-- 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


That evening, Sam told Annie that Henry Trent had stopped to see her and hinted that he was behind the violence. "I think he wants me to know that he's doing this because of me, our history."

"Sam, why does he hate you so much?"

"It goes back a lot of years. Back to my senior year in high school, in fact. Henry was older than me about five years. He used to hang out down at Bogg's Holler with us high school kids, and we'd drink and play poker in an old shack his uncle owned down there. He got a crush on me. Did everything to win me over. I can remember, some of the things were really funny or sweet. Henry's pretty bright. If I wasn't lesbian, I might be Mrs. Trent now, god help me. It went on for about eight months. I liked Henry, but I just couldn't love him. And finally, when I got into college, he kind of gave up and started getting real mean. He used to find me after dark when I was walking on campus and stop me and tell me all the things he was going to do to me. Cut my face. Get his friends and gang bang me."

"My god, Sam..."

"He got pretty creative. And then he started trying all the things he told me about. A lot of the things that are going on now are things he tried with me back then. Taking me out into the woods and shooting me with blanks. Driving me off the road up on Deet's Bluff. Some of the stuff he wasn't brave enough to try. He wouldn't dare do some of the things he threatened me with. Real sick stuff. Um... Stick a firecracker in my vagina and blow it up. Tie a rope around my breasts and string me up to a tree. He gave me a pretty thorough tour of his dark side."

"Oh, my god, Sam. I'm so sorry. What did you do?"

"Nothing at first. I just walked away. Just went someplace safe where he couldn't get to me."

"What all did he do?"

"Lot of stuff. My horse before Lucy was Pataran. He shot her. Killed her. That was the worst thing."

"Sam...." Annie's face crumpled in terrible pain.

"Cops couldn't prove it, of course. I didn't even go to them for most of the stuff. He trashed my car, slashed the interior and bashed in all the windows. When I had my senior show, all the art students had to have a show of their work before they graduated, he got into the hall and wrecked all my work. He sent me a tarantula. Scared the shit out of me. I don't like spiders. Damn thing was crawling all over me by the time I got a cloth and scooped it up and got it back in the box. I took it over to the biology department. They all got real excited and said, 'Groucho!' Turns out Groucho had disappeared from his terrarium a couple days before."

"Sam, Henry Trent is crazy."

"Yeah. He's crazy."

"Did you confront him? Did you guys ever go head to head?"

"Yeah, we started getting into it. After he killed Pataran, I tracked him down and beat hell out of him. Didn't leave him quite as bad as his boys left me this last time, but pretty close. I was crazy that night. The only thing that stopped me from killing him was a religious experience. He was down and I was on him, I was beating his head against the cement. All of a sudden there was this aura of love, this breath of love that fell on my back and moved into me, and a voice said, No. And I stopped beating him. It's one of the hardest things I've ever done, was to stop beating him that night. I've thought about that a lot. I think it was my mom. I don't know what happens to us after we die, but we must go on somehow, 'cause I think that was her. It was the only thing that kept me from killing him."

"Sam, that's incredible!"

"He started waiting for me with a bunch of his pals outside the bar. They'd all start walking me home, but as soon as we got out into the darker streets, they'd start in hitting and kicking. Couple times they got the best of me, but most of the time I got the best of them. The last thing he ever did was, I had a lover in my senior year. We roomed together in a little apartment. He and some of his buddies broke into it one night when I was over in one of the art studios painting. They got Meg and took her to the cemetary and beat her up. Pretty bad. When I got home, I found her in the yard. She'd managed to get herself the mile back to our place and then collapsed. I took her to the hospital and made sure she was going to be okay, and then I went out and found Henry down in Bogg's Holler with his buddies and I beat the pulp out of 'em. I told them if they didn't confess beating Meg to the police, I'd kill 'em. They confessed. Henry did a year in the pen, 'cause he put them up to it. That's when Henry started to back off. We still go at it about once every two years. He gets liquored up and waits for me outside the bar and tries to take me. I just kick him in the balls, and it's over. It's some kind of ritual to him, some kind of fight he can't let die. One thing I can say about Henry, though. He's not a killer. If Henry Trent was a killer, I'd be dead."

"But he's a psychopath, Sam."

"Yes. He's crazy. That's why I think he's directing all this. Listen to this, Annie. Everything that's happening is just like the stuff he did to me. It's like it's all a big puzzle that he's showing me pieces to, waiting for me to figure it out. And I think I have. But there's no proof. Look at this."

Sam took her wallet out of her hip pocket and removed a folded piece of paper, handing it to Annie. Annie read down the list written on it as Sam went on.

"This is a list of the things he did to me and the order he did them in as near as I can remember. This is what I was working on last night. See? It was them killing Vic's dogs that triggered all the memories. Reminded me of Pataran. First throwing the blood on me. Then beating me up. Then trashing my car, driving me off the road..."

"Trashing your house. Killing your horse. Shooting blanks at you out in the woods."

"Four attacks of these last six letters were stopped."

"They would have been the next four on the list."

"That's what I think."

Annie read them. "I wonder which one of these I would have been?"

Sam looked at her grimly.

"I guess this one; hung by my hands out in the woods. They were taking me somewhere." They looked grimly at each other.


"Sam, this is proof, isn't it?"

"I don't know. It's really just my word against his word. I never went to the cops about any of this stuff back when it was happening, except for Meg's beating and Pataran. They don't have any records to corroborate it."

"Show it to Davey. Let somebody know."

"Yeah, I'll show it to Davey."

"Show it to Davey tomorrow. That way, if they make any more hits, and they follow the order of the things that happened to you, that'll be proof. This list will be a prediction, and how could you predict what's happening now if Henry wasn't following the pattern of what he did to you back then. You've just blown this thing wide open."

"The only problem is, in order to prove it, their next hits have to be successful."

Annie quieted.

"That means..." Sam took the list and examined it. "Gang rape, running somebody through the woods with dogs... "

"Sam, I can't believe he did all these things to you!"

"It was over the course of three years. Once every two or three months, crazy Henry and his boys would catch me and try to pull some crazy crap. Hell, it was half fun. Sometimes I'd win, sometimes he'd win. I had to climb a tree when he put those dogs after me, and when they'd treed me, the boys all came with night lamps and sat under the tree drinking whiskey til sunup the next morning, watching me up in the tree. Then they called off the dogs and went away, and I came down and hitched into town."

"Would the dogs have hurt you if they had caught you?"

"Yes. They would have torn me apart. But I got up a tree."

"He plays so close to murder. This is so dangerous it makes me sick."


