Name: Cheyne


Title: Renegade

Fandom: Xena Uber

Rating: 15

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...

Archive: Only with permission from the author


While Rachel busied herself making dinner, Trace put the items that were brought back from town away in their proper places. Finding out where everything went occupied most of the conversation between the two women and when the detective was done, she left the blonde alone in the kitchen, while she made her way to her room in the barn to remove her wrap.

Her cut was mending itself nicely but she was not used to being bound down for so many hours and her injuries, though also healing quickly, were still healing, nonetheless, and parts of her skin cinched into the binding remained tender. She was pretty sure no one would be out to the ranch so she was unconcerned about going braless. If, by chance, someone did show up, she would deal with it but right would be pure bliss to free her poor corralled breasts.

Each woman separately contemplated the events of their day. Rachel was not surprised that her fear regarding Ben Crane making good on his promise to taint her virtuous name had been realized. However, being right about it didn't make it hurt any less that people actually believed it.  Maybe if she kept denying it, the talk would go away. Yeah, and maybe babies really were found in cabbage patches...

She further considered the strange woman who was now living there. Just the knowledge of the existence of another person on the property - especially one thought to be a man -  would stir up a hornet's nest. Trace had made a rather conspicuous entrance into the Sagebrush community by saving Jed Turner's life, an act that would be hailed by some and cursed by others.  And, by ruffling the feathers of the sheriff, she was positive the tall brunette had unintentionally poked at that hornet's nest with a very big stick.

She didn't know why...but regardless of the gravity of the situation, something about that made her chuckle.

Trace reflected on the tone of the town as she had seen it, felt it. A lot tamer than what she was used to but still unsettling. The bartender liked her, as did the pawnbroker and, of course, his half-brother, The Mayor. The whore named Cassandra really liked her. But the doctor and the sheriff did not. On the other hand, His Honor and Rachel did not have good things to say about the obnoxious man wearing the badge. And everyone in the saloon seemed afraid of him.

Ed Jackson was a bad cop. If anyone could readily recognize one, it was Trace. Her lip curled into a predatory smile. She was a better bad cop. Jackson was obviously in the back pocket of the Cranes. She knew what that was like and no matter how ruthless these Cranes were, they couldn't be as abominable as the DeSiennas. If she was going to stay in Sagebrush, she wasn't going to allow herself to be restricted by anyone or anything.  She glanced toward the house and sighed. Oh, yes...she definitely wanted to stay here.

She had a chance to redeem herself. Right now. Even though she wasn't in her own time where the people she hurt could benefit from it, she had the opportunity to make up for the sins of her past. If this town's above-the-law family wanted to hold the county hostage, she could deal with that.  She was used to it. Except this time she would be the negotiator on the right side of the law.

As she walked back to the house, she vowed to herself that Rachel would never again have to worry about the Cranes. Talk was cheap, so she would have to prove it as she was quite sure the nineteenth century woman would never believe a female would be able to hold such an overly dominant, mighty clan at bay.  But to be successful, Trace would have to get herself back in shape while learning a whole new way of life. God, she loved a challenge.


After a dinner of hearty, thick corn chowder with bacon and biscuits, which was delicious, Rachel did the dishes while Trace went to the stable to make sure the horses had enough food and water.  The supper conversation was slightly strained but not in a way that represented anger or awkwardness. Both women were lost in their own individual thoughts and neither really seemed to notice the other one was not talking much.

When the detective was finished filling up the trough, she strolled outside the stable and stretched the lameness out of her bones. Movement caught her eye and she saw Rachel disappear behind the east corner of the house. Curiosity getting the better of her, Trace followed the blonde up to a knoll.  Joining her on the other side of the slanted hill, the detective saw three small tombstones. Roughly etched on the stones were the names of Rachel's mother and father and Thomas Baines. Kneeling down, the blonde silently began clearing away grass growing wildly around the base of the granite markers.

"Your fiancée is buried here, too?" Trace stated the obvious with a question in her voice.

"He had no family left but mine. Not that we were any relation, of course. He was sixteen when his folks were killed coming back here on the stage. They had been in Kansas, at a service for Tommy's grandmother."

"How were they killed?" The brunette bent down and began brushing dust and dirt off the tops of the stones with her hand.

"Well, word got back to town that they were ambushed by Indians but I don't believe it.  There hasn't been an Indian uprising since the plains nations got together at Little Big Horn. Least not around these parts anyway."  She looked over at Trace. "That's why people aren't trying to run you out of town 'cause you look like you could have some Indian in you. Any tribes left around here are all friendly."

"So why would someone lie about how they died?"

"Because everything was slaughtered - including the horses. Even if it was a savage bunch, Indians wouldn't have done that, they would have taken the horses with them."

"Where are his parents buried?"

"They aren't. Stagecoach was set on fire, wasn't enough of them left to bury. What made everybody suspicious was it was Seth Carver came to town with the news."

Trace straightened up, rubbing the side of her neck. "Who is Seth Carver?"

"He's Jacob Crane's nephew." The blonde went back to pulling weeds. "Mr. and Mrs. Baines were also holding on to their land and didn't want to give it up. Tommy couldn't keep up with it and was forced to sell and used the money to go to law school. He was on his way back here to marry me and hang out his shingle and go into private practice. He was going to fight the Cranes, all legally, and try to stop them."

"And how would he have been able to do that with a crooked sheriff so obviously siding with the Cranes?"

Rachel looked up at the brunette. "He would have found a way. Because he had to do what was right...nobody else had the guts to."

Tears glistened the corners of the blonde's eyes and Trace could not decide if it was due to her love for and grief over the loss of her fiancée or her determination to not become another casualty of the immoral Cranes. This made Trace even more resolved to take them down. 

One at a time if she had to.


The next morning showed Rachel an entirely different Trace. The detective was up with the rooster, dressed and grooming the horses before the blonde had to resort to guilting her out of bed with numerous wake-up visits, each one usually a little less friendly than the last.

In fact, Rachel was so surprised at this unexpected behavior that she nearly dropped all the eggs she had gathered when she passed the stable and heard whistling. Cautiously, she stepped inside and observed the tall brunette brushing Chief with an enthusiasm that she had not previously seen the detective display before.  Consequently, the way the horse glanced over at his owner, he looked a tad nonplussed, too.

"Uh...morning...?" Rachel squinted to make sure it wasn't actually her eyes playing tricks on her.

"Good morning!" Trace responded, brightly.

Nope.  Not an apparition. " all right?"

Trace smiled at the hesitancy in the blonde's tone. "Couldn't be better.  Thought I'd get Chief ready and then after breakfast, I'd ride him around the perimeter and see what else needs fixing."

"You want to ride Chief?"

"Didn't you say he was the fastest and the strongest?"

"Yes, but..."

"Then he and I need to get used to each other because we're going to be spending  a lot of time together." Then she lightly slapped Chief's muscular flank. "Aren't we, you handsome creature?"

The blonde literally shook her head in speechless confusion. She could have swore the look in Chief's eyes said, "Help me!" 

"I didn't go into the other section where your mustang is, he seemed pretty restless but I've already brushed Moses and I was going to groom Rosie but she's pretty protective of that precious little colt she's got in there. Have you named her yet?"

"No, I was waiting to see..." ...if I needed to sell her to keep the place going, she finished to herself.

"How about Zelda?"

"Zelda...I've never heard that name before."

"It's my mother's name."

"You want to name a horse after your mother?"

"Sure, why not?"

Rachel couldn't think of a reason, so she shrugged. "Um...okay, we'll call her Zelda."



"Cool. Thanks." Trace continued to run the bristles over Chief vigorously.

"Cool?" Rachel repeated, cocking her head. "It's hotter than a whipped boy's behind this morning."

"No - means,'s an expression of approval where I come from. When something is cool, it means it's -" she nodded her head for emphasis, "okay."

"Then why don't you just say it's okay? You talk strange sometimes, Trace Sheridan." Smiling, she turned around, heading back toward the entrance. "Don't saddle him up before breakfast," she called back.


Rachel stopped and looked back at the brunette, flustered. "You mean 'cool'?"

"No, I mean okay, I won't saddle him up until after breakfast." Now it was the detective's turn to smile as she watched the blonde shake her head while exiting through the stable entrance.


After Trace had washed up at the outdoor pump, she walked into the house to find a very pale Rachel at the stove, holding onto her stomach.

"Still feeling a bit ill, huh?" the brunette asked, as she approached the table which held only one full plate of bacon, eggs and pancakes dripping with butter and honey and a cup of, what Trace's was sure, was criminally horrible coffee. Maybe she could use some of that honey to make a difference in the taste. Although she doubted it. She returned her attention to the greasy compilation of food that smelled unbelievably delicious and despite the amount of bad cholesterol she knew she would ingest, she couldn't wait to start shoveling it in. "I can feel my arteries harden as we speak," she mumbled, pulling out the chair. "You're not eating?" Trace asked the blonde, acknowledging the absence of a second plate on the table.

"I'm not hungry," Rachel said, weakly and ran for the door where Trace heard her retching violently off the porch.

Looking down at her breakfast with the blonde's regurgitating sound effects in the background, the brunette muttered, "Neither am I anymore."

Walking to the pantry, the detective located the container of powdered ginger and brought it back out to the table. She set the kettle onto the stove to get the water heated, then she walked out to the porch. Rachel was bent over at the waist with her hands resting on her knees. "I'm okay, Trace," the blonde rasped, not looking at her. "Go back inside and eat."

Placing her hand on Rachel's back, once again pulling the long blonde hair back away from the smaller woman's face, Trace said, "I've got the ginger out and the water boiling for you."

