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 8

 

Making a video was...interesting, Hunter decided after yet another scantily clad young woman breezed by. It wasn't that she was ogling them, but everywhere she looked it was just there! Not that the presence of semi-naked girls meant that the production was a purely 'bump 'n' grind' affair; it had a plot and on screen all of them would be fully clothed. It was the changes between takes that were so titillating. Watching Francesca in these moments was much more difficult, her changes were more frequent and she was always crowded into her trailer and surrounded by a horde of people.

Turning her thoughts away from the hustle and bustle back stage, she looked instead at the set itself. In truth she had been quite impressed with the whole set up. The concept, built around the singer's new track 'Revive', put her in the role of a jewel thief out to steal a huge diamond as ransom for her daughter - held captive by a mob boss. Ultimately after stunts, a bit of seduction and a rap segment by the 'boss' she would prevail. The guy playing the other character and featuring on the album was a rapper called Joi Joi Man (Hunter had found it hysterical that his real name was Mungo) who proved to be a great rapper and competent actor. He and the gladiator had hit it off straight away.

The next, and final, take of the day was to be a confrontation between Francesca's character and two henchmen. Hunter had been riveted by Francesca's athleticism, not realising just how powerful and graceful she was. Of course, she had always been aware of the other woman's grace, having watched her work with her choreographer more than once, but seeing her fight, even if only in fun, had a strange impact on the warrior; something primal and long forgotten stirred inside her. Once again trying to disperse the unsettling feeling, hunter realised that the eccentrically flamboyant director was beckoning her over. She moved towards him, noticing that he in turn was moving, towards Francesca, who had just emerged from the costume trailer.

'Francesca, darling, I have had the most fantastic idea!' his effusive hand gestures made the brunette roll her eyes at her lover. 'We could use your Hunter in the video! Why have two unknown stuntmen when we could have her?'

'Tomasz, would people really be interested?' Curiosity thoroughly piqued, she wanted to know more about her lovers past. Other than some passing comments about her prominence on the fighting scene, Hunter was quite close lipped on that score. Unbeknownst to either party the subject of their conversation was beginning to feel the crawling finger of terror running up her spine.

'By putting your little pet,' at the words the songstress actually flinched, 'into the promo we could draw a whole new demographic to your music!'

'Come on Tomasz, I know you and Raz said that Hunter was 'famous' but, honestly, how famous could she be? Nobody's ever approached her for an autograph...' Raucous laughter stopped her in her tracks as the European doubled over with mirth, she raised an eyebrow in consternation and waited for him to finish.

'I'm sorry, my dear, it's just that I find it ironic that you own one of the worlds most well known slaves yet have no idea of slave etiquette.' Seeing the puzzled look on her face he chose to elaborate, all the while aware that the subject of their conversation was standing stoically behind him. 'The free do not chase the indentured; do not scream their names or hunt for autographs. It's like watching...' here he searched for an analogy, 'Lassie. You might think the dog is well trained but you wouldn't want it to sign yr ass; and like the dog, most slaves can't write.' He noticed the singer bristle at his dog comment and chanced a glance behind him at the slave, who remained impassive. 'So, what do you say?' He swiftly got back to his original point.

Blue eyes shifted to focus on the blond, over Tomasz's shoulder. If he noticed the path of her gaze he made no comment, simply waiting for a response. Intently she studied hooded green eyes as she mulled over the idea. Even as she was going through the pros and cons, Hunter was bracing herself for what was to some, sure she wouldn't like it. Scrutinising the older woman she noticed the fine sheen of sweat at her forehead and the obvious, well obvious to me, she mused, panic in the constantly shifting eyes. What troubles you so about this, my love? The sight of the other woman's stark vulnerability made her decision for her.

'Tomasz, I think that sounds like an excellent idea,' Hunter physically deflated at the words, collapsing in on herself, 'but I would rather Hunter concentrate on her role as my protector, rather than something you've concocted.' She barely heard his disappointed acceptance, dimly aware that she only had minutes before she would film the next scene; she was too busy watching her lover. As Tomasz scampered off, Francesca took the opportunity to grasp the blonde's forearm and pull her inside the nearby trailer.