With grim determination, the softball teams gathered that Saturday. The violence had cut down on many old regulars. Children had disappeared, and with them Dads who were babysitters for the evening while their wives played ball. But there were also newer faces, Linny and Carol and many gay and straight supporters willing to come and support the indomitable players and be of help if need be. Tam was in the stands as she had been for the last game. And Marge, an older nurse whose son was gay in another city who felt some medical personel should take the players under their wings in case there was trouble. The Cowboys were present en masse. But, unlike last week, only one police officer patrolled the grounds. Sam made her way to him and asked why there weren't more officers there. The answer: not enough money to pay the overtime and parttime wages for them. Sam pressed saying that the safety of citizens was the responsibility of local officials, and they should rearrange their financial priorities to be available in this time of need. The officer finally confessed with irritation that the police chief didn't like the games going on, and if they continued to be a problem, then the right choice for the city was to shut down the games. Sam found this hugely aggravating but held her tongue with the officer and went back and reported the news to her team. Harry was livid. "So we have a city that isn't willing to support freedom!" A round of supportive snorts and hoots went up from the team. "If normal and legal activity comes under attack from a minority of crazy people, we just give in to them???" Another chorus of jeers. "I'm gonna go talk to that cop!"

Sam slipped a finger in the back of Harry's pantwaist and held her as the redhead started off. "He can't do anything, Harry. We'll just turn him against us. We need to take care of this in city council meetings and the newspaper."

Harry turned back around huffing helplessly. "It makes me so mad I can't think straight. It's like our own city government doesn't give a damn about us."

"It's hard," Sam agreed. "But Linny says we have to follow the rules of accepted procedure, and she knows how to do these things. So let's stay on the straight and narrow. The whole nation's watching what's happening here. It'll help us if people know we're trying to stay peaceful and constructive."

"Yeah, but everybody in the whole nation isn't here in the middle of all this. They aren't doing anything to help, either."

"They are, Harry, " Annie said softly. "They're forming a national voice on the issues we're dealing with here. And that national voice will speak one of these days. And it has to speak in our behalf. So we have to stay peaceful. We have to stay within legal processes. We have to be the voice of reason and tolerance in these affairs."

Harry looked at Annie with admiration. "Hey. The new Linley." She hung her head disconsolately. "Yeah, I know what you mean. I'm a hot head. You're a cool head. Hot heads need cool heads."

Annie grinned. "Cool heads need hot heads, too." She leaned in and whispered in Harry's ear. "Think how much we all need you and the Protectors." She drew back and smiled at Harry. "Hot heads are the heros."

Harry smiled bashfully and actually blushed with pleasure. "Thanks, Annie."

Annie smiled back. "Thank you, Harry."

The games started and everyone's attention turned to the field. The Rattlers were in the bleachers for the first games that proceded smoothly to their conclusion. Then they took the field, Sam still coaching behind third base rather than playing because of her still recovering feet. Annie hit a double in the top of the first inning and made a great throw all the way to the catcher in the bottom of the second. In the top of the third, the sound of dozens of car horns broke out across the fields. All play stopped to watch as vehicle after vehicle poured into the parking lot, filling it up and spilling out over the surrounding lawn. Crazies started pouring out of the cars hollering and running to the fields. The Cowboys stepped forward to form a protective line between vandals and players and spectators and immediately found themselves the targets of vicious fists and feet. Some went down immediately. Others, like Peter and Eddie, took their opponents out quickly and moved on to others. But the crazies were too many and overwhelmed the protective line of Cowboys, and stormed onto the fields cutting down players as viciously as the Cowboys had been attacked. The field began to become littered with fallen friends. The video cameras of state and national news agencie's came on and started recording the story. A flank of crazies poured into the dugouts and started pummelling the players there. A second flank grabbed bats and took them to the bleachers and refreshment stand, tearing the facilities apart. The whole scene was a melee of fighting. One crazy with a bat came after one of the national news cameramen and batted the camera right off his shoulder, breaking his jaw in the process. Linley and Carol got caught in a mob of crazies storming the bleachers, and tried to push their way through the big, rioting bodies. One goon grabbed Carol's arm and pulled her off her feet, throwing her heavily to the ground. Linley watched the brutish act with shock and rage. She tried to go to Carol, but the crazy pushed her away, and suddenly she found herself wielding her book laden handbag at his head. She didn't even see the movement it happened so quickly as he raised a booted foot and kicked her in the stomach. She dropped instantly, curling into a ball of pain and raging grief. Carol now watched the scene in horror, and crawled to her partner, throwing herself atop Linley and praying this cyclone of violence would blow over quickly. Noncombatants ran away from the fray and watched at a distance. Tam and Marge huddled together, aghast, waiting to move back in and offer aid and comfort. Sam used a side kick to fell a yahoo who came at her with a bat, and took a moment to look around the field and saw Carol huddling over Linny. She ran to them. Carol rose, but Linny lay on the field moaning and twisting slowly with her arms around her middle. Sam picked her friend and mentor up tenderly and ran with Carol to a safe distance and laid the professor down with aching care. Then she ran back into the battle. No one even heard the sirens as cops began arriving at the scene. There were five cops available. There were a hundred crazies tearing up the fields.

Sam fought when she had to, but her main goal was tearing players and Cowboys out of the clutches of bigots and hollering at them to run like hell. Slowly, the field was clearing of her friends leaving only a couple pockets of fighting, fallen bodies here and there, and the bigots who now entertained themselves with kicking apart pieces of dismantled bleachers and dugouts and shouting Dykes Should Die and equally vicious slogans. Finally, there was no one left on the field but crazies and cops. The cops drew their weapons and hunched forward guns held before them at the ready. They shouted at the crazies to halt and lie down on the ground. The crazies laughed at them and moved in a body back to their cars around the parking lot. The cops turned slowly as the crazies filtered through them, following the group with their guns, wondering what they were supposed to do now. The crazies got in their cars and left. The cops straightened up and looked at each other and holstered their guns, then turned and moved to the downed victims that lay scattered around the field.

Sam looked around again for Annie. She had been in the dugout, but Sam had lost track of her when the storm of fighters moved in. She ran to the groups of by-standers who were slowly straggling back toward the field, and called for Annie but got no answer. She ran back to the field, to the dugout where the roof had been torn down and lay canted across the bench below. Taking hold of a corner, she strained her muscles until they trembled and lifted the roofing up and threw it off. The sight below stopped her heart. Annie was there, sprawled on the ground behind the bench, still, blood over her face and on the teeth that showed through the slightly parted mouth. Mel was there, motionless but groaning, her arm bent sickeningly out of shape. Pammy was there, trying to pull herself up to a sitting position now that the roof, which had fallen on her legs, had been removed. All their nonfighters, all their peaceful angels had been hurt in this battle. Her heart could barely contain her wrath and grief. She called to the cops standing on the field, "Call ambulances! We have a lot of injured!" She moved with infinite tenderness to Annie, and tried to ascertain her injuries. She had been beaten obviously. There were cuts over her eyes and on one cheek and on her lips. Sam ran her fingers over Annie's scalp. There were no cuts or swellings under her hair. She moved on down the body, feeling the limbs. All seemed intact. But internal injuries. Injuries to her spine. She wouldn't know until Annie regained consciousness. Sam moved to Mel. "Where are you hurt."

