Fandom: Xena Uber
Summary: Trace Sheridan is a dirty cop in trouble with time running out. How can a dead woman walking get her life back?
A/N: This is my first Uber attempt. It started out as an Olivia/Alex Uber but when writing it, I just couldn't picture those two, I kept seeing Xena and Gabrielle - which is odd because I have only seen four episodes of "Xena Warrior Princess" (don't ask…it's complicated) but I have read and been intrigued by many Xena Ubers. So, I went back and tweaked the beginning with a few changes to make it fit the characters as I know them...which may or may not be way off base. With that said, no infringement is intended to the powers that be at MCA/Universal. Other than that, the story is mine, the characters are mine, the fantasy is mine.
I am not an American history buff...which will be quite evident to anyone who is. So please bear with the glaring inaccuracies.
This story also contains a recollection of a rape, although not graphically depicted, it is there, nonetheless, so be forewarned.
This is for Canna who helped me get my notes back after they were accidentally deleted. I owe you one...
I also want to thank The Raven for all her help, advice and suggestions.
Archive: Only with permission from the author
It had almost been a perfect day. Almost. As Trace settled Rachel on the wagon seat, she was approached by Sheriff Ed Jackson and Mayor Jed Turner. Jackson looked smug. His Honor looked uneasy. They stopped a few feet in front of the detective.
"Well, well, well, I hear congratulations are in order," Jackson said, his tone conveying that the last thing he felt was benevolence.
"If you are referring to my upcoming marriage, then yes," Trace responded, not friendly at all. After the trouble Jackson had already caused, she didn't feel the need to be 'right neighborly' toward him. She nodded to Turner. "Afternoon, Mayor."
"Trace," Jed acknowledged, looking as though he wished he were anywhere but there.
"Actually, I was more referrin' to knowin' that you'll be in my jail before you have a chance to walk down that aisle."
Handing the reins to Rachel, Trace turned and nonchalantly leaned against the wagon, studying the sheriff. "And why would that be?"
"Trace," Mayor Turner spoke up, clearing his throat uncomfortably, "Ed here got a telegram from Cottonwood. Said there's a five thousand dollar price on your head."
"What?!" Rachel looked at Trace, stunned.
Trace shook her head calmly at her bride-to-be, putting her hand up to stop any further frantic reaction. "He's lying."
Jackson sneered. "Is that so?"
"Yeah, that's so," Trace shot back, trying to keep her cool. She wanted to tell this bastard that if there even was a Cottonwood, she wasn't from there, had never been there, so there was no way there could be a bounty on her. "I'd like to see this telegram."
"You don't need to see it. Who do you think you are challenging me? I'm the law around here, son, and if I say it's so then it's so and you just need to take my word for it!" Jackson yelled, thinking the elevation in his voice would emphasize his authority.
The detective burst out laughing, riling the sheriff to the point of veins bulging in his neck. "You can't be serious. Take your word for it? Does anyone actually fall for that?"
"Damn you, Sheridan, I'm the sheriff and if I say it's so, then it's so!!"
"Mayor? Have you seen this alleged telegram?" The detective focused on Jed.
"Well, no, Ed just came and got me and told me about it and said we needed to go arrest you before you left town."
Trace beckoned the mayor over to the side, out of hearing range from Jackson, who appeared to be close to hyperventilating, and addressed Turner in a hushed voice. "Mayor, you know the sheriff has it out for me. You know the sheriff is stuck up the Cranes' asses and is pissing his pants to think that Ben is going to come back to town and find Rachel married and he couldn't do anything to stop it. There is no telegram, there is no price on my head and I give you my word that I will not leave town. When that moron produces a legitimate telegram from -" she had to think up a name, quickly. Looking up she saw the silver gilted spheres of the pawn shop, "Marshal Silvers saying that there is, then and only then will I surrender to that piece of crap wearing a badge."
Nodding, Jed turned to Jackson. "Ed?"
"Who sent you that telegram from Cottonwood?"
"What?" This question obviously surprised him, if the tone of his voice was any indication.
"You hard of hearin'? I said, who sent you that telegram? What's the damned sheriff's name?"
Too much hesitancy confirmed the mayor's suspicion, cleared Trace and infuriated the devious and caught sheriff. "Uh..." Jackson had obviously not expected to be questioned as, usually, no one wanted to deal with the wrath of the Cranes and whoever Ed was picking on always suffered the consequences of his coercion.
"Thank you," Trace smiled, triumphantly, hauling herself up to the seat beside her intended. "You boys have a nice day." With that, she snapped the reins and Moses slowly started clomping forward. Rachel proudly linked her arm with her fiancée's and smiled sweetly at both men.
They weren't even a wagon's length away when they heard the mayor turn on the sheriff. "Why, you horse's ass! What thee hell ails you? Maybe you want to make a blasted idjit out of yerself in front of that Sheridan feller but I sure as hell do not!"
"B-but Jed...you know what will happen when Jacob and his boys come back and Rachel is married...I'm trying to do that boy a favor!"
"You're trying to save your own crooked hide, you imbecile! Next time, don't bother me, 'less you got proof! I am fed up to here with your horseshit!"
"Trace? I know how you knew that Ed was lying because you would obviously know if there was or wasn't a bounty out for you...but how did you know how to trap Ed like that?" They were well beyond the outskirts of the main street.
"Because he thinks he is smarter than everyone else and those he isn't smarter than are intimidated by his connection to the Cranes."
"You do know that he will probably show up at the wedding and object."
"On what grounds?"
"He won't need any. He's Ed Jackson."
"Oh? Well, we'll just see about that."
Wondering what Trace had up her sleeve, Rachel decided not to question it. The detective had not steered her wrong yet and the blonde fully believed that Trace would not let anything disrupt their special day. Leaning her head against Trace's shoulder, Rachel closed her eyes, dreaming about Wednesday night.
"I asked Isaac Tipping to be my best man."
Opening her eyes, Rachel looked over at the brunette. "Really?"
"Well...I don't really know anyone that well and Isaac seems to be a good kid. Plus, he wants to help around the ranch a little bit."
Trace chewed on her lip. Why was it she had no problem going toe-to-toe with the sheriff yet the thought of the petite blonde being upset with her caused her to pause. "Helping me fix up the fence..." she said, almost demurely.
"I thought the fence was all fixed."
"It is...we're going to reinforce it." Off Rachel's confused expression, Trace explained, "I bought barbed wire."
"Barbed wire? Wh -?"
"Half of the order is in the back," Trace said, as Rachel turned around to look, "and Isaac is going to pick up the other half on Thursday then help me put it up."
Rachel looked at the detective, her expression more inquisitive than suspicious. "When did you decide this?"
"A little over two weeks ago. Rachel, the land needs protection and we can't be everywhere at once. With barbed wire wrapped around the fence, no one will just be able to crash through, not without causing damage to their herd or their horses. And if they want to physically knock it down then that will make them extra work and a project they will not be able to complete without me noticing."
"You thought a lot about this." Again, it was a statement of acknowledgement instead of a question.
"Yes. If we are going to take a stand, we need to start now, before the Cranes get back. I want everyone to know we mean business. And Rachel...I think I can turn people in this town around, I really do."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean...it sounds like everybody is damned tired of being run by the Cranes. I think all they need is a little incentive to make it stop."
"And you think you can be that incentive?"
She looked at her bride-to-be and smiled, reassuringly, at her. "I know I can."
Rachel wanted to believe that was true but since Trace had not even dealt with the Cranes yet, the blonde felt she had a reason to be afraid and skeptical. Time would definitely tell.
The next day was Tuesday and both women had a full day ahead of them. The morning began with a kiss, a loving embrace and a big breakfast. Rachel could not contain her building excitement at her approaching wedding day. So much to be done, so little time to do it in.
The first order of business, which Trace impatiently indulged the blonde by doing, was to fit the detective into Frank Young's wedding trousers. The brunette stood there, fidgeting, while Rachel pinned the black cotton slacks with a satin pinstripe running the length of the outer seams at the waist and an inch at each inseam. Once Trace stepped out of them, she could get to her daily chores and then start on that fence before returning to the house, taking a shower and going into town for her 'bachelor' party.
At approximately noon, Trace came back to the house to announce to Rachel that they were the proud grandparents of five little baby bunnies. The blonde could not help but smile at the big, tough detective's soft heart when it came to the rabbits and it prompted her not to reiterate, at this time, that Trace should not get too attached to the tiny critters for, at some point, they would be on her plate.
The detective also arrived just in time to try on the pants that had been taken in. They weren't perfect but they fit well enough to compliment the tall stance of the brunette. Thanking Rachel with a kiss that neither wanted to end, Trace then hitched up Moses, loaded tools onto the back of the wagon and headed out to the area of the property that seemed to be the hardest hit by the cattle drive.
Carefully, she began to affix the barbed wire to the wooden rails in a manner that immediately looked ominous and threatening. Trace had completed about fifty feet of fence when she heard the unmistakable sound of hoofbeats closing in. Turning, she smiled, recognizing Isaac Tipping as the boy rode up and dismounted a big, gorgeous palomino stallion, strong and well-muscled.
"Hey, Trace," Isaac greeted.
"Hey, yourself, Isaac."
Admiring the detective's handiwork, the teenager grinned. "So this is how you do it, huh?"
"Yep." Trace sighed, glad to be able to take a break. "When you come back and bring me the rest of my order, I'll put you to work. But you'll need some good strong gloves and tools like these," the detective indicated the implements by her feet.
"I can get them from the store. Trace?"
"I'm invited to your gatherin' tonight at Wilbur's, ain't I? I mean, bein' you best man and all."
"You allowed to be in Wilbur's?"
"Hell, yeah," he stated, indignantly.
"Then I would be proud to have you there, best man," the detective smiled. Looking up at the position of the sun, Trace decided she might as well be done for the day and loaded everything back onto the wagon. "Isaac...I have a favor to ask of you."
"Anythin', Trace, you just name it."
"Well...don't be so quick to agree because it will involve you not going to my party."
The teenager's shoulder's sagged a little. "What is it?"
"Matthew is going to bring Mrs. Reddick by here this evening to keep Rachel company while we're in town. Now, you know the sheriff doesn't like me and I don't trust him and, since he is not invited to the celebration tonight, I want to make sure he doesn't come poking around here, bothering the ladies. Now...when I go to town I will have a five gallon can of eggnog spiked with two quarts of whiskey. If you meet me by the gate, I'll make sure you have some of that if you find a place to keep yourself hidden and keep an eye on the women."
"Okay...what do you want me to do, just watch the house?"
"Yes. And, if Ed Jackson, or anyone you recognize to be representing the Crane clan comes anywhere near the house, I want you to ride into town as fast as you can and get me. Think you could do that for me?"
He shrugged. Eggnog and whiskey? That beat the flat ale he knew Silas would serve him any day. So what if he might not see Cassandra do a harlot dance for Trace, there would be other opportunities for that, he was sure. What Trace was asking of him was a very grown-up responsibility and he suddenly felt very honored and proud that Trace would trust him to do this. It would give him the chance to start proving himself to the cowboy. His chest suddenly puffed out. "Yup. I could do that for ya."
"Great, thanks, I appreciate it."
They agreed on a time, shook on it and Trace climbed on the wagon, heading back to the house.
Before Trace took her shower, Rachel insisted on 'trimming up' her hair. The detective was initially apprehensive about this but then she knew the blonde could not do a worse job than Mark had done. However, she relaxed, when Rachel stood in front of her, concentrating on the top of her head and had to stand between the detective's open legs for proper access.
The part of Trace's hound-dog nature that controlled her libido from her past, reared its head as the detective's face was eye level with Rachel's breasts. Thankfully, the blonde could not see the lascivious grin the brunette displayed as she gazed longingly, just imagining what she would do to them. Just one more day, Trace, she kept telling herself, just one more day...
After a cold shower, something she was getting used to - her next invention would be to figure out how to heat the water - she dried off and dressed in brown denim trousers and a beige button-down shirt with dark brown stripes. Brushing her hair, she decided she liked the trim Rachel had given her, still longish and shaggy but not unkempt. She had gotten used to herself with shorter hair, just like she had started to get used to her body hair growing wild. After all, she was pretending to be a man and men did not shave legs and underarms. She had to admit it was a little awkward at first, especially wearing sleeveless shirts but it certainly helped with the illusion. Although, tomorrow, she would be clean-shaven, smooth for her bride, for her wedding night. Just thinking about that made Trace give herself another splash of cold water.
While Trace had been showering and dressing, Rachel had been preparing the eggnog/whiskey concoction which would be the detective's contribution to the gathering at Wilbur's. Since Silas couldn't close the saloon and Trace didn't want to be paying for drinks for cowboys who weren't a part of the celebration, they agreed on the spiked beverage as a compromise. If the small group of men wanted anything else, they could buy it themselves. It was the best they could do with an event planned on such short notice.
Descending from the loft, the detective approached her bride-to-be, whose eyes roved over Trace more than appreciatively. "My...don't you look...just good enough to eat," Rachel breathed.
Stopping, looking skyward, Trace chuckled. "You have got to stop saying stuff like that..." She stepped closer to Rachel and took her in her arms.
"Why? You want me to admire you, don't you?"
"Oh, absolutely...it's just...you don't realize the meaning of your words sometimes..."
Rachel cocked her head. "My meaning or how you interpret them?"
Good point, Trace thought, although she knew the blonde would not comprehend the vulgarity of the brunette's interpretation and she was not about to introduce her to that aspect of her personality...at least not yet. She preferred Rachel in her pristine state of mind. The idea of the blonde knowing what she did about the vile side of human nature was enough and for her to still maintain her inviolate outlook after everything that had happened to her showed Trace just what kind of woman she was dealing with and one she did not want to change. She enveloped the blonde in her arms, lovingly, and kissed her forehead, then her cheek, then her lips, lingering there, not pressing for anything more intense.