When she had given the director her response she had seen Hunter's face lighten, like the sun appearing from behind a cloud. She had known then that she needed to spend what time she could alone with her partner. Once safely inside the empty trailer she latched the door behind them to ensure a measure of privacy. Turning back to her bemused partner she reached up and ran the backs of her fingers over a soft cheek. Hunter leaned gratefully into the touch, mind still reeling from the conversation outside.

'You OK, Rhani?' Blue eyes were soft as she turned her hand to hold the smaller woman's jaw in her palm.

'Thank you,' it was barely a whisper as she let herself sag into the cupped hand.

'How could I do something you wouldn't want? You're a free woman now, sweetheart. We make decisions together, not for each other.' She leaned down to rest her forehead against the shorter woman's. 'I saw how troubled you were by Tomasz's idea and I want to know why,' they locked eyes, 'but not now. It can wait till tonight. Right now I think you could use this more than an inquisition.' She drew the other woman's face up and brought their lip together in a tender kiss, hands tangling in short hair as strong fingers made to clasp her own hips.

Francesca parted her lips in a moan and the woman caressing her hips took the invitation and entered her warm mouth with a questing tongue. Soon the kiss escalated in intensity and, if not for the sudden, frantic, pounding on the door which shook the thin aluminium, it would have moved far beyond simple kisses. Reluctantly pulling apart they helped to straighten each others clothes out, the brunette reaching out to wipe a smear of lipstick from her lover's mouth. Sharing a parting smile, Francesca followed a harassed looking young man onto the set.

Running a towel through freshly washed hair she roughly dislodged the worst of the clinging water. Finally satisfied that she would not drip all over the house she balled up the soaked towel and threw it into the bathroom hamper and picked up her comb from the vanity. With an economy of motion she swiftly ran the comb through inky tresses, smoothing it away from her face, letting it fall in an onyx cascade down her back. Pulling on a huge T-shirt, emblazoned with the smiling face of a cartoon character, which fell to mid thigh and a pair of panties, she strolled into the bedroom.

Looking around the spacious sleeping quarters that she shared with her partner she was surprised to see it empty. There was no sign of the bodyguard anywhere. Making the decision to go in search of her, blue eyes lit on the clock pleased to see that it was still relatively early. Leaving the room she first took a quick peek into her children's rooms, happy to see all three of them were sleeping peacefully. It was still only an hour after they were tucked it and she hoped that the rest of the night would be nightmare free.

Continuing down the hall she quickly checked the study just to make sure that the other woman wasn't there. Standing briefly beside the window to admire the beautifully designed grounds that stretched before her, illuminated by the waning summer sun, she heard a faint clanging sound. Grinning at this new found knowledge she headed down the stairs and out of the house, towards the back patio. Fortunately the night was balmy and she was more than warm enough in her skimpy attire. Bare feet slapping on the smooth stone floor she made her way to the corner of the house and peered around, suddenly transfixed by what she saw.

At the back of the house, just beyond the sun loungers, several pieces of gym equipment had been placed. Much of it was still kept in the courtyard of the stables but when work had started on the damaged portion of the mansion, destroyed in the bombing, her father had decided to go ahead and extend this area. Standing and watching, Francesca was very glad he had.

There, on the couch of the bench press lay Hunter. Her legs splayed feet planted firmly on the floor and back pushed firmly into the leather covered foam of the bench. Arms shoulder width apart and pistoning up and down in sure, steady strokes; she lifted the bar and its weights with ease. It was clear to her admirer that she had been at this since she went into the shower as her pale grey tank top was stained almost black with sweat. Her hair was plastered to her forehead, and her cheeks were ruddy.

Noticing the beads of perspiration on toned forearms, tendons stark against the skin with each upward thrust, she found herself tracking its path down her arm and into the fabric at her shoulder. Eyes focused on the erotic display of flexing muscles and sweat as she remembered the first time she has watched the gladiator perform this exact same exercise.

