Old Wounds, New Beginnings By Kim Pritekel

Old Wounds, New Beginnings
By Kim Pritekel

Part 1

Jamie sat in her six and a half by twelve foot cell, the place that had been her home for the last seven years. She sat on her bunk, steel with a three inch padded mattress, and stared at the cement floor, painted a light gray, and the walls around her, cinder block, painted beige. She hated those colors, and it would be just fine by her if she were to never see them again. And green. She glanced down at the yellow t-shirt she wore, her five number I.D. sewn onto the left side, just above her breast. That had been her new social security number for her stay at the Colorado Women’s Prison. And her “greens” as they were called; basically just a pair of loose fitting green cotton pants and shirt that looked more like medical scrubs than anything else, again DOC issued number sewn or ironed onto the top left hand corner.

Jamie sighed, and closed her eyes, her knees drawn up to her chest, hands dangling over them, head back against the wall. The last day she’d be in prison was slowly trickling into night. As of midnight she would be legally discharged from the system, and then at 10am the next morning she would be heading out, and put onto a bus, and given a hundred bucks for her to try and survive and make a new life on.

She grinned, and ran a hand through nearly black hair that had gotten too long. The first thing she wanted to do on the streets was get a haircut, trim. Sure, she could get one there at the prison. Women were trained in the art of haircutting, but Jamie didn’t associate much with the “girls”. She was a loner, always had been, and always would be.

She unfolded herself and reached over to the little three by two stainless steel desk that was bolted to the wall, and grabbed the newspaper clipping, reading it again:

Wanted: Help on Texas ranch. Must be able to handle hard, physical labor, hot temperatures. No experience necessary. Will provide wage, shelter. Get a hold of Tyg.

She remembered the voice on the phone, gruff, hardened, the voice of an old man. He had been kind, and said that he was looking forward to meeting her in person once she got to LaGrange, Texas.

Jamie tossed the folded ad on her bunk and looked around again. It was time to pack up. Her three sets of issued greens were folded neatly on the shelf above the sink, and her state issued black boots were placed on top. The blankets and sheets that had seen her through countless nights of crying, anger, self-induced pleasure, were folded at one end of the bunk. Anything that she was planning to take with her was still in her foot locker against the wall. Lt. Crowe had brought her two big, military green duffels an hour ago. One to stuff all the state issued crap in, the other for her own stuff. She was allowed to take that one with her.

Jamie stood from the bunk and walked the few short paces to the five by two bulletin board anchored to the wall where they could hang any personal stuff. She only had some of her drawings hung up, but most of that was stowed away. They’d have a shit fit if they found all the drawings she’d done of Stormy from memory. Most were in poses that she’d actually seen her in during their stolen time together during movement just before chow.

Jamie smiled as she thought of Stormy, not her real name of course. Very few of the girls actually went by their real names. Here an inner community was created replete with new names, chosen by the woman who bitched you, or punked you. From that time on she became your master, your mother, your everything until you could stand on your own two feet, and make your own name. Stormy had been that to Jamie, who around these parts was known as Stone Warrior because of her quiet, yet strong demeanor, Stone for short. It would be strange being called Jamie again.

With a sigh, Jamie began to carefully take down her drawings. She stared at the one in her hand; it was of her baby, her Harley that Carlos had stored for her all these years. She had called him yesterday, and sure enough, her baby was well, and waiting to be picked up. It had been way too long. She grabbed her copy of Gauguin: A Retrospective, the only book she had had sent in from the streets, and placed the single sheet drawing between its pages, knowing that the large, heavy book would keep it from being damaged. The other drawing she had hanging on the board was of her brother, Johnny. She had not seen him since that night. She would not allow him to visit her, always refusing to have him put on her okayed list no matter how he begged. She did not want him to see her there, see what she went through. He was close enough to following her in his own right as it was. Shoot, now he’d be twenty two. A man. When Jamie first come here She had been that age. Now she was just shy of her thirtieth birthday. So much time gone. Wasted.

Jamie shoved the book into the duffel that was already filled with some pictures, and a few letters she’d allowed Johnny to send. Christmas and birthday cards, stuff like that. She had a few pairs of socks and underwear that she had bought from canteen that she could take. It was a start. She had had Carlos send her in some street clothes for her to wear tomorrow. She wasn’t about to be seen in the psychedelic throw back clothes the state gave you. Hell no. They’d taken part of her life, she wasn’t going to let them take any more of her dignity. She wanted to start the rest of her life in style.

With everything packed, and ready to go, Jamie stripped out of her greens for the last time, and threw them in the bag with the other stuff the state could have back. Dressed in a pair of sweat shorts, and white t-shirt, Jamie laid down on the bare mattress. It was summer, and hotter than hell. This place had zilch for air circulation, so she knew she would not need a blanket. The small window that was above, and just to the right of center, her bed, didn’t do much for cool air, either. God, she couldn’t wait to get out of this place.

Jamie placed her hands behind her head, and stared up at the dark ceiling, knowing that a cell identical to this one was right above her on the second tier. She knew Lady Bug was already asleep, and could picture the large black woman with her incredible long dread locks, her boisterous laugh heard throughout the pod. Maybe she would miss some of these girls. Even though she was not the social butterfly of the unit, these women had become her family, her source, especially after Stormy had been killed by that bitch with the shank made from a melted toothbrush handle and razorblade. She could still see Stormy’s eyes, where she had gotten the name. They had been an intense blue/green/gray. Depending on her mood. Her thoughts began to wonder to her future. What was Texas like? She’s never been. She just knew that she had to get out of Colorado, even though it was the place of her birth. Denver. It had been harsh to her, never once giving her a break until it had had her literally under its thumb, stuck to rot for seven long years in prison. She had actually been luckier than most in the joint because of her size. At just under six foot, and a muscular build, most were intimidated long before she spoke, or gave them the steely gaze that she had been known for on the street. Jamie glanced down at her lounging body, and realized just how much bulk she had lost. In the movies you see all those bad asses bulked up, and ready to beat the shit out of you. Well, in real life, well, that in the Colorado Department of Corrections, it just ain’t so. Most of the free weights were taken out a few years back. Too many inmates, or offenders as their called now, were using them as weapons, so they were pulled. Sure, there was still the machines, and the yard and all that. Jamie took advantage of a lot of the equipment, but mostly she just wanted to be alone, and using the weight machines was not the way to do that. There were always women crawling all over that stuff. Not worth it.

Feeling sleep trying to creep in around the edges, Jamie reached up, and killed the light above the bed, and laid back down, resting one hand on her chest, the other remained behind her head. She sighed deeply as the night noises of the cement world around her settled down. The crying, quiet fighting, or the low moans and grunts of the double bunked. The occasional yelling. Though when that happened, that chick was dealt with promptly the next day.

Jamie was about to shut her eyes, when the thin beam of light snaked through the small glassless window in the door to her cell. Officer Penny.

“Checks, Madden.”

“Yeah, I’m here.” Jamie mumbled, closing her eyes, and finally giving in to sleep.
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“Hey, Madden. Wake up. Come on.” Jamie’s blue eyes flew open, the bright sun blaring through the tiny window, right into her eyes. She raised a hand to block the sun, and glared over at the door.

“What?” she growled.

“Rise and shine. Time to get ready to go. You’re out of here in an hour.” Officer Donaldson walked away, leaving Jamie to sit up, grinding the heels of her hands into her eyes, and then ran them through her mane of dark hair, and stood. She quickly pulled the hair into a tail, and plopped down on the hard floor, beginning her morning push-ups. This was her time to relax, to think. She realized that she was scared. She hadn’t set foot on a sidewalk in seven years, hadn’t driven a car, or her beloved motorcycle. Nearly a decade. She wondered what things were like now. The millennium had come and gone, seen her behind these walls, wondering just what she could have done with her life, what kind of difference could she have made in Johnny’s life. She watched the familiar gray floor get closer, then farther away, closer, then farther away with each bending and straightening of her arms. No need thinking about that now. It’s all in the past.

Jamie showered, and dressed in a pair of black jeans, white tank, and black boots. Thank god for Carlos. For the first time in too long she felt human, like she belonged in the real world. Like she was worthy. She slung her duffel over her shoulder, took one last look around the cell that had been home, now empty, looking much like it had when she had been escorted to it for the first time. She had spent that entire night terrified, every prison movie she had seen running through her mind. She had held strong, not allowing herself to cry. She would not show such weakness in here. It had been only four days later when Jamie had found out just what real fear was.

“You ready, Madden?” Jamie was jerked to the present as Lt. Randall asked, standing just outside her cell door. She nodded. “C-1, Charley.” the LT called up to control, and the thick, steel gray door slid slowly open. Jamie took a deep breath, and walked out onto the main floor of the pod, and followed Randall down the narrow space between the doors to the cells, and the railing that separated them from the living unit where round tables bolted to the floor surrounded by round stools, also bolted, were scattered. The television that was bolted to the wall was playing, a group of women watching some show on remodeling your house. She grinned, and glanced around to see who was out. Most of the girls were at work or at school.

“Yo, Stone!” a voice boomed from above. Jamie glanced over her shoulder and saw Lady Bug standing on the second tier, leaning against the rail. Jamie smiled up at her. “You go, girlfriend!” Lady Bug yelled. Jamie raised her hand in salute, and continued on. The group that had been watching television turned around and studied them as they made their way toward the door to the living unit. Their faces held mixed emotions. Some apathy, others envy. Jamie was filled with her own mixed emotions. Could she make it now? On her own? She knew that the return rate was high, and just prayed to god that she would not end up in that number of repeat offenders. She never wanted to come back. Ever.

The white van drove through the small town of Canon City headed toward the nearest bank. Her hundred bucks was tied up in a check, so the van pulled into the drive-up window of a bank just off Macon St. As the officer took care of that, Jamie looked around the small town that was host to many of Colorado’s prisons. It was just after ten-thirty, and the small town was already buzzing with activity; cars going here and there, people walking down the streets, oblivious to the fact that a former burden to their state was about to be released, to be re-merged into their number. She took a deep breath, and turned her gaze back to the officer. He took the clear plastic container from the silver machine, and opened it up, grabbing the white bank envelope from inside, and returning the bank thingy to the machine. Jamie raised a brow. Neat.

“So, where you headed, Madden?” the officer asked, glancing at her through the rear-view mirror. Jamie met his gaze through the steel netting that separated him from herself, as he pulled the large van out of the bank parking lot, and headed back into the traffic.

“Denver.” she mumbled.

“Is that where you’re from? Or do you have family there?”

“Yes.”

The young officer grinned. Jamie was known for not being much of a talker. Most respected her for it.

“Yeah, my wife’s family is from there.” Jamie nodded acknowledgment to his comment as she gazed out the window again. She could see the bus stop looming up ahead, an older woman sitting on the bench, a small bad on her lap, clasped between small, age gnarled hands. “Okay. Here we go, Madden.” the van was pulled into the parking lot behind the bench, and stopped. The officer jumped out of the driver’s side, and walked around to the right side of the van, and unlocked, and slid open the door. He smiled as he beckoned for Jamie to get out. She grabbed the green duffel from the floor, and wrapped her hands tightly around the handles, trying to make her hands stop shaking. She stepped down from the van, and glanced at the officer. “Good luck, Madden.” he smiled, and slammed the door shut. Jamie looked back down the street, and saw the bus coming, it’s lights already beginning to blink notifying traffic of its upcoming stop. The officer waited until the bus stopped with a whoosh, and Jamie to climb aboard, then got back into the van, and started the engine.

The bus was half full of weary looking passengers. Jamie found a seat at the rear of the bus where there were few people. She set her bag on the seat next to her, her hand resting on top of it, her other hand in her lap. As she looked out the window of the bus, the scenery began to slowly move by, gradually getting faster and faster until it was all a blur. She laid her head back against the headrest, wondering how many others before her had sat in this very same seat, watching their past get farther and farther away from them with every passing mile. As those miles passed, Jamie thought back to her early days of freedom. How many years had she squandered on drugs, stealing, and trouble? Too many. And just when she had gotten her head somewhat straight on her shoulders, Carson Lincoln came into her life, and the moment his ended, so had hers. Johnny flashed through her mind again. The fear in his blue eyes, the exact same color as her own.

“It just happened, Jai.” he sputtered, his bottom lip quivering, his face pale, ashen, almost more so than Carson’s. Jamie stared down at the man on the floor of their tiny living room. Carson’s eyes remained open, shock forever embossed on his once handsome face. Blood continued to pour from his chest, soaking the blue shirt he’d been wearing an ugly maroon color. Jamie looked down when she heard a rattling, and saw the gun in Johnny’s hand shaking violently.

“Give me that before you shoot someone else.” she had said gently, using both hands, one to unwrap her younger brother’s frozen fingers from around the small .38, and the other to grab the still smoking gun.

“I’m sorry, Jai. It just-”

“Get out.” Jamie said, her voice low, filled with finality and meaning as she stared down at the body. When Johnny didn’t move, she glared at him, and hissed through clenched teeth. “Get out, I said. You were never here. Go!”

Jamie glanced across the aisle when she heard a child begin to cry. The little girl looked to only be about three or four at the most. She had a head full of curly blonde hair. Jamie smiled at the red face, and protruding lip. The child’s mother held her in her lap, gently rocking her from side to side, one hand against the side of the girl’s head, the girl leaning into her mother’s chest. The young mother looked over at Jamie.

“I’m sorry if she’s bothering you.” she said, her voice soft. Jamie stared into the tired eyes of the woman.

“No problem.” she grinned. “What’s wrong?”

“She’s been sick. We’re from Florence. There aren’t any doctors there that can help her, so we’re heading up to Denver. My parents live there. Maybe they’d be willing to help out, you know?” she kissed the top of the girl’s unruly hair, and laid her cheek down where her lips had just been. “April is their only grandchild.” Jamie nodded her understanding. “So what about you?”

Jamie thought for a moment, not sure what to tell this young woman. She didn’t want to scare her to death with the knowledge that she was sitting next to a convicted murderer.

“Well, uh, I’m heading to Denver, too. Came from Canon City.” she said simply, hoping that her duffel on the seat next to her mentioned nothing about belonging to the DOC.

“Oh, really? It’s such a pretty little town. I shouldn’t say little. I mean, it’s bigger than Florence, isn’t it?” the woman raised her head, and drew her brows in thought.

“Not sure. Never been there.”

“So why are you leaving?” Jamie had to fight the urge to smile at that one.

“New start.” she finally managed. The woman smiled.

“I understand that one. I’m Karey, by the way.”

“Jamie.”

Jamie listened as the young woman prattled on about how she had gotten pregnant young, and the father had taken off. Her parents, who are somewhat wealthy, and live in the affluent area of Denver known as Cherry Hills, had disowned her, and had never even seen their granddaughter, only the baby picture that she had sent when April had been born. She had worked in a small antiques store, one of many in Florence, and had been laid off when business had been slow last spring.

Jamie was amazed and moved by Karey’s obvious strength against insurmountable odds. She marveled at how much the human spirit could take, and still not break. She remembered her mother telling her, that which does not kill us makes us stronger. How true. Jamie thought of her parents. Her father, John Sr., or Mad Dog Madden to the gang, had ridden with the Hell’s Angels for fifteen years. During that time he had met the future mother of two of his thirteen children, Candy Hensen, a freshman in college at UNC in Greeley, Colorado. John had never married Candy, but soon they had become common law, and Candy had turned into a biker chick. She had not been happy with the life, the violence, and the slew of different women that John had brought not only to his own bed, but had insisted join their bed, as well as the constant traveling. She had been instructed to not question, or fight it. It had all been too much for her, and she had eventually left, taking Jamie, then ten, and a three year old Johnny with her back to Colorado, settling in Arvada for six years before she had been struck with cancer, and died shortly after. Jamie had had to learn the hard and fast way how to survive, and raise her brother without being caught by social services. She was not about to live in a foster home, or subject Johnny to that horror. So soon she had found ways to make money, and keep them under a roof. Candy had always said that Jamie had too much of her father’s blood in her. Within two years she had started her street gang with her looks, good head, and persuasive nature, she had the weak and lost souls of Arvada eating out of the palm of her hand.

She had done her best to keep Johnny out of it. She wanted him to have as normal a life as circumstances would allow, but as he hit his teen years his eyes began to open up to all the possibilities, and the world of sex, money, drugs, and violence that his big sister, whom he adored above any other, had built for herself. By that time Jamie had had enough, and wanted out. She was on the verge of twenty, and had managed to elude the police for four years, and had stowed away money for her and Johnny to get away with. Start again somewhere else. And then that night had happened.

“Jamie?” Jamie’s head snapped up to meet the smiling brown eyes of Karey. “Are you coming?” Jamie looked around and realized that the bus was stopped, and people were moving into the aisle, and walking toward the door in front. “Potty break time. And none too soon.”

Jamie stood and stretched her arms high above her head, her body sore from sitting so long. Karey, with a sleeping April in her arms, maneuvered out of the seat, and joined the others. Jamie took the hundred dollars from her pocket, and flipped through until she found some ones. Her brows drew as she looked at some of the bills. They looked different. She flipped through the wad again until she found some bills that looked familiar, that she remembered.

“I never understood why they redid those.” Karey, said, nodding toward the money. Jamie glanced at her, brows still drawn. “I thought they were just fine the old way.”

“They’re all like this?” Karey grinned.

“Where have you been? Mars? Yeah, all except the one dollar bills. Those are coming, too, though.”

Jamie raised both brows, and shook her head, pocketing the money except for a couple bucks. She was thirsty, and hungry, and figured the rest stop would have some kind of vending machine.

The red and black Coke machine stood against the wall between the men’s and women’s restrooms. There was a picture of an ice covered Coke bottle surrounded by ice cubes. Her mouth watered, and she looked at the amount the machine required, and just about swallowed her tongue. A buck fifty for a twenty ounce bottle of soda? Good god. Inflation. Gotta love it. Jamie had to get another dollar out of her pocket so she could get a tiny bag of Doritos for another buck fifty.

“Highway robbery, isn’t it?” Karey asked as she walked out of the women’s restroom, April walking beside her, clutching her mother’s hand, her thumb in her mouth. Jamie glanced at her and nodded. “Come on, baby.” Karey said, leading her young daughter back toward the bus. Jamie noticed her give the machine a short, but longing glance before she turned away. Jamie turned back to the machine, and pulled another two dollars from her pocket.

Jamie washed her hands, and dried them with a paper towel. She had almost felt claustrophobic in that small toilet stall. Inside their toilets had been right there in their cells, and anyone who happened to be walking by when you decided to go got a front row seat. At first it had been extremely difficult to get used to, but after awhile, modesty no longer had any meaning. Sometimes on the inside, secluded privacy meant dead.

Jamie was one of the last on the bus. As she made her way toward the back, she glanced at some of the faces of the people she passed. Many were glancing out the window, or had buried their noses back into the book or magazine they had been reading before. She was kicking herself now for not asking Miss. L in the library for any back issues she had of newspapers or magazines for her trip. She knew the older woman would have given them to her. Hindsight. She passed by one guy with short cropped, blonde hair, and an earring in his eyebrow. He looked young, maybe twenty. He grinned up at her, raising an eyebrow in question. She glared back, making him promptly find his lap rather interesting. God, not this again. Inside she had been considered an old timer because of the amount of years she’d done. Once you reached a certain status, people left you alone, and the girls knew better than to flirt with her. More likely than not they’d end up on the floor with blood on their faces.

Jamie neared her seat, and saw Karey quietly reading a story to April. She flicked her wrist, and sent the package of gem donuts flying through the air to land in the seat next to the young mother. Jamie sat down, and glanced out the window.

“Oh, Jamie.” Karey breathed. “You didn’t have to do that.” Jamie raised a hand to stop her. “Thank you. We haven’t eaten all day.” Jamie turned to face her, and smiled.

“Me neither.”
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Jamie watched as Karey gathered her belongings and her daughter. She was almost sorry that the young woman was leaving so soon. Jamie still had another forty five minute leg left before she hit the old neighborhood, and Carlos’ place.

“Well, Jamie, I wish you luck on your new start.” Karey smiled as she stared down at her. Jamie smiled up at her.

“You, too. Bye little one.” she said to April who was once again sucking her thumb.

Jamie once again found herself staring out the window as the streets started to become familiar. She stared up at the huge buildings of downtown Denver as they passed, and she felt a slight twitch in her stomach; part of her was excited to be back here, even though it would just be for the day. She planned to start out for LaGrange by early evening. She was craving the missed feeling of the wind in her hair, the freedom and speed of her Harley.

Carlos Vega’s house was only a fifteen minute walk from the bus stop, so Jamie opted to walk it. She slung the large duffel over her shoulder and glanced around the street as she stood next to the bench that was the bus stop. The busy streets buzzed with mid-day traffic, and a smile spread across her face. Home. She was finally home. Jamie took a deep breath, and began to walk in the direction that she knew would take her to her old friend. Carlos had been one of the original members of her street gang, and in many ways her second in command. He had been strong, smart, and had a stomach made of iron, which was good considering what many of his duties had been. Carlos was a few years older then Jamie, but he’d always treated her with the utmost respect. He had been one of the few in her life who had actually tried to get her to turn away from the life she was leading. Carlos had been her confidante, and trusted friend since she had been seventeen.

She turned down Egger street and saw Carlos’ small two bedroom perched on the hill just as she remembered. The small stucco house was white with peeling brown trim. One of Carlos’ low riders was in the driveway, and a pair of legs was sticking out from under the purple car.

“You know, I hope you drag your ass on a speed bump.” she drawled. She saw the legs twitch, and then heard a loud thump as a head met an undercarriage, and a barrage of cuss words spewed out from under the car.

“What the hell! You lookin’ to die, punk?” Carlos shoved himself out from under the car, his near black eyes like coals on fire, but the fire immediately faded as he took in his long lost friend. “Chica!” he exclaimed, jumping to his feet, and grabbing her in a fierce hug.

“Hey.” she smiled as she hugged him back. Carlos stepped back from her and looked her over with drawn brows.

“Jai, you got so thin!” he exclaimed, his thick accent made her smile. She had missed it. “I don’t think I ever seen you so skinny.”

“I am not that skinny.” Jamie grinned, swatting his hand off her shoulder good- naturedly. “So what car are you ruining now?” she smirked, changing the subject away from possible questions, indicating the low rider sitting in the driveway, the sun glinting off the flawless paint job.

“Hey, you’re not too big for me to kick your culo, you know!”

“You know, I think if it came to feeding yourself or putting in new woofers, you’d starve” she ran her hand down the sleek hood.

“Not no more. I got more to feed than just me, now.” he put his arm around Jamie’s shoulder, and led her toward the small house. She glanced down at him, watching as he adjusted the black baseball cap that sat backwards on his head, covering that thick mane of black hair he had. His black basketball jersey hung from his narrow shoulders, leading to long, baggy white shorts and high top, white Nikes. Jamie looked down at him in confusion. He grinned, his dark eyes twinkling. “‘Member Luna?” Jamie nodded. How could she forget that beautiful angel of a woman. She had come over to the U.S. with her father from Cuba when she had been eight. Her long, curly black hair, dusky skin, and steel blue eyes. She had been a turning point in Carlos’ life, and subsequently, Jamie’s.

“She still putting up with your ass?” Jamie grinned.

“Now, what kind a thing is that to say to your homey? Damn straight she put up with my ass.” Carlos grinned, his deep dimples teasing. “Speak of the devil, and she appears.” Carlos smiled as a Subaru station wagon pulled into the driveway and parked behind the low rider. Jamie watched as Luna’s face broke out into a huge grin when she realized who was talking to her man. She threw the seatbelt off of her, and jumped out of the car, running at breakneck speed toward them

“Jai!” she squealed, flinging herself into Jamie’s waiting arms, almost completely bowling her over. Luna sobbed as she clung to her, her face buried in the neck of the taller woman. Jamie could feel her own throat constrict, and swallowed her own emotion. “Honey, we missed you.” she cried. “I’m so happy you’re finally out.”

“Shh.” Jamie cooed, stroking the long, thick hair that she remembered so well. It was amazing the little details of your life that stick with you when it’s taken away from you. Luna pulled away from her, and kissed her soundly on the cheek.

“You look thin.” Luna said, her blue/gray eyes turned dark from crying. “We need to fatten you up, amar.” she studied Jamie’s face, her delicate brows drawn. “Oh, honey.” she whispered, running her thumb gently over the skin under Jamie’s blue eyes that she knew was puffy, and ringed.. “What happened to you, mija? That fire in you is gone, You look so sad.” she whispered. Jamie grabbed Luna’s hand in her own larger one, and kissed her knuckles.

“I’m fine.” she said with a small smile. “Just glad it’s over.” Luna stared into her eyes for a moment, then deciding to take Jamie at her word, took her arm and led her to the station wagon where Carlos was helping a little one step down from the car that was too high for such little legs. “Yours?” Jamie asked, her voice full of wonder as she stared at the little one, then the other two older ones that stood by the car.

“Jai, I want you to meet our three monsters.” Carlos said proudly. “This one here is Ricardo.” he patted a young boy on the head. “He’s our oldest at almost seven. This little demon is Angela.” Jamie smiled at the small girl who appeared to be about five. She had her mother’s hair, and her father’s dark eyes. She held a stuffed rabbit in small hands, and stared at Jamie shyly through long bangs. “And finally little Carla.” Luna took the tiny girl in her arms and walked over to her. “She just turned two last week.” Jamie stared at the happy family as Luna and Carlos, each with a little girl in their arms, and little Ricardo standing in front of his father, proudly looking back at her, she felt out of place, like she was a stranger on a strange planet. Suddenly she felt like she would scream, or cry, or both, and wanted to do neither. Flee. That would work.

“Carlos, where is my bike?” she asked, her voice suddenly turning hard, indifferent. Luna looked at Carlos, questions in her eyes. They exchanged a glance, and Carlos set Angela down, and walked over to Jamie.

“Baby, would you make us some food, please?” Luna nodded, and smiled sadly at Jamie, and led the children into the house. “Come on, Jai. Let’s go see your baby.” Carlos smiled as he led her around the house to the back fence, opened it, and held the gate for her, then closed it behind them. The backyard was barren with one small plot of grass near the back door, and a sandbox. The rest of the large yard was full of dirt and weeds. A small wooden garage was in the back right corner of the yard, and Carlos led her to it. He lifted the heavy door with a grunt, and heavy, hot air blew out to meet them. Off to the side was something covered by a gray tarp. Jamie’s heart began to pound as she helped her friend remove the dust covered covering. “No one has touched her since the day you left her here, Jai.” he said, his voice quiet. Jamie ran her hands over the familiar, smooth surface of the tank, painted black with a single word painted in silver, saoire, a Gaelic word meaning freedom. The chrome of the handlebars and underneath shone in the bright sunlight that infiltrated the small space. Jamie smiled, and looked up at her friend.

