-- These characters are wholly mine. It is true that Sam and Annie look like our ancient gals, but any other resemblance to any other people, real or fictitional, is strictly coincidental.

Sex -- This is a lesbian romance thriller. There are graphic, but loving, scenes of sex between women. If you're under 18 you're just going to have to wait awhile to read, or if this is illegal where you are, I sincerely extend my condolences.

Violence -- This is a story of violent hatred attacking an innocent gay community. The violence is psychopathic and unsettling, but not overly gory.

Language -- Infrequently, some really scummy people show up in this book, and they use really disgusting language. Even our heroines are driven to cuss now and again. But the purpose is to display certain mind types, and in this, the language is only realistic.

General -- I should probably let you know beforehand that this story deals with bigots and hate crimes. If this is going to be hard for you, you may want to go elsewhere. -- There are hospital scenes dealing with diverse injuries. I am not a member of the medical profession. If the things I have my doctors and nurses do for certain injuries were done by real doctors to real people, it could very well kill them.

Feed the bard -- This is my first attempt at fanfic writing, so your comments would be a big help to me. Thanks.




Sue Hickerson

Buddy was surprised to see Sam at the auto shop. "Hey! Sam! Welcome home! Didn't expect to see you down here so soon. Say, should you be down here so soon?"

"Thought I'd return to the scene of the crime. Pump some gas or something. I'm pretty bored up at the house."

"I'm glad to see ya. You're walking really well."

"Yeah. I can stand up straight again."

"How're your ribs feelin'?"

"Not bad. Did you do some painting here?" She indicated the outer wall at the front of the shop where a fresh layer of paint stood out from its dusty surroundings.

"Uh... yeah. Uh... 'Fraid they painted something there."

"Really? What'd they paint?"

"Well, Sam, I don't hardly want to tell ya."

"Did you tell the cops?"

"Course I did."

"Then you can tell me, Buddy."

"Well, Sam, it said... It just makes me sick to think of it. Folks ought not to be this way to one another. It said... I just can't stand someone saying it about you! You don't deserve it, Sam!"

"Come on, Buddy. I'm sure it's nothing I haven't had shouted in my face before."

"Well, Sam, it said, 'Fucking dyke bitch.' " Buddy turned red and looked down at his feet as he shuffled them.

Sam patted his arm. "It's okay, Buddy. In fact, that's just what they called me when they came at me."

Buddy got animated. "But, Sam, why do they all hate you? It don't make no sense to me!"

"'Cause I'm gay. They just hate gays."

"But what I don't understand is, what difference does it make? I can't figure out what's wrong about it. It don't hurt nobody. It don't damage property. It don't waste no government taxes. I can't figure out why people care."

"You know what, Buddy? You're about the smartest person I know."

Buddy looked at her bewildered.

"And you're sure one of the sweetest."

She went into the shop and bent down over the old Triumph. Buddy looked after her and scratched his head.


Annie dropped by the shop the next day before practice. Sam was there, puttering with the Triumph and jumped when Annie came up and said hello. Quickly she smiled and stood, pulling a bandana out of her pocket and wiping her hands. "Hey, come to visit me in my haunt?"

"Yeah. Got to wondering if you could even drive with your cast. Didn't know if you had standard transmission or not."

"Yeah, I got a stick, but I can drive it one handed."

"Bet you can drive it no handed."

Sam's grin widened. "Matter of fact I can if I'm not shifting gears."

"Whatcha working on here?"

"It's an old Triumph. Rehabilitating the baby. Think I'll race it when I'm done."

"That's a lot of pieces there, Sam."

"Not enough, though. Still looking for a couple parts. It'll be a beauty, though. You ready to go over to the park?"

"Ready as I'll ever be."

"Got your chewing tobacco?"

"Damn! I knew there was something I forgot."

They decided to ride together in Sam's truck. Sure enough, one handed driving posed no problem for the mechanic, and the pleasure she took in showing off and driving to the park without any hands was a hoot.

The team was scattered about the field warming up when they arrived. Sam pulled a load of bats, gloves and balls out of the truck bed, which Annie helped her haul over to a dugout. She whistled shrilly and the players trotted over and gathered around her. Annie recognized most of them from visits they had made to the hospital.

"Okay, listen up," Sam said. "I got us a new player to replace me. You'll be proud of me, guys, I recruited a nurse to be on the team."

There was a boistrous chorus of agreement that their team of spastics needed a nurse on the roster.

"All we have to do is teach her which end of the bat to hold and she's good to go. Right, Annie."

Annie laughed with the rest of the crew.

"Okay, you're gonna play right field, Annie. That's over there," she indicated in response to Annie's look of uncertainty. "Everybody finish stretching out and we'll get started."

Annie did the warm ups she used for her regimen of running, and everybody picked up a glove and took up places around the field. She positioned herself as far out as the other fielders. Sam normally started out practice by hitting balls around the positions, the thought of which nearly made her wince in pain with her ribs. Instead, she had Harry do the honors.

Annie watched as the players raced, leaped and dove after the balls in a graceful ballet of athleticism. She could feel a full blown blush creeping over her cheeks in preparation for her turn when she would make a pathetic spectacle of herself. At last a high fly soared in her direction and she tried to position herself in the vacinity of where it might land. She held up her hands not so much to catch the ball, she realized, as to ward it off from smacking into her. Suddenly it disappeared in the gleam of sunlight, and an instant later she felt it hit her in the cheek and the sky and ground spun dizzily.

For a moment there were only stars, but then she felt herself sprawled out over the grass. She lifted a rubbery arm trying to find her face, and strong arms swept her up and held her close. Sam's beautiful blue eyes swam before her, intense with concern. She could hear Sam anxiously calling her name.

"I'm okay," she mumbled.

"Don't move. Just rest here until your head clears."

