THE BINDING TIE


MADERLIN BIDMEAD


DISCLAIMERS: PART ONE
FEEDBACK: maderlin@yahoo.com
 
 

CHAPTER TWENTY
 

It seemed, to one bemused bodyguard, that Francesca had been possessed this morning. Hunter had woken to the sound of the taller woman diving out of bed and rushing into the bathroom, leaving her feeling somewhat dazed as she sat up in her bedroll. Now here she was being rushed into her clothes by a fully dressed and practically vibrating heiress. It was so like being with the child that Francesca had once been, that the former gladiator almost forgot when she was. The instant she was decent, the brunette grabbed her hand and dashed out of the room, dragging a baffled Hunter in her wake.

Their first stop was the children's room where Francesca whisked Snake away and began talking to him in tones too low for the blond to hear. Hunter made her way over to the three bleary eyed children as she waited for their mother. All three of them were tousled, their hair sticking up in comical directions. Terrance was the most alert, looking around the room and quickly locating his mother. He rolled out of bed and padded over to his mother, wearing plaid pyjamas that made him look like a little old man. When he reached his mama he got a kiss and took himself to the bathroom. His sisters weren't nearly as awake.

Rochel, being her usual self, peered quickly around the room before burying her six year old head back under her pink sheets. Becca was little better, seeming to only have the energy to climb onto hunters lap and fall straight back to sleep. Hunter peered down at the cherubic fast that was angled against her chest, looking serene in sleep. The three children had become a source of real pleasure for the woman who had her own childhood snatched away from her. She rested her chin lightly on the girls head as she gazed at the tall brunette wistfully.

For her part Francesca was as excited as she had been for a long time. She had a plan and she was putting it into action, all on her own. Nobody was codling her or telling her the way that she should do things and it was empowering. As she stood talking to the bald man, outlining the days events and schedules, she realised for perhaps the first time in her life, what it meant to be a Prince. To have power but control people through respect. She had long since stopped thinking of the five remaining guards as slaves, the thought rarely crossing her mind. Whether it was because she now knew Hunters true identity she could not tell. These people were her employees, and certainly she hoped they were becoming her friends. Whatever they may feel towards her, she knew that they would be in on anything that would make Hunter happy. The wide grin spreading across Snakes usually sober features told her more than she could have hoped for about how her plan would be received.

She finished with Snake as quickly as she could and turned to leave, seeing for the first time the beautiful picture that her smallest child and the strong warrior made. Sitting on the rocker beside Becca's bed, the short warrior was wrapped around the small bundle in her arms. Becca's head was tucked against Hunters chest, her little hand fisted in the fabric of the blonde's shirt, her legs curled on the woman's lap. Hunter was contentedly rocking the chair, seemingly unaware that she was softly humming to her sleeping passenger. Suddenly the strict timetable for the days events were swept away. The plan would get done, later. This moment was too precious to interrupt.

Just then a still rumpled and pyjama clad little boy walked back into the room, and suddenly found himself lifted into his mothers arms. Francesca marvelled at how big her firstborn was getting. Soon he would be too big and too heavy for her to carry, but for now she would make the most of it. She lovingly carried him over to his sisters bed and sat down beside Rochel. Terrance snuggled on one side of his mother, Rochel burrowing close to the new warmth beside her. Francesca ran her fingers through their hair as the fell asleep. This is what a family she be, she thought, as she raised her head, her eyes meeting Hunters. The two women held each others gazes as they sat in companionable silence, basking in the love and trust of sleeping children.

**********

Hours later, the pair found themselves once again at their childhood refuge, at the lake. As children, the lake had seemed like a jungle oasis. A place where the trees held a million adventures and wild beasts walked. Together they had battled monsters and savage warriors, searched for treasure and met handsome strangers on white chargers. The last had been Francesca's fantasy, Hunter always having been too much of a tomboy for that - usually playing the part of the prince for her friend. Now the vista seemed so different. The foliage seemed less dense, the trees shorter. The clearing only half the size and the lake which had once played an ocean, little more than a pond. The chubby little princess had grown into an Amazonian queen, her tomboy companion her champion. Yet the colours remained as vivid, bright splashes of blue, red and green in a world of greys.