“Thank you, Carlos. You have no idea how much I appreciate this.” Carlos beamed. Jamie’s smiled faltered, and she looked back to the bike, absently running her fingers over the smoothness of the leather covering the seat. “I’m sorry about before, my friend. Out there.” she nodded toward the house. “It’s just that, well, I’ve missed so much. I had no idea you guys had had any kids, let alone three. I should have been there. For you guys.” she finished softly.

“Hey, mija. Don’t you think I know you would have if you could have? Jai, you have got to learn to forgive yourself. None of us have anything to forgive.” Jamie nodded, still unable to look him in the eye.

“Have you seen Johnny?”

Carlos shook his head sadly and crossed his arms over his chest. “Not for a month or so. He don’t come around like he used to.”

“Is he happy, Carlos?”

The darker man shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know, Jai. He keeps to himself mostly. Don’t have nothing to do with any of us from the old days, really. He is the godfather to Ricardo, but he don’t even come around to see him.”

“I’m sorry.” Jamie said with a sigh. Carlos turned to her, suddenly grabbing her by the shoulders.

“Jai, you have got to stop apologizing for what Johnny does! I thought you would have learned that by now for sure. it’s not worth it. He’s a not a boy no more.”

“I should have done more, given him more all this time, man! I should have helped him out.”

“You gave him seven years of your life.” Carlos said, his voice grave. “You always lived for him. Now it’s time to live for you.”

“Lunch!” Luna called from the back door.

“Come on, hita.” Carlos said, heading out of the garage.

“I’ll be right there.” Jamie watched her friend walk out into the hot afternoon sun, then turned back to her bike. She unscrewed the gas cap, and smiled when she saw the string. Pulling gently, it began to give, and slowly the smallish black plastic bag came into view. She pulled until the top of the bag came up out of the darkness of the half emptied tank, and grabbed it, pulling it free. She put the cap back in place, and screwed it on, then turned the small package over in her hands, and untied the string around it. The bag fell open, and the edge of a block of green/gray came into view. She ran her thumb across it, and the bills fanned through the hot summer day. It was still here. After all this time.

“Carlos, I could kiss you.” she whispered, and shoved the pack of money into her green duffel, and zipped it back up, headed toward the house.
<><><>
Carlos had a can of gas, and eagerly agreed to fill Jamie’s tank. He and Luna had been surprised when she had told them of her plans to head to LaGrange, Texas, and even more surprised to hear that she would be leaving that day. But both were happy that she had a plan, and wished her well.

“Try this bitch out!” Carlos grinned as he replaced the cap onto the gas tank, the hog full.

Jamie straddled the bike, relishing the feel of the large machine balanced between her denim clad thighs. She brought her booted foot up, and brought it down on the kick start, and the machine rumbled to life, the vibration running through her body, making her cheeks feel numb for just a moment. She smiled, her first genuine smile in seven years.

“That’s right.” she cooed, stroking the wide handlebar. She flicked the bike’s kickstand, and slowly walked the monster out of the garage, the loud roar of the idle echoing through the neighborhood. She steered the bike through the gate, and out onto the drive. Luna and the kids were already there.

“Good luck, Jai.” Carlos said, slapping her arm. “Keep in touch, uh?” she smiled up at him, and nodded.

“Mija, I’m going to miss you all over again.” Luna said, hugging Jamie tightly. “You take care of yourself, and gain some weight!”

“Okay.” Jamie smiled, hugging the woman close. Now that she had been reunited with the ones who had been her family in a time when she had none, she had to leave them again. Seemed to be the way things went with her. Luna stepped back, and placed her hands on Ricardo’s narrow shoulders, little Angela hugging her thigh, and peeking at the loud motorcycle from behind her legs. Carlos held Carla in one arm, waving with the other.

Jamie took a long look at the family of five, and tried to emblazon the image into her brain so she’d never forget. She smiled one last time, and eased the bike down the driveway, and sped down the street.

The ride down the highway was just as Jamie had remembered it. Her hair flowing back over her shoulder. She reminded herself that she had to stop and buy a helmet before she got out on the open road. Too long of a drive without one. Now that she had her freedom, she was not about to get herself killed.

She stopped at the light on Montgomery Avenue, and put one booted foot down to balance the bike on, and revved the engine, waiting for the green. She thought about Johnny for a moment. Part of her wanted so badly to see her little brother, but another part of her told her to stay away. He had his own life now, and she could only be cumbersome to him now. She sighed deeply, and turned her thoughts to Texas. She hoped that maybe, just maybe she’d be able to find some sort of happiness there. Some sort of peace.

The road stretched on as Jamie cruised I-25 headed toward Raton, New Mexico. The mirrored visor of the black helmet she wore reflected the bright rays of the setting sun, it’s brilliance blinding at eye level. She leaned back against the duffel that she had strapped to the seat behind her, her hands resting lightly on the handlebars, booted feet pointed slightly up on the foot rests on either side of the massive bike. She reached down and adjusted the dial on the portable radio that she had also bought in Arvada. The ear plug-type headphones in only one ear so she could hear anything dealing with traffic. The local station for Trinidad that she had been listening to was beginning to fade fast the farther away she got from the city. She smiled as she managed to get one in, then smiled even wider when she heard the song playing; “I Ran (So Far Away)” by A Flock of Seagulls, a great old song from the early eighties; the best music. Going in in the early nineties, Jamie held on to the music that she knew well. She didn’t know much about today’s music, and from what she heard, didn’t want to. She tapped her hand against a handlebar to the beat, bobbing her head slightly. The song brought back memories.

She had been ten years old when the song was released. That had been the year her mother had taken off from the gang. Jamie remembered the days well traveling with a bunch of smelly, leather clad bikers, though Jamie could remember being treated well by most of the big, burly, generally hairy men. Many of the women, or “bitches” had gotten together in a big group to protect and help raise the many children. Jamie grinned as she thought about Little Tut. Some of those kids had the strangest names. Jamie had always been grateful that she and Johnny both received average names, though as a child she had been known as Pup. That name had been started by a rider named Cruise because Jamie had been the spitting image of her father, and old Mad Dog Madden had his little shadow.

Little Tut had been a fire headed girl with a temper to match, and bright blue eyes. Tut was a few years older than Jamie, but had been a decade older in experience and ideas. It had been with Tut that Jamie learned all about what one girl could do with another. She often wondered what had become of Tut. The day Candy had taken her kids had been a surprised to everyone, including Jamie and Johnny, so she had never had a chance to say goodbye to Tut. She had always regretted that.

The miles passed by, marked by the flying white dotted line, speed blurring it into a singe unit as night fell over the flat, barren landscape that Jamie knew in the light of day was brown, with green and yellow scattering of wild buses and weeds. As she continued thought, large hills began to pop up on wither side of the road, the single beam of her headlight like a spotlight illuminating the rocky faces with lines and knooks carved by history giving them character and depth. The occasional whoosh of a passing car on the other side of that double yellow line her only company as she had lost her radio station miles back, and did not feel like loading in a cassette. Right now she only wanted the stillness of the night engulfed by the roar of her bike. Soon she would hit Raton Pass, and then would settle in the town for the night, finishing the other twelve hour leg of the trip the next day. She was tired; that day had been full of excitement, and she was physically, and emotionally drained.

<><><>
The Harley pulled into the lot of the small motel, and pulled up in front of the office. Jamie got herself a room, and lugged her duffel into the small room which consisted of a double bed, night stand, small dresser, and a bathroom. The basics. She threw the duffel onto the bed, and began to strip out of dust covered clothes, leaving a trail to the bathroom. She turned on the shower, and stepped under the cool spray. The night was still hot from the left over temperatures of the hot New Mexico day. She closed her eyes, and slicked her hair back, raising her face to the water. A moan escaped from deep in her throat. Bliss. Utter bliss. She almost felt nervous as she opened her eyes and stared at the small bathtub and stall of the shower. She was used to having two women flaking her on either side washing their own bodies. This privacy thing was going to take some time to get used to again, she mused.

Jamie began to wash her skin with the tiny bar of wrapped soap that was provided by the motel. She lathered her hands, and ran them over the smooth skin of her shoulders, and winced as the water splashed upon the slightly sunburned skin of her arms. Her skin had not met the rays of the sun for long enough periods at a time to color since she had never been on any of the work crews, so now she was very pale, and her once year round tan skin had lost its tolerance. She carefully ran the soap down each arm.

Jamie finished her shower, and stepped out, rubbing her long hair in the thin white motel towel, and stared at her reflection. Luna was right; the light that used to radiate from those blue eyes, making them glow, was gone. But she smiled as a huge wave of relief, elation washed through her. She was out. She was free. A crooked grin spread across her full lips, and she couldn’t keep the laughter that bubbled up from deep within from erupting. She had won.

Jamie sat on the bed in just a plain white t-shirt and panties, and brushed out her long, raven hair. She brushed its length over her shoulder so it rested down her chest, ending between her breasts and navel. Tomorrow before she left Raton she would get it cut a bit. Maybe just to her shoulders or a bit below. When she had gone inside it had been short, close to her head. Year after year it had grown; one of the few things that she had had any control over.

She laid down the brush, and grabbed the bottle of lotion she had also picked up, and hiked up one of her shirt sleeves, revealing not only a toned arm, but also the tat she had had done in secret, careful to keep the ever watchful eye of the cops away from her cell. Tats were a big no-no inside. Could get you thrown into the hole if you weren’t careful. She studied the intricate lines of the Celtic design that made up the arm band, in honor of her warrior spirit, skillfully done by a very talented artist using the motor from an electric typewriter, and the tip of a metal writing pen that was contraband, but one of the girls had been able to snag it from a cop anyway. It had hurt like hell because of the crude nature of the gun, but had ultimately worked. Jamie had created the design herself, and Pippo, short, skinny husband killer, had recreated it on her skin. She thought of one of their conversations while Pippo had been hard at work, the quiet buzzing of the small motor filling Jamie’s cell.

“Why’d you do it, Pippo?” Jamie had asked, teeth bared as she tolerated the endless poking.

“‘Cause.” Pippo answered, never looking away from her task, her short, wild red hair in every direction as usual. “If he didn’t know crazy when he met me, then he deserved what he got.” Jamie had not understood what she had meant, but never asked again.

Jamie ran her fingers over the smooth skin, tracing one of the dark lines with a fingertip before she squirted some lotion into the palm of her hand, and dipped a finger into the creamy substance, smearing it over the tat with a loving touch. She wanted to get some work down on it on the streets, but would have to wait. Tat work was not cheap.

Jamie laid back on the bed, turned out the bedside lamp. She rested her head back on her arms, and stared up at the ceiling with the shadows crawling across, hiding in corners at the lights from a passing car, only to reappear once the sight was gone. She sighed deeply, and drew a knee up, her foot tapping an unheard beat onto the cool sheet beneath her heated skin. The room had no type of fan, nor air conditioning. She was glad that she was only staying for a night. Sleep eluded her, though she was tired. She felt like a child, not wanting to go to sleep for fear that if she did, she would wake up back in her cell, and this would all have been just a dream. So instead she let her thoughts drift to Stormy. The blonde had been killed just under a year ago. Jamie closed her blue eyes as she saw it all happen again.

Jamie, Stormy and Lady Bug had all been walking back to their housing unit from the library. Heading down the programs hall, library and classrooms on one side, the gym on the other. They had been talking, she and Stormy had been fighting on and off for a few days. A woman named Culder, or Cult, had been after Jamie for two weeks. The tall woman, nearly as tall as Jamie, had been powerfully built, and had short brown hair and cruel brown eyes. She would not quit, even when Jamie herself had told her to back off; she belonged to Stormy. Except now it wasn’t because of the “bitched” factor, then she felt like she did belong to the smaller blonde woman. She would almost go far enough to say that she had loved Stormy, though she had never said those words. Only Johnny had heard those words from her hesitant lips.

“Stone, honey that bitch is trying to punk you.” Stormy had said, her words quiet in a place where every wall had an eye and an ear.

“Who cares, Storm? You already did.” Jamie had grinned. Stormy punched her lightly in the arm, her short, shaggy hair in her eyes as usual as she looked up at her woman.

“Let me stick that bitch, Stone. She ain’t worth my spit.” to emphasize her point, Stormy had hawked up a logy, and spit it on the highly polished tile floor. Jamie glanced down at it splattered on the floor.

“That was disgusting.” she grumbled.

“Yeah. So?” Stormy had sped up, and turned to face Jamie, walking backwards down the hall, Lady Bug watching with a smirk as her friends conversation. “Let that bitch Cult, or should I say, Cunt clean it up.”

“Speak of the devil, and she shall appear.” Lady Bug mumbled, her dark eyes fixed further down the hall. Jamie raised her eyes from her feisty partner, and saw Cult followed by her “niece” and “grandmother” in their little family that they had created. Each woman played a different role which they took very , very seriously.

“Shit.” she breathed. She could feel it. Something was about to happen. She stopped, and put a hand on Stormy’s shoulder to stop her.

“Get your hands off me, fool.” Stormy had said, swatting at Jamie, her brows drawn in irritation. Stormy had always reminded Jamie of a cat. Only touch when she wanted to be touched, otherwise her claws came into full view. Seeing the look of concern on her lover’s face, Stormy turned to see Cult standing no more than fifteen feet away. “What are you staring at, you bitch?” she asked the large woman. Jamie groaned quietly. Also like a cat, she tried to be bigger than she actually was. Cult did nothing but grin, but Jamie knew. She wasn’t there by accident. Jamie and Stormy and Lady Bug took the same route every Wednesday and Saturday; go to the library, stay for an hour, then head back through the programs hall headed out to the yard.

“Hey, Stone.” Cult said, raising her eyes above Stormy’s head to look into expressionless blue. Jamie only nodded, her eyes never leaving Cult, scanning her hands, her body language, trying to gauge how the attack would come. She could hear Lady Bug breathing heavily beside her. She knew, too. It seemed that they all did; all except Stormy.

“Don’t you be talking to my woman, you hag.” Stormy placed her hands on her hips, and took a step forward. Cult moved slowly forward, her group staying back. Jamie glanced briefly to the side, and saw faces peering out at them from the classroom to their left. Shit. They were expecting a show, and she knew that both Stormy and Cult were the type to give it to them.

“Stormy.” Jamie hissed, “Don’t.”

“Why? I ain’t afraid of that bitch.” Stormy raged, her voice filling the hall. She had had enough of that slick bitch trying to get Stone away from her. It was time to take care of her for good. Jamie glanced over at Lady Bug only to meet near black eyes that probably mirrored her own; fear, worry, and irritation. “Come on, bitch. Bring it on!”

It was as if something inside Cult had snapped. Her eyes grew dark, like twin coals, and her brows drew, her nostrils flaring as she clenched her fists, only one hand opening fully. Jamie noticed the hand that still stayed partially balled. Oh, shit! She’s got a shank… Her heart began to pound, her own breathing coming dangerously fast. She knew there was no way to calm her partner who was not only feisty, but also a little on the crazy side herself. But she had to try. She pushed Stormy to the side, and a bit behind her. Small fists began to beat against her back.

“Get outta my way, Stone!”

Jamie ignored her lover’s rage, and the sharp pain of her fists against her skin.

“Knock this off, Cult. It’s not going to get you anywhere. Especially not with me.” A slow smile spread across Cult’s lips.

“Shit, baby, this ain’t got a thing to do with you. I don’t need to kill your whore to get you. Shit no!” a cackle of laughter peeled through the hall. Jamie looked around beginning to get a bit nervous. Shit. That had been the only card she had had to play against her. Where the hell were the cops? Usually they decided to show their asses when nothing was brewing. Now that the pot was about to boil over, nothing. “That bitch has it comin’, Stone.” Jamie’s eyes darted back to Cult at the sound of her voice.

“Move!” Jamie felt herself violently pushed, her shoulder hitting the wall with a solid slap, the cold of the cinderblocks chilling her at contact. Stormy rushed past her.

“No!” someone had yelled, and Jamie was surprised to realize that it had been her.

Stormy threw that small body of hers at the larger woman with an inhuman scream, her fingers bent into claws, ready to remove any flesh that she could. Cult caught the smaller woman in one arm to stop from being knocked off her feet, the other hand disappearing. Stormy’s scream was cut short, a loud whimper edged gasp filled the deathly silent space. One of Stormy’s hands grasped Cult’s shoulder, the fingers digging into the yellow t-shirt until the larger woman pushed her off of her, and Stormy’s body began to slide. Jamie realized what was about to happen, and ran forward, catching her lover under the arms, and helped her to the ground. When the small woman’s chest was exposed to her concerned blue eyes, she saw that the yellow of her shirt was disrupted by a quickly spreading red spot, the green plastic handle of a toothbrush sticking out of her chest near her heart. Stormy looked up, wide eyed at her, her mouth in a silent “o”, blood dribbling down her chin to gather in the material of the jersey collar of her shirt. Her mouth opened and closed, but nothing came out, reminding Jamie of a fish out of water. One hand reached out and grabbed a handful of Jamie’s own shirt, then the hand released its grasp, and stormy eyes closed. Jamie looked up at Cult who stood just in front of her on the other side of Stormy’s body, some splatters of blood on her chin and shirt. Jamie glared, shocked.

“She shouldn’t have fucked with me.” Cult said simply.

Jamie stared, unblinking as she heard the sound of running feet, and the squawk of a handset getting closer.

Jamie let out a long breath, and covered her eyes that were beginning to get heavy from such a long day of travel. She remembered walking back to her cell, looking into Stormy’s as she passed, just three doors down from her own. Later that night some cops had come in, and had boxed up all of her stuff. Just like that. It was as if Stormy had never existed at all. Life went on as it had before.

With a sigh, Jamie turned her head to the side, smelling the clean scent of the pillow, and sheets, and closed her eyes as sleep enveloped her in its shroud, once again protecting her from the light.

Part 2

Jamie awoke with a start as the tires of a car peeled out of the motel parking lot. She jumped up, ready to face whatever, then rolled her eyes in irritation when she realized what had happened. She walked over to the large picture window, and pushed the heavy drapes aside. The day was shaping up to be another hot one. With a sigh, she let the drapes fall back into place, and looked around the dim room. The bed was a mess where she had tossed and turned during the usual dreams that chased her at night. The demons. Demons that she hoped some day she’d be able to finally kill, and be rid of.

Jamie raised her arms over her head, and stretched, her body still sore from all the riding the day before. She would definitely have to get used to that again. Her butt felt like she’d been riding on horseback for two weeks straight. Oh, but it was a good sore. She did not mind the pain one little bit because it meant that she was on her way to a new life filled with possibilities.
<><><>
The open road stretched out as Jamie pulled out on 87 headed for her first stop in Tex-Mex, then on to Fredericksburg, then hit 71 to LaGrange. She urged the Harley on, this time leaving the helmet on the back of the bike, craving the feel of her hair blowing back behind her. She had finally gotten it cut before heading out of Raton, and it felt great. She felt great. Dressed in the same pair of black jeans, and a ribbed white tank, the sun beat down on her skin, filling her with a warmth that had been missing for so long. She felt like shouting, but did not feel like swallowing a mouth full of bugs, so opted for a smile instead.

Jamie had loaded her cassette player with a tape she had picked up at Wal-Mart called Power Ballads. She grinned as “I Want To Know What Love Is” by Foreigner began to filter through the single ear phone. She thought back to a time before she had gone to prison.

Lena had held on, her arms around Jamie’s neck, one hand stroking the back of her head, their bodies pressed tightly together. They had moved to the music, dancing around Lena’s living room.

“I love this song.” she had whispered hotly into Jamie’s ear, causing a shiver to stroll up and down the tall woman’s spine. She grinned down at the older woman in answer. “I want to know what love is, Jamie. I know you can show me.” she sang softly, bringing her hand down to lightly tease the skin of Jamie’s cheek and forehead with long, red nails, her other hand running down her back, ending at a tight butt.

“What about your husband?” Jamie had whispered into the pale skin of Lena’s neck. Lena closed her eyes, her neck arched to questing lips and tongue.

“He won’t be home for hours.” the older woman sighed.

“You sure?” Jamie asked with the swipe of her tongue to a sensitive ear.

“Uh huh.”

Jamie had led the mother of one of her brother’s friends, as well as one time babysitter to Johnny, to the couch, and had made her scream. Their affair had lasted for four months until Jamie had been arrested.

She remembered at the trial, Lena and her husband Sonny had been there with their son, Julian. Jamie had glanced over at Lena when the juror had announced the verdict, and Lena had avoided eye contact like she was avoiding the plague. Acting as if they had never met, never fucked.

Jamie shut this out of her mind with all the other stuff from the people of her past. Yeah, it was best to get the hell out of Colorado, out of Arvada for sure.

The miles and time flew by as Jamie made excellent time. The humidity filled heat hit her smack in the lungs. She could feel every pore oozing sweat, her tank sticking to her breasts as the sweat gathered in the valley between them. This was certainly different than the dry, dessert heat of Colorado. She grinned as Winger’s “Miles Away” filled her ears. She could remember so clearly the days of M-TV, well, when M-TV had actually been music television, all the great videos of the 80’s. She and Johnny would sit on the couch for an entire day during their summer breaks and watch videos; Cyndi Lauper, Damn Yankees, Skid Row, George Michael.

She sighed as she thought of Johnny. She had missed him so much over the past seven years. She had spent so many years worrying about him, having to protect him that when she had been locked up, she had been at a loss of what to do. No one to watch but herself, though that had been grueling enough for awhile. A slight shiver passed through her. She didn’t want to think about that.

Jamie figured if she didn’t stop, she could make LaGrange by seven-thirty, eight at the latest, and knew that the sun would still be up. The old man on the phone had given her directions on what road to take once she had passed through the actual city limits of LaGrange. The McClure ranch, or Triple M, was twenty miles outside of the town. He mentioned that she would have to pass under a large, wrought iron archway with the three letter M’s entwined.

She pulled the bike to a stop, and glanced around. The lonely dirt road that she had been driving down for the last half hour, taking it slow so one of the huge rocks didn’t fly up and get caught in one of her tires, and took in the desolate place. The scenery, however, was incredible. Used to the brown, earthy tones of Colorado, she had not been prepared for the incredible, vivid green that graced the softly rolling hills of the land around her. The wild, sun kissed grasses swayed slightly in the breeze that was the evening, the sun just beginning to show any sign of leaving for the night. The sounds of birds flying home for the night, or zooming down to catch dinner, filled the air, the buzzing of the innumerable bugs bringing a smile to her face. Jamie sat atop her bike, one booted foot on the ground, the other on the foot peg, her arms crossed over her chest. She took a deep breath, closing her eyes as the smell of nature, and cow manure met her nostrils.

Jamie stood with a deep sigh, and started the bike, driving under the iron archway, and into the unknown.

The long, dirt road led straight for a bit, then turned slightly until it was an all out curve toward the left. Jamie could see in the far off distance a blurb of a house. Damn, how much land did these people have, anyway? The old man had told her that as she made her way up, she would more than likely see some of the other ranch hands as she came in, and to stop and ask where to find this Tyg person.

Just off to the left past the wire fence she spotted an old green Chevy with a flatbed loaded with bales of hey. Someone was standing on the flatbed, tossing the bales out onto the ground. Jamie raised a brow, and pulled the bike up to the gate, and turned her off. She kept her gaze on the person as she walked the few yards to the gate, and let herself into the large field that the dirt road split in two. On the one side, not far from the truck and flatbed, a group of cows were grazing. Once again the intense stench of cow shit assaulted her nose. Jamie placed her thumbs in the belt loops of her jeans as she made her way toward the figure. As she got closer she realized that the person was a woman. Jamie glanced up at her. She wore baggy khaki shorts laden with pockets. Tan, muscular legs extended out of the shorts, and ended in high cut work boots, the type that resemble hiking boots, that extended up to cover the bottom part of muscular calves that flexed as the woman heaved the heavy bales. Jamie’s eyes raised to see a stained, sweaty white tank. The woman’s arms were just as muscular and tanned as her legs. Jamie noticed how the muscles in the woman’s arms, shoulders and back flexed with the picking up, the release of each golden bale. She wore an old, much used cowboy hat, and the part of her face that wasn’t shadowed from the hat was covered by a red and white handkerchief.

“Excuse me.” Jamie said, tearing her eyes off of that body. She was curious as hell to see what her face looked like. The woman continued what she was doing. Jamie was genuinely shocked and impressed at the speed with which the muscular, though petite woman moved those bales. She knew that those things had to weigh close to a hundred pounds apiece. “Hey.” she said, her voice louder, disturbing a near-by bird that had been perched on the roof of the truck. The woman stopped, and looked down at her.

“You mind keeping it down? You’ll scare the cows.” came the impatient reply. “If you’re lost, walk that way, back out the way you came in, get on that nasty soundin’ machine, and head down that road, and take a right, and you should-”

“No, I’m Jamie Madden.” Jamie interrupted, impatiently shifting her weight to her other foot. The woman stared down at her.

“And?”

Okay, now she was getting really pissed.

“And, I’m supposed to meet with someone named Tyg.” the woman stared at her for a moment, her hands on her hips. Jamie met the eyes that she couldn’t see, her own spitting blue fire. She did not come all this way to be treated like shit. Finally the woman jumped down from the flatbed, and walked around her in a slow circle, nodding to herself. The woman reached out a hand, and wrapped warm fingers around one of Jamie’s biceps, squeezing. “Get your fucking hands off me!” Jamie pulled her arm away, and glared. The woman, nonplussed by her reaction, continued on her tour, glancing down at her legs, running a hand down the side of Jamie’s thigh. Jamie gritted her teeth as fire followed the woman’s touch. It had been way too damn long.

“Nice, but a little thin.” the woman stopped her circling, and stood to face Jamie. She pulled the handkerchief away from her face, leaving it to rest around her throat. Jamie was shown a beautiful smile with full lips, and the slightest hint of dimples. “But we’ll fatten ya up.” she continued, the words drawn out in a drawl, her voice low, even. “I think you’ll do just fine, Jamie.”

‘Who the hell are you?” Jamie asked, still a bit irritated from her bit as a show cattle at auction.

“Oh, hell. I’m being just as rude as a June bug.” the woman whipped the hat from her head, and long, golden tresses fell around her shoulders. The rays of the dying sun caught the strands, and set them on fire. Smiling green eyes stared out of a tanned, youthful face. The woman extended her hand. “Howdy, I’m Tyg.”

Jamie, struck temporarily dumb, finally gathered her wits, and shook the woman’s hand.

“Jamie.”

“Well, it is certainly nice to meet ya, Jamie.” Tyg walked over to the bumper of the truck, and grabbed a long sleeve button-up shirt, and wiped her forehead and face and neck. “Gets hot as tar ’round here.” she smiled at Jamie who watched her closely. Tyg grabbed a hand held radio, and pushed the talk button. “Bobby, you on?” she drawled into the speaker.

“Yo, boss.” a man’s voice squawked out of the handset.

“I need you ta come out here and finish with these bales. We got ourselves a new hand, and I’m gonna take her on up to the house.”

“Be there in a few.”