Breaking the kiss, Trace smiled at Rachel, who kept her lips pursed, eyes closed and face angled up waiting, expecting another kiss. When Trace obliged with only a peck, the blonde blinked at her. "That's it?"
"For now. Elizabeth and Matthew are due here any minute and I'm not about to start something I can't finish."
"Big talker," Rachel teased. "You better be able to back those words up tomorrow night..."
"Don't you worry your pretty little head about that, Miz Rachel," Trace countered with a knowing smirk, making the blonde shiver. "I don't think you'll have any complaints."
"Pretty sure of yourself, aren't you?"
Shrugging, the detective released the blonde and shoved her hands into her pockets, rocking back and forth from her heels to the balls of her feet. "Guess you'll just have to wait and see..."
The sound of a creaking wagon and the jingling of reins pulling up to the house interrupted their conversation. Reluctantly taking her eyes off the detective, Rachel stepped out onto the porch to greet the Reddicks.
Matthew Reddick, a strapping young man in his late twenties, entered the house and saw Trace lift the can of whiskey-laced eggnog. "Here, let me help you with that."
"No, I've got it, just make sure my way is clear to the back of the wagon." And with that, they flew by the two women who backed away from the door to let them through.
"Oh, my..." Elizabeth mused, watching Trace. "Got yourself a strong one, don't you? And good looking, too..."
Rachel smiled at the compliment, the adoration on her face and in her body language more than apparent. "Yes, I think I got mighty lucky."
The women walked inside the house while Trace and Matthew situated the can on the wagon. "Sure you want to do this, Trace?" Matthew asked.
"Do what? Go to town and have a good time?"
"No, get married," Matthew grinned. "Your life won't ever be the same."
Looking toward the doorway, Trace sighed, "I hope that's true, Matthew, I hope that's true."
Matthew was surprised to meet up with Isaac Tipping as they were leaving the Triple Y property line. Trace filled the boy's pint flask, like she promised she would and then they parted ways.
"How come Isaac won't be at your stag session?" Matthew wondered.
"He's doing me a little favor."
"Keeping an eye on the house for you?"
"I thought of suggesting that myself but I was hoping it was just me being spooked."
"Ed Jackson is a coward, Matt. And right now he is desperate. I wouldn't put anything past him."
"You think it's wise to leave the ladies? I mean, we could bring them into town and take them to visit with Mrs. Ledbetter..." Matthew suggested.
"We could...but then, that opens a different can of worms. Jackson is a snake but I don't think he would burn the house, barn or stable down with Rachel and Elizabeth there. He doesn't want to kill Rachel, he just wants to save her for Ben Crane. But I don't think he would have any qualms about torching the place while no one is there."
"What do you think he'll do if he finds Rachel and my wife there?"
"You've been dealing with him a lot longer than I have, what do you think he'll do?" Trace wondered.
"Just try to scare them, threaten Rachel, try to warn her off getting married."
"Yes, that's what I think. And Rachel can handle that, Jackson doesn't intimidate her anymore," Trace stated.
"So, what do you think Isaac can do?"
"He's got a fast horse. He can get to town and get us."
Reddick nodded. "You sure you aren't biting off more than you can chew here, Trace? I mean, Ed Jackson's one thing. The Cranes are entirely another."
Looking over at the man seated next to her, Trace said, "You want your town back, Matt? Your freedom? The chance to live your own life and raise your kids not to be afraid?"
"That's a nice dream, Trace...but it's just that - a dream. You don't know what it's like. But you will. And, unfortunately, by marrying the one and only woman Ben Crane really wants, you'll see it a lot clearer than any of the rest of us."
Nodding, acknowledging Matthew's words, Trace sighed. "I think I can turn things around, Matt. But I can't do it alone."
Absorbing that, Matthew cocked his head. "Not that I think you have an ice block's chance in hell but I'd be interested to hear how you think you can do that. And no one's ever called me Matt before." He locked looked over and Trace and grinned. "I like it."
"You have got the whole town talking, Rachel," Elizabeth told the blonde as they sat out on the porch with cups of tea. "This mysterious drifter comes to town, shakes everything up, makes Ed Jackson face every day like he's got a bee in his bonnet and then claims you as his bride? What's going on?"
"I love him, Elizabeth. I think I fell in love with him the moment I laid eyes on him, I just didn't know it," Rachel gushed. "He's strong and loving and protective and fearless, everything a..." she stopped and thought about her words. "Everything a spouse should be."
"It's that fearless part that concerns me and it should full well concern you, too." It sounded as though she were reprimanding the blonde. The her tone softened. "But I can certainly see why you fell for him."
The sun had set maybe two hours earlier and there was a chill in the air that was unusual for that time of year. Pulling his collar up around his neck, Isaac was debating dismounting and sitting down by one of the bigger trees to shield himself from the strong breeze that had just come up. He had positioned himself two rows of trees thick in the forest on the north side of the house. He could see the porch from his viewpoint and was pretty sure no one from the house had seen him or could see him now. The teenager was three-quarters through the contents of his flask and feeling cocky and unconquerable when he heard a voice behind him.
"Whatcha doin' here, Isaac? Gettin' an eyeful or planning on gettin' a piece of that pretty little blonde before she gets taken?"
Reining his horse around, the boy's eyes narrowed when he saw the sheriff. "Don't talk about Miss Rachel like that."
"Funny...just a few weeks ago, you were thinking about her like that," Jackson reminded him.
"No, I was just goin' along with you because you threatened my father's store."
"Well, just remember, son, I can still put your father out of business. Now..why don't you run along back into town and let me do what I have to do. You're missing the festivities. After all, aren't you the best man? How you ever got yourself mixed up in that, I will never know. There's still time to get smart, boy. Now get out of here."
"No." Isaac sat tall in his saddle. "Leave Miss Rachel and Miz Reddick be, Sheriff."
Jackson was startled by his defiance and then he laughed. "And just what do you think a scrawny little thing like you is gonna do to stop me?"
"Ride to town and get Trace and Mr. Reddick."
Jackson considered this. "You know, I could shoot you right here, boy, and no one'd be the wiser."
"You could. But you won't."
The sheriff unholstered his six shooter and pointed it at the teenager. "And what makes you think I won't?"
Holding his head high, the teenager feigned composure he did not really have. He pressed on, not wanting Jackson to see his fear. "Because you're afraid of Trace Sheridan and you know he'd kill you in your sleep if anythin' happens to Miss Rachel."
"Why, you little snot-faced...!" He sputtered, angrily. "I ain't afraid of nobody, 'specially not that half-breed lookin' cowboy. All I'd have to say is that I caught you out here gettin' ready to do somethin' to Rachel and I had to shoot you to stop you."
"Nobody would believe you, Sheriff," Isaac continued, not sure at this point if it was courage or idiocy propelling him forward. "Miz Reddick is in there with Miss Rachel and Mr. Reddick was with Trace when they left and Mr. Reddick knows I'm here and why and it ain't to give either of them ladies trouble. But they was expectin' you would. I ain't tryin' to show you disrespect, Sheriff, but I was asked to make sure you or nobody else went anywhere near them ladies and that's just what I aim to do."
Locking stares, Jackson shook his head and reholstered his gun. "You just bought yourself a whole heap a trouble, boy, you know that, don't ya?"
"I 'spect so, Sheriff." And trouble for his father, too, he was sure. But he did not back down. He believed what Trace promised him about not letting the Cranes take his father's store. "It's up to you, 'course, but if I was you, I'd ride outta here and save yourself a heap a trouble."
"Well, you ain't me, now are ya, boy?" Jackson spit out.
Amen to that, Isaac thought. "No, sir. Just sayin' s'all."
Gritting his teeth, Jackson glared at the teenager, ugly distaste showing in his eyes. "You'll regret this, boy," the sheriff uttered through clenched teeth.
"Yes, sir." The teenager knew there was probably truth to that, as he swallowed hard. No one was more surprised than young Isaac Tipping when Ed Jackson turned his horse around and rode away.
It was only after he could no longer hear the horse's hooves trotting over dried twigs that he let out his breath in a sigh of relief. It was then he realized that his saddle was wet.
The party at Wilbur's was winding down. All of Trace's new friends had been in attendance - Jed and Joseph Turner, Caleb Tipping, Luther Foster, the goldsmith, the banker, the usual men who played cards with Matthew every time Trace was there and even two of the Indians she was doing business with stopped in for a couple shots of whiskey. Trace was surprised but actually pleased when the four old gentlemen who sat in front of the barbershop dropped by and they didn't turn out to be bad company at all.
As the evening wore on, more and more men joined the festivities, deciding they liked this Trace person very much and seemed sincerely happy that Miss Rachel had found someone who seemed honest and would be good to her. When the subject finally got around to the contemptible things Ben Crane had said about the bride-to-be, everyone discreetly admitted they did not believe it and had never believed it.
Everybody only had kind things to say about Rachel and the more the group imbibed, the more the conversation leaned toward grumbling about the Crane reign and how it individually affected them all, not just as business owners but as citizens of Sagebrush, as well. Normally, the fact that John Carver and his son, Seth, were drinking at the bar, listening to every word, would have put a damper on any grousing out loud but, for some reason, Trace's presence was empowering and seemed to make everyone just a bit bolder. The Carvers were not there to listen in as much as they were there to keep an eye on Trace while they knew the sheriff was making a little visit to the Triple Y. The two men allowed the celebration to continue without incident as they were quite sure there would be no wedding the following night.
The highlight of the evening turned out to be Cassandra's very seductive dance, ending it by plunking herself down abruptly Trace's lap. This delighted the mayor, who was willing to buy Trace an hour with the prostitute as a wedding gift. If Jed hadn't offered, Cassandra would have given Trace one on the house anyway. The detective respectfully declined and found herself very uncomfortable with the redhead's constant attempts to cuddle her. She must be in love if she wasn't even taking advantage of the invitation to cop a feel whenever she wanted.
All too soon for some (but not soon enough for Trace), the party was over and Silas was amiably kicking everyone out. All of the attendees promised that they would, indeed, be present at the chapel to witness the marriage of Trace Sheridan and Rachel Young, which pleased Trace because she knew it would be a nice surprise for her bride.
Singing 'Buffalo Gals', loud and off key, Trace and Matthew shushed each other as Isaac Tipping rode up to them. He had heard them long before they reached the entrance to the property. They weren't really drunk...but neither were they sober.
"Hey, Isaac," Trace grinned. "Quiet night?"
"Well, the sheriff did come by just as you 'spected he would."
"What! Why didn't you come and get us?"
The teenager took a deep breath, his damp saddle and britches now starting to chafe. "I told him to leave."
"And he left?" Matthew blinked, shocked.
"Well, not right away. But I told him that you wouldn't take kindly to anything happenin' to Miss Rachel, Miz Reddick or me and he saw my way and rode out."
Trace was impressed. "Why, thank you, Isaac. Obviously, I picked the right man for the job. You are the best man."
Grinning proudly at the compliment, Isaac could feel his chest expand. "Thank you, Trace."
"No, thank you, Isaac." The brunette smiled then started sniffing the air as she was sure she detected the distinct odor of urine and wet leather. "What's that smell?"
"Well, I gotta get goin'," the teenager said, quickly. "I'll see you tomorrow at the church, okay, Trace?"
"Sure. Thanks again, Isaac, I appreciate it."
"Me, too," Matthew shouted at the retreating Palomino.
They looked at each other, shrugged and continued to the house, resuming their horrendous rendition of 'Buffalo Gals.'
"Ooooh, my head," Trace wailed, from the sofa. She had never made it to the loft and Rachel was so annoyed that she didn't even try to assist her. The detective awoke fully dressed, including her boots. "Oh, God, oh, shit," the detective moaned, her head hammering, stomach lurching and the room spinning. Trace remembered that sometimes it helped with 'the whirlies' if she put one foot on the floor. First, she had to find the floor...
"Trace, your language..." Rachel reminded.
"I think I'm going to be really sick," the detective whined, face first into the cushion.
"Then you better get yourself outside to throw up."
"I can't move, my head hurts too bad."
"And whose fault is that?" Rachel was not amused.
"Oh, God, God, please, if you get me through this, I'll never drink again, I swear..."
"That's a hangover talking." Rachel shook her head. "Funny how you're calling for the Lord now..."
"Rachel, don't you have anything to get me through this?" Trace still didn't dare to move.
"I am making you some cabbage soup." The blonde heard the detective make a noise that closely resembled gagging. "It will work." And then she looked pointedly at the brunette prone on her sofa and said, "It better work."
Two hours later, the detective's head had stopped pounding and ginger tea was starting to soothe her nausea. Puking a few times into the bushes hadn't hurt, either. And Rachel's comment of "I've seen more life in a corpse," was said with a little more sting than it should have had. The last thing she wanted was the blonde to be mad at her, especially not with what was at stake following the wedding.
If Trace hadn't looked so pathetic, Rachel might have been able to stay perturbed with her but now that the brunette was beginning to become human again, all the blonde wanted was for the detective to feel better so that their special day would go as smoothly as possible.
Taking her shower, Trace angled the straight razor carefully, running the freshly sharpened blade over her underarms and legs, fortunately only acquiring a few minor nicks. She had never used such an archaic implement as the ivory-handled razor before and respected it immensely, knowing the edge could probably cut a limb off if need be. Oh, how she longed for the gels of the modern world, which softened and moisturized the skin and made shaving a much more tolerable event. However, the matching ivory shaving cup and brush with badger bristles that belonged to Rachel's father, came in handy as she was able to work up a decent lather with the borax soap. The water had been warmed by the sun, which made it a bit more enjoyable and a little easier to remove all the body hair she had accumulated by not having to shave over goosebumps.
Rachel had already been picked up by Matthew and Elizabeth Reddick, who had taken her to Molly Ledbetter's, where she would bathe, address any last minute alteration issues and then get dressed for the wedding. Trace had another half hour before she had to saddle up Chief and head to town. It was her fondest wish to ride in on Rio but the mustang just wasn't ready for his public debut yet.