It had been in the early days of their re-acquaintance, when she had been drawn to and repulsed by the warrior in equal measure. She remembered how she had watched the flex and play of flesh and muscle, unsure and uncomfortable then about her feelings towards the blond. No such doubt held her back now. Throwing off her revelry she continued towards her very tempting destination. The slapping of feet on concrete alerted her prey to her approach, making the bodyguard grin, yet show no other sign that she knew of her impending visit. She would let her lover play this out; she knew how much the singer loved to play.

A hand was soon splayed against the moist skin of her abdomen, gently caressing the rippled flesh of her well defined abs. Seeing no discernable reaction from the focused athlete, she decided to up the anti and scratch a path down the exposed stomach, dipping into her navel. Rewarded with a slight shiver but no verbal sign she finally did what she had wanted to since the first time she witnessed this. Lifting one long, perfect leg she straddled the bench, and her lover, settling her weight onto the taut muscle. As she settled in place, feet on the floor supporting some of her mass, the barbell came to a sudden halt, poised part way between the cradle and Hunter's chest.

'Chess, that is really distracting.' Hunter tried to sound peeved yet only succeeded in sounding bemused.

For her part, Francesca barely heard what her lover said, so distracted was she by her own actions. Straddling her protector like this had seemed the perfect was to drive her to distraction, she hadn't quite realised how deeply she, herself, would be affected. The second her naked thighs made contact with sweat slicked skin she lost her concentration. Her panties were fast becoming a sodden mass, absorbing her lover's sweat from below and her arousal from within. Realising that her love was waiting for some sort of response she made what she hoped was an intelligible answer. Unfortunately for her all Hunter heard was a very sexy groan.

Rising up, Hunter racked the apparatus and leaned up to look into her lover's face. The vision that greeted her was Francesca, head thrown back and eyes shuttered as she began to grind into the body beneath her. Long fingered, perfectly manicured hands roamed her own body, one reaching under the baggy shirt and cupping her breast, revealing a wide expanse of tanned skin exposed. Licking suddenly dry lips, the warrior reached out and clasped the goddess before her by the hips. Drawing herself up, she brought them chest-to-chest. Dazed blue eyes suddenly focused on the angelic face that was now only inches from her own, blinking owlishly.

'You've stopped?' Genuine confusion laced her voice.

'Yes, Chess, I've stopped. I thought you and I could have a different sort of workout.' Having thought that she was being rather sexy the blond was disconcerted to see a pout forming on aquiline features. 'Or not.'

Hearing the disappointment in her partner's voice broke Francesca out of her sensual haze. Drawing her hand out from her shirt she reached up to trace Hunter's furrowed brow, causing green eyes to lock with blue. Leaning in she pressed a kiss to a flushed cheek before finally settling both hands on strong, tattooed shoulders.

'Sorry, I got a little rapped up in my fantasy.' Receiving a sardonic 'really' in reply she smirked and pushed on. 'As much as I would love to follow your suggestion, Rhani, I sort of had my own plan.'

'Oh?' The hands massaging her shoulders were slowly drifting towards her breasts. 'Do tell?'

'Well, ever since the first time I watched you do this I've always wanted to touch you. To run my hands over your glistening skin while you strain under that bar.' Smiling slightly she confessed, 'That first time, I couldn't tear my eyes away from the beads of sweat on your skin and I had no idea why! I didn't even like you at the time.' Seductively a finger found its way under damp, grey Lycra. 'So, do you want to help me live out my fantasy?'

'Um, Chess,' she swallowed convulsively, trying to calm her raging hormones, 'you know, that sounds fantastic but somebody could walk out on us.'

'Don't worry about that; mother and father are at that charity event with the boys. The children are fast asleep and the place is locked up like a fortress. I'm sure Megan and Shep have better things to do than come looking for us,' well I hope they do, 'so why not relax and let go?' She could see the older woman's resolve crumbling.

'And if the kids wake up?'

'And if the children wake up that's why we now have a very well paid nanny who does very little. She's just down the hall from them and won't bother us unless it's an emergency.'

'You're sure she's ok with them?' This was a conversation they had shared several times since Francesca made the decision that she needed a nanny, and she wasn't about to get into it again.