Two sets of images super-imposed over each other, leaving Hunter momentarily disorientated. Since coming back into the brunette's life, they had never been here like this. When they had firstly returned to the clearing it had been as an owner and slave, trying to get along. Later they had always brought the children. They had only been here once, as friends, in the wake of Douglas' death. Hunter had comforted the distraught and confused woman. Now they were here, alone, and Hunter's already confusing emotions swirled inside her like a maelstrom.

She stood back and watched as the taller woman laid a blanket on the ground. A brown wicker picnic basket was set on one edge of the red and black fabric. Francesca turned to her companion and extended a hand, beckoning for the warrior to join her on the blanket. Soon the two of them were settled on the ground, Hunter sat Indian style while the heiress sat to the side. For a few moments they sat in companionable silence, just gazing out at the blue depths. Basking in the tranquillity.

As they sat together, the knot in Francesca's stomach began to tighten. She had brought the other woman here to talk, to tell her how she felt. For days she had been planning what she would say, and how she would act. She needed to tell the blond how she felt, keeping it inside was eating her up, regardless of the blonds feelings. If Hunter felt the same she would be ecstatic, but if her feelings were not reciprocated at least she would know the truth.

Francesca turned from the view to face the warrior. Her eye's raked over the sun bathed profile, rounded cheeks and long, golden eyelashes contrasted sharply with the long, jagged scar on her right cheek. Suddenly she found herself snared in the electric gaze. A blush spread across her sculpted face and down a graceful neck, making Hunter smile. Francesca reached out a tentative hand and lightly touched the skin beside one of those unreal eye's.

"I liked them green."

"Me too." Rather than looking away, Hunter forced herself to maintain eye contact.

"What do they do? I never read that far." She smiled softly.

"They experimented with, took out my real eyes and gave me these. They make me pinpoint accurate with projectile weapons. They are as sharp as any camera. The colour is what makes them so powerful, it focuses light in some sort of prism. I don't understand much of that. I only have a basic education after all." She grinned wryly. "They didn't take off, they are obvious and painful. Like most of what they did to me."

"I always wondered why they never sold the nocturnal technology. Are you in a lot of pain?" Francesca's heart clenched at the thought.

"Not really. You get used to it, like a background hum. It keeps me focused. No executive would pay good money for constant pain. Even pain that puts you ahead of the game." Her eyes strayed to the hamper. "What's in the basket?"

"I thought you'd never ask." Hunter was being unusually verbose, but Francesca didn't want to push too fast.

For fifteen minutes they ploughed through the contents of the hamper. They exchanged little conversation in that time, content just to be together. Occasionally Hunter would have to ask about a piece of food, not recognising some of the more exotic flavours. Like her education after leaving the Prince home, Hunters culinary knowledge had stopped there as well. She remembered everything she had ever learned, but relished new experiences.

"What did your trainers feed you?" It was a question that had lurked in the back of Francesca's mind for almost as long as the bodyguards had been in the house. Nervousness had caused her to blurt it out.

"It wasn't all gruel and water." The blond laughed. "We got fed quite well, lots of vitamin supplements and rare meat. Eggs and stuff. They needed us to be big and strong. we just didn't get much variety. Nothing like this...whatever it is." She held up the item in question.

"It's a spring roll."

"Well, its good." This was mumbled through a mouthful of the food in question.

Francesca watched Hunter relax, until the blond was reclining on the blanket, gazing up at the sky. The brunette took a large pull from her wine glass to fortify herself. She tried to speak, her mouth opening and closing a few times, but no sound would emerge. She cleared her throat, attracting the attention of her companion who watched as she moistened dry lips with her tongue. It was an unconscious gesture that Hunter found almost unbearably sexy.

"I have something to tell you Hunter and I need you to listen. When you've heard me out, I don't expect you to say anything, alright? This is just something I have to do." She waited until Hunter nodded and turned her gaze back to the blue sky.