After binding herself down, the detective put on white button-down shirt that Rachel had boiled clean the day before, her wedding slacks, a grey satin vest and a string tie. Her swallowtail coat with satin lapels that matched her trousers was waiting at the church. Rachel had brought it in on the wagon with her so it would not get all wrinkled. She asked Trace to wear different clothes in and change at the chapel but the detective did not want to take the chance of anyone seeing her undressed.
Taking one last look around the cabin, Trace closed the door behind her knowing that when she returned, she would carry the love of her life over the threshold and they would start a new journey together, beginning it with a much anticipated consummation. At that thought, a rush of heat captured her body and then left as quickly as it had come. Shaking the sensation out of her system, Trace walked down the steps and to Chief, who she had saddled up prior to her shower.
"You have a good wedding. Do not worry about here."
Trace turned to smile at Little Hawk, one of the four Indians who were going to deliver cattle to the ranch. "Thank you. I am grateful to you and Black Feather for watching over the house while we are in town. I will make sure you will not go unrewarded for this."
"You standing against Crane is reward enough." Little Hawk was anything but little. He was burly and barrel-chested and almost as tall as Trace. He had weathered skin and a wrinkled face but he had kind eyes. Trace had not asked the two warriors to come and guard the house. They decided on their own that it would be done. Trace could not have left the homestead in more capable hands.
At Five o'clock, Trace took her place at the alter, with Isaac standing next to her, dressed in his Sunday best. The small church was packed with faces of men Trace had mingled with at her party and women she had never seen before and assumed they must be 'the wives.'
The detective was not accustomed to feeling anxious. She wasn't scared of getting married to Rachel or regretting her decision in any way, yet she was suddenly cold and her insides were shaking. She drew in several deep breaths to steady her nerves.
"Stop fidgeting." The firm yet melodic voice of Pastor Edwards snapped Trace out of it and, as the organ music pealed forth Mendelssohn's Wedding March, startling Trace and Isaac nearly out of their respective skins, she suddenly stood very straight and tall, accepting and acknowledging the full responsibility of this moment.
Everyone turned and looked toward the entranceway as Molly Ledbetter, attired in a dusty rose-colored velvet dress proceeded down the aisle, beaming as though it were her own wedding. When she reached the chancel rail directly in front of the altar, she winked at Trace, who smiled in reflex.
Then Rachel stood in the doorway and began her walk down the aisle. Trace's heart stopped at the sight of the gorgeous women floating toward her, radiantly beautiful in her mother's wedding gown, altered just enough to personalize it as Rachel's. Her hair was braided and held back by sapphire-studded silver combs and she carried a shower bouquet of white asters.
Reaching the altar, Rachel handed her flowers to Molly and Trace took a step forward, standing next to this stunning apparition who, within a matter of minutes was to be her wife. Even though they faced Reverend Edwards, neither woman could take their eyes off each other. When Trace mouthed the words, "I love you," Rachel was sure she was going to pass out from sheer euphoria.
Hearing the organ music was the cue for Ed Jackson and the Carvers to enter the church. Their plan was to stand in the back and wait for the preacher to ask if anyone had reason to object to the union and they would all object...for different made up reasons. And being that Pastor Edwards was never one to cross the sheriff, the marriage ceremony would not be completed.
So, it was with great surprise when Jackson and his sidekicks ascended the steps of the church, their entry was blocked by two fully armed members of the neighboring Indian tribe. The were carrying Remington rifles, Bowie knives, a bow slung across their backs and a full quiver of arrows. The looked like they meant business and they were foolishly brushed by.
"Out of my way, Injun, we got business in the church." It was John Carver who spoke. Then he made the mistake of trying to push the Native American out of his way. The next thing he remembered he was flat on his back, five feet away from the doorway.
"Big mistake, son," Jackson told the young warrior.
"I am not your son. You have no business here," the young man responded.
"I'll throw you in jail, savage!" Jackson yelled at him.
"White man's laws do not mean me. You lock me up, you answer to my father."
Jackson and the Carvers blanched. Could this young warrior blocking their way indeed be the son of Moving Elk, one of the best known and bravest warriors in the plains nations? It had been rumored that he migrated his tribe to a stretch of land a couple miles from Sagebrush. Yes, things may be friendly now but there were horror stories about how the tribal chief had single-handedly cut down platoons of cavalries who dared to attack his family. Did they want to take that chance? John Carver decided for them by getting back up, dusting himself off and keeping his distance. Extremely peeved, he crooked his finger at Jackson.
"Now what, Ed?" Carver glared at the sheriff. "This cowboy isn't turning out to be quite the little pantywaist you thought he'd be. Jacob is not going to be happy with you."
Standing in the middle of the street, stewing, Jackson said, "Maybe it's time we paid a little visit to the Triple Y...if everybody's here, no one will be out there."
With that, the three men ran in the direction of the sheriff's office to find their horses. The two warriors just smiled.
Immediately after the ceremony, where for the first time in the history of Sagebrush, people actually cheered when Pastor Edwards said,'I now pronounce you man and wife,' the invited guests assembled at the home of the minister, where a sumptuous wedding supper was served. The house was very attractively decorated in green and white festoons, tastefully arranged with ferns and asters.
While everyone ate and drank and had a merry time, all the bride and groom could think of was how soon would be an appropriate time to leave. After the dinner, Trace and Rachel were driven by Isaac in a double horse-drawn coach, courtesy of grocer Luther Foster, to the photo gallery, where they had their wedding picture taken.
Returning to the pastor's house, they thanked everyone, bid them goodnight, hitched Chief up to the Reddicks wagon and were taken back to the Triple Y.
Reaching the front door of the house, Trace easily picked Rachel up in her arms, a compelling action that was very typical of the tall detective, which shouldn't have surprised the blonde but it did. It also made Rachel giggle in response to the feeling of being lifted and the chivalrous manner in which her spouse was behaving, obviously taking her role as 'husband' very seriously.
"What are you doing?"
"Indulging in a tradition," Trace responded as she pushed the door open with her foot and carried her bride over the threshold. Kissing the woman in her arms with loving abandon, Trace set her down and bolted the door shut behind them. She turned and admired her 'wife,' who seemed to be glowing, even in the dim light of twilight, enhanced only minimally by a kerosene lamp Rachel lit. "Hi, Mrs. Sheridan," Trace said, unable to disguise the unbridled affection in her voice.
"Hi, Mr. Sheridan," Rachel threw back, her voice just as thick with allure. "It was a nice ceremony, wasn't it?"
Removing her suit jacket, hastily undoing her tie and shedding her vest, she said, "The reception was nice, too. You have a lot of people who love you in this town, Rachel."
"Thanks to you. You brought them all back to me."
Grinning, Trace put on her best old west accent and said, "Why, t'wernt nothin', Miz Rachel. I jes' set 'em straight, s'all." She touched the blonde on her perfectly proportioned nose. "Now what do you want to do?" Her body was almost vibrating with anticipation.
Rachel blushed, slowly peering up at her through honey-hued eyelashes. "How about another tradition?"
Studying her for any hint of trepidation, her taller companion said, "Are you sure? I mean, really sure?"
Not releasing Trace's eyes for a second, her intent clear, Rachel exhaled a shaky breath. "I'm absolutely sure. I've never been more sure of anything in my life."
Enclosing Rachel's hands in her own, Trace said, "Then let's go up there." She nodded her head toward the loft.
"Why up there?" the blonde asked, still not losing eye contact with the tall, striking woman in front of her.
"Total privacy. I overheard a few drunken whispers at the reception about peeking in our windows. Going up there will guarantee our privacy. And I don't want to have to think about any interruptions. I want to be free to be me making love to you, Rachel, not the Trace Sheridan everyone in town knows."
"Me, too," she said, her voice a low quiver. The arc of emotion passing between them was jarring and Rachel was enchanted by it and by the woman standing before her.
"Are you ready?"
"I've been ready," she admitted as she doused the kerosene lantern.
"Well, you were the one who insisted on waiting until the wedding night," Trace nudged the smaller woman as they headed to the stairs.
"That's the proper and traditional thing to do."
"Sweetheart," Trace chuckled, following her bride up the steps, "there isn't anything traditional about this relationship."
"I haven't been in this bed since my Mama died," Rachel told Trace, staring at the quilt her mother had made when the blonde was a little girl.
"Is it okay that we're up here? If it's too painful, we can go back downstairs."
"No. This was my bed. I just started sleeping downstairs because that room smelled like my folks and it made me feel close to them. But you've been sleeping up here and now the pillows will smell like you."
Stepping up behind the smaller woman, her bride, Trace wrapped her arms around Rachel's waist, lacing her fingers together, kissing her on the top of the head. Leaning back into the embrace, the blonde covered Trace's hands with her own. "I love you Rachel Young," the brunette whispered.
"Rachel Sheridan," the blonde corrected, smiling, slapping one of Trace's hands lightly.
"Right, right...best I don't forget that, huh?" Trace grinned, swaying, slowly moving Rachel with her, toward the bed.
"Not if you don't want my wifely duties withheld," the petite blonde teased.
Turning her around, Trace fully focused on her, the look so mesmerizing, Rachel forgot to expel any air from her lungs. "What we're about to do? I guarantee you won't ever consider it a 'duty'."
Breathlessly, the newlywed said, "Show me?"
"Exhale, sweetheart," Trace smiled, "I don't want you passing out...at least not from this." Dipping her head, she placed a gentle kiss on Rachel's lips, intensifying the motion as the blonde urged her on, following her lead. One thing Trace had learned was that Rachel was an extremely quick study, a thought now that made the brunette's body almost tremble with expectation.
Rachel dissolved into the kiss, the sensation of her taller companion's tongue swirling around the inside of her mouth, sensually pillaging everything it touched. Rachel wasn't sure how all this was supposed to go, all she knew was the room was sweltering and spinning and she wanted nothing more than to be laying on the bed with Trace holding her, kissing her, doing things to her that made her cheeks burn deeply.
Removing her lips from Trace's, Rachel gasped for air, sitting on the bed.
Proud of the spell she could cast on this young woman, Trace smiled. "Are you all right? I'll go slow, okay?"
"This can't hurt the baby, can it?" the green eyes almost begged her to say no.
"Nothing that we do tonight, or any night for that matter, will harm the baby, I promise." Trace removed the white shirt she had worn for the ceremony and began to take off the binding, when Rachel stopped her.
The detective nodded silently and handed the blonde the end of her wrap. She slowly spun while the material was unraveled. Before she turned around to reveal her naked breasts, Trace drew a deep breath. It was not that she was suddenly shy and the word 'inhibited' could certainly never be used to describe the detective, but she knew that anything that happened between her and her 'bride' tonight would deeply impact the blonde and how Rachel would react or respond to the thought of their making love from here on.
To her knowledge, Trace had never been with a 'virgin' before. Nor had she ever been with a woman whose only experience with sex had been a horrific, intensely degrading one. The responsibility of showing this lovely and pure-of-heart woman how wonderful making love could and would be was immensely intimidating in its own right but the detective felt almost...blessed...that it would be she who would be Rachel's teacher, lover.
The detective had never before been concerned about what she did in bed or what her 'conquest' may or may not have been feeling, emotionally, although her ego predicted that she also performed to provoke a highly vocal and sexual response from whomever was the recipient of her lust. Actually caring about whatever nameless, faceless woman happened to be in her embrace was just never an issue before. Trace was out for Trace and would have said and done whatever it took to get her prey into bed. But this...being in love thing...was now having a very profound effect on her. Their first time would be an awakening for both of them.
Trace stood there, before her new bride, feeling more exposed than she ever had before. It wasn't that she was naked from the waist up, fully displaying her breasts for the first time to Rachel, it was the way the blonde's appreciative eyes took in every inch of her skin, the reverence in which Rachel regarded her and how time seemed to stand still as the blonde reached up to touch her. Fingertips chilled from excitement and fear caused instant goosebumps on Trace's flesh as Rachel lightly circled the brunette's areola. The dark ring on the detective's breast got smaller as Trace's nipple became impossibly erect. It was torture and they hadn't even begun yet.
Rachel could not stop herself from staring at the womanly physique in front of her. She had been so used to seeing Trace bound down that she had almost forgot the brunette even had breasts, much less the magnificent pair she was now touching. The blonde only had her own body to compare them to and had no idea seeing another woman's would provoke such a beguiling feeling deep inside her.
The brunette exhaled, panting slightly, not even realizing she had been holding her breath. She covered Rachel's hand with her own, pressing the blonde's fingers against her. Trace knew Rachel did not, would not have a clue as to what she needed to do to make love to the detective and it was up to Trace to set the pace, to create the atmosphere in which this night would be one neither of them would soon forget.
Trace watched Rachel as she looked up expectantly into the detective's baby blues, now darkened with desire. The blonde was obviously overwhelmed and a little unnerved by what was happening between them and within her own body.
"I...I...don't...." Rachel could not get the words to come out of her mouth, could barely raise her voice above a whisper.
Reaching over, Trace put a finger to the blonde's lips. "Shhhh...I know," she soothed. Her eyes sparkled as they held the emerald gaze, conveying a deep love and compassion for the woman behind them. Almost imperceptibly shaking her head, just awed by the vision about to give herself to the detective, Trace raised Rachel's hand and kissed her palm, then the inside of her wrist.
Letting go of the blonde's arm momentarily, the brunette sat on the edge of the bed and removed her shoes and socks, then her trousers. She wasn't wearing any underwear. Standing up, she turned to face Rachel again, silently, letting the blonde absorb her toned, muscular, desirable body. Rachel's eyes automatically fell to the dark triangle of curls at the apex of her thighs. It made Trace chuckle, slightly.
"Like what you see?"
Blushing furiously, Rachel closed her eyes and turned her head away. "I'm sorry. I feel so bold. I've never seen another woman bare before."