'Yes, Hunter, I'm sure Delores, our very well qualified nanny will be able to get Rochel a glass of water.' An elegant eyebrow rose, 'you know, you're really killing the mood?' Hunter had to agree, the sweat was cooling on her skin and she was beginning to feel sticky. Noticing that the sun had completely lost its battle and night had fallen around them, leaving the fluorescent deck lights to hold court during their debate, the warrior finally gave in.

'You win!'

'Yay me! I always get the best prizes.' She clapped her hands in glee. 'On your back woman; get pumping!'

'Sweetie?' The brunette halted in her efforts to force the much more powerful woman onto her back. 'Could I take some of the weight off? I won't exactly have my full attention on it. I promise that you won't know the difference!' Reluctantly the singer moved off of her lap and watched as she efficiently removed two of the smaller disks from each end of the bar. As the blond bent to place them back in the rack, Francesca surreptitiously shimmied out of her panties and kicked them away.

Hunter moved back to the bench and resumed her earlier position under the bar. Knowing that her lover wouldn't settle back onto her stomach just yet, she made a show of gripping the bar and hefting it down for the first time. With practiced ease she began to perform reps, feeling her body strain and relax in a familiar routine. As she finished her first set, placing the bar back in its cradle, she raised her head, fixing her mesmerised partner with an inviting stare. Not needing further encouragement the lithe figure slithered up her partner's body to once again straddle the firm abdomen.

Hunter's eyes snapped open as she felt the liquid heat of her lover's arousal slide against her skin. Determined to bring the fantasy to life she began to work the bar more forcefully, hearing a gasp of pleasure as her abs clenched together, lending her greater power. As she moved she could feel Francesca begin a steady rocking above her and slender fingers trailing over her own skin.

Feeling the arousal burning through her in waves, the singer knew that it wouldn't be long before she crashed upon the shore. Leaning forward as she continued to undulate back and forth, she ran her fingers up and under the bottom of her lover's top, pushing it over her breasts. Revealed to the cool air her nipples were instantly erect. Beginning to regret this idea, Francesca knew she couldn't take one in her mouth as she would end up brained by the heavy bar. Pulling back slightly she saw that Hunter was racking the bar in order to relax a little before another set. Pouncing on the opportunity revealed to her she slid forward, under the bar, until her face hovered over the blonde's.

'Yes?' It was drawled as strong hands slid over her shirt and under the hem.

'Change of plans.' Panted breaths increased in tempo as a calloused hand dipped between them to tease her painfully ready clit.

Lips clashed together in a heated kiss, tongues duelling between mouths as blunt fingers entered the heiress. Feeling her lover close to the edge she pumped hard and fast, feeling hands tightening on her biceps. Finally ripping her lips from the woman under her Francesca let out a scream of pleasure as she climaxed; jerking back in the throes of ecstasy her head slammed into the bar. Seeing stars the younger woman tumbled sideways onto the floor.

Laying there, stupefied, she found the concerned face of the warrior hovering over her. Smiling ruefully, head beginning to throb dully, she croaked out, 'Maybe I should let you take me to bed?' Strong arms scooped her up effortlessly and soon she was being carried into the house.

'Can you believe the nerve of that man?' Darla could feel her blood boil.

'I know, darlin', but you won't win over the likes of him. He gives at events like this and really does think that is enough.' Salvatore steered his wife to a corner where there eldest son stood, clutching a champagne flute.

Studying Nathaniel as they drew closer, all the while listening to his wife's rant, he couldn't help but feel a little sad for his eldest child. Nate had always been the quietest of the three, studious and earnest in equal measure. He took so much responsibility for what happened in both his business and personal life that his father often feared that he would burn himself out. Comfortable in the boardroom and known to be a shrewd and dangerous man to cross, he floundered in social settings. Both Francesca and Rodrigo were such vibrant, friendly people that others expected the same from Nate, making him feel further isolated. His failed marriage had driven home to him that family were the only people who really understood him.

As though conjured up by his father's musings, Rodrigo came barrelling through the crowd; joining his parents as they finally reached his brother. Dressed similarly to the older men in a tuxedo, the playboy managed to look fashionably rumpled. Composing himself while the greetings were made around him, he began to relate what he had heard.

