The Strongest Bond

Disclaimer: The characters are mine! They may share a passing resemblance with other people but I just blame their stylists. Sequel to 'The Binding Tie' you really need to read that first in order to understand what is going on here.

Violence/Sex: Slavery exists in this fic as does extreme violence. Sexual violence of a m/f variety in here. Also a loving consensual f/f relationship. If you're too young to vote, you should probably go elsewhere.

Feedback: Much appreciated mjb1_1@hotmail.com

Chapter 3

Batting away the hands fiddling with her shirt for the third time in as many minutes, Hunter tried to catch the other woman's eye. She was clearly agitated, quickly pulling her hands free to pull invisible lint off of the shorter woman's shoulder. The gladiator turned a despairing eye towards the 3 children standing at the foot of the stairs. She could see each of them trying to suppress giggles as they saw her suffering the same ritual that they had just gone through.

Terrance caught her eye and raised a thumb to his lips. Thumb liberally smeared in spit, he preceded to rub it against his cheek while giving the adult an evil wink. Hunter's eyes widened in horror as the realization of what he meant sank in. Oh, my God! This is ridiculous!

Just then Francesca pulled a handkerchief from her purse, time to stop this dead in its tracks. Hunter cleared her throat loudly and snatched the hanky out of her lovers hand with lightening speed. Startled blue eyes met green for the first time, widening as they registered the smirk on the shorter woman's face.

"Chess?"

"Yes?" Francesca felt as though she had fallen out of the loop completely. Out of the corner of her eye she glimpsed the children, all wearing very expectant expressions, clearly they knew what was coming.

"You do know you're not my mommy, right?" Green eyes sparkled with mischief.

Francesca flushed crimson as she realized what she had been about to do. She had been getting the children ready for their party and naturally started to tidy her lover as well. Her blush deepened as she looked at the white lace gripped in strong hands, she had never thought she would do that to her children, let alone a grown adult! She started to shake her head, inky tresses falling into her face as they began to chuckle.

Hunter was glad to see the other woman seeing the funny side. Deciding to lighten the mood further, pleased to see the sombre mood sported by her lover all morning dissipated, she continued the joke. "You know, for a moment there I was afraid we were becoming the Von Traps. I tell you now, I've heard the kids sing and it ain't pretty! Plus, I refuse to be a nun!"

The brunette, still laughing, leaned forward and kissed a blond eye brow in something of an apology. Taking the white lace back and putting it back, she reached forward to take her partners hand.

"I'll try to restrain myself in future!" Her eyes were dancing with mirth.

"That's all I ask!" Turning to the terrible threesome she gave them a baleful stare. "Now you treacherous little monsters, what shall I do to you?"

Before anybody knew what was happening the three children were running from the charging and snarling warrior. Screams of glee filled the foyer as one after the other Hunter grabbed the children, tickling and throwing them into the air. Francesca laughed along with them but couldn't join in, it would ruin her carefully selected outfit. Looking at the rumpled and red-faced appearance of her children she realized that her attempts to make them look presentable had all been in vain. But, for all that, she thought that they looked a lot better now. Sharing a jaw-splitting grin with her family, she quickly ushered them all towards the waiting chauffer and car.

Snuggled together in the back of the car both women waved goodbye to the children as they were ushered into the birthday party. Turning from the window, the heiress placed her hand on the warrior's neck pulling their heads together. They fell into the kiss with passion which they had to carefully control to avoid giving the driver a show. Long minutes passed before they pulled apart, just a little, and began to talk softly.

"Hope the kids enjoy themselves." Green eyes kept flicking back to the window even though they were now out of sight of the house.

Francesca loved to hear her lover talk about the children with such honest affection, it warmed her heart. "I'm sure they will. They were already buzzing from the fun they had at home! I swear, the Berringers are going to think that we feed them nothing but raw sugar." They shared an affectionate smile at the thought before Francesca's expression clouded slightly. "Something's been on my mind since the other night."

"What would that be?" Hunter didn't need to ask which night she was talking about.