“Ten-four.” the blonde set the radio into a holster on her hip, and smiled at Jamie again, and walked over to her. “Wanna help me?”

“Uh, okay.” Jamie said, not sure what to do with herself. She grabbed the sunglasses from her face, and stuck one of the arms in her front pant’s pocket, the body of the dark glasses dangling against her hip. Tyg stared at her for a moment, then that ever present smile appeared again.

“You have got the most beautiful eyes I think I have ever seen.” Jamie gave her a nervous lopsided grin, those beautiful blue eyes darting around, trying to find anywhere to look but at amused green.

“Uh, thanks.” the blonde’s melodic laughter filled the quiet of the approaching night.

“Hell, honey, I didn’t mean to embarrass you. You’ll get over that soon enough.” she headed toward the truck again, and bent down by the hitch where the flatbed was attached to it. “You gonna help me or not?” she asked over her shoulder.

“Oh.” Jamie pulled her hands from her pockets, and hurried over to the blonde. She looked down at the contraption, not sure what she was supposed to do.

“Okay, now hold on to this here, and I’m gonna unscrew this, okay?”

“Kay.” Tyg grinned.

Tyg watched as her new ranch hand held the ball joint. She was completely intrigued by this tall, dark haired beauty. Jamie was full of secrets, she could tell. She looked like a city girl. Tyg wondered what the hell someone so citified would be doing wanting to work on a ranch. As they had been standing talking, well, Tyg talking, Jamie listening uncomfortably, Tyg had looked into those baby blues, and had seen… nothing. She had never seen that before in all her twenty-six years. Hollow, lifeless. It was fascinating. What on God’s green earth could cause someone so young and beautiful to be void of life? She normally had the natural born gift of being able to read straight through a person’s soul. Not this one. Jamie had it blocked off with what seemed to be an entire battalion of warriors.

The flatbed was free from the truck, and Tyg laid the hitch onto a cinder block standing on end used for that purpose. She wiped her hands on the side of her shorts, and smiled up at Jamie.

“Okay, honey, now let’s head to the house for some dinner. You eaten?”

“Um, no.” the tall woman said, her hands returning to the safety of her pockets again. Tyg glanced down at the unhitched flatbed, and breathed a sigh of relief that the day was just about over. She was tired, and was dying for a long, hot bath to try and relax sore muscles.

“Well, then let’s go. Tell you what, Jamie, why don’t you follow me on your bike. That thing isn’t gonna do you a bit of good on a ranch, and it’s gonna scare the shit out of the cattle. Believe me, they smell bad enough all on their own.” she grinned. The other woman didn’t. She slapped Jamie on the arm, and pointed to a rough road that led out of the field. “See that?” Jamie followed where the blonde pointed, and nodded. “Okay, that’s the road I’ll be taking in my heap here.” she patted the tailgate of the old truck. “Follow me. I’ll take you to the old barn at the edge of the ranch, and near where you’ll be stayin’. The barn ain’t used anymore, and you can park her there, okay?”

“Yeah, okay.”

Jamie climbed onto the bike, and watched as the break lights of the truck blinked twice, then was in motion. She thought about the small blonde. Did she run this whole thing? Or was she just in charge of the ranch hands? The ad had said to talk to her. The woman looked to be no older than her early twenties. Just a baby. The bike roared to life, and the cows that had been near-by mooed, and hurried away as fast as their bulk would allow. Jamie followed the truck and thought of its driver. That woman would drive her nuts with that incessant chattering of hers. How the hell did she get any work done if she didn’t shut up?

The headlights of the truck shone on a building that was just a dark shape in the darkening sky. A huge barn with a black gaping whole for what Jamie assumed had once been the hay loft, and two double doors, each big enough to allow a truck to enter on one side.

Tyg killed the ignition, and jumped out of the truck, walking over to one of the big doors, and grunted as she put her body weight into opening it. Jamie walked over to the blonde, and helped her.

“I tell you, when it rains, these things swell up, and it takes an act of God to open again.” Tyg grunted. Finally the door was open half way, and the blonde beckoned Jamie to drive the bike in. Once standing out in the fresh air of the night instead of the stifling heat of the barn, Jamie turned to the blonde.

“Follow me and I’ll show you where ya’ll be stayin’.”

Jamie glanced around, the light of day quickly fading. She stayed close to the little blonde so she wouldn’t fall over anything. The night air was still hot, and just plain muggy. Jamie could feel the sweat the had pooled between her breasts again, and knew that it had soaked through the material of her tank. As if Tyg had read her mind, she said,

“Still pretty hot, huh?” Jamie nodded, though she knew the other woman couldn’t see it. “Where are you from, honey?” Tyg asked, turning to her companion as they walked toward the small wooden structures that the hands lived in.

“Colorado.” Jamie mumbled. Please don’t ask where, please….

“Oh, hell, then you ain’t used to our kind of heat then. I don’t have the first clue how ya’ll survive in that dry desert nonsense.” she chuckled deep in her throat. “Then again, I’m sure you’re wonderin’ the same thing about us.”

“Yeah.” Jamie said, almost to herself.

Tyg led them to a structure that was set in a little community of identical buildings scattered into a sort of semi-circle, the center of the community stood well with a bucket tied to a rope sitting on the edge of the roofed structure. The houses were small, but well kept made of dark wood panels with a solid front door, and a window in front, a porch light off to the side of the door.

Tyg led them to the one that was furthest back, slightly apart from the others, and looked to be a bit bigger, too. She grabbed the door, and to Jamie’s surprise, it was unlocked. Another thing she’d have to get used to again; unlocked doors.

Tyg reached around the wall and found the light switch, flicked it on. The dark room was suddenly bathed in yellow light. Jamie looked around the small room. Just off to the left was a potbellied stove, and next to that was a long counter that was the entire length of the wall, cupboards hanging above the counter, and below it. A small stainless steel sink was the center mark in the counter. A round table big enough for four matching wooden chairs, was the centerpiece of the room. On the back wall was another door, this one with a window, and a small checkered curtain over it. To the right were two doors. Jamie walked to the first one, and tested the knob. Tyg watched on in fascination as Jamie tried the knob, then almost seemed surprised yet pleased when it opened. She leaned against the wall by the door and let the new hand explore her new place. She glanced down at the long legs that fit so well into the tight fitting black jeans. Jamie was too thin for her tall frame. The white tank she wore was stuck to her like an extra skin. Her long, dark hair was disheveled, and wind blown from her trip. She was gorgeous. Tyg was especially taken by those incredible blue eyes. Even though they were empty, they were still an incredible color reminding her of the bluest Texas sky. She hoped that in Jamie’s stay at the Triple M, those eyes would be filled with life again. She knew that ranching was a passion, not a job, and either you loved it, or you hated it. She hoped that the new hand would grow to love it.

Jamie walked into the first room, and could see from the light shining in from the main room that it was a bedroom. A good sized bed made up with sheets and topped neatly by a white bedspread with dark colored squares here and there. She couldn’t determine the actual color from the dim light, but they seemed to be blue. The bed was against the left wall. Next to the bed was a small night stand with a lamp and alarm clock. A window stood above the night stand, as well as another window on the wall to the right where a tall dresser stood with a mirror attached.

“No closet, I’m afraid.” Jamie heard quietly from behind her.

“Okay.” Jamie said absently, noting the stand in the corner just to the right with a small television on it.

“The reception ain’t great, but it works.”

Jamie turned to face the woman, and smiled. She walked over to the other door, and opened it to find herself in a surprisingly large bathroom considering the size of the place. An old, claw-footed bathtub sat against the far wall with a sink and toilet facing each other on the walls to the right and left. No shower.

Jamie closed the door and looked around the main room once more. She couldn’t keep the grin that spread across her lips from forming. It was small, but it was clean, and she knew that she could definitely make a run of it. Tyg watched her carefully, trying to read her.

“You know, Jamie, this place is yours to do whatever with. Decorate it, or leave it be. Your choice.”

Jamie looked down at the younger woman, and pulled the smile from her lips. She took a step away from the little blonde, and leaned against one of the chairs at the table. She took the green duffel from her shoulder, and set it down on the table.

“Is this okay?” Tyg asked softly. Jamie nodded. This was more than okay.
<><><>
Tyg had insisted that Jamie go back to the main house with her and eat some supper. Jamie had reluctantly agreed, preferring to be alone in her new home, but hungry, and had no food. The ride to the house was quiet. Tyg glanced over at the new hand, her brows drawn in her own thoughts. She took in the woman’s pensive posture almost huddled against the door.

“You know I ain’t gonna hurt you, honey.” she smiled. Jamie looked at her, and grinned nervously, moving herself away from the door, but kept her arms crossed over her chest.

The house was a large two story painted white with dark red trim. The front porch extended around the entire first floor, rocking chairs placed here and there, and a wrought iron table and chairs was set up near the back door. Tyg pulled the truck up the long dirt drive to where it curved around to stop in front of the front door, painted the same dark red with a beveled glass design that matched that of the windows on either side of the door. Lights were on throughout the house. Jamie was in awe of the place. It must have been a hundred years old at least. Tyg smiled at the hand as they got out of the truck.

“My granddaddy bought this place from a rancher about fifty years ago. The house itself was built in the late 1880’s.”

Wow. Jamie stared up at it, and thought how amazing it would be to have something that held so much history, such ties. Tyg saw the awe, and the woman’s unsuccessful attempt to hide it. She kept a grin at bay.

“Come on in, Jamie.”

Their boots were heavy thuds on the old floorboards of the porch. Tyg opened the door and Jamie was bathed in rich light and incredible smells.

“Ah, I see Rosa’s been at it again.” Tyg untied the kerchief from around her neck, and dropped it onto the small table near the door. Jamie looked around, and from what she could see from her vantage point at the front door, just ahead and to the right was a staircase that led up to a landing with an octagon shaped window with panes of stained glass. She wondered what that looked like in the light of day.

“My grandma did that thirty years ago.” Jamie turned to see Tyg staring up at the work of art, her voice wistful.

“You were close?” Jamie asked, her voice quiet, almost uncertain. Tyg looked at her and beamed the most beautiful smile at her, nodding.

“Yes. Very. See, my mamma died when I was very young. Gram was everything to me.” Tyg removed her cowboy hat, and threw it on the table next to her handkerchief.

“Child! Don’t make me beat you!” Jamie turned around in surprise at the sound of the high pitched voice. An older woman with gray hair wrapped up in a tight bun on top of her head, and her heavyset body in a flower patterned dress with a white apron tied around her ample middle. “You kids today think that all I have to do all day long is clean up after you.” the older woman snapped the dirty kerchief and hat from the table top. She shoved them toward Tyg’s face. “Does this look like where these belong? I don’t think so.” the woman threw the kerchief into the hat, and disappeared just as quickly as she had come in. Jamie watched the woman leave, then turned to Tyg, a confused look on her face.

“That was Rosa. She’s been the housekeeper here for twenty-five years. My daddy hired her to look after me. She’s nominated herself as the matriarch of the household, so beware.” Tyg said with a chuckle. Jamie could tell that the young woman was very fond of this Rosa.

Jamie was led through the house with its sturdy, rustic furniture, and earth toned decor. She glanced down at the polished hard wood floors, large area rugs covering the heavy traffic areas. They came out of a long hall, the walls on either side riddled with pictures of the ranch, Tyg at many different ages, some with a very good-looking man wearing an Oilers baseball cap holding a young looking Tyg on his knee. Others showed Tyg with an older couple who Jamie assumed were her grandparents. The end of the hall was the kitchen with its new-looking appliances, all black, and the butcher block island in the middle of the large cooking area. Off to the left was a large table made from logs.

“Sit.” Tyg said, plopping down into the nearest of the ten chairs. Jamie sat, looking at the other eight chairs that surrounded them. “We have all the hands in for lunch, so we had this monster built to seat us all.” Tyg explained, running her hands through blonde hair. Jamie watched the motion with interest, but looked away before the most beautiful green eyes she had ever seen, could meet hers. Jamie heard movement, and looked in time to see Rosa entering the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron. She took a pot off the stove, and filled two bowls with chili that smelled heavenly. Jamie could feel her mouth begin to water. The food inside was nasty. She had not had a home cooked meal in nearly eight years. Even on the outside she was useless in the kitchen.

Rosa grabbed two large glasses from the cabinet, and filled them both to the rim with cold milk, placing it all on a tray, she brought the food to the two hungry women.

“Who is this lovely creature?” Rosa asked, dark brown eyes sparkling at Jamie as she set a steaming bowl in front of the dark haired woman.

“Rosa, this-”

“Ah!” the older woman placed her hand over Tyg’s mouth, her eyes never leaving Jamie. “God gave her those beautiful lips to speak for herself.” Jamie glanced over at Tyg and was greeted with two laughing green eyes, Rosa’s hand still firmly in place.

“My-” Jamie croaked, then cleared her throat to try again. “My name is Jamie Madden. I’m the new ranch hand.”

“Well, Jamie Madden it is nice to meet you. You can call me Rosa. I live to clean up after this one.” the older woman said, her last statement was as sarcastic as the day is long. Tyg’s brows drew, and the older woman yelled out, pulling her hand away from smiling lips. Rosa stared at her palm. “You have the manners of a sewer rat.”

“Yeah, well you helped raise me.” Tyg grinned. She looked at Jamie giving her a brief wink before staring up at the older woman again.

“I can’t believe you bit me, you little monster.” Rosa chuckled, snapping a towel at the still grinning blonde. Jamie watched the interaction of the two women and realized that they were obviously very close. She thought of her own mother, and the fights they used to get into. The fights caused by a girl who was too strong willed for her own good.

“You’re just like your father!” Candy used to yell just before she’d break down into tears.

“Jamie?” Jamie’s head snapped up as she realized that Tyg was talking to her. Rosa had moved back into the kitchen at the sink where she had begun to wash dishes. “Where’d you go, honey? There for a second you were on Mars, I think.”

“Sorry.” Jamie grinned. “Just thinking.”

“Well eat up. Mornin’ is gonna come right quick.”
<><><>
Jamie laid on top of the cool sheets in just a tank and underwear. Both the windows in the room were open, but the night was still hot. She laid on her back, hands in their usual place behind her head as she stared up at the dark ceiling. Because she had arrived so late, Tyg hadn’t been able to show her much of the ranch, but the small blonde promised that tomorrow, first thing, she would take Jamie on a tour of the 725 acres.

“Hell, this place used to be a lot bigger than that.” Tyg had said on the way back to Jamie’s place, at Jamie’s look of surprise. “This used to be the biggest ranch in the area ’till my daddy lost some money gambling, and we had to sell off. Still are.” she had said, almost to herself.

Jamie thought of the blonde. So she was a McClure. Even though the small woman slightly irritated her, she had a healthy dose of respect for her. Jamie knew all too well how hard it was to make a life for yourself as a woman, but Tyg seemed to be doing just fine.

She sighed as she thought of the alarm going off at four in the morning, and closed her eyes.

The slam of the truck door echoed through the quiet night, answered by a distant mooing of an unseen cow. A sound as familiar to Tyg as the blowing wind. She made her way to the side door that she used, locking it behind her. She was tired; it had been a long day, and an even longer week. She made her way to the kitchen for the glass of water she took up to her room every night, and was not surprised to see Rosa still at work.

“You look tired, little one.” the older women said, not even turning from the dough she was kneading in a large, clay bowl.

“I am.” Tyg plopped onto the high stool that was at the end of the counter where Rosa worked. It had been there since Tyg had been four. She had been born with a deep curiosity, and had wanted to watch the housekeeper, but had been too short to get the view she had wanted. Without a word, Rosa had headed to a storage closet, dug out the old stool, and had plopped an eager little butt onto its hard wood seat. Rosa smiled as she thought of an eight year old Tyg going on and on about a little boy who had pushed her on the playground, and how proud of herself she’d been when the feisty fair-haired child had clocked the poor unsuspecting boy in the jaw. Then a squealing sixteen year old who had just gotten her license.

While sitting on that stool, Rosa had heard about happy times, heartaches, and had helped Tyg come up with a way to tell her grandfather that the seventeen year old had crashed his truck into a ditch. So many memories. She couldn’t love the girl more if she had been of her own flesh and blood.

“So what do you think of this Jamie?” the older woman asked, dropping the pile of dough onto the counter with a plop. She smeared some flour on the smooth marble surface, and placed the dough on it. She glanced at Tyg who was watching her deft hands at work.

“Not sure, yet. Can’t read this one.” the young woman said with a sigh.

“Oh, so the oracle has lost her touch, eh?” the older woman smiled. Tyg looked up into sparkling brown eyes, and nodded.

“I guess so. Granddaddy didn’t tell me a thing about her. Hell, he just told me she was coming this morning.” Tyg jumped down from the stool, and walked over to the fridge, grabbing a bottle of Corona out. She popped the top, and took a long drink. She was too tired to sleep, and knew the beer would help to wipe her out.

“That one is filled with secrets.” Rosa said, smoothing flour over the wooden surface of her rolling pen.

“I agree.” Tyg climbed back up on the stool. “Hell, I just hope she’s a good worker. I think she will be. That is, if she stays.” she hopped down again, and kissed the older woman on the cheek. “Night, Rosa.”

“Sleep well, little one.” Rosa watched the young woman disappear up the stairs, her usual glass of water forgotten. She shook her head with a smile. “She’ll stay.”
<><><>
The faces were blurred, the light above dim, dimming, gone. The room was dark, yet people were all around. Jamie could feel hands on her shoulders holding her down, hands on her head, holding her face to the side, a hand over her mouth. She wanted to scream, to make them stop, but could not. A third pair of hands were on her legs, holding them down while yet another pair was ripping at the material of her underwear, the cloth giving at the seams with a quiet tearing sound. Oh, god! Jamie began to struggle more as she realized what was happening.

“Keep her still.” a voice hissed, and the sets of hands on her body held her tighter, her muscles screaming against the strain. The cool night air touched her sex as the underwear was ripped clean off.

“Yeah, come on, Stormy. Do it. Fuck her.” a voice off to the left whispered, full of excitement.

“Nah, I’m gonna get her ready for me. Don’t wanna hurt her.” the first voice said, down by Jamie’s feet.

“Who gives a fuck.” the voice to the left hissed.

“This one’s different, so I give a fuck, got it?”

“Knock it off, you two. Come one, Stormy, you got all the time to be gentle.”

The faceless voice down by Jamie’s feet got closer as she began to whisper obscenities as she began to stroke Jamie with soft, yet purposeful fingers. Jamie closed her eyes as she could feel her body betraying her, and responding to the caresses.

“You see?” the voice whispered again, getting closer until Jamie felt hot breath on her neck, then a tongue. “Yeah, just like that, baby. Get wet for me.” without further ado, Jamie tried to cry out as she felt four fingers enter her, then the thumb folded in, and she was completely filled. She thought she would be split in two. Fire that started between her legs climbed up her body to spread out and explode in her stomach. The fist began to pump hard, then the tongue left her neck, and found its way to her clit where it began to flick against the bundle, making it stand. The intensity of the pleasure mixed with the pain was too much for Jamie’s body, and she was wracked with an orgasm that was ripped from what felt to be the depths of her soul. She bit the hand that covered her mouth as a scream was pulled from her body. Jamie began to breath hard as the fear began to creep in again…

“No!” Jamie jumped from the bed, smacking her leg on the nightstand. Fully awake, she stared around the dark room, her tank top stuck to her heaving chest from the sweat of the dream, and the hot early morning temp. She ran her hands through damp hair, smoothing it away from her face, and glanced at the alarm clock. It was almost four, and the alarm would be going off in fifteen minutes.

“Fuck.” she whispered, plopping down on the edge of the bed, her breathing beginning to slow. Jamie stared out the window at the darkness that was pressed up against the screen, the chirping of a near-by cricket filtering into the small room. She blew out the sour breath that she hadn’t realized she’d been holding, and stood, headed for the bathroom.

Jamie groaned as she felt the sweat already starting to gather as she dressed. This was miserable. She would have to get some shorts. Yesterday, after noticing the small cuts and scrapes that littered Tyg’s legs, Jamie had thought she was crazy for wearing shorts in such a job, but now completely understood the inclination. She pulled on a loser pair of blue jeans, and an emerald green t-shirt, with her riding boots; the only shoes she had. Tyg was supposed to be around by four-thirty to take her up to the house for breakfast, then off to the ranch.

Tyg was surprised when she opened the door to get out of the truck when Jamie appeared, closing the door to her place behind her. Usually the new hands had to be woken up the first few days. Tyg smiled.

“Mornin’. Sleep okay?”

“It was kind of hot.” Jamie muttered as she climbed into the cab of the green truck. Tyg grinned.

“That it was.”

the sun was just beginning to barely peak over the horizon as the large truck made the bumpy way up to the house. A couple of trucks were parked out off to the side of the place.

“The other hands are already here.” Tyg answered Jamie’s unspoken question. “They usually pile in here around four, four-fifteen. Just depends.” Jamie nodded her acknowledgment, and got out of the truck.

The house was filled with raucous laughter as the two women entered the main hall. Strong, male voices resonated around the room, and all stopped as they entered.

“What ya’ll stop eating for? You ain’t ever seen a woman?” Tyg said as she sat in her usual chair at the head of the table, showing Jamie the chair next to hers. Jamie sat, and glanced around at the eight pairs of eyes that met her stare. “BJ, hand me the rolls, will ya?”

A sandy haired man passed a basket of fresh rolls to Tyg, never taking his pale blue eyes off of Jamie. She glanced at him, noticed the stared, and her eyes returned to meet his, her brows drawing in an intense look loaded with warning. The pale blue eyes quickly averted to the plate of bacon. Jamie made a quick scan to see if anyone else found anything interesting. She felt a hand on her arm, and turned to glare into amused green eyes.

“Here, have some eggs, honey.”

Jamie piled her plate high with eggs, scrambled with cheese and milk, bacon, sausage, grits, and Texas toast with homemade jelly and hot rolls. She was in heaven.

“Glad to see ya got a healthy appetite, honey.” Jamie met Tyg’s grin, and gave her a crooked grin of her own, noticing the pile of food on Tyg’s own plate that had quickly disappeared.

“So do you.” she said, a round of laughter following her comment. Soon she found herself chuckling at the antics of the other hands as they told her stories of Tyg’s legendary appetite. She found that she was interested in what they had to say, especially about Tyg. The small woman just seemed to be full of surprises.

The other hands pushed away from the table at exactly five o’clock, as if it were a common rule, or something. Jamie watched as they grabbed their hats and caps off the back knob of their chairs, some tipping their hat or bill at the two women as they left. Tyg turned to Jamie with a smile.

“Well, that’s our gang. A bunch of damn hard workers.” she stood, and grabbed her hat and kerchief off the back knob of her own chair. “Ready?” Tyg asked, plopping the hat on her head. Jamie nodded, followed the smaller woman out of the house.

Tyg pulled her door shut with a bang, the heavy door in need of some serious oiling. She turned the ignition, the large truck roaring to life. Tyg pulled away from the house, and headed toward the main road, and then took a sharp turn onto the rough dirt road she’d used the day before, and headed out around the back of the house.

“That field there, where I was yesterday, is the south pasture. Most of the cattle end up there to graze. We have about three hundred head right now.” she pulled the truck off to the side of the road, her arm resting along the open window. Jamie watched as the cows were beginning to make their way around, soft moos coming through the open window of the truck. Tyg smiled at Jamie, her expression proud. “We have two pregnant right now. You’ll be able to see them give birth.” she turned back to look out the window. “It’s quite amazin’. Over that way, on the other side of the road is the north pasture. It’s by far the biggest with two hundred and thirteen acres. That’s mainly where the horses go.” Jamie glanced in the direction of the large, flat piece of land, and took in the way the dawning morning reflected off the green grass. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” she turned to meet Tyg’s smile, filled with peace and pride. She nodded as she turned back to the expanse. “Now I’ll take ya on up to the corral and show you the stream.” the truck began moving again, and they followed the road as it curved about a mile behind the main house, and straightened out to run smack into a large corral and stable area. Near the corral was a fenced in running area where about two dozen horses ran freely.

“Wow.” Jamie said, staring at the incredible beauty of the beasts as they ran and played, some grazing.

“That is our livelihood that you’re lookin’ at. Beautiful, ain’t they?” Jamie nodded absently. Tyg pulled the truck up to the corral, a large octagon shaped dirt yard ringed by a rail fence, and cut off the engine. “Come on. I’ll introduce ya to my horse. Jamie followed the little blonde through a thick, wooden fence, and up to another, higher one. Tyg leaned her elbows along the fence, and leaned her body against it. Jamie stood next to her, staring at five horses that were about ten yards away, happily munching on some oats. “See that one?” Tyg said, pointing to a beautiful Palomino that raised its head to glance at them, then walked over to the fence where Tyg fit her hand through the space between the first and second rail of the fence, and stroked the animal’s golden nose. “Hey, baby.” she cooed to the large animal. She turned to Jamie. “This is Hazelnut. But generally she just gets called Nut, huh, baby?” the gold-colored mare whinnied, and bobbed her head up and down, the white mane covering a dark eye. Jamie couldn’t help but grin.

“She’s beautiful.” she told Tyg. The blonde grinned.

“Yes, she sure is. Nut and I have been a team since I was sixteen. Can you ride?”

“Harley’s, yeah.” Tyg laughed, patting her horse, then turning to face Jamie.

“No, I mean horses.”

“You’ve got to be crazy. I am not getting on anything that stands that high off the ground.” Jamie exclaimed, indicating the beast standing before them just on the other side of the fence. Tyg grinned.

“Well, honey, you best get used to the idea right quick. Before you know it, you’ll be on one of these guys.” Jamie looked at the smaller woman like she had lost her mind. “Tell ya what. I’ll give you a ride on Hazelnut here, teach you how ta ride, and you give me a ride on your Harley, call it even.”

Jamie grinned at the mental picture of the petite blonde astride the massive bike. But she had never stepped away from a challenge.

“Okay.” Tyg smiled, and the sun seemed to burn just a bit brighter for a moment.

“I’ll be right back. Need ta saddle Nut here up.” Tyg hurried to the gate, and walked into the corral, taking Hazelnut by the reins, she led the mare toward a large barn at one end of the corral. Jamie looked around, the pungent smell of manure ever present. She wondered how long it took to get used to that smell. She noticed a smaller corral about ten yards away from the larger one, and a single horse was standing at the fence, its head hanging over the top rail, staring at her. The horse was magnificent, its black coat shiny, muscular body tense, almost as if it were ready to lunge over the fence. For some reason Jamie did not feel fear at the animal’s obvious wild presence. She wondered why such an animal was on the ranch when the other horsed seemed so well trained, and mild. She found herself heading over to the smaller corral, fascinated as the black beast moved away from the fence out to the center of the dirt pen, and reared up on its hind legs, its front hooves gracefully batted at the air.

