log.
Lura was so gentle that night; she had pulled the covers back and helped her slip into bed. She remembered how Lura had run around to the other side of the bed, stripping as she went, clothing flying in all directions. She had snuggled under the sheets, and for the first time since they had left the hospital, she curled naked around Dylan's long body. One bare leg was flung possessively over Dylan's thighs. Warm crisp curls brushed Dylan's hip and one soft white arm wrapped itself around her waist.
Smiling, Dylan remembered the smell of the blond head on her shoulder and the feel of the soft breasts pressing into her side. She had been unable to resist stroking the soft flesh so close at hand. One arm had wrapped around the smaller woman, pulling her closer into Dylan's embrace as long slender fingers had gently taken an erect nipple and rolled it between thumb and fingers. A soft moan escaped Lura's lips letting Dylan know that she was not quite as tired as she had been earlier. She remembered that they had made love slowly, gently that night and had fallen into an exhausted, but very satisfied, sleep.
She remembered the last time her hands had caressed the soft white breasts. That memory was sweet and painful because the next day was the last time she had seen Lura.
Sadly Dylan thought of the circumstances that had led her here, to this point in time, to this location. The fighting, the killing, and all the death. She was not fit to be with Lura. Dylan hung her head as silent tears burned their way down her cheeks.
Gray Hawke moved silently back through the forest, his head bowed in thought. He had known that Dylan would find this place for her vision quest; it was the same location his grandfather had shown him long ago. His grandfather had told him of his great-grandfather, a renowned warrior, fighting the white soldiers to protect his people. Because of him and other young warriors a small band of Cherokee had escaped into the Blue Ridge Mountains and not been force-marched west on the long Trail of Tears. This had been the place his great-grandfather had come to on his vision quest. This was the place where he had dreamed of the turmoil to come. This was a sacred place that called only the greatest warriors, that is how he knew Dylan would find it. She had the spirit of the Hawk within her. It had given her the strength to fight in the long battle in the desert. But the Hawk totem was now wild and fierce, out of control. It must be tempered by another totem animal and Dylan must find her totem guide for these peaceful days or the Spirit Hawk would tear her soul apart.
Gray Hawke drifted back to his lodge, like Dylan he often found comfort in the flames of the fire. As he stared into the flames he went over a plan in his head. It was crazy but it might be the only thing to save his granddaughter. He went to the room Dylan had been in the night before and searched her bag. He pulled out her cellular phone and returning to the living room he sat back in his chair and began searching the phones memory.
Having finally arrive home by cab, Nathan had called the nearest florist and had two-dozen long stem roses delivered to the Grant estate, one dozen red roses for Lura and one dozen yellow roses for Mrs. Grant.
The flowers were returned to his home, rejected, the card unopened. He sat on the kitchen floor, a glass in hand and an open bottle of Scotch on the Italian tile floor next to him.
Lura walked down the long stairs of the main foyer and turned towards the large mahogany doors that led to her father's home office. Tapping lightly, she waited for an answer.
A voice called out, "Come in Lura honey, have a seat." Opening the door quietly Lura saw her father at his desk, his head bent in concentration. One hand held a pen poised over a thick document, the other held a phone to his ear. He was apparently deeply involved in a conversation and was unwilling to break the call.
She looked around the room, curiosity and impatience making her restless. She had rarely been in this part of the house, it had become known as her father's sanctuary. Her occasional visits to this part of the house and this room, in particular, had usually been memorable either resulting in some form of restriction or reward, depending on the cause of the "summons". But that had been years ago, when she had been in school, now she was a grown woman, but the anxiety was still there. She went over the events of the last few days in her mind trying to determine the cause of this particular visit. Confused, she sat in one of the two oak and leather chairs facing the long matching oak and leather desk. Her hands were clenched in her lap as she waited patiently for her father to finish his telephone conversation.
"Yes, I understand. No, it's no problem, I will have the tickets tonight and the package will be on its way in the morning, umm, if not sooner." He chuckled "Thank you for calling." Harrison Grant hung up the phone, picked up a thick notepad and tapping the black Mont Blanc pen in concentration. He quickly scribbled a note on a pad, read it, smiled and turned the pad over, obscuring it from Lura's view. Pushing a button on the keyboard of his phone he waited patiently for the ring to be answered.
"Yes, Sir?" came the prompt response in a very proper male voice.
"Richard, I need you to make reservations for me. One ticket, one way, Richmond to Raleigh, first class departing tomorrow, open return. Also, I will need a rental car, no make that an SUV, standing by at the airport. Do you have all that?"
"Of course, Sir," came the confident response.
"Thank you, Richard. Now hold all my calls for the next fifteen minutes." He pushed the button and disconnected. He flipped the notepad over again, finished the note, smiled and put the pen away. Finally, he lifted his head and stared at his very confused and nervous daughter.
"Hello dear," he said in a calm cool voice. Glancing back at his pad he smiled and looked again at his daughter. Clearing his throat he glanced into green eyes and let the smile slip from his face.
"Lura, it seems that you have been lax in some things. You neglected to inform me or your mother of an…umm… relationship, shall we call it? Between yourself and one Captain Dylan Hawke. What the hell is going on here, Lura? Are you seriously involved with this woman?" he asked, cool brown eyes stared deeply into hers. "What were you thinking?"
Lura sat there stunned, her mouth hanging open. How did he find out? Well to hell with him and to hell with mother. I love Dylan and that is all there is to it.
"Yes, Father, I am involved with her, and yes, it is serious, or at least I hope it is," she said, glancing down at her folded hands, her heart racing. Wait, what do I have to be ashamed of? She thought, unconsciously bringing her head up proudly.
