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


Chapter 9


It fell from nerveless fingers to clatter harmlessly on the shiny wooden floor. Faintly she could hear the person on the other end asking if she was still there. Taking a deep breath to regain her composure, the family matriarch scooped up the receiver and placed it back to her ear.

"Ma'am? You still there?" The man on the other end of the phone sounded genuinely concerned.

"Yes officer, I'm so sorry about that. I was just so shocked by the news, we've been wondering where he was." Her voice sounded calm and she thanked years of practice that she could put on such an act.

"Mrs Prince, we would like to speak to you and your family. Would it be convenient to send over a detective today?"

"Of course, I'll tell my husband and daughter to expect you. Francesca will be shooting today so the detective will need to arrive after six." What else could she say? Numbly she replaced the receiver, pinching the bridge of her nose to ward off the approaching headache. Sighing sadly she went off in search of her husband.

Finally, the video shoot was over, and not a minute too soon as far as the young heiress was concerned. Two days since her troubling conversation with her family, the last thing on her mind was following the orders of the flamboyant director. Alone in the costume trailer, having dismissed the grabbing hands of her dressers, she tore the clinging black material and threw it aside. The sooner she could get out of here the better. Easing the skirt over her hips she let it fall to the floor, negligently stepping out of it as she walked over to her street clothes.

Picking up her jeans she bent to put them on, coming face-to-face with her reflection in a floor length mirror. Blue fabric fell to the floor, forgotten, to bunch around her right ankle as she rose to stand. Eyes locked on her image as she studied the grim face that stared back. Even though worry was etched on her visage, from the grim set of her mouth to the flint in her eyes, it actually made her look strong and resolute.

Continuing to examine herself she admitted that her current appearance was a far cry from the timid figure she had been just eighteen months ago. Confidence that Douglas had spent years beating out of her had come back ten fold. It was almost as though his death had let her breathe for the first time. She even looked taller now that she no longer hung her head and shielded herself from prying eyes. Not that there weren't still people watching her every move, she just didn't have to worry about a raised hand or voice if something went wrong. That was an incredibly liberating experience for the young woman even in the face of the newest crisis facing her family.

Nothing bad is going to happen to Rhani , resolved in her thoughts she pulled her jeans up her long, toned legs and pulled her thin, v-necked sweater over her head. Even though the news had scared her, she had decided that she would not panic, and so far she had managed to concentrate on her relationship and not any looming drama. Smoothing her hair she walked towards the door and sat to pull on her shoes. As she began to tie the laces in her right sneaker a soft rap sounded on the thin door.

"Come in," Francesca didn't need to look up to know who stood in the arch of the doorway. The uncomfortable sound of shuffling and a slight, nervous throat clearing were more than enough of a giveaway. "Hello Raz."

"Hi..." She glanced up in time to see him rub the back of his neck like a flustered schoolboy. Not really in the mood to placate the man's irrational fears of bicker with him she fixed him with a clear blue stare.

"Did you want something?" More biting than she had planned she had too much on her mind to think about his feelings.

"Oh, yeah, Tomasz said that he's really pleased with the video. I was really glad it went well..." OK, be a grown up Rashid! "I am really sorry about the way I've behaved towards you and your partner. She and I spoke and she made me realise a few things that I wasn't seeing. I'd also like to apologise for my absence from the set these last few days." Francesca had been wondering about his abrupt departure, he was usually really hands on when she did this sort of thing.

"Thank you, Raz, I appreciate you trying. Where have you been?" Shoes fastened she stood and snagged her jacket.

"I was canvassing for some good venues for you to peddle your wears. I've got you booked onto some really great TV interviews in the next two weeks. I've got all the information and I've left it in your limo. Read it through this afternoon and I'll call you tonight to get confirmation." Glee was written all over his face, this was the man that Francesca liked to call friend. "This'll be huge! These will be your first real interviews since everything happened so we'll have to work on some of your Q and A." Spinning off into his planning he wandered off as they left the trailer, throwing a distracted wave at the woman who move din the opposite direction.