Annie suddenly realized where she was and happily relaxed into Sam's arms, waiting for the ground to stop rocking. This wasn't so bad. "I'm okay. Really I am. Just forgot to catch the ball."

The team had gathered around and somebody yelled, "Quick, the nurse needs a nurse!"

Slowly Sam relaxed her grasp and Annie sat up rubbing her cheek. "Okay. Say it. I catch like a girl."

Sam chuckled. "Well, maybe with a little practice you'll catch like a girl."

"Worse than that, huh? Still want me on your team?"

There was a chorus of encouragement from the surrounding players, and she struggled to her feet and swayed for a moment. "I saw it coming, and then I lost it in the sun. I don't know if I'd of been able to catch it, but at least I could have kept it from hitting me." Her grin was sheepish.

"Hey, we all started out like that," the little brunette, Mel, consoled her. "You got yourself under it real good. You're a natural!"

Annie grinned at her. She suddenly felt a rush of joy. She was making friends. She was discovering the most precious and wonderful part of Boffler, the gay women's community was opening up to her like a wonderful gift. Yeah, sure... she thought, this is my new home.

Annie caught the next three balls that came her way managing to throw them back in almost all the way to the short stop. When practice was over, she had had coaching in throwing and batting, and felt well exercised, already improved, and happy. Her teammates urged her and Sam to come to the bar with them, but Sam was just going to grab a bite to eat and go home to bed, so she and Sam packed up the equipment again, and she went out for a burger and fries with the tall mechanic.

As they started to the restaurant, Sam said casually, "If you have someone waiting for you, I could just take you back to your car."

Again Annie realized Sam didn't know if she were gay or not or if she had a partner. And again she refrained from telling her. The longing for Sam which she couldn't control confronted an inner uneasiness that kept her from opening up. "No, this is my night out. Let's go eat."

Through the meal, looking at the small blond nurse across from her, Sam felt Annie in her arms, remembering the soft, warm body as it had moved in her arms out on the softball field. This first taste of intimacy left her hungry, aching. She was on her best behavior. She kept the little nurse laughing and flirted sweetly. They both enjoyed each other. Back at the shop, they stood by Annie's car talking about softball. Sam could tell Annie was an athlete even though she was unfamiliar with the game. She would make a good player with experience. "Yeah, if I just stop catching the ball with my face."

"Hey, means you were in the right spot. You just lost it in the sun. You're sure you're okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine."

"You have a kind of shiner thing going on over here." Sam brushed Annie's cheek with the back of a finger.

"Oh, they're going to love this at work. Tam's gonna go crazy."

Sam kicked at a chip in the sidewalk, and Annie squinted up into the evening sky.

The blond finally said, "What are you doing tomorrow?"

Sam worked at the chip in the walk. "Gonna do some light work in the shop. There's a video I've been wanting to watch. Probably do that in the evening."

It was a new movie that Annie had missed. "Oh, yeah, I want to see that too. I hear it's pretty good."

"Maybe you could come over and watch it with me."

"Sure. I'd like that."

"So I'll see you around seven?"

"Great. Great. I'll bring treats."


They drew slowly away from each other and finally parted. Sam wondered down the walk and up her front steps. Annie was gay. She knew this with the surety of her whole instinct. Annie was gay and felt things for Sam as intensely as Sam felt them for her. But Annie would not say it. She wracked her brain. What was going on?


They sat close enough together on the couch that their upper arms and elbows brushed. Brownies and chips sat close by on the coffee table. The movie played before them, but neither payed attention. They felt each other's heat. They smelled the fragrance of each other. Their hands lay side by side touching occassionally. When they touched, they did not withdraw. It was sweet torment. Finally, Sam could not stand it. She reached the remote and turned the television off. Annie didn't even look at her, just sat and looked down at her hands.

"Annie," Sam said softly. "What's happening here?"

Annie didn't want this moment to come. She loved Sam's company and wanted to save their friendship, and she was afraid that their serious talk would end that opportunity. "A lot of... complicated stuff."

"I'm gay, you know that, right?"


"And you are too, aren't you."


"Annie, I'm starting to have some pretty strong feelings about you, and I need to let you know that."

Annie bent over, elbows on knees and ran her fingers through her short hair leaving her head cradled in her hands. "Oh, Sam, I have... feelings for you, too. But I can't... let myself move into anything too intense with you."

Sam looked down at her own hands now, dejected. "Is there somebody else?"

Annie reached over and took one of the big, strong hands in hers. "No, Sam, it isn't that. Sam, I am so attracted to you! If I'm not careful, I'll go way faster than I should. It's like half of me wants to do anything you could imagine, and the other half of me says, don't get too deep too fast."

"Ahh... I understand. That's how I feel, too. Except I don't have that last half that wants me to go slow."

"Don't you think going slow is a good idea?"

"Great idea. I just don't want to do it."

Annie laughed.

Sam grinned crookedly and it was so damn sexy. "So maybe we could go really, extra slow, and it would be okay."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, maybe we could do just little things. Things that would be safe. Like, would this be okay?" She leaned in very slowly and gave Annie's nose the gentlest of kisses.

Annie laughed. "Yeah. I think that would be okay."

"How about this?" She leaned over and kissed Annie's eyes. "Is that okay?

"Yeah, it's okay."

"This?" She leaned in and kissed Annie's lips slowly and gently. When she leaned back Annie was breathing heavily.

"I think..." Annie gasped, "I think we've reached the border here."

"But, Annie, I can think of a lot more things that might be okay."

"Sam, I don't think anything else at this point is going to be okay."

"Would it be safe to put my arm around you?"

"Yeah, I'd like that."

Sam did. She clicked the TV back on and they sat together not seeing the movie again. Sam reached her cast across her lap. "Could I touch my fingertips to your finger tips?"