Tyg led Hazelnut out of the barn, her eyes wondering to where Jamie had been standing. Realizing she wasn’t there, her brows drew as she glanced around. Then she spotted her. The mysterious woman was slowly walking toward the Arabian in what had been dubbed as the rowdy pen. The wild horse, rare in its black coloring, reared up, and Tyg was surprised to see that Jamie didn’t seem to fear the large mare. Jamie walked up to the high rail fence, her forearms resting along the top rail.

“Shhhh. You’re a wild one, aren’t you?” Jamie cooed as all four hooves hit the ground again. The horse shook its head, snorting. Tyg stopped Nut, and just watched. The horse seemed to like Jamie, too. It almost seemed appropriate. They were both dark, sleek, creatures of beauty that Tyg just couldn’t seem to reach.

Part 3

Tyg watched as Jamie’s long, dark hair blew slightly in the warm, early morning breeze, the rising sun shining off the sable color. She noticed a tattoo on Jamie’s left bicep, but could not see what it was, only that it seemed to wrap around the arm. She watched as the muscles of Jamie’s back moved slightly under the thin material of her shirt as the tall woman adjusted her stance at the fence. Her eyes continued down the long legs and the butt that fit so nicely in those jeans.

Hazelnut whinnied, snapping Tyg out of her reverie. Jamie turned at the sound, and walked over to the smaller woman and the golden horse.

“Why is that one in a pen by itself?” Jamie asked, hitching her thumb over her shoulder at the black mare.

“That one there is a wild one. She was found just runnin’ her heart out over in the western fields by the stream. We roped her, and brought her here. No one can seem to break her, though.” Tyg glanced over at the beautiful horse that had begun to buck again, clouds of dust thrown up around her. She shook her head sadly. Such a shame.

“Wow.” Jamie whispered, then turned back to Tyg expectantly.

“Okay, I’ve got Nut here all geared up. Let me show ya what she’s got on.” Tyg went on to explain the workings of the saddle and headgear, and how to get the horse to do what you want. Tyg was pleased with Jamie’s full attention, and good questions. She was proving to be a quick study. “You ready to head out?”

“I guess so.” Jamie said, her stomach suddenly clenching in a nervous knot. Tyg smiled.

“Well, honey, you have two choices here. Ya’ll can either wait and I’ll saddle up Barley over there, or ya’ll can jump on Hazelnut with me.”

Jamie glanced over at the horse that Tyg indicated, the one called Barley, and noted the immense size of the Quarterhorse, then glanced back at Hazelnut. She by no means felt ready to ride a horse solo. She nodded toward the Palomino. Tyg grinned, chuckling slightly.

“Come on, then.” Tyg hurled her solid frame up onto the back of the patient horse, and reached down for Jamie’s hand. “Put your foot in the stirrup, and push. I’ll pull.” Jamie did as she was told, and found herself sitting snugly behind Tyg in the saddle, her body pressed up against the blonde’s back. She took in a deep breath, and waited for Tyg to tell her what to do. She hated not knowing what was going on, giving someone else the control was a strange, nerve wracking experience for her. “Okay, honey, reach around here, and grab the reins.” Jamie wrapped her arms around Tyg’s waist, and wrapped the smooth leather around her fingers like Tyg had shown her. Tyg grabbed onto the saddle horn, but tapped one of Jamie’s thighs “Put your feet into the stirrups, honey.” Jamie did as she was told. Tyg felt nervous all the sudden, having Jamie so close. There had not been a female hand on the ranch in over five years. Tyg was used to living her life with men, and leaving the physical feelings out of her life. Ever since Carol. She mentally shook herself. She didn’t need to think about her right now, nor did she want to. “Okay, Jamie, now lightly kick Nut in the flank with the heel of your boot.”

Jamie held a bit tighter to the reins as the horse began to move. She was almost reminded of starting off on her bike. Almost. The ride was much smoother on the Harley.

“Okay, honey, click your tongue for her.” Jamie did, and the horse began to move a bit faster. “Let’s head up to the stream. Kill two birds with one stone. Show you how to ride, and see the rest of the ranch.”

“Okay.” Jamie said distractedly, her full attention on not killing them on the beast. Tyg seemed to sense her worry, and gently squeezed one of the arms that was partially wrapped around her, in comfort.

“You’re doin’ fine, honey.”

Jamie felt the warmth of Tyg’s skin on her own wash through her, sending slight jolts up her arm. Having the beautiful little blonde this close to her was becoming more and more unnerving.

“Okay, honey, you feel comfortable enough to get us up to a trot? At this gait, we’ll be lucky ta hit the stream by dusk.” Jamie smiled, hearing the smile in Tyg’s soft voice. She kicked the animal slightly, clicking her tongue, and Hazelnut met the challenge though she figured the extra weight had to be taxing on the beast.

Tyg was proud of her horse, though she could hear the extra work in the mare’s heavy breathing. Jamie was handling the animal beautifully. She was a natural it seemed, and told her so. There was no answer save for a soft, self-deprecating chuckle as she expected. She could feel the front of Jamie’s thighs against the back of her own as her booted feet hung free in front of the stirrups. Not the most comfortable position in the world, but Jamie had to learn. Jamie’s body was producing an immense amount of heat that flowed straight into her own body. Her thoughts began to disperse as Hazelnut found a smooth, but fast pace that she loved so much. The freedom of covering so much ground with the beast, a connection that she had as of yet to find with another human being. Ordinarily this was an experience that she treasured by herself, and whenever she’d been forced to ride double had felt that the other rider was encroaching on a most personal moment, but somehow she did not mind sharing it with Jamie. Deep down she felt that Jamie felt the profound experience, too. Ultimate freedom.

To Jamie’s utmost surprise, she found that she was enjoying the ride, and almost wished she had chosen to ride Barley. Next time. She stared out at the scenery that whisked by them, the rolling hills crowned in green, the large rocks that jutted out of the ground like jewels that Hazelnut just seemed to know to avoid. The path they trod was well worn, narrow. She glanced up at the morning sky, the sun bright, beckoning the beauty of a new day, blue as far as the eye could see. One thing she missed about Colorado was that in this exact same place, far-off blue mountains would be visible in every direction. Though she had learned to hate the outlying area of Canon City, she had to admit that it held one of the most incredible views she had ever seen. She had stared out of the window of her cell in the early morning, drinking in the view, capturing it forever in gray, black and white on a piece of paper, wishing that she were part of it. She almost felt like screaming out to the world, hugging Tyg for being part of that world. Instead, she urged Hazelnut on even faster.

Tyg felt a change in Jamie, sensed it. The tall woman’s body relaxed, and her grip tightened on the reins, and the Palomino was urged on, the strong, powerful legs eating up even more ground. She held on a bit tighter to the saddle horn. She wasn’t sure what had brought on the sudden change, but knew deep down it was a good thing, a type of release for the dark woman. She felt honored to be part of it in some way.

The stream was coming up just about a quarter mile ahead. Tyg could see the sun glinting off the surface.

“Slow us down, honey. Just up ahead is the stream.” she called back to Jamie. “Remember what I told ya. Just pull back slightly, bring ‘er down.” Jamie followed instructions, the mare responding immediately. She must be a well trained horse, Jamie mused. Hazelnut stopped, snorting at the tight pull of the bit. “Ease off on the reins just a bit, honey. Nut don’t like for the bit to dig.” Jamie handed the reins to Tyg, then swung her feet out of the stirrups, and jumped down from the animal with a grunt, a cloud of dust floating up around her. Tyg came next, her landing graceful and soft. She grinned up at Jamie’s frown.

“Years of practice.” Tyg took Hazelnut by the reins, and began to walk along the stream. Jamie followed, looking around. The stream was more like a small river. It ran in either direction for as far as the eye could see, and looked to be about a half mile across at its widest point. Tyg stopped, patting Hazelnut’s neck. “That way it stretches clear to the Lower Colorado.” Tyg said, nodding her head off to the left. “And the other way, well, just empties out into some unknown somewhere.”

Jamie turned in a slow circle, taking in all that was around. Off to the left were a small stand of black oaks with their branches filled with plump leaves, reaching toward the heavens. The land was flat for the most part, soft rolling hills now and then. Certainly unlike the city Jamie had left behind.

“Ya’ll are the first woman we’ve had on here in quite some time.” Tyg said quietly, a small smile playing across her lips.

“Why is that?” Jamie asked, crossing her arms over her chest, staring out across the stream, and into the line of wild bushes that flanked its bank.

“Don’t know, ta be honest. Guess it just ended up that way.” Tyg began to walk again, Jamie fell into step with her. Tyg was quiet as her thoughts began to form questions in her mind. “So tell me something, Jamie. Why did ya chose ta go work on a ranch?” For just a second, Jamie felt a bolt of panic, but swallowed it down. She was tired of hiding. She wasn’t about to tell the small blonde her life story, far from it. But the truth wouldn’t hurt.

“Needed a change. Something different.” she finally said.

“Hell, ranching has got to be a change from just about anything, I suspect.” Tyg hooked her thumb into the belt loop of her jeans, her booted feet absently kicking at some pebbles that littered their path. “I want you ta know that you are entitled to have your own life while here, Jamie.” Tyg said, glancing up at the tall woman. “Come and go as you please, just long as your ready to work, that is.” she smiled, Jamie glanced down at the upturned face, and turned her eyes back to the stream. Tyg looked away from the dark woman. “Hell, it’s even fun to go out with the boys sometimes. That’s what I call the other hands. My boys. BJ sure seemed to take an interest in you this morning.” Tyg chuckled thinking about the way the sandy-haired guy had just about slobbered all over himself to try and make Jamie smile. She can’t say she blamed him. Jamie’s smiles seemed to be so rare that it was quite the event when one showed itself. “In a few weeks the big to do of LaGrange is the carnival that’s comin’. Usually fun.” Jamie nodded, burying her hands into her front pockets.

“So why is the ranch called The Triple M?” Jamie asked. Tyg glanced at her, surprised to hear the taller woman speak.

“Well, the family name is McClure, and the M’s are for my granddaddy, daddy, and me.” Tyg explained, her voice filled with pride.

“Well, what about when your children take over the place?”

“Don’t think that’ll ever happen.” Tyg said, her voice quiet, wistful. Jamie glanced down at her in question, but said nothing. “So are you alone in this big ol’ world, or ya got family out there somewhere?” Tyg asked, heading for a log to sit on.

Jamie stared out into the sun, and sighed. “I have a brother.”

“Where’s he?” Jamie shrugged, glancing down at the toe of her boot as she kicked at a weed. Tyg sensed that Jamie did not want to talk about this. She noticed as some fiery highlights were brought out in her dark hair by the bright sun overhead. She sighed, and stared out over the water. Enough talk. Jamie would remain a mystery to her for at least another day.

Tyg covered the basics of what went on at the ranch, and what Jamie would be expected to do, and would be taught to do. Jamie listened attentively, forever grateful that Tyg hadn’t pushed the personal issue. She had started to feel suffocated by the smaller woman’s curiosity. She couldn’t be mad at her, though. Who wouldn’t want to know what they were spending money on?
<><><>
Jamie collapsed back onto the mattress, legs dangling off the side of the bed. God, what a day. She had had no idea just how much work ranching could be. Her respect for Tyg had quadrupled. How that small woman accomplished so much in one day was beyond her. Her whole body ached, muscles tense, many worked that she had not realized that she even had.

With a groan, Jamie sat up and headed for the bathroom, needing a hot bath to soak her long body in. She stripped out of her clothes as she went, leaving a trail of dirty, sweat-soaked clothing crumpled on the floor. She sat on the edge of the tub as the water roared from the faucet. Closing her eyes, she sighed deeply. She felt good, like she had accomplished something that day, made a difference. During her years sitting in a prison cell, she had felt like she was just taking up space, was a waste of time, and a waste of a human being. Even during her days of illegal activity, she had never been dormant with her activity. She had always felt a need, compelled even, to keep going, make it better, faster, more lucrative. Whatever the case had been. Now she felt that way again. Felt like she were a part of something. A somebody.

Jamie glanced over her shoulder, and saw that the tub was just about full, and turned off the faucet when she heard a knock at the door at her cabin.

“Shit.” she breathed as she looked around for something to put on. She was not a particularly modest person; inside you can’t be, but didn’t want to answer it in the buff. She grabbed a towel hanging on the towel rack, and wrapped it around her chest. The knock came again. “Yeah, yeah. Keep your pants on!” she hollered as she made her way through the main room, unlocked the door, and swung it open. Tyg stood on the front porch, her eyes widening to the size of saucers when she saw Jamie’s state of undress.

The words Tyg had planned on saying flew right out of her head when her eyes took in the sight before her. Jamie stood with a white towel wrapped around her naked body, one hand clutching the ends together between her breasts. Her hair, still wild and unkempt from the day, fell around her shoulders, the darkness setting off the vibrant blue of her eyes. She was breathtaking.

Jamie’s irritation died on her lips, her surprise at seeing Tyg overriding it. She blinked once, suddenly feeling very vulnerable, and very naked beneath the towel. She stared down at the woman, waiting for her to speak, do something to break the uncomfortable, surprised silence.

“Howdy.” Tyg said, swallowing before she continued. “I forgot ta give this to you earlier.” she brought up her hand to show Jamie a black felt cowboy hat with a thin leather band. “I know these harsh summer days can be brutal on the heartiest, most seasoned soul, so I can imagine how you must feel, the sun beatin’ down, burnin’ your scalp.” Tyg cut herself off, realizing that she was beginning to ramble. “Anyway, here ya go.”

Jamie reached out and took the hat, turning it over in her grip to stare at the fine workmanship of the obviously hand-tooled leather band with the silver buckle on the side.

“Thank you.” Jamie said, her voice quiet. No one had ever given her such a considerate gift before. She used to just take it. “This is too nice, though. It’ll get ruined.”

“Hell, don’t worry none. It’s yours, make it yours. Every good cowboy should have a hat.” Tyg smiled then, and Jamie couldn’t help but smile back. “Some time this week we need ta get you to LaGrange, and get ya some good clothes. You’ll fry in those jeans, and ‘sides, don’t want ya to ruin everything ya’ve got.” with one more smile, Tyg stepped off the porch. Just as she was about to leave, she glanced over her shoulder. “See ya in the mornin’, Jamie.”

Jamie watched the small blonde walk away, wondering if the rancher was so considerate to all her new hands.
<><><>
Tyg drove back up to the house, and parked in her usual spot beside the place, and headed upstairs. Her mind was still fully dwelling on the picture of Jamie opening the door, wearing only a towel. She had not expected that, and certainly had not expected to be affected by it as bad as she was. She was having a certain physical reaction that she had not allowed herself in quite awhile. She reasoned that it had to simply be that a woman had not graced the place in so long, that no wonder she was affected. She had not visited Torey’s in a long time, but maybe it was time she started again. Though the bar may not be of the best class, it was worth the drive to Carmine to relieve some, uh,…. pressure. Mind made up, Tyg headed to the door at the end of the hall on the second floor.

“Get in here.” came the muffled reply from the other side of the door. Tyg grinned, and turned the knob, entering the large room. The heavy, velvet drapes were pulled back from the large window that overlooked the southern pasture. Larry McClure’s wheelchair was placed near it, the still figure in it looking out. I was wonderin’ where you were.”

“Sorry, Granddaddy.” Tyg said, plopping down in a stuffed armchair in the corner. Larry turned his chair around until he was facing his granddaughter. “Been so busy last coupla days with the new hand an all.” Tyg sighed, her body tensing from being able to relax after a rigorous day. She stretched her short legs out, crossing them at the ankle, her hands dangling over the arms of the chair.

“So? What do ya think of ‘er?” Larry asked, a slight sparkle in his deep green eyes, the leathery skin from a life out in the weather, crinkling with the slight smile that played across his features. Tyg marveled at how handsome her grandfather still was. He had always been her hero, almost reminding her of the Marlboro man. In his seventy-three years, Larry McClure had seen more than most do in two life times. Now as he struggled daily with emphysema, hooked to an oxygen tank, she would do anything to keep him in her life forever. He had always been her guiding force, the one who kept her going. She drew her brow. Speaking of oxygen tank,

“Granddaddy, where is you air?” Tyg asked, sitting up in the chair, her eyes scanning the room.

“Ah, hell, I threw it away.” the old man muttered, turning back to the window.

“You did not, either. Come on,” Tyg stood, spotting the tank near the foot of the bed. She was lucky she hadn’t tripped over it when she had walked in.

“Don’t want it, Tyg. Had those damn things stuck in my damn nose all damn day.” the last word was cut short by a wracking coughing fit. Tyg hurried over to her grandfather, gently rubbing his back, whispering words of comfort. She knew that her grandfather was in a lot of pain, but the stoic man would never say just how much. Everyday Tyg was grateful that she had another day with him.

Larry McClure wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and turned tired eyes on his granddaughter, patting her hand that rested on his shoulder.

“Put it on, for me?” Tyg asked, her concerned eyes pleading. Larry nodded, never able to deny the beloved girl a damn thing. Tyg grabbed the tank, and hooked the loop onto the back of the chair, and carefully eased the tube in place. “Thank you.” she whispered, kissing his sandpaper-like cheek. She smoothed a couple of stray salt/pepper hairs back from his forehead.

“So tell me ’bout this new hand.” Larry McClure said, breathing deeply of the cool oxygen that flowed through his nose. He would never admit it to Tyg, but he felt much better with the air.

“Well,” Tyg sighed, plopping down in the chair again. “She’s quiet, that’s for sure. I think she’ll do just fine.”

“But what do ya think of ‘er?”

Tyg sighed again, glancing out the window at the clear night sky, the moon shining bright and high. It was getting late, and she was tired. She thought about the question as her grandfather waited patiently for her to answer. What did she think of Jamie? She hadn’t really let her mind explore that thought, though she had unsuccessfully posed it to herself many times.

“I guess she makes me curious.” she finally said, glancing briefly at the older man. His lips quirked up into a grin.

“Jus’ curious, eh?” Tyg narrowed her eyes.

“Don’t even start. You are not too old for me ta kick your behind.” Larry chuckled. “I got a call from Hector the other day.” the grin slid right off of the older man’s face. His eyes darkened, and he looked away from Tyg, staring out the window once more. “When’s it gonna stop?” Tyg whispered, choking the emotion down. “How could he do this ta us, granddaddy? Ta the ranch?”

“I dunno, Tiger, I just don’t know.”
<><><>
Tyg had picked Jamie up the next morning at four-thirty sharp. Tyg had felt nervous around the tall woman from the night before. She could barely meet Jamie’s questioning look, afraid her eyes would reveal too much. Jamie seemed fine with it, as if it was everyday that she sauntered around another woman half-naked. It was at that moment that the small blonde wondered to herself if in fact she had. Was she? Did she-… She cut off her thoughts. What did it matter? She had never gotten involved with a hand, and wasn’t about to start now. Besides, hadn’t she learned her lesson already?

Jamie noticed that Tyg was quiet during breakfast, staring down at her plate as she devoured the fluffy pancakes. Jamie glanced over at her often. The rancher almost seemed embarrassed to look at her. She wondered if maybe Tyg had been offended and completely repulsed by the way that Jamie had answered the door the night before. She sighed as she sipped from her mug of steaming coffee. Damn. Jamie set the mug down, deciding right then and there that no matter how beautiful she might find Tyg, the woman was off limits, and she would put the whole damn thing out of her mind. She was there to work, not get laid.

Tyg called all nine hands to the front porch to gather around.

“Okay, ya’ll, can ya hear me alright?” a muttering of yup filled the early morning air. Tyg hopped up onto a sturdy wrought iron table so she could see everybody. Sometimes being short was a real bitch. She glanced quickly down to her left to see two bright blue eyes staring up at her. She quickly looked away. “‘Kay, good. Now. taday we gotta mend those fences in the southern and northern pastures. Now, don’t start grumblin’. I’m gonna split ya’ll up into two groups. Okay, boys, BJ and Briar, I want you two in the south field, about a mile past the gate. Get your butts in gear, ’cause those cows are about to take a field trip, got it?” the one called BJ turned pale blue eyes on Jamie, a slightly disappointed look quickly crossed his young features, then he and his brother, Briar, hurried to Briar’s red and white Chevy. “Tommy, Bobby, Calvin and Wilbur, take the mile turn back in the south field. You’ll need some more posts, too. The winter last year hit hard.” the small group of men hurried off the porch without a word. Jamie watched the groups as they disappeared into the early morning, impressed with Tyg’s surprising delegating nature. The men, some ten and more years older, took what she said without question. Tyg finally looked down at the newest member to her crew, and smiled down at Jamie. “Looks like yer stuck with me, Marty and Lyle here.” she hopped down from her perch on the table, and without another word, headed for her truck.

The very young man with long, black hair, tied back in a tail, and slightly slanted brown eyes, headed for the door to the passenger side of the old green truck. Tyg stopped, her hand on the door handle, and looked over the bed of the truck at the young man.

“Marty, what in hell you doin’?” the boy looked at her, eyes narrowed. “You can’t tell me your mamma didn’t give you better manners than that, ’cause I know for fact that she did.” the boy looked on, still confused. Jamie noticed the other man trying to stifle a chuckle. “Ya let a lady ride up front, ya bone head!” the boy’s face reddened, and he lowered his dark eyes, stepping back from the truck. “I don’t wanna have ta tell you again, got that?”

Marty’s eyes darted in Jamie’s direction.

“Sorry, ma’am.” he mumbled. Jamie glanced over at Tyg, then back at the boy.

“You want to ride shotgun, kid, go for it. Don’t matter to me.” Jamie said, her hands in her pockets. The boy looked over at Tyg again, and saw her green eyes flaring. He looked back at Jamie, tipped his hat, and hopped over the side of the bed, landing next to Lyle Cody sitting on one of the wheel wells. Jamie shrugged, then climbed into the truck.

“Kids these days.” Tyg grumbled as she slammed her door shut. “They got the manners of a goat.” Jamie began to chuckle when she remembered her hat.

“Shit! I left my hat in there.” she pointed through the side window at the front door of the house.

“Go on and get it. I ain’t goin’ nowhere.” Tyg said, sticking the key in the ignition.

Jamie jumped out of the truck, and ran toward the house. The front door slammed behind her as she quickly made her way toward the kitchen. She had a feeling that today was not the day to piss Tyg off. She could hear Rosa moving around in the large room.

“Well, back so soon?” the older woman said over her shoulder from a sink full of dishes, not even bothering to turn to face the intruder.

“Forgot my hat.” Jamie explained quietly, grabbing the black cowboy hat off the back of her chair.

“Yeah. Was wondering when you were going to decide to come back and get that.” Rosa glanced at the tall woman briefly, then down at the hat she held in her hands. “Hmm. Tyg had that specially made, ya know.”

“No, I didn’t know.” Jamie glanced down at the beautifully crafted hat. “So, does she do this for all the new hands that come on? That’s got to be an awfully expensive welcome aboard gift.” Rosa chuckled, her ample body jiggling slightly with the effort.

“Nope. Never seen her dole out howdy do gifts before.” the older woman turned back to the dishes. “Now get on out there. I don’t think Tyg is especially full of patients this morning.”

Tyg drove over the bumpy road, the two men in the back hanging on like this was old hat. Jamie assumed it probably was. She stared down at the hat in her lap, thinking about what Rosa had told her. So this was not something that Tyg always did? So why did she do it for her? She glanced over at Tyg, and saw that the young woman’s eyes were fully on the road as the sun was just beginning to make its way over the horizon.

“You ever mended a fence before?” Tyg asked. Jamie was surprised to hear the blonde’s voice fill the cab of the truck. Jamie shook her head.

“No.”

“Hell, it ain’t that hard.” she glanced over at her passenger, giving her a small quirk of one side of her mouth. “I’m sure you’ll do fine, honey. Marty back there may be young, but he’s one of the best with wire I’ve ever seen.” Tyg hitched her thumb toward the bed of the truck. “You know he ain’t no more than seventeen.” Jamie was surprised as she glanced back at the young Hispanic boy. “Yeah, I think he’s fixin’ to head off to college come fall. He’s been one a my crew for ’bout a year now.” Tyg said no more as they made their way through the thick grassy pasture to a part of the fence that was nearly ground level.

“How have you managed to keep the cows in here?” Jamie asked, glancing over at the blonde as she pulled the truck up next to the section of fence, and killed the engine.

“Well,” Tyg sighed, then looked over at the tall woman. “Ta be perfectly honest, they’re too stupid to know better.” she said with a grin. “I love ’em to death, but by god are they stupid animals.” Tyg pulled her door open, and climbed out of the large truck. Jamie followed suit, plopping the black hat on her head as she went.

Marty and Lyle went straight to work, and Jamie was impressed with their speed and knowledge. Most boys their age that she knew didn’t know shit from shit, and were in no hurry to learn. She was even more impressed with the little blonde who jumped right in. Tyg told Jamie to hold the wire tight as she looped a new piece onto the two ends of that that was broken.

“Hey, Jamie.” Marty called as he began to pound in a lose post.

“Yeah.” Jamie said absently, as she held the barbed wire taught for the rancher.

“Where ya’ll from?” Jamie glanced over her shoulder at the boy. Here we go.

“Colorado.”

“No, shit, really?” the boy asked, his voice filled with excitement.

“Marty, pay attention, damnit!” Lyle exclaimed, irritated.

“Oh, hell, sorry.” the boy grabbed the post again as Lyle re-positioned the wooden pole. “Yeah, I been up there once or twice. What part?”

Jamie glanced up to see two emerald eyes staring at her. She averted her eyes back to the wire in her gloved hands.

“Arvada.”

“Ain’t never been there.” Marty pounded the pole about a foot and a half into the ground, then they moved to the next one. Tyg tied off the fence, and walked over to the two guys. Jamie followed. “So why’d ya leave?”

Beginning to get irritated now, Jamie sighed.

“Look, it’s a long story, okay?” the boy stood, and smiled at her.

“Hell, here we ain’t got no secrets. We got time for a good tall tale.”

Jamie’s stomach began to turn, fear and panic beating butterfly wings around her ribcage. She was starting to feel trapped, cornered, and her anger was beginning to spark.

“Yeah, Jamie. Spit it out.” the other boy threw in. In a flash the tall woman was in Lyle’s face, the neck of his red t-shirt in her fist.

“Listen, boy, I’ve done my time. If I left Colorado, then I had one hell of a good reason. Got it?” she hissed, her eyes full of blue fire.

“Y-yeah.” the boy stuttered, fear gripping him like a steel vice. The tall woman released his shirt, and walked away.

Tyg watched the whole thing, shocked, and just for a moment scared for the boy who had lost all color in his tan face. Marty stood, his mouth hanging open.