"You said you do best on one hours sleep each night but when we bought you it said four hours. You used to sleep for four in my closet." The blond could see the confusion in her companion's eyes and something else, a small measure of fear.

"That was a typo in the catalogue. It should have said that the minimum I needed to function was four hours sleep a week. I wasn't going to tell you that when I was still nothing more than a slave to you. Those stolen hours were all that I had to myself; they let me keep self control. Then later when I was hurt you wanted us to sleep together. I never told you because sleeping together made you so happy! Guess we know that was a stupid idea now, don't we?" She was visibly chagrined.

"Oh." She looked satisfied for now but knowing the singer this would no doubt come up again. They began to talk about more mundane things as they approached their first stop of the day, her agent.

The singer had been recording a new album during the fiasco with Jordan. Unable to record after the stalking became more intense and unwilling to when the gladiator was missing, she had used the experiences to write some of her best lyrics to date. After Hunter was retrieved and recovering from her horrific injuries at home, Francesca had made the time to finish recording. Today she would be meeting with her agent, Jake Read, and her publicist, Rashid Dariwal.

As they got closer to Read's building, the bodyguard began to squirm a little in her seat. The woman resting against her noticed but said nothing, knowing instinctively what was going on in her partners head. Since being tortured and almost killed by her former lover she had not left the Prince mansion. The furthest she had been was the grounds surrounding the imposing building, she had not been out in public. It made her feel self-conscious and if she was honest with herself, doubt her abilities as a protector. It had been while she was protecting Francesca that they had both been abducted and she had resolved never to let her guard down again.

Compounding her new found insecurities about her professionalism, came her relationship worries. She had no doubt that they loved each other; she saw that everyday within eyes so blue that you could drown in them. The problem was the outside forces, nobody would accept them being together. If the public ever found out that such a prominent celebrity was consorting with slaves her career and reputation would be destroyed. Even if it was made public that all of the Prince slaves were free it would be just as bad. Culturally, choosing a slave or former slave as a mate was considered lower than mating with your family pet. More than anything she wanted to protect her lover physically, emotionally and professionally from the outside world. That would mean putting their relationship out of her mind when they were out together. For today, she had to be nothing more than a bodyguard.

With this thought held firmly in her mind she began to pull away from the heiress. Distancing herself in body and mind, she squared her shoulders and gently pushed the other woman away. Francesca at first looked stunned until she saw the grim smile on the guards face and understood what she was trying to do. She gave Hunter a last, reassuring kiss on the cheek as they pulled to a stop.

"Still got that thing looking after you I see!" His tone was accusatory as he jerked a finger in the short woman's direction. She stood beside the door in a pose of complete calm, unaffected by his words.

Francesca wasn't as composed, "What do you mean by that Jake?"

"Face it Francesca, she hasn't exactly proved herself to be an asset so far. Since she's been your bodyguard your house has been bombed, your husbands dead and you've been kidnapped. Then you waist a shit-load of cash getting her back from the kidnapper! Why you didn't leave her with the whacko I will never know! Trade her in, get a better model; she's doing you no favours!" His red-rimmed eyes shone with a fire that was rarely seen outside of conference rooms and negotiation.

"Jake, if not for Hunter that 'whacko' would either still be stalking me or I'd be dead by now!" She was trying hard not to let her anger boil over into an argument. As much as she didn't agree with his beliefs and shaky morals, he was a great agent. "Let's drop it, we'll never agree on this." She could see that he wanted to push further but the icy cold stare she shot him silenced any further outburst.

"Fine, down to business then! You've been in the news a hell of a lot lately and that will work well for the album release. Now we need to focus the attention of the public onto your work and away from the more high-octane elements of your private life. That's part of the reason that you're going to see Rashid this afternoon. We also need to make it seem as though you're back on the market, get you out on the town with a few pretty boys." So animated was he by his ideas that he barely noticed the woman opposite him choke on her mouthful of water.

"You want me to what?"