Annie smiled. She looked down at the cast, then turned her face toward Sam's beautiful, chiselled profile, feeling torn by a nearly overwhelming urge to kiss Sam passionately and completely. She moved her hand across her lap to where her fingertips played delicately with Sam's.

Sam said softly, "This is nice."

Annie whispered, "Very ice."

Heavy banging on the front door caused both of them to jump suddenly. Sam leaned her head back with a hiss of frustration and rose to get the door. Mare Davison was there.

"Sam, Alan Barton just got a 'You're Next' letter."


"Linley's having a meeting at her place now."

"I'm there. Annie, you want to come?"

"Yes. Definitely."

Sam grabbed her keys and the three left the house, movie playing, lights on, all else forgotten in the angry shock of new violence impending.

"Two letters in the last two hours!" Linley looked grim. She was the person to call with any hate events, putting together the documentation that would be sent to the FBI, supportive organizations and the media as the local community worked to rally support and protection.

"It's escalating," Mare murmured.

"I think there's a group of them." El went on with the debate that raged among the gay community on who was behind the violence. "We know there are at least five. I think there's lots more." El knew her view was dark, but she did not think it was pessimistic. She thought it was realistic.

Linley leaned forward resting her elbows on her knees. "We have to start helping ourselves. The police department can't handle this."

Julia Cutler said, "They don't have enough people."

"Then we need to get more people deputized! We're sitting ducks as it is."

"You know they don't have budget for more people."

"Okay, so we need to petition the city council to budget emergency funds."

"That should show us where the present council stands on the issue of hate crimes," Sam said. "I agree, we've gotta petition them. I can go to the meeting tomorrow and present the petition."

"This should be interesting." El snorted skeptically.

The phone rang and Linley's partner Carol stepped from the room to answer it.

"Jule, have you found anything indicating this kind of activity anywhere else in the state?" Linley inquired.

"Not in the state or even the nation. Gay National always gets reports of gay harassment, but nothing ongoing and major like we have here."

"So it still seems local. Just our local crazies going... crazy."

Carol stepped back into the room. "Laury Ryder just got a letter. So we have three people threatened tonight."

"I'll tell you," Mare spoke, "This makes me shake. I'm scared shitless one of us is going to get killed."

"I don't think they want to kill us," Sam said.

"Sam, they came so close to killing you!" El looked grimly at her tall friend. "I don't think they have the discipline or inclination to restrain themselves. They get carried away. They scare the hell out of me."

"They scare us all, but what can we do? How can we protect ourselves?" Julia cried.

The group searched for action that might effectively protect those being threatened. But all they came up with were the plans they already had, a Sunday for Peace where ministers all over town would urge their parishoners to fellowship and peace, and a large rally in a few weeks for people from all over to come together symbolically protecting the homosexuals in community. They decided to start wearing lavendar lapel ribbons symbolizing their support of gays. Annie volunteered to make the ribbons the next day. Sam finally stood and said she had to leave, her ribs were hurting, and she and Annie stepped out into the night.

"You work tomorrow?" Sam asked.

"Yeah, till four. Maybe we could do something in the evening."

Sam lowered her eyes. "Oh... Uh..."

Annie was suddenly embarassed and blushed to the tips of her ears. Her stomach sunk like a stone. "I mean, or not... if you're busy..."

"Well, actually I am going to be busy tomorrow night."

An awkward moment reared its ugly head. Sam had plans which she couldn't tell Annie about; she needed to keep them secret, maybe particularly from Annie. She knew it sounded suspect giving no explanation, but she could not think of a thing to say. So she stood awkwardly studying the ground at her feet.

Annie finally looked down. She probably has a date.

Sam spoke first. "I'd like to see you Tuesday night, though. Maybe we could drive into Wallace and go to a movie."

Annie didn't look up. She felt pierced by sadness. "Maybe. I'll give you a call."

"Yeah. Call me at the shop tomorrow." Sam regarded the downturned head and an aching frustration suffused her. She had hurt Annie.

"Well, good night." Annie murmured.

"Yeah, good night." Sam mumbled helplessly.

Annie walked down the block back to her car and started to open the door when she heard Sam calling her.

"Annie! Annie!" Sam was running down the street, hunched over, her gait lop-sided, her cast pressed tightly against her ribs.

Annie's face tensed and she raced the last few steps to Sam's side. "Sam! Don't run!"

Sam was a little breathless. "About tomorrow night... I'm not seeing anyone... Another woman, I mean."

Annie's eyes lit with a glow of returning life. "Oh."

"I just have something I've got to do, and I'm just not ready to talk about it yet."

A little smile came out and played on Annie's lips. She was relieved and touched that Sam had run back to tell her, and a little curious. "Hey, that's okay. It's your business. I have to make those ribbons anyway."

"But I just didn't want you to think..."

They gazed at each other.

"It was sweet of you to come back and tell me, Sam. I did think maybe it was..."

"Yeah." Sam grinned broadly. "Well, it isn't."

Annie laughed. "Good. I'll call you tomorrow."

Sam smiled down on her, panting lightly. "Do you think it would be safe if I gave you just... a little kiss?"

Annie looked around quickly, "Is it okay out here?"

"I don't see anyone."

Annie smiled. "Then I'd love a little kiss."

Sam bent down, arms at her sides, and kissed Annie's lips softly and gently. She pulled away enough to look into Annie's eyes. "You are so beautiful."

Annie blushed and looked away embarrassed. This charmed Sam. "Call me tomorrow at the shop."


Sam started back to her car, then turned around and walked backwards. "Maybe you can call me twice," she grinned.

Annie just laughed.

Sam went home and sat at the kitchen table writing a list of names on a piece of paper. When she was done, she called the people, the best fighters she knew in the gay, lesbian community, and set up a meeting for the following evening. They were going to figure out a way to protect their people.