“You’re gonna catch flies, boy.” she muttered, turning away from her two workers, her hands shaking. Tyg glanced up through blonde bangs as she watched Jamie jog across the field, hopping the four foot fence easily, and heading up the road. The blonde took a deep breath, not sure what to do. She wished that there was some way, some thing that she could do to help Jamie. Just something. Suddenly an image flashed through her mind. Her father. A ten year old Tyg had been pulled back against her grandfather, his big, leathery hands on her slender shoulders, just off to the side of the front porch. Clay McClure had climbed out of the taxi, a large green duffel in his hand. She had stared up at the tall man through too-long, blonde bangs, suddenly frightened of her father. He looked down at his little girl as he passed, and what she had seen in his vibrant green eyes had made her suck in a breath. Nothing. His eyes were empty, defeated, and dead.

Jamie slowed to a fast walk as she realized that she was headed toward the horse corral. She closed her eyes, trying to get her breathing under control. God, what had she done? She had no idea how to fix it, but only knew that she had to be alone for awhile. She began to think what Tyg must think of her, but pushed the thought out of her mind. She didn’t need to think about that now.

Just up ahead she could see two coal black eyes peering at her from beneath the black, coarse hair of a mane. The wild black horse. Slowly she made her way toward the smaller corral, the horse digging in one of its front hooves, and snorting as it tossed its head.

“So beautiful.” she whispered as she stared up at the magnificent beast. The solid black coat shone in the early afternoon sun like onyx. The horse stared at her, almost as if she were trying to read her. The mare took a hesitant step forward, then stopped, rearing high on her powerful back legs, then landing with a soft thud. “You are probably nos gui. Like the wind.” Jamie whispered, falling into the Gaelic tongue of her youth. “Or maybe you’re just baol, dangerous like me, huh?” the horse dug at the earth, then took a step toward Jamie, keeping an eye on her the entire time. Jamie laid her forearms against the top rail of the fence, leaning on it. The horse took a couple more steps forward until she was just barely out of reach. Jamie stretched out a hand, palm up. “You’re curious, aren’t you?” she said. She could feel the heated breath of the horse as she sniffed the outstretched fingers. The bristly hairs on the horse’s chin tickled her palm. “I think I’d call you astriocht. Because you are different, unlike any of these other horses. Like me.” the mare whinnied softly, nodding her head, black mane falling over an eye. Jamie smiled. She felt at peace.

Tyg watched in wonder as the tall woman casually walked toward the wild horse that many of her hands had become afraid of. Jamie leaned against the rail, and it was almost as if woman and beast were connected as each had eyes only for the other. Jamie was talking quietly to the animal. She couldn’t make out what she said, but could hear the dark woman’s velvety voice carrying across the summer breeze.

Her father came to mind again. From the time Tyg had been five or six, just a few years after her mother passed on, Clay had begun to get heavily involved in gambling, and he lost often. His debts and illegal activity had forced him to sell of pieces of the ranch, and on Tyg’s eighth birthday, he was hauled off by the police, and thrown in prison for two years. She remembered the day he came back like it was yesterday. He had been a shadow of his former self, a man who Tyg had seen as larger than life, tough and strong, and smart. Not smart enough, apparently.

Tyg stared at Jamie now, and it all dawned on her. The tall woman’s words to Lyle echoed through her ears: …I’ve done my time. If I left Colorado, then I had one hell of a good reason….

She thought to a time when she had overheard almost those exact words the night Clay McClure came home.

“Now, son, I know it’s been rough, but ya’ll done it to yourself!” Tyg’s grandfather had yelled, his booming voice filling the late night stillness. “Ya’ve got ta be a daddy to that little girl now. Enough foolishness!”

“I’ve done my time for that, daddy, now let it lie!”

He had gotten his sentence reduced from ten to two if he agreed to act as an informant once he got out. Less than a year later, Clay McClure had disappeared.

Tyg shook the memories away, and concentrated on the woman who stood not ten yards away. She wondered what had happened, what had Jamie done? How long had she been away from the rest of the world?

She drew her brows, ready to run to Jamie’s side at a moment’s notice when she saw the tall woman extend her hand toward the horse. She had known many animals in her time who would stop at nothing to bite the hand that fed it. To Tyg’s surprise the black horse merely sniffed Jamie’s fingers, then whinnied softly, almost in answer to whatever Jamie was saying to her.

Emerald eyes moved on to long, dark, nearly black hair that flowed down Jamie’s back, hiding part of the taller woman’s white t-shirt. One of Jamie’s long legs was propped up on the lower rail. She sighed deeply deciding then and there that it did not matter what had happened in the past, as long as Jamie worked hard for her. The hands were her family, along with her grandfather and Rosa. Family stood by family. No matter what.

With a sigh, Tyg moved away from the truck that she’d been leaning on, and walked toward Jamie.

“Hey.” she said quietly. The tall woman turned to her, holding the black hat in front of her with both hands almost like a shield. Tyg smiled gently. “I’m not gonna hurt ya, honey.” a small grin quickly spread across Jamie’s features, but was just as quickly gone. She lowered the hat, staring down at shuffling boots.

“I’m sorry.” came the soft voice. Tyg stepped up to Jamie, and ducked her head so she could catch those incredible blue eyes.

“Hey, don’t’cha be sorry for nothin’. Your business is just that, your business.” Tyg smiled as Jamie’s head lifted. “There now. That’s better. Thought I’d get a kink in my neck.” Jamie gave her a self-deprecating laugh. “Now, come on. It’s nearly lunch, and we got some shoppin’ ta do.”

“What about the fence?” Jamie asked, nodding toward the south field.

“Don’t worry none about that. The boys just about got it done.”
<><><>
The large cab of the truck was tight as Tyg had swung by the main house to pick up Rosa on her and Jamie’s way to town. The older woman needed to pick up her weekly supplies.

“You think it’s easy feeding a bunch of hungry slobs?” the large woman had muttered to Tyg as she situated herself between the two younger women.

The town of LaGrange was not very big, around twenty or so thousand souls. Tyg drove the old Chevy through the heart of the town, the old courthouse the center of attention. Jamie looked around, interested to see a new place, and how the people lived. Small, locally owned shops lined the streets, small groups of people milling about.

Tyg pulled the truck into a space in front of a large family owned grocery. Rosa turned to Jamie. Jamie looked back, confused.

“Well, you gonna let me get my fat ass out of the truck?” the older woman asked, a smile in her voice. Jamie chuckled, and quickly climbed out of the green truck, holding the door open for her.

“Rosa, we’ll back in a coupla hours. Will that do?” the older woman waved the two off as she made her way toward the store. Jamie followed the woman’s progress with her eyes as she climbed back into the cab, shaking her head. “Okay, Miss Jamie, you’re turn.” Tyg grinned as she put the truck in reverse, and backed out of the space.

The Leather store was deceiving from the outside, looking like a small, hole in the wall place, which it was, but as you walked through the glass door that jangled as you entered, you entered into a leather wonderland, and rancher, biker dream world. Jamie looked around as the familiar smell of leather hit her senses. Leather jackets of every color and style hung on one wall, and adorned a large rack next to it. Boots and shoes were near the back with other work clothing, gloves, chaps, and tool belts. Tyg headed straight to the back, Jamie following, looking around in awe. She had missed stores like this.

“Okay, honey, we need to find you some decent boots for ridin’.”

Jamie watched on in awe as the feisty little blonde picked out one thing after another for her, heedless of cost.

“Don’t worry, honey. I’ll get ’em ta come down on the price.” Tyg had said with a wink.

She glanced at Jamie often to size her up for boots, a pair of chaps, a good wool-lined vest for the upcoming winter, and some good rope. Tyg piled everything on the counter, and Jamie took out a wad of money from her pocket.

“No, no.” Tyg said, placing her hand over Jamie’s. Green eyes twinkled up at her. “This is on me.”

“But-”

“Now, don’t argue with me.” Tyg’s voice was soft but firm. Jamie sighed, and pocketed her money. “You can buy us lunch.” Tyg whispered as she grabbed the large plastic sack from off the counter, and headed toward the door. Jamie watched the smaller woman, shaking her head.

Lucky’s Cafe was right smack in the middle of town. Around the turn of the century it had been a bar and some said, brothel, so the old, room-length mahogany bar still stood, lined with wooden bar stools. Small round tables were scattered around the medium sized room, and a few wrought iron tables were set up outside on the sidewalk next to the old building.

“Well, howdy, Tyg. Ain’t seen you in some time.” the man behind the bar said, a wide, pleasant smile spreading across his plain featured, face. Tyg smiled warmly, and walked around to the small opening at the side of the bar where she gave the thin man a hug.

“How ya been, Roger?” she asked, slapping him on the back.

“Real good, real good. Me ‘n Mary just had our fifth.” he grinned.

“Hell, you ain’t careful, and ya’ll repopulate LaGrange.”

“Hey, now.” he grinned, a slight blush rising up his cheeks. Jamie watched all this from near the door, arms crossed over her chest, the bag from The Leather store hanging from one hand. Roger nodded toward her. “Who’s this?”

“Oh, hell. There go my manners again.” Tyg winked at Jamie, and placed a hand on one of the taller woman’s shoulders. “This is Jamie. She just came to work for us at the M.”

“Oh, well mighty nice ta meet you, Jamie.” Roger flipped the towel he’d been holding onto his right shoulder, and took a step out from behind the bar, extending a hand. Jamie took the large hand in hers, and shook it. “Damn, you got yourself a firm shake there, Jamie.” Roger pulled his hand away, massaging his fingers. Jamie reddened, and looked down.

“Sorry about that.”

“Hell, don’t be. A good, strong handshake shows confidence, character.” the man smiled. Jamie gave him a lop-sided grin, averting his eyes. “Well, ya’ll goin’ ta eat?”

“Yup.” Tyg said with a big smile. “We’ll be outside, Roger.” Tyg turned to Jamie. “That alright with you?” Jamie nodded, and led the way out of the hot cafe. Tyg plopped down into the hard chair of the nearest table, and let out a sigh. She pulled off her hat, and tossed it onto the table, running her fingers through long, blonde hair. Jamie watched her, gazing at the smaller woman’s face as Tyg closed her eyes for a moment, her head leaning back against the outside wall of the building. Jamie lowered her eyes, taking in Tyg’s tight, ribbed tank that was tucked into a pair of cut-offs, ending in her usual work boots.

Tyg felt as though she were being watched, and opened green eyes to find Jamie’s gaze somewhere on her body. Tyg followed that gaze down to find it resting on her breasts, a slight sweat stain forming between them in the material of the tank she wore, and Jamie’s heated gaze was not helping any. Suddenly she felt a trail of fire rush through her, and it was not the ninety-seven degree weather with one hundred percent humidity. Those baby blues were making her hotter than the afternoon heat ever could. She felt her heart begin to pound, blood flowing to parts of her body that she didn’t even think existed anymore. She exhaled slowly when Jamie’s eyes moved off of her, and concentrated on the people who were walking past them on the streets.

“What can I get you ladies taday?”

Tyg glanced up at the young waitress, grateful for a distraction.

Jamie plowed through the huge hamburger and fries with a side of onion rings dipped in her concoction of catsup and Mayo mixed. Tyg watched on with narrowed eyes.

“Honey, that is disgustin’!” the small blonde squealed at the pink sauce. Jamie grinned.

“Don’t knock it ’till you’ve tried it.” Jamie said, tossing a fry that dripped with the sauce into her awaiting mouth. Tyg shook her head with a grin, scrunching her nose up.

Tyg finished her chicken salad, and pushed the plate away, patting her stomach with a contented sigh.

“That was yummy.” Jamie took a drink of her Coke to wash down the last bite, and studied Tyg’s satisfied smile over the rim of the glass. She couldn’t help but chuckle at the rancher. “What?” the blonde asked, her hands resting on her stomach. Jamie shook her head, setting the glass down, and pulled some money out of her pocket, glancing at the ticket the waitress left of the table, and tossing some bills on top of it.

“Nothing.” Jamie brightened as an idea struck her. “Hey, want to get some ice cream? It’s been-” she cut herself off.

“Awhile?” Tyg offered softly. Jamie nodded, and stood, refusing to meet understanding green eyes. Tyg wanted Jamie to know that she knew, and that it was okay. “Come on. I know of a real good place not far.”

Tyg took them to the east side of town so they could stroll along the Lower Colorado River. The water was crystal clear, blue as Jamie’s eyes. They walked along the rocky bank, each with a large dipped cone melting in their hands. Jamie grinned as she tried to catch the vanilla drippings with her tongue, pieces of the chocolate shell falling into her mouth in chunks. Tyg, who had half finished hers, chuckled at the taller woman.

“Havin’ a problem there, honey?” she grinned.

“Yeah. Something like that.” Jamie wiped her sticky hands and then her chin on one of the napkins that place had given her, and attacked with new vigor. She closed her eyes, savoring the creamy sweetness that she had not had in seven years. it was amazing the simple things you missed when locked up. It was teaching her to learn to enjoy and appreciate things more. You never knew when it would be gone forever.

Tyg bit into the golden cone, loving the crunching sound it made. She looked around at the still water, noticing a couple fisherman further up the bank, hoping to catch dinner.

“Do you like to fish, Jamie?” she asked, swallowing the last of the cone. She glanced over at the taller woman who still seemed to be having problems getting her ice cream eaten fast enough before the whole thing melted in her hand.

“Never been.” Jamie muttered around a mouthful of vanilla.

“You’re shittin’ me?” Tyg said, stunned. Jamie shook her head. She swallowed the large bite before she spoke.

“Nope. Where I grew up wasn’t exactly a nature oriented neighborhood.”

“Arvada.” Tyg said, more a statement than a question. The dark woman nodded. Tyg took a deep sigh, and stopped Jamie with a hand on her arm. Jamie looked down into bright green eyes that seemed to catch the rays of the sun, and lock them forever behind their emerald depths. “Honey, I want you to know that no one’s life is perfect, and I know that. Nothin’ that happened in the past is of any consequence ta me. All I care about is that ya do a good job for me an my ranch. And ya do.” Jamie blinked, surprised by the blonde’s words, but remained quiet. “I can only imagine what things have been like for you, and if ya ever wanna talk, just get out whatever is beatin’ at your ribcage, know that I’m here, and am a really good listener. ‘Kay?”

Jamie stared down at the smaller woman, not sure what to say. She stared deep into Tyg’s eyes, and knew that the rancher knew her secret. She didn’t know how, but felt fear grip her. She studied her, expecting to see fear, or repulsion in those eyes, but saw only understanding, compassion, and honesty. She had to take a step back, almost overwhelmed by the smaller woman. She couldn’t ever recall feeling so close to another human being, if just for a moment; not even Johnny. She simply nodded, unable to speak. Tyg smiled warmly up at her.

“We better go. Rosa’s probly done by now.”
***********************

Pronunciations for the Gaelic terms:

saoire (see-re)

nos gui (nose) (gee)

baol (bay-oil)

aistriocht (ash-ree-och)
——————————————————————————–
Part 4

The summer heat was picking up speed as June began to almost literally melt into July. Jamie had been on the Triple M for just over two weeks now, and had more than surpassed Tyg’s expectations, and that of her own. She never thought she’d enjoy such a tranquil life. The work was hard, but the hard is what made it satisfying.

Jamie stood on the flatbed that she had first found Tyg on, throwing bales of hay. She grunted as she tried to use her legs to pick them up instead of her back, like Briar had shown her. Sometimes it was hard to remember; her body wanted to go on instinct instead of common sense. That seemed to be a big problem for her in general these days. Once again her thoughts trailed off in Tyg’s direction. This happened often, though she tried to keep it down to a dull roar.

Tyg continued to pick her up each and every morning just before the break of day, but the small blonde had begun to spend less and less time with the tall brunette, wanting her to get used to working with the boys, allowing the hands to meld as a family once more with the new addition.

Tyg rode up the road at a slow run sitting atop Hazelnut’s back. She had missed her horse. With the arrival of Jamie, getting her settled, she had neglected the mare. She looked over the fence that surrounded the northern fields, and sighed. The boys had done a half-assed job mending last week. She’d have to get on them. Just off to the right she saw the old Ford attached to the flatbed, and several stacks of golden hay waiting to be pitched. With a gloved hand, the blonde tilted her hat back just a bit to see who was working it. Jamie. She smiled, and guided Nut in that direction.

She had noticed over the last weeks that Jamie seemed to relax a bit, even her posture was lighter with straight, strong shoulders, and a head raised high with accomplishment. She watched the tall, lean body in motion as Jamie heaved the heavy bales around. She wore a lose fitting navy tank and lose fitting denim shorts, her hair back in a tail under the black hat. Tyg noticed that the skin of Jamie’s arms, shoulders and legs had started out getting red from the long days in the sun right away, but now she was turning a nice, deep bronze color. In just the short time the tall woman had been there, she was already beginning to fill out from plenty of good food, and strenuous labor.

Tyg sat upon the mare’s back, and crossed her arms over her chest, a slight smile playing across her lips. The thing that she had noticed the most, however, was that when she looked into Jamie’s face, into her eyes, she no longer was met with nothingness. Now a slow, but constant light was building, making Jamie glow with purpose.

Tyg clicked her tongue, urging Hazelnut on, heading back toward the corrals.

Jamie stopped, bale in mid-throw when she felt like she was being watched. She threw the hay to the pile on the ground, and turned, glancing over her shoulder in time to see a golden Palomino trotting off down the road. She knew who the rider was even from this distance. She sighed, and ran her forearm over her eyes, wiping the sweat away, and ran her fingers up under her hat, wiping her hands on her shorts. She was glad to see the boss lady, as the other hands called her, with the horse. From what she’d heard from the boys, Tyg had once been an award winning rider.

Jamie’s eyes glanced to the sky as she heard a distant rumbling. The clouds were beginning to move in. Looked like they might actually get the rain that had been predicted for the last three days, but had yet to show. Part of her hoped they did indeed get the wet stuff, but then again, with the high humidity, it would make it that much hotter later.

Jamie glanced toward the main house when she heard a distant clinging of metal. Rosa sure loved to bang on that triangle at meal times. Jamie chuckled, and hopped down from the flatbed, heading toward the old Ford.
<><><>
Jamie listened as the hands laughed and talked with each other, everyone obviously comfortable in Tyg’s house. Jamie did not feel that yet. Granted, everyone had gone out of their way to make her feel like part of the group, but she still felt like an outsider. She glanced around and noticed that even Rosa got into the action. The older woman was leaning against the island butcher block, her arms crossed over an ample bosom, chuckling at the group, her dark eyes sparkling. She found herself staring into those dark eyes that gave her a little wink before turning back to the boys. Jamie smiled. She really liked the older woman.

Then Jamie glanced to her right to see Tyg at her usual place at the head of the table. She was in what looked to be a serious discussion with Calvin Sanchez. Tyg leaned toward the dark man, leaning her weight on an elbow. Jamie could not help but hear the heated words that were beginning to pass between them.

“I’m telling you, Tyg, it ain’t true.”

“Well I hear it is, Cal. Care ta explain that?”

The dark man turned away from her, thick, dark brows drawn in building anger. Tyg waited patiently, though Jamie could see the muscles in her jaw working, her green eyes ablaze and trained on him. The tall woman looked from one to the other. What could the hand have done to make such a gentle, peaceful woman like Tyg so mad. Finally Calvin looked again at his boss.

“I didn’t know who he was, Tyg.” he said in a harsh whisper, obviously trying to keep his anger under control. Tyg leaned in close to him until their faces were mere inches apart, her finger digging into his chest.

“You’re full of shit, an ya know it, Cal.” she growled. “You knew goddamn well who that son of a bitch was.”

“I didn’t-”

“Then how the hell didja know who ta introduce him ta Lyle as!” Tyg yelled, standing from her chair, her fist slamming into the table. All conversation stopped, no one sure what was going on. Jamie stared, stunned, up at the blonde. Calvin Sanchez pushed his chair back, the wall the only thing stopping it from hitting the floor. He towered over the small rancher, but Tyg held her ground. “Hector is trouble, Cal. I know what I’m talkin’ ’bout.”

“He ain’t trouble ta me.”

Tyg’s eyes blazed, and she took a step toward him. Jamie immediately saw the danger that the blonde was putting herself in, and grabbed the edge of the table with white knuckles, ready to push back and pummel the man if she had to.

“I’m warnin’ you, Cal. Stay away, or get out.” the dark man stared into fiery green eyes, his hands clenching and unclenching until finally he walked away from the table, headed toward the front door. Tyg swung around, yelling after him. “You keep goin’, Cal! Off my land!” she was answered by the slam of the screen door. Silence echoed through the kitchen, no one sure what to do or say, so opted to say nothing. Jamie stared at Tyg’s back, the small blonde’s body was tense, anger and frustration oozing out of every pore, pouring off her in waves.

“Honey, you okay?” Rosa said quietly. Jamie jumped at the sudden noise. Tyg took a deep breath, and walked out of the room, muttering a “fine” as she went, followed by the second slamming of the screen door. Jamie turned back to the boys with wide, curious eyes. Most were looking down at their half-empty plates, or out a window. Jamie jumped again when she heard the sharp clap of two hands. “Okay, boys, shows over. Eat up or get out.”

The hands filed out one after the other, followed by Jamie. She could see the heavy rain falling as she neared the front door, Tyg nowhere to be seen. She stepped out into the deluge, immediately pelted with what seemed to be buckets of water, her hair and clothes plastered to her. She ran a hand through sopping hair when it dawned on her that yet again, she had forgotten her hat.

“Damnit.” she muttered, as she made her way back into the house. She spotted it right away on the back of her chair right where she’d left it.

“You know, I think Tyg should staple that thing to your head.” Rosa said as Jamie turned to head back outside. The large woman turned away from the sink, and a bolt of laughter erupted from her. “Why ain’t you dressed for this weather?” she asked, pointing to the window, and the storm beyond. Jamie gave her a lop-sided grin, and looked down at herself. “You know we don’t have no wet t-shirt contests here.” the older woman threw a towel at the tall woman. “Now, you march your behind up them stairs and grab one of the long rain coats we got up there. Go to the second door you see on the left.” Jamie nodded obediently, and headed for the long staircase.

Jamie felt strange, like she was an intruder as she made her way up the creaky stairs that led to the second level of the two story house. She looked at the dark wood paneling that rose from the hard wood floor to half way up the wall. The same dark wood framed the doorways and made up the heavy doors to the rooms that lined the dim hall. She saw the door that Rosa had directed her to, and had her hand on the crystal knob when she glanced over her shoulder and noticed a room just across the hall with the door partially open. Glancing back down the hall where she’d come, she watched to make sure that no one was coming, and crept over to the room, slowly pushing the door open. She was curious, and had the feeling that the room belonged to Tyg. She could smell her, that mixture of Lady Stetson and Tyg. She looked down the hall one last time, then stepped across the threshold into a world that was filled with the little blonde.

The room was on the medium side with the bed off to the right, the headboard of the large brass bed against the right wall. An emerald green quilt covered the bed along with many fluffy pillows incased in green and burgundy that appeared to be hand made, that were scattered across it. Her eyes traveled to the two large windows that nearly took over the wall directly in front of her filling the room with the gray light of the rainy day. She figured that on a sunny day the incoming light must be nearly blinding through the lacy, white curtains that covered the panes. She smiled at the hat rack behind the door that was loaded down with baseball caps, big floppy hats, and tons of cowboy hats, and even a bowler.

Under one of the windows was a long hope chest made of dark cherry wood, and a soft-looking afghan was folded on top of it. To the left was a tall dresser with what looked to be a collection of small, glass bottles arranged in a corner. Three large horses carved from wood stood near them. A smaller, long dresser was against the wall next to the bed, and Jamie strolled over to check out the collection of horses atop it. She chuckled as she saw the My Little Pony with a purple and white striped mane and tail protruding from the white plastic body with silver stars painted on the butt. She glanced at the other horses, some standing, a foal laying down with a concerned mother bending her powerful neck down to nuzzle her baby. Others stood, yet others still were frozen forever in a dead run. The horses were made of wood, plastic, glass, and even one made from what looked to be ash. She had once seen a lamb like that, though the ash had come from the eruption of Mt. Saint Helens. She ran her fingers over the detailed horses, glancing up to see framed awards and pictures on the wall. She squinted to read the small print of one. It was an award for outstanding academic merit dated 1990, and awarded to a Rachel Christine McClure. She drew her brow. Who was Rachel Christine McClure? That question was answered when she saw the framed diploma from LaGrange High School, class of 1992, and a picture of a very happy Tyg dressed in her cap and gown, green eyes brilliant in the bright sun that she always seemed to suck up in them. Sure enough, the diploma was awarded to Rachel Christine McClure. Hot damn. Jamie grinned to herself, feeling like she’d uncovered a secret as she stared at the woman who looked the exact same, though her years of working out in the weather had given her a few extra lines around her eyes that she probably wouldn’t otherwise have. Jamie did a quick calculation in her mind, and figured that Tyg must be around twenty-five, twenty-six. She hadn’t been sure. The blonde looked young, and was filled with the life and vigor of youth, but she possessed such wisdom, such age. Jamie often thought of her having an old soul. She reached out a hand, and ran the tip of her finger over the smiling image of Tyg, wondering why such a special woman would be on her own, which made her think of the confrontation at lunch. Jamie had never seen the little blonde display such anger, such emotion, and so fast. She could not help but think that if Calvin tried to do anything to the rancher, she’d have his balls in her hand so fast his head would spin.

Moving on, Jamie saw other awards, and then a bunch of blue and red satin ribbons in a group between the windows. She read the mostly first place blue for excellence in rodeo and, the red second place, though the wall was dominated by blue. The dates on the ribbons were scattered throughout the years from the late 1970’s clear to 1997. She felt the softness of the ribbons, then noticed another framed award near by. It was again for academic merit, but as a freshman. She studied the award closer, and realized that it was awarded from Brown University in New York, 1993. Wow. Impressed, Jamie looked around for a degree from the prestigious school, but saw none. She drew her brows in confusion. Surely if Tyg had all these other things hung up from so long ago, something like that would be, too?

She was shaken from her thoughts at the sound of terribly hacking and coughing. She quietly made her way our of the bedroom and looked to the right. The last door at the end of the hall was opened just slightly, and she raised a brow as the coughing continued. She knocked slightly with her knuckles, and slowly pushed the door open. She poked her head in, and looked around the dim room, noticing the large window on the far wall with heavy velvet curtains drawn. She looked to the massive bed off to the right, and the figure lying in it. To her surprise, she was met by sparkling green eyes, the twin pair to Tyg’s.

“Well, ya comin’ in, er ya gonna stand out there all day?” asked a surprisingly strong voice. Jamie grinned and walked fully through the door. The old man sized her up, jutting his lower lip out as he did, as if in deep thought. Finally he nodded with a smile, the leather skin of his face crinkling, looking like it would snap in two. “Jamie Madden.” he wheezed, pulling a large, age and work gnarled hand out from under the sheet, extending it in Jamie’s direction. Jamie quickly walked up to the bed, taking the hand and shaking it. “Good. Nice, strong handshake ya got there.” he grinned. Jamie looked away, stepping back a bit from the bed. Why did everyone keep telling her that? The old man seemed to be able to read her thoughts, and chuckled deep in his throat. “I’m Larry McClure, and that one down there full of piss an wind is my granddaughter.”