Managing to look up at the brunette, Rachel wiped her eyes with her apron, then ran it over her mouth. "Thank you. But I'm not so sure I can go back in there right away. The aroma is warring with my belly."

Nodding, Trace helped her straighten up and over to a wooden porch chair. "No worries.  I'll bring it out to you."

"You don't have to do that..." the blonde told her, very grateful that she was going to.

Smiling at her, Trace said, "I don't have to do anything except eat, shit, pay taxes and die."

"Lord, Trace, your language..." Rachel sighed, as the detective left her to go into the house. The blonde couldn't remember the last time anyone had been this kind to her and the brunette had never met anyone she had wanted to be this kind to before.

Preparing the calming solution the way she had seen Rachel do it the day before, Trace brought a steaming cup back out to the porch and handed it to the blonde who was still looking quite peaked.

"Please go back inside and eat," the sickly woman asked of the brunette. "It's not as tasty when it's cold."

Now that there were no vomiting sounds, Trace found she was hungry again. "If you're sure you are going to be all right..."

Nodding in concession, Rachel said, "I'll be fine in a bit...soon as I get this down."

"If you keep feeling like this, maybe you should go to the doctor's."

"No," Rachel answered, quickly. "I'm sure I'm fine." Except she knew this was only the beginning and she would be anything but fine.


Following a breakfast that, despite it having cooled, was still quite palatable, Trace ate every bite, knowing she would need the energy. While Rachel, feeling better, cleaned up the kitchen, Trace perused  Frank Young's closet for something less encumbering to wear than her denim shirt.  It was going to be a muggy day and surely the blonde's father had something appropriate for this kind of weather.

After a cursory search she found a few dirt-stained, worn, faded cotton shirts that she pulled out and draped over her arm.  If Rachel was agreeable, she would cut the sleeves off and use them to work in.  She also looked over the pants hanging there.  She was probably going to have to sacrifice comfort for decorum, as she was pretty certain men did not alter blue jeans to wear as shorts back then. Not that she had to worry about her legs...if she didn't see a razor soon, they would be hairy enough to look like a man's. Returning her focus to the jeans, she knew they were at least one size too big for her and she didn't think she would get any points for being trendy by holding up cut-offs with suspenders.  Their next visit to town, she was going to have to buy clothes that fit. 

As if  Rachel had been reading her mind, the blonde addressed her from the doorway. "Those dungarees might be more suitable if I took them in a bit."

Looking up, Trace saw that she had a little more color in her face and that she was holding a rifle, the barrel pointed at the floor.  Rachel gingerly ran her thumb over the Sharps' hand oiled forestock.

"You might want to take this with you. Needs to be cleaned but it was the last one I used and that was only a week ago, so it still shoots good." Rachel then jerked back the brass slide-hammer to be sure Trace would have bullets at her disposal. The blonde fingered the metal button embedded near the handle before turning it over to the detective.

"Am I going to need this?"

Rachel shrugged.  "You never know. Irritating Ed Jackson probably wasn't the wisest idea. Can't have you riding into a heap of hot lead."

"No, we can't have that," Trace agreed, sarcastically.  The detective examined the eight pound weapon. The .54 caliber cartridge rifle had a thirty-inch round blued barrel attached to a one-piece walnut-finished stock with three-metal bands. She noticed it had a fixed front sight and an adjustable rear sight. The overall length was about three and a half feet long. Interesting little trinket. Did she dare admit she had no idea how to shoot it? Well, it couldn't be that difficult if a little slip of a farm girl could do it.  She'd take it with her and practice. "What about handguns?"


"You revolver, a, uh, a six-shooter..."

"Oh, the Colts. Sure but I thought you might want something that could reach past six-gun range."

"Good idea...but I am more used to using a handgun, a six-gun, than I am a rifle." She drew a deep breath.  "Actually, I'm a little rusty at both. I've been traveling a while and I could use some practice."

"Oh. I don't have a lot of extra bullets but you're welcome to what I have."

Setting the Sharps across the bed, Trace thanked the blonde with a nod. "You said I could help myself to anything of your father's that fit. I found these shirts and - "

"Oh, I meant to take them out of there, cut 'em up and use them for rags."

"Can I have them?" Off Rachel's addled expression, Trace explained her plans for the shirts and why.  With the blonde's blessing (and her shears), a half hour later, the detective had some sleeveless garments to work in.

Unconsciously, the blonde's eyes were glued to the muscular arms of the brunette as she watched Trace saddle up Chief with very few mistakes. The detective was quite a breathtaking specimen of womanhood and someone the blonde should not have felt so infatuated with. Rachel automatically blamed these disquieting feelings on messed up hormones. It certainly couldn't be anything else.

Rachel watched, amazed, as the brunette heeled the big horse to a canter, as though she had been doing it all her life. When Trace and Chief were out of sight, she went back inside the house to start her chores. Maybe she'd bake a damson pie today, wondering if Trace liked plums.

Despite the trouble she had growing inside her, why did she suddenly feel like she had a life again?


The detective was pleased at Chief's cooperation. Maybe just like any other male she had dealt with in her life, she had to show him who was in charge by letting him think he was the boss.  Chuckling at that, Trace headed back to the house after discovering three minor wear and tear breaks in definite need of immediate repair before they became worse.

Fortunately, she had not needed to use the rifle but because of Rachel's 'light' warning, practicing until she became proficient with the Sharps and the other firearms was no longer a choice. However, she held off on target practice because she did not want to waste ammunition when she might actually need to defend herself. She would take a trip into town, using some of the money she got from the rings and either buy bullets or the materials she needed to load her own.

In the meantime, this afternoon, she would learn the joys of splitting rails


Under Rachel's direction, Trace found the tools she needed in the barn - an axe, an eight-pound sledgehammer, and three four-pound wedges. Carrying the implements to the gathering of logs behind the house, near the wooded area close to the river, Trace had figured out she needed fourteen rails to fit into holes in the still standing posts. She was going to use Moses to help her move the logs from the pile onto the ground where she had access.

After Moses had pulled four logs free of the stack, Rachel took him back to the stable while Trace assessed the amount of work ahead of her. She needed to split the wood into four sections as even as she could get them. Returning to observe, the blonde stood back, crossing her arms, anticipating the worst. She knew Trace had never done this before and was praying the detective would sport the same number of fingers and toes when she was done that she did when she started.

The tall brunette followed the blonde's instruction and looked over the unsplit timber for knots so as not to drive her wedge through one, Rachel telling her that hitting a knot tended to split the wood crooked. Trace placed the wedge vertically in the exact center of the butt end of the log and tapped it in with the mall until it stuck. Lifting the sledgehammer over her head, the detective brought it down in a straight square blow that jolted her from her toes to her teeth. Recovering from the shock of that, Trace saw where the log had cracked a good two feet from the end.

"Hey - look at that! Not bad, huh?"

Rachel couldn't help but smile at Trace's undisguised thrill at what she had done. When the brunette leaned down, reaching for the wedge, the blonde said, "Use another one. That one's stuck."

"Stuck?  Did I hit it too hard?"

"No," Rachel laughed, "you did just fine. Put a second one there." She pointed to the end of the crack. "Hit it again like you did the first one and you should open that original split another two or three feet. That should free that wedge there," she pointed to the first one, "so that you can leapfrog it to keep splitting it until the trunk breaks into two halves.  Then you just split the halves."

Doing as she was told, Trace split the trunk into four nearly equal rails. Two hours later, panting like a work horse, she had cut sixteen rails, had blisters that stung like they were on fire and an upper body ache that rivaled her first week at the police academy.

Wiping her brow with the back of her arm, she set the mall down, admiring her work. Yes, her arms and her back were killing her but looking at what she had just accomplished made her quite proud of herself.

An ice cold beer would have tasted great tight now...

After Rachel had placed her pie on the porch to cool, she thought it might be a good idea to check on the detective, to see how she was doing.  Again, she was a bit startled at the fact that Trace was on her last rail and she admonished herself because it should not have surprised her. The brunette had already proven she was as robust as any man and had muscles as taut as her rotund grandmother's corset laces. It was watching those firm, nicely defined muscles shift beneath Trace's skin as she wielded the sledgehammer that provoked another accelerated heart rate in the blonde.

Approaching the detective, Rachel held out the cup of water she had brought out for her. Nodding her thanks, Trace took the small tin container and tried not to gulp the cool liquid down too fast, regardless of how dry she felt. As Rachel took a step closer, Trace smiled. "I wouldn't get too close if I were you...or at least stay upwind of me."

"Nothing wrong with a good earned sweat," the blonde commented as she inspected the rails. "I do think you just may have a calling for this kind of work."

"Thank you...but," the brunette responded, scrutinizing her own hands, blistered and bleeding, "I don't think I want to do this too often. Haven't you ever heard of plywood?"

"Of course, I have.  Plywood's been around since the days of the Pharaohs. But why pay money for what we already have?" She gestured to a forest full of trees behind her. "You should notch those rails a little so that the fence will fit tight."

"I think I'll wait until hands are a little raw now..."

Stepping closer, Rachel took Trace's hands in her own and examined them carefully. "I thought you were wearing those gloves of my father's?"

Regardless of the burning soreness, she enjoyed the small blonde touching her in any manner. "I was but they were too big and kept slipping.  That's what started the blisters in the first place."

Sighing, Rachel shook her head. "You're awfully tender-fleshed." Looking up at a raised eyebrow of the taller brunette, the blonde added, "for someone who's supposed to fight outlaws."

"Yeah? Well, give me a couple weeks and I'll amaze you with these hands," Trace commented, innocently, then stopped. She closed her eyes, mentally kicking herself. Hopefully the blonde wouldn't take that out of context.