Sam cleaned herself up from working on cars all morning and made an appearance at the town council meeting where she petitioned the council for more money for the police department to hire more deputies to protect people receiving 'You're Next' letters. Three had been received just the last night she informed the council, and they needed protection.

The council discussed the matter, beginning with the assertion that there was simply no money they could comfortably divert to the police department, and ending with the decision that the people receiving letters should perhaps leave town for a few days. Sam tried to argue that the letter recipients had jobs they couldn't leave easily, and that that wouldn't solve the problem anyway because the people would just be attacked when they got back into town. Two council members tried to consider possible ways to get more coverage, but the other three members made it clear that they were not going to consider redistributions of the city's budget. The matter was put up for a vote and voted down. Sam felt a pang of sharp disappointment. It felt like the council didn't care about what was happening to her and her friends, like they were being betrayed by their own city. She left the chambers deeply disturbed at the lack of support she had just witnessed.

Eight fighters sat in Sam's kitchen. Mare and El were there. Eddie Wing and Peter Houston who were the masters at the martial arts school. Darnell Walston, Harriet Alverson, and Mark O'Hara who were top students at Eddie and Peter's school. That night they formed a secret group to inhabit the night shadows around the homes of everyone getting threat letters and protect them against violent intruders who might approach in the darkness. They would station a master fighter on the grounds of every threatened friend. No one would know, not even the people who were being protected. Also, they would start spying on crazies if opportunities arose and try to dig out who was instigating the crimes. They were going to fight back. Sometimes violence had to face violence to be turned back. They set up a schedule for protecting the three letter recipients beginning that night. Sam could not fight yet, but she would be the central contact and would oversee the group. As a last order of business Darnell Walston said he thought they needed a name.

"The Eight Mustbequeers." Harry offered. That took the lid off the group, and suggestions poured out.

The Steel Magnolias. The Steel Pansies. Dyke Rage! Fairies from Hell! The Gay Pride! The Flaming Queens!

"Okay, okay. Let's forget about the name." Sam stopped the madness. Peter, Mark and Harry all went off to their posts, the first vigil keepers of the group that, over the next few days, by a concensus of common use, would come to know themselves simply as the Protectors.


Tuesday evening, Sam laughed at herself giddily. She felt like she was still in high school. Butterflies trembled in her stomach and she couldn't keep the smile off her face. She was going out with Annie! Annie O'Shea. Sweet, beautiful Annie. She checked her hair and outfit in the mirror. Black slacks with a white tube top and black long sleeved shirt with the cuffs rolled up. It was hard for her to find something to wear on a date with ribs still hurting and the cast on. But, wiggle up the tube top, skip the buttons on the shirt and voila! She left the house to drive to Annie's with a song in her heart and a sexy little smile of anticipation on her lips.

Annie looked so good she nearly drooled. White slacks and a black tank top which showed off muscular shoulders and breasts to die for. She hadn't guessed the little nurse would be so buff. My god, she was dating the most beautiful woman in the world! They drove to Rudy's, a nice restaurant in Wallace and settled back smiling at each other over glasses of wine.

"So," Sam said continuing the conversation they'd been having in the car, "Do you like white water rafting?"

"Anything that has to do with water."


"Love it."


"I love tubing! Get your cooler full of snacks and wine coolers..."

"The Wapsipanashek is great for tubing. Drive down to Dogger's Mill and tube into the park. We'll have to go. Do you like horseback riding?"

"Are you kidding?! I was on my rodeo team in high school."

"What did you do?"

"Calf roping and bronc riding."

"Bronc riding???" The thought of the little nurse riding bucking broncos was a huge surprise and a surprisingly erotic surprise to boot.

"I was best in state two years running at bronc riding. Beat the boys! Do you like riding horses?"

"Yeah. I have a big sweet mare out at Circle W ranch."

"My horse Bita's out there! We've gotta go riding! I played ice hockey in school, too."

"Ice hockey! Well, you were just a little butch jock, weren't you?"

"I was. I loved it!"

"Why aren't all your teeth knocked out and aren't there scars all over your face?"

Annie laughed. "We wear masks!"

"Thank heavens. It'd hurt me if your beautiful face was hurt." Annie blushed, and Sam smiled.

"Did you play sports in high school?" Annie asked.

"I played basketball and softball, and I did martial arts." Sam grinned. "And, of course, I got in a lot of fights."

"It must have made your father crazy!"

"Pop? Heck, I made my dad proud!"

"Really? He was proud of you fighting?"

"He was proud of everything I did. All the time. Every minute of his life."

Annie took in the intense bond Sam felt for her father. She knew he died five years ago. It must have been terribly hard for Sam. "I wish I could have met him."

"Oh, he'd have loved to meet you, Annie. He'd have thought you were perfect. He'd of been really proud of me!"

She felt a wash of tenderness flow from her and embrace the blue eyed woman across from her. She was beginning to fall in love with Sam Adams, she knew.

Annie leaned in and said more seriously, "You know, Sam, sometime I'd like to come over and just watch you paint."

Feeling suddenly intimate, Sam leaned in, too. "Sometime I'd like to paint you."

"Uh, do you mean paint a picture of me or actually paint me?"

"Ooo. Either one."

They laughed. "I suppose you wouldn't get all excited about drinking beer and helping me rebuild my bike."

"Well, I don't know about helping, although I could help you with the beer."

Sam smiled a sexy crooked smile. "We could have a date sometime doing all the things that are 'safe' to do."

Annie laughed softly.

Sam went on, "We could have a date where I just got to look at you all evening. You are so beautiful."

Now Annie threw back her head and laughed out loud.

"I want to know you better, Annie. I want us to get to that point where everything is safe for us. I want to be able to hold you in my arms and kiss you for hours. I want everything with you. I'm ready for that now."