'You're not going to believe what I just heard!' He was clearly indignant, bordering on outright hostility.

'What could be that bad son?' Just like his mother! 'You know these things are always full of bluster.' He tried to avoid the incredulous look directed at him by his wife.

'That ass Dettore is here; he's in the other room spouting his anti slave bullshit! People are in there lapping it up!' Seething now, 'his new idea? Revoke emancipation! Take away people's liberty for a second time! If he gets into office he plans to round people up like animals. Their children...' his voice had been steadily rising, attracting more than a little unwanted attention.

'Alright boy,' Sal placed his hand on a tense shoulder, 'calm down. This is, indeed, troubling news but we can't let people know we have an issue.'

'Your father's right, Roddie, settle down. I think that we should leave fairly soon, the girls need to know about this.' She turned to her taciturn child. 'Nate, sweetheart, would you go and collect our coats and call the chauffer?' He visibly sagged in relief that they were on their way.

'Thanks mom,' leaning over he placed a kiss on her cheek before putting a large hand on his baby brother's shoulder. 'Come on, kid, you can help.' As they walked away he muttered darkly, 'we won't let her get hurt again, Rod, don't worry.'

Watching their children walk away, mostly unmolested by other revellers, Sal knew that he and Darla would have a longer road to home. Unlike his wife, he generally enjoyed these functions. A pragmatist at heart, he saw the irony of the lamenting figures who gave so little to the charities they professed to support. Usually few people could rile him but his son's news had shaken him to the core. Francesca would be broken beyond repair if Hunter was taken from her again and he just couldn't let that happen.

'Are you ready?' He directed his stormy gaze to his wife who looked equally troubled.

'Not just yet, Sal. I think we should go and introduce ourselves to Mr Dettore and his supporters. Find out the lay of the land.' He couldn't argue with her logic so he followed her towards the busy side room.

Bradley Dettore stood tall beside the fireplace, hand swirling a glass of brandy. By all appearances he was the epitome of a rich young bachelor, a father's dream fro his daughter. Unfortunately in Sal's case he was a nightmare. He watched a middle aged, paunchy, woman engage him in conversation, gushing over his every word. Moving towards the politician, Darla already having peeled off into the crowd, Sal found himself stopped by a group of his peers.

'Sal, how are you, you old devil?' It was forced out around a cigar.

'You finally gave in and brought some slaves, I knew you would. Your idealism couldn't last in the face of cheap labour, whose could? Don't feel bad, old boy, we still respect you.' Respect like that he could live without. Even knowing how well things had turned out he still felt bad for having owned another human being.

Quickly excusing himself he finally had his chance to meet the infamous Mr Dettore, 'Senator Dettore, I've been dieing to meet you. I'm Salvatore Prince; I trust you've heard of me?' He could see the younger man's eyes widen in recognition and awe.

'A real pleasure to meet you, Mr Prince but it isn't senator just yet.' He was certainly charming with his bright smile and honeyed voice.

'Please call me Salvatore,' an old ploy but an effective one.

'And you must call me Brad! This really is an honour, sir. Your business is an inspiration to me. You attitude towards slavery and its use in industry is so refreshing,' Sal's shot open; 'You use real men and women who add to other parts of society, paying a wage. SO many people use slaves at the expense of free men and women. Yet another reason why slaves need to be legislated against and kept in their place.'

'Quite, although you do know that I now own quite a fully stable of personal slaves?' How would the other man respond to this?

'Oh, of course I know that Sal. In fact I own a slave from the very same auction as you. I even bought her for the same reason; protection. I am not a fool, although some of those pro-slave sympathisers would disagree, I recognise the role slaves play in our society. We could not abolish slavery; I simply think that it should be regulated and that slaves should not take jobs from the free. They should be given the most menial and dangerous jobs, ones where if an individual is harmed or killed in its execution it would not matter.' Here he paused fixing keen eyes on the mogul. 'I suppose that's why I can't quite understand why you tried so hard to retrieve that one you had stolen.'

'Well, Brad, when your daughter wants her new toy back you do what you can.' You sly little bastard! Try to lull me with flattery will you? I've been playing this game since before you were born! 'I've heard you have some interesting ideas on people's rights to free their slaves?'