Read clearly did not hear the incredulity in her voice. "If we get you out dating your fans will think that they have a chance. It also makes you seem younger and more carefree. Trust me, it's a sure fire way to get you back on top."

"Jake, I am not going to prostitute myself for the media!" There was a pause as she processed all of what he had said. "What do you mean back on top, I'm still at the top!"

Hunter, in the background and clearly all but forgotten by the two people seated at the table, shook her head minutely. This was obviously going to be a meeting that went around in circles as much as it discussed issues she had little interest in. As the agent managed to steer them away from another argument by opening a file on his computer and angling it to the singers view, Hunter began to tune their words out.

The bodyguard was still alert to any movement inside or outside of the room and would instantly tune into any talk that involved her. She was simply able to think of other things while they were discussing issues that did not hold her interest. As cute as she found her lovers bickering, she could only listen to so much before it began to grate on her nerves. To fill her time she began to study the man seated in front of her and the space that he inhabited.

Jake Read looked about as far from being a showbiz agent as it was humanly possible to get. He wore an ill fitting suit which looked as though it had been slept in… For 5 years! His hair was greasy and mussed and his skin had a sickly pallor, made worse by the harsh fluorescent light filling the room. Hunter doubted that the man did any sort of physical activity if he could help it as, although not fat, he had a wasted look.

The office in which he was based was opulent and hinted at the man's success. He seemed to have every gadget known to man just in this one room. The office itself was huge, with windows taking up two walls. It was even elegantly decorated. Looking again at the owner it was clear that he had help in choosing the décor. At least somebody associated with him had taste. Trouble was, it just made him seem sleazier, as though he had the office in order to lure sweet young things in. Hunter couldn't help a little shudder as she put Francesca into that position in her mind, she could just see Douglas pushing her towards this man and his services. She would have to ask about that later.

She continued to think in tangents as Read and his best client discussed public appearances and assorted fees. This was going to be a long, boring day!

"How did you ever hook up with a low-rent looser like him?" The second they settled back into the car the blond couldn't hold back her curiosity.

Francesca softly rubbed her temples, feeling a headache bloom after several hours with her agent and the day wasn't over yet. They were on their way to meet with her publicist and spend more hours going over details. It had been some time since she had played this game and she was quickly remembering all the down sides to her fame. Not wanting to let her partner know she was not feeling well, she focused on her question.

"Jake isn't like that. You shouldn't judge him on his appearance!" She smiled to soften her words.

"Chess, he isn't exactly the greatest people person either, you argued more with him this afternoon than you do with me. How does he ever get you any work?" Genuine curiosity laced her voice.

"Jake can be a real charmer when he puts his mind to it. He just knows that he doesn't have to put on heirs for me. We grew up together. His father is Dad's best friend. You might remember him; Big, tall man, fat, lots of red hair and a beard?" Hunter's face remained blank. "Well Jake became Roddie's best friend…"

"You're kidding?" Comprehension was clearly dawning. "That's JJ? Chubby, red haired JJ? JJ, 'I can't get my chinos dirty', JJ? JJ the boy who was so preppy it was painful to look at him?"

"Yes, yes, yes and yes." Her headache was quickly being replaced by wonder as she watched the expressions change and dance across the former slaves face.

"Well, woman, don't keep me in suspense! How did he go from clean cut JJ to sleazy Jake?"

Traffic gridlock meant that it took over an hour to reach their next appointment. More than enough time to tell the sometimes sordid, tale of her agent. Hunter had been rapt by the story of the boy trying to break out of his father's shadow and going to extremes.

Jake had been everything that Hunter remembered. One of those children that never looks dirty or even a little rumpled. Sharing his father's build and hair colour, he had been a smaller version of the vivacious man. Unfortunately he shared neither his father's exuberance nor his vision. Friendly in his own way, he had chaffed at his fathers ideas for him. Rodrigo had been his idle, the sort of free spirit that he knew he could never be, and as his teenage years progressed he decided to become his own man.