"My arm, ribs" she groaned. "They took a bat to me."

Harry and several other players came to the dugout and started comforting the fallen players. Harry tried to hold her mind together as she knelt down by Mel and surveyed her lover's arm. Sam held the trembling, muscular shoulders. "She probably has some broken ribs. We can't move any of them. Have to wait for the paramedics." Sam moved back to Annie. The beautiful face was still, the eyes motionless under the delicate lids. "Annie." Sam moved a hand over a bloody cheek. "Annie, wake up." She felt a hand on her shoulder and looked up to see Tam above her with another woman.

"This is Marge, Sam. She's a nurse."

Sam stood wordlessly and vacated her place for Annie's colleague who moved in and examined Annie's bones and reflexes thoroughly. "Looks like they just got her face. I'm concerned that she's not conscious, though. Don't move her or let her move if she comes to."

Marge and Tam moved on to the next injury and the next, moving around the field doing triage. The nurse communicated through the cops with the incoming paramedics, preparing them for what they were going to face when they got to the battleground, organizing what injuries needed to be taken out first since there weren't enough ambulances in Boffler to move everyone at once.

Sam took Annie's hand and spoke urgently. "Wake up, baby. Talk to me. Come on, Annie. Open your eyes." Finally she felt Annie's hand twitch in her grip, and the eyelids opened and shut. "Come on, baby. Open those beautiful eyes." Annie groaned and moved her head a fraction of an inch before stopping with a moan. "I love you, baby. You're going to be okay. Just wake up and talk to me."

Finally the eyes opened and locked blurrily on Sam. The jaw opened a bit, but no sound came out. Annie only lay there, motionless, staring at her lover. Sam's blood turned to ice. She leaned down and kissed Annie's forehead lightly. "Can you talk, honey? Can you say something to me?"

The jaw moved again without sound. The dazed eyes never left Sam's. "You're gonna be okay, baby. The ambulance is coming. You're gonna be okay." Sam felt panic rising in her guts. She looked over the field and found Tam and shouted at her. Tam came running with Marge who knelt down beside Sam and Annie.

"She can't talk." Sam said. "She's just looking at me."

"She's got a concussion. Look how dilated her pupils are. But she's conscious and she seems to recognize you. Look, she's just holding on to you for dear life with her eyes. It's probably reassuring for her. She's probably really confused and scared."

Tears came to Sam's eyes, but she blinked them back. "You're going to be alright, Annie. I'm not going to let anything else happen to you. I've got you, baby. You're safe." Sam looked angrily over at the cops. "Where the hell is the ambulance?"

"It's coming, Sam," the nurse said. "She'll go first. She'll be okay."

The thought that Annie's injury was being diagnosed as so serious that she would go first to the hospital scared Sam even more. She realized she was shaking all over. Finally she heard the sound of the ambulance sirens and felt some release of the tightness that was gripping her chest.

The two ambulances pulled up right onto the field. Marge waved them over to the dugout, and the EMTs got out with a stretcher and bags of equipment. Marge motioned them to Mel and Annie, talking softly and quickly about the injuries they were addressing here. Sam tried to move back to let them in to work, but Annie gripped her hand tightly as it started to withdraw. The medics just went about their jobs, working around her, stabilizing the motionless body of the little nurse, lifting it onto the stretcher, lifting the stretcher up and away from the rubble of the dugout.

Annie's eyes never left Sam's and Sam's never left her lover. She walked beside the stretcher speaking soft words of encouragement to Annie, tenderly gripping the little hand that wouldn't let her go. They got to the ambulance and hesitated. The paramedics looked at Sam. Sam looked at Marge. Marge said, "The patient needs to be with her. Take her along." And with that, Sam climbed into the ambulance with Annie.


Sam stood over the examining table in the ER, still holding the little hand, gently running her thumb over the fingers, looking down at the battered face. Annie continuted to look up at her, holding on to that strengthening connection with her lover. The tables were turned, Sam thought bitterly. Annie's face was bruised and swollen. They had taken stitches everywhere. The swirl and noise of doctor examination had died down for a moment, and Sam smiled down on Annie. "You look like a really bad boxer, baby."

Annie grinned as much as the stitches would allow. Her jaw worked again, and finally sound came out, "Feel like it."

"Hey, you're talking!" Sam's heart soared. Annie's inability to speak was what was scaring the medical personel and scaring her. With these words, Annie indicated that her injury was not as serious as it had looked at first. "Doc!" Sam called to Dr. Pellham, who stood outside the cubicle talking to a nurse. The doctor came to Sam. "She's talking."

Pellham looked down at the battered face. "Annie, can you tell me what happened to you?"

Her eyes drifted as she struggled to recall what had happened. "Don't know."

Sam bent over her. "We were at the game. Remember that?"

She gazed at Sam struggling. "I don't... remember that."

"What's the last thing you remember, Annie?" Pellham asked.

"We were... cleaning the house. Sam found my sneaker."

Sam's smile dimmed a bit. "That was three days ago," she murmured to the doctor.

"It's not too surprising she can't remember right now. The good thing is, she's talking again. She checks out well at all points. We could keep her over night, but we'd only have her rest, and she can do that at home, too." He addressed Annie. "Do you have someone to take care of you if we send you home?"

She nodded. "Sam will."

He looked at Sam. "Okay, then. Keep her quiet, resting. No liquids for the first day. Ice when she wants it. She probably won't ever remember events leading up to the injuries, but you should find her memory of the last few days improving as she recovers. Have her rest for a couple days, then she's off all restrictions. Should be good as new. Make an appointment with her doctor to have the stitches removed. That's about it."

"Thank you, Dr. Pellham. I'll take good care of her."

"You do that. She's one of our best."

The doctor walked briskly away to take care of the next in a long line of victims from the violence at the field. The nurse brought a wheelchair for Annie and moved to help her down into it, but Sam stopped her. "I'll help with this," Sam said, and drew the little nurse into her arms, swinging her off the table and depositing her softly in the chair.

The nurse laughed. "Now that's service."

Annie reached and took her colleague's hand. "Thanks, Cory."

The nurse handed a list to Sam. "You have to wake her every hour tonight, Sam, and test her out with this list. If she fails any of these items, bring her back immediately. Okay?" Sam looked down the items on the list and nodded. The angular nurse looked down at Annie. "You just be a big baby for the next few days. Make this tall drink of water take care of you."

Annie grinned but she was obviously tired and even a little mentally groggy. Sam took the chair and rolled it into the waiting room. Eddie and Peter were there and came up to them immediately. Peter bent down and kissed Annie on her forehead. "How are you doing, little one?"

"I'm a little rocky, Peter," Annie smiled back with her hurt grin.

"You guys need a ride back to your truck?" Eddie asked.

"Yeah, matter of fact, we do."

"Well, we're the taxi committee. Lot of folks came over in ambulances. Come on. I'll give you a ride."