'Indeed. If I get into office I intend to put legislation in place to stop that practice. I feel that only the state should have the power to free slaves, and that it shouldn't really be done at all. I also intend to recapture those who have previously been released in order to clean up society. It shouldn't be too hard to put them back to their original jobs.'

'Sounds like a big job.' Time to get out of here, 'Oh, I see my wife waving to me. I think that means its time to go. I'll see you again, Brad.'

The four occupants of the limousine sat in stunned silence, finally able to absorb the importance of what they had heard. Night had fallen, wrapping them in darkness as they drew closer to the house. Normally the boys would be taken to their homes by the driver before depositing the family founders, but by unspoken agreement they had decided to return to the mansion.

Earlier, as they had pulled away from the curb, Rodrigo and Sal had compared notes and come to a silencing conclusion. The youngest Prince could once again end up suffering at another's hands. Not usually a political animal, Rodrigo was now hell bent on preventing the other man's election. Nate, more of a realist than his sibling, was preparing for the worst. All he knew for certain was that they had done well to keep the release of their slaves quiet. Most of the journey had been a quiet affair.

Arriving home they all noticed only a few lights burning inside the house. Darla was keen eyed enough to see light spilling around the corner from the patio at the rear of the house. Seeing nothing amiss, the groups proceeded inside, Sal punching in the number combination that acted as a key.

Walking into the brightly lit foyer, they were stunned to see Hunter carrying Francesca up the stairs. Both women looked dishevelled and very amused. Having failed to notice their impromptu audience, the young brunette suddenly gripped her lover's shoulder, making her freeze in her ascent.

'My panties!' Four sets of eyebrows crawled into their hairlines as they realised; they hadn't walked in on the start of something but in the middle.

Almost dropping the slender woman, the warrior put her on the landing and turned to charge downstairs and coming face-to-face with her in-laws. Turning a bright crimson in embarrassment, she froze, forgetting that her tight top was pushed up, exposing her breasts. This fact did not go unnoticed by the three men; Sal quickly averted his eyes holding back a chuckle as he saw his sons openly gaping.

'Rhani, I think you've missed something.' Darla turned the mortified woman away and helped her straighten her top, all the while shooting daggers at her sons. 'You just go and do whatever you were off to do.' She patted a grey covered bottom and sent her on her way like a child. Docilely she complied. 'Not a word!' A raised finger punctuated the words as she turned to her children. 'I think we should discuss things in the morning, you two go on home.'

Nate and Roddie grinned at their mother while nodding acceptance; the comical (and sexy) display having brought them out of their funk. Nothing was going to happen between now and 8am . Feeling mischievous, they looked at one another before calleing up the stairs, 'Night Princess!' A very embarrassed face popped over the banister, clearly having been hiding.

'Hello boys, mum...dad,' on the last word her voice became a squeak.

Laughing uproariously the two men turned to leave, kissing both parents on the cheek before exiting the house. Unlike his sons, Sal's mirth was not strong enough to push aside his fears. Putting on a happier tone than he felt, he called a good night to his daughter before distortedly kissing his wife and disappearing into the bowels of the house.

Darla shook her head at the antics of her sons and in concern over her husband. Out of the corner of her eye she glimpsed the warrior shuffling back into the house. Choosing to avoid too much further embarrassment for the young women she smiled encouragingly at the blond. Turning towards her daughter, who remained peeking down from above, she smiled brightly.

'Have fun, dear. See you in the morning.' Winking at her daughter she repressed her own chuckle - that girl was just too easy. With a negligent wave she followed her husband's path into the house.

Later that night, they lay wrapped in each others arms, talking softly and trading gentle kisses. As was their custom, Hunter sat with her back against the headboard, supported by pillows while Francesca pillowed her own head on the warrior's ample chest. Looking down during a lull in conversation she realised that the taller woman was examining one of her breasts. She had no need to ask what was being scrutinized so closely with a look of concern.

'I'm all better now, you know. It's just cosmetic. That guy you got did a really good job.' There had been some concern over her physical state when she had first been liberated from Jordan 's clutches and Francesca stilled dwelled on it at times. Even the plastic surgeon who had repaired maimed nipple had not been able to hide all of the damage.