“You’re the one I talked to on the phone?” Jamie asked, shoving her hands into her pockets. The old man nodded.

“That ya did. Ya do real good work ’round here, Jamie. Real good work.”

“Thank you, sir.” Jamie muttered. The old man’s face scrunched up as another coughing fit began to attack him again.

“Wa-…wa…water.” he managed to push out. Jamie looked around until she spotted the pitcher on the night stand next to a glass. She quickly filled it, and brought it to the old man’s lips. He sipped, and swallowed, closing tired eyes with a nod. “Thank ya.” he breathed. “So damn tired of coughin’.” he growled. Jamie glanced over at the oxygen tank near the foot of the bed with a brow raised in confusion. “Now, don’t ya ruin yer fine start here by hollerin’ ’bout no air.” Jamie glanced into fiery green eyes, and couldn’t help but laugh, long and hard. Larry McClure looked at her like she’d lost her mind, but then fell into his own laughter, swatting at her through the air as he swiped a finger through the tears that seeped from old, tired eyes. “You are one strange mare, Jamie Madden, but I like ya.” he chuckled. “Open them curtains, will ya?” he asked, sitting up a bit straighter in bed. Jamie shook her head at the old man, still grinning as she made her way over to the heavy drapes, pulling them open to allow the light of the afternoon to spill in and fill the room. She grabbed the widow, and with a grunt pushed it open. Fresh air met her face, laced with the slightest bit of moisture. A loud, angry voice also rushed in. Jamie stared down into the yard to see Tyg standing with the boys, her hands on her hips, shoulders pulled tight.

“I know ya’ll ain’t stupid!” she yelled at the stunned hands.

“Shit.” Jamie whispered, turning from the window, and heading toward the door.

“That Tyg down there?” the old man asked, his brows drawn in disapproval.

“Yup.” Jamie hurried from the room, nearly running Rosa over in the hall.

“What’s that all about?” the housekeeper asked as she entered McClure’s room with a tray holding the old rancher’s lunch.

“Donno. Tyg’s havin’ a hissy down there. Think Jamie’s gonna try an git her to calm.” he pulled weak legs out from under the sheet, and turned his body with a grunt. “Help me, woman.” he barked at Rosa. The old woman turned to him, a brow raised, her hands on her ample hips.

“Excuse me? ‘Cause I know you didn’t just order me around.” the old man glared up at her, any reply he may have had taken by the coughs that began to wrack his thin body. Rosa narrowed her eyes, and spotted the oxygen tank that Larry was supposed to be hooked to, and she knew he probably hadn’t been since she’d checked on him around ten that morning. “Okay, Wheezer, you see that burrito over there on that plate?” McClure nodded, eyes narrowed. “You put that damn air hose in your nose before I beat you with it!” Larry McClure opened his mouth to say something, but was stopped cold as Rosa put her hand in the air to cut him off. She walked over to him, and helped him lower himself into the wheel chair, and pushed him toward the window. “Now look down there, gramps. What do you see?”

“The ranch.”

“Yeah, and who runs that ranch?” McClure glared up at her, following the older woman as she noisily knelt down beside his chair, knees cracking from age and extra weight. “Larry, that girl is all you got, and you’re all she’s got.” Rosa turned dark, pleading eyes up to the old man. He sighed and glanced down at her, then out at the light of his life. Silently he nodded. He wasn’t ready to die yet, yet he knew that that’s exactly what would happen. Doc Nussen had told him just that. He wanted to make sure that Tyg was happy first. Only then would he be truly at peace.

Jamie ran down the stairs and out the front door to jump the three stairs that led to the yard. Tyg was in BJ Adam’s face.

“You know better than that half-assed shit, BJ!” the kid took a step back, not sure how to handle the fiery little blonde. Tyg followed. “Ya’ll’ve been her for two goddamn years! You wanna start lookin’ for a new job? Fine by me! I-”

“Tyg!”

The little blonde whirled around to see Jamie standing about two yards away. Her green eyes almost immediately lost their burn as she took in the hard blue stare, pensive stance of the tall brunette. The rancher realized to her surprise, that she was ashamed that Jamie had seen her lose her head like that. How long had the hand been standing there? Tyg’s shoulders slumped, and she glanced over her shoulder at her boys who looked terrified. Should they stay? Go? Look at her? Look away? Tyg felt emotion rising in her throat, and she took a deep breath. What have I done? These boys don’t deserve this shit from me….

“I’m sorry.” she whispered, and quickly made her way out of the yard, heading toward the corrals.

Jamie met the shocked gazes of the other hands who stared at her, almost asking her what to do. Jamie took a deep breath and walked toward BJ who was pale, and looked near tears.

“I’m sorry, Jamie.” he said. “We didn’t mean ta do such a bad job on them fences. Didn’t think we had.” Jamie placed a large hand on his shoulder.

“Why don’t you guys head over there and start on repairs, okay?” the hands nodded, looking relieved to have someone take over. “Take some extra wire.”

Rosa and Larry McClure watched the show, both in utter shock at Tyg’s actions, as well as Jamie’s. The housekeeper turned dark eyes to the old man, and slowly a wide smile spread across her thick lips, mirrored by that that crossed Larry’s face.

Jamie, unsure what she should do, decided to follow Tyg. She wasn’t sure how the smaller woman would react to it, but what the hell. The worse that could happen is she’d be told to go away.

Tyg made her way to the barn, her vision blurred by tears that she could not make stop. Hazelnut glanced at her, whickering and nodding her golden head at the rancher. Tyg opened the stall door, and grabbed Nut’s brush from the wall. Without a word, she began to brush the mare with slow, even strokes, trying to calm herself. She had never in her life treated anyone like she had treated her boys today. Especially BJ. She thought of the unusually sensitive young man, and felt a fresh wave of tears begin. She cared about those boys who worked so hard for her, and would never, ever unnecessarily get on them. Not before today. They trusted her, respected her because she trusted and respected them. Hector and Cal were her problem, and she had no right to take it out on them.

Jamie entered the hot, stuffy stable area, immediately the tell tale sound of brushing. She walked to the end where Hazelnut was housed, and sure enough, Tyg was there. The Palomino snorted as she stood at the door to the stall. Tyg did not look up from the brushing, couldn’t stand the thought of meeting those blue eyes that she just knew she’d see so much disapproval in.

“Tyg?” Jamie said, her voice quiet. Tyg’s only answer was a quiet sniffle. “Tyg, look at me.” slowly watery green eyes met blue. Tyg could not believe the amount of understanding she saw in Jamie’s gaze. She swiped at an errant tear, and sighed. Jamie took a step forward, resting her hand on the open half-door of Hazelnut’s stall. “You okay?’ Tyg nodded.

“I’m sorry.” she said, her voice barely a whisper. She hung Nut’s brush back on its nail, and turned back to Jamie, her fingers nervously tracing the lines of a knot in the wood of the wall of the stall.

“It’s okay. They know you didn’t mean it, Tyg.” Jamie said gently.

“I’ve never raised my voice to them before.” fresh tears began to fill the blonde’s eyes. “I can’t believe I did that. I was just so mad at Cal.” she finished lamely.

“Wanna talk about it?” the rancher shook her head, but the tears continued to slowly streak her sun kissed skin. Jamie felt her heart swell with her own unchecked emotion. She took another step forward, raising a hand, gently wiping away the salty wetness with the tip of her finger. Tortured green eyes looked up at her, pleading for understanding, for forgiveness, for… something. Jamie sucked in her breath as she felt her body beginning to respond to Tyg’s closeness. She quickly dropped her hand, and stepped back. “I’ve got work to do.” she mumbled, turning away from the beautiful blonde. “I sent the boys out to the fence.” she said, just before she left Tyg standing alone in the barn, one hand resting on the top of the door where Jamie’s had been seconds before, the other hand touched the heated skin of her face before it dropped to her side, burying itself in a front pocket of her shorts.
<><><>
Jamie made her way to the old Ford, wanting to get those bales finished before the rain started up again. She glanced up at the iron sky, the rain stopped, but the clouds looked as if they weren’t quite done yet. She chuckled as she realized that she had not even grabbed that rain coat; the whole reason for going upstairs. Suddenly she felt bad, guilty, like she had taken something from Tyg that she had no right to take; the woman’s privacy. She was glad she had seen that other side to the small blonde, but wished she had gone about it a different way. Jamie did not see herself as a particularly nosey person, and was surprised she had done it. But what’s done is done.

Jamie was about to yank open the old, squeaky door to the Ford when Marty ran up the road, heading for the tractor barn.

“Gonna start to bale before it gets too dark.” he yelled as he disappeared inside. Jamie nodded, and climbed into the cab of the old truck. She loved the smell of the old vehicle. It smelled of well used leather and vinyl, old dirt and sweat. As she backed out of the yard she saw the green and yellow John Deere tractor pulling the baler behind it. Marty waved, and headed out toward the south pasture to gather up and bale the excess hay.

Jamie pulled up to the flatbed, and climbed on top to finish with her own bales. Her body began to work on auto-pilot, as did her mind. She saw Tyg’s expressive eyes again, so full of sorrow and hurt. Jamie knew the little blonde would never do anything to hurt anyone, especially her boys. Those men were her family, and she cared about each and every one of them. That was why she had gotten so angry and upset over Cal. Jamie knew Tyg felt betrayed by the hand. She just wished she knew what the hell was going on.

Then she thought about just how close she had come to doing something really, really stupid. Looking down into that face, those full lips ever so slightly parted, god, it had been so tempting. Far too tempting. Jamie felt like a coward running from the blonde, but that had been her only choice. Tyg was not interested, and neither could she. She-

Jamie’s thoughts were interrupted by an earth-shattering scream that filled that late afternoon. Her head jerked up, and her eyes narrowed on the tractor that rested about a half mile from where she was set up. Without thinking, Jamie jumped full speed off the flatbed, running toward the baler, her heart beating as fear sunk heavy claws into her gut. The screaming continued, guiding her to Marty who lay on the ground, one arm inside the moaning teeth of the baler.

“Jesus Christ!” Jamie breathed as she ran to the cab of the tractor searching frantically for an OFF switch to the baler. Nothing. She jumped down and saw a long, black cable that led to the power source. She grabbed it, and with everything in her, yanked until with a spark, it came lose, and the machine whistled to a stop. Marty had stopped screaming, but his dark eyes were glazing over, and Jamie could tell he was beginning to go into shock.

“What happened?” someone yelled as Jamie heard footsteps approaching.. Jamie ignored them, and turned to the gruesome scene before her. She swallowed as she reached toward the bloody mass that was at the end of Marty’s arm. She tugged until it came lose, and she stared at the meaty stump. “Ah, jeez!” Wilbur Martin cried as he skidded to a stop next to the fallen man. “Ahh, jeez, Marty,” he breathed.

“Shut up.” Jamie hissed at the black man. “Don’t scare him anymore than he already is.” within seconds a crowd had gathered around the tractor. Marty was out cold, his arm clutched tightly to his chest. Jamie glanced over at Bobby, and spotted the open flannel he had on over his t-shirt. “Give me that.” she snarled. The hand quickly stripped out of the shirt, and threw it to her. Jamie pried the mutilated hand out of the death grip Marty had on it, and tied the shirt around it tightly to try and stem the bleeding. “Someone go get a truck.” Jamie hollered, and heard someone run off.

“Oh my god.” Jamie looked up from the young boy to see green eyes staring with disbelief. “What happened?”

“The baler.” Jamie said, and lifted the nearly lifeless body into strong arms, and stood, walking toward the truck that was pulling up in front of them. Jamie opened the door to the half cab in back, and laid Marty on the narrow seat, climbing in with him. “Let’s go!” she shouted to Tim Russo who sat behind the wheel. The man, turned pale, nodded, and gunned the engine.

“Wait!” Tyg tore the door open to the passenger side, and slammed it behind her. She glanced back over her shoulder and met concerned blue eyes. “Go.” Tyg said, and the truck took off.
<><><>
The drive to St. Maurice Hospital took close to twenty-five minutes, and Jamie was getting worried as the shirt was nearly totally red. Marty had lost an immense amount of blood.

The truck came to a screeching halt at the entrance to the ER. Tyg jumped out of the truck, and yanked open Jamie’s door so the tall woman could climb out, and gather the young boy in her arms.

Tyg’s heart was beating out of her chest as she watched Marty being taken away on a gurney. Jamie watched the blonde carefully. She walked up to her, laying a hand on her shoulder.

“He’ll be okay, Tyg.” she assured softly. Tyg turned watery green eyes on the tall woman, and to Jamie’s surprise, folded into her. At first Jamie was hesitant to return the hug, but then laid her cheek on top of soft, blonde hair, pulling the small woman close as the rancher began to cry. Jamie said nothing, knowing there was nothing she could say. She knew that Tyg was blaming herself for the accident because of what had happened earlier. She felt strong fingers dig into her back, and tightened her embrace even more.

Rosa rushed into the ER followed by four very eager men. Just past the front desk she spotted Timmy who sat in a chair, chewing on a fingernail nervously. Then she saw Tyg who was wrapped in strong arms. A slight smile of thanks crossed her lips as she glanced at Jamie. Suddenly her gaze was met by blue. Jamie looked over Tyg’s head, seeing the housekeeper, and smiled back.

Rosa slowed her pace as she made her way through a small crowd that had gathered around a nurse until she finally reached the trio.

“Any news?” she asked. Tyg pulled slowly away from the warm body of Jamie, and turned to Rosa, wiping at her eyes and nose. She shook her head, long bangs falling into green eyes. Rosa reached out, and gently pushed the hair aside, just as she’d been doing since the blonde had been a child. Just then a man in green scrubs and white lab coat pushed through the swinging double doors, a chart in his hand.

“Marty Jiminez?” he asked, looking around at the expectant faces. Tyg turned to walk toward him, followed closely by Rosa. The doctor’s gray eyes turned to them. “Hello. I’m Dr. Zwick. Well, Mr. Jiminez’s injuries to the nerves of the arm, and bone was quite severe and extensive.” he began. Rosa put a hand on Tyg’s shoulder. Jamie stepped back to stand near the wall, leaning a shoulder against it. “We are going to have to amputate part of the remaining arm.” Tyg sucked in a breath, and the housekeeper squeezed her shoulder in support.

“How much?” the blonde asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.

“Well, just below the elbow.” the doctor said, placing two fingers on his own arm to show the exact area. Tyg glanced down at it, not sure what to think. “He’ll be fine, though, let me assure you.” Tyg glanced up into kind gray eyes, and nodded, feeling numb. The doctor smiled at the group, and pushed back through the doors. Tyg turned to Rosa, her eyes conveying everything that she couldn’t make her mouth say. The older woman took the small blonde into warm, familiar arms, rocking the sobbing woman.

Jamie looked on as the hands gathered around their boss until it was one big hug. She sighed quietly as she realized just how alone she felt.
<><><>
Jamie stood at the sink of her cabin, scrubbing at the tank that she had been wearing that day, the material soaked in places with Marty’s blood. She made a paste of baking soda and cold water, and after much of it had come out with the help of a brush, she let it soak. She stared down into the plugged sink, watching as little bubbles popped around the submerged shirt, and the water quickly began to turn a pinkish-red. She sighed and stared out the small window that was above the sink, staring out into the night that was beginning to fall on the ranch. Tyg had told everyone to take tomorrow off. She said that they’d had enough excitement for one day. Jamie was glad for the break. She was tired, and wanted to get out, climb on her bike, and just drive. But first she planned to stop by and see Marty in the hospital. Before they’d all left, the kid had gone through surgery, and had been moved to a private room.

She wiped her hands on a towel, and opened the little fridge near the back door, grabbed a bottle of Guinness, popped the top on the counter, and took a long drawl, closing her eyes as the cold, stout brew slid down her throat.

“Oh, yeah.” she breathed as she lowered the beer, and walked over to the table, plopping down in one of the chairs, propping her booted feet up on the edge of the table. Jamie closed her eyes, leaning her head back, arms dangling over the arms of the chair. She cleared her mind of all that had happened that day, needing to not think, not care about anything. Caring was just too damn exhausting.

Jamie cracked an eye open at the soft tapping at her door. With a deep sigh, she threw her feet to the floor, and stood to head toward the door, opened it to see Tyg smiling shyly up at her. Jamie raised a brow in question.

“Howdy.”

“Howdy.” Jamie answered. Tyg looked down at the covered plate in her hands, and looked up into blue eyes, shadowed by the harsh glare of the porch light.

“Rosa sent me over here with this. I, well, she figured you hadn’t eaten since lunch, so, well,…” Tyg’s confidence began to falter when Jamie said nothing, and made no move to accept the offering of thanks. “I’m sorry. I’m sure you’re tired-”

“No.” Jamie shook herself from her stupor, and moved back from the open door to allow the rancher in. Tyg stepped by the tall woman, glancing around the small main room. She noted the bloody shirt in the sink, set the plate on the table.

“I’m sorry ’bout your shirt, Jamie.” the blonde said quietly. “I can get ya a new one.”

“Nah. Don’t worry about it.” Jamie plopped down in her chair again, taking a long swig from her beer. Tyg looked around, not sure just how welcomed she really was. “So, what’s ya got?” Jamie asked, leaning forward in her chair, nodding at the plate.

“Oh!” Tyg said, happy to do something. She took the glass lid from the plate, steam wafting up to curl into the air. Jamie glanced at the dish, and immediately her mouth began to water just at the smells that were filling her kitchen. Three pieces of fried chicken, their spices filling the room and her nose. A little dish of coleslaw made fresh, and a large pile of mashed potatoes smothered with brown gravy made from the chicken broth, and two fluffy, golden biscuits.

Tyg grinned at the expression on the hand’s face.

“Look good?” she teased. Jamie nodded absently. Tyg placed the plate on the table in front of Jamie, and turned back toward the kitchen. “Where ya keep the silver?” she asked, glancing over her shoulder at Jamie who had already began to dig into the chicken. She chuckled. Jamie pointed with a very greasy finger toward a drawer, her mouth too full to answer. Tyg pulled it open to find the small tray of tarnished spoons and forks and knives. She grabbed one of each, and placed them on the table next to Jamie’s plate. Jamie smiled a thanks, and pointed toward the other chairs at the table. Tyg sat, and rested her chin in the palm of her hand, staring at the quickly disappearing food. Jamie swallowed the big bite she’d just taken, and drew her brows at the blonde.

“You didn’t bring any for you?” the tall woman asked, sipping from her beer.

“I already ate, honey.” Tyg said with a small, tired smile.

Jamie nodded, and looked down at her plate, her appetite slowing down some, allowing her to pick more at her food rather than inhale it. She hadn’t realized that she’d been so hungry.

“I came by not only ta feed ya, but also to thank you.” Tyg said quietly, sitting back in her chair, crossing her arms over her chest. Jamie glanced at her before digging into the coleslaw. “You were a fine leader taday, Jamie. I know my boys sure ‘preciated it. I did, too.” she finished quietly. Jamie put her fork down, and looked into the troubled green eyes that suddenly refused to meet hers. A heavy silence fell over them both.

“Want a beer?” Jamie finally asked. Tyg met her gaze, and nodded with a smile. Jamie stood and walked over to the fridge, pulled the brown bottle up just over the top of the door with a raised brow. Tyg nodded, and the brunette popped the top, handing it to the blonde.

“Thanks.” Tyg said, taking a long swallow. “Ahhhh. Good, cold beer. Love it before I hit the sack.” Tyg leaned back in her chair, feeling more relaxed. She studied the hand, watching as she finished her dinner, and pushed the plate away with a pleased sigh.

“Thank you. And give my thanks to Rosa.” Jamie wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, and leaned back in her chair, and looked at the small rancher through hooded eyes. “So what’s really on your mind, boss lady?”

Tyg chuckled at the term her boys often used. She sighed deeply, and stared into Jamie’s blue eyes, trying to read the tall woman. Their azure depths were open, ready to hear. Deciding she could trust the hand, she took another sip from her beer, and set the bottle down on the hard wood of the table.

“Ya know Cal worked for me for three years? Three years.” the small blonde leaned forward, resting her elbows on the table, burying her face in her hands. “I never thought he’d betray me like that, Jamie.” Jamie said nothing. She had no idea what Tyg was talking about, but figured she’d give her some space, let her tell the story. “When daddy was gamblin’ he messed with the wrong people, and got all mixed up with this basta’d, Hector. He don’t play for money. He plays for land.” Jamie nodded her understanding. “My father went off to prison when I was just a girl, and when he got out, he still owed Hector a lotta winnin’s. He’s still collectin’.” Tyg pushed away from the table and walked to the back door, staring out toward the stream that flowed behind about thirty yards away. “Ya got such a pretty view from here, Jamie.” she said quietly. Jamie glanced over her shoulder at the other woman, but remained silent. Tyg sighed and turned away. “It’s late.” Tyg grabbed her beer from the table and walked to the front door. She stopped, her hand on the knob. “Thanks for listening, honey.” she said quietly before opening the door, and heading out into the muggy night. Jamie stared at the door for a moment, surprised at Tyg’s sudden exit.

Tyg leaned back against the wooden door, closed her eyes before staring up into the vast, star-filled night. She had to get out of there. Jamie’s quiet, unassuming nature was too much. She had never realized that too much understanding could be a bad thing, but for some reason around the tall hand, that is exactly what happened. Tyg just wanted to spill her guts, cleanse her soul that her father had tainted so long ago, taking her trust with him when he disappeared. She felt so much shame when she thought of her father, which was one bitter spoonful of medicine to be sure.

Tyg pushed away from the door, and headed for her truck. She needed to get some sleep. Things would be clearer in the morning.
<><><>
The walls of the old hospital passed by, most looking the same from one hall to the next. The white tile speckled with gray on the floor had been recently buffed, and reflected the bright lights above, bouncing their white light against the white paint, and giving the place a sterile, untouchable look. Jamie glanced into the open rooms she passed, and thought of her mother.

Candy had only been thirty-five when she had been struck with breast cancer, the disease wiping her out within six months of diagnosis. Jamie had gone to school during the day, a sophomore in high school, Johnny in the third grade. She’d run and pick him up, stop to get them something to eat, then they’d head to the hospital where they’d stay until nine or ten at night. It had been a hard, mentally exhausting six months watching their mother fade away to nothing before their eyes, lying to the nurses and doctors that they had a grandmother in the area that they were staying with, and that they’d be fine.

Jamie could remember endless days sitting in the hard plastic chair next to her mother’s bed, and she’d read her homework out loud to the skeletal woman whether Candy had been asleep, awake, or just simply out of it from all the medication they had had her on to ease the pain as the life was quickly eased from her body, until finally one day she had gotten a call at school. The school nurse, Mrs. Mallory, had walked down to Jamie’s forth period American History class, and had escorted her out into the hall, and had told her that her mother had died. Jamie stared up at the woman with dull, expressionless eyes. The nurse had pulled the girl into a tight embrace, and Jamie had stared over her shoulder, staring at a poster on the opposite wall the read: JUST SAY NO.

Jamie found room number 203, and stepped into a small, white room with a bathroom off to the left, and a small closet next to it. The narrow bed was to the right with a plain, wood nightstand next to it littered with a blue carafe of water and plastic cups, and a tray of half-eaten food. Marty lay on the bed, his left arm resting over his chest, his bandaged right out next to his body, ending just below his hip.

Jamie stared down at the sleeping boy who reminded her so much of Johnny in many ways. His sweet, simple disposition, and curious nature. He was a good kid, and did not deserve this.

“Hey.” a quiet voice said. Jamie looked down into dark eyes, barely open. She smiled down at the hand.

“Hey, kid. Sorry if I woke you.”

“Nah, I was only half sleepin’.”

“Mind if I sit?” Jamie asked, indicating the chair that was against the wall behind her. The boy shook his head, slowly trying to sit up a little. “Wait.” Jamie piled some pillows behind him, and helped him scoot back. “‘Kay?” Marty nodded. Jamie grabbed the chair, and drug it to his bed, plopping down. She looked around the small room. “Nice place you got here.” she said with a smile. Marty smiled, but it was gone quicker than it came. “How you doin’?” she asked quietly.

“Okay, I guess. Hurts some.” the boy said, glancing down at the pale arm that lay useless at his side. Suddenly the boy looked away from Jamie, hiding his eyes from her. She could hear him sigh deeply, trying to keep the emotion down. This was the first time he’d been lucid since the day before. They had kept him doped up to keep the initial pain of the injury, as well as the surgery, down. He hadn’t thought about the ramifications of things yet, and now it suddenly hit him like a ton of bricks. Marty felt like a child as a sob burst from his throat before he could stop it. Jamie was up in a heartbeat, pulling the boys head to her chest, cradling him.

“You have any parents, Marty?” she asked softly, and felt the boy shake his head.

“They’re all dead.” he said, his voice muffled from Jamie’s embrace. She sighed, and stared out the small window. “What am I gonna do, Jamie?” the tall woman felt the boy pull away, and she let him go, taking a step back to gaze into watery brown eyes, so filled with fear and panic. Jamie sat in the chair again, allowing him the space to wipe his eyes and blow his nose.

“Well, my guess would be you’re going to do exactly what you’ve been doing for the last year.” Jamie said, her voice soft, gentle, yet firm.

“How! I ain’t got no arm!” Marty cried, lifting the stump.

“And your point would be?” Jamie asked, leaning back in the chair, one jean-clad leg crossing over the other knee. She swung her booted foot at the ankle. The boy looked at her stunned, not expecting her to say that. He felt his anger build.

“Hell, Jamie, I’m only half a man now, half anything! Who’d want me ta work fer ’em?” he exclaimed passionately. “I ain’t worth nothin’!” Jamie raised a lazy eyebrow.

“Well, my guess would be Tyg McClure.”

The heavy soles of the boots made a dull thump on the hard floor as Tyg made her way down the long hall heading to Marty’s room. She balanced the warm dish of a homemade burrito smothered with Rosa’s famous green chili, and side of Spanish rice. All the boy’s favorites, on the other hand as she neared the room. She stopped when she heard talking, and immediately recognized Jamie’s low, velvety voice followed by the thin, frightened voice of her worker.

Tyg walked to the doorway of the hospital room, and stopped when she heard a loud sob. She peeked around the corner, most of her body still in the hall. She listened to what was being said, feeling a bit like a Peeping Tom, but couldn’t move if she had wanted to.

“But, why would she want me workin’ for her now?” the boy said, his voice filled with desperation. “What in hell can I do fer the ranch now!”

Jamie knew that she was speaking for Tyg now, but she knew deep down that the rancher would back her up one hundred percent in reassuring the boy.

“Well, Marty, lots of things. You can paint. You know all those out buildings could use a new coat. I hear you’re real good at tooling leather, could help with the equipment for the horses. Hell, man, the possibilities are endless. Hell, maybe even Rosa could use some extra help.”

Tyg stifled a chuckle at the thought of Marty working with the feisty older woman. She could hear the boy laugh at the idea as well, and then heard Jamie’s low chuckle.