Annie looked down at her wineglass and Sam shook her head apologetically. "I'm sorry Annie. I shouldn't have said that. I don't want to push you."

"Sam, there are just... There are things we really need to talk about. I'm so attracted to you. God, I would love everything with you, too. But I know that I'll devastate myself if I go wrong here. I don't even understand how I care about you so much already! I'm so comfortable with you. I feel like I've known you forever, and like I'm just getting to know you. I'm... My mind and my emotions are confusing the hell out of me."

"Do you want to skip the movie and go somewhere and talk?"

"I don't want to spoil the evening..."

"Any time I spend with you is wonderful. If you have questions I can answer, I want to answer them."

"Oh god..."

"Too much pressure?"

"No... I think... I think I'm just afraid to ask the questions for fear of the answers."

"Well, let's talk it out. See where we stand."

Annie ran her fingers through her hair. "Okay. Okay. Let's go somewhere and talk."

They drove back to Boffler, each lost in their own thoughts, to Lookout Point and parked overlooking the lights of the town twinkling brightly in the twilight sky. The silence stretched out until Annie finally sighed deeply and said, "Sam... why are you still alone?"

Sam looked down. "Uh..."

"Sam you're gorgeous, you're funny, you're wonderful. Why haven't you settled down with someone?"


"Because that's what I want to do. I want to find someone I'm just silly about, and I want to commit my love to them, and I want to be with them forever." Annie drew her hands over her face and continued. "I'm not a player, Sam. I'm a simple girl with a simple heart, and I don't want anything more complicated than finding someone who loves me and sharing life with them until we're old and gray."

Sam remained looking at her hands in her lap, playing idly with her cast. Finally she spoke haltingly. "Have you... heard something... about me?"

Annie sighed. "Well, you know Boffler..." She rested her elbow on the window sill and laid her head in her hand. "Someone said that you were not the marrying kind." She glanced at Sam then back at the vista overlooking the little town. "The actual quote was, 'Sam Adams? You couldn't tie her down with a rope'."

Sam uttered a brief, wry laugh.

Annie went on. "And I also heard that you weren't a one woman woman. Okay. It's out. You're a player, and I'm a nester. We're at a... I hate it, but I think we're at a cross roads here."

Sam shifted slowly, laying back in the seat. "Well, that all isn't exactly untrue."

Annie looked over at her.

The dark haired woman went on, struggling to find words. "I've always been with a lot of women. Just the way I was. I was just having fun. But I was always looking, too. Looking for someone who... I was just silly about, I guess... And there always were a few women I cared for especially who didn't want any kind of commitment, just wanted it open, no strings, no moving in together, no complications, and so I'd have affairs or relationships with them, because I didn't want it any closer either. Because it was never right, you know. I figured I'd just go through life like that, casual sex and affection, all the time looking for this fairy tale soulmate I'd lay down my life for." She shrugged and fell silent.

Annie waited until it was clear she was not going to speak again. "So who am I, Sam?"

Sam was very still.

"Am I another casual lover?"

"I don't think so." She turned a little in her seat so she faced Annie, but she didn't look up into her eyes, just kept her gaze on her hands. "The last couple years, there have been three women I've had a sexual relationship with. They have other lovers, too. We all know about each other's lovers. But... after softball practice the other day, I called them all and told them I thought I'd found somebody." Here her eyes started to flick around helplessly. "Somebody who..." The agonized blue eyes lifted and looked at Annie achingly. "Somebody who was doing things to me that... that I've been waiting for all my life." Her eyes were desperate and tears brimmed in them. "Who I wanted a lifetime with just to hold her. Just to watch her smile. And I told them that I wouldn't be seeing them again, because I had to find out if this magical person really was my person." A tear tracked down her cheek, and she ignored it. She took Annie's hand gently in her own. "Annie... Annie... God, I'm sorry, I know this is so hard to put on you. Annie, I know you can't believe me now. I've been all the things you don't want, just like people said. But if you can give us just a little more time, I don't want to lose you before we have the chance to discover what possibilities might exist for us." She leaned back and drew her hands over her face and back through the beautiful dark mane of hair. "Oh, god. You must think I'm completely crazy!"

Annie leaned over, putting her hand on Sam's arm and turning the woman towards her. "No. Not at all. That's exactly what I'm looking for. And I feel the same way about you."

"Annie, I'm falling in love with you."

"I'm falling in love with you, too, Sam."

"Then you'll keep at this with me?"

"I don't think I can stop, Sam. If we really feel like this, then we'd be idiots to stop, because what is happening to me is awesome."

"Thank you, Annie. Thank you so much."

Sam drew the little nurse into her arms and kissed her longingly.

The moon rose, fading from gold to silver, and a billion stars appeared. They lay in each other's arms kissing softly over faces, necks, hair, lips, revelling in this sweetness of simple holding and kissing, enjoying the moment fully for itself, not wanting more, satiated by the tenderness of this lovemaking.

Annie lay back in her seat and laughed softly. "I'm glad we didn't go to the movie, Sam."

"I'm so glad we didn't."

"This is something we have to remember to do again on a date."

"Oh, I'll remember. Kissing up at Lookout Point."

They looked into each other's shining eyes and kissed one last time before driving home.

Before getting out of the car, Annie asked, "Sam, would you take me to the Rattler tomorrow night? It's my last day on and I think I'll be ready to relax."

Sam's brow furrowed. "Annie, you know the Rattler is the gay bar, don't you?"


"Well, if we go, you'll be outing yourself in town."

"I've always been out."

"But this isn't a very good time to be known as a lesbian around here."

"I want to be known as a lesbian. I want to face this together with all of you. I'm not going to hide, Sam. Not when I'm needed."

Sam leaned over and kissed her. "Well, if bucking broncos can't stop you, I guess you're up to Boffler. Besides, I'd sure like to walk into the bar with you on my arm."

