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Cassie laid still for a short time as she listened for any sounds. Once she was convinced she was alone, she slowly sat up. She gasped as her broken ribs protested. She heard a faint sound and stopped to listen and let the pain level off before she moved again. This time more slowly than before. Her feet touched the floor and a wave of dizziness hit. She waited for it to pass. She heard the sound again.
"How did you know I was here? I did not think I made any noise."
"You didn't. I heard you breathing."
"Damn." Victoria shook her head in wonder. "Doc said not to move around too much. You will hurt yourself."
"I am not going far." Cassie sat still for several minutes. "Come over here please?" She asked. Cassie listened to the soft foot fasteps as Victoria came closer. She counted the steps. Cassie felt Victoria sit next to her. "Eight steps."
"What?" Victoria asked.
"It took you eight steps to get from the door to this side of the bed." They were silent. Cassie reached for Victoria's hand. "I owe you an apology."
"For not being able to protect you better."
"Cassie no. There is no need for an apology." Victoria protested.
"I should have known better. Mike told me this morning that he saw riders in that area and that someone had been camping out. I should have waited for someone to come with us. I wanted..." she stopped "I wanted to and still want to show you the beauty of this area. I did not want to share the experience of seeing the mustangs with anyone else. There are so many things I want to show you to make you want to stay. To give you good memories. Not the memories of you being attacked."
"Thank you, Cassie, but that is living in a fairy tale world. In the real world, bad things happen even to good people. Life is not always going to be good. The bad is what makes us appreciate the good more. You think this attack will make me want to leave you?"
"Yes. I am afraid that you will not want to stay after this. That you would not be able to see the beauty with out remembering the horrors. That you would not feel safe here."
"Cassie, I had been travelling for several weeks." Victoria stopped and took a ragged breath. "This could have happened any where at any time. Am I bother by this? I would be lying if I said no. Am I afraid he will return? Yes I am. I wish it never happened. That is not how I pictured my... my first time."
"Your first? Damn him. I will kill him with my bare hands."
"Cassie, no. He is not worth it." She cried. "I know in my heart that the bruises will fade, but..." Victoria hesitated as her eyes filled and tears started to fall. Cassie waited for her to continue, sensing the younger woman's need to talk. Cassie felt her leave the bed and counted her steps as she walked away.
Victoria stood in front of the window and hugged herself. She felt a chill despite the heat. "In my mind," she continued. "In my mind, I can still feel his hands on me." Her voice cracked. She took a shuddering breath. "I can still hear his voice and even the smell of him. But the worse thing, I remember, the worse thing is the pain when he... when he... Oh God." She cried out as sobs wracked her body. Cassie heard the raw emotions as Victoria started to cry. Without the slightest hesitation, Cassie stood up and felt her way slow to Victoria's side. Cassie felt the furniture as she made her way. She counted her steps until she reached Victoria. Cassie took the smaller woman in her arms and felt her stiffen. When Victoria recognized the person holding her she relaxed as she cried. Victoria turned and held Cassie tightly as she sobbed on Cassie's chest. Cassie winced as the pain from the broken ribs intensified. She did not move as Victoria held onto her as she cried. Cassie took shallow breaths to ease the pain of the broken ribs. She heard the door open as she held Victoria, and heard it softly close again. For a long time Victoria cried.
When the sobs subsided, Cassie asked, "feel a little better?"
"I don't know how I should feel. I feel like my soul has been ripped open and I feel very, very dirty. A dirty that no amount of washing will ever take away. And I am afraid, I am afraid that I will never be able to be intimate with you without remember him."
"Shh, Tory honey, don't think that way. I firmly believe that we are meant to be together. I will always be here for you, no matter what. I will be your best friend. If friend is the limit to our relationship then friends it will be. If and when you want to be more than friends and take our relationship to the next step, you let me know. I will never pressure you for more than you are ready or able to give. Before you came into my life, I thought I was happy, but I see now how empty my life really was and..." Cassie stopped.
Victoria felt Cassie sway and looked up at her. The paleness scared her. Perspiration bathed Cassie's face and her skin was clammy.