"You look pleased."

"Agh!" A manicured hand clutched at her chest as a rather undignified scream left her lips.

"Sorry, I thought you knew I was waiting there." Chastened, Hunter hung her head, staring fixedly at the floor, idly scuffing the toe of her shoe.

"Oh, honey," remembering too late where they were she glanced around at the endearment and relaxed to see nobody was close by, "I was just a little preoccupied by Raz, that's all." Green eyes peered from under shaggy blond bangs. Now that's just too darn cute! She looks like she did when we were 8!

Seeing the gooey look on her lover's face she Hunter returned it, "So, why are you looking so pleased?"

"Raz seems to be getting over his case of ass-hole-itus, he apologised and even told me about the conversation you two had the other day. I think he'll be OK, I'd really hate to have to replace him, that'd be a real pain." They began to walk towards the exit, Francesca waving and smiling at people as she passed by.

Before they reached the long, black vehicle waiting for them they were intercepted by Tomasz. Unusually, today he was dressed rather conservatively in a tailored purple suit and tie, well it's only conservative because it's on Tomasz, mentally Hunter rolled her eyes at the thought, the director simply had that effect on her.

"It has been fantastic to work with you again, Francesca. I hope that we will do it again in the future, no?"

"I couldn't agree more. I have had a really great time on this. I'll see you soon," they embraced and shared air kisses on each cheek before the director nodded at the silent guard and headed to his office.

Maybe now we can get out of here! Hunter's suit was really irritating her, she didn't mind wearing it but one of the best parts of her day was falling into the limo on the way home and whipping off her shirt and tie. Today that was being delayed and making her a bit grouchy.

Out of the corner of her eye the singer could see her protector fidgeting. Anybody else would have seen the bodyguard, standing still, at her charges side as she did every day. Francesca, who was becoming more intoned to the other woman's subtle body language could see it all; the slight twitching in small hands, not even the clenching of fists, the occasional raise and stretch of her chin all screamed 'home time' to the heiress. Quickly checking that nobody was watching them in the parking lot, she reached out and briefly squeezed a rough hand.

"Come on, lets get out of here," a beaming smile spread over angelic features as she reached around the lithe figure to open the door.

One long, denim covered leg lifted into the car, its owner bending low to follow it inside. Settling comfortably into the leather seat, the door closed behind her with a soft snick. Smiling softly she waited for the other woman to join her. One more convention of their relationship outside the house, Hunter always go into the car on the other side after letting Francesca in, it would be unseemly for the 'master' to scoot over for the slave to get in.

Suddenly the other door was pulled open; bright sunlight flooding the tinted gloom of the interior. A beaming smile lit up her face as she turned to face the figure in t doorway, only to fall as she saw who it was.

"Hay, babe, don't look so pleased to see me!" Joi Joi Man affected a hang-dog look of hurt even as he threw himself into the car. Looking over his shoulder she saw Hunter looking through the door with an expression that read 'you try and stop him!' a dark eyebrow quirked.

"Mungo wanted to say bye," as the words left her mouth she started to chuckle, straightening up and leaning against the door frame to wait for them to finish. Allowing herself to admire her girlfriend's firm butt, she almost forgot that she wasn't alone until he spoke.

"You know, she gets entirely too much of a kick out of my name! You hit the jackpot with her, girl, she's a hoot!" White teeth shone from his wide smile and Francesca could well understand why his record label signed him. His dark chocolate skin glowed flawlessly and his boyish good looks and charm were contrasted well by his massive height and musculature. He was the epitome of rapper chic, with the personality of a naughty schoolboy...and he wasn't a bad rapper either!

"I can't disagree with you there, she is a real god send," in more ways than you can imagine, "and if you didn't want her to laugh at you, you shouldn't have told her your first name!"

"Look, I thought it'd be a nice ice breaker with her."

"Why did you want to break the ice with her?" Honestly, she'd been curious about that from the start.