Eddie took them out to the car, and Sam lifted Annie in. At the park, Sam shifted Annie over to her truck. The little nurse submitted docilely to Sam's care, simply laying her head on Sam's big shoulder as she moved her from place to place. Her thoughts were fragmented and unclear, and they wandered through her brain like a dream. All she wanted was to get home and go to bed with Sam snuggling her close, and Sam was taking her there. Sam pulled the big truck into the drive and carried Annie into the house, laying her on the couch and turning on the lights, dimming them softly. She knelt down and looked into the groggy eyes. "Do you want something to eat?"

Annie shook her head slightly.

"Would you like some ice?"

"Yes," she said softly.

Sam ground ice in the processor and brought it back to Annie, offering her some in a spoon. Annie took it in and closed her eyes. "It's good. Thanks, Sam," she murmured.

Sam fed ice into the battered lips until Annie was satisfied. Then she ran upstairs and got bedding and came down and moved Annie to the chair while she made up the couch. Gently, she undressed her lover, pulling T-shirt, shoes, socks, jeans and bra off the little body which slumped in the big easy chair rather like a rag doll, and finally laid her, naked, on the couch and covered her up while she herself undressed and turned the light off. She crawled in next to Annie, snuggling close, rubbing her hand in light circles over Annie's back. "How do you feel, sweetheart?"

"Good now that you're holding me."

"I love you so much."

"Love you, Sam."

"Go to sleep, love. I'm here. I'll take care of you."

It was not hard for the little nurse to fall asleep. It was all she wanted to do now. Sam heard the breathing even out and kissed the blond head lying right below her lips. She continued drawing slow circles on Annie's velvet back, comforted by this way of expressing her love to Annie while she slept, reassured by the slow rise and fall of Annie's ribs. Her mind drifted idly, and found itself entering a dark area of remorse and depression as she reviewed the evening and her care of Annie. She should have watched out for her. A hundred crazies had swarmed the field, and she forgot to take care of Annie. She had stormed out onto the field more interested in getting into the thick of it than taking care of the helpless, kind angel who now held onto her so trustingly. Sam squeezed her eyes shut almost unable to remain lying where she was. Nightmares in her mind loomed up to drag her down into an ugly desolation. If she could not do even the simplest, most obvious thing necessary to keep her beloved safe, then what right did she have to be with Annie who needed protection in these times? Vile recriminations rose in her mind, vicious voices charging that she could protect no one, could solve nothing, was only a danger and a hardship for anyone who loved her. She felt bile rise in her throat and twisted herself away from Annie, curling into a fetal ball, helpless to stop the onslaught.

Annie snuggled into the empty spot that Sam had left between them. The little hands came wrapping around her waist, and she could feel warm breath on her shoulder as Annie laid her face on her back. Sam felt tears burn her eyes and trickle down her cheeks. Even in her sleep, Annie came to her. Even beaten and broken as she was, she came to her. She would never fail her again. She would lay down her life for her. Annie was the only thing in life of worth to her. She rededicated her life and laid it at the feet of the little nurse for all eternity.


Dawn was near, and the shadows were soft and grayed. Sam had been awake all night, waking Annie and administering the tests given her by the nurse at the hospital, fighting caustic inner voices finally to a truce where she had simply rededicated herself to Annie with a searing intensity. In the last hour, she had calmed and found again the bond of love that united her with the little nurse who slept snuggled at her back. Now she felt Annie stir and lips began moving over her back while fingers slipped down massaging the large muscles of her seat. The fingers moved around to her stomach, then up to her breasts. She felt the cushions shift and the lips moved to her neck and ear, tickling lightly, sending charges of arousal to her core. She looked back over her shoulder and puffy, darkened green eyes, one almost swollen closed, smiled at her as the lips continued on her cheek. Sam's brows moved into her hairline. "You're kidding me."

Annie rolled Sam onto her back and climbed on top of her shifting her ministrations to Sam's lips.

"I take it you're feeling better," Sam murmured into the mouth that moved over her lips, drinking her in.

"Oh, I've got this really bad ache between my legs. Help me with it, Sam. I need you to make it go away."

Sam felt a flooding below. "Are you sure you should do this?"

"Sam, I'm going to explode. You don't want me to explode, do you?"

"Oh, god no, baby." Sam started kissing back. Slowly, tenderly they made love to each other winding up in a tangle of limbs and sheets, kissing each other's faces softly.


Sam and Darnell went together to get the bug out of Henry's shack. At the end, for the last ten minutes, Henry came with a couple others and started talking about someone coming to the militia rally that he wanted to meet with, someone named Roscoe from Arkansas. Sam later took the tape to the representative from Gay National and asked if they knew who Roscoe was.

"Roscoe Bergan. He's a big gay hater. He's a fundamentalist preacher, has a local TV show down in Little Rock; his main topic is stirring up hate against homosexuality and abortion. His whole gig is talking about God's way for love and sexuality. He's big for what he does. I'm not surprised Trent wants to meet with him."

"If this guy is big stuff, then how important is this rally up there going to be? Nationally, I mean? Are they putting something on up there that's going to be the 'don't miss' of this year's militia rally season?"

"Maybe so. Wish we knew more about what speakers were coming. But this makes it sound like something pretty big is going on."

Sam went home and called Mare and El. She wanted to go up that night and get the bug out of the militia office, try to find out what speakers were coming in. Mare and El agreed to go, and at two that morning they took off, leaving the car down below and hiking up the mountain through the dark forest only to discover guards patrolling the encampment grounds heavily. Sam evaded the perimeter guards long enough to sneak inside the ring of buildings and found more guards inside the compound, two of them sitting right on the porch steps of the office building. The three protectors had to make their way back through the woods empty handed. They had to give up the bug in the militia compound as unretrievable. It was a frustrating, bitter pill to swallow.


The twice yearly potluck dinner at Linley and Carol's was as festive as ever. Sam and Annie, Eddie and Peter, Mel and El, Darnell and Stu, Julia, and some of the gay faculty from the college were the usual suspects gathered for the event. Most of the guests were gourmet cooks when they wanted to be, and the cuisine was always eclectic and exciting. Annie was a splendid addition to the evening with her knowledge of French desserts. Everyone oo'd and ah'd over her delicious chocolate napoleons with mascarpone cream and cherry compote which tasted as exquisite as it looked, and asked how she had learned her art. "Oh, I was in a cooking club in college."

"A cooking club?" Linley enthused. "What a great idea! We should start that at Barton."

"Did you start it yourself?" Sam asked.

"Yes. There were eight of us in my sophmore year that wanted to learn to cook, so we started a club and researched it. Thank heavens we were all athletes who exercised a lot, because we chose desserts of the world as our main area."

"God, you were an incredible student!" Sam marvelled. "Whatever Annie wanted to learn, if there wasn't a curriculum for it, she started a club and studied it there."

"Well, that's refreshing!" Carol laughed. "I wish all students were so gung-ho."

"What all did you start clubs for?" Linley asked.