In college he was able to totally break free. No longer dressing as his father dictated, he began to skip meals and become obsessed with his studies. He was soon dangerously thin, his hair dyed so often that it was pale and straw-like. He had never looked worse yet never felt better about himself. He had taken his ideas for a business to his father and much to everybody's amazement they had agreed. He took to being an agent like a duck to water, especially when teenaged Francesca decided that fame was in her future.

When the heiress was finished, all her partner said was 'weird' with no elaboration. She could see that the other woman was not convinced that looking that bad could be a choice. Maybe she would come to understand the eccentric man in the future as they interacted for her business. Jake certainly needed to change his perceptions as well. If only he knew!

"Ma'am, it looks like we'll be another half hour, maybe you should call Mr. Dariwal?" Looking over his shoulder the driver looked apologetic.

"I think that sounds like a very good idea Steven, thank you." Dazzling white teeth highlighted the brilliant smile she sent his way.

Turning to take the phone from its holder a rough hand intercepted her movement, holding the cell out to her. Taking it she saw that the speed dial was already connecting her. With a mouthed 'thanks' she held the handset to her ear.

"Rashid Dariwal." The cultured voice rang through the speaker.

"Hi Raz, it's me. We're running late, traffic's murder."

"No problem, where are you right now? If you're too far away maybe we can reschedule for tomorrow."

"That's good of you Raz but we shouldn't be more than half an hour. We're at the corner of Fifth."

"Are you close to Tolby's restaurant?"

"Yeah, in fact we've been sitting next to it for 20 minutes." Francesca wasn't sure where that came from.

"Go in, I'll jump on my bike and be there in 5. Have you had lunch?"

"Not yet."

"Order, we'll have business lunch, kill two birds with one stone. See you soon!" The phone went dead in her hand and the brunette shook her head at his antics before leaning forward, tapping the driver on the shoulder and asking him to pull over.

"What's going on?"

"Rashid's going to meet us in that restaurant." She pointed as the car stopped at the curb.

Hunter opened the door and got out, holding it for her lover. "How's he going to get here? The traffic's just as bad the other way?"

Knowing that this would be their last opportunity to touch for the rest of the day, the taller woman ran her hand down her bodyguards arm from wrist to shoulder as she eased out of the car. As they pulled apart and the warrior drew on her mantle as protector Francesca answered her query. "He's got a motorcycle." She got a grunt in reply.

Rashid paused outside the doors to the eatery. He took a deep breath, ran his fingers through his hair and straightened his collar. Here we go, Raz. He pushed open the door and spotted his client sitting in a far corner. A stocky figure stood menacingly behind her keeping any would-be autograph hunters at bay. Plastering a broad grin on his face, trying to appear nonchalant, he motioned the maître d' away and headed towards the beauty sitting in his line of sight.

Hunter had been focused on her surroundings since they entered, aware of each person that came and went, assessing their possible threat. When she spotted the handsome young Asian man coming towards them she further refined her stance. Although she thought that this man must be Dariwal she was not taking any chances. She allowed her eyes to flicker to her charge, just briefly, and saw her react to seeing the man by sending him a beaming smile. As he drew closer she stood to greet him, going around the table and embracing him warmly.

"Hello handsome!"

"Hi beautiful!" The two continued to hold one another for longer than the observing bodyguard was comfortable with.

The pair sat opposite each other, Rashid placing his briefcase on the floor for now. Quickly a waiter approached with menus which were taken gratefully. The pair quickly selected their dishes and placed their orders. This was clearly a ritual which they had observed many times before as they seem to have silently agreed that business could wait until after the meal. Drinks were soon brought to the table while they waited for their meal.

Hunter couldn't help noticing that the man seated with her lover had yet to take his eyes off of the brunette. She had to admit to herself that they did make a striking couple as they sat together, and felt unsettled by the thought. She pulled her eyes away from the table and focused outwards to survey the rest of the room while her mind remained focused on the publicist. Had she continued to watch she would have seen him reach out to take Francesca's hand in a more than friendly gesture.

To Be Continued...

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