"I just knew that we'd be spending time together, which meant that she would be there too," picking at his nail he looked up nervously. "She's a person, like us, I couldn't just act like she wasn't there because somebody made her a slave."

"I like the way you think," she leaned over to touch his arm.

"I knew you'd understand!" He reached into his shirt pocket and drew out a card. "I usually don't put this around, especially not in the industry 'cause so many people treat slaves like another bit of bling, but I know I can trust you." Shit, he knows! Francesca was on the verge of panic, stay calm! "I'm a member of this group, we work to end slavery. Mainly, I just donate - not good for my career to be seen doing this. You might want to take a look." Slender fingers reached out and snagged the card.

"Thank you Mungo." Knowing that Hunter had been listening to every word, she could almost picture the smile on her face. Choosing to change topic before he left, she asked the other question that had been plaguing her since they met. "Where the hell did your parent's come up with that name?"

"Well," he stretched out the word, tantalisingly, "my mom's called Divine and when she was younger this actor got into trouble with a hooker called Divine. Anyway when my parents found out they were having me my mother's warped sense of humour decided I should be named after that actor, apparently Mungo's his middle name." Francesca was near tears with laughter.

"You poor bastard," a shaggy blond head leaned through the doorway, eyes fixed on him.

"Yeah, well, I expect you two to keep that little titbit quiet! I don't tell anybody, it won't even be in my autobiography if I can help it!" Chirping from his wrist drew his attention. "I gotta go girls, got a photo op in twenty minutes." He leaned forward to kiss the brunette's cheek. "Keep in touch, babe." He clambered out of the car and past Hunter with a pat on the shoulder and was gone. Finally the other woman was able to get into the car and close the door.

With the closing of the door the car started and pulled off from the lot. It was good to have a driver who could use his initiative. Francesca eased herself into the corner of the seat, back in the v where it met the door so that she could watch her partner. In almost frantic movements the smaller woman had already lot the jack and was now almost frantically pulling the shirt over her head to reveal a white wife-beater. It soon became obvious to her audience that she was stuck, shirt wrapped around her head and arms at a bizarre angle as she grew more and more frustrated. Finally, with arms wedged over her head and face peering halfway out of her shirt where it was wedged, a single green eye turned pleadingly to her observer.

"Little help?" The feeble gesture she made with her arms was what broke the singers resolve not to laugh and she giggled freely as she moved to the rescue. Something she had learnt early in her relationship with the warrior was that you didn't interfere until she asked, so she had sat back and waited.

"Relax Rhani, I'll take care of you." Hunter went completely still and let her childhood friend reach inside the folds of the shirt and loosen the knot of her tie, when that was done she snapped open a couple of buttons and pulled the shirt free.

"Thank you," leaning forward she kissed her lover and snagged her rumpled shirt, folding it as best she could and laying it on another seat. "You love me for my finesse, right?"

"You, lover, have a lot more going for you than that!" Francesca proceeded to show her lover one of those things.

"Your mother's left you five messages, Chess I think you should call her back and find out what's wrong." Arm flung to the side, elbow bent awkwardly so that she could look at the display on the little phone, Hunter tried to make her languid lover respond. Said lover was currently sprawled across her, on her stomach, pinning the smaller woman to the seat.

"Can't it wait?" The words were slurred and exasperated.

"I don't think so. It must be really urgent; you should do something on this trip home, we only have fifteen minutes left and you haven't even looked at the papers Raz left." Jerking upwards like some sort of demented marionette, she cast about for the phone before falling back into place as the auto-dialler did its work.

"Mom, it's me. What's with all the messages?" At least she didn't sound like she'd been heavy petting with her girlfriend in the back of a limousine... How old am I? I'm like a teenager at prom! The thought popped into her head, but before she could feel self conscious about it she looked up into green eyes, and I love it!

"Princess, the police called this morning, Savage was murdered in Vegas." Darla didn't get further than that before there was a thud on the other end of the line and she realised her daughter had had the same reaction as she had.

