Disclaimers found in Chapter 1.
Sarah woke the next morning, feeling even more confused than she had on the day before. She didn’t understand Steele’s venom. The dark woman teased her at breakfast; then was mean and cruel when she returned to the mansion to sleep.
Sarah washed up with the water and soap that Polly had left for her the night before. The old cook had also left a short pullover for her to sleep in. Sarah was grateful, even though sleeping in the nude was extremely comfortable, and if she would admit it to herself, a great deal more exciting, knowing that Steele seemed to prowl around the house at night.
The comfort around her, reminded her once again of the place she had escaped from. Sarah couldn’t believe that the people on the plantation accepted her so readily. She had to admit that even to her own ears, her story didn’t make much sense. She stroked the tattoo underneath her breast. People just didn’t joke when it came to the Center. To put a permanent mark on someone’s body that looked like the Center’s insignia; well, that was just never done.
“I have a feeling that many of these people have a story,” the little blonde thought, as she pulled on clean clothes. She remembered a time when she was still in the Center.
‘Tell them,’ the voice urged Sarah.
“But they’ll think I’m crazy,” Sarah hissed aloud, oblivious to the fact that she was talking to herself.
‘Tell them, or you will be punished, Sweetie!’ the voice urged.
“But how do I know it’s the truth?” muttered Sarah, again to herself.
‘At this moment, it doesn’t matter. Just tell them!’
Sarah looked around the room. She knew the Commander was watching. Even only being there two weeks, Sarah knew that you were always watched in the Center.
The blonde lifted her hand to run through her hair, but was stopped short when the restraints pulled her arm back. She was chained to the wall.
“All right! All right, I’ll tell you!” Sarah shouted to no one, but soon heard the lock on the door turning.
In sauntered the Commander, smiling, pleased that Sarah saw things her way.
“The rebels are hiding in the mountain range about 55 miles south of the Canadian boarder,” Sarah said, with barely any emotion.
“The boarder stretches many miles,” the Commander whispered as she kneeled in front of the trembling blonde. The woman leaned in close to the frightened woman. “Tell me, little one.”
“North Dakota,” Sarah squeaked.
“Mmm, very good,” the Commander whispered into the woman’s ear, “You are on your way to becoming very valuable to me.”
The blonde tried to smile, tried to be pleased with herself, but the idea that she could have given away the location of freedom fighters upset her.
“But Steele,” she continued, “She knows I’m not all that I claim to be. She knows. I don’t know how but she knows.”
“Good morning, again, Polly,” the blonde said as she entered the warm kitchen. She had bumped into Polly earlier the same morning, when she had to been walking through the hall toward the bathroom.
“Good mornin’, child,” the matronly woman smiled, “I’m still cookin’ away. It’s a big deal when a boy turns thirteen.” Polly pointed to the plate on the table. “Some biscuits for you, but be sure you leave some for Master Steele,” Polly reminded the blonde.
Sarah got several biscuits and some honey, and sat down at the table to enjoy her breakfast. She poured some coffee from the carafe, with another reminder to leave some for Steele.
“Polly, I think I’d better find another place to sleep,” the blonde said thoughtfully, picking at her food.
“Why, Sugar?” Polly asked, as she continued to stir her cake batter.
“I don’t think Steele really wants me here,” Sarah tried to smile, but failed.
Polly looked up from her task. “Oh, now don’t cry, Honey,” Polly put an arm around the upset woman, “Sometimes, I don’t think Master Steele knows what she wants.”
“She was nice to me yesterday morning, then I got back here and she just sneered at me. It was as though she were trying to kill me with just her stare. I don’t know, Polly,” Sarah sniffled, wiping her eyes on her napkin. The stress from the last week caught up to her. She just didn’t understand the mysterious woman, and it hurt her heart to know that Steele didn’t trust her.
“Shh, Baby, it’ll be awright, you’ll see,” Polly crooned to Sarah, “I know you’ve had a rough week, but you’ve landed in the right spot. We’ll take care a’ you.”
“All this emotion in the morning turns my stomach,” Steele muttered from the doorway.
“Hush up now, Master,” Polly patted Sarah’s shoulder once more, “Can’t you see the girl’s upset?”
Steele snorted, and Sarah sat up, composing herself. The dark woman reach for a biscuit and poured herself some coffee.