"I never stopped thinking of you, even after they took you away. I think papa thought I was going crazy, I would sit and talk to you as though you were still there. You became my imaginary friend. I was very depressed and quiet, they even sent me to a psychologist for a while. I missed you so much. It was like that until I was about twelve. I started to make new friends and I didn't talk to you as much. But I still dreamt about you, I'd imagine what you'd look like and stuff like that.

"I got older and had boyfriends, did well in school all the things that are expected of you. I never let boys do anything more than kiss me. I couldn't seem to feel anything. I felt like a weirdo, I was fifteen and I really didn't like the boys and I dreamt of my best friend from when I was a kid almost every night. I never told any of my friends, I wanted to fit in. That's how I got into music.

"You used to like it when I sang to you, so I kept singing to you. I would write songs about everything I wanted to tell you and all the mixed up things I felt. I got noticed at school and papa's contacts meant that I got a record contract quite easily. That's when I met Douglas. He was older, more educated and he listened to me, like you used to. He was everything I could have wanted and I fell for him, head over heels. I forgot about you for a few years, no more talking to myself. Then I had Terrance and you came back. Douglas changed overnight and I was all alone. I couldn't go to my parents, I didn't want to seem like a failure. So you came back to take care of me." She took a deep breath, here came the hardest part.

"I hated you when you arrived here. You were just another way for Douglas to control me. You were violent and dangerous, and everyday I regret that way I treated you. The more time I spent with you, the more I realised you weren't that person. Then I found out who you were and I felt betrayed. I've had time to get to know you and put that over the image of you in my head. The aren't that different. Your strong, brave and caring. I finally understand why I could never let you go.... I love you." There, she'd said it. The last words had left her in a rush, now she waited.

Hunter slowly sat up, eyes fixed on the water. This was more than she could ever have hoped for. This rich, beautiful woman who she loved felt the same way. But did she really love the slave sitting by her side, or the idea of what her childhood friend would grow into? How could she ever be worthy of this woman? How could somebody so free love a slave? She didn't say any of this aloud, simply stared silently into the blue depths, trying to ignore the pounding in her chest.

Francesca looked at the proud jaw stiffen. She could have kicked herself as she felt the tension radiating off of the object of her affections. Yet she couldn't help but feel glad that she had told her. She had bit the bullet, and at least it hadn't been thrown back in her face. Her treacherous hand once again snaked out, seemingly of its own volition, to tilt that chin towards her. They were once again eye-to-eye.

"I'm not her." It was barely a whisper.

"I know. Your more than I could have dreamed." Her thumb lazily stroked her jaw.

"I have nothing."

"You have everything I need." She was drawing closer to the warrior.

Eye's, glazed with unshed tears, captured hers in a deep, probing stare. "Really?"

In answer, Francesca closed the remaining distance between them, sealing her lips to Hunters. The first kiss was little more than a pressing of lips, a reassurance from one wounded soul to another. The soft touch soon deepened as both women knew that they would not be rejected. Francesca cupped the cherubic face, one finger lovingly tracing the scar as their kisses grew more passionate. Hunter drew Francesca closer, pulling the taller woman onto her lap and wrapping her arms tightly around her waist. She never wanted to let go.

After long, breathless moments they pulled apart. Francesca laid her forehead against a strong shoulder. They just basked in the closeness until Hunters voice broke the silence. "I love you, Chess." The heiress couldn't stop the sob that escaped her at the sound of her childhood name.

"Can I call you Rhani?" It held so much hope.

"You can call me whatever you want." She placed a soft kiss on a dark temple.

"I want to set you free." Francesca's voice was growing drowsy.

"It's easier this way, for now. I don't need anything more from you. Go to sleep." Hunter lowered herself onto the blanket and cradled her love in her arms. The emotions of the day had taken their toll on the brunette, and the warrior was more than willing to watch over her.

**********

The silent figure watched as the blond and the brunette drew together in a kiss. Rage surged through the taught body, fuelled by jealousy. How dare she. How dare she love what was not hers! Hunter was not the rich bitches to love. She was already somebody else's! In blind madness she lashed out, a pale fist connecting with a tree trunk with a soft thud. Se didn't even feel the pain as her knuckles ripped. All she could feel was betrayed as she watched the couple lay down in the clearing. Wrapped in each other.
 