"I'm sure you will," Rachel answered her in a tone of voice that came out much huskier than she had intended, absently running her thumbs lightly over the brunette's fingers. Locking gazes with the detective, the blonde audibly swallowed and abruptly dropped the Trace's hands. Slowly pulling her eyes away from the much too engaging blue ones, Rachel bowed her head and stared at the ground. "It'd be better to notch 'em now. Tomorrow your hands will hurt too bad." She began walking away and then called over her shoulder, "When you're finished, come on to the house, I'll fix you up."

"Thanks." She watched the blonde leave. Well that was interesting, Trace thought. What the hell was that about? She didn't think the smaller woman had been flirting - at least not consciously. But when the moment was realized, what did she see in Rachel's jade eyes? Definitely not disgust. It could have been fear. It was indeed shock but at what? She easily read uncertainty in the blonde's expression. Yet it was difficult for Trace to decide if Rachel was offended, bewildered or, dare she hope, curious, by her own behavior. 

She would have to gauge her interaction with the smaller blonde carefully.  She in no way wanted to overstep any boundaries and she breathed a sigh of relief that she had not resorted to being her often obnoxiously bold self. That worked fine for her in her time but it would not bode well here.

Trace shook it off. Of course Rachel wasn't interested, it was dehydration mixed with wishful thinking. The poor woman had been through so much and Trace's sudden appearance in her life and the unusual circumstances under which they were sharing space had to be confusing, at the very least. You need to keep your damned libido on a short leash, Trace! Her sudden surge of frustration motivated her through scoring both ends of each rail until fourteen out of sixteen were done.

Rachel could not have gotten inside the house fast enough. When she knew she was completely out of the detective's sight, she braced herself by holding onto the back of a chair and let out the breath she had been holding since she dropped the brunette's hands. What in heaven's name had just happened out there? Had she just made a subtle overture toward the detective? No. No, she couldn't have, she wasn't like that, she did not think about women like that. She had heard about women like that and no, she definitely was not one of them. She couldn't be. She had been engaged to be married, she was in love with her fiancée. She liked kissing him, being in his arms and had dreamed of...other things...they might do together. No, it was settled. She was not that kind of woman. It must be her innards being all messed up that made her feel all crazy inside.

Yes, that must be it...hormones must have been making her belly flutter and heart clench whenever the tall woman entered her vision. It must be knowing deep inside that Trace was a protector that made her feel so safe in the detective's presence. Had to be that baby growing inside her discombobulating everything in her body and head, making her feel a kind of kinship, like she had known this woman her entire life. That and her desperate loneliness. Trace had unknowingly filled a gap in her life she hadn't even admitted was missing until she realized that if the detective moved on, everything would be twice as empty as it had been before. How odd when she had only met this woman days ago.

Embarrassment burned in the blonde's cheeks. Good Lord, what must Trace have thought? Well, obviously the detective wouldn't think anything peculiar about her, she reasoned, the brunette knew she had been engaged. She comforted herself with that information and smiled. She moved to the stove and put the water on to boil before gathering what she would need to address Trace's blisters.


When Trace walked into the house, she smelled two distinctly different aromas other than herself. One was the freshly baked sweetness of a fruit pie with brown sugar and the other was the rather overpowering scent of garlic.

The blonde was busy at the table using a granite mortar and pestle to crush fresh cloves of garlic and was heating olive oil in a small iron pan.

"Let me guess...pasta Italiano for supper and apple pie for desert." the detective cracked.  In response she received a blank stare from the blonde.

"I didn't think you would want supper after the late lunch just a couple of hours ago."

Although it was true, Rachel had prepared them a very filling meal just before Trace split the rails, the detective had worked up an appetite and was a little disappointed, especially with the smell of garlic in the air.  She suddenly longed for a huge dish of shrimp fettucini alfredo.

"Would you do me a favor and take the kettle off the fire? I thought we might have some tea with our pie...and it's not apples, it's damson plums."

Doing as Rachel had asked, Trace said, "I've never had a plum pie before but it smells delicious." Both were secretly grateful that what had happened in the yard was obviously not going to be mentioned. "And the garlic...?"

" for your blisters."

"For my -?" She stopped herself before finishing.  In the short time she had been there, she had learned to not question the blonde's methods of healing.

"I'm going to make an oil to rub onto the blisters and I have a comfrey salve to put on the open sores. If you don't rub it all off before or during sleep, you hands should feel better by morning. We'll see how they look tomorrow."

Trace poured and steeped two cups of tea while Rachel cooked the garlic and olive oil concoction for five minutes, let it cool and then strained it into a small jar, letting it sit before cutting two slices of pie for herself and the brunette.

"Mmmm, Rachel, this is wonderful," the detective complimented, with a mouthful of pie still not swallowed. "You really are an excellent cook. And baker."

"Thank you," the blonde blushed. "I thought you'd like it."

Nodding, Trace took another bite and was glad they were having tea instead of coffee. Sooner than later, she needed to ask Rachel to please allow her to make the far, it was the only thing the adorable blonde didn't do obviously well.


Because of what had occurred between the two women that afternoon, Rachel advised Trace of how to treat her blisters instead of doing it for her. It was difficult to keep her hands to herself, however, as she had always been quite demonstrative. And for some reason, she was compelled to touch this woman, to the point where she almost had to sit on her hands.

It was dusk before the solution had seeped in and started drying.  As the sun set, Trace watched as Rachel lit candles in every window, lit the parlor lamp and took up her sewing. She began mending one of her dresses when she noticed the detective had found an old deck of cards and started to play solitaire at the table.

"How do your hands feel?"

"They burn a little but," Trace smiled, turning a card over, "I'll live." She looked up at the blonde. "Tell me about Sheriff Jackson."

"Ed? Other than him being an insufferable know-it-all, more crooked than the letter S, pretty adept at manure-spreadin' and having an abundantly abysmal personality, what would you like to know about him?"

Chuckling, the detective turned over another card. She didn't know why she bothered to play solitaire, she never won. "What's he like when he's backed into a corner?"

"That doesn't happen very often.  Only strangers who don't know him think they can do that and they don't stay in town too long. Billy the Kid rode through one day. Went to Wilbur's for a couple of shots of whiskey before moving on. Seems Ed didn't know who he was and behaving like he normally does, thinking he can bully anybody he wants because he's working for the Cranes, made the mistake of sticking his finger in the Kid's face."

Billy the Kid. Wow. Trace thought he was just a folk legend. "So what happened?"

Obviously tickled by this story, Rachel almost giggled. "Billy grabbed him by the finger and, um, shall I say 'escorted' him out to his horse, shoved the barrel of his six-gun practically up Ed's nose, demanded he mount up and some of the boys the Kid was riding with accompanied Ed out of town, acting like they were going to kill him. Well, obviously they didn't but I don't think Ed's saddle dried out for months." Shaking her head, Rachel tied off her thread. "Ed don't know what to do when he runs up against men who aren't scared of the Cranes. And nobody - especially not the Cranes - are going to go up against Billy The Kid, so Ed was on his own." The blonde looked over to see Trace move a card to be able to lay another one on top of it. "Trace Sheridan! Did you just cheat at solitaire?!"

Looking up into the surprised green eyes, Trace half smiled. "Why, yes, I believe I did."

"Doesn't that hurt your conscience?"

The detective mulled it over for a half-second and shrugged. "Nope." Of all the things that should have bothered Trace's conscience, cheating at any card game was not even in the top one hundred.


Although Rachel seemed perfectly fine at breakfast, Trace awoke to the sounds of the young woman intensely heaving in the middle of the night. When the detective sat opposite her at the breakfast table, other than being a little pale, she seemed fine. Whatever Rachel had, it was a strange kind of bug.

The brunette had also awakened to her blisters having drained and dried and her cuts were closing up. Her hands were sore but not like they would have been without Rachel's natural remedies. The blonde's advice to notch those rails yesterday was wise. She wasn't too sure she would even be able to hold a hammer today much less swing one. Which also meant she wouldn't be able to grip a gun so target practice was also out. But she still might be able to look them over and clean them.

Laying the two Colts, the Winchester and the Carbine on an old tattered cloth on the table, Trace studied them before dismantling each weapon as best she could while Rachel brought her the cleaning equipment she would need to complete the task. She was used to much more advanced paraphernalia but even as archaic as the materials were, they were still basic enough to get the job done.  Plus this would help her to get to know these guns before she actually had to shoot them.

Even though she did not normally shoot a revolver, she had been required to familiarize with them at the academy and, along with her automatic service weapon, she had been timed in taking them apart and putting them back together in working firing condition.

Basically, Trace found the guns to be in pretty good shape but with exception of the Sharps, they were all quite dirty and dusty. While the detective was cleaning and oiling the Carbine, Rachel tended to the household chores.

It almost felt blissfully domestic, Trace thought as she ran a long brush resembling a pipe cleaner with a thyroid condition, a tiny, well oiled patch of cloth affixed to the end, through the individual chambers of the cylinder of one of the Peacemakers. She did all the "butch" things while the blonde prepared the meals, washed dishes, pots and pans, did the mending, darning, sweeping, dusting, making the bed, washing, ironing, refilling the lamps and building fires in the evening. She smiled at the thought of Rachel being her "wife." Then immediately choked on saliva that went down the wrong pipe.

"Are you okay?" the blonde asked, quickly getting out of her chair, grabbing a cup and stepping over to the pump to fill it with water.

Putting a hand up to indicate she was all right, Trace nodded, coughing, finally getting control of her automatic body functions of breathing and swallowing. "I'm fine...really..." She accepted the water and took a few sips. Where the fuck were these ruminations coming from? Wife? Just the word make her choke again, provoking the blonde to pound her on the back.  While Trace was recovering, she widened her eyes at Rachel, surprised that such small hands could pack such a painful wallop.