“Well, you catch my drift.” Jamie grinned.

Tyg was genuinely touched by Jamie’s efforts. She had not expected to see the taller woman there, but then again for some reason it did not surprise her. The last two days the hand had more than shown she was full of surprises.

Tyg stepped away from the wall and stood in the doorway, knocking lightly on the open door.

“Boss lady!” Marty smiled, then the smile faltered, and his face fell. Tyg gave him and Jamie a winning smile and walked in to the room.

“How goes it, honey?” she asked, setting the plate unceremoniously in his lap. Marty drew his brows, then reached down to take the foil off the plate. A wide smile spread across his pale face.

“Rosa’s?” he asked hopefully.

“Who else?” Tyg said, looking around for another chair.

“Here. Take mine.” Jamie said, standing and moving to the side. Tyg looked up at her.

“I’m not taken’ your chair, honey.”

“Well, I was just about to head out anyway.” Jamie took a step toward the door, and looked back at the boy who was beginning to dig into the Mexican food. “See you around, kid.” she said as she walked out of the room.

Tyg watched the tall woman leave, almost sorry to see her go. She had such a quiet, calming presence. With a quiet sigh, she turned back to the boy with a wide smile.
<><><>
Jamie stepped out into the early afternoon sun, letting its warmth spread through her body after feeling so suffocated and cold in the hospital’s disinfected corridors. She hated hospitals and what they represented. She made her way out to the parking lot and smiled when she spotted her baby, the sun glinting off its highly polished chrome. She had decided to go exploring throughout LaGrange and its outlying areas.

The bike started up with a roar that made an elderly woman walking through the parking lot jump. Jamie chuckled, then pulled out of the space, headed for the open road.

The bike purred along the main street of the town which was HWY 77, glancing at the small business; clothing stores, cafes, feed stores, pottery barns, candy shops, a barber, and a shoe store. She thought about how ironic life was. Once upon a time during her days in Denver and Arvada, the big life had been her thing. She had had to keep it somewhat low key to avoid suspicion from the wrong people, trying to stay out of jail, and Johnny from ending up in some strange people’s house. Her smile was full of self-disgust. Look how good that had turned out. She never did get caught for her own dealings, but ended up behind bars covering up for her brother’s. Look at her now. A tiny town filled with simple people, good, hard-working people who want to keep things simple.

Throughout the years Jamie had wondered what had really happened that night. When the police arrived they had found an ounce and a half of uncut cocaine on Carson Lincoln’s body. That had gotten her more time. If it hadn’t been for the drug charge, her attorney was going to get her sentence plea-bargained to second degree with a three year sentence with a year parole. The self-defense plea had been shot down because Lincoln had not had a weapon. It didn’t happen that way, unfortunately. Jamie had never gotten the chance to ask Johnny or talk to him about it. She never mentioned it in any of her letters, and neither did he. Incoming mail was gone through at random, and she did not want her little brother condemning himself.

Carlos had mentioned to her at one time then that he had heard a rumor that the younger Madden was getting involved with the drug circuit, making money. Jamie had not wanted to believe it, and had asked her brother about it. He had denied everything, so she believed him, and it was never brought up again. Carson Lincoln was known as a bad boy. He had come from a very well known family with lots of money, and Lincoln had seen himself as invincible. And nearly had been until he’d decided to fuck with Johnny Madden.

The business’ were getting far and few in between as the town gave way to the outskirts and spread out into wide, green, hills dotted with large heads of cattle, or wild, running horses. She sped by, absorbing the peace of the day, some of the farmers and ranchers waving as she passed. She waved back, letting everything that had happened wash over and out of her, left behind with the exhaust from the bike. The hot wind blew through her hair like baptismal fingers, cleansing her soul.

Off in the distance, just past the line of rail fence, Jamie spotted a side road, dirt, that climbed a hill, and disappeared down the other side. Curious, she slowed, and headed down it, the back tire kicking up gravel as she roared up the small hill. She slowed and stopped at the crest, stunned by what she saw on the other side. The valley was wide in its expanse, seeming untouched by the corrupting hand of man, and kissed by God. The lush, green hills gave way to a long, wide river that reflected the natural wonder around it, Tall, green trees were spaced throughout the area, birds singing and flying from branch to branch, tree to tree.

Jamie smiled, unable to stop it. Feeling the need to be ensconced in the magical place, she brought the rumbling bike to life, and headed down the embankment slowly until she reached the grassy shore of the river, and killed the engine. The tall woman plopped down in the grass next to the water, legs spread, knees raised, hands dangling off the tops. She set the walkman she’d grabbed from one of the saddlebags on her bike aside for a moment, and stared out over the river, the water softly gurgling like a child. Everything smelled so fresh, so alive. She absently ran a hand over the top of the long, wild grass, the stiff blades tickling her palm. If ten years ago someone would have told her this is where she’d be at twenty-nine, and this is the kind of place she’d fine peaceful, she would have laughed in their face, utterly miffed by such an outrageously boring place.

Jamie reached over and grabbed the headphones, tucking the small ear pieces into her ears, and hitting play. Soon the soft, riveting drums of the beginning song on the soundtrack of ‘Last of the Mohicans’ filled her ears and mind, and the tall brunette laid back in the grass, closing her eyes as images passed through her mind’s eye to match the music. Images from her life, images from her dreams and nightmares, both real and imagined. She saw people from her past that had been guiding lights to a lost, afraid child. Especially those people she knew for the first ten short years of her life with her father. A small smile spread across full lips as Jamie stared up into the blue sky above.

Ryan O’Reilly, or Big O as he was known, had been her mentor from the time she’d been born. O’Reilly had taken Jamie away from the rest of the gang one day when they’d been set up in New Mexico. They’d walked along the riverbank, much like the one where Jamie was now, and he’d told her the story of his ancestry, and that of hers. Big O and Jamie’s father had been born next door to each other in the slums of Dublin to parents who either died when the boys were very young, or didn’t give a damn about them, and left them to fend for themselves. As young boys they had headed up north until they had met with members of the IRA, and had been taken into the fold, happy to be accepted, and take revenge for a life of the forgotten.

John had been born to the family McFadden, an old Irish family of royal roots, as well as the O’Reilly’s. O’Reilly had told Jamie of the time that him and John had been running from Dublin in the cloak of darkness, and had been visited by a vision of an ancient Druid who had come to tell them not to take the fiery path that they were speeding down like a runaway horse. To stop, and follow the path of their fathers before them. Jamie had looked up at the large man in stunned silence, her mouth hanging open.

“Wow.” she’d breathed, truly impressed. Then her brows drew. “But you didn’t listen to it?” she asked.

“No that. We sure didn’t.” he had said, sadly shaking his head. She smiled at the slightest bit of accent that he could not shake. Her father had managed to lose just about all of his, not wanting to be reminded of his roots. “To this day I’m not sure if it were really there or not. Your father says no, but I say tis. I regret that now, little Jamie. The Ancients don’t come round just to hear themselves speak.” Once they had gotten north, they had done terrible things to their fellow countrymen for a cause which they themselves did not believe in.

“Then why’d you do it?” Jamie had asked.

“‘Cause we could, I suppose.” he sighed. “Funny that. We left Ireland to get away from that, and look at us now?”

At the time Jamie had not understood what he meant by that, but now, nearly twenty years later, she understood the power behind his words, and their meaning. They had traded one life of violence for another.

Big O had taught Jamie Gaelic until she could speak it fluently, and after awhile he would talk to her in no other tongue. When Mad Dog Madden had gotten wind of this, he’d been furious.

“I left that goddamn place to get away from it, Ryan, not have to listen to that shit all goddamn day!” John had yelled at his close friend. Big O had agreed to stop, but he hadn’t. He told Jamie that on entering the United States in their early twenty’s, John had changed his name from McFadden to Madden. Yet the last piece of his homeland to shed like you would a coat. He had shaken his head sadly. He had told her he wanted to go back, and she often wondered if he ever had. The last words Big O had spoken to Jamie had stayed with her;

“What a shame. Look where my family started, King of the mountain, Lords of the land. Now I’m a traitor. Not even fit to lick their boots.”

Jamie sat up, looking around. The sun was lower in the sky, and she realized that she was hungry. It was time to head back to the ranch.
***********************

Translations

diabhal (dee-of-all) Satan baol (bay-oil) dangerous
saoire (see-re) freedom aistriocht(ash-re-och) like no other
nos gui (nose) (gee) like the wind capall (cop-all) horse

************************

Part 5
Tyg laid in bed, the warm night air blew her lace curtains gently, making quiet wisps of noise. She sighed and raised her arms, crossing her wrists over her head, stared up at the dark ceiling of her room, the bright moonlight painting blue shadows on the walls. She could feel her body responding to the night, her blood running hot through veins long forgotten about. Tyg brought a hand down and laid it on her tank-clad stomach, grazing soft fingertips over the flat, hard surface. Jamie’s blue eyes flashed before her mind’s eye, and she felt a new wave of heat run through her, headed south.

For the first time in a few years the small blonde let her thoughts wonder to Carol Chandler, the horse wrangler from Kansas. She had been incredible, especially to a young, naive, inexperienced nineteen year old. Carol had been her senior by twenty years, and was no fool.

Larry McClure had had his eye on a bunch of Mustangs that Carol had freshly broke, and ready to go. Tyg had been on spring break at Brown, so Larry had asked her to go with him to see how it was done. Larry already knew at that point that it would be his last year running the ranch, but didn’t have the heart to break it to Tyg. He knew of her dreams and ambitions of becoming a successful business woman in some big city somewhere. The girl had one hell of a head for business on her shoulders.

Tyg and Larry had driven up in Larry’s old Jimmy with the horse trailer hooked to the back. Long trip, but at least it had been a mild spring, and the heat hadn’t been too bad for a road trip.

Tyg looked on in awe at the huge ranch. She had heard that Carol was a widow, and had taken over the place after her husband had been killed in a riding accident. The Chandler’s were one of the best known breakers in the area. The large truck pulled up to the medium sized ranch-style house, and a woman met them in the dirt drive. Tyg had been stunned by the woman right off. Her short, sun-bleached hair, darkly tanned face with some lines around the deep brown eyes when she smiled. The average height, but muscled frame fit snugly in the wranglers, and orange t-shirt. Tyg had been struck dumb. Throughout her life, the little blonde had known that she’d been attracted to women, but had never acted on it, never giving in. At school she’d been asked out by many, many guys, but had declined. She had been interested in a few of the girls, but had deemed her studies more important. Carol Chandler blew every theory and decision she’d made concerning love right out the window.

Larry had decided to spend 8 days at the Chandler ranch so he could see just exactly what their horses, and practices were all about. Carol volunteered to take Tyg under her wing, show her all her techniques with breaking green horses, and wild, unteachables. The older woman had been kind, courteous, and utterly irresistible.

Tyg ran her fingers down her stomach until she reached the hem of her shirt, slipped beneath to the warm, smooth flesh. It had been awhile since she’d been touched, and even longer since she’d been touched by someone she cared about, or cared about her.

It had only taken Carol three days before she had the young blonde eating out of her hand, begging for more. The rancher had taught Tyg everything she knew about making love to a woman, and Tyg had been completely gone, not even realizing in a young, idealistic mind that Carol was a lover, not to be loved. Too late. Tyg had been crushed, devastated by Carol’s rejection of her. Not long after, Larry had fallen to his first dangerous bout of emphysema, and Tyg had had to quit school and take over. That day she had decided that she had enough on her plate, and did not need anything else. Love could wait.

Tyg stopped the downward movement of her fingers, walking along her flesh as if they had a mind of their own. She laid her palm flat against the warm skin of her stomach, and sighed. Jamie came to mind again. What was it about the tall, stoic woman? Jamie had somehow managed to ignite a fire in the small blonde that she had thought doused forever. She still could not read the hand, but she felt the tender side of the brunette, saw it, even though Jamie had no clue she possessed it. Tyg was intrigued by her, a little more every day. Marty had been released from the hospital two days ago, and they had welcomed him back with a huge dinner loaded with all his favorites. The hands, Rosa, and even her granddaddy had gone to bring back their wounded. Tyg remembered looking for Jamie, spotting her off to the side, by herself. The dinner had been outside near the old barn. Jamie had camped out on a large bale of hay, her plate of food in her lap, tall glass of iced tea on the ground near her feet. Some of the boys had walked over to her and talked and laughed with the taller woman, but she had never joined them.

Tyg closed her eyes, sleep creeping up on her after such a long, stressful week. She had called in Buddy Caldwell to help her look over the baler. It had been fixed the week before Marty’s accident, and Tyg’s blood had been chilled when she realized that Cal had fixed it. He’d fixed it alright, fixed it so well that Marty lost a hand and part of an arm. She had been livid, and could not figure out why Cal had done something so vicious. Then she had thought of Hector, and would be willing to bet that the son of a bitch had told the hand to do it. Sabotage things so he could get his hands on the rest of the land. Tyg knew that her ranch sat on land that was worth a fortune. It she had a mind to sell, she’d be set for the rest of her life.

“Never.” she growled before she felt sleep claim her.
<><><>
The high pitched whinny of a horse filled the late afternoon. Jamie drew her brow and turned from her place near the back of the barn, pounding in new nails in the lose hinge of the door. The sound of the stressed animal was followed by hollering from what sounded like BJ or Briar.

“Come on, ya damn, stubborn horse!” another whinny was the answer. Jamie, suddenly feeling butterflies beating against her ribs, dropped her hammer, and ran over to the corral. Sure enough, BJ and his brother Briar were trying to take hold of the rope they’d somehow managed to get around the black mare’s neck. “Come on, BJ! Grab it!”

“I’m tryin’!” the younger Adams’ grunted as he ducked around the side of the animal that was up on her hind legs, front flailing through the air.

“What the hell are you doing!” Jamie yelled as she rounded the corner, taking in the scene. Both men whipped around, matching pale blue eyes filled with surprise, looking like they’d been caught with a hand in the cookie jar. Briar hopped up onto the fence, and climbed over, helping his younger brother do the same.

“Well, uh, well Tyg said whoever can git ‘er broke can have ‘er.” Briar said, hitching his thumb back at the Arabian. Jamie glanced at the horse that was still obviously upset, the rope, pale against her midnight color, whipped the end around as she bucked, and ran around the small pen. Jamie walked toward the fence, her eyes riveted on the beast. The brothers watched on, curious to see what the tall woman would do. Jamie climbed up on the fence, leaning over, staring into the coal-black eyes of the animal. The mare snorted once, digging her front hoof into the dirt, a cloud of dust swirling around her.

“Shhhhh.” Jamie said, then slowly climbed up over the top rail, jumping down the other side.

“Uhh, Jamie.” BJ stammered, his eyes never leaving the mare.

“Quiet.” Jamie hissed over her shoulder, keeping the eye contact. “Hey there, Aistriocht. Calm.” she cooed, slowly taking a step forward. The animal stared, pounding the ground lightly with a hoof. “You act like diabhal himself. But you’re not, you’re not evil. But I gotta tell you. You’ve got these boys mighty scared of ya. They just don’t understand you do they, girl.” Jamie spotted the end of the rope lying just a few yards away. If she could get the animal to calm just a bit, she could grab it. “Come on, girl. Be a good capall, now.” Jamie inched closer, slowly bending, never breaking eye contact, so she could reach for the end of the rope. A bit closer, closer. “Yes, steady, steady….”

Tyg saw the small crowd that had began to gather near the rowdy pen. She drew her brows, and headed over.

“What’s going on?” she asked Wilbur. The worker put his hand up to stop her, then pointed to Jamie and the wild Arabian. Tyg followed his finger, and sucked in a breath. Is she insane? Jamie was within a coupe feet of the mare now, and to her immense surprise the horse seemed to almost be keeping an eye on the on-lookers, not Jamie. Was she trying to protect the hand? Nah. Crazy.

“Rosa!” Larry McClure called, unable to tear his eyes off of the scene at the corrals. The old man had been given the okay to use a walker to get around so he could go downstairs. Now he sat at one of the wrought iron tables on the wrap around porch, watching Jamie and the Arabian. The housekeeper stepped out of the side door, a dishtowel in hand.

“What do you want?” she grumbled. Larry pointed, and the older woman’s eyes bulged. “Tyg hasn’t been able to get near that crazy beast.” she breathed. The old rancher nodded in agreement. They both watched breathless.

Jamie was within a foot now of the horse, and she raised her head when she noticed that the mare was looking toward the fence. Jamie glanced over her shoulder and chuckled when she saw the entire ranch standing around watching. What was the big deal? She shook her head, and leaned down to grab the rope. She jerked slightly when she felt something, a slight weight, against her shoulder.

Tyg felt her stomach clench when she saw the Arabian bend her head down, heading for Jamie’s shoulder.

Jamie jerked again when she felt something wet, slightly rough graze the bare skin of her upper arm. She turned, staring up the long, black muzzle of the mare’s snout.

“Stop that.” she said, gently pushing the horse away. The horse snorted, and nudged the side of her head, running a huge tongue up the side, causing Jamie’s hair to stick up. Laughter erupted around them, Jamie glared at the hands and Tyg, making them laugh that much harder.

“I’ll be damned.” Larry chuckled. “The grandson I never had.”

Rosa looked down at the seated man, and whacked him in the shoulder with the back of her hand. The old man grabbed his stinging arm, glaring up at the older woman, then grinned. He could never stay mad at her long.

Tyg shook her head in disbelief, and walked toward the fence, nudging the hands out of her way as she got closer so she could meet Jamie as the tall woman climbed over the fence, after tying the mare to a rail.

“Well, looks like she belongs ta you, honey.” the rancher smiled up at startled blue eyes.

“She doesn’t belong to anyone.” Jamie said simply, jumping down from the top rail with a cloud of dust.

“Well, she’s yours ta do whatever ya want with, anyway.” Jamie chuckled when she saw the Adams’ brothers roll their eyes.

“Man,” BJ mumbled.

“I have never seen anything like that in my entire life, honey.” Tyg said in wonder, her arms crossed over her chest. “What are you, a horse whisperer?” Jamie chuckled and walked back toward the barn where she had been hammering. She shook her head.

“Nope. But the Druids would have called it driochtor.” she said simply. Tyg drew her brows, walking along with the tall woman.

“Dry what?” Jamie laughed.

“Dry-hic-tore.” Jamie sounded the word out. “Maker of magic.” Jamie looked down and saw the confusion in the smaller woman’s face. “The Celtic Druids.”
Tyg smiled wide.

“Well, that you do seem to be.”
<><><>

Jamie knelt on one knee pounding what seemed to be an endless supply of nails in, trying to repair the old barn. She glanced over and saw Marty sitting on a water barrel, his chin resting in his palm, staring at the dirt at his feet. The tall hand sighed, sensing how isolated the boy felt. She put two fingers to her lips, and whistled. The boy turned to stare at her, she beckoned him to her.

“Yeah?” he asked, his voice tired, bored.

“Get down here.” she ordered. Marty knelt next to her. “Hold that.” she indicated the nail that was stuck into the old wood just enough to make a tiny dent. Marty scrunched his dark brows, and grabbed it between the thumb and index finger of his left hand. Jamie pounded the nail home. Marty grinned at her, catching on. He grabbed another nail out of the leather pouch on the ground, and put it in place for her to hammer it in.

“I saw what ya did with that crazy horse yesterday, Jamie.” he said. Jamie quirked up the corner of her mouth, but said nothing. “That was amazin’!”

“Yeah, so they say.” she muttered.

“No, really. The boys ‘er callin’ ya a horse whisperer.”

“Been called worse.”

The hand chuckled. “Yeah, well you seem to be the tamer of all sorts of things.” he muttered. The tall woman glanced over at the boy, hammer in mid-swing. She turned back to her task.

“Meaning?”

“Well, meanin’ that I ain’t ever seen no one handle the boss lady like ya do.”

“Tyg takes care of herself, Marty. I have nothing to do with that.” she pounded the nail in a bit harder than she intended to, slightly grazing the boy’s thumb with the edge of the hammer. He yanked his hand away. Jamie smiled sheepishly. “Sorry.”

“I mean, she ain’t never treated any of the boys like she does you. I mean, don’t get me wrong ‘er nothin’. We all really like ya, and you’re real good at everythin’, but Tyg ain’t never givin’ no hand a hat, an never gives no one a ride to the house in the monrin’.”

Jamie stared at the boy, her brain processing what he was telling her, but not really understanding any of it. What was he saying? Marty glanced briefly at her, then looking back at the nail hanging precariously out of the wall.

“I guess I’m jus’ sayin’ I’m real glad she likes ya.” he finished quietly.

“Yeah. Me, too.” I think.

The day was hot, and Jamie was glad to finish with the barn. During the last big rain, the hay inside had taken a beating, and now the whole lot smelled rotten. She climbed down the ladder from the roof, her utility belt slung over her shoulder.

“Howdy.” Jamie nearly jumped out of her skin when she heard the small blonde speak. Tyg chuckled. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to take a year off yer life.” Jamie hit the ground, and grabbed the latter, tucking its long, aluminum frame under her arm.

“Well, you just lost a year that I can work for you.” the blonde smiled, then began to walk with the hand toward the old Ford.

“You headin’ up ta the house for lunch now?” Jamie nodded. “Mind if I catch a ride with ya? My truck died.” Jamie followed where Tyg pointed, the old green Chevy parked next to the fence in the south pasture.

“No problem.” Jamie smiled. Tyg nodded, then was quiet for a moment.

“So, uh, you goin’ to the carnival this weekend?” the blonde asked, her voice filled with hope. Jamie scrunched up her nose.

“I don’t know. Not much for big social events.”

“Oh, come on, Jamie. It’ll be fun!” Tyg exclaimed, for some reason really, really wanting the tall woman to go. Jamie looked down into pleading green eyes.

“I’ll think about it.” Tyg nodded, but her hopes shattered. There was just too much finality to it. She knew she would not see the beautiful hand there.

The boys piled into the kitchen, and Tyg plopped down in her usual spot. She glanced over at the chair to her left, and felt a pang of anger at Cal’s empty chair. Bastard. Her and Buddy Caldwell had not been able to find any proof of tampering with the baler, but Tyg just knew in her gut that Cal had been responsible for Marty’s accident. Buddy had stayed around, and had taken the piece of equipment apart, repairing the wiring that had been made bad, ensuring Tyg that that would never happen again on account of the machine.

Jamie took her hat off, tossing it onto the back of the chair, and sat with a sigh. It felt so good to sit. Her back was killing her from being hunched over on that damn roof all day. She glanced at the boys to hear them talking excitedly about the upcoming carnival. She again saw the hope in Tyg’s green eyes as the rancher had asked her to go. A part of her really wanted to, for Tyg’s sake. But the thought of mingling with a whole town of people that she did not know, would not fit in with, was not an appealing one. She knew that she could go with the boys, but she couldn’t hang out with them all night. She sighed again, and focused on the plate that was being put before her.

“Thanks, Ro-” she stopped herself when she met narrowed, dark eyes, and thick, dark brows. A wide smile spread across her lips.

“You laugh an yer dead.” Marty growled. She settled for an approving chuckle, and turned to the chicken fried steak before her. She watched under too-long sable bangs as Marty quickly made his way around the table, getting silver ware, taking glasses to be filled, or wiping up messes. She looked back toward where Rosa stood by the counter, a pleased smile across her plump face. The older woman met Jamie’s gaze, and smiled wider with a wink. Jamie smiled back, and dug in to her lunch.
<><><>
Tyg ran a hand down the front of her dress, noting the way the material clung to her body. She stared at her reflection in the full-length mirror on the back of her bedroom door.

The light-weight summer dress was a pale green color with tiny, dark green flowers printed on it, bringing out the color of her eyes. The rounded neckline dipped just low enough to show a teasing bit of cleavage, spreading out across her collar bones, with a line of small, round buttons down the front the same color as the flowers. The skirt was long, lose and comfortable, stopping just above her ankles, her darkly tanned, muscular arms bare. She stared down at the sandals on her feet, and then glanced back up at her hair. She wore it back on the sides, the gathered hair pulled back to flow down her back with the rest of her golden mane. She had pulled some strands lose, creating a few ringlets to bounce around the side of her face. She lightly fingered the thin, gold chain that she wore, the gold almost stark against her tanned skin.

Tyg took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, then opened the door, stepping out into the hall. She knocked on her grandfather’s door before opening it. The older rancher was sitting at the card table that Jamie had set up for him in the corner, playing solitaire.

“Hey, granddaddy.” she said, hugging him from behind, her cheek pressed to his as she glanced at the three cards he held in his hand. “Put the five of hearts on the six.” she said. The old man chuckled, and played the card. He patted the arms that still encircled his neck.

“Thanks, Tiger. Was jus’ ’bout to throw the damn hand down.” he took a deep breath. “Smell good, honey.” he turned to look at the girl. Tyg stood and walked to the side of the table, swirling around, holding her dress out to the sides with a sweet smile upon her gloss-tinted lips. “Ya’ll look beautiful, honey. Jus’ beautiful.” he smiled proudly.

“Why thank you, granddaddy.” the blonde smiled. “I just wanted ta let ya know I’ll be out tonight. Carnival’s in town.”

“Well, ya have a good time, littl’n.”

“Will do.” she kissed him on the cheek, and left.
<><><>
The party was well under way as Tyg drove up to the old rodeo grounds. Cowboys were everywhere, some escorting beautiful ladies, others lost in a crowd of fellow hatted buddies. The blonde pulled the break on her Chevy that she had managed to get fixed the day before, and slammed the door shut as she made her way into the crowd. The warm night air was filled with the sounds of distant music, stomping feet, loud laughter, and food. Her mouth began to water as she smelled the barbecue, and corn on the cob. She could easily gain ten pounds in just one night at the weekend long carnival.

The darkness that had been the parking lot was dispelled by hundreds of lights strung on everything that would stand still. She waved to folks as she went, knowing most everyone in town, even stopping to talk to a few that were running booths. She spotted a couple of her boys, and headed toward them.

“Boss lady!” BJ exclaimed. She laughed as she saw the pupils in his pale blue eyes enlarged.

“Careful how much you drink, honey. The nights jus’ begun.” she laughed, slapping the boy on the shoulder, nearly making him stumble forward.

“Hell, I ain’t drunk!” he shouted with a lop-sided grin.

“That’s right, honey. Ya’ll keep tellin’ yourself that.” the rancher grinned, and walked on. She scanned the crowed, but deep down she knew she wasn’t going to find who she was looking for.

Jamie took a deep, shaky breath. Why am I doing this? Not having an answer, she walked out of the cabin, shutting the door soundly behind her, and headed toward the barn. The bike roared to life, scaring a long moo out of some distant cow, and headed toward the archway of the Triple M.

The carnival was in full swing, townsfolk and ranchers alike talking and laughing, most holding a huge plastic cup of beer. Jamie walked by a booth that was selling bottles of Bud, and decided to grab one. Help to ease her nerves. The man behind the table grinned, his sun-hardened skin crinkling around kind blue eyes.