 

CHAPTER TWENTY ONE
 

The tall, red-headed woman stood in the stable courtyard. She was perfectly still, focusing her energies before starting her callisthenics routine. She was a calmer warrior than the others, having been trained in a different stable than the others. Only Snake shared the same fighting technique. When she was ready to begin, she tensed her muscles ready to pounce, only to be stopped by the sound of heavy footsteps. She didn't need to open her eyes to know their source. As the tall shadow fell over her, she looked up.

"What's the matter, baby?" Her voice was soft, her eyes searching those of her lover.

"Have you noticed something different about Hunter?" The big man wore an expression of total befuddlement.

Megan couldn't resist that look, and stole a quick kiss from her partner. As she pulled back, she knew that she wouldn't be exercising any time soon, consciously relaxing her warm muscles. She reached for Wolf's hand and they walked towards their room. They entered the renovated stable block and made their way to the small apartment they had made. After they arrived, the sleeping situation had rapidly changed from one shared room, to a series of apartments. The twins, had the largest space and Snake and Savage the smallest. It worked out well. When the twins had been killed, the practical side of the warriors had won through, meaning that the barracks now consisted of three apartments. The couple lowered themselves onto a small green sofa they had been given, body's facing each other.

"So, have you noticed anything about Hunter?" Wolf was like an over protective big brother where the other gladiator was concerned. He couldn't always look after her, but he could always worry.

"Like what?" She knew what the fidgeting man was talking about, but couldn't help teasing him.

"For the last few days she's been in a daze. Every time you talk to her she just phases out. Not to mention that she and Francesca are even more inseparable now than before. God, if they walked any closer together they'd be sharing the same skin. It's just not like her." His face was grim, worry etched in every line.

"You are such a dummy sometimes Mathew. Francesca and Hunter have finally taken the plunge. They must have admitted their feelings to each other, and I gotta say its about time!" The smile that lit up her lovers face was almost blinding.

"That's fantastic!" He leaped from the sofa, intent on finding his friend.
"Matt, sit down. I think this is a new thing for them. Leave them alone, Hunter will tell you when she's ready." She kissed a stubble covered cheek. "Just be happy for them."

"You've got the brains, I got the looks. A winning combination." He smiled at her as she moved to lean against his chest.

"Now that you've ruined my practice time, you'll just have to entertain me for thirty minutes. I wonder what we can do to fill that time." Her voice turned sultry as strong arms wrapped around her.

**********

Blue eyes studied the hand clasped within her own. Her long fingered, well manicured hand engulfed the smaller one it held. The hand in her grasp was golden and marked. To the woman looking down at it, it was perfection. Every scar and symbol on the other woman's body was a sign of her strength and the courage that she showed in trusting the woman beside her.

"I did that once." The amused voice snapped Francesca's attention to the woman sitting at her side.

"Um, did what?" The heiress was a little confused.

"I looked at your hands. Compared them to mine. They say a lot about a person, yours are beautiful." Hunter lowered her eyes with the last words, still not totally comfortable talking like this.

"Great minds think alike." She smiled as she gently squeezed the hand she held captive.

"Do you think you think we should tell everybody?" The question had been worrying at her since they shared their first kiss three days ago.

"I think it's a little early for that. We barely have anything to tell. I think we should get used to it first." She noticed the smaller woman looking at their clasped hands. "We won't hide this, us. People will see what they want to see. I want to walk holding hands, and hug and kiss, Rhani. I love you."

The blond actually blushed at the reassurance. "We should tell the children, make sure they don't mind. They are what's most important."

"I know. We'll let them see us together for a little while and then explain, alright?" The sandy head nodded. "Wanna make out?" As the blond smiled and leaned forward, the brunette thought that acting like a teenager again wasn't so bad. Not bad at all.

**********

"Sal, I need to tell you something." The grey haired man looked up from his newspaper. "I think you might need this." Darla handed her attentive husband a large glass of scotch.