Annie froze and looked at Sam, a grin so big it hurt her cheeks taking over her face. Annie was red clear into the white blond roots of her hair. She dipped her eyes shyly and shook her head. "Well, Sam's exaggerating a little here. There weren't really a lot of clubs."

"But they were sure interesting." Sam grinned back at her mischievously.

Everyone looked between the two with smiles of their own, knowing something was going on here.

"So... We gonna hear about these clubs?" Mare drawled.

"Okay, okay, okay," Annie laughed. "You just had to say that, didn't you?" she shot at Sam. "Okay. Well, when I was a sophmore I also started a club for plumbing and electrical wiring."

"Jeez, you're a genius. What a great idea." El grinned. "Now I know who to call."

"And it eventually turned into a club for car repairs."

"YOU? The woman who hates to get dirty?" Sam gasped.

"But I think the club Sam is thinking about is a club six of us started when we were seniors. We, uh... we wanted to learn how to be good lovers..."

The table shrieked with delighted surprise.

"Yeah. So we... started a club and, uh... researched the subject." She hid her laughing face behind her hands for a moment before she reached over and punched Sam in the arm. The assembled crew were shouting gleeful congratulations for her having the balls to do something they wished they had done.

"Did it help?" Mare shouted.

Annie looked at Sam. Sam had the grace to blush lightly under her crooked grin and lower her eyes before saying, "Yes."

Again the table broke out with hoots of delight. Slowly the evening came back under control. Conversation turned to the crazies camping out up at the militia compound.

"They're growing up there. They've got two fields full of tents," Mare said.

"Lots of commando games going on. Probably why most of them are there. But they're having a lot of big meetings in their dining hall, too," Eddie said. "Me and Marko tried to get close to look in the windows, but they have guards patrolling the grounds. Nearly got ourselves caught. They're keeping things really secret."

El snorted. "They're probably making voodoo dolls that everybody can stick pins in at the rally."

"I'm glad the rally's this weekend. I want it over, and I want these crazies out of here again," Linley said.

"Yes. As long as they're here, there's going to be more violence in town," Peter growled.

"I just want them out of here before we have our rally," Sam said darkly.

"I wonder if any of them will stay over for our rally?" Mare said quietly.

A tension spread through the room.

"That's a scary thought," Eddie said.

The phone rang, and Carol went to answer it.

"We'll have to keep tabs on them even after their rally is over," Peter said.

Sam shifted nervously. "They could hang out up there all summer if the authorities don't make them go home."

"Like the authorities have done so much to help us. Have they done anything productive?"

"Yeah," El growled, "They stopped us from playing the rest of the damn softball season."

"Did you see them trying to stop those crazies at the ball game?" Eddie fumed.

"Don't they know how to use those guns?!" Sam cried. "They don't have enough power to stop what's happening, but they won't deputize anybody else! They just let them walk away!"

"The present town council simply is not sympathetic to our needs," Linley sighed. "Just Russel and Liscomb."

Carol came back into the room, her face trembling with tension. "They're burning down the Rattler! There are people inside!"

Shock electrified everyone. Sam leaped up. "Let's get going!"

Annie and the others leaped up behind her. "I have to go the the hospital, Sam. They may need me there."

"Why don't you go with Linley. I'll pick you up afterward."

"Sounds good. Sam, don't do anything crazy."

"Course not, sweetheart. I'll see you later." Sam headed on out the door with the rest of the guests who would all go make themselves available for whatever help they could provide.


The fire fighters were already organized and working with determination when Sam arrived with the others. Victor Paltro was a fire fighter Sam knew. He stood by a team manning a hose aimed toward the flaming front of the bar. She ran to him. "Victor, are there any people inside?"

Victor wiped sweat from his eyes. "I don't know, Sam. Some people got out when it first started."

"Listen, Victor. When you see something come through that window, lay a stream right in the doorway."

"What are you going to do?" he shouted. She grabbed Eddie and ran for the back of the building, and the firefighter called after her, "You can't go in there!"

Around back another team of fire personel was working at the flames seeping out the backdoor there. She led Eddie past them and up the stairway alongside the building up to floor of offices above.

"Where are we going, Sam?" Eddie shouted against the low rumble of flames from the floor below.

"Wyatt's office," she yelled back.

They made their way down a relatively smoke free hallway to a glass door that advertised the accountant's office inside. "Kick it in!" Sam cried, and the two Protectors drove their boots through the glass, reached in and unlocked the door and entered the office. She ran to a door to an inner flight of stairs that Wyatt had put in down to the bar. She touched the door. It was not too hot.

Eddie put a hand on her arm. "Sam, there's a fire down there."

"Yeah, but it's just getting started. It's not even hot yet." She opened the door and black smoke poured in, and she quickly closed the door again. "If we can just make it downstairs, the smoke won't be so bad as right up here by the ceiling. Let's wet ourselves down."

The two went into the little kitchenette off the office and poured water over each other until they dripped. Then they returned to the door.

Eddie hesitated, "Sam..."

She put her hand gently but quickly on the back of his neck. "Go on back outside, Eddie. But I'm going down."

He rolled his eyes and puffed out a resigned breath. "Then I'm right behind you."

They opened the door and hurried down stairs, closing the door after them. The smoke wasn't so bad when they got to the floor below, the floor of the bar. Mainly, it roiled up to the ceiling and billowed around high in the air. But the heat was intense even though the fire was still mainly around the two main entry ways at the back and front of the bar. The large room was still clear enough to see and still intact. Sam and Eddie made their way forward and came on bodies lying on floor. Sam went to the bar and got a bottle of liquor. Eddie had started coughing, and Sam started getting worried about him. "Come on, Eddie. We're getting out of here!" She tossed the bottle out through a curtain of fire where the window should be, then grabbed two bodies, and when the flames by the broken door parted as water shot through, she dragged them out, struggling against the current of water. She turned as she hit the clear air and saw Eddie stumbling out behind her with two more bodies. "Get these guys to the paramedics!" she shouted to Eddie, and ran back in. There were two more bodies lying close to the flames right inside, and she dragged them out. This time Victor Paltro caught her.

"You ain't going back in!"

"There are people in there!"

"They're probably dead."

"My friends are in there!"

He hauled her back behind the line of fire fighters. Medics were working over the bodies of the four she had dragged out. "Are they dead?" she shouted.

"These three are alive. That one's deceased."

She shot a fierce look at Victor, but he held her and shouted, "You ain't going back!"

Like lightning her arm shot out and clipped him hard on the jaw. He staggered, and she grabbed him and pulled him up by his coat. "You keep that fucking hose on the door!" she shouted and charged back in through the flames. Victor grabbed a couple of guys. "Suit up! There are living in there!"

Minutes passed. The protected fire fighters disappeared through the flames. Finally, Sam appeared dragging two more bodies out and Victor caught her again. "We got guys in there now. Don't go back in. Don't hit me! We're gonna get 'em!" Sam struggled in his hands and he shook her. His voice softened. "We're gonna get your friends. Okay?" Sam quieted and nodded numbly. He looked at her intently, gently. "You're crazy, Sam, you know that? Go back and wait with everybody else."