Moments later, when it was clear the detective was going to live, after Rachel had reseated herself and Trace had gone back to her weapon cleaning, the brunette revisited the thoughts that caused such a reaction in her. What was going on? She had never entertained any desire to get attached to or settle down with anyone. Ever. It just wasn't in her make up. Sneaking a glance at the lovely yet troubled blonde, two words crept into her head: until now. She was suddenly dizzy and needed some air.

Her standing made Rachel look up at her, once again a concerned expression crossing her innocent features. "Are you sure you're okay?"

Nodding, feeling a little awkward, Trace said, "Uh...yeah. I think the fumes of the bore oil are getting to me." She pointed toward the door.  "I'm just going to step outside for a little bit."

Watching her leave, the blonde just stared after her. Trace was awfully pale, like she had just seen a ghost. If Rachel hadn't known any better, she would have thought her morning sickness was contagious. She shook her head and went back to sewing.

Outside, Trace took several gulps of air. She had not even known Rachel a week, she could not have possibly developed feelings this deep for her. And yet...the thought of the blonde not being there provoked a numbing emptiness inside her that was beyond explanation.  'No, no, no,' Trace thought, 'this isn't happening, I am not falling in love, I am not falling in love...'  Yet when she closed her eyes, her only images were of Rachel and the different things the blonde did, different expressions she wore in reaction to different situations and a fond smile appeared on the detective's face and a warmth surged through her she had never felt in the past. 'Fuck me to tears,' the brunette thought, sighing helplessly, 'I'm falling in love.'

Great.  Now what? Talk about closeted...she was living in an era where she was pretty sure there had to be jail sentences for homosexuality and if there wasn't, whatever punishment the town took into its own hands had to be severe, if not deadly. Fortunately, no one had a clue that she was a female, so that particular issue was not a problem. No one but Rachel.  The only one who really mattered to her.

She began to pace, chewing on her lip. What was she going to do?  It was different when it was just lust, that was old hat to her, it was emotionless...but love? She'd never been in love before but she somehow knew that there was a point of no return in that phase which is why she always fought against it. She couldn't be in love with this woman. Rachel was straight and naive and sweet good, not at all the type of woman the detective was used to hooking up with and the very idea of Trace having these kind of feelings for her would, no doubt, horrify and terrify the poor girl. In reality, it terrified Trace. She thought she had gotten past having 'things' for heterosexual women years ago...although, she never had much of a problem with curious, straight women... But the blonde was different. Regardless of what happened yesterday. 

The detective realized that she had a powerful presence, that she could be intimidating and she could pour on the charm without even trying. Trace had always been a very successful flirt, especially when it came to attractive women. It was second nature to her. But she was always in control. Always. Now she felt anything but in control as far as Rachel was concerned. This had never happened before. Which brought up another reason for the brunette's panic.

"This was such a mistake," she reflected, quietly to herself, "I should have stayed and took my chances with the DeSiennas." Even though she knew, had she made that decision, she would probably be dead by now. Maybe she should just leave. She had enough money to buy a gun and a horse, hell, she could even steal one or two of Rachel's guns and one of the horses. She leaned against a post, crossing her arms over her chest, looking down at the weathered wood of the porch floor. Of course she wouldn't do anything to bring this wonderfully kind and noble woman any more pain and strife.

And what would be the consequences of her moving on? The benefit being that somewhere she might be able to find a place to settle down where her sexual proclivities would be welcomed by a woman or two. The problem, however, was that they wouldn't be Rachel.

The harm of moving on heavily outweighed that measly personal advantage. The blonde would be alone again and defenseless. What was left of her livestock and crops would probably be destroyed. She would be forced to give up her home. And Trace would appear as though she was kowtowing to the sheriff's 'request' and falling in line behind the rest of Sagebrush and allowing the Cranes to run her life. She inhaled deeply. If she did not permit that with a much more powerful twenty-first century crime family, she would be damned if she would allow it with a group of nineteenth century rubes.

"Trace?" The voice interrupted her train of thought and she looked up to meet innocently inquiring green eyes. She wondered how long the blonde had been there, watching her. "Are you all right?"

Christ, she was beautiful, the brunette mused, committing Rachel's face to memory. Trace smirked. "Yeah. I'm fine. Thanks." And when the blonde returned a relieved smile, the detective knew right then and there she would never leave this woman.


When the small arsenal of four weapons had been cleaned, reassembled and put away, Trace kept out one of the revolvers so that she could look it over. Hand guns with cylinders fascinated her. She always wondered why people chose to buy and use them when, at least in her opinion, automatics were so much quicker, more accurate, packed so much more firepower and, with the higher caliber, definitely more potent. Or maybe she had convinced herself of that because she had been being able to slap in a clip, she could pop off more rounds faster and not have to worry about counting to six and stopping to use a speed loader. Now that she was in a situation where she would have no choice but to use this magnificently authentic Colt Peacemaker in her hand, she knew she needed to get comfortable with it and become more than competent at firing it.

The detective decided that tomorrow, if the cuts and slices on her hands were better, she would take the new rails out and repair the fence and then, if she was up to it (and definitely after a bath), she would ride into town and buy ammunition, a gun belt and look over what else might come in handy for her. She glanced over at Rachel, who had dozed off in her chair. Poor kid was obviously exhausted and she didn't wonder with trying to keep this place up and running all by herself. She must have literally made herself sick and tired.

Studying the blonde, Trace's expression softened. Rachel appeared so unguarded, so unblighted, so powerless...yet she had endured, so far, against these brutal and, obviously merciless Cranes. But it was clearly taking it's toll. She sighed and shook her head...well, no more if Trace had anything to do with it. The detective vowed to herself that she would move a mountain - one shovel at a time - if it finally meant peace for the blonde. As she passed Rachel, she reached down and pulled the knitted shawl up around the younger woman's shoulders and stepped out onto the porch, sitting down on one of the old but solid wooden chairs.

Kicking her feet up and resting them on the railing, Trace inspected the clean Colt cavalry single action .45 Peacemaker in her hand. She felt the weight with an empty chamber. Even without bullets the revolver wasn't exactly heavy but it was sturdy, something she attributed to the nickel plating and the walnut grips, which were a little worn but certainly not in need of replacing. The barrel, cylinder and frame were very strong and when she was putting it back together she noticed that the mechanics seemed as close to perfect as she would probably ever see in a gun like this...cocking, indexing, firing...was all very smooth.  She pointed  the Colt at a slender tree opposite her in the distance and looked down the six-inch barrel, lining up the sights. Hmmm...she might just be able to get used to this. As soon as it stopped hurting to close her fingers around the handle.


With Rachel busy preparing and baking a chicken pot pie for supper, Trace was too bored with just hanging around, waiting for her injuries to heal. Using what was left of the garlic concoction from yesterday, the detective rubbed the oil into her skin then wrapped her hands with cloth, slipping the suede work gloves on she had started to use the day before. She then donned nasty-looking, heavily stained overshoes several sizes too big as she began mucking out the stable.

All the horses, except the mustang, had been out in the pasture, so the detective did not have to be concerned about being trapped again, like that first day with Chief. By the time she reached the final stall, the one occupied by the feisty Spanish horse, she had poked quite a few eye-watering, nose hair burning pockets of fecal ammonia with her pitchfork, making her hate her life every time she came across one of the steaming, moldy, rotting matted clumps. 

Entering the stall of the horse that had tentatively been named Rio because he had been found by the river, the two stubborn mammals stared each other down. "Don't even think of starting with me," Trace advised the wary animal in a low, serious, whiskey-burnt alto. "I like being in here even less than you do."

It must have been her unyielding attitude that made Rio ignore her and go back to chewing on hay. Known for their survival instincts, mustangs were highly intelligent creatures with innate senses of self-preservation and not prone to place themselves in any situation which might be perilous or destructive. Something in the brunette's tone told him crossing this human with the pitchfork in her hands was not conducive to his welfare. He was very cooperative in moving when she needed to get around him and when she was finished, she pushed the wheelbarrow to just outside the stable entrance and went back into the stall to replenish Rio's food staples.  Once she was done with that, she would round up the other horses and get them back inside for the night.

Trace couldn't help but notice that Rio was a beautiful animal. Standing fourteen hands high, he was a smoothly muscled, deeply girthed, narrow chested, roan-colored horse with a well crested neck. The detective smiled at him, still respecting his space, feeling they were a lot alike. She instantaneously decided she wanted Rio to be her horse...maybe she could eventually talk Rachel into that little notion. Suddenly sensing another presence, Trace spun around to see her favorite little blonde standing at the entrance, hands on her hips, surveying the stall.

"Gosh, Trace, this looks right tidy. You did a fine job!" Rachel was starting to wonder if Trace had been telling the truth about never having done any of these kind of chores before, she always seemed to do such a complete and nearly error-free job.

"Thank you," the detective grinned. Amazing how even a little praise from the blonde could make her heart swell. Rio barely acknowledged his owner and went back to eating.

"How are your blisters feeling?"

"A little sore but not bad."

"You probably should have given them a little more time to get better."

"Yep, probably. But I couldn't sit still.  Idle hands and all that..."

Rachel folded her arms and nodded her head toward Rio. "Looks like he doesn't mind you."

"Yeah...speaking of that -"  Trace was interrupted by the sound of an explosive, rolling flatulence and looked up to see Rachel staring at her with eyes as big as pie tins. Defensively, she said, "It was the horse!" 

And then the odor to match the sound encircled them both and bile immediately scalded Trace's throat as both women made a mad dash for untainted oxygen. Outside the stable, the brunette breathed in mouthfuls of fresh air. 

"Okay, that was just wrong..." Trace commented, wiping the sting away from her eyes.