"Will you dance with me?"

"Well, I think my ribs may have something to say about that, but I'll do what I can. We can slow dance."

"Mmmm." Annie hummed with pleasure.

"And we can shoot pool. You a pool shark?"

"Only when I'm drunk."

"Ooo. Wild thang."

"I'll see you tomorrow night, then."

They kissed long and sweet, and Annie went into the house and dreamed of Sam.

The Rattler was relatively quiet at seven in the evening when Sam and Annie came in to shoot pool. They sat at the bar and ordered a couple of beers. Mare and El stopped in and spied the mechanic and nurse sitting at the bar, Sam's hand resting easily on Annie's leg. They exchanged raised eyebrows with each other; looked like Montana had found herself another pretty filly. They sauntered over exchanging hellos and easily interested Sam in a game of pool. "Maybe I can beat you with your cast on!" Mare laughed.

They found an empty table and Sam racked up the balls. Mare broke and Sam took over the table. She sauntered around a bit eying the lay of the balls and selected her shot, and discovered there was no way on earth to play pool with a cast on. "Annie, would you come 'ere?"

Annie came over and Sam asked how she held her table hand when she was playing pool. Annie laid her left hand down on the felt, and Sam grinned happily. "Just like I do. May I try something?"

Annie grinned. "Want to borrow my hand?"

"If I may."

"Team pool. I like it."

"Hey! Hey!" Mare objected. "You can't just go around the bar recruiting extra arms. How'm I supposed to beat you?"

"Well, you can use El's arm."

"Thanks, Montana. I'm sure that's going to help me."

Sam put her big hand over Annie's and positioned it where she wanted it on the table. Annie had to turn towards the mechanic while Sam wrapped her cast arm around the slim waist, leaned down, aimed and shot. The cue ball skimmed around the table knocking three solids in on its path.

Sam stood up again, turned to Annie, so close their chests touched. "You anchor a mean stick." She looked down into beautiful green eyes with her sexy crooked smile.

Annie grinned. "You're good, aren't you?"

Mare snorted. "She's the dyke version of Minnesota Fats. Montana Skinny!"

On the next turn, Sam cleared the table. Annie was glad when Mare racked the balls again, because she sure loved playing pool like this. The team perfected their technique, Annie anchoring the stick while Sam snuggled close, her arm around the little nurse, Annie's arm draped over Sam's back. Annie could feel Sam's muscles move under her shirt when she shot. It was a new, raw, intimate experience that made Annie dizzy with pleasure.

They played a few games, Sam spending her time trying to make impossible shots which she got half the time, just so Mare, El and Annie would get a turn at the table occassionally. The foursome laughed and teased each other good naturedly. Harry and Mel came in and Darnell and his partner, Stu. The place was filling up, and couples were taking to the dance floor. A few small tables were pulled together so the gathering friends could sit with each other, and voices rose merrily as the beer flowed and the music throbbed through the room.

"You're unbelievable at pool, Sam!" Annie shouted to Sam.

"Sometimes it pays to have a daddy who spent all of his time in the bars!" Sam shouted back with a grin. "You want to dance?"

Annie's eyes gleamed with eagerness and the two stepped out onto the floor. Sam carried her beer with her and stood tapping her foot to the pulse of the music and Annie tore loose. Sam almost dropped her beer bottle. The blond bombshell was a dancer! Her dancing was exciting, beautiful, exhuberant. God, Sam longed to join in with her. Darnell and Stu gyrated by and joined with Annie for a moment of crazy dancing, then slid off into the sweating crowd. The music stopped and Annie laughed at Sam's big grin.

"God, you're good, woman!" Sam said.

"I love to dance!" Annie laughed.

"I can hardly wait to dance with you."

A slow dance started, and Annie looked at Sam invitingly. Sam opened her arms and the little blond stepped into them, and Sam pulled her close. They moved expertly and sensually around the floor. They took in the scents of each other and the feeling of their bodies moving close together, their heat, their heartbeats. It was erotic and intensely sweet. Comfortable and exciting.

"I love holding onto you and dancing like this. I love feeling you move in my arms," Sam whispered.

Annie snuggled closer. "I love feeling your muscles move. I feel safe."

Sam felt a sweep of protective affection, and pulled this precious person closer. "You are safe, love. I'll always keep you safe."

"Sam, I want to kiss you."

"We can kiss here."

Annie leaned her head back, and they kissed slowly and sweetly. She laid her head back down on Sam's shoulder. The music died away, and they stood there holding each other closely.

"Get a room!" somebody shouted.

"Do it on the floor!" somebody else offered.

They pulled away from each other grinning sheepishly.

Mare and El watched closely as the two made their way back to the table, hand in hand. El glanced quizzically at Mare. It looked to the keen observers like Sam Adams was head over heels infatuated, something they had never seen. "I think hell has frozen over," Mare mumbled.

At nine, Mare and Darnell excused themselves, looking grimly at Sam. They were going out for their Protectors vigils. The remaining crew at the table joked and laughed until a newcomer came up to Sam and explained that as they walked to the bar, a carload of crazies drove by with yahoos hanging out the windows shouting antigay epithets. A beer bottle had been thrown and had hit one of their group, a young coed from the college. Everyone at the table fell silent and looked at Sam. "I've got to check this out," she said to Annie and left the bar for a few minutes. It hit Annie that Sam was one of the leaders of the gay community in town. Sam came back and stood leaning over the table to converse with the people there.

"I checked with our picketers. They saw the car. It and a couple other cars have come by a few times. I think there's going to be trouble."

She checked out the people at the table for volunteers to help out and then went around the bar soliciting help. Suddenly the music stopped and the silence was shocking. Sam stood by the DJ window, mike in hand.