Salvatore accepted the glass with a bemused look on his face. Whatever his wife was about to tell him must be important if she was giving him scotch. For the last six months she had been trying to get him to stop drinking liquor. She had his full attention.

"I was walking through the grounds yesterday and I saw something." She really didn't know how her husband would take the news. "I was walking through the ornamental garden and I heard voices. One was Francesca's, so I headed towards it. That's when I heard what they were saying. They love each other Sal." She waited.

"I know that Darla. They're friends, they always loved each other when they were children. I thought they might grow closer again." At the look on Darla's face he realised that he wasn't getting it at all. "What am I not getting?"

"I was so close to where they were sitting, I could see them through the hedge. They were holding hands. And before I could look away they were kissing." This time the full impact of her words sank in.

"You're telling me that my daughter is a lesbian." He couldn't quite grasp what he was hearing.

"I don't know Sal. I do know that she loves Hun...Rhani, whatever we call her now. I have never seen her so happy, Sal. That can't be wrong can it? We always wanted her to be happy." She looked deep into his eyes.

"I only want her to be happy, but this is going to be so hard, Darla. It's not bad enough that she'll be a woman partnered to a woman. The fact that her partner is a slave, or even an ex-slave will put them through hell." He was as open minded as the next man, but homosexuality had been one of the old prejudices that had not yet loosened it's hold. That coupled with the loathing directed at slaves by the free would make a hard combination for anybody to beat.
 

"I know. If they really do love each other, they will make it. We have to support her, no matter what." Darla hoped that she got through to her stubborn husband.

"I'll try." He just didn't think the rest of the world would be so understanding.

**********

Francesca laid on her side under silk sheets and stared at the profile of the woman beside her on the bed. Hunter laid on top of the sheets, staring at the ceiling. They had slept this way every night since their first kiss. neither one of them was ready to take it the next step, but they still wanted to be close. Hunter would lay on her back, with Francesca beside her and they would talk, rebuilding old bridges and making new ones. Through it all, Hunter remembered her duty to protect her lover. She lept on top of the covers so that if danger arrived she could spring into action without being tied up in Francesca. Tonight was shaping up the same way.

"I want to know what you were like as a teenager? I've told you about me, so it's your turn." The finger brushing through blond hair halted suddenly. "I mean, if its not all really painful."

Hunter reached up and took the hand that had been in her hair and drew it close to her heart. Francesca grasped the opportunity to snuggle closer to her bed mate, resting her head on a convenient shoulder. "My life wasn't all doom and gloom. Well, not until I was seventeen or so." She couldn't believe that she could make light of the past like this. Something about laying in the taller woman's arms just pushed it away.

"So tell me a story."

Hunter tried to find a story she could tell Francesca, discarding one after the other. Many of the things which she had taken pleasure in, the other woman wouldn't understand. She wanted the other woman to know everything, but now wasn't the time. Finally, she settled on one of her more harmless exploits.

"When I was about fourteen, Jordan and I decided we'd play a prank on one of my trainers. He was a real shithead, he'd beat us and not feed us for the smallest things. So, this one time he had punished me by taking away my food privileges for three days. Jordan was more pissed off than me, because she was going to make me something nice as a birthday treat." Francesca interrupted the other woman.

"They punished you or your birthday?" Francesca couldn't contain her disgust at people who would do that to a child. She could clearing remember the events of all of her birthdays and what age she had been, the fact that Hunter only thought she was fourteen at the time tugged at her heart.

"Well, it wasn't a holiday camp, Chess. I was a commodity, it was like animal training. If we were bad, or didn't learn a new trick we got punished. I really didn't know any different by that point." She let out a low chuckle. "I was actually quite spoilt. They let me have my own room, but I think that's because I could be really vicious cause I was so strong. And they let Jordan come and see me whenever she wanted. It always amazed me that I was so popular with the other gladiators."

"Your just irresistible." Her voice was light, teasing, but inside she was in turmoil.