"I think he's still getting used to the oats," Rachel offered.

So am I, Trace thought, remembering the oatmeal for breakfast, but I don't smell like that. At least she hoped she didn't. "I think I'll wait a bit before I bring the other horses back to their stalls," the brunette stated.

"Well, I came to get you to tell you that supper was ready."  Off Trace's expression, she then added, "but since I've seen pallbearers look happier than that, it won't hurt it to cool a bit until you get your appetite back."

"No, no, I'll be fine. Just let me get these clothes off and washed up and I'll be right in. You worked too hard to let it sit and get cold." Reaching over and  patting the blonde's arm, reassuringly, Trace then headed off in the direction of the barn.

Watching the brunette's retreating form, Rachel ran her fingers lightly over the area of skin the brunette had just touched, feeling goosebumps. She realized she was smiling. She had never experienced anything like that before. The blonde could not explain her reaction and then thought it was best not to try. She walked back to the house to set the table, suddenly feeling as though she wanted to start skipping.


Right after dinner, Trace offered to do the dishes but Rachel wouldn't hear of it.  Instead she suggested the detective 'mosey' out to the corralled pasture and bring the horses in. Sure, Trace thought, so they can start immediately messing up those nice clean stalls.

The tall brunette led a lazily trudging Moses into the stable, followed by Rosie and her shy baby, who seemed determined to play 'peekaboo' with Trace from behind her mama and then a surprisingly cooperative Chief brought up the rear. The detective secured them all into their stalls and stopped long enough to talk softly to Zelda, who still hid behind Rosie but seemed as fascinated with the human as she was with the colt.

Once, out of the stable, Trace knew she could not go to bed smelling the way she did. She didn't know how Rachel managed to sit opposite her all through the meal and not start throwing up again. She no further got that thought out than she heard the sounds of vomiting. Picking up her pace, she rounded the corner to find the blonde bent over at the waist, depositing her supper in the bushes by the out house. By the time Trace reached her, Rachel was finishing up with a few dry heaves.

"Rachel, I don't like this..." the detective began as she watched the pale, drawn face focus on her.

"I'm all right."

"No, you're not. You're obviously very stressed."

The blonde cocked her head. "Stressed?"

" of sorts, upset, agitated."

Rachel nodded. "Well, that is the truth." If only the brunette understood the enormity of her 'stress.' Well, she would soon enough and then she would move on, certainly not wanting to have any association with an unwed mother. Suddenly the notion of Trace leaving her made her very emotional and before she could stop herself, she started to cry.

Without delay, the detective pulled the blonde into her arms and held her securely, smoothing her hair with her palm as Rachel wept silently against her shoulder. "Shhhh, shhhh, it's okay," Trace soothed. "I don't want you to worry.  I'm going to help you fight these Cranes, to keep your land." Once again the detective was experiencing a new aspect of herself. She had never been a demonstrative person yet she did not hesitate for one second to physically comfort the blonde. Normally, she considered herself as having all the gentility of a NASCAR wreck.  Rachel was pulling out a side of her she never knew she had.

As for Rachel, there was also no indecision regarding immediately accepting this act of kind reassurance. Being held by Trace seemed the most natural thing in the world for her. She might have pondered it further but she was hit by another wave of nausea and she pushed herself away from the detective before she risked spraying the brunette with the contents of her stomach...if there was anything left in there.

Later that evening, after Trace had taken a discreet, naked plunge in the creek, preferring the strong smell of lye soap over the more pungent odor of manure, she sat on the porch with Rachel, listening to the crickets, the frogs, the river and the occasional howl of an animal or two. They discussed Trace's plans for the next day by the light of a full moon.  Under different circumstances, it could have been very romantic, which is exactly what Ed Jackson must have thought when he rode up to the house.

Hearing the sound of slow hoofbeats approaching, both women stood, Trace immediately alerting on Rachel's stiffening posture. When the glint of the sheriff's badge became distinct, it made the blonde visibly disturbed.

"Now, what could he want?" Rachel mumbled in a voice just loud enough for her companion to hear.

When Jackson got close enough that his features could be recognized, he spoke, his tone arrogant and condescending. "Rachel," he nodded to the blonde. "Mr. Sheridan," he regarded Trace with a sneer. He looked at both women pointedly and after neither barely acknowledged him with a word or gesture, he said, "Am I interruptin' something?"

It was the disrespectfully blatant leering at the blonde, that caused Trace's hand down by her side to curl into a fist. Rachel must have sensed the detective's barely contained wrath and stepped forward. "Nothing but an evening's discussion about tomorrow's chores."

Jackson did not hide his disbelief. "Right," he smirked.

"What is it we can do for you, Sheriff?" Trace responded, her vocal inflection even less friendly than the lawman's.

"I just thought, as a courtesy, I'd tell Miss Rachel, here, that her fence is busted over by the south end of her property."

"Yes, I know that," the blonde spoke up. "That's old news, Sheriff. If that's all you came for..."

"Now, there ain't no need to be inhospitable," Jackson admonished her.  "With all the mysterious things happenin' out here, I would think you'd want to be just a little more sociable to -"

"Mysterious?  There is nothing mysterious about anything that has happened here, Sheriff," Rachel spit out unable to hold onto her forced composure any longer. "You know very well who's responsible for slaughtering my herd and crippling my horses, for burning most of my crops, for..." she stopped herself before she revealed the rest of it. "And you know, despite how sociable, I became to you, you wouldn't lift a finger to stop them. You disgrace that badge!" Literally vibrating from her own rage, she felt a gentle hand at the back of her elbow which brought her back to some semblance of calm.

Jackson didn't seem fazed in the least by her outburst. "Why, Rachel, your respect for the law is right heartwarmin'."

"She has respect for the law, Sheriff. That doesn't mean she has to respect the man badly representing it. That respect is not automatic. It has to be earned and it sure looks to me like you're a long way from doing that."

Trace's words got Jackson's attention and he narrowed his eyes. "You know, Sheridan," he began. "I don't like you. Didn't like you from the moment I laid eyes on ya."

Imitating Ed's drawl, Trace almost smirked. "Well, Ed, that just plum hurts my feelings."

Rachel had to turn her head away and bite the inside of her cheek to keep from snorting in laughter. Sheriff Jackson probably hadn't been defied like this since that incident with Billy The Kid. When she was able to sneak a look at him, she couldn't help but comment. "Why, Sheriff, you look madder than a centipede with bunions."

Trace was sure if the sheriff could have had steam come out of his ears, plumes would have been sending smoke signals by now. Somehow, he managed to rein in his temper and was able to raise a simper. "Ain't no way some half-breed, gypsy-lookin' drifter's gonna get my back up," he lied. The truth was if Rachel hadn't been there as a witness, he would have cut Trace down where she stood. He still could, no one would dispute him on it, except the courtly blonde and no one would believe her. Well, they might but it wouldn't matter. Jackson decided it would be smarter to wait for Jacob and the boys to get back. They would decide on a suitable course of action for this insolent cowboy who was way too big for his breeches. The sheriff wondered how big a talker this stranger would be up against the youngest, most virile Crane...especially when it involved Rachel Young, a woman Ben hated and desired at the same time. Nope, it would be too much fun to watch the volatile Crane boy deal with it. In the mean time, maybe a little lesson in manners wouldn't hurt.

"Say, Rachel, I just come from a nice dinner of roast cur at the Reddicks and I'm a might thirsty. Why don't you fancy ol' Ed with a nice big shot of bug juice and I'll be on my way."

Looking at the ground, Rachel sighed and turned to walk inside when she was quietly stopped by Trace's arm in front of her. In a voice loud enough for Jackson to hear, the detective asked, "Do you want to wait on him? Because he can be on his way without the bug juice."

They both heard the squeaking leather of the sheriff shifting in his saddle. In a tone barely above a whisper, the blonde said, "I just want him out of here with no trouble. I know this will do it." She gently pushed Trace's arm down and passed her, entering the house.

"Now, you listen to me, boy," Jackson started, once Rachel was out of their sight. Trace slowly looked back up at this ugly man on his tired horse. "That pretty little thing may be warmin' your bed for now and you might be feeling  like a stud 'cause of it, hell, I would be -"

Words became strangled in the detective's throat, she was so furious at the implication. It was okay if she thought that but for some scrote like this crooked lawman to just assume it turned her damned near homicidal. It took a great deal of self-control not to pick up the chair she had been sitting in and slam Jackson upside the head with it.

"...but if I was you? Enjoy it while you can because when those boys get back from Dodge and find you here? I guaran-damn-tee you'll be like a field mouse with a cat at his tail.  And...well, let's just say you keep shootin' off your mouth like that to those boys and you might wind up on the end of a rope over a cottonwood branch.  Now, ain't that just befittin' seein' as how that's where you say you're from," he continued, oblivious to the rage that radiated from the brunette.

Trace was about to annihilate him with a tirade that would have made his head spin when Rachel stepped back out onto the porch and over to the first step, handing the glass to the sheriff. Jackson drained the glass in one huge gulp, belched loudly and tossed the glass unexpectedly to Trace who caught it effortlessly. Her quick, smooth reaction provoked a raised eyebrow from the sheriff and that was all.

Touching his index finger to the brim of his hat, he smiled and nodded once again at Rachel. "You have a good night.  And don't forget about your south fence, there." He then guided his horse away from the house and trotted into the shadows of the trees in the distance.

Both women silently watched him go. The first one to speak was the blonde. "Man's got a grin like a rabid dog."

Through clenched teeth, Trace then said, "I don't like that man. I don't like the way he talks to you, I don't like the way he looks at you and I don't like the way he threatens you."