At the look on her face, Hunter raised them both to a sitting position, Francesca straddling her lap, and folded her in a warm embrace. The stricken younger woman buried her head in a muscular shoulder and breathed raggedly. Tentatively Hunter reached down, stretching to snag the phone with fingertip and drag it to where she could pick it up.

"Darla, what's going on? Chess has just closed down." The worry in her voice was evident.

"Hunter, its not good. The police called me this morning. Savage has been killed. They want to come over and interview us, they think that he's an escapee."

"It just never ends, does it?" Defeated the warrior rested her cheek on dark hair.

"Now don't you go all defeatist on me. This could just be an accident, they haven't told me more. We've got a little under an hour before they arrive. We'll talk when you get here." Hearing a faint sob in the background she hung up, knowing that the stoic young warrior would sooth her youngest child.

"It'll be all right, Chess." The phone was once again dropped to the floor as she ran gentle hands up and down the bowed back. "I promise."

Touching the tip of the stylus to his PDA, the young detective continued to file away the information that he received from the family. So far they had been very cooperative, giving him details on when they had last seen the dead slave and why they thought he had fled to Vegas. One thing continued to bother him, though, they were hiding something and he couldn't quite figure out what.

"Why didn't you report his escape to the proper authorities?" Would he get a straight answer to that?

"Well, Detective Ives, if I'm honest we didn't see the point. The recapture rate of the agency is not high. He's only been gone a week, we thought he might come back on his own." No need to share that he had been gone for almost a year.

"You're sure it's only been a week?" That really didn't fit with the amount of possessions they had found at the slaves lodgings, far more than could have been accumulated in such a short time.

"Well it may be closer to 10 days." Sal hoped that the detective was buying this.

"Fine. Obviously we are not investigating your family, this is purely cleanup that we perform whenever a slave is found dead outside of the family home. We may need to look into some of your records a she may well have stolen from you in order to flee. Our people will contact your accounts and lawyers for what we need." They're definitely hiding something.

He cast his eyes to the women, who although cooperative when asked a direct question, had volunteered nothing. The elder Prince woman seemed composed, much like her husband, whereas her daughter looked like she was only just holding herself together. Periodically her mother would squeeze her hand as a show if reassurance.

"I am very sorry that we have had to bring this to your attention. Obviously after the tragedies of the last two years, you hoped to never see the police again. I assure you that we will try to deal with this situation with as little inconvenience to you as possible." Checking over the notes in his computer he found that he had all he needed; for now. "We'll take our leave now; we will contact you when we have anything further to report." Shaking the seated man's hand he was pleased when the family matriarch walked him to the door, along with his colleague who had been waiting in the hallway.

Exiting the study, Darla looked around for Hunter as she led the detective and his uniformed assistant to the front door. She had expected to see the warrior waiting outside, eager to rejoin her lover but she was nowhere in sight. Opening the heavy front door, she bade her thanks to the two men and closed the door behind them, scurrying back to her husband and daughter. When she reached the study she saw Francesca curled up with her head on her father's shoulder, looking dejected. Red-rimmed, blue eyes turned to her expectantly.

"Where's Rhani?" Craning her neck she peered around her mother as she stood in the doorway.

"I don't know, she wasn't in the hallway when I left. I'm sure she'll be back soon darling," while speaking she had walked over to rest her hand her child's shoulder.

"I think I'll go and find her." Francesca stood and shuffled to the door, looking tired.

"What do you think all of this will mean to us, Sal?" Darla took her daughter's lace at her husband's side.

"I don't know. If they start digging they might find out he was free, my lawyers have only just started to conceal that information."

"I never really liked the man but I feel terrible for lying about him now. It's like a betrayal of what Francesca gave him." Silence fell in the room as they sat, side-by-side, at a loss as to what to do next.

Hands clasped under her chin, Hunter watched her friends potter around the kitchen, making tea. They were so cute together and had become so domestic since being freed that nobody would ever guess that they had been slaves. Unlike her body, which showed evidence of her previous life through scars on her face and body, Shep and Megan had always been more careful when fighting and when dressed looked like everybody else. It was good to see the pair of them looking as happy as she felt, well most of the time.