“There’s a meeting here in a few minutes, Polly,” Steele stated, “Can you be outta here for about fifteen minutes?” Steele asked through a mouthful of biscuit, staring straight at Sarah who sat quietly across from her.
Sarah just nodded, feeling tears well up in her eyes. She was determined to not cry in front of the icy woman. The blonde got up, almost running out the back door, coffee and biscuits, forgotten.
“You tryin’ to run that girl off, Master?” Polly asked, concerned, though there was no bitterness in her question. Steele often did things with out explanation, and Polly learned to not question her Master on such things. The very fact that the cook asked now, showed Steele the other woman’s concern.
Steele eyed the ancient woman for a few seconds, wondering for the millionth time why she ever allowed Polly to get so familiar with her. Finally she answered, “I’m not trying to run her off…I’m just trying to figure out what she’s covering up.”
“Who? Her? We thinkin’ of the same girl?” questioned the cook. “Why she one a’ the most purest souls I know.”
Steele glowered at her long-time friend.
“Now don’t you get intimidating with me, young lady,” Polly said, waving the wooden spoon at the tall woman, “I just calls ‘em as I sees ‘em.”
Steele just shook her head trying to fight back a wry smile. Only Polly could get by with talking to her like that.
It was only a few minutes later when the group that Steele had called together began to arrive in the kitchen. Lucy and Garth arrived first, followed by Sandy and Josh who arrived at virtually the same time. Steele noticed that, but didn’t make any commotion over it.
Polly wasn’t a member of the inner circle of trust, but Steele didn’t have a problem with her remaining in the kitchen. She had proven herself to be faithful on numerous occasions, and Steele didn’t have to worry about their talking about anything she overheard.
The group spent a few minutes discussing a few ongoing matters, and then Steele brought up the real reason for calling the impromptu meeting.
“I got an interesting communiqué from the Center yesterday,” she said finally.
She made sure she had everyone’s attention, then held up the piece of paper, which held the coded message from her contact at the Center.
“What is it, Steele?” Sandy asked finally, not liking the feeling of dread that was sinking through her stomach. She had a feeling she knew what this was all about, but didn’t want to think it.
Steele stood and began to pace the room, circling the table. “It seems like there’s been a lot of chaos at the Center lately,” she said finally. “The Commander has been up in arms, since the escape of a young woman who was to be a lifelong resident and was worth a great deal to her.”
There was a simultaneous release of exhalations from around the room, and Steele noticed that each and every person seemed much relieved by that news.
“However…” she continued, holding up the paper, “my source tells me there’s something else going on…”
“Something else?” Garth asked, leaning forward in his chair. “Like what, Steele?”
Steele let a wicked smile melt across her divine features. “Like my source has reason to believe that the Commander is just putting on an act and that the ‘escapee’ is really a very well-trained and very convincing spy.”
Sarah didn’t really have any idea where she was going. She just knew she had to get away from Steele’s inconsistent and unpredictable attitude. Steele was a hard nut to crack, and even Sarah, who usually had a great deal of patience, was at her wits end. Sarah wasn’t feeling at all welcome on the plantation, and Steele’s remarks showed her feelings clearly to Sarah.
The little blonde ended up in the barn, which was surprisingly empty. Dylan and Sandy should have been hard at work in the building, but then Sarah remembered that it was the boy’s birthday, and they both had the day off.
She climbed to the highest floor and tried to hide herself behind a giant hay stack. Here she finally let out her pent up emotion. Sarah cried hard, mourning the loss of a somewhat normal life, the time she spent as a prisoner of the Center, and her subsequent escape from her captors.
She wept for all those that were still there at the Center. She wept for the woman, no, a girl really, who she shared a room with. She cried for those people who never knew and probably never would know freedom. But mostly she cried for herself, feeling that she would never find a place she felt welcome, even in this ragtag band of misfits.
Sarah was so busy crying that she never even heard Dylan approaching her.
“Sarah?” he asked softly, so as to not startle her.
The blonde sniffed, and wiped her eyes with the backs of her hands.
“Why are you cryin’ Sarah?” asked Dylan, who sat down next to the distressed woman. Sarah just looked at Dylan, not sure of what to say.
“It’s Steele, isn’t it?” he asked softly.
Sarah’s breath hitched, and she continued to weep, but more softly now.