Leaning in, Trace gently guided the blonde's face straightforward. "Sweetheart, please open your eyes." When the blonde slowly obeyed, the detective said, "I want you to look at me. I want you to get comfortable looking at me like this. You have no need to feel embarrassed or bold, no need to apologize. I intend to make love with you every chance I get and I refuse to do it with my clothes on. Okay?"
"Okay," Rachel responded but did not drop her gaze from the detective's face.
Nodding, the detective sat back down on the bed. "And I want you to get comfortable with me looking at you with no clothes on. Because I intend to do that a lot."
"Even when my belly gets big?"
"Especially when your belly gets big."
"Oh my Lord, Trace, whatever you are going to do, would you hurry up and get started? My blood is starting to stir something awful," Rachel admitted, breathlessly.
If the blonde hadn't been so serious about it, Trace would have laughed at the tension breaker. She could not suppress her smile at Rachel's admission to getting ready to burst. "Stand up. I want to undress you."
Complying, Rachel helped only when she had to as the naked detective removed all of the blonde's clothes. In no time at all, Rachel was standing nude before her 'husband.' Ranching and farming were certainly a workout and Rachel's body showed it. Except for a very slight, almost unnoticeable bulge in the blonde's abdomen, there was not once ounce of excess skin anywhere. Rachel's creamy white complexion was all muscle, femininely defined. Her breasts were in perfect symmetry with the rest of her figure, tantalizingly round and firm and just begging to be caressed. Trace could not stop herself from licking her lips. Suddenly the aroma of arousal was everywhere.
"Oh my God, Rachel. You are so beautiful," Trace commented in a tone of near worship.
"Like what you see?" Rachel asked, not feeling half as shy as she expected to.
Stepping forward, the detective took the blonde in her arms and kissed her feverishly, pressing their bodies together, both women craving the full contact. At first, Rachel was stiff but within seconds, she relaxed, molding her form to Trace's warm contours.
Knowing they both needed to lay down before they fell down, the tall detective masterfully took the weight of the smaller woman and eased her back onto the bed, breaking the contact only once, to position the blonde and climb on top of her. Resting the length of herself over her wife, Trace kissed Rachel's lips until she was sure they must be swollen and bruised. Moving to her forehead, nose and cheek, the detective then nibbled on the blonde's earlobe, causing Rachel's entire body to tremble. From there she blazed a trail down the blonde's neck and shoulder.
"Oh, my, Trace, I have never felt like this before. I never knew the places you are kissing could feel like this."
"You ain't seen nothin' yet," Trace promised. She kissed to the base of the blonde's throat and then rested her face there. "Rachel...I know what I want to do to fulfill your desires. But if I do anything that hurts you or makes you uncomfortable, I want you to tell me, all right?"
"Must we discuss this now?" she asked, a little impatiently, between breaths coming in spurts.
"Yes. I'm just making sure you know that you do not have to do anything you don't want to do."
"Please hush up and make love to me."
That did prompt Trace to laugh. "As you wish, my lady." She rose up and kissed the blonde again, more passionately than she ever had before. If Rachel had the ability to melt, she would have been a puddle in the brunette's arms. The blonde watched, as Trace kissed down her chest, fascinated as the detective hovered over her breast. The brunette knew, because of Rachel being pregnant, the hormonal changes would make her erogenous areas much more sensitive. She would have to remind herself not to stimulate her partner to the point of being irritated. After all, it was all about giving Rachel pleasure and hopefully replacing the painful experience of her first time, not reminding her of it.
The detective placed her mouth on Rachel's nipple and began flicking it with her tongue. Hearing a sharp intake of breath and a hiss, Trace knew the blonde was experiencing a new, positive sensation. When Trace started to lightly suck on the rock hard bud, Rachel grabbed a handful of the detective's hair and squeezed with the same amount of intensity she was feeling. Lingering on her left breast until such a time where Rachel's chest was rapidly rising and falling, Trace then moved over to give equal time to the blonde's right breast, while still rolling and slightly pinching Rachel's nipple between her thumb and forefinger.
"Oh, lord in heaven, Trace..." Rachel sighed, holding onto the detective's head.
"You like this?" Trace's voice was low, husky, thickly laced with desire. The brunette only lifted her face long enough formulate words, her warm breath on the blonde's wet nipple sending another shiver through Rachel.
"It...it feels wonderful. Please don't stop," she breathed to her partner. If this was all Trace did to her, it would surely be enough. But she knew there was more to being made love to than this. She had figured out since the detective didn't have the proper equipment to penetrate her and her loins were begging for it, that Trace would no doubt use her fingers. That was exciting enough but when the brunette began kissing down her ribcage, taking special care to lavish extra affection on her belly and then went further down...well, this certainly had never occurred to her...Where was she going? What was she going to do? What - oh, Jesus, Jesus, that felt...oh good God...!
The detective nuzzled the soft blonde curls that smelled like a mixture of sex and lavender soap, then kissed the line that, when parted, would reveal the secrets of Rachel's very being and make her feel born again. Running her tongue the full length, Trace pushed through, feeling Rachel jump, then settle as she let an involuntary moan escape her. Slowly, gently, the detective located that little bundle of nerves, the only spot in the human body solely put there for pleasure and served no other purpose, and ravished it in a desperately tender manner, gauging Rachel's reaction as she did, taking cues when to go faster, when to slow down, when to add pressure and when to back off. Tasting this woman beneath her, remembering that this was all new to the blonde, knowing what she was doing to her brought Trace to the edge herself, the tingling warmth between her own legs building to its own crescendo.
Rachel had never felt anything like this before and wasn't quite sure how to respond. She had no idea another human being could make her feel this way, could make her feel like her entire body was ready to explode in a sensation of such ecstasy she didn't think she was going to survive it. She didn't even realize she was rocking to a rhythm Trace had set with every stroke and thrust of her tongue. Suddenly, an indescribable, wonderful feeling ignited right in the area the detective was concentrating on and radiated outward to every nerve in her body and then just intensified to a glorious white heat that continued to grow until she lost her breath. Her lower body spontaneously convulsed, racked with pleasurable waves and as Trace sucked every last drop of orgasm from her soul, she thought she was going to lose her mind from sheer bliss.
And then, so overpowered by what she had just experienced, Rachel began to weep.
Crawling quickly up the blonde's torso, Trace embraced Rachel securely. "Shhh, shhh, it's okay..." The detective soothed, kissing the blonde's forehead.
Holding onto the detective as though her life depended on it, Rachel cried into Trace's neck. "I...I have never felt anything like that before...it...you..."
Giving her an extra squeeze, Trace cuddled the blonde, smiling. "It's okay, baby, I understand." Although this wasn't quite the reaction she expected, she found it touching and endearing. The fact that the detective could produce that kind of emotion from Rachel made her heart pound in her chest. She had never brought anyone to tears before.
Following several soft words of love and reassuring kisses, Trace lightly ran her fingers in wide, lazy circles over Rachel's stomach, once again moving toward and targeting the blonde's lower body.
The blonde quivered everywhere the brunette's hand brushed. "Oh, lord, you're going to touch me there again..."
"Mmm hmmm," Trace intoned. "Unless you would rather I didn't..."
Green eyes snapped open and glared at her. "Don't you dare stop now, Trace Sheridan, why, that would just be cruel."
The detective erupted into a deep, throaty chuckle as she fondled damp curls that now appeared almost auburn. She began to gently stroke the area that had just taken the blonde over the edge, causing Rachel to cling to Trace's shoulders as once again, thrilling, titillating sensations seized her brain, holding her body hostage, releasing itself only when she no longer had the strength to grip the detective or even form a fist to grasp a handful of sheet.
Not waiting until Rachel was completely recovered, Trace gathered some moisture and inserted a finger very slowly, drawing it out and pushing it in a little further with each thrust. The detective locked eyes with the blonde, who could still not formulate thought at this point, much less speak, as Trace watched for any signs of emotional or physical discomfort. She saw nothing but want and desperate need in Rachel's expression and while the detective steadily and leisurely drove her finger into the blonde, Trace gently kissed her, silently conveying the love and desire that she inherently felt for her receptive lover.
"Baby," Trace whispered in Rachel's ear, "does this feel good?"
"Oh, yes," The blonde could barely get out.
"I'm going to add a second finger...I think I can make it more enjoyable for you. But if it is too much, you tell me, okay?"
"Okay," Rachel agreed. She trusted Trace implicitly and if the brunette thought it would make it better then she would believe her. Yet, when the detective removed the one finger, Rachel grabbed Trace's wrist. "No..."
"Shhh, it's all right." Trace's comforting tone and kiss on the forehead calmed the blonde as the detective ran her fingertips around Rachel's opening, gathering more wetness from the abundance pooled there and then delicately, easily slid inside, once more increasing her depth slowly with each push.
Rachel didn't think she could feel rapture beyond anything that she had already experienced. Any more would certainly drive her to madness. Yet what Trace was doing and the way Trace wouldn't take her eyes off her enticed the blonde to near frenzy and as close to heaven as she was sure she would ever get without actually dying. The sensation of Trace's strong fingers thrusting inside her in a blissful cadence was exhilarating enough but when she curled them and began massaging a certain spot, Rachel couldn't stop her eyes from rolling back in her head and uttering moans of ecstasy with each expelled breath. She was quickly approaching orgasm but this one felt different, this one felt almost ecumenical in its origin and when her insides exploded, the climax shook her to her core, sizzling out to her extremities then back through to her groin.
The blonde laid there, thoroughly winded, chest heaving, not at all sure she was even going to survive, not having the strength to fight it if the Lord wanted to take her at that very minute. When she was able to focus, she looked up into the most loving, caring eyes she had ever seen.
"How're you doing?" Trace asked, unnecessarily. She had wanted to make this experience memorable for the blonde. She was pretty sure she succeeded. And she almost had a sympathetic orgasm with Rachel on that last one.
When Rachel regained the capability to vocalize sound, she said, "I love you, Trace Sheridan. I never knew my body had the ability to do that."
"Never what?" Her voice was cautious.
"Never...um...done that to yourself?"
"What? Oh, heavens, no!" Since her whole body was already flushed, it was hard to tell if she was blushing. "Do you...do that?"
"All the time."
Rachel's eyes grew wide. "You do?" Off Trace's nod, the blonde said, "Is that because you don't have anyone to do that for you?"
"Well, now you have me." Rachel's smile was so sincere and her words were stated in such a decisive manner, that Trace couldn't help but fall in love with her all over again. "In fact," she reached up, taking the detective's face in her hands and pulled Trace toward her, "let me do it for you now..." The blonde kissed the brunette with such wantonness, Trace was at the point where all Rachel would have to do was touch her and it would be over.
Late into the night, an hour after both women had finally fallen asleep, Trace's arm circled around Rachel's waist, the blonde snuggled tight against her solid frame, the detective awoke to kisses on her eyelids. The soft lips moved to Trace's cheek and then mouth, an insistent tongue finding its way inside, provoking the detective to respond regardless of being oblivious in slumber. Without too much coaxing, Trace climbed into full consciousness to find Rachel half on top of her, lips fused to her own and the blonde's hand stroking her with such precision, it was as though she had been doing it all her life.
With very little guidance and direction, Rachel found the exact spot that incited a rush of arousal, a sharp, electrifying passion that enveloped Trace and overtook her in a way that was new, freeing and more exciting than she had ever known.
Growling, the detective flipped the blonde onto her back and wasted no time, spreading Rachel's legs, putting them over her shoulders and diving in. She was a little less gentle this time, a little less patient as Rachel seemed almost greedy for the sensory overload she knew was deliciously inevitable. The blonde came quickly, riding out every ripple as it surged around her like a whirlpool creating a vortex she never wanted to stop. When she descended from nirvana, Trace took her again, encouraging her not to hold back, to let it all out vocally and sexually, which Rachel did, surprised to discover how much it enhanced the experience. She hadn't even noticed that the detective had pleasured herself while bringing Rachel to climax, coming about thirty seconds behind her. Settling the blonde contentedly back in her arms, both women fell asleep, spent, exhausted, sated.
Two hours later, Rachel's kissing the back of Trace's neck and fondling the detective's breast, stirred her awake again. Smiling, the brunette said, "I think I've created a monster..."
The newlyweds did not get out of bed until later that afternoon. Some of that time had even been spent sleeping.
As much as Trace was used to the muscle aches that occurred after vigorous marathon sex, even she was mildly surprised at the stiffness and the soreness she was experiencing. She looked over at the petite blonde who was baking an apple pie and humming. Humming. Trace had never heard Rachel hum. There was also a bounce in her step that had not been there previously. The detective knew the blonde had to be feeling some physical discomfort but if she was, she certainly wasn't showing it.
Chuckling, a sound that was deep, throaty and, most of all, content, Trace drained her coffee cup and approached her bride from behind. "I think married life suits you, my love." She ensnared Rachel around her waist, catching the blonde off-guard, causing the smaller woman to blush and grin.
"Being in your bed suits me much better," the blonde commented, shyly. She spun in the brunette's embrace and lovingly looked up into sparkling blue eyes.
"How are you feeling? Does anything hurt?"
"Everything hurts," Rachel smiled, shrugging. "That's the pain and glory of consummation, isn't it?"
That caught the detective off guard. Thinking about it, she shrugged and said, "As long as it was more glory than pain."
'It was...wonderful, Trace," the blonde breathed, her expression very sultry and satisfied. "I just never...had any notion...that it could be like that."
"Well, then," Trace grinned, proudly, "glad I could be of service." She leaned in and kissed waiting, luscious lips, a kiss so heated that Trace's stomach clenched and Rachel actually moaned into the detective's mouth. Reluctantly breaking the contact, Trace held the blonde closely against her. "And you, my love, were amazing."
"I pleased you, then?" Her tone reflected genuine curiosity mixed with the need to be encouraged.
"Oh, yes. You couldn't tell?"
"I figured I did but not having anything to liken it to..."