"Well, I am not sure about this Lura," Harrison stated, rising from his chair and walking around to the front of his desk. He folded his arms and leaned back against the huge piece of furniture staring down intimidatingly at his daughter. "I am not sure that I will allow any daughter of mine to become involved in that sort of relationship. What will people think?" he asked in a deep, calm voice, his brows furrowed in concern.
Lura sat there, her head bent once again under her father's glare. As she stared at her fingers she remembered the bruises, the feel of a soft breast swelling in her hand, the gentle touch of long callused finger curled around hers. To give all that up? For what? Appearances?
"NO!" she screamed. Lura slammed her hands down on the arms of the chair. Her head still bowed and her eyes closed, she drew in a deep breath, raised her head again and stared at her father. "I have no intention of listening to another word, Father," she said in disgust. "I am only going to say this one time, so listen good, and memorize this because you will need to repeat it to mother for me since you will probably disown me for what I am about to say."
Lura stood slowly and stepped up to her tall father. She leaned forward as if to touch her nose to her father's. "Dylan Hawke is a wonderful, beautiful, heroic woman. She saved my life and owns my heart. I would give up everything for her, even you." By now tears were welling in her eyes, angry hurt tears. She faced her father, her jaw clenched, her eyes flashing with stubborn determination.
"You know, Father, I thought that mother would give me a hard time over this and I was ready for it, but you really surprise me. Of all the people in my life I though I could rely on you were number one on my list."
Harrison stared into those angry eyes, a frown creasing his brow. "What exactly do you mean by that Lura? You are my daughter and as long as you live under my roof…"
"What? What, Father? Are you going to kick me out, disown me, cut me from the will? Well, I really don't give a damn, do it. I will find a job, I will wait tables, I will do whatever it takes. I love you and I love mother, but Dylan is my world. God, Father." She threw up her arms in frustration. "When I am with her, I don't need anything else, or anyone else. As long as we are together, we can do anything and the only opinion that matters to me is hers. As long as she loves me…"
Lura stopped here. Did Dylan love her? Why did she leave if she truly loved her?
Harrison watched the confused look replace the anger; he had a pretty good idea where that look came from.
"Lura? Lura, I'm sorry honey. I had to find out." He turned Lura to face him and pulled his daughter into his arms and gently rubbed her back.
"What? What are you talking about? Find out what?" She drew back from her father staring into his eyes. "What kind of game are you playing, Dad?" Anger again replaced her confusion.
Harrison felt his daughter drawing back from him. He knew that the little spitfire that was his daughter was definitely getting her hackles up. He also knew that he was pushing his luck with her.
"Lura honey, I had to know that what you are feeling is true. I spoke to Dylan's grandfather today and…"
"YOU WHAT?" she screamed "Why? Why, Father? What gave you the right…"
"Lura, I didn't call him, he called me. Dylan needs you," he said, quietly staring straight into her eyes. "Honey, she needs you."
Lura looked deeply into her fathers eyes; she frowned knowing that he had never lied to her. She felt that she could trust him. "Dylan needs me? He said Dylan needs me? Why? What wrong? Is Dylan hurt; is she okay? Where is she? I have to go, I have to go now!"
Lura turned pulling from her fathers arms, her mind already racing through what she would need to pack, who she would call to take her to the airport and the cost of a ticket to…where?
She turned back to her father. "Where is she?" she asked, quietly her voice determined.
Her father stood there, his arms once again folded over his chest as he saw the look of angry determination on her face.
"Where is she, Father?" Lura stepped closer to her father. "Where is she? You can tell me and make this easy or not, but I will find her," she said, her voice cold and still.
"She is in Cherokee, North Carolina, or to be more specific, she is somewhere in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Your plane ticket will be here before you finished packing." He smiled, watching her face change. Her mouth open in a surprised, round 'O'. He grinned at her and she smiled back. With a wild whoop she threw her arms around his neck and placed a loud wet kiss on his cheek.
"You are the best!" she squealed, her heart thumping with excitement. Her heart skipped. "Wait, Dylan's grandfather called you? She is all right, isn't she? She isn't hurt or anything?" Lura's hands were gripping her father's in a white-knuckle hold.
"Ow, ease up there sweetheart, I write all my checks with that hand," Harrison groaned. "As far as I know she is fine. Her grandfather, what was his name…Gray Hawke, said that she had gone camping and needed you for some sort of ceremony. He said it was a native tradition and you had to be there. Now, before you ask, no, I have no idea what the hell kind of ceremony he is talking about. I just know that you have to be there."
He paused and looked deeply into green eyes. "Lura, I know that you and Dylan faced some real challenges. I have no idea how you two survived, but what I do know is that you love that woman and she loves you. You two have some kind of bond. I know that most people…hell especially our people, don't understand that, but I also know that you belong together. Sometimes, if a person is very, very lucky, if they are in the right place at just the right time something very special happens. You meet someone, someone so special that they touch something deep inside; they touch your soul. It is so rare that no one should stand between them. No one has the right to interfere with that. I see that between you and this woman, I saw it when we watched the award ceremony in Washington. I saw it when you arrived here without her and I see it now. I know your mother will have a small Hereford, but I want you to know that what ever you decide, you have my blessings. I love you, Lura." Harrison hugged his daughter close knowing that the path she had chosen would be one filled with trials. He smiled knowing that she was more than a match for any type of challenge and anything she couldn't handle, the tall, dark haired soldier could.
He had to let his little girl go.
To be continued...
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