“You think she doesn’t like you, but she does. I just don’t think she trusts you right now,” the boy explained.
“You’re right,” Sarah answered, “But she won’t give me the chance to make her believe me.”
“Oh, you might be surprised about what Steele believes,” the boy answered back, and slid his arm tentatively around the blonde.
“She thinks I’m a spy,” Sarah whispered.
“You just need to tell her the truth,” Dylan said matter-of-factly.
Sarah eyed the boy, but didn’t respond.
“She wouldn’t send you away,” Dylan said, “Steele hates the Center. She’d never send anyone back there.”
Sarah wiped her head around quickly. “You know I…”
“Steele saved me from the Center a long time ago,” the boy explained, “The doctors said I had very advanced brainwaves, and my Mom was supposed to bring me to the Center, but instead she ran away. She found Steele, and Steele said we could stay.”
“I’m like you were,” he said softly, a touch of sadness in his voice.
Sarah sobbed again, knowing that he was speaking about the voice she once heard, the mysterious force that seemed always to be with her. “ My only hope went away… she left me. She promised she’d never leave…” Dylan held the woman as she wept.
“Tell Steele how you escaped,” Dylan whispered.
“She’d never believe me.”
“She might,” he reasoned.
“No one escapes from the Center; she’s right to think I’m a spy.” She quietly wept. “She’ll send me back,” the woman continued, as she tried to dry up the last of her tears.
“She won’t send you back, Sarah, I promise,” Dylan answered, as if he had read her thoughts, “She wouldn’t ever do that to anyone. If anyone knows about reasons for escaping the Center, it’s Steele.”
Sarah took a long look at the boy, who was so wise for his years. He was great at comforting her, knowing just what to say. However, now he looked uncomfortable, as though he had said too much.
“Ok,” she resolved, letting him off the hook for now, “I’ll tell her. But I think that I should move out of her house. I don’t feel very welcome there…”
Dylan smiled. “She’ll understand, you’ll see,” he answered, and helped the blonde descend the ladder.
“You’ve returned,” Steele stated a while later, when Sarah reentered the kitchen. Steele was making herself another cup of coffee.
Sarah took a deep breath, and nodded.
“Got all that emotion worked out?” Steele asked casually, almost sounding sincere.
Again Sarah nodded, and poured herself a cup.
“Look, Steele,” Sarah began, but was immediately cut off.
“No, you look, you little bitch…” Steele snarled, suddenly rocketing out of her chair and getting right in Sarah’s face. “Let’s get something absolutely clear. The only reason you’re still here is because Sandy, Lucy and the others seem to think you are exactly who you say you are. They took a stand for some godforsaken reason to make sure I didn’t get rid of you.”
Sarah could only stare, shocked by the ferocious animosity, rage, and extreme sexual charisma flowing from Steele directly into her. Her body’s reaction to the power and anger Steele was exuding shocked her, but she stood her ground.
“Look, I’ll be out of your hair all right?” Sarah sighed, “I’m sure someone will let me stay with them.”
“I don’t want you out of here,” Steele replied, even as her inner voice was arguing, “Of course you do, what are you thinking?”.
“I can tell… when I’m not welcome, Steele,” Sarah said, too confused about her feelings to look at the beautiful, but dominating woman.
“I just want to know what the truth is,” Steele said, eyeing the little blonde. Steele was weary, tired of feeling always on guard around Sarah.
“You’d never believe me,” Sarah replied.
“Try me,” Steele said, almost sneering.
“I…” she paused, deciding that she would just blurt it out, “I escaped from the Center.”
Steele burst out laughing. She laughed hard and long while Sarah turned away from her. The blonde’s cheeks grew red hot, and she once again felt tears coming up. But instead of sadness, these were ones of anger.
When Steele finally got a hold of herself she replied, “Sure, you did.” The dark woman wiped her eyes on her sleeve. “Good one,” she laughed again. “Come on, what’s the REAL truth?” Steele asked again.
“I just told you,” Sarah said, and made for the kitchen door, intending to leave before her temper got the best of her.
“Were are you going?” the taller woman asked.
“I’m getting the few things I have, and I’m going to find a place to stay,” Sarah explained, “Then I’ll work for a few weeks, to earn some supplies, and I’ll go.” The blonde looked straight at the cynical woman, and sighed, “You’ll not see me again. I’ll go.”