'I know, but...' Sighing she lowered her lips and kissed the crescent scare that surrounded her areola. To blue eyes it still looked angry and a little puckered, yet she struggled past her morass. A thought suddenly popped into her head, 'Hey, I've been meaning to ask you about today.'

'Oh?' Hunter knew where this was going and didn't particularly want to take that trip.

'You seemed really worried about Tomasz's idea and I was honestly considering it until I saw the look on your face. So, I said we'd talk later and it's later now.'

'No getting away from this, is there?'

'No.'

'It's really nothing, I just though that part of my life was over. Just the idea of being paraded around like a piece of meat makes my skin crawl. You didn't follow my sport or support slavery until I was already here, if you had you would have seen my picture everywhere.

Tomasz was right, people didn't want my autograph, or to talk to me but they do want to know me and see my image. I was on TV, newscasts, newspapers for my 'sport',' the word was spat in contempt. 'There were magazines and pay-per-view channels that we were put on. I guess it was a lot like what you have to do so I feel a little silly... you have to understand that they weren't gentle with us. They couldn't beat us when they were going to photograph us, unless that was the image they were after, so they had more creative forms of punishment. Asphyxiation and shocks were the control methods of choice.' Seeing the shadow in blue eyes she sighed, 'Just another ghost from my past.'

Spurred on by her partner to reveal more, she laid out tales of electrocution, burning and near suffocation in tiny crate-like prisons. Francesca took it all in and began to understand.

Walking into the lounge the next morning the heiress was surprised to see not only her parents but her tow brothers all clearly waiting for her. Moving to the sofa and sitting between her brothers she cocked her head and waited for them to fill her in. Just as Sal opened his mouth to get started, Hunter barrelled in, followed by the children dressed and ready for school. Standing uncomfortably in the doorway, Delores waited for her instructions for the day.

'Hunter, go and sit with Princess, please. Delores, you'll be taking the children to school today.' The reserved young woman nodded ascent. 'Now, munchkins, kiss us and it's off with you.'

'But grampa...' Terrance started to pout.

'But me no buts, boy. You have to go to school.' Castigated, the children rushed around the room, planting kisses on cheeks. Finally they hugged their mothers and her protector before tripping out of the door. Following the children's progress with his eyes, Sal saw that it was now time to begin. He was beaten to the punch by his daughter.

'What's going on, dad?' Being a Prince for 29 years, she knew when something was bothering her father.

'Princess, we heard some rather unsettling talk at the party last night. That Dettore fellow was there spouting his anti-slave propaganda and outlining his future plans.'

'OK dad, he hates slaves, I knew that already. How does that affect us?'

'He doesn't just have plans for slaves; he has plans for former slaves. If he gets into office he plans to round up anybody who has been freed and force them back into bondage.' The youngest Prince's face dropped as understanding dawned.

'What can we do?' Solve the problem, that was all that was going through her mind.

'Francesca,' Nate spoke for the first time, 'There isn't anything we can do. I looked at the poles this morning and he is really pulling ahead. I don't think anybody will catch him now. We do have a slim chance if we throw a lot of support at his closest competitor...'

'That guy's a prick too!' Trust Rodrigo to cut to the chase.

'As much as I agree with the boys I think we need to be practical. This could affect us deeply. I've already contacted my lawyers; they're burying the emancipation orders we had drawn up for our slaves. Hopefully they'll be well enough buried to avoid detection.'

'They will know Meg is free.' Low words sounded from the floor where Hunter sat at her lover's feet.

'True, Hunter, but there is little we can do about that other than formulate some reason why I would send a slave to college.' A rueful smile, 'Maybe I'll finally become eccentric.'

'We need to find Savage and Snake, warn them about what is happening and let them in on our plans.' Darla had not interjected until now, happy to let the men carry the conversation. She had been far too busy studying the quiet couple. They would get through this; they had to. Thank god for Hunter's level head, she had always insisted on playing the familiar role of surf in public, much to her partner's discomfort. Now, that might just save them both.

 

To be continued...

Back to the Academy