"Help me back to bed then get Doc." Cassie whispered.
Victoria took Cassie's good arm and brought it over her shoulders. She put her arm around Cassie's waist and helped her to the bed. As soon as Cassie turned to sit on the bed she collapsed in Victoria's arms. Victoria held on and somehow found the strength to gently lower Cassie to the bed. She picked up Cassie's legs and covered her with the sheet before she went to the door for help.
Granny, Maude and Doc waited in the hall. The dog lay in front of the door and whined softly. Maude was glad Granny had Victoria stay. Puzzled but glad. Cassie's loss of her sight worried her. Her daughter would not want to be dependent on others for those things she did for herself. They heard movement from behind the closed door. Maude started forward but was stopped by Granny.
"Miss Maude, do not go in these."
"Let go of me. She will hurt herself more than she already is."
"Victoria is there. They need to talk."
"I am her mother." Maude said adamantly.
"Yes, you are, but right now you need to let go of Cassie, only for a short time. I know this is hard to hear. You are not the one Cassie needs right now. She is a proud woman. She does not need a mother right now, she needs the one who holds her heart."
"Is that why you made Victoria stay?"
"Yes it is. Right now, what they need is each other. If either of them is to get past this, they need to talk. Cassie does not yet know she was also violated. She will need to be told. We can give them medicines to heal their bodies, but to heal their spirits, only they can do that for each other."
"All right Granny." Maude sighed in defeat.
"I think we could all use some coffee Maudie." Doc stated. "This day has a long way to go before it is finished."
"I see what you are both doing. You are not very subtle. I know I am hovering. I am her mother. I have a right to hover. I will get your coffee and bring them up something to eat." Maude left them and went down stairs.
"Granny do you have anything that umm."
"Yes they have already been given herbs to prevent pregnancy."
"Good. The last thing either of the need is to have a child come out of this attack. You don't happen to have any miracle herbs that will help them to forget?"
"What I can do is get them through the aftermath. They have each other. That is better than any herbs I could give them. Each is exactly what the other needs." She walked to the door and softly opened it. She peeked in and closed the door. "They are where they need to be." She smiled.
Maude returned with a tray and was followed by the Sheriff who carried a pail of ice. She handed Doc his coffee and Granny her sweetened tea.
"The Sheriff need to talk to Cassie and Victoria." She said.
"I heard they were both awake." The Sheriff added.
"Sure Coop, as long as you do not mind waiting a spell. They needed some time alone. We will need a towel for the ice. Maude left the hall and went into the bathing room for towels. She returned to hear the Sheriff's report.
"I do not mind waiting, Doc. We have men looking for Montgomery. Right now they are back tracking from the clearing to where Mike found their campfire. It might not be theirs, but they are checking."
"I hope they do not find him." Maude said angrily. "It is all his fault this happened."
"Now Maudie..." Doc cut in.
"Don't you, now Maudie, me, doc. You know it's true." Maude stated.
"There is no sense in trying to put the blame on anyone."
She was stopped from replying when the door opened. Victoria's pale worried face looked out at them. "Doc, Cassie needs you." She stepped aside to let Doc enter. Maude and Granny followed close behind. Cassie was back on the bed, her eyes closed. Doc watched the slow rise and fall of her chest.
"What happened?" He asked.
"We were over by the window talking when she got really pale and shaky. I was able to get her back to the bed before she passed out."
Doc shook his head. "Damn stubborn woman." He muttered as he examined her head and ribs to make sure she didn't do any additional damage to her self. He replaced the poultice, wrapped ice in the towels and placed one on the side of Cassie's head and one against her ribs. He checked her pulse and raised each eyelid to check the reaction to the light. "Still the same. She does not seem to have done any more damage. She is lucky." Doc reached into his bag and pulled out a small bottle. He pulled the cork and waved it under Cassie's nose. She jerked awake after a few seconds.
"Damn that is nasty stuff. What are you trying to do kill me? What happened?" She asked. "One minute we are talking by the window and the next you are trying to kill me with whatever that crap is."