“Go where?” Steele asked, still maintaining a bit of indifference in her voice.
“Anywhere,” Sarah answered, then muttered under her breath, “It’s not like you care.”
“There’s nothing around here for a hundred miles,” Steele said, once again sitting down at the table.
Steele looked at the blonde. It was true that Sarah was almost fully recovered. Her feet were nearly healed, and Steele knew that she hardly coughed anymore. The fact that the woman felt better was probably one of the reasons she was being so feisty today. And Steele had the feeling that Sarah had just enough stubbornness to make good on her threats.
“I don’t want you to leave,” Steele finally managed to say, “I just want the truth. I want to know where you came from, and where you were going in such a hurry.”
Sarah sighed yet again. “I told you. I escaped from the Center,” she paused here, remembering Dylan’s words, “I’m looking for the Furies.”
“The Furies?” Steele choked on her coffee.
“Yeah, word has it that they are a band of freedom fighters, willing to fight for those who can’t help themselves,” Sarah explained.
“I know who they are,” Steele said, annoyance in her voice again.
Sarah looked at Steele one more time. “I’ll just go now.”
“I put some clothes for the party on your bed,” Steele said, “You can have them if you want.”
Sarah looked at the perplexing woman. One moment she was making scathing remarks, the next, she was almost nice. Sarah knew that Steele was sincere, but the kindness confused her even more.
It was the perfect kind of weather the night of Dylan’s party. A harvest moon, mild temperatures, and clear skies helped light up the group of people gathered round the campfire. Dylan had opened all his gifts, and had been a gracious little lad as he accepted the various items he received. Most of them were handmade as the people of the plantation had little money of their own, but Dylan was always tinkering around on machines, and he would put the various homemade tools he’d been given to good use.
Steele had taken him around the back of the barn to see her gift to him. He had been thrilled and amazed to find a small gasoline burning engine, and a full can of fuel nearby. Petroleum was unheard of around those times, but Steele promised Dylan that she would be able to supply more when he had used up the amount in the can.
Genuinely surprised by Steele’s generosity, Dylan had thrown his arms around the tall woman’s waist, thanking her over and over again for her gift. Steele allowed the boy to express his gratitude for a moment, ruffling the boy’s hair affectionately, then finally pulled away. She engaged him in a lively conversation about what he would attach the engine to, as they made their way back to the party.
Sarah had been racking her brain trying to think up a gift for Dylan, the young man who had been the most encouraging to her of all. She had no money, she had no belongings, and she had nothing. Dylan gave her a hint that afternoon when he had seen her using an old stick to pummel a bale of hay senseless. Sarah had possessed an extraordinary skill for staff-handling ever since she could remember. She wasn’t allowed any such weapons at the Center, of course, but now that she was free, she wanted to loosen up her muscles.
Dylan was excited about Sarah’s offer to teach him to staff fight, and gave Sarah the same response he had given Steele. Steele couldn’t help watch as Sarah returned the hug, not looking uncomfortable at all by the boy’s affection.
The party continued long into the night. There weren’t very many occasions to celebrate on the plantation, so the people took advantage of the opportunity while they could. Dylan was tucked under Sandy’s arm, but was nodding off fast, as the dancing began. He should have been in bed hours ago, but had argued with his mother that a thirteen year old “man” should be able to stay up as late as the others.
One of the village’s residents approached her, a little bit hesitantly. The shorter brunette smiled at Sarah, sticking out her hand.
“Hi,” she said somewhat cheerfully, “I’m Onyx, this is my roommate Tonya.” Onyx turned to introduce the other woman, only to find the space empty. She turned completely around but Tonya wasn’t there.
“Oh, uh, well she was here,” Onyx said, somewhat embarrassed.
Sarah smiled somewhat distractedly, patting the space beside her. “It’s ok, it happens.” And the two women made small talk well into the night.
Sarah sat on the far side of the campfire, watching some of the dancing, but mainly watching Steele out of the corner of her eye.
The tall beauty was sitting on a log by the fire, and certainly wasn’t suffering from lack of attention. Sarah watched as several different people approached her, including Josh and a couple of other almost as handsome young men. Sarah wondered if they were asking Steele to dance, for she saw the dark woman shake her head several times.