The ER was humming. Ten people had been treated for burns of varying degrees and twenty more still waited in triage. The parade of ambulances and cars from the scene had ended half an hour ago. But now another ambulance sounded the alarm, and Annie answered it. Two ambulances were in the bay and five stretchers were dragged out of them. "Got five smoke inhalation. Really bad shape. They're really close!"

"Where did these come from?"

"Crazy bastard ran in and dragged them out. Ran in three times. Saved five people."

A quake of terrible trembling ran through Annie nearly buckling her knees. Sam! "Are they okay?"


"The person who saved these people."

"Yeah. They finally got 'em to stop runnin' in and out. The firemen suited up and went in."

Thank god. Thank god. Thank god. Annie steeled herself and went back to work.


Sam sat slumped in the ER waiting room, but rose when Annie walked tiredly out the swinging doors from the inner chambers. They smiled affectionately at each other as they drew together. "Hiya, champ," Annie said softly.

"How'd you do over here?"

"It was a bad night. We lost five. Sent a couple to Butte. But we have twenty people here who are going to be okay. Some wonderful, crazy angel accounted for twelve people who would have died tonight without her."

Sam closed her eyes and sighed deeply.

"Eight of them were just college kids. They have a whole life ahead of them now, thanks to you."

The stress and fear of the evening overwhelmed Sam for a moment as she thought of these young people saved to live their lives, and a shiver ran over her like building electricity before she pulled herself back under control. Annie wrapped her arms around her lover, but Sam pulled away. "Oh, honey, I'm so dirty."

Annie grinned. "Yeah. I think you've set a record tonight." She moved in again and wrapped Sam up in her arms.

"Bet I stink."

"Know something, sweetheart?"


"Only heros smell like that."

Sam grinned. "And barbecued chicken."

Annie nestled her face in long black hair. "I can still smell you under all that smoke." She pulled back and glanced around the empty waiting room and kissed Sam softly on the lips. "I have no idea how we're going to get you clean. I'm going to have to swipe a couple bottles of heavy duty cleanser from the supply room."

And she slipped away and did just that. Coming back, she slipped her arm around Sam's waist and the two began strolling out to the truck.

"How did you know how to get into the bar from upstairs?"

"Wyatt Deiterman has his office up there. Only us queers know that he put in a secret stairway down to the bar. He tells everybody else it's just a closet."

"Eddie said you were going to go down there by yourself."

"I should have. He didn't react too well to the smoke."

"Yeah, we're keeping him overnight, but he'll be fine. He said you hit one of the firemen in order to go back in."

"Oh. Yeah. Well, I went kind of nuts, I guess."

"I love you, you know."


"Yeah. I'm definately going to keep you."

Sam opened the door of the truck for Annie and helped her up the big step. She could smell a wafting fragrance as the little nurse swept up into the seat. Annie's fragrance. Her stomach warmed with the passionate love she felt for this woman. "I only got some people out of the bar. It was you and the hospital team who saved all their lives. You're my hero, love."

That night Annie watched Sam long after she had gone to sleep. The realization had finally dawned on her that it was far more difficult to keep Sam Adams safe than the rest of Boffler put together.


Sam woke the next morning and looked at the alarm clock. It was nine o'clock. Good lord, no wonder it's so bright in here. She carefully manuvered herself out of bed so as not to wake Annie and pulled on jeans and a T-shirt and went downstairs and called Buddy to tell him she overslept and would be in shortly.

"Sam, I got to tell you, all hell's broke loose here," Buddy sputtered.

She tensed immediately. "What do you mean?"

"The press. They're all over the place. TV cameras and all."

She dropped her head and ran her fingers through her hair.

"I can't keep 'em from blockin' the driveways. They're all up and down the street. Big vans..."

"Listen, Buddy. Go out there and tell them that I'm not going to be in today."

"You ain't comin' in?"

"No, I'm coming in, but not while they're all waiting around. Tell 'em I won't be in today and you don't know where I am. Then, when they all leave, call me back and I'll come in."

"Oh... Good plan. I'll go do that. 'Cause otherwise, we ain't gonna get a lick of work done down here."

She took the phone to the windows and looked out. Sure enough. Cars and vans were parked in front of the garage and house and a dozen or so people milled around the shop. She was surprised they were not knocking on her door.

She went and made herself breakfast. Eggs, bacon, toast and milk and coffee. As she dished up her food, Annie came into the kitchen, adorably touseled, and leaned in the door. "I can't believe I slept so late."

"Yeah. I'm ashamed of you."

"Why aren't you at work?"

Sam grinned. "Just got up."

Annie grinned sleepily. "Sam, don't go to work. Take the day off and let's do something sweet and fun, just the two of us."

"Like what?"

"Like lie around all day in our pajamas and just snuggle on the sofa."

"Well, I'm not going in right away. We could snuggle til I have to leave."

Annie crinkled her nose in disappointment.

"Want something to eat?"

"Just a cup of coffee." She straggled over to the counter and poured herself a cup.

"There are reporters crawling all over the place at the shop. Go look out the window. I told Buddy to tell them that I wasn't coming in. Then, when they all go away, he's going to call me and I'll go over."

Annie peered through the kitchen window to see if she could see any press. They were all over the walk over by the station. "Sam, they're gonna catch you sooner or later."

"Well, then I want it later. Much later."

"Why don't you want to talk to the press?"

"Well, good grief, Annie... What do I say to them?"

"Tell 'em what's happening in Boffler. Make a plea for tolerance and support."

"I'm no spokeswoman..."

"Just speak from your heart. You're a good speaker."

"Annie. That is CNN out there. I'll probably trip and fall down."

"Maybe you should have a press conference. Meet with them with the fire chief and Vic Stanley from the hospital all together. Tell them other than that you're not talking to them, and would they please get the heck away from your business."

"This is sounding good."

"Why don't I call Vic Stanley and see if he plans any kind of press conference."

"Okay... Okay. Go call Stanley. I'll... I'll..." Sam looked around for something constructive to do. "I'll finish my breakfast."

"Sounds like a plan."

A conference was planned for that afternoon. One big conference with fire department, hospital, and Sam present. Buddy called and told her the press wasn't going away like they'd planned. She looked outside and shook her head.

Annie came to her side and stared out at the throng. "May as well just go on out and face them."

"Yeah, guess so. I'll just tell them to move away. I'll just ignore them and work like any other day."

"Good luck, sweetheart. I'll stop by later and see how things are going."

"Thanks. Well, here goes. Hope they don't eat me alive." Sam stepped outside and headed for the garage. Annie watched as the crowd of reporters spotted her and swarmed around. She was immediately bombarded with questions as she waded through them toward her haven inside her shop. "Please. Listen up, people. Listen up! This afternoon at four there's going to be a press conference at the hospital plaza. The hospital administrator will be there, and the police chief and I'll be there. Please leave me alone until then."