"Okay, everybody, listen up. There are crazies driving around out there tonight, a few carloads of them, and somebody's already been hit by a beer bottle."

The bar became subdued as Sam went on. "There's a blue Chevy truck, a white Buick Le Saber, and a green Ford El Dorado. The Ford and Chevy have Polk county plates, so we've got some out-of-towners coming in to enjoy the festivities tonight. Okay. If you know anybody who's planning on coming down here later, try to get hold of them and let them know not to walk down here. They can take a car but not walk. Our picketers outside have moved over into the parking lot so nobody can get in there to slash tires or anything. Alright now." Intense blue eyes scanned over the bar. "Nobody is going home alone tonight!" A few drunk patrons cheered lasciviously at this. "You guys are nuts, you know that? If you're on foot and need a ride when the bar closes, wait at the front door and we'll find you a driver. If you're leaving before the end of the night, come see me, and I'll take you home." Another lascivious whoop went up from a couple tables of young college women who were all infatuated with Sam Adams. "So keep alert. We've called the cops, but we don't want any trouble." She handed the mike back to the DJ and the evening started up again.

The rest of the night Sam and Annie did taxi service along with several other volunteers. At midnight, Sam took Annie, who had been up since four o'clock in the morning, home for the evening. She noticed car lights in her rearview mirror. She dodged around a couple corners, and Annie looked over at her. "We've got somebody on our tail." Annie felt her heartbeat pick up.

Sam headed over toward the shop. "I'm not taking you home."

"Why not?"

"I don't want them to know where you live. You're new in town. They don't know about you yet. Damn, I should never have taken you to the bar. I should have known better!"

"Where are we going?"

"My house. You can sleep there. I have to go back and close up the bar."

Annie turned and looked at the car behind them.

"This freaks me out a little."

"Yeah. Welcome to Boffler."

"No. I'm glad I'm feeling it. Now I know exactly what all of you are feeling."

They pulled into Sam's drive and the car behind them pulled in, too. Sam got out motioning Annie to stay put. She strode back to the Ford El Dorado and leaned down to the window that its driver was rolling down. A greasy, dark, twitchy little man sat inside. He took a swallow of beer and leered at her. "Pretty little cunt you got in the car there, Sam Adams."

So he knew who she was. She leered back. "I can tell you're not from Boffler, 'cause we don't breed ugly people here."

He laughed. "You just breed stinkin' queers, huh?"

"Better than pond scum."

"Think I'll boink that girlfriend of yours myself. Whatcha think of that?"

Sam's heart froze. "Touch her and I'll look under every rock in Polk county until I find you and strangle you with your own dick."

"You think you can take me?"

"In a minute."

He laughed and drew his hand up to the window, in his fingers a switchblade whose sharp blade gleamed in the moonlight as he caressed it with his thumb. "Tell your little friend that Alvin thinks she has nice tits." He shifted the car into reverse and peeled out onto the street and drove away.

Sam looked after him. Alvin from Polk county; drives an old, green Ford El Dorado. Shouldn't be too hard to check out. She went back to her truck and opened Annie's door. Annie looked at her. "Who was it?"

"God's gift to vermin." Sam was chilled with the creep's threat toward Annie. "Come on. Let's go on inside."

"Did you know him?"

"I do now. Alvin from Polk county. He's in that El Dorado that's been driving around."

"I'm sorry you have to go through this, Sam."

Sam felt sick. She had drawn the crazies' attention to Annie. Mentally she kicked herself. How could she have been so selfish as to encourage Annie into a relationship in troubled times like this. Now the little nurse was getting threats. And being sweetly concerned for Sam. Sam felt like she could throw up. She took Annie into the house and showed her upstairs to the guest room. "You going right to bed?"

"Yeah. I'm dead."

"I'll leave the downstairs lights off, then. Nobody will even know you're here."

Annie put a hand on Sam's arm and stopped her when she began distractedly to pull away. "Be careful, Sam."

Sam's guts clenched. She was already worried that scummy Alvin might be outside parked down the street waiting to see her drive away without Annie. A wave of guilt engulfed her. "I'll be back as soon as I can after the bar closes."

"Wake me up. Let me know you're okay."

"Alright. Get some sleep now. I won't let anything happen."

When Sam left, she drove around the streets near her home making sure the green Ford was nowhere in the neighborhood. Then she came back to close the bar and help people get home. Davey Hueygens, cruising the streets in his squad car, spied the Chevy truck which had thrown the bottle and chased it out of town. There was no further trouble. Sam came home, changed into the T-shirt she slept in and slipped into the guest room. Annie lay sprawled under the covers snoring lightly. Sam leaned over and kissed her temple delicately. Nothing. Sam crawled into bed and gently wrapped her arms around the little nurse. Annie's eyes fluttered open and groggy eyes blinked at the tall mechanic. "Oh, Sam. How are you? How is everybody?"

"Fine. Everybody's all tucked in."

"God, I'm so groggy. I'm sorry."

"Well, I'll just tuck you back in and you can go back to sleep."

Annie wrapped her arms around the tall mechanic and snuggled into her shoulder. "Thank you, Sam."

Sam pulled up the covers and tucked them in, blinking in surprise. Her love was in her arms, wrapped around her like an octapus, already snoring lightly again. Her stomach leaped in happiness. Heaven could not be sweeter than this.


Sam felt like her head had just hit the pillow when the dim chirp of the phone woke her up. She glanced at the alarm clock. Six a.m., almost time to get up anyway. Carefully she extricated herself from Annie's arms and legs and went into her bedroom and answered the phone sleepily. Mare was on the other end.

"Sam, my guy, Bill Schubert, just got up to go to work, and they got to his car in the garage. Broke in the side door and slashed the tires and tore up the upholstery. We can't guard them with just one of us sitting out in front. The garage is in the back and I didn't hear a thing. They could have gotten into the house in back, if they'd wanted to!"