"Oh my God, Rachel, you did just fine." Trace held the blonde at arms length and gazed directly into her eyes. "I have never been more in love or in lust in my life. And disappointed would be the last word I would use to describe last night...and this morning. Your instincts are, well, impressive." And the detective wasn't just being kind. The fact that Rachel had never participated in anything like that before and was able to bring Trace to the heights of sexual satisfaction that she did, galvanized the brunette. And the blonde could only get better as she became accustomed to and more relaxed with her role as a lesbian lover.
Complimented by her spouse's praise, Rachel stood on her tiptoes and initiated another long, sensual kiss, which Trace finally ended, short of breath. "Sweetheart, I would like nothing better than to carry you right back up to that loft and make love to you again, but I need to check on the animals."
Rachel smiled at her, complacently. "We'll have time tonight."
"Oh, that we will," the detective needlessly reassured her. The thought of the blonde writhing beneath her even from the simplest of ministrations set her loins on fire.
Trace had just finished painfully riding Rio bareback around the corral and was leading him back to the stable when she saw Matthew Reddick approach her. His buckskin had entered her field of vision at a gallop but then slowed to a trot and when Rio began to react to the scent of an unfamiliar animal, Trace put her hand up to Matthew, who reined his mount to a halt.
Matthew's horse sensed the wariness of Rio and snorted, nodded his head repeatedly and pranced sideways before stopping. The buckskin was a distant relative of the mustang, his superior genetic heritage a mix of Spanish and Scandinavian, and a breed so old that his actual origin was thought to have been lost somewhere between legend and antiquity. Handsome and proud, the buckskin had more determination, stronger feet, better bones, more stamina and, because of that, was one of the toughest breeds of horses.
"Let me just put him in and I'll be right with you, Matt," Trace explained, admiring the steed her neighbor was sitting on. The detective was learning that a man's horse was akin to the type of car he drove in modern times. It was a status symbol and a representative of his personality.
Nodding, Matthew dismounted, tying his spirited horse to the hitching post in front of the house. He met Trace exiting the stable. He appeared troubled. "I apologize for interrupting your special time, Trace, but...have you seen Sheriff Jackson?"
"Why would I have seen that useless waste of oxygen?"
"Well...the last anyone knew, he was supposed to have been heading out this way with the Carvers who, by the way, are also missing." They strolled back toward the porch.
"When was this?"
"They had a confrontation with one of the Pawnee guarding the door of the church yesterday. When they couldn't get in, they were overheard saying they were coming out here."
Trace couldn't help but smile. Little Hawk and Black Feather were not around when the Reddicks dropped Trace and Rachel off last night. The detective had automatically assumed they were still present, just making themselves inconspicuous. Maybe they had found something better to do.
"All three horses showed up at the Crane spread later this morning but with no riders. Hannah Burnett came to town looking for the sheriff to ask him where John and Seth were."
"Who is Hannah Burnett?"
"The only Crane daughter."
Trace wondered just exactly how many Cranes there were. The family must breed like bunnies. "I haven't seen them, Matt. But...maybe we should take a look around the ranch, make sure they didn't get lost anywhere on the property."
"Yep, that's what I was thinking."
"Let me tell Rachel where I'm going and I'll be right with you."
Trace had decided not to take Rio back out and saddled up Chief instead. It wasn't that the mustang wasn't used to her or cooperative, she didn't want to push it with the temperamental horse. Besides, not knowing exactly what they would find, the detective figured Rio was better off in his stall. At least he was somewhat predictable in his own familiar environment.
As their mounts ambled along, Trace concentrated on her entire peripheral vision while Matthew kept his attention pretty much straight ahead of them. "So...Trace...how was your wedding night?"
Looking over at her neighbor and new friend, the detective chuckled at the smirk Matthew wore, which bordered on lewd. "It was just as it should have been and that's all you need to know," Trace playfully admonished.
"Think there might be a little Sheridan running around come winter?"
Grinning proudly, as if she had actually made a baby with Rachel the night before, the brunette said, "I have no doubt."
"Good. I can't tell you enough how pleased Elizabeth and I are that Rachel has found happiness."
"Matt...when I got here, she was alone. It looked to me like everyone had abandoned her, seeming not to care. She told me that you wouldn't allow Elizabeth to even come visit her. That hurt her immensely."
Hanging his head, showing the shame he should have felt, he said, "I know. You don't understand what it's like, Trace. These Cranes...they want Rachel's land bad and have stopped only short of burning her place down and maybe even killing her to get it. If it wasn't for Ben's being sweet on her, I can't even think of what could have happened before you came along. We were all warned off from going near her and cautioned that if we didn't stay away things might start happening to us and our lands. I have to be honest with you, Trace, none of us could understand why Rachel just didn't sell. It would have been easier on her. Hell, would've been easier on everybody."
"I know why she didn't and I'm proud of her for not knuckling under. It's all she has left of her family, her heritage. Yes, she has paid dearly for her defiance. But if they take this land, they take her soul with it. And nobody is worth selling your soul to. I don't care how much money it is." Trace was startled by her own words. Only months ago, she would have sold hers to the highest bidder. Who was this person inhabiting her body? Just when had this momentous change taken place, anyway? The detective was reflecting on all this when Matthew's voice brought her back to the present.
"Well, I apologize, Trace. Things looked pretty hopeless. You've kind of showed us all that we have a choice. No one's ever stood up to Ed before so they never knew that he would back down so easily when he doesn't have one of the Crane brothers standing behind him."
"Matt, I guess I can understand that it's been easier for everyone else to go along with things the way they've been but it hasn't been easier on my wife."
Trace actually liked the sound of that...'my wife.' She realized that, in the era she was living in, it implied Rachel was her property, but she liked the message the word sent to others - especially the one it would send to Ben Crane - Rachel was now off limits. "Whether you stand with us or we stand alone is your choice. But that family terrorizing Rachel is over. I may go down protecting what's now mine but if I do, I'm taking as many of them as I can with me."
Matthew thought that over. "I don't know if that's being courageous or downright crazy, Trace...but I've got to admire your determination."
"If everybody in town decided to do that, the Cranes would have the fear factor taken out of their threat. Once that's gone, it's more of an even fight. If they suddenly realize that people have had enough and not only are they willing to go down fighting but take out the family bullies along with them, you might see a big difference in how things happen around here."
"You'd be willing to kill a Crane?"
"The Cranes won't think twice about killing me," the detective responded. "And now that Rachel is no longer available to Ben, I don't think they'll think twice about killing her, either."
"I think you might be right."
They rode in silence for a few more minutes when they both heard something in the distance that faintly sounded like two or more people calling for help. Heeling their horses into a canter, they headed in the direction of the voices and stopped their mounts abruptly when they reached a scene that made Trace wish she'd had a camera.
Sliding off Chief, joined by a more than amused Matthew, the detective surveyed the setting before her. There, tied naked to three separate trees, were Ed Jackson, John Carver and his son, Seth. The expression on the sheriff's face at not only being found this way by Trace but also probably having to be rescued by her was a mixture of fury, embarrassment and humility. However, his attitude was purely indignant.
"You know how much trouble you're in, Sheridan?" He spit out.
"Me? Looks to me like you're the one who has a little problem here." She let her eyes fall to the sheriff's lower anatomy. "And I do mean little."
Matthew couldn't help but laugh at Trace's insolent but obviously delighted tone of voice.
Looking down at his manhood, then back up into the twinkling eyes of the brunette, Jackson's face was beet red. "I don't get no complaints!"
"Yeah but your hand doesn't count." Smirking, the detective continued, "Gee, Ed, other than yourself, who you gonna satisfy with that shriveled up little talliwacker?"
Despite their unfortunate situation, snickers could be heard from the other two men strapped to the trees. "Damn it, Sheridan, untie me this minute or I'll -"
"Or you'll what? Doesn't look to me like your in the position to do much of anything, least of all, give orders, Ed."
"You...you...you're behind this, Sheridan, I know it," he sputtered. "Now untie us right now."
"When did you boys get tied up, anyway?" Matthew asked, standing next to Trace, taking his cue from her.
"Yesterday evening," Seth offered.
Trace shrugged. "Then you know it wasn't me, I was getting married and you know I have plenty of witnesses."
"Then you had them injuns do it."
"You mean you didn't see who did this to you?"
"No, we was attacked from behind and knocked out. Next thing we knew, we was here...like this."
"Sheriff, those two at the church never left and everyone who had been at the wedding and after at the preacher's saw them," Matthew volunteered.
"Well, I see it like this, Ed," Trace began, "You and your friends here, entered our property - and yes, it is our property now - mine and Rachel's - as marriage gives me that claim of co-ownership, without permission or probable cause. That's trespassing and you were previously warned about trespassing. That gives me the right to designate anyone I damn well please to act as an agent of the owner, while I am away, to protect my home and my land. The way I see it, Ed, you should be the one whose incarcerated in your own jail." She absorbed Jackson's speechlessness with a sense of triumph. She knew she was using legalese that may have been confounding to the three sets of captive ears but she also knew it made sense that she, in reality, was the wronged party. "And, hmmm, let me recall as to how you put it to me a while back, you didn't see who did this to you so they can't be identified...just who are you supposed to arrest?"
"Hey, Sheridan," John Carver said, his tone more defeated than angry, "we get your point, we really do. But do you think you could show us a little mercy and untie us? I can't feel my arms or legs no more."
"Show you mercy? Show you mercy?" Trace repeated, incredulously. "I should leave you all tied there and for scavengers to pick over just for saying that. When was the last time you boys showed anyone in this town - most specifically my wife - any mercy?" Now the detective was mad. Trace turned and walked back toward Chief, as though she was actually going to leave them there.
"Wait! Wait." It was the younger Carver speaking up this time. "What do you want? What will make you free us from these trees?"
Trace spun and walked back to the three pathetic looking men. "Do you think I am foolish enough to believe anything any one of you would promise me? You guys are at an extreme disadvantage right now and I know you would do or say anything get free. I've been dealing with criminals like you -" She looked pointedly at Jackson, "especially like you - all my life. I know how you think. You will be agreeable until you get your clothes and your horses back and then you'll hate me twice as much and come after me with a double vengeance."
No one said a word as Trace pulled her knife from it's sheath and walked toward the younger Carver, whose eyes grew wide with fear. Matthew held his breath, wondering what the brunette was going to do. Raising the blade menacingly, she swung it down in a blindingly fast arc that sliced the rope freeing's Seth's hands and stepped back. "That's all I'm going to do. You want out of this situation, you do the rest yourself."
Trace then returned to Chief and mounted him, waiting for Matthew to follow suit with his horse.
"Reddick, you ain't gonna leave us here like this, are you?" Jackson asked, sourly.
Stepping into the stirrup and swinging his leg over the saddle, Matthew settled in. "It's not my property, Sheriff, so it's not my call. But to tell you the truth, I wouldn't have even freed Seth's hands. You boys deserve anything you get. And my sentiment is that it is about damned time."
"Why, you ungrateful, no good -"
"Shut up, Ed!" John and Seth Carver chorused. They were not thrilled with the situation either but at least now, with Seth's hands free, they had a chance.
"This is your final warning, Ed," Trace told him, evenly. "I see you on this property again without official business and I will kill you."
Wisely, the sheriff stayed quiet while Seth tried to figure out how to untie his legs.
That night, lying in bed with Rachel in her arms, basking in the afterglow of more passionate, inventive and exhausting lovemaking, Trace asked about the tribe of Native Americans who had saved their wedding day and possibly their house, barn, stable, animals and whatever crops they had left.
The detective had advised her bride about the events of her afternoon and her warning to Ed Jackson. Instead of being frightened, as she normally would have been involving anything to do with Jackson which ultimately meant The Cranes, Rachel just beamed with pride and felt very safe in the embrace of her lover.
The blonde understood that Trace was only one person and therefore outnumbered by the cattle baron's entourage, yet she felt no sense of impending doom like she always had in the past. In a flash of melancholy, Rachel told her spouse that if it all ended tomorrow, Trace had still made her the happiest person on earth and she would never regret any of the last couple months of her life.
After the brunette related what she suspected was the work of Black Feather and Little Hawk which resulted in the situation with the three naked men tied to the trees, she finally told Rachel about the deal she had made with the four tribal members regarding the cattle. Overwhelmed and deeply touched by Trace's actions and generosity, the detective once again held and comforted the blonde while she cried her appreciation. The emotional release then led to more steamy sex depleting any energy reserve of either woman for a while, so they relaxed and just talked.
Rachel explained what she knew about the Native Americans who came to town infrequently. Matthew Reddick had referred to them as Pawnee but to Rachel's knowledge, that was a generalization as, from everything she had been told, this band was a mixture of Chaui, Skidi and the most rare, Quiveras, three smaller groups of The Pawnee.
As the story went, Moving Elk, depending on who you believed, was either a charmingly persuasive leader or a savage of barbaric proportions. After a majority of his large tribe was systematically slaughtered by particularly violent groups of plains Apaches, British-armed Sioux and Osage Indians, he took what was left of his family from a burned Platte River village in Nebraska and migrated southwest, picking up other stray Pawnee along the way.
The other warriors had survived raids that killed many of the men, and resulted in their women and children being sold into slavery to the Spanish and Pueblo Indians. Those who weren't murdered outright were lost to white men's diseases like small pox and cholera. The original purpose of the direction of the migration was to hopefully find and rescue lost family members. It turned out to be a fruitless mission as none were located.
This assorted band of Pawnee finally settled in an area not more than five miles from Sagebrush about fifteen years earlier. Even though they had always seemed to be a peaceful tribe, Moving Elk's legend just continued to grow and Rachel was quite sure that certain tribal members enhanced that lore with each shot of whiskey at Wilbur's, knowing it would make the white men think twice about treating them badly.
"Matt said something about the male members of the tribe offering female captives as a sacrifice to ensure good crops..." Trace brought up, running her fingers lightly up and down Rachel's back. "Do you know anything about that?"