The fact that this special woman would think that she had been treated well in that environment. And, always in her mind, with every word that Hunter spoke, the spectre of Jordan loomed. Francesca didn't want to be jealous of the dead young woman, a girl who had brought so much joy to the woman in her arms. Her heart wouldn't listen to her head though, the resentment that she felt was too strong, so she did the only thing she could. She pushed it away, locking it in a cage of her own making, hoping against hope that it would not come between her and her new found lover.

"What did you do?"

"So, there we were in my room. Jordan's pacing around like a caged tiger...
 

"How can you just sit there?" The slim blond waved her hands around agitatedly. The girl on the bed looked on, amused. "They do all this evil shit to you, and you just take it." Her circuit of the room brought her close to her companion, her hands still waving. The younger girl ducked out of the way.

"Jordan, calm down. I made a mistake and I got punished. It's over." She locked green eyes onto her lover. "I can't been given special treatment. I am just happy that they let me be with you. It's enough." The older girl melted at those words, moving to sit beside her on the bed.

"You really are a silver tongued devil, aren't you?"

"So you keep telling me." The teasing remark earned her a stinging slap on the arm. "Hey!"

"Oh, poor baby. Want me to kiss it better?" She stole a quick kiss on the lips.

"I'm pretty sure that's not where you hit me." At the look she was given. "Not that I'm complaining. No sir, not me."

"I'm just...It makes me so sad that I can't give you all the things I'd like to. I can't take you out, or buy you things." Her eyes were glazed with unshed tears.

"You give me everything, Jordan. You stay with me, when you could have anybody you want. You take care of me when I'm hurt and you love me. That's all I want, all I need and all I can give to you."

"It's enough." Then they were kissing again.

Several minutes of kissing passed, the two youths wrapped up in each other. They laid on the narrow bed, Jordan slightly on top of Hunter. The room was tiny, containing only a bed and a tiny bench which doubled as a table. She may not have had too share her space with the other slaves , but she had much less room to live in. The barracks were huge, each slave having a footlocker, clothes cupboard and bed, meaning that their individual areas were much bigger then Hunters.

"I wish we could get back at the old goat."

"Um, been there, done that. That's why I'm here." It was a sore subject between the pair. Each blamed themselves for the events that led Hunter to this place.

"I don't mean hurt him. Well, maybe a little. We could humiliate him....Yeah, that'd work." A worried look spread across the warriors face. "I'll arrange everything, you just need to be there."

"I hate when you get that look in your eyes."

"What look?" Guiles eyes turned to her. The picture of innocence.

"That look. I know I'm going to regret this, what's the plan?"

It took a few days for Jordan to set the plan in motion. She was good friends with a lot of the kitchen staff, and a few small bribes meant that she had access to Trainer Petersons food. She got a healthy quantity of slow acting laxatives and was ready to go.

"HUNTER!" The small blond warrior snapped to attention. She had been lounging against the wall with the other gladiators, waiting for her turn.

"Sir."

"You match up with Red." A Shout rang out over the sand. "FIGHT!"

The tall, paunchy man moved to the side, watching the youths spar with critical eyes. He hated the way that the girl-warrior was treated. She was property, to be treated like the commodity she was and scrapped when she was broken. Not to be coddled and allowed a lover, especially not a free woman. It was obscene. He saw a vicious blow land on Red, flawing the boy.

"ENOUGH!" Two medics flew into the training ring and carted the teenager off to the infirmary. Peterson wound up to tear a chunk out of the girl before him. "How dare you! I know you know better than to damage your fellow fighters. You are an abomination! You are going to regret ever setting foot..." He trailed off suddenly as his stomach began to roil. He tried to ignore the discomfort and continue. "You will be sent to the...Argh!" The pain doubled in intensity, focussing solely in his stomach. He felt like his intestines were about to explode. He couldn't take anymore, casting one hatful look at the young girl in front of him before running to the exit.

The gladiators all watched, smirking as he tried to leave. The man was moving in a combination of a skip, trot and sprint and looked like an utter fool. Before he could reach the door the sound of a wet fart echoed from wall to wall. A large, dark stain appeared on the back of his pants as he gained speed, finally managing to escape. The thirty boys and girls broke out in hysterical laughter. Hunter looked up at the observation seats, sharing a beaming, loving smile at Jordan.