Rachel was a little taken aback at but also flattered by the detective's protective and almost possessive tone. She returned her attention to the dark woods the sheriff rode into. "They say when a snake rattles, you ought to kill it. Unfortunately, if you cut the head off that particular snake, several more will grow back. I'd shoot him for trespassing but that would only get me a cross planted above my brow." She sighed and swatted away a black fly who, with its many relatives, had begun to annoy her within the past ten minutes. She watched while Trace also attempted to bat one away. "Blessed things are as big as buzzards. Let's go inside. I'll make some tea."

"Rachel, what the fu- heck is bug juice?"


"Whiskey...?" She followed the blonde inside. closing the door. "Why don't they just call it whiskey?"

Rachel shrugged. "Why don't you just say 'okay' instead of 'cool'?"

Good question, Trace thought. The blonde's simplistic approach to things was always enlightening in its own way and she had a feeling that seeing life through Rachel's eyes would force her to re-evaluate quite a bit in the days to come.


Trace spent another forty-five minutes having a cup of tea with Rachel and then headed for her room in the barn. Still unnerved by the sheriff's unexpected visit, she was only now starting to calm down.  She was tired and should have been sleepy but something just did not feel right and she laid awake, staring at the ceiling, for several hours until the normal night sounds faded into the recesses of her subconscious.

A little after midnight, one noise stood out from the rest and the detective immediately reacted to it. Like a phantom, she silently slid out of bed, donned  her clothes and boots and crept out to the barn door, which was ajar. Slipping into a defensive mode of every nerve in her body feeling totally aware and ready for anything, she automatically monitored her own breathing, went on peripheral alert, scanning the limited area of her vision for the source of the noise. It was then she saw two shadows in close proximity to where she was standing and heard voices.

"Ed said just to scare 'em. Maybe drag the gyspy out of bed and wail the bejesus out of him in front of her."

"What about Miss Rachel?" the second male inquired.  He sounded young and a little unsure.

With a lascivious little snicker, the first man said, "As much as I'd like to have a little piece of that for myself, Ed said to leave her alone. But if she gets a little too rambunctious, she may have to be taught a lesson as well."

That was all Trace needed to hear. She stepped forward on her left leg, shifted her weight and let loose with a front jump kick, snapping her right leg up at the knee and striking the door with the ball of her foot with such force, the door lurched outward with a splintering crack, stopping only when it slammed against two bodies, knocking them to the ground. Moving quickly outside, she faced  the  dazed men, who both wore black hoods with eye holes cut out.

"Come on, boys," Trace teased, beckoning them.  "I'm ready for my lesson now."

Both men staggered to their feet. "He was supposed to be in the house," the shorter one whined.

"Never assume," the detective advised, in an almost playful tone of voice.

The taller, obviously older of the two men barreled toward the brunette, fist raised. Trace simply stepped aside, letting him pass where, under his own momentum, he tripped and fell face first into the dirt.

"Too bad that cowardly mask doesn't have a hole cut out where your mouth should be. You deserve to be spitting out Mother Earth right now," the detective told him. She watched as he jumped back on his feet pretty quickly, angry and embarrassed.

"What the hell's the matter with you, boy?" He was addressing his companion who was just standing there, unmoving. "Get him!"

Glancing at the smaller of the two, Trace sensed he would not be a problem. Almost timidly, the shorter man advanced at the detective from one side as the other man charged at her from the other. A deceptively fast roundhouse kick caught the older man on his right cheek, sending him flying backward, stunned, as he once again hit the ground. While he was shaking it off, the younger one drew back, propelling his fist forward with the intention of punching the brunette and the hope of knocking her down.

Catching his fist in mid-thrust, Trace abruptly stopped the action by counter grabbing his hand and twisting it in a direction nature never designed it to move. As she brought him to his knees, he began yelling for mercy. He knew with a little more effort, his whole arm could be broken.

Seeing the brunette occupied with his companion, the taller intruder mistakenly believed he could gain control of the situation now. When he was about two feet away from the detective, she back kicked him away from her and once again he found himself on his ass in the dirt. Pounding the ground in frustration, he stood up and drew his gun.

Hearing the click of the trigger being cocked back, Trace shook her head and spun her prisoner around so that he was now in front of her, wrenching his now badly sprained arm into a choke hold against him. She found herself looking up into the muzzle of a nicked and worn pistol. Regardless, she was sure, at that range, the bullet fired from it would still be just as deadly.

"If you shoot me, he dies," Trace stated, matter-of-fact.

"And the second shot will be you joining him in Hell."

Surprised, all three looked up to see Rachel, in her nightshirt covered by an unbelted cotton robe, on the porch with the carbine trained on the taller man. Her voice had been steady, angry and there was no doubt she meant what she said.

Trace couldn't help but smile. She had no qualms that she could have handled the situation just fine on her own but the blonde coming to her 'rescue' nearly made her chest burst with pride. The man holding the gun lowered it to his side.

"Good boy," Trace commented, smugly. "Now lay it down and kick it toward Rachel." When he hesitated, Trace tightened her hold on his partner, who howled in pain. "Do it."

He reluctantly obeyed and the detective was about to pull off the hood of the intruder in her grasp when they heard a rustling from the woods and the sheriff appeared, riding his weary horse. Jackson's expression was a cross between fascination and disappointment. One hand was on the reins and the other resting on his gun belt near the holster. "Put the gun down, Rachel." He then looked directly at Trace. "There'll be no killin' here tonight."

Not letting her prisoner go, Trace's eyes became slits as she addressed the sheriff in a deadly tone of voice. "You son-of-a-bitch.  You sent them here."

"Why, I don't know you're talking about, son." But his complacent expression betrayed him.

Once more, tightening her hold on the younger intruder, making him cry out again, the detective continued. "Really? I heard these two say that this was what you wanted. But if they're lying, just what are you doing out here in the middle of the night?"

Jackson shrugged. "Been reports of coyotes around, attacking the hen houses after dark. I heard the commotion. Noise travels far this time of night."

"How convenient," Trace scoffed. "I think these men were here to do your dirty work for you. If you've got a problem with me, Sheriff, then get down off that horse and take it up with me." Then she hastily added, "man to man," nearly gagging on the words as they left her mouth.

"I don't mind sayin' you got some imagination there, Sheridan."

"I don't mind saying you're a consummate liar there, Jackson," Trace countered, unflinchingly.

This made him stiffen and his hand then rested on the handle of his Colt, still holstered but the threat was there, nonetheless. He looked back up at Rachel. "Thought I told you to put that gun down."

"You're on my property without an invitation," the blonde told him, firmly. "I'll lower my rifle when you leave."

In a flash, Jackson's revolver was out and aimed at the blonde. Glancing quickly at Trace, he said, "One move from you and I'll shoot her."

The action had surprised Rachel who hadn't had time to load the shotgun before running out to the porch. She was hoping just the sight of it would have calmed everything down. It further shocked the detective that the sheriff took such a chance. And then she remembered the chauvinistic time she was in, a realization that was just punctuated by Jackson's next words.

"Don't ever threaten me, missy. When I tell you to do something, you do it. Now put the gun down."

"Don't do it, Rachel," Trace advised.

"Don't listen to him. He ain't on the business end of my Colt. I ain't gonna tell you again, Rachel."

"He won't shoot you, Rachel," the detective said.

"You sure about that, son?" Jackson asked. "She's got that carbine lookin' right at me. I need to defend myself. Especially when all I'm doing here is trying to protect her fowl from gettin' ate up."

"You are so full of crap, Sheriff, I'm surprised your eyes aren't brown."

Jackson smiled, "Gotta tell ya, Sheridan. You got some sand. I don't like ya.  Not one iota. But you don't scare easy. I 'spect that'll change in a month or two but for now, I am damned impressed." He turned back to the blonde. "Rachel?"

Slowly, to Trace's dismay, she lowered the gun. Squeezing her eyes shut, the detective let her head drop.

"Sheridan, let him go."  He cocked the pistol, extending his arm in the blonde's direction. "Now."

"Stop aiming that at her and I will."

"You ain't in no position to be givin' ultimatums here."

When Trace did not move, a shot rang out and the bullet seared into the porch at Rachel's feet, just missing her. The blonde jumped back with a frightened yelp, immediately covering her mouth with one hand to stifle a scream. "Rachel!" Pushing her prisoner to the ground, releasing him, the detective started toward the porch. Jackson then turned his revolver to face her, which made the brunette stop in her tracks.

"I didn't touch her. She won't be so lucky next time if she doesn't do as she's told." He smirked at Trace. "And neither will you." Jackson then turned his attention to the two hooded men. "You fellas get movin'. Don't be caught out here again.  You may not be so lucky, either." The sheriff's tone was completely insincere. "Git! Go on, now!"

As both men ran until they were out of sight, Trace turned back to Jackson. "They attacked me on private property! They had malevolent intent!  Why didn't you arrest them?"

"Malevolent intent? Looked to me like you was gettin' the best of 'em."

Trace looked over at Rachel, whose hand was still covering her mouth, tears brimming at her eyes. The detective could have killed Ed Jackson without a second thought at that moment. "I want to press charges against them. I want you to arrest them."

"And just who am I supposed to arrest? They were masked, they can't be identified."

Seething, the detective pinned him with a murderous glare that made his back hairs rise. "You fucking bastard," Trace said through clenched teeth, "If I ever catch you on this land again without permission, I'll hurt you."

No one had ever looked at him like that, not even any of the Cranes in their most hostile moments and he was also a little taken aback by the potency in the cuss words. He could not hide the bit of tremor in his voice when he said, "That a threat?"

"No.  That's a promise."

He aimed his gun at the brunette. "Maybe I ought to kill you right now, save the Cranes the trouble."

"You do and Rachel will shoot you right off that flea-bitten thing you call a horse. Is killing me worth losing your life over?"