Feeling the blonde's body shake against her in laughter, Rachel said, "I've heard that, too, but I've never seen anything to make it so. I mean, unless they are taking women from Jefferson, which wouldn't make sense because it's a lot farther away, no one has come up missing from here. Besides, why do you think they took up your offer of corn so quick? They don't have hardly any fertile land to grow on. My daddy used to tell me that the Pawnee were known for their bountiful maize crops and skill at hunting buffalo. The buffalo aren't a problem but seems though they don't do so well with the corn growing. At least not around here."
Traditionally, in Pawnee settlements with better farming land, corn was plentiful and considered a sacred gift, one which they called 'mother.' The Pawnee linked various spiritual rites to its planting, hoeing, and harvesting and their lifestyle alternated between hunting buffalo and planting or harvesting crops. After planting and hoeing, the men left their villages in the summer for the buffalo hunt and then returned to harvest crops in the fall. Following storage of their bounty, they would leave in late autumn for their winter buffalo hunt and return to their villages in early spring to plant their crops and begin the cycle all over again.
Trace smiled. "No wonder they were so eager and appreciative of the corn deal. Maybe with our new friendship and business arrangement, I'll be able to go visit their village. I can't recall ever seeing a real tepee before."
"You won't see one in their village, either," Rachel told her. "They live in an earth lodge. They only build tepees when they are out on the buffalo hunt." The blonde then went on to explain about the circular, dirt-roofed, dome-shaped dwelling which housed all fifty some-odd tribal members.
"You mean they all live together - like a commune?"
"Well...I guess...I don't really know," Rachel admitted. As Trace's hands lightly caressed the cheeks of Rachel's firm rear end, the blonde swatted at the brunette playfully. "Maybe you can find out on your visit to the village." Trace's seemingly unconscious finger activity was stirring Rachel slowly to arousal again...not that she minded but she was beginning to wonder if she was becoming some kind of sex fiend. The more the detective touched her, the more she craved the physical intimacy.
"Maybe I will," the detective agreed, fascinated by what the blonde was telling her.
Rachel rose up and leaned on her elbow, looking into Trace's eyes. "How come you don't know anything about Indians? Weren't there any around Cottonwood?"
How unfortunate that the brunette would have to keep lying to the blonde concerning her 'hometown' but Trace knew that the truth was too unbelievable and her relationship with Rachel was too fragile to try to tell her anything different now. The detective vowed that she would be the last person to ever betray the blonde again but this was one facade she would have to keep up. "Where I come from, they are called Native Americans and they live on a reservation, which is now sovereign land. The closest tribe was well over sixty miles away and they ran a cas- a gambling house called the Mystic Sun."
The blonde looked completely bewildered by what Trace was telling her. She blinked at the detective. "Indians run gambling houses?"
"Yes. And quite successfully, too. Cottonwood is very different from here..."
"So you keep saying. Too bad you don't want to ever go back there," Rachel sighed, settling back into the comfortable position of her head on Trace's shoulder and one leg slung over Trace's abdomen, "because I would love to see it someday."
"Unfortunately, sweetheart, I can never return. I would be killed if those men ever found me."
"Then we will never go there," Rachel stated, simply. "My goodness. Gambling houses..."
"Tell me more about my silent business partners," Trace requested, enjoying what she was learning. While one hand had returned to massaging the blonde's backside, the detective's other hand began to circle Rachel's breast. Even though it appeared to be a movement Trace wasn't even aware she was doing, the blonde could feel the heat start liquefying her lower body.
"Well, again, this tribe of Pawnee has always been kind of mysterious. It isn't that they aren't friendly, they just mostly keep to themselves...until now. They come to town to -" Rachel closed her eyes when Trace's fingers brushed over her nipple. She took a breath and continued. "They come to town to barter and do business and to drink and Lord knows what else at Wilbur's."
"What about Moving Elk? Does he ever come to town?" The detective had suddenly realized what she had been doing with her hands and the effect it was having on her responsive companion. She could not keep the smirk from forming as she assessed her own body's rising readiness and could feel the wetness of her lover whose center had just ground into her hip.
"I don't know as anyone has ever seen him. Maybe he doesn't even exist." Rachel was finding it difficult to concentrate. "Maybe on your visit to their village, you can...see...if..." Not being able to stand it anymore, the blonde turned Trace's face to hers and seized the brunette's lips hungrily.
Breaking the sizzling kiss, Trace carefully positioned Rachel fully on top of her. She cupped Rachel's behind and pulled her up the length of her body to a sitting position. The blonde straddled her rib cage and looked down at the brunette questioningly. "Trust me?" Trace asked, needlessly, an anticipating smile on her lips.
"Of course," the blonde answered, her voice hoarse from want. She allowed the detective to slide underneath her as Trace guided her down. "Wh -?" Then the sensation of the detective's tongue inside her hit her full force. She grabbed onto the headboard and threw her head back, "Ohhh, sweet Lord in heaven..."
Trace had not expected to see Isaac bringing her the rest of the fence order until Saturday, as it was a one day trip to Jefferson and a one day trip back. Toward early morning, the detective had been up with Rachel, who had experienced a rather prolonged bout of nausea, so Trace was tired from that and the lack of sleep resulting from her extremely active sex life with her new partner.
The brunette was grateful and felt fortunate that Rachel enjoyed all aspects of lovemaking as much as Trace did but if they were going to keep up their current pace, they were going to have to start going to bed a lot earlier.
Trace's original plans for the day was to work some more on reinforcing the fence or begin marking off an acre of land in which to start plowing. Rachel so enjoyed growing herbs and vegetables to use in her natural remedies and now that the town was embracing her again, Trace was sure they would start calling on the blonde for her concoctions once more. That and selling her vegetables to Luther Foster had been lucrative for her in the past and the detective was going to make sure it was profitable for her again.
But, today, the brunette could barely put one foot in front of the other one. There just did not seem to be enough energy in her entire reserve. Rachel's stamina, however, appeared intact, which surprised Trace considering they were up half the night indulging each other's desires and then a good portion of the morning with the blonde's vomiting. Shaking her head at the irony of a smaller, younger, inexperienced, pregnant woman having more vigor than she, Trace smiled to herself. "God, I must be getting old," she mumbled to no one in particular.
While Rachel heated water and began to wash clothes, the detective made up her mind to do something hopefully productive that wouldn't be too taxing and decided to try her hand, finally, at fishing. Locating the pole and a pail in the barn, the detective headed down to the river, equipment in hand, sleeves and pant legs rolled up, ready for business. If she'd been wearing a straw hat, she would have felt like Tom Sawyer.
Stopping approximately five feet from the river bed where the ground was softer, the brunette dug for worms. It didn't take her long to find a handful of big, fat juicy ones, which she stuck in the pail with a clump of pliant dirt. The big, tough detective made a terrible face at handling these slimy little creatures and when she speared one through a hook, she looked even more distressed.
However, settling in on a comfortable patch of ground, leaning her back against a smooth boulder, Trace leisurely tossed her line in, noticing for the first time, the beauty of the shimmer from the sun on the river. Looking up at cottony white, billowy clouds, she marveled once again at how clear, vivid and vibrant the bright blue sky was. Her eyes then focused on how those same clouds cast shadows on the green crown of the mountains in the distance. The rustling of the water, along with the faint stirring of the leaves from a small, warm breeze prompted Trace to, again, not regret her decision to come back in time. Never in her world would she have ever noticed these things, much less taken the time to appreciate them.
Two hours later, she had forgotten all about her admiration of nature. She had caught no fish but lost plenty of worms to their hungry, conniving little mouths. Frustrated could not even begin to describe how Trace felt at her inability to catch the cold blooded creatures with a brain far inferior to her own. Of course, she realized she had never tried it before but how difficult could it be? Obviously it was a lot harder than the cocky detective had originally anticipated. She had one more worm left, which she skewered several times - in an exaggerated manner - onto the rather ordinary hook that was still sharp enough to poke her and draw blood. Tossing the line back in the water, telling the worm, 'bon voyage,' Trace tried one last time.
Rachel had taken a break from doing the laundry and thought it might be a good idea to see what Trace was up to. The brunette had not told her where she was going or what she was going to do but the blonde knew she couldn't be too far, especially after checking the corral and finding all of the horses grazing and accounted for. She grinned at Zelda, who was getting big and starting to feel her oats as she jumped and bounced around the pasture for no particular reason. It was then she heard yelling coming from the direction of the river.
Approaching Trace from behind, Rachel stopped a few feet behind the detective and just observed, crossing her arms in amusement.
"Augh! I can't believe this! Son-of-a-bitch!" The frustration in her voice was clear as she held the pole in one hand and the empty hook in the other. She looked directly into the water. "All I want is one little fish, just one...okay maybe not so little but that's not the freakin' point here! Can't one of you give me a break?" Exasperated, she threw the pole to the ground and turned around, coming face to face with Rachel.
"You tryin' to catch a fish or scare it to death?" The blonde inquired, taking in Trace's surprise at her presence.
"Well, I thought I could bring home dinner but the fish have other ideas...and don't say I need to be smarter than the fish," Trace warned.
"Well..." Rachel drew the word out as though she was contemplating just that. "You gotta admit it when your licked."
A smirk crossed the detective's face and she wanted to come back with, 'No, that was last night.' Knowing that was crude and would embarrass the blonde, Trace said, "I will not concede defeat to a fish."
"There's a fish trap in the barn. It would be easier to set it up and just let the current of the river guide them in."
The detective blinked at her. "You have fish traps? Why aren't they already set up?"
"Well, I just have one but it needs to be fixed. A section of wire rotted out a few months back. Wasn't very useful. The fish could swim right through."
"I can fix it. In fact, maybe I can get to that tonight after supper. In the meantime, I'm not coming back to the house until I catch a fish."
"You going to will it onto your hook?" The blonde asked, nodding toward the empty pail.
"No, I'm going to dig up some more worms," Trace told her, almost defensively, unconsciously making a face at the mere thought.
Rachel briefly stared at the ground, shaking her head at the detective's stubbornness. "Okay." Turning and walking back to the house, the blonde bit her lip to keep herself from responding with something sarcastic. She felt she must show her faith in the brunette, at the very least, by remaining silent and not undermining her determination. However, that didn't stop Rachel from thinking about preparing something else to eat, just in case.
Trace smiled fondly as she watched the blonde disappear through the trees on her way back to the house. Not wanting to disappoint her spouse, the brunette fell to her knees and began digging through the soil again.
The detective had just finished baiting the hook with a very long worm, when she felt a presence before she saw one. Tensing, she mentally prepared herself for anything.
"You want to catch fish, Tsápaat?"
Trace relaxed as she recognized the voice of Little Hawk, who stepped up to stand beside her. "You move like a damned ghost," the detective told him, unnecessarily. She paid no attention to the name in which he addressed her, figuring it was some kind of nickname in his own language.
The solid-framed man took the comment in stride. "You found the sheriff." It wasn't a question. His English was broken but comprehensible.
"Kind of took a big chance with that one, didn't you?" the detective couldn't keep the smile out of her voice. Neither looked at each other when they spoke, both preferring to glance out over the sparkling water.
"No. We knew you would find them."
Trace was about to throw her line in when Little Hawk raised his hand, indicating that he wanted her to stop. "Yeah, I'm not having much luck at this," the brunette chuckled. If nothing else had come of this journey, she had learned to stop taking herself so seriously.
Little Hawk stuck his hand into a pouch on his cloth tunicle and pulled out a fistful of something, took a step closer to the edge of the river and let chunks of the substance fall into the water. "Now we wait," he advised her.
"What's that you dropped in there?" Trace wondered.
"Walnuts." Off the detective's questioning expression, he said, "You will see."
Nodding, Trace set her pole down. "I really appreciate your help two days ago, Little Hawk. The day would have been a disaster had it not been for you and the others."
"Crane's time has come, Tsápaat. It only needed the right leader. We knew you would come. We just did not know when."
Trace should have been rattled by that but curiously enough, she was not. When Little Hawk began walking downstream along the bank, the detective automatically followed. "I'm going to be planting the corn hopefully at the end of next week," she told him, just for small talk.
"We will make sure you have some help and we will bring you seeds to plant squash. We have very little earth now that is not barren." Little Hawk stopped about twenty feet from where they previously stood and walked into the river until he was submerged to his waist. He looked at Trace. "Come. You must learn."
As Trace joined him, the water not being as cold as she expected it to be, she watched, astounded as one fish, then two, then four more floated to the surface. She grabbed three and Little Hawk plucked out the rest. "Are they dead?" the detective inquired as they made their way back to where Trace had left her equipment.
"No. Just sleeping," Little Hawk told her as they dumped their catch into the pail.
"Walnuts put fish to sleep?" The brunette asked, incredulously.
The Pawnee hunter just nodded, not knowing how to explain that the meat from the walnut held a powerful sedative. He pointed to the fish."Bring them home to your wife, Tsápaat. She needs to eat well. She has another growing inside her."
Stunned, Trace attempted to speak but nothing came out. How could he possibly know that? "How could you possibly know that?" She watched his face which remained impassive.
"It does not matter how. I do not question knowledge when it comes to me. And you should not. I also know you are not the father, Tsápaat." The sage, brown eyes captured astonished blue ones.
Trace felt as though the wind had been knocked out of her. It was one thing to sense someone was pregnant, that could possibly be explained away. She knew Indians were very spiritual people and had insight to so much more than, well, white people, but to know the baby was not hers was another matter entirely. Did she dare ask him how he knew? And what was this name he kept calling her? "Why do you keep calling me Tsápaat? What does that mean?"
For the first time, Little Hawk cracked a hint of a smile. "Woman."
Oh. That's how he knew, the speechless, wide-eyed brunette absorbed.
Walking up the steps, pail full of fish in hand, Trace couldn't stop laughing to herself. All, mysticism aside, Little Hawk admitted that he had been on the other side of the river, tracking a deer two months earlier, when he saw her bathing in the water. It must have been right after she had arrived there and was a little less cautious. He also told her that he would have known anyway after their actual meeting. There was a different scent to a woman than there was to a man.