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She woke from the dream, tears falling from her eyes as she remembered. They had loved each other so much, and now the bitch who made her beloved a slave, got to have her. The dark basement closed in around her as she wiped the tears away, she would free Hunter if it killed her. They would be together again. It was meant to be. Jordan had worked hard to punish the Prince family, she wouldn't fail now.
 
 

CHAPTER TWENTY TWO
 

It was time. She had waited long enough. The damn Princess had dug her claws far enough into Hunter. She would set the gladiator free. She would do what she could never do when they were young. She would be the protector.

Since seeing the two women kiss in the clearing, Jordan had been livid. She had stopped showing up for work. The station kept calling their errant officer, simply to be ignored. When she had started threatening the singer, she had been able to keep working, showing no evidence of her endeavours to her colleagues. Since the gladiators showed up her ability to stay detached had slipped, until she could no longer function. She had to make a move now, while she still had access to police resources.

She had been planning this since the beginning. She had scrapped together enough money to buy two small homes in different locations. Neither in the same name. Being a police officer had taught her how to hide from pursuit, how to leave no trace. Her goal may have changed but the plan would stay the same. She had originally planned to take the heiress by force, torture her and then return her to her family as an example of what happened when you treated people like property. Now that Hunter was in the equation, she would have to kidnap them both, so as not to incriminate the slave. Then they would run away together. Run away to a country without slavery.

She methodically packed the equipment she needed into her duffle bag. The dark basement room was now as empty as the rest of the house. She had burnt and sold everything that gave a clue to who she was. Her police uniform and badge were hanging in her locker, pristine, not showing a trace of their wearer. As she zipped the clack bag, pulling the balaclava over her face, she bid farewell to the life she had lived for almost ten years. A choice she had made to bring here to this place.

Throwing the keys into the middle of the deserted lounge room, she was gone. An engine starting up was the only sound in the now derelict building.

**********

Francesca wished that they could walk down the street like the other couples, holding hands or arm in arm, but she knew it wasn't possible. All slaves on the street had to be identified as such. Hunter wore a bright blue armband, the logo of the Prince corporation emblazoned across it. That meant they had to walk as they always had, with Hunter slightly behind and to the left. She looked over her shoulder and shared a secret smile with her lover, at least they were together.

Today they were on their way to see Francesca's record company. They had been surprising understanding about her situation and had not pressured her to get back into the studio. The heiress had been the one to contact them. She had been feeling inspired lately, writing song after song. She wanted to be back in the studio again, so here they were.

They were approaching the large office building on foot, having been dropped at the park by the chauffer. They had eaten lunch in the park, out of the way of prying eyes. The park was only minutes away from the office complex, so Hunter didn't think it would be too risky. They hadn't even been hounded for autographs, which made a pleasant change.

As they began to cross the street a slow moving car approached from the other direction. Hunter saw that one of the windows was open, but the moderate speed put her mind at rest. An assailant would be going at high speed, ready to hit and run. As they waited on a traffic island for the car to pass, a loud crack ripped through the air. Too late Hunter saw the sun glint off a weapon, then everything went black.

Francesca's mind froze. Hunter crumpled at her feet, a tranquilliser dart sticking out of her neck. As she knelt to check on her partner another shot rang out, followed by a sharp pain in her back. She crumpled on top of the warrior. It all happened in less than a minute.

The car stopped in front of the two prone figures, shielding them from view. The lithe figure jumped out, opening the rear door and dragging both women in as fast as possible, slamming the door on a tangle of arms and legs. Seconds later she was speeding away. She made sure not to break any traffic laws, it wouldn't do to get caught now.

As she moved onto the interstate she pulled the mask over her face, ruffling a hand through her flattened hair. She glanced at the two unconscious forms in the rear, unmoving. They should stay out for several more hours, she had put enough drug in the darts to lay out a race horse. She couldn't take any chances.

The nondescript, red family saloon blended with the other cars on the busy road. A woman on her way home, not a care in the world. Not a sign of what she had done.
 

TBC


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