A barrage of questions came at her.

"Please, I have to work. I have to earn my living. Move your cars and vans so folks can get in and out. Go away."

They unblocked the driveways to the shop, but didn't leave. They kept venturing forward into the garage to ask questions, until she finally pulled down the overhead doors. They asked Buddy all about her, and he chatted away cordially with them.

"Do you think Sam Adams is a hero?"

"Shore she is. She's always been my hero. She saved my cat when I was just a youngster."

"How'd she save your cat?"

"Well, my cat fell down the street sewer. In a tornado. I was there and seen it. I run home and told Mom, but she told me to git inside fore I got killed. But I run over to Sam's next door, and Sam run to get the cat, and I run back inside with my mom."

"So she pulled the cat out of the sewer."

"No. The water was so high and fast down there, I don't know if you ever been down a sewer in a tornado, but the water runs really fast. And it started pullin' Sam through the tunnel. She kep' grabbin' on to things, and the water kept tearin' her away. She come past a ledge in the wall, an' there was Scruffy, an' she grabbed him. Well, that water just kept dragging her along, and she was drug clean through town, from Dixon Street down around the bend in the sewer downtown and out along Wallace Drive. That water kep' her a going right on outa town to where the storm sewer opens up into Little Bear Creek. Washed her out near drowned. Cuts an' bruises everywhere an' a broken leg. But she still had my cat. Tornado had blown right over her."

Bemused eyes looked at him. "Is that really true?"

"True as the day I was born. An' then there was another time..."

A voice came from back in the shop, "Buddy! Someone's at the pump!"

He craned his neck over the crowd. "Oh, Milly! Sorry, folks, gotta go work.

A picture of Buddy slouched in the doorway of the station saying, "Sam Adams don't know how not to be a hero. She's always been a hero. You just gotta know her," was the sound bite on all the midday cable news shows. Buddy kept them regaled with tales of Sam's history through the long, drowsy hours. Annie slipped in the back door and brought Sam some lunch and asked her how it was going. Sam rolled her eyes and pushed Annie back out the door saying, "Save yourself! Run before they spot you!" By two, there weren't any candy bars left in the machine, and only two soda pops left. Finally Sam snuck out the back door to clean up for the press conference.

She answered questions at the conference by constantly deflecting attention from her exploits and telling the story of the madness in Boffler.

Finally one of the reporters asked, "How does it feel to be a hero?"

Sam looked down, then around at nothing in particular. "It feels like your heart is breaking and your world is falling apart. Those people were my friends and neighbors. Beautiful young people just in college. Five people died. We hope no more. Lots of terrible injuries. My hometown is tearing apart. Everybody I love is being hurt one way or another. All I feel is grief and fear. And I wish there was something someone could do to stop this madness. I don't know what to do."

That was the sound bite on the evening news, with one anchor saying, "And there you have it. An eloquent, reluctant hero."


The proposition appeared that afternoon in the newspaper. Jasper Hewitt, a local building contractor, said he wanted to rebuild and reopen the Rattler in two weeks. The gay community read the article in surprise. Jasper Hewitt wasn't gay. But the article went on to quote the full whiskered bear of a man. "Violence only breeds violence. This was a tragedy for the heart of the whole town, not just the people who came to the bar. I just feel like this is my time to stand up and say no to what's going on. I thought if I could get enough volunteers, we could raise that bar again real nice in ten days and open it a few days later. It will be my testament, and the testament of everybody who comes to help, of the fellowship that I feel for all people in this town, and against the violence that's so tragic." Volunteers were asked to assemble at seven o'clock the next morning, and they'd see if there were enough people and skills available to raise the Rattler. At seven the next morning, two hundred volunteers were on site with tool boxes and coffee in hand, and a cheer went up when Jasper, after taking a brief accounting of skills present, stood on a pile of charred, fallen timbers on the sidewalk and shouted, "LET'S BUILD THE BAR!"


The tents were stretched out over the field as far the eye could see. Henry Trent lounged against the fence gate, his young new friend lounging with him (he only trusted the young ones, older ones could be feds undercover) and went through the spiel he'd been through many other times since this new blood flowed into Boffler. Henry snorted in disgust. "Think of a guy takin' your dick."

His young admirer snorted, too. "I'd kill him."

"Really? Would ya really?"

"Damn straight I would. Think of a lezzie touching your sister. I'd kill her, too."

"Ya know, some really tough shit is goin' down around here."

"I heard some."

"We're whippin' a little queer ass."

"I heard about the guy was tarred and feathered."

"Yeah, no murder yet. Nothin' like that. But close. Just kick their ass a little, get 'em out of town."


"I think we ought to send 'em all to San Francisco, they've already wrecked it anyhow, an' then we ought to send all the rest of the criminals and trash all over the country there, too, let the perverts look after the other perverts."

The young sidekick snickered.

"You want to come with us one night we go run some queer through the woods or something?"

"You got dogs?"

A cruel grin twisted Henry's lips. "Sure do. We haven't done that yet. Thinkin' we oughta."

"I'd love to sick my dog on a faggot."

"Well, coming up here pretty soon, we're going to be doing a lot of that. I'll let you know."


"Don't tell nobody, though."

'' 'Kay."

"I mean it. FBI's got undercover in the camp."

"How do you know?"

"Stands to reason."

"Wish we could catch us one of them. I'd love to run a federal motherfucker through the woods."

"That's a pretty picture, ain't it?" They laughed a little. "Well..." Henry pushed himself away from the fence. "I'll be around. I'll get you when the shit goes down."

He waved a casual salute at the young punk and sauntered off. Pickings were good. He had a big team now. It would command attention.

He got in his truck and drove to Boggs Holler by way of the Boffler SureFoods where he picked up a six pack of beer. Alvin Dick was meeting him there. When he got there, Alvin's truck was pulled up in front of the shack. Henry found the crazy man inside drinking beer and looking at a trashy magazine. Alvin looked up and shifted his haunches. "My damn ass is nearly bone waitin' for you."

"I had business to attend to." He leaned down and pulled back the picture Dick was looking at. "Nice titties." He dropped down on his heels beside his crazy buddy and opened a beer. "Got something I want you to do."

"Yeah? What?"

"Want you to hit Sam Adam's little girlfriend."

Dick looked over out of the corner of his eye and gave Henry some consideration. "I'll hit her but I ain't takin' anybody with me."

"If that's the way you want it."

"You take too many damn people together. They all trip over themselves."

" 'Kay."

"It ain't brawn, it's brains."

"Well, I want you to show me how it's done."

Alvin took a final drag on his cigarette and flicked it into some dry leaves in the corner, then watched with amusement as Henry went over angrily to stomp on it. "Hey, don't do that, you fuck ass. This is my hideout."

Alvin laughed out loud. "You're a pretty sorry ass, you know."

"I like this place. I hung out here since I was a kid."