She did not have to ask him not to tell anyone. It went without saying that he would respect her secret, as The Pawnee were very altruistic people. Besides, he had been aware of it for some time now and never said a word to anyone, other than his own tribe.
He also told her that he knew Rachel was with child by the way she walked. Little Hawk advised her that he had three wives and a total of eleven children with them. He was sensitive to many things that indicated when he would become a father again, and how a woman carried herself, even in the earliest stages of pregnancy was one of them. He then reassured Trace that he knew Rachel was a woman pure of heart and chaste and he sensed the circumstances that resulted in the blonde being with child were not. Little Hawk put his hand on the detective's arm and told her that what she was doing was noble and selfless and he was proud to know such an honorable woman.
His honesty touched Trace deeply, to the point where she had to choke back tears. No one had ever said - nor had she ever given anyone any reason to say - words like that to her before. She asked him if it bothered him that she was a woman disguising herself as a man. Little Hawk answered by telling her that his people measured worth by deed and dignity not by wealth or gender. He then clapped her on the shoulder and said, "You are more man than most white men, Tsápaat. You will make a great leader someday. Perhaps someday soon." And then as swiftly as he had arrived, he was gone.
Entering the cabin, Trace set the pail on the table and approached Rachel who was peeling vegetables.
"You're back soon. Did you give up?" the blonde asked, her tone fully expecting the detective to say yes.
"Ha! Ye of little faith," Trace replied, gently taking her bride by the elbow and leading her to the table.
Seeing the contents of the pail, Rachel looked back up at Trace, stunned. "You did it."
"Of course I did it," the detective was almost preening.
Setting two carrots down on the table, Rachel grabbed the pail and walked out to the porch with the detective right behind her. Sitting on the top step, the blonde removed the first fish. "You never stop confounding me, Trace," Rachel told her spouse who joined her on the step. "I am so proud of you, you never give up."
The detective flashed her a dazzling smile and was about to lean over and kiss her when Rachel unceremoniously lopped off the head of the fish, an action that caused Trace's stomach to lurch, repulsed.
After a delicious supper of trout cooked over an open flame, Trace repaired the fish trap, replacing one entire side with new wire while Rachel boiled the trout heads, bones and skins for stock. Having not told the detective what she was doing came back to bite her when, in another bout of nausea, she ran to the edge of the porch and deposited most of her supper. After making sure the blonde was okay, Trace returned inside - at Rachel's request - to check that the pot on the stove was not boiling over. Whatever was in there smelled damned good. Taking a towel to lift the lid, Trace stirred the substance with a spoon and stopped dead when at least three sets of eyes attached to three very ugly heads were suddenly staring at her from the steaming water. In a matter of a minute, the detective joined her wife, heaving up her trout consumption also.
Trace wondered when her stomach got so weak. Or maybe it was sympathetic morning sickness. Or maybe it was those damned fish heads. The thought then reminded the brunette of Rachel beheading and gutting the trout earlier and her insides turned once more.
Later, when the mood had returned to tranquil, both women sat on the porch and watched the sunset. Rachel quietly remarked that she liked the effect it had on the leaves just before the sun went to sleep for the night behind the mountains. Then Trace got her guitar out and sang a few songs while Rachel started sewing the detective a new binding from a remnant of stretchy material she got from Molly. The brunette never thought being so domestic would have ever made her so happy.
By the time they went to bed that night, Trace had confessed about Little Hawk and the walnuts. Rachel was a little disappointed that the detective had not caught the fish the traditional way but she was not surprised at the effect of the nuts. The blonde told Trace that the sweet fragrance of walnut shell shavings had a relaxing and soothing effect because it was a natural tranquilizer.
Trace would have to remember that after the baby was born.
Isaac brought a wagon load of barbed wire the next morning and he and Trace got to work on the fence right away. Within an hour, Black Feather and two other Pawnee showed up and began to silently help affix the dangerous wire to the wooden rails. Approximately ninety minutes later, a few men from town arrived with their own tools and began on another section. Soon after that, Matthew Reddick and his card playing buddies were there to complete the last fifty feet of reinforcement for the fence. A project that should have taken three to four days was suddenly done in one.
When Trace made the rounds and thanked everyone for their help, they further surprised her by telling her that, as repayment, she could return the favor as all of them except The Pawnee had decided to copy her idea with their own land. When the detective, Isaac and the others reached the house, Trace saw a buzzing of activity hovering around the cabin, too. While the 'men' had been out toiling, the women had converged on the homestead with food, plates, cups and utensils and created a feast to feed the tired, hungry workers.
Washing up before supper, Trace was able to catch her wife on her way out of the house. They smiled, inspecting each other appreciatively and stood very close together, the urge to be physical nearly overwhelming them both.
Nodding her head in the direction of the crowd, Trace said, "Did you arrange this and not tell me?"
"No. This is as much a surprise to me, Trace." The genuine bewildered but pleased look on her face backed up Rachel's words.
Reaching over and subtly rubbing the blonde's shoulder, the detective stood there as Rachel returned to their guests. Trace took a minute to observe the blonde mingle with their neighbors, obviously thrilled to have these people back in her life again. Watching Rachel's glowing demeanor, adoration completely inhabiting every inch of her body for the smaller woman, the detective shook her head and took a deep breath, focusing on the horizon.
As Trace witnessed light bathe the summit of the purple mountains in the distance, the reality of what was happening washed over her as surely and as richly as the inevitability of the sunset. Although, conversation was predominantly loud and different timbred voices surrounded her, it filtered through her head as a chorus behind the echoing of Little Hawk's words: You will make a great leader someday. Perhaps someday soon. It was indeed happening. An Army one person at a time.
A repeat of the same community generosity occurred that next week when Trace began plowing and harrowing the ground. A few tribal members and several residents of Sagebrush showed up at different intervals to help till the deep, black soil, uproot weeds, break up crop residue, then plant and cover seeds.
A task that should have taken seven days at the least, took three and instead of one acre for corn, Trace now had two and Rachel's current vegetable and herb garden was stretched out another half-acre. If they could keep the 'varmints' away - animals and humans, they might actually be able to reap a good harvest.
Over the next six weeks, with the new property barrier in place and the contents of the garden and cornfield beginning to break through the earth, Trace and Rachel then concentrated on helping their neighbors toughen up their boundaries and reinforce their rights, as limited as they were. Time was of the essence if they were going to finally take a stand and do what they needed to do to get their town and their liberties back.
The Reddicks would come by every Sunday morning and pick Rachel up for worship services while Trace and assorted members of the Pawnee would police the property, ensuring everything remained alive and intact. Then they would go back to the river, fish with walnuts and imbibe in one hundred ninety proof grain alcohol, a double distilled spirit derived from the fermentation of different grains.
Rachel would always return from church and find them all the same way - splitting their britches laughing over nothing obvious and she would have to break up the party and send them all on their way. Then she would assist her 'drunk as a lord' spouse into the house and Trace would spend the night on the couch. It wasn't that Rachel was punishing her for indulging in the weekly ritual, which never failed to take its toll on the tall brunette but the blonde had learned it was easier when Trace got sick. Less steps to the bushes outside.
The newlyweds settled into married life, responding to and interacting with each other as though their partnership was meant to be, as though they had always been together. Anyone who spent any time around Trace and Rachel could not picture one without the other, Matthew Reddick even joking that the brunette without the blonde would be like having half of a yo-yo.
Their union was loving, respectful, productive and familiar and easily became the envy of anyone in and around Sagebrush. That didn't mean there wasn't occasional discord in the marriage. Although Trace was happier than she had ever been, she still was not used to sharing every aspect of her life with someone and sometimes her self-sufficient, stubborn, solitary ways got on Rachel's nerves. However, with the blonde's hormones fluctuating to opposite ends of the spectrum at lightning speed, it didn't take that much to perturb her and the brunette would find herself temporarily in the doghouse at least once a day. The best thing about that was making up afterward, which never ceased to be passionate and fulfilling, and each silently wore that satisfaction proudly. So, it surprised no one when Rachel revealed she was pregnant, especially not Molly Ledbetter who loftily appraised Trace and commented, "I knew that boy was fertile from the minute I laid eyes on him."
None of this activity went unnoticed by Sheriff Ed Jackson. With every passing day, the obnoxious and devious lawman grew angrier and more nervous. It wasn't just this strangely charismatic cowboy that made him jittery, it was the unmistakable change in the townspeople that also made him pause. For the first time, since the Cranes established their rule over Sagebrush and ensured Jackson's continued election into office, the sheriff was losing his control by proxy and the very idea of doing something/anything to provoke the Cranes' wrath no longer seemed to have the terrifying impact it used to.
To make matters worse, he had to stand by and watch it happen because ever since that humiliating incident in the woods, John and Seth Carver wanted no part of anything having to do with Trace Sheridan...at least until all the Cranes were back and a family meeting decided just exactly what strategies would be put into place to deal with this issue. If Sheridan had the Indians on his side, which he obviously did, this put a whole different twist on how Jackson - and the Cranes - normally handled dissident behavior.
Even the sheriff thought that the Cranes may have gotten a little overly confident when it came to the normally passive Pawnee. Jackson had noticed that the tribe tended to make alliances when and as it suited them. At their will, they could be the consummate diplomats even with people they did not like, agree with or, sometimes, even openly get along with. They certainly were not afraid of conflict or war but if it could be avoided, the tribe went out of their way to keep the peace, without losing their dignity. The Pawnee had, no doubt, learned to be masters at unity within diversity as they had already lost too much to put themselves in the position of being victimized again. But even they had their limits and, as the Cranes had severely hampered their trade habits with Sagebrush and Jefferson, Jackson knew an uprising of some sort was imminent and regardless of how mild, it would mark a serious shift in power - especially if the legendary Moving Elk led the rebellion.
Jackson was not happy that Sagebrush seemed to be coming alive again under the guidance and leadership of Sheridan and that he was incapable of stopping it. The sheriff would threaten his 'subjects' with arrest and/or retribution and that damned Cottonwood cowboy would advise them of how they could lawfully avoid it. And every day that passed just seemed to empower the townspeople more and more. Jackson knew it was reaching a critical point when he went around to collect the monthly 'tax' from the store proprietors and homeowners - the one that insured they be allowed to stay in business and keep their houses and properties from getting burned to the ground - and they refused.
Then fifteen head of prime cattle suddenly showed up at the Triple Y. Jackson nearly bit his cigar in half when he performed his daily patrol of the exterior of the ranch and heard before he saw the strong, healthy bovines grazing beyond the new barbed wire fence. Nobody except the Cranes were allowed to own cows and steers. How and when the animals had got there as well as where they could have come from was a mystery to Jackson. One day they weren't there, then next day they were. The sheriff's rising suspicion that there was more to this Sheridan character than met the eye grew with every mounting incident.
But the last straw came when the news reached him that Rachel was now with child and he actually broke out with flop sweat when he sent the telegram to Webb City where he knew it would reach the Cranes who should have been on their way back to Sagebrush. Sheriff Ed Jackson was no longer complacent about his position in town or his worth to Jacob Crane and he began having nightmares about being at the serious end of a hemp rope wrapped around the Crane's barn's center beam. The bet that they would not react to his inability to control this anarchy were not the sort of odds even a desperate gambler would have wanted to draw to.
In four short months, he had gone from feared tyrant to town laughing stock. The Cranes weren't going to care how it happened, just that it had happened and he had not been able to prevent it and keep order in the jurisdiction they had been so successfully terrorizing and controlling for the past ten years.
And the one thing he had never thought twice about - ever - was that anyone would have the balls to take Rachel Young away from Ben Crane. Who was this Trace Sheridan, anyway? How could a total stranger just waltz into Sagebrush, rile up the townspeople, steal the object of Ben's misguided affection without a second thought, befriend the Indians to the point of blind loyalty and cut him down to size with so little obvious effort?
There was only one thing Ed Jackson could do to rectify this situation before the Cranes got back. Trace Sheridan would have to die.
Plumes of dust billowed up as the dirt was kicked back underneath thundering hooves. The animal's ears were pinned, his nostrils were flaring, he was snorting and almost to the point of gasping, sweat slick on his forequarters, his passenger riding belly down and hell bent for leather, crouched low over the horse's withers and pushing the animal hard.
Ben Crane had received Sheriff Jackson's telegram. He had left his father and brothers and the drive's other cowboys behind in Webb City and traded their leisurely ride back for a quicker path, one that would take him three weeks as opposed to another month and a half. Crane didn't know who this son-of-a-bitch was who had taken his woman but when he got back to Sagebrush, this man would be one dead son-of-a-bitch.
Rachel was now in her fifth month of pregnancy and could not have been more beautiful or happier. Even though she knew it was biologically impossible, she had almost convinced herself that the child she was carrying belonged to her and Trace.
When her morning sickness had dwindled to only rare occasions, she had other symptoms that were just as annoying and she was glad she had the understanding, compassionate companion she did and did not have to suffer any more abuse and humiliation at the hands of Ben Crane. Had Trace not come along, Rachel was positive the cattle barons would have taken over her life, knowing another Crane offspring was on the way and even as adamant as she had been about never surrendering to that horrible family, her being with child may have gravely altered that decision for her. So she was endlessly grateful for the detective's showing up when she did, for her presence in the blonde's life, for her guiding Rachel down a path of enlightenment and unconditional love and she would be eternally beholden to the Lord that it was her partner and it was not, thank heaven, the baby's father who ministered to her fluctuating and unusual moods and needs, not that he would have even if they had been married, God forbid.