"She'd go to jail."

"And you'd still be dead."

Lowering the Colt, Jackson holstered the sidearm and jerked the reins, causing his horse to start a slow pace. As he passed the detective, he said, "Let this be a warning not to cross me, son. Things can get out of hand right quick. As I got lucky tonight. You both did. I think you need to reconsider movin' on."

"And I told you I'd move on when I was ready and not before."

"We'll see about that." With that, he heeled his horse to a trot and rode in the direction the two men had run.

Scrambling onto the porch, Trace enveloped Rachel into a tight embrace. "Are you all right?"

She felt the blonde nod against her. "I'm sorry," she mumbled, tearfully into the brunette's chest. "So very sorry."

Leaning back, the detective tried to look into those jade eyes that said everything but Rachel wouldn't look at her. "Sorry for what?"

"For getting you into this."

"You didn't get me into anything. I'm choosing to stay here.  I'm choosing to do this, to fight this battle with you. How you've been doing this all by yourself is amazing to me. At first I thought you were just being stubborn. Now I see that you're being very brave and very strong."

"You really think so?" Green eyes finally blinked up at her.

"Absolutely...but I have to ask you - why did you put your gun down?"

"It wasn't loaded. I woke up and  heard the ruckus out here, looked out the window and saw what was going on and I grabbed the first rifle I could get my hands on. I remembered it wasn't loaded after I was already pointing it at that man."

Pulling the blonde into another hug, the detective closed her eyes, grateful that Rachel wasn't hurt. Releasing her, Trace bent to pick up the carbine. "Well, we'll make sure everything's loaded from now on. I don't think we can take the chance that this won't happen again." She looked back at the blonde, she said, "Did you happen to recognize anything about either of those men?"

"No. But I'm positive they were from Crane's spread. About a dozen cowboys stay behind during the drive to tend to the ranch and make sure nobody brings the property or the Crane women any harm." She crossed her arms, studying the detective briefly. "Trace?"


"Where'd you learn to fight like that? I've never seen a woman whup the tarnation out of any man before, much less two men at the same time..."

Shrugging, the brunette said, "Some of it's instinct, some of it's training. I needed to learn to defend myself for my job." She reached over and rested her hand on Rachel's shoulder.  "Are you sure you're okay?"

"Yes. I'm..." She almost smiled, glancing shyly up at Trace through light eyelashes, ""

Shaking her head, grinning unexpectedly, the detective ruffled her hair, affectionately. "Yes, you are. You are very cool, indeed."

Holding the carbine out to Rachel, the blonde accepted it and then said, "Trace?"


"Thank you."

"You're welcome." Exchanging a meaningful look, Rachel was the first to look away.



"Would you, um, stay in the house the rest of the night? In case they come back?"

Brushing her hair out of her eyes with one lazy stroke of her hand, she thought about what that would have indicated to her just a week ago and how she would have taken advantage of the circumstances. Now? Hell, yeah, she was still desperately attracted to the blonde but she was, at this particular moment, more concerned for Rachel's welfare and safety. "Sure. I'll bunk down on the sofa."

"There's a bed in the loft."

"I know.  But if they come back, I want to meet them head on."

"Oh. Okay. Thank you. Again."

Nodding, Trace closed the door behind her, thinking, 'You can thank me when they are no longer bothering you.' Instead, she smiled reassuringly at the blonde and went to retrieve all four guns so she could load them.


Trace awoke to the smell of something burning on the stove. Flying up off the couch, knocking the carbine, which had been resting upon her chest, to the floor, she grabbed a linen napkin, folded it over several times and removed all three pans from the heat. She waved the smoke away and looked around for the blonde.

"Rachel?" There was no answer. "Rachel?"

"Out here," came a weak response.

Walking out to the porch, the brunette found the blonde seated in one of the chairs, bent forward at the waist with her head on her lap. Her pasty, clammy exterior revealed the details of her nauseated, unpredictable interior.  "Glad I like my breakfast well done," the detective cracked.

Rachel raised her head high enough to rest it on her hand. "Sorry.  I was going to surprise you with corn meal, fried potatoes and fried apples and the aroma just soured my stomach."

Trace knelt by the blonde's chair. "Are you sure you don't want to see a doctor?"

"No." Debating with herself as to whether or not she should confide in the brunette, something told her now was not the time.

"Can I do anything for you?"

"Ginger tea would be nice."

Standing, the detective smiled kindly at the blonde. "Coming right up."


After Rachel's nausea went away, she helped Trace hitch Moses up to the wagon. With the assurance that the invertebrate sheriff and his band of not-so-merry chickens would not return to do their bullying in the light of day and that Rachel would be fine with a loaded shotgun and pistol within reach at any given time (and the promise that she would use it), the detective headed for town.

On her ride into Sagebrush, Trace pondered Rachel's nausea. It wasn't constant but it was daily. Odors seem to trigger it but she was also getting sick at night, apparently waking from a sound sleep when there were no smells to provoke the vomiting. Although Rachel was clearly a hard worker, she seemed exhausted during the day, abnormally so for someone in the physical shape the blonde seemed to be in. And she was making frequent trips to the outhouse. She balked at seeing a doctor, which meant she was either afraid or knew what was wrong. Since Rachel did not seem to be fearful of much, the detective figured it was the latter.

The blonde was reluctant to talk about her chronic stomach distress and Trace had not pushed. The idea of Rachel possibly being persistently ill was not something Trace wanted to think about as she was already too attached to the young woman. Then another thought crossed Trace's mind.

Could Rachel be pregnant? No. She shook her head at the speculation. There was no man in the picture. The blonde's fiancée had been gone too long for her to have had reproductive sexual contact with him. And Rachel did not seem like the type of woman to have indiscriminately slept with anyone else who was not a constant in her life. No, it had to be something else. Well, when the blonde was ready to talk about it, Trace was sure she would let her know what was wrong.

As Moses sauntered along, the detective checked the position of the Colt and the Sharps, ready for anything at this point. Fortunately, she made it to town without incident, not sure what might happen once she got there.

Her first visit was to a shop next to the livery called Nathan's Saddlery where, after several try-ons, she purchased a black cowhide prairie cartridge belt, which had twenty-four loops to hold extra .45 Colt ammunition. With it, she bought a floral carved skirted holster with a retaining strap and a matching hand-stitched Bowie sheath with simple tooling that was fitted onto the rig. From the second she buckled the gunbelt on, it felt natural, as though it had always belonged there. She recalled her first week as a cop on patrol, how the other rookies complained about the awkwardness and getting used to the weight of wearing a rig and she felt as though that gun on her hip, attached to the Sam Brown utility belt, had grown there.

Following that little excursion, she hit the gunsmith's where she bought several boxes of .45 caliber rounds for the revolver and cartridges for the Sharps and then bronze shell casings, fine black powder, primer, propellant and wads so that she could load her own bullets.

Trace then went to Joseph Turner's pawn shop, where the detective bought an eight-inch Bowie knife, the blade three fingers wide, a couple pair of well-worn, softened suede work gloves, a few assorted items that caught her fancy and a guitar. She didn't know why she felt compelled to get it because she had not played one in years but once she had the hand-crafted rosewood instrument in her possession, it was clear to her that the reason did not matter.

Her next stop was to Tippings Feed and Grain to pick up Rachel's standing order. She introduced herself to Caleb, the proprietor, who seemed very friendly and accommodating. Trace advised him that, from now on, she would be retrieving the food for the animals so deliveries would no longer need to be made out to the ranch. When Caleb directed his son to assist with loading the order onto the wagon, a troubled-looking Isaac refused, telling his father he had other tasks to attend to first. Embarrassed, older Tipping apologized for his son's uncharacteristic rudeness and offered to help. Thanking him but declining, Trace paid for the feed and led Moses and the wagon around to the back of the store, where she began lifting the sixty pound sacks by herself.

Halfway through the loading, Isaac Tipping stepped into the supply area, unaware of the detective's presence. Taking a break, Trace observed the teenager with more than a casual interest. He had the same voice, was of similar height, had the approximate build of one of the hooded trespassers and, the most curious of all, his right arm was in a sling.

"How'd you hurt your arm?" Trace's voice may have startled the boy but the person it belonged to terrified him even more.

He wanted to run, to get far away from this cowboy. He had seen what he could do without a gun in his hand and now he was wearing a sidearm. Head bowed, eyes scanning the floor, Isaac said, "Got thrown from a horse yesterday." Well, although it was a lie, he certainly felt as though he'd been dragged behind a fast stallion.

Yep, the detective thought, that's one of the sheriff's henchmen from the night before. The young man's timbre was identical to that of the intruder she had in a choke hold.

"Did you now?" Trace made sure she sounded as though she did not believe him. "If I go back in there and ask your father, is that what he's going to tell me?"

Isaac did not respond. It was obvious the cowboy knew what caused his injury. The teenager could still not look Trace in the eyes.

"Was your father the man with you?" The detective knew he wasn't, as the physical and vocal characteristics did not match but she was pretty sure the boy would react to this. If the kid had a conscience, he would protest his father's innocence by inadvertently admitting his own guilt at the same time.

"No!" The boy denied, defensively, and then looked skyward, realizing his mistake.

"You feel good about what you did last night?" the brunette inquired with more calm than she really felt.

"No, Sir," Isaac answered.  "I like Miss Rachel. Please don't tell her it was me."

"Then why?"

He lowered his head again. "Crane's are trying to get a cut of my pa's store. Sheriff Jackson said if I did this, he'd hold 'em off."

Unconsciously gritting her teeth, Trace was both angry and sympathetic. Sighing, the detective returned to loading the rest of the order onto the wagon.

"Are you telling me the truth?"