Casting her eyes around their home, she saw all of the homey touches that they had added throughout what had once been little more than stables. The walls were washed in soft, warm colours and they had added new furniture throughout. She really couldn't be happier for the two, which made telling them the bad news all the more heart breaking. She knew that Darla hadn't had the opportunity to tell the gardener and the college student what had happened to Savage, so decided to do it herself. Having heard what the police had said, she had left before he started questioning the family.

A steaming cup was set in front of her, drawing her attention away from meandering thoughts and back to her friends. Shep was grinning at her stupidly while Meg kept leaning into his body and smiling. Something was certainly up with the two of them.

"We're glad you stopped by, seems like you're always too busy with Francesca to see us lately, we have some news for you too." From the beaming smile on the redhead's face Hunter knew it was good.

"Why don't you go first, mine can wait." Upon entering their home she had told them she had news, but they had made her wait. She could wait a little longer; it would be nice to hear some good news.

"We're having a baby!" Shep almost burst with pride as he spoke.

"Wow, congratulations, how long have you known?" Although happy for her friends she couldn't help wondering which cruel god had decided on this twist of fate.

"We only found out yesterday." It was Megan who answered her question while her partner looked adoringly at her. "I'd been feeling a little run down and nauseas, although I haven't been sick. Mat was fretting so I went to the doctor and after a couple of tests he told me I was expecting."

"I am so happy for you, you really deserve this. How far along are you?" How can I tell them now? Yet another new dilemma to add to the mix, but I must do it.

"Twelve weeks, so still early days."

"She won't even let me start making a crib for the baby, says that we shouldn't jinx it." The hang dog expression on his face was just too cute and Megan leaned over to kiss it away.

"What did you have to tell us?" Finally the couple fixed their attention on their old friend. "Come on, spill your guts!"

"I wish that I had news even half as good as yours but I don't. Savage is dead." There it was, out on the kitchen table, lying atop the broken remnants of their good news.

"Oh God, when? Where? How?" Shep could barely form a thought through his shock.

"The police said that he was found in a back alley in Las Vegas . He had been seen hours before gambling but nobody saw anything suspicious."

"At least he was doing what he said he would." Megan tried to see the positive even under such dire circumstances.

"True enough. It seems that he was mugged for his money and beaten to death by at least ten people. I don't believe that was the motive and I don't think the police do either." She began to study the grain of the table intently.

"You think it was more of these people who hate slaves being freed?"

"Yeah I do, Shep. Unlike you two Savage, Snake and I have been on TV a lot. It wouldn't take much for people to realise who he was."

"It's getting worse, isn't it?" Absentmindedly the redhead began to rub her stomach.

"With that Dettore guy likely to get into office and pass his legislation, we don't stand a chance. He'll have us rounded up and put back into slavery if he gets in, that's his policy." She saw two pairs of eyes widen in shock, the big man put an arm around his lover's shoulders. "Don't worry, Sal is trying to work out a way for us to stay safe. Your baby will be born free."

"I hope so." Green eyes wet to the window, "I think somebody is looking for you." Hunter followed the other woman's gaze and saw the heiress walking towards the stables.

"I'd better go, she looks upset. I'm really sorry that I had to spoil your news." A large hand was raised in a shushing motion.

"Don't be, we needed to know. Go to her, we'll see you later." Hugging the big man the little warrior made her way out the door.

Late night gala's and premiere's were the part of being a bodyguard that Hunter hated the most. Tonight's event was the premiere of a new action movie, featuring the new muscle bound hero of the moment. She would be bored during the feature and Francesca would be totally uninterested in the content but they wouldn't be able to talk. It was a real pain.