Dick laughed again. "Think I know just what I'm gonna do with the girlfriend."

Henry held up his hands. "Don't tell me. I don't need to know."

"Okay. My choice. You just let me know when."

"Soon, friend."

"Good, 'cause I'm sick of waiting to go get me some of these fucking perverts!"

Henry and Alvin grinned at each other. Henry's clever eyes narrowed and twinkled. You get the crazy ones all riled up and point 'em in the right direction. They'll do the murder for you. You never get your hands dirty.


Later that afternoon, Darnell and Mark retrieved the bug from the shack and listened to it. All it had was two hours of racoon skitterings. They reset and replaced the tape, disappointed.


Tomorrow was the day for the big militia rally. All day long, cars, vans and trucks moved along the little highway that ran through town on their way to the encampment. Many stopped at Sam's station for gas and something to drink. Sam worked in the garage trying to ignore them. She was glad Buddy was pumping the gas. She didn't think she could be civil to the bigots who were coming into town and doing such unspeakable violence to the people she loved. But Buddy treated them with easy friendliness, being sure to work a quote about human rights into each conversation, and leave each of them with a merry 'Love thy neighbors, now,' as they drove off. As had happened so many times before in her friendship with Buddy, Sam was touched by the loving integrity of Buddy's heart.

At four that afternoon, Sam went home and left Buddy to tend shop for the last two hours. She needed to see Annie. The day had been an emotional trial with the crazies gathering up the mountain, knowing what she and the Protectors were going to try the next day. She needed the comfort of Annie's arms and voice. She entered the mudroom and stripped off the dirty coveralls and looked through the house until she found Annie in the kitchen baking cherry pies. Annie welcomed her with a cheery hello. Suddenly, everything fell back in place. She felt her humanity and hope restored. What could be more wonderful than her lover making her cherry pies, dancing around the kitchen to music on the CD player.

"Hey, grease monkey! You're home early."

"Yeah. Couldn't take the train of bigots coming through for gas. Smells good in here."

"You want a piece of warm cherry pie with ice cream? I have two pies finished just waiting for a discriminating palate."

"Oh, my palate is the one you're looking for. We should give a pie to Buddy. He's doing a great job over there."

"What's he doing?"

"Every car that goes out, he says, 'Love your neighbors, now.' "

Annie smiled. "Buddy doesn't know how to fight dirty. He only knows how to fight gentle."

"He's a peacemaker. Like you. You wage peace not war."

"It's the only thing I understand. But it doesn't always work."

"I love you for it, sweetheart. Your outlook helps keep my heart whole. You're the best thing happening in Boffler right now. You and Linny hold the rest of us together. Without you, this would become a really ugly war."

"No, Sam. I don't believe that. Everything you and the Protectors have done has been a stand for peace and life."

"Yeah, well, that's because of you and Linny."

Annie grinned. She had prepared a slice of pie with ice cream for Sam and now she set it on the table in the breadfast nook in front of her partner. Sam's mouth watered at the sight of it, and the aroma tickled and tantalized her nose. Annie's pie crusts were the only crusts in the world that she had ever liked. She could almost taste the confection. She closed her eyes and sniffed.

"Sam, are you going to eat it?"

"I'm appreciating it fully. Like a fine wine. The bouquet must be savored. The anticipation must be enjoyed as part of the whole gastronomic experience."

"It's a piece of pie, Sam."

"But it's your pie. The pie of a master."

Annie laughed, and Sam cut off the very tip of the piece, watching the crust flake apart. She took it reverently into her mouth and chewed, finally, bending over and letting out a moan that sounded more like she'd just been hit in the stomach than taken a bite of pie. "This is SO GOOD!"

"Well, thank you, honey."

"I am the luckiest woman in the world!"

"No, that's me, sweetheart. I'm with the greatest food appreciator on earth. Nothing makes a cook happier."

"This is so terrific," Sam mumbled as she made her way through the dessert. "Annie, I'm going to be as big as a barn, with food like this around."

"Will power and exercise. It's worked for me."

Sam finished her pie and leaned back with her hands patting her stomach. "My stomach is happy. I am happy. It's time to kiss the cook." She stood and pulled Annie up and snuggled her arms around her lover. "Incidentally..." she pulled Annie close and whispered in her ear, "I am the luckiest woman in the world." She kissed Annie's ear, then dipped over her lips, drinking her in deeply. "Don't I taste good?"

"Mmmm, love, you always taste good."

"But now I taste like cherries." Sam kissed her way down Annie's neck, and Annie laid her head back, opening herself to Sam's lips, drifting on a sweet sea of love and flowing arousal. She reached her hand up to Sam's breast that lay under the soft T-shirt. There was no bra. The softness she found melted her. "I love you, Sam." She leaned into Sam, taking her lips hungrily, kissing deeply, tangling a hand in the dark mane of her lover's hair, softly massaging the beautiful breast, taking Sam in completely. Sam lifted her up and started toward the stairs. Annie pulled her lips away. "Wait. Wait, Sam."

"What is it, love?"

"The pie dough. I can't leave the pie dough."

Sam stopped and buried her face in Annie's hair, laughing. "You're thinking of pie dough?"

"I have to make the pies now while the dough is light."

Sam set Annie back on her feet, holding her close. "It would be criminal to wreck the pies."

"But remember where we were."

Sam's face crumpled nearly in pain, and she bit her lip. "Oh, I don't think I'm going to forget."

They kissed each other again and Sam tagged along behind Annie as she went back into the kitchen.

"Maybe we could have some people over tomorrow. Eat pie and enjoy ourselves while the crazies party."

Her voice was casual, but she watched Sam at her side as she spoke.

"Annie..." Sam pulled away and looked down at the counter. "I have something I have to do tomorrow."

Annie said nothing watching the dark head hang heavily, eyes averted. Sam stayed silent, too.

"The militia rally..." Annie whispered. This was too dangerous to contemplate. This is what she had been afraid of. She moved in and kissed Sam. "Are the Protectors going?"

"Yes. We have somebody who can get on the inside. We have to document everything, just in case they're involved with the anti-gay mess."

"You know they are."

"We have to document it."

Annie looked out the window above the counter, seeing nothing. "Are you going right into the camp?"

Sam remained quiet.

"Tell me, Sam. Let me know what's going to happen."

Sam pulled Annie to her. "We're not going in openly. We're just going to breach the perimeter and shoot some tape."

"Oh, Sam, that scares me so much."

"Please don't be scared, sweetheart. Nothing's going to happen. We're careful."

"I know you have to go, love. You guys have to take care of us. I understand that."

"Thank you, love."

They lay against each other silently for a few minutes, each lost in deep thoughts. Finally, Annie drew a deep breath and pulled away. "I better finish up these pies."

"I'm gonna go shower. Let's go snuggle on the couch when I get back down, okay?"

Annie snorted a little laugh. "Well, you didn't forget where we were, did you?"

"No. And I'm ready to get right back there with my succulent little cook."


Continued in part 8

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