After a while though, Sarah realized they were inviting Steele to do more than dance. She saw more than one of the men and women reach down and touch Steele’s face, and a couple of the braver ones even touched Steels’ breasts. In a couple of instances, she saw Steele returning the touches, in a very provocative manner. Sarah averted her eyes each time, but more than once caught the mocking looks Steele shot her. It infuriated her, but she tried to not let it show.
Sarah begged off the offers she had to dance, making a myriad of excuses. She found herself floating off into a dream state, leaning back against a tree trunk and watching Steele flirt with just about everyone but her. The woman had such a natural grace and erotic quality, even when she was in her most foul-tempered mood, which Sarah seemed to see the most, and it made the little blonde find her thoughts wandering to touching Steele even now, at this most inappropriate time.
Like now. Sarah was seriously considering leaving the party and responding to the messages her body was sending her. As much as she hated to leave the music and the food, the constant sight of Steele flaunting herself was too much, and Sarah stood to make her escape.
She gave a little wave to Sandy, who nodded and waved back. Turning on her heel, Sarah suddenly found herself flying backwards to land on her ass a few feet from the fire. Both sets of her cheeks burned as she heard the people around her burst out into a laugh.
She looked up to see who had knocked her over, and Tina stood, hands on her hips, smiling sweetly at Steele. Sarah noted out of the corner of her eye that Steele had a look of amusement on her face. “What was that?” she asked Tina, good—naturedly.
“Didn’t see her there,” the confident blonde replied to Steele. “She’s so tiny and all…”
Steele laughed and then turned back to tasting the tonsils of some guy Sarah had never seen before. Embarrassed and enraged by the overflow of unfamiliar emotions, Sarah stood back up and glared angrily at Tina.
“Listen you dirty whore,” Sarah hissed, in a voice so low no one else would be able to hear her. “I don’t know what the fuck your problem is, but you had better stay out of my way. I’m getting sick and tired of your catty little remarks and little tricks to try to get Steele to notice you.”
Tina smiled a tight-lipped smile. She leaned in and repeated in a voice at the same level. “Steele has already noticed me, My Dear,” she replied. “She’s noticed me, and has fucked me more times than I can count.” Her smile widened when she saw Sarah’s eye blaze at that comment. “So you’d better just get any ideas you have about her fucking you out of your empty little mind…” She reached forward and grabbed Sarah’s chin with her hand, “Cause Steele’s mine…”
Something inside Sarah snapped…it was the weight of all she had been carrying the last few days…the threats…Steele’s resentment…the fear..”I…” She hauled off and caught Tina’s right temple with a fist, “don’t…” This time it was a left jab. “want…” Another shot from the left hand and something gave in Tina’s nose. Blood spurt out everywhere. “Steele!” Sarah finished the statement with a left hook that left Tina reeling.
“Goddammit, that’s enough!” Sarah didn’t even realize Steele had approached, until she felt strong fingers digging into her neck and wrenching her back. Steele stood there looking shocked and irritated, shooting knives at Sarah with her fiery blue eyes.
She threw Sarah back a few steps, and then turned to huddle with Tina, who was bent over trying to contain the blood that was flowing out of her nose and mouth. “What the fuck was that all about?” Steele growled at Sarah.
“She started it!” Sarah barked in return. “She’s been doing nothing but trying to cause trouble for me ever since I got here.” She was relieved to see some of the others around her nod their agreement.
Steele didn’t look convinced. She released Sarah though, and took Tina’s head gently in her hands. “Lemme look at that, “ she said softly, beginning to examine the damage Sarah had done.
“She started it!” Sarah yelled again. “Aren’t you going to do something about that?”
“Yes, I am,” Steele replied through clenched teeth. “I’m going to find out whether or not you broke this beautiful girl’s nose. She may have started it, but I’d say you finished it, at least for now.”
Sarah absently rubbed a cut knuckle into the palm of the opposite hand, while she watched Steele tenderly look at Tina’s face. She was actually crooning to the other woman, offering whispered words of comfort. She continued to glare at Sarah from time to time, and the longer Sarah stood there, the more disgusted she became with the whole situation. Finally, she gave a final “harrumph”, turned on her heel, and took off in the direction of the woods.
Steele barely indicated she saw her go, but she was very well aware of the very second Sarah left the party.
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