"It is smelling salts because you passed out. Now young lady," Doc said gruffly. "You are going to listen to me and do exactly what I tell you. You have a concussion and a lot of swelling in that hard head of yours. You must, and I can not stress this enough, must keep your butt in that bed for the next few days. You have a head injury. These things are not to be taken lightly. If you do not do what I tell you, you could face paralysis or death if you have a stroke. If that is not enough, you run the risk of you eyesight not returning. I can not impress upon you how serious your injuries are or how important it is for you to do exactly what I say. Do you understand me?"
Cassie took a shaky breath. "I understand, Doc."
"About damn time you do. Now Sheriff Cooper is here and would like to ask you both a few questions. Do you feel up to it?"
"May as well get it over with."
"All right, I will allow it. After that I want you both to eat some of that delicious smelling soup, your mother has made. Then you both must rest. Okay Coop, you can come in. Try not to tire them out."
"Do my best Doc." He waited until they left the room. "Miss Maude you had better stay."
"Certainly Sheriff." She said as she closed the door and sat in the chair. The Sheriff pulled a chair next to the bed and took out a pad and pencil from his pocket.
"I will try to be as delicate as I can." They both nodded. "What were you doing before the attack?"
"I took Natalia to see Midnight." Cassie started.
"I heard the old cuss had come down." He replied. "Then what?"
"We noticed a rider coming towards us shouting and went to meet him. He said his brother had fallen into a pit and was hurt."
"Do you have any pits on your land?"
"No and I told him that. I also told him he was on private property.. Victoria reminded me that we found the dog in a trap. We went to check it out. I sent the dog back to give mama time to organize things in case we needed help."
"I saw your warning system. Sure save a lot of time searching for you."
"Did Goldie get back?"
"She arrived just as we were leaving. Between her and your dog we were able to find you. Continue."
"We followed him to the trees. where he made a show of looking for the trail he took."
"Do you think he knew where he was taking you?"
"I do. It was a feeling I had."
"How old would you say this rider was?"
"Not old. Maybe late teens?" Cassie said.
"Can you describe him?
"Not sure how tall he was, he didn't get off his horse. Slender build and his legs looked long. I don't think he was as tall as me, but close. He had a hat on but what I could see his hair was light brown. His eyes were brown. He barely had a beard."
"Have you ever seen this man before?"
"No. He did have a bit of an accent, so I asked him where he was from. He said Connecticut. He told us that his bother was sickly and that they had heard of the mineral springs in Saratoga. He was taking him there to see if the springs could help him."
"Would you recognize him if you saw him again?"
"That depends on if I get my eyesight back. I would recognize his voice."
"I would recognize him Sheriff." Victoria added.
"That is good to hear. Lets get back to you were following him."
"He led us to the clearing and into the ambush." Cassie said.
"Now I know this will be hard on you both so I want you to take whatever time you need. After you were surrounded, and disarmed, what happened?"
Victoria took up the story. "They tied Cassie up and strung her from the limb of the tree so that her feet barely touched the ground. Corrigan hit her several times while his men laughed.Cassie whistled and called out something, I did not understand, but Goldie took off. That made Corrigan madder. The men started to hit Cassie and Corrigan came to me. He slapped me a couple times." She paused. "He took his knife and cut my clothes." She cleared her throat. "He grabbed my... um, me and I kicked him in the..." She hesitated and felt Cassie take her hand. "That made him really mad. He used the knife on my jeans and told the men holding me to get my clothes off. He went back to Cassie and said something to her. I didn't hear what he said, but she spit in his face. I think he said that Cassie had not learned her lesson and it was at that point I think they cut Cassie's clothes off also. They hit her again." Her voice caught as she fought back the tears. "He... um, he turned back to me and rubbed himself and smiled at me. He knocked me down and her..., he..." She could not continue."
"Victoria's scream was the last thing I remember before I passed out." Cassie said. "Until I woke up here. Sheriff I want you to tell that bastard Corrigan that his ass is mine. You tell him that he is a dead man. I am going to find him and make sure he dies very slowly and painfully. You make sure you tell him that."
"Cassie, no." Victoria cried.
"Cassie, he is already dead." Coop said.
To be continued...
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