"We're going to have do this in pairs, station one person in back and one in front from now on."

"Mare, we don't have enough people. None of us will get any sleep."

"Then we need more people."

"I don't think there are any more fighters in town."

"Well, we can't protect our people if we can't surround their houses better."

"Let's get together at my place tonight. Seven o'clock. Figure out what to do."

Mare agreed and hung up. Sam used the bathroom, unwrapping her ribs, showering quickly, and leaving the wrapping on the bed as she pulled on old clothes to wear over to the garage. She stopped in the hall and looked in on Annie again. How precious that lump in the bed was to her. How was she going to keep Annie safe? The Protectors had to gear up. In the kitchen as she leaned over the sink eating a poptart, the phone rang again. It was Eddie Wing.

"All hell broke loose, Sam."

"What happened?"

"I don't know for sure. I was in my car across the street from Alan's place when a cop car pulled up, around four, and a couple cops got out and went up to Alan's door and knocked. I didn't really think about it. Just figured the cops were checking on him 'cause he got one of the letters. They came out about fifteen minutes later and drove off. Well, Alan just came outside. He's been in there tied up all night since the cops came. He just got himself loose a few minutes ago. They got into his room and tied him up on the bed and trashed his house. It's a catastrophe; ruined some real expensive stuff. I got the cruiser number. But, Sam, how in the hell did those guys get a cop car?!"

Sam was dumbfounded.

"Do we have cops who are in on this?" Eddie questioned.

"How else did the assholes get the cop car?" Sam said grimly.

"Or were the cops in the car? Did cops do this?" Eddie asked. "I couldn't see their faces. Too dark. But what the hell's going on?"

"Eddie, we're getting together at seven tonight at my place. We'll hash it out then."

"Sam, this protection business is harder than we all were thinking. We gotta think this out more."

"Yeah. We'll do it tonight. I'll see you then." She hung up the phone shaking with fury. If the fucking cops were in on this, nobody in the gay community was going to be safe! She stepped into the mud room and pulled her work coveralls on and stalked angrily over to the shop.

Buddy was at the shop having opened it at five for the early morning drivers. He greeted Sam merrily and got back a distracted grunt of recognition as she stepped through the office and into the garage to open the big overhead doors. She said nothing more over the next two hours, just worked with grim distraction over the old car she was rebuilding. They still weren't taking in regular shop work, and wouldn't until Sam's broken wrist healed, but she came over and puttered on her pet projects and kicked back in a chair in the office, playing cards with Buddy, to while away the days.

He was hopeful, when Annie wandered into the shop at nine, that Sam's mood might improve. He glanced at her now and again to see if she would start smiling, but she didn't. The two talked for a long time, but Sam remained grim and Annie's eyes had taken on a somber look, too. Buddy finally shrugged and went back to his comic book. Sam finally hollered, "Annie's coming over at noon for lunch. She's bringing something for us."

"She's sure sweet," Buddy hollered back, but there was no reply. The phone rang. Sam answered it from the shop. It was Darnell. He just heard on the grapevine that his person, Laury Ryder, had been run off the road on her way to work. The car was damaged, but she was okay. No idea who did it, just someone in a pickup. Sam told him about the meeting that night. Buddy looked up just in time to see Sam hang up and throw the grease rag in her hand angrily to the floor with a choice cuss word.

A customer stopped by the pumps and Buddy trotted out to fill them up. Adams Garage was the only station left in Boffler that offered full service. Sam wouldn't go to self serve because the elderly drivers who made up much of the shop's clientele couldn't be expected to stand outside in the wind and rain and snow and pump their own gas. He set the pump in the gas tank and busied himself washing all the windshields as the tank filled. He glanced into the garage, wondering what was gnawing at Sam, and saw her fastening overhead chains to the engine of the old car she was rebuilding.

"Sam, don't pull that engine. Wait till you got two hands to handle it."

"Don't be such a mother hen, Buddy."

"That's my job 'til you get well, Sam. I promised Annie."

"Okay. You did your job. Now don't bother me."

Buddy heard the gas pump click off and went back to his chore, collecting the money from his customer and sending him off with a merry farewell. He turned back to Sam. She was cranking the engine out of the old car and it was beginning to swing and twirl in the air.

"Wait'll I git this cash put away so's I can help you."

Sam didn't answer, and Buddy sauntered into the office to put the cash in the register. Next thing he knew, he heard a sharp cry and moaning from Sam. He leaped into the garage, and there she was, lying on the floor holding her ribs. The engine swung ominously overhead.

"Sam!" He scrambled over to her and knelt down with his face in hers. "Sam! You okay?"

"Caught my damn ribs!"

"Can you move?"

"Yeah, yeah. Just give me a minute."

"I told you not to pull that engine."

"Buddy, you are not helping the situation!"

"Well, how can I help?"

"Pull me out from under this damn engine before it comes down on the both of us and help me stand up."

Buddy took the shoulders of her cover alls and gingerly pulled her out from under the swinging engine while Sam let out a groan.

"You sure you can stand?"

"Well, let's find out."

He studied how to get a grip on her. It looked to him like anyway he pulled this was going to be painful. So he caught his hands under her armpits and simply hoisted her to her feet.

Sam stood bent over, breathing heavily. "Damn this hurts."

"Well, I told you not to..."

"Jeez, Buddy, this is a time for sympathy, not I told you so's."

"Sam, I gotta take you to the doctor."

"Don't be ridiculous."

"Annie said..."

"What are you two, some sort of mothering committee or something?"

Sam gingerly tried to straighten herself, but her face crumpled in pain and she bent back over again shaking. "Okay. Okay. Maybe we oughta go see the doctor."

"Hallelujah! I'll get the truck!"


Continued in Part 4

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