No, it was the tall, striking brunette that massaged her head, neck and back when her daily chores caused everything to ache unmercifully. It was Trace who applied a bruised fresh peppermint leaf to her forehead, rubbing the oil of it in what attempted to become migraine territory, soothing the pain. And it was her dearly beloved who tolerated her hormonal tantrums and then tears, who told her she was stunning and glowing with a face spotted by temporary blemishes and held the smaller woman against her when she felt bloated and frustrated and calmed her by bestowing gentle kisses to her growing belly, constantly reassuring Rachel she was going to be a wonderful mother.
When leg cramps would startle her out of a sound sleep, it was her lover who pushed the ball of her foot back to stretch the muscles and ligaments so the pain stopped. It was the detective who suggested they start sleeping downstairs when Rachel's numerous nightly trips to the outhouse became more urgent and her foraging in the pantry for a snack became more frequent. And it was Trace, not Ben Crane, who was working her firm, tantalizing butt off to get the Triple Y back into a running, prosperous ranch again so as to provide the family with a comfortable living.
It was also Trace who enthusiastically, regardless of how tired she was, satisfied every amorous whim the blonde was now having due to intensified sexual arousal. Sometimes it would be in the middle of the day when Rachel would get frisky and the brunette always obliged her, always ensured that Rachel was satiated, that every carnal need was lovingly indulged.
One day in the early afternoon, when Matthew Reddick stopped by to excitedly give Trace and Rachel the news that Elizabeth was now expecting, he couldn't understand where the couple could be. He had hollered their names several times and knew they had to be about because Rio had been tethered to the front hitching post. Becoming concerned, he ascended the steps, about to enter the house to make sure everything was okay, when a very mussed, tousled and flushed Rachel met him at the door in her housecoat.
As inconvenient as it was, especially since Trace had gotten her right there, the blonde had to prevent Reddick from making it inside the cabin so that he did not catch them doing what they were doing, but more specifically, so he didn't catch Trace naked. It was much easier for Rachel to throw on clothes in a pinch than it was for the brunette. Observing her appearance, she really didn't need to explain to Matthew that she and Trace had been 'better occupied.'
It was an embarrassing, if not defining, moment for Rachel and her neighbor, but Matthew left with a healthier respect for Trace that 'he' could get 'his' wife into bed in the middle of the afternoon and that the blonde, more than obviously, had no complaints. At that time, he never would have believed Rachel was the initiator, however, in a few months, if Elizabeth experienced the same hormonal changes, he was in for a big, hopefully pleasant, surprise.
Then there was the first time the baby kicked. Rachel wasn't quite sure what had just happened to her but Trace did and was more excited than the mother-to-be was. The blonde had been sitting on the porch, sewing another maternity dress, when she experienced a feeling similar to a large swarm of butterflies in her stomach. Trace had just returned to the house for a cup of water and was about to take Rio out for a perimeter check, when she noticed the strange look on Rachel's face.
"What's wrong?" the detective asked, more curious by her wife's expression than alarmed.
"I don't know...something's fluttering in my belly."
With one leap, Trace cleared the steps and was on her knees at Rachel's side with her hand on the blonde's abdomen. "It's the baby kicking, I bet!" However, even when Rachel had the sensations again, the baby was still too small for Trace to feel the movement on the outside. That still didn't stop the detective from nuzzling the area and speaking softly to the child within, an act that made Rachel's heart swell with overwhelming love for this woman.
So, it was easy to convince herself that this baby was not fathered by Ben Crane and that Trace Sheridan was this child's other parent. Even if the idiot figured it out, Rachel would make sure that Ben Crane would lay no rights to the little boy or girl growing inside her. Now if she could just persuade the townspeople that when this baby was ready to come out, it was two months early.
Trace had been bugging Rachel about names for the baby but the blonde thought it was too soon. However, Rachel's one request was that the child's middle name either be Frank or Minnie, depending on its gender. The brunette didn't have a problem with that and wished there was a way to tell the sex of the baby before it was born. The detective then remembered that the Pawnee were intuitive...maybe the medicine man would be able to help with that.
Little Hawk and his fellow tribal members became daily visitors to the ranch. They helped with the fields and the stock, and, as the cows were there strictly for dairy purposes, they further made sure that the expectant parents had fresh meat. This was fine with Trace as the thought of hunting was not something she really wanted to do but the blonde put her foot down and was insistent that the Pawnee take the brunette with them when they went in search of game the next time. As Rachel's wrath was nothing to be trifled with - especially lately - Trace appeased her and accompanied Black Feather and two more Sunday drinking buddies, brothers Rising Moon and Red Sky, the next time they went hunting.
The detective rode along, quietly at first, really hoping they did not see anything she would have to kill. Then she decided to start telling jokes, which, unfortunately, went right over her companions' heads, until she told the only Indian-related joke she knew. "...so then the boy goes to the Chief and says, 'how do we get our names?' and the Chief says, 'when you are born, you are named after the first thing I see, like a blowing leaf or a howling wind. Why do you ask, Two Dogs Fucking?"
Her Pawnee friends were silent at first and then laughed uproariously at this joke, which pleased her on two levels. The first being the noise would probably warn away any game in the area and the second, she loved to make her new friends laugh and sometimes that wasn't easy unless they were all rip-roaring drunk. One thing she had learned, from her first visit to Wilbur's, was that the word 'fuck' was just as alive and well in the old west as it was in her era.
"You do not like to hunt, Tsápaat?" The question was coming from Red Sky.
"I've never done it before. I don't like to kill animals, unless they are sick, gravely injured or about to kill me."
"Out here we just kill what we need to live," Black Feather interjected.
"I could live on fish and vegetables," Trace smiled.
"Caskí Custíra'u needs the meat for the young one growing inside her," Black Feather stated. The Pawnee now always referred to Trace as Tsápaat and Rachel by a name which, loosely translated in their native language, meant 'little mother.' Suddenly things got very still and Black Feather reined up, raising his hand for the others to do likewise. He sniffed the air. "We need to find game soon. Rain is coming. Not a good time for hunting. Rahúrahki holes up when it rains," he advised, using a Pawnee word for wild animals.
Not more than ten minutes later, Red Sky, who obviously had ears like a cat, directed the party to the right of the path, spotting a few antelope grazing in an open area located in the upper most quadrant of the north side of the Triple Y property. They all stopped and looked at Trace, who returned their stares skeptically. "You're going to make me kill one of them, aren't you?"
Rising Moon didn't understand Trace's reticence. "You must be the one. You must learn to do this. For Caskí Custíra'u. For the little one who will learn how to hunt from you."
The detective did not want to do it. Every fiber of her being silently protested having to execute an innocent animal just to fill her and Rachel's belly, when she knew they could survive on fish, rabbit (which Rachel killed), eggs and vegetables and it would be just as good for the baby. But she also knew that her refusal would not be met with humanitarian understanding, it would be looked upon as a flaw and would definitely bring her credibility as a leader and 'warrior' down a few notches. Right now, it was critical that she continue to do everything to show her mettle so that the town would follow her lead and believe in her abilities.
Trace knew it was hypocritical that she gladly devoured meat the Pawnee brought them but eating it was one thing, killing it was quite another. She did not have to look the target in the eye and shoot it, watch it drop to the ground and die. Somehow, when a cut of meat came to her she could blur the idea of how it got to that point, block out any possible gruesome details of its demise. Today, right now, she could no longer do that. She had to prove her 'manliness.' She knew if she did not kill this antelope, it would go no further than the four of them in that group. She also knew if she did kill the animal, the word, 'hunter' would be added to her already growing reputation and would spread quickly.
Come on, Trace, buck up, she told herself. How hard can it be? Just aim and pull the trigger and it will be over quickly, you'll have proven yourself. Hell, you can kill a man and not think twice about it, this should not be such a dilemma.
But it was. She emerged from her thoughts and stared into the expectant eyes of the three Pawnee with her. They dismounted to find concealment behind tall shrubbery as Trace reluctantly removed her Winchester from its sheath on the saddle and she joined her companions. She watched the antelope peacefully grazing and drew a deep breath. Sensing slight movement to her left, Trace glanced over to see a waterskin offered to her from Black Feather.
"Kiiráhkata," he told her, which Trace knew could be whiskey, bourbon or generally anything alcoholic. Accepting the deer hide container, the detective removed the small stopper and took a long swig of the spirit that burned all the way down her throat. The light amber liquid did make her eyes water a bit and there was a small part of her that wondered what she just drank and a bigger part of her that didn't want to know. She was about to raise her rifle when Black Feather nudged her again, indicating she take another swig. "Raahikuuc. Courage."
Trace shook her head. She wanted to get this over with. It wasn't courage she lacked, it was desire. She raised the Winchester once more and took careful aim, catching the exquisite, unsuspecting animal precisely in her sights. After a small wave of sheer panic, her nerves steadied, she took a breath, relaxed her stance and squeezed the trigger. As Trace was a dead shot with any kind of weapon, she did not miss and when the antelope fell, so did her tears.
It was the first indication the Pawnee had, other than her scent, that Tsápaat was indeed a woman, with emotions accordingly. She stoically, robotically participated in the skinning and gutting and rode back to the cabin, sad and angry. When they reached the house, the Pawnee gave her the best cuts of meat and took the rest and the hide and headed back to their village as it began to sprinkle.
The minute the detective stepped through the door, Rachel knew something was wrong. She could see it on Trace's face and in her demeanor, feel the chill in the air when the brunette handed her the meat and then walked by her.
"Trace?" The bewilderment in her voice was apparent.
The detective spun on her heel and stalked back to her lover. "Don't you ever ask me to do that again, Rachel. Not ever!" Trace was almost spitting out every word. "I hate killing animals unless I absolutely have to and it is something I will not do again unless I am faced with those circumstances. I don't mind doing anything else around here but if you want fresh meat from now on, you can do it yourself or we can barter with the Pawnee, but I will not do that again!"
At first, the rage in her spouse's voice frightened her a little but when she realized Trace was not as irate as she was regretful and heavyhearted, it became easier to understand what motivated this outburst. "Trace...I'm sorry...I had no notion hunting would affect you like this, I..."
"Well, it did! And I will forever have the memory of that innocent creature falling to the ground, dying, because of something I did, the memory of those beautiful eyes staring at me while we cut it out." The fact was Trace had nailed the antelope almost directly between the eyes and it was most likely dead before it even dropped, therefore causing it an instantaneous, painless death. Somehow that didn't seem to make her feel any better.
"But, Trace, we need red meat, I need it for -"
"Then you kill it next time. I don't need it, I can live on whatever we have been surviving on without it." She then walked to the bedroom and pulled out clean clothes. "I'm going to take a shower and wash this blood off me."
As the detective moved toward the front door, Rachel followed. "Trace, at least let me -"
The brunette stopped and looked at her. "Don't...don't come near me for a while."
The flash of anger in those expressive blue eyes caused Rachel to stop in her tracks. Tears welled as she watched Trace disappear from her view. She had never seen that side of the brunette before and wasn't sure she liked it, as her emotions fluctuated from hurt to indignation back to hurt. The blonde began to prepare the meat for storage and one cut for supper, as she wiped away tears with her sleeve.
She had practically demanded that Trace go hunting with the Pawnee, even over the brunette's rather strong protestations. She honestly believed this was something the detective needed to learn, to get used to, as the winters had a tendency to be rough and food became scarce. Killing an animal for food never bothered her, she had been doing it since the first time her father took her hunting at seven years old. It was not a matter of liking it or not liking it, it was a necessity and it served a purpose. Well, if she had to be the hunter of the family, then so be it. Trace was a good provider in everything else and this was the first time the detective ever balked at one of Rachel's requests. If hunting was the only thing Trace wouldn't do, she was still pretty fortunate.
After the blonde stored the haunch of meat for later meals, she cleaned up her mess and readied the thick portion of flank she had put aside for supper, spicing it with herbs, skewering it with metal rod and setting it to broil slowly over a small flame. As she began to peel potatoes, Trace re-entered the house, taking in the aroma of dinner starting to cook.
"I don't want any," the detective stated flatly as she crossed to the bedroom, running her fingers through her hair to help it dry faster. Her tone of voice still showed signs of upset.
"You have to eat," Rachel told her softly, as she continued to fix the potatoes.
"I don't have to eat that," the brunette pointed at the fireplace.
Putting her knife down, the blonde wiped her hands on her apron and went to their bedroom, where she sat on the bed, watching the detective search for a pair of socks. "Trace...I won't ever ask you to do that again, all right?"
"It wouldn't matter if you did because I won't," she responded, her defiance clear.
"Please don't be mad at me, honey, I can't bear it," the blonde pleaded. The thought of Trace really being angry with her tore her apart and once again she began to cry, burying her face in her hands.
"Now, don't start that, Rachel," Trace said, exasperated, knowing that tears from the blonde always got to her, "I'm not done being pissed off yet and I'm not backing down on this..."
"I don't want you to," Rachel sobbed, forlorn. "I was wrong and I'm sorry. I should not have made you go..."
Emitting a huge sigh, Trace said, "No, you shouldn't have, you shouldn't have made me feel like less of a person because I had not put meat on the table that I had killed, myself. Who cares how it gets there, Rachel? If the Pawnee don't mind bartering for it, then what is the problem?"
"There isn't one."
"No, there isn't. So...we will never have this discussion again, all right?"
"All right," the blonde agreed, trying to regain her composure.
Calming down, the detective looked over at her wife who was obviously distraught, most of the emotion, no doubt, fueled by raging hormones. When Rachel could not stop bawling, Trace moved over on the bed and enveloped the blonde in a secure embrace. "Shhhh, it's okay, baby. Shhhhh," the brunette spoke softly, soothingly. "I know you didn't really understand my feelings about this, I should have made myself more clear."
She kissed the top of Rachel's head, reassuringly, feeling the blonde settle down in her arms. Lightly stroking the smaller woman's back and arms, Trace held her for a while, until it smelled like the meat was beginning to burn in the other room. It was then she heard a soft snore emanate from the expectant mother, which triggered a smile in the brunette. She gently laid Rachel back on the bed, positioned her as comfortably as possible and went to tend to dinner.