"Yes, Sir!" Isaac answered, enthusiastically.

"Who was the man with you?"

"John Carver." Responding to the blank stare of the detective, he offered more information. "Mrs. Crane's younger brother."

Trace nodded, absorbing the information. "If the sheriff ever asks you to do anything like that again? I want you to come tell me. Okay?"

"Yes, Sir. But what good is that going to do?"

"You let me worry about that." Lifting the last burlap bag, Trace looked over at the mortified teenager. "And Isaac?"

"Yes, Sir?"

"Don't worry about your father's store." Off the boy's disbelieving, questioning stare, she wanted to say, 'there's a new sheriff in town,' but instead she actually found a smile for him. "Just...don't worry..."

Skeptically, the teenager acknowledged the brunette's words without expression. He was obviously still terribly embarrassed by the whole incident. Instinctively, though, Trace knew she had an ally if she needed it. One down, the rest of the town to go.

And, finally, Trace stopped by Wilbur's to have a drink. This was a calculated visit to not only have a beer before she returned to The Triple Y Ranch but to take in the atmosphere of the town once again, to get the latest gossip from Silas and anyone else who might have loose lips while they imbibed.

Because of the huge tip Trace had left at her last visit to the saloon, Silas gave her a shot of whiskey on the house. Not one to be ungrateful, the detective accepted it, graciously and slammed the small glass of liquor back, swallowing the nasty substance that felt as though it was searing the flesh all the way down her throat. She could not stop her eyes from watering, when she set the empty glass back down on the bar.

"Blaze a trail clear to your gullet, did it?" Silas laughed.

"So that's what you call bug juice, huh?"

"No, the bug juice is over there with the red-eye. What you just had was what we like to call rotgut."

"I can see why," Trace rasped, chasing the burn with a few gulps of ale.

"It'll put hair on your chest."

"Yeah.  Just what I need." Draining her beer mug, the brunette tossed the affable saloon keeper twenty-five cents and headed out the swinging doors. On her way out, she passed the sheriff on his way in. Jackson immediately alerted on the fact that Trace was now armed. He could only hope the cowboy did not handle a gun as well as he wielded his fists and feet.

The detective and the sheriff glared at each other but neither spoke to the other one. However, Trace did notice that the jovial mood in the bar immediately became solemn at Jackson's dour presence. It did not take a rocket scientist to see that the sheriff was not a popular man. She would use that to her advantage.

Checking to make sure everything was secure, the detective climbed into the driver's seat and directed Moses back to her new home.


Trace decided not to tell Rachel about Isaac Tipping's involvement in the event of the night before. Not just because the boy asked her not to or she felt it would accomplish nothing other than hard feelings but she understood the position the teenager had been put in. Twelve years earlier, she had been in a similar situation. No, the detective would keep that information to herself for now.

She needed to figure out a plan, think of something to use the sheriff's own game against him and, ultimately, against the Cranes. She needed to find a way for Rachel to keep what was rightly hers with no more problems and help the people of Sagebrush get their town back.

Once again, she shook her head at her abrupt personality change. A little over a week ago, she was on the side of the bad guys and thought nothing about her unscrupulous behavior or her underhanded and corrupt acts. She felt little concern about the consequences of her actions against others, about how her decisions might trickle down and affect the helpless Rachel. When Trace got into her life of crime, she did so with noble intentions. Greed and power kept her there. And now, suddenly, twelve years of shame burned white hot within her causing her, again, to almost choke with rage at her own ignorance and voraciousness.

Continuing to beat herself up for things she could not change was futile and a huge waste of her time and energy.  Realizing and acknowledging the error of her ways and moving on and improving was the only way to earn her self-respect back and to, hopefully, help save this town. She needed to use the knowledge and experience she had gained from surviving on the wrong side of the law and put it to use on the righteous, ethical and moral side. Trace realized that this may mean she would still have to fracture an ordinances or two in order to make things right but if it all led in the direction of the greater good and she could redeem her prior bad acts, it would be worth it.


After she unloaded the purchases she had made in town, Trace piled the rails she had split two days earlier onto the back of the wagon and headed out to the south fence to repair it.

Two hours later, the tall brunette was back in the barn, unhitching Moses and leading him to the stable. Before she returned to the house, she ensured all the horses were in their stalls and they had enough food and water and checked the tack to see what was in need of conditioning and cleaning. Making a mental note  that some of the equipment looked a little worn and, worse yet, dry, she would ask Rachel where she kept the saddlesoap and make it a point to work on that within the next day or two. Even though she was new at being around horses and their equipment, she was not a novice at caring for leather as her gunbelts, holsters, sheaths and boots needed attention from time to time, usually determined by how often they were used.

Following dinner, Trace and Rachel were seated out on the porch again. The blonde was ripping the seams out of her father's pants and taking them in so that they would fit the detective better and the brunette was tuning her guitar.

"Do you hunt, Trace?" The blonde inquired, breaking the cozy silence between them.

"Hunt what?"


"No. Do you?"

"I've had my share of dinners on the hoof." She glanced over at the detective picking the scale on her new toy. "I don't like to but sometimes I've had to. Do you fish?"


"Do you want to learn?"

"Nope." Trace looked back at the blonde, meeting her eyes and smiling. "But something tells me I am going to whether I want to or not."

Nodding, Rachel returned the brunette's grin. "There are a couple willow poles in the barn. Tomorrow we'll go fishing."

"Do I have a choice?"

"Not if you want to continue to eat here." The blonde was still smiling as she returned to her sewing.

Trace chuckled. This just felt so...comfortable. She finally had the guitar tuned and strummed a G chord. "Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys...," she sang out, her voice clear and strong. Warbling a few more verses, she stopped to retune an E string. She again looked over at Rachel, who appeared a little stunned.  "What?"

"You have a very nice voice."

"Why, thank you, Ma'am."

"I've never heard that song before."

That's because it hasn't been written yet, Trace mused. "It's a standard where I come from," she told the blonde.

"What's a trucks?"


"A trucks. In your song. 'don't let 'em pick guitars and drive them ol' trucks.' What does that mean?"

"Oh. Truck. It's like a strong wagon that moves with the power of a couple of plow horses."

The blonde tried to picture it and shook her head. "Don't think I've ever seen one of them."

"No, I would guess you haven't. They're very rare right now." In fact, downright non-existent, she thought.

Nodding, Rachel then said, "Well, it's nice to hear music around here again. My mama used to play piano in church and sing."

"Do you sing?"

"Only on Sundays in front of Pastor Edwards." The blonde did not volunteer that she had not been to church in a month. She set her sewing aside. "Would you like a cup of tea?"

"Yes, I would. That would be very nice, thank you." She watched Rachel stand and enter the house. The blonde had asked Trace to spend the night on the sofa again as it made her feel very protected the night before. The detective agreed without hesitation. She was pretty sure there wasn't much Rachel would request of her that she would or could refuse. She sighed. This was all so very...domestic. Shaking her head, she went back to plucking out notes on her guitar.

Inside, the water was almost to a boil as Rachel filled the metal tea ball. Feeling a pang of cramps and a wave of nausea, she held her belly tightly until the feelings passed. Listening to the detective singing right outside the window, the blonde silently argued with herself again about whether or not to tell Trace about the baby. And once more, she talked herself out of it. Placing the steeping teacups on a tray, Rachel returned to the porch.

"...and she's buy-eye-ing a"

"That was a beautiful song, Trace. I've never heard that one, either."

"Another classic where I come from."

"Sounds like you have a lot of fond memories from where you come from."


"If you felt like it wasn't dangerous anymore to go back there, would you?"

Would she? Good question. Would she return to the Twenty-First century if she had the option to? She took a deep breath, inhaling clean, fresh air and looked over to her left at an unspoiled sunset. Then she looked over to her right, into the emerald gaze of a woman she would never want to expose to the modern world. She stared into the trusting eyes of a woman she suddenly felt she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. Right here. Forever.

"No," Trace answered, softly. "I like it right where I am."

"Good," Rachel smiled, almost shyly. "I like you right where you are, too."

"Really?" The detective tried to gauge the intent behind the words - she knew what she wanted them to mean but she was sure it was just that the blonde was grateful for her presence, thankful to have someone, anyone finally on her side, who felt no misgivings about getting involved in this mess. Trace knew she made Rachel feel safe...if the blonde felt any more than that, chances were she had not realized the full implications of it.

"You're good company. And you work hard. And you're not afraid of anything.  I am very appreciative of the first two."  She shook her head. "But I don't know how foolish that last one may be."

Chuckling softly, Trace sipped her peppermint tea and went back playing her guitar. Without warning, she felt her loins clench and a current of sexual stimulus galvanized her center and then radiated outward through every nerve of her body. The detective broke out into an unexpected sweat and knew she needed to excuse herself to take care of this urge, somewhere privately and quickly. Putting the instrument aside, she took another sip of tea and stood up. "I...uh...need to use the outhouse and, uh, then I'm going to get washed up at the river and be back in for the night." She began edging away.

"Right now?"

"Uh...yeah..." She stretched and faked a yawn. "It just hit me how tired I am."

As the detective descended the steps, she knew Rachel didn't quite believe her but she was positive the blonde didn't have a clue as to the real reason for her hasty departure, either. Skipping the trip to the outhouse, she headed for her room in the barn. Leaning against the closed door, just in case Rachel had chosen to follow her, it would ensure she would not get walked in on, she unbuttoned her jeans and slipped her hand inside her underwear. Closing her eyes, envisioning the blonde, it took her no time at all to relieve the pleasurable yet almost painful pressure. Feeling incredibly less tense now, she waited for her breathing to regulate and she grabbed her night clothes, heading for the bathing hole.

Section 5


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