That nights entertainment was a last minute thing, the singer's agent having snagged them attendance at the last minute, literally hours before it would start. After the turbulent news that they had received Hunter though that her younger partner would give it a miss but she had seemed keen to attend. So little time had they had to get ready that the couple had not had time to talk since they met with the police. Almost as soon as Hunter had left the stables to catch up to Francesca the phone had rung and they had found out about the event. What with getting ready and the brief trip in the limo, they had not had time to talk.

As the car pulled up to the red carpet, people screamed and lights flashed from either side, Hunter felt her hand squeezed by her lover as she moved to open the door. Climbing out of the car, the bodyguard stood talk in her tuxedo style outfit and reached out a hand to assist the taller woman's exit. As she straightened in her crimson, backless dress the screams grew louder and people began to call her name.

Feeling a hand on the small of her back, the brunette smiled, liking the intimacy of the gesture which by onlookers would just be seen as a protective measure. Moving towards one of the many journalists who flanked the walkway, she prepared to answer a few questions before moving on to the next one and the next and the next. Just before they reached the man, she felt Hunter lean in towards her and cocked her head to hear the soft words.

"I'm really sorry about running off earlier."

"You can make it up to me later."

"Miss Prince are you looking forward to the movie." The loud young man thrust the microphone into her face and waited, impatiently for her response. This was something that could take her mind off her other problems.

"I really enjoy a good storyline so this movie should...

Dettore had gone to bed several hours ago, leaving his slave at loose ends. He may be an uptight ass when he was awake but he didn't seem to mind what she did when he was asleep, as long as she stayed away from his room. Tonight she sat on the sofa casually flicking through cable channels; the novelty of TV had yet to wear off for her. Clicking the button once again, moving from a cookery show to monster trucks she heard the front door of the apartment open and close. Craning her neck she looked towards the hallway and waited for the thin man to appear.

Cliff walked into Bradley's home as though he owned it, using the key that the other man had given him the day he bought the place. As he walked into the main living area he heard the sound of the television and saw the slender blonde lounging on the sofa. Greeting him politely, she turned back to her channel hopping as he went to the kitchen for a beer. Selecting to bottles and popping the caps he joined her.

Cliff didn't hate slaves the way his friend did, in fact he was rather indifferent to them. Abolishing the right to freedom was a means to an ends for him, so he could be civil, even friendly, to the temperamental warrior. Taking a pull from his beer, he watched her flick from channel to channel like an electronic hummingbird until she suddenly stopped. So sudden was the pause in the jumbled images that it took his mind a moment to register what it was. There on the screen was a movie premiere, the particular focus of attention at that moment the singer, Francesca Prince. Cliff vaguely remembered her being in the papers over some stalker the previous year.

"I know her." Startled by the words, Cliff turned to his, usually silent companion, waiting for more. When none was forthcoming he urged her on.

"You know Francesca Prince?"

"Not the mistress, the slave. She was a stable mate of mine. She's called Hunter and she is an excellent gladiator." Cliff had heard of the warrior in question.

"You look shocked to see her, why? You must have known she was sold, like yourself."

"I'm not shocked to see her; I'm not even shocked to see who she's with. What does surprise me? Look at how they are touching? Doesn't that seem really familiar to you?" Changing to another news programme that was showing the same footage, she searched for one showing their arrival at the show.

"Maybe, but she could just be touching her there to guide her forward. What are you looking for?" Could this work for him?

"This," she paused on a station showing the couple disembarking from a black limousine. Almost as soon as they left the car the shorter woman had her hand on the other woman's back. Approaching the reporter the women leaned into each other and momentarily their pose was very intimate indeed. "That is not the way a slave and a master react together, not even if they are having an affair. That's the way equals behave."

"You think that this Hunter creature is free and in a relationship with the Prince girl all from seeing that tiny bit of video?" This could give him a real focus for the campaign, somebody to concentrate on, make an example of.

"I think there is a good chance."

"Thank you Thorn, thank you very much." The little man stood and left, leaving the bodyguard bemused but sure he had something up his sleeve, his sort always did. She reached for the remnants of his beer and drained it, before reaching for her own and settling on a cheesy sci-fi movie.

To be Continued...


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