“Howdy.” he said, tipping his hat. Jamie smiled. “What kin I gitcha?”

“Light.” Jamie said, and the man pulled a bottle out of a cooler below the table, setting it on the table with a thud.

“Two big un’s.” Jamie reached into her pocket, and handed him the money, taking the beer out into the busy crowd with her.

The tall woman felt completely out of her element there. She knew she looked good in tight fitting black jeans, a white button-up shirt with the two top buttons undone. The black boots Tyg had bought her were polished to a shine, the black hat on her head, hair flowing down her back.

She heard a heavy country beat off in the distance, and followed it to a huge, raised dance floor. The octagon shaped structure had rails all around it, with tall poles interspersed about every eight feet holding up the roof. Bare bulbs hung over the crowd of dancers, and illuminated the stairs. At the back of the thing was another raised stage with a band set up. A drummer in the back, a man sitting at a steel guitar, and two guys with electric guitars, one with an acoustic, and one with a base. A woman stood behind a keyboard. The woman standing at the mic was gorgeous with long, red hair flowing from under her tan cowboy hat. She wore tight, sexy leather pants with fringe down the sides of her legs, and a south-western patterned short blouse, the ends tied just below her breasts. Her legs were planted wide apart, one toe of her shiny black boots tapping along with the song as her rough voice belted out an old Reba MacIntyre song.

Jamie saw some space at an old tree away from the people who were standing all around watching the dancers, or taking a break from dancing. She headed for it, and sipped from her beer, leaning a shoulder against the massive trunk, staring into the crowd. She was actually enjoying the music, to her surprise. That woman could belt it out!

Tyg whooped with her dance partner as the cowboy swung her around, her dress swirling around her legs as they moved, under his arm, swing back, under again, then face to face. Pat’s face was red from the exertion. Pat was a good ol’ boy who she’d known her whole life. They’d been dancing for the past two hours. Finally Tanya brought the song down to an end, and Pat grabbed the blonde, hugging her into his overheated body.

“That was great, honey!” she smiled, hugging the big cowboy. They parted and clapped with their fellow dancers. The band waited until everyone quieted down, then Tanya took the mic in both hands, her eyes closed as the beginning strands of the next song started. A shiver passed through her body as her head gently bobbed with the music. She took a deep breath, then began to sing.

“Crazy. Crazy for feelin’ so lonely. I’m crazy, crazy for feelin’ so blue,”

Tyg smiled as the red head began to sing. Pat had gone off, needing to cool off, so Tyg walked off the dance floor through the slowly moving bodies. She wished she had someone to hold her tight and move with her to the slow, breathy music. She was glad to see the stairs loom up just ahead of her, the night air hitting her face, glad to get away from the body heat of the folks behind her. She saw the old oak out in the yard about twenty feet away, a small crowd standing in front of it. Then she felt the hairs on her arms tingle, her heart pounding just a bit faster. Everything slowed in her mind as the small group moved off, and she saw the figure leaning lazily against the trunk. Long, jean-clad legs, one black boot crossed over the ankle of the other, arms crossed over her chest, black hat dangling off a couple of fingers. Tyg looked into the face, and met two blue eyes that were filled with fire.

Jamie saw the small blonde, and her heart nearly stopped. She took in Tyg’s dress that blew slightly in the night breeze, her golden hair slightly lifted from her shoulders with the same breath of wind. The light that blazed over the stairs from the naked bulb shone down on the small blonde, kissing her tanned skin, creating a halo of light around the slight body, as if blessing her. She looked like an angel. The tough, rugged rancher turned all woman.

Jamie watched Tyg who stood as if frozen, one hand resting on the rail, the other playing absently with the material of the dress at her side. Jamie stared up into green eyes that must reflect her own, surprise, quickly turning to fire, want, need, longing.

Jamie slowly pushed away from the tree, her eyes unable to leave Tyg’s. The small blonde took a step, slowly lowering herself down onto the top stair, then beginning to take another when suddenly Jamie’s view of the rancher was cut off by a large, rowdy crowd that was walking by. The spell was broken, and she had to catch her breath. She mentally shook herself, and realized that she had to get out of there, get away from Tyg before she made a huge mistake. She had come too far to screw it all up now.

Tyg felt her heart pounding in her chest, her breathing shallow as she watched Jamie watch her. She slowly took a step down, not sure what she’d do once she reached the tall hand.

She was thrown when Jamie was blocked by a crowd that suddenly swarmed the yard, and they slowly, ever so slowly passed. Tyg sucked in a breath when they cleared out, and Jamie was gone. She almost felt like crying as she hurried down the last two stairs, and ran over to the tree. She looked frantically around, but saw only talking, laughing, dancing, faceless strangers. In the distance she thought she heard the roar of a motorcycle.

Tyg swallowed back the rising emotion, and placed a hand on the rough bark of the tree where just moments before Jamie had leaned. She swore she could still feel the heat from the brunette’s body.

Jamie pushed the bike as fast as she dared on those back roads made of dirt and littered with large rocks. Her heart was pounding, and she had begun to sweat. She gritted her teeth as her hands gripped the handlebars of the bike, squeezing, trying to let go of some of the nervous energy that flowed through her body.

Damn, damn, damn, She had known that going to that damn carnival would be a mistake. How could she have let it get so out of control? Let herself get so out of control.

Jamie took a deep breath, filling the warm night air fill her lungs as she slowed the bike, trying to calm her heart. Her mind. Her body.
<><><>
Tyg sat in the cab of the truck parked out on the side of the main house. She stared through the windshield, not sure how she felt. Jamie owed her nothing, had promised her nothing, and in fact had not really shown any interest in her. So why the hell did she feel so damn betrayed? Rejected? The blonde slammed the heel of her hand against the steering wheel. She knew that she had not imagined what she had seen burning in those blue eyes. The smoldering look Jamie had let her see, whether through accident or intentional, had been utterly unmistakable. The tall hand had felt it, too.

“Damnit, Jamie!” she yelled, her voice sounded thick, sucked up in the moist night air. With a sigh she climbed out of the truck and headed into the house. What had she thought Jamie would do? Why had she expected that she’d do anything? Tyg had no answers to these questions as she made her way to the kitchen.

“Did ya have fun?” Rosa asked from her place at the stove, slowly stirring a sweet smelling sauce.

“What is that?” Tyg asked casually, hopping up on her stool. The older woman glanced at her over her shoulder, drawing her brows together.

“It’s a caramel sauce. Don’t change the subject.” she could see it written all over the young girl’s face. Something wasn’t right.

“Oh. Smells wonderful. I’m not changing the subject, Rosa.” Tyg said quietly, staring down at her fidgeting hands in her lap.

The old housekeeper set the wooden handle of the spoon against the side of the pan, and wiped her hands on her apron, walked over to the rancher. She grabbed a Corona out of the fridge as she went, and set it in front of the girl. Tyg smiled up at the woman in thanks. Rosa didn’t say a word, just stared down at the girl waiting for her to talk. She knew that Tyg could never hold anything in for long, so she’d be there when the blonde decided she was ready to talk.

“Rosa?” came the small voice. Tyg didn’t wait for an answer. “What do you think of me? Do you think I’m,…well…” the blonde sighed, feeling silly for even asking her next question, but too much doubt was swirling around her head. “Do you think that I’m pretty at all?” the older woman drew her brows in understanding. She placed a finger under the girl’s chin, and raised it until watery green eyes were staring into her own.

“Little Tiger, if I were a tall, dark beauty I would be after you in a heartbeat.” the blonde smiled, and chuckled lightly. “I don’t think you being pretty or not pretty is the deal here, little one. Though you are beautiful.” Rosa said with a smiled, running motherly fingers through Tyg’s slightly breeze-blown hair. “Honey, you must see things through sky blue eyes. Eyes that have seen much ugliness in such a short time.” Tyg took a deep breath, once again astonished at just how intuitive Rosa was. The older woman never failed to surprise and delight her. What would she ever do without her?

“I don’t know how. Rosa, I don’t know how to see through my own eyes.” the older woman smiled gently.

“You will, Little Tiger. You will. Once Jamie gets past her fear, she will, too.”

Jamie found her way to her hidden spot by that stream, surrounded by hills, now hidden by the dark. The moon above would be full in a couple of nights, but was only willing to give part of its brilliance now.

The tall hand made her way through the tall grasses, and sat near the water that rippled with the breeze, every now and then a small plunk from a fish coming up for bugs. Jamie rested her hands behind her head as she laid back, letting the night noises fill her, creating pictures in her head of the creatures making the noises. She sighed deeply.

Two days before Jamie had received a call from Carlos saying that Johnny had heard that Jamie had been released from prison, and wanted to get a hold of her. Jamie had given her friend strict instructions about keeping her whereabouts secret, and he was to go through her if anyone asked, or wanted to know where to find her.

“What you want me to tell him, chica?” he had asked, his voice sounded tired, as if Johnny had really been on him. Jamie had asked for Johnny’s number. When she as ready, she’d get a hold of him. For some reason, the brunette wasn’t sure if she wanted her brother to know where she was, or what she was doing there. She wanted to be able to protect Tyg and the ranch as much as possible if the need ever arose. Jamie had no idea what Johnny was into these days, but she had a gut feeling that she wasn’t going to like it.

The tall woman’s thoughts turned once again to the blonde. What was she supposed to say to her the next day? Jamie wasn’t the type to run from things, or from people, though that was exactly what she had done at the carnival. She wasn’t really running, per se. She was trying to stop a situation that could have potentially been damaging.

“Yeah.” she sighed. “Keep telling yourself that, Jamie.”

The hand clenched her jaw as just the thought of Tyg in that dress, looking so vulnerable, yet so sure of what she had wanted, made her body react all over again.
<><><>
The sun was blazing, but the day was not as hot as it looked as things cooled somewhat for another up-coming, unexpected rain coming through the area, heading up through the state.

Jamie had been working with Aistriocht all day, trying to get the mare used to being around her, used to human contact so that eventually she could get her used to a rider. And that eventuality was to soon become a reality as the animal seemed to be taking all that the tall brunette had to dish out, and more.

“Okay, girl. I hope you’re ready for this, ’cause quite frankly, you don’t have a choice.”

Jamie walked to the larger stable and barn and grabbed the gear that Tyg said Jamie could use with the black Arabian until she could have her own made. Tyg as well as the boys, had worked with Jamie on how to properly equip a horse until it had started to become second nature to the hand. She chuckled as she thought of that first day with Tyg and Hazelnut, and how frightened of the horses she had been. Thinking them so large, and nothing more than beasts. Now she realized that they were so much more.

Aistriocht was snorting at the brunette, shaking her head.

“Quit.” Jamie said, running her hand down the mare’s nose, and around her jaw. “You gonna cooperate? Huh?” the horse snorted again, whickering softly. Jamie chuckled, and moved around to grab the reins, and watched the mare to see if she’d hold or not. Aistriocht didn’t move, but glanced back at her as if in question. Jamie lifted one leg, and put her booted foot into the stirrup, waiting to see what the animal’s reaction would be. When she got none, she slowly hoisted herself up into the saddle, and stayed still, waiting, watching. Nothing. Jamie clicked her tongue, and nudged the mare’s flank a bit with her heel. The animal took a few steps forward, and stopped, seeming to get a bit antsy. “Come on, capall, stay with me here.” she said softly, the black ears of the horse flexing at the sound of her voice. Jamie nudged her again, slightly giving the reins a tug, and the horse began to move. Jamie smiled, large and brilliant. She felt the connection with the beast that she had felt since the beginning, grow even stronger as Aistriocht displayed her trust of the hand more and more. Jamie led the animal around the pen, trying out her skills at getting her to go where she wanted her to. So far so good. Feeling confident, Jamie stopped the mare, and hopped down, swinging the rail gate open, and then mounted up again.

“Here we go, girl.” she whispered, and led the animal out into the yard.

Tyg sat on the bank of the stream on the property. The day was beautiful, so she had finished her thrashing early, and decided to take Hazelnut for a ride. She glanced over at the Palomino who munched contentedly on grass near the tree that she’d been tied to. Tyg stared back out into the water that was reflecting the sun that was starting to get lower, it’s golden color frosting everything with its dying essence.

The blonde sighed and leaned back against the log behind her, her arm stretched out over its length, her legs stretched out, crossed at the ankle. She thought of Jamie. It had been four days since the carnival, and both had been avoiding the other, only speaking when the need arose. Tyg felt like a child avoiding the brunette like that; she had never run from anything in her life, but this felt different. She could not put her finger on why, but she could not make herself ask or confront the hand about it. What was to confront? So Jamie had left the carnival. That was her prerogative. That thought didn’t help the heaviness in her heart any.

Tyg looked down the stream to her left when to her surprise she saw Jamie sitting atop the black Arabian, trotting at a leisurely gait her way. The blonde sat up, genuinely impressed with the way the hand was handling the mare. She was almost like a whole different horse.

Jamie slowed the horse when she spotted the woman ahead, and pulled Aistriocht up next to Hazelnut, and jumped down, tying the horse off. The taller woman took a deep breath, then walked over to the rancher, taking her hat in her hands as she did.

“Hey.” Jamie said quietly, staring down at the once again reclining body of Tyg.

“Hey.” Tyg said staring up at her, her hand shielding her eyes from the intense glare of the dying sun. “Have a seat. I’m goin’ blind starin’ up at ya.” Jamie smiled, and lowered herself down to sit beside the blonde, plopping her hat on the ground next to her. She sighed and looked out onto the water. Both were silent, neither knowing what to say, and not wanting to be the first to say it. Finally Tyg spoke. “I can’t get over what you done with that horse. She is not the same demonic creature that we found a month ago.” both glanced back at the grazing animal.

“Yeah.” Jamie said, looking out to the water again. Tyg glanced at the tall woman’s profile, her chiseled features, strong jaw, long neck. She wanted to touch her, to feel how her sun-kissed skin felt. Was it as soft as it looked? She took in Jamie’s light gray tank with slight sweat stains from the brutal afternoon sun. She noticed how strong the tall woman’s arms had become, the bicep and tricep defined, beautiful. She narrowed in on the arm band the brunette had. She had noticed it when the hand had first arrived at the ranch, but had never asked about it. She couldn’t resist the urge. She reached out a hand, and traced the intricate dark lines with a fingertip. She felt the taller woman start at the touch, but then relaxed.

“Does this have meanin’?” Tyg asked quietly, still concentrating on the design. Jamie stared down at the top of the blonde head as she answered, doing her best to not shiver at the blonde’s touch. She thought of how to answer that.

“Well, it’s the mark of the warrior to show my warrior spirit.” she said simply, noticing how golden strands of Tyg’s French braid had come lose, and were gently being blown by the early evening breeze.

“Oh.” Tyg said. “A Celtic warrior?” the blonde asked, looking up into Jamie’s eyes. The brunette nodded. “It’s beautiful. Who did it for you?”

“I drew out the design, a friend did the actual tat work.” Tyg took her finger away, and Jamie covered the tattoo with her hand, rubbing the skin that still tingled. The rancher sat up, positioning herself so she was almost laying on her side, her elbow on the log behind her, cheek resting in her palm. “The other day you used a Gaelic term. Do you speak it? Fluently, I mean.” Jamie nodded.

“When I was a kid a friend of my father’s taught me.”

“Say something.” Tyg grinned.

“Nah,” Jamie grinned back, a slight blush at the rancher’s undivided attention, rising up her neck.

“Please? Come on, Jamie.”

“What would you like me to say?”

“I don’t know. Repeat a grocery list. Just anythin’.”

Jamie sighed, and stared out onto the water, trying to decide what she should say. She glanced over to see Tyg’s expectant face, and it came to her. She cleared her throat and began to speak softly in the tongue of the Celts.

“San guna sin agus san solas sin go raibh angil thu ag teacht chun me A sabhail.”
[row][annga][who][egg][tock-uct][con][may][sow-all]

Tyg stared in wonder. “Wow.” she breathed. “That was beautiful. What did you say?” she smiled the sweetest smile, and Jamie felt her heart melt. She cleared her throat again, thinking of the words that had passed her lips.. In that dress, under that light, you looked like an angel, come to save my soul. Jamie’s mind briefly flew back to the night at the carnival, and how staring up at the blonde had taken her breath away. She looked at the woman now, and did not find breathing any easier.

“I said what you asked. A list.” Tyg smiled and stared out at the stream where they sat, at the widest part.

“Wow, honey.” she said, her voice barely a whisper carrying on the breeze. “Isn’t it amazin’ how the simplist thang can sound so beautiful in a different language?” the blonde turned to the taller woman, her eyes filled with wonder and curiosity. Jamie smiled and nodded, staring up at the moon that was slowly beginning to make its entrance for another night, its full, bright face a welcome sight. Jamie turned to the smaller woman.

“So why Tyg? Is it short for something?” she asked, not wanting the rancher to know that she knew that wasn’t her name. She did not feel the need to tell Tyg that she’d been snooping around in her room, but did want to know where the nickname came from. The rancher grinned and looked down at the thick blade of grass that she twirled in her fingers.

“Well, it’s sort of from a nickname my daddy gave me when I was jus’ a kid. I was a curious, feisty little thing, not much has changed.” she grinned up at Jamie who smiled in return. “And when I was little my hair was more on the red side. Now it’s all sun-bleached. Anyway, daddy used to say I was just like a little tiger, and so most started ta call me just that, Little Tiger. Well, as the years went on, it got shortened to just Tyg.” she split the grass in two, and tossed it to the ground. “My real name is Rachel.” she glanced up at Jamie to see what her reaction would be.

“It’s beautiful.” the hand said quietly. Tyg smiled.

“Thank you. So are you, ya know.” she whispered. Jamie stared at the woman, struck by her words. She felt her heart miss its next beat. “I don’t think I’ve ever in all my years seen anythin’ quite like you, Jamie.” she continued, her gaze unwavering, nailing the taller woman to the spot. Jamie could not speak, so she said nothing. Tyg reached up a hand, and gently ran it through the hand’s dark hair, tucking it behind an ear. She stared deep into Jamie’s blue eyes that lightened and darkened with the swirling tempest of emotions. Tyg thought that Jamie almost looked like a starved animal who had a dish of food set in front of it, but just far enough to where it was out of reach. She looked lost. “Let me in.” Tyg whispered, Jamie barely heard the soft words over the pounding of blood in her own ears. “Please, let me in, honey.”
Part 6
“Let me in.” Tyg whispered. Jamie barely heard the soft words over the pounding of blood in her own ears. “Please, let me in, honey.”

Jamie stared into green eyes that held all the light from the dying day, mixed with the rancher’s own inner light, they seemed to glow. Tyg’s gaze was intense, unwavering. Jamie closed her eyes as she felt soft, gentle fingers begin to run through the short hairs at her temple, making her shiver. She covered Tyg’s hand with her own, and gently took it from her hair, setting it on the ground. She opened her eyes, and stared into Tyg’s, her own eyes tortured.

“I can’t.” she whispered, and stood, walking over to Aistriocht. Tyg stared at the tall woman as she walked away, her hand quickly swiping at a tear that she felt trying to make its way down her face.

<><><>

Jamie was perched atop the old barn again, some rough winds from the week before tearing at her previous handy work. She was irritated as hell at having to do the job again, and damnit all to hell! She tossed the hammer to the roof so she could re-position the shingle. She drew her brows when she heard a strange sliding noise, and turned just in time to see the hammer slide off the roof.

“Fuck!” she ran her hands through long hair, took a deep breath, trying to keep her temper under wraps. The past few days that had been one hell of a trick.

“Yo, chill.” Jamie’s head snapped up to see a grinning Marty looking up at her. She raised a brow and glared down at him. His smile faltered, then slid off his face all together. He lowered his gaze, and Jamie could not help but chuckle. She did not mean to scare the crap out of the kid.

“Hey, Marty. Sorry.” she said sheepishly.

“Mind if’n I come up?” the boy called up to her. She beckoned him with a wave of her hand.

“You gonna be able to make it?” she asked giving him a devilish grin. He narrowed dark eyes at her and glared in good fun as he grabbed the dropped hammer and stuck it in his back pocket then leaned his shoulder into the ladder as his one hand pulled his slight bulk up to the next rung. He’d step up, and do the whole thing again. Jamie was impressed with how creative the kid was getting, creating ways to do just about anything. Rosa was slowly turning the kid into a master chef, too. The brunette was so glad to see much of his confidence in his own abilities coming back. He had a big heart with a stubborn soul.

“Getting pretty good at that.” she said as she helped him up the final rung, and held on to him so he could step onto the roof. He smiled, his dark eyes sparkling like a child’s.

“Didn’t ya’ll just fix this?” the boy asked as he made himself comfortable next to Jamie.

“Yup. Damn wind knocked ’em right off.” she said tapping the shingles with her knuckles. The boy nodded. Jamie noticed that something seemed to be on his mind, and wondered what it was. Since the accident she and Marty had actually grown kind of close. She knew the kid looked up to her, and she tried to be there for him as much as possible. “What’s on your mind, kid?” she asked as she yanked the tool from his jeans, and began to attack the nails again. Marty took a deep breath, almost as if her were contemplating what he would say.

“Well, I’ve noticed that, well, that the last few days ya’ll have been a bit on the, well,” he chewed on his bottom lip for a moment. “That ya’ve been real irritated all the time. Like ya got a real short fuse.” he glanced over at her. “An Tyg been like that, too. Ya’ll get in a fight er somethin’?” Jamie sighed, trying to figure out how to answer this. Since the day at the stream three days ago, Tyg and Jamie had been avoiding each other. She knew that the rancher was hurt with her, and had every right to be. But what Tyg didn’t understand was that Jamie was keeping her distance for the blonde’s own good. Tyg was a good, hard working woman who had every reason in life to be proud of what she’d built, and what she did. Jamie did not want to disturb that with her past, with who and what she was. She turned to the hand and sighed.

“I hurt Tyg’s feelings. Being insensitive.” she said quietly. Marty nodded, staring off into the late afternoon sun.

“That’s what I thought.” he took a deep breath and began to make his way toward the ladder. “I got some stuff gotta finish up er Rosa’ll have my hide.” he maneuvered his way to stand on a rung, his hand gripping the top one. He glanced at her from over the top of the frame. “We ain’t as blind as ya’ll are.” he said quietly, then was gone. Jamie stared at the ladder, listening as the kid made his way down slowly, and walked away, boots crunching the dry gravel under them. She stared back out over the southern pasture watching as a small group of cows made their way to a water bin.

“Damn.” she whispered, and continued to hammer.

<><><>

Jamie sat at the table in her main room, her bare feet resting on the table, a small piece of scratch paper wrapped around her index finger as she thought about who’s number was scrawled on it. Johnny. She could not get her mind to stop thinking about the reasons why she shouldn’t call him. Carlos had told her that he’d found out recently that her baby brother had his hand in some pretty heavy dealings, and had become quite powerful at the young age of twenty-two. Just like his big sister. Jamie could not help but feel responsible for it. He had learned well though she had tried to keep him out of it. To no avail.

Jamie sighed and stared up at the low ceiling of the cabin, noticing a hook for a plant drilled into one of the naked wood beams. Then she glanced over at the phone on the wall. What would she say to him? What could she say? She unwrapped the paper and stared down at the number. It was a Colorado Springs number. What was he doing there? Carlos said that’s where the money is, the drug train getting huge in that area, and Johnny Madden was smack dab in the middle of it. Jamie plopped her feet on the floor, and walked over to the phone, stretching the long chord so she could sit as she talked. Her heart was pounding, the blood rushing through her ears as she dialed.

“Hello?” a woman answered. Jamie was taken slightly off guard. She was not expecting to hear a woman’s voice. The last time she’d seen Johnny he’d been a fifteen year old boy. “You gonna answer or not?” the woman asked impatiently. Jamie detected a slight accent, eastern, maybe New Jersey.

“Johnny Madden, please.”

“Who wants him? Is that you again, you bitch? Can’t you get a clue? He ain’t interested no more, got it?” Jamie cringed as the phone was slammed on the other end of the line. She looked at it as if it were an irritating insect trying to crawl into her ear. Biting the inside of her cheek, she hit re-dial. “Listen, you bi-“

“Yo, kill the attitude!” Jamie growled into the phone. The woman sucked in her breath at her abruptness. “Is my brother there or not?” her patience were running out fast.

“Yeah. Johnny don’t have a sister, though.” the woman stated, her voice low, uncertain.

“Yeah, he does.” Jamie muttered, her irritation growing by the minute. The woman was silent for a moment, Jamie could hear her chomping on a piece of gum. “Look, tell Johnny that Jamie is on the phone for him, okay?”

“Yeah.” the brunette heard the woman set the phone none-too-gently on a hard surface, then silence. She sat waiting, tapping impatient fingertips on the tabletop. The phone on the other end was picked up, but no one spoke for a moment.

“Jai?” came a deep, almost hesitant voice. Jamie swallowed. Hard. She felt the slight sting behind her blue eyes at the long lost voice of her beloved brother. He sounded so grown up. He was a man now. She had missed out on so much of his life. Did he have any children? Had he ever been married? Was that his wife who had answered the phone? Then she recalled the way the woman had answered. It was more than obvious Johnny had done something in the past to make her not trust him. What kind of a man was he?

“Yeah.” she finally answered.

“Wow. I didn’t believe it when Charlene told me, but it’s true then.”

“Yeah, it’s true. How are you, little bro?” the deep voice on the other end sighed deeply. Jamie waited for him to reply, standing to get a beer from the fridge, but then found she couldn’t sit still. She paced, feeling like a caged lion. There was so much she wanted to say to the boy she’d raised, and so many answers she wanted from him. She had to know if it was true. Was he just like her?

“I’m doing okay, I guess. Having a bit of trouble with my woman right now.”

“Charlene?” the hand asked.

“Yeah. So, where you at, Jai? Why won’t Carlos give me your number or address?”

“’Cause I don’t want him to.” Jamie said simply, leaning against the counter near the sink. She took a deep swig from her Guinness. “I’m out of all that shit now, Johnny. And I need to know if what I hear is true. Are you back into that? Are you into trafficking?” her voice was low, nearly dangerous as she growled out the words, her biggest fear. Johnny sighed again.

“Don’t judge me, Jai. I gotta make a living, you know? I got a kid to support now. Just like you did.”

“So get a real job, Johnny!” she yelled into the receiver, her blood boiling. “What’s the matter with you? You want that kid of yours to be just like you? Like me? You can’t-“ Jamie cut herself off, knowing that yelling at him would do nothing but estrange them even more. She wasn’t sure she wanted that. She rubbed her forehead with her hand, her eyes closed. Taking a couple of deep, calming breaths, she spoke again. “Look, I’m sorry, Johnny. I didn’t mean to jump all over you like that. Why? Why are you doing this, little bro? Why not go honest? Do you want to end up like me, Johnny? Locked up in a cage?”

“Jai, you don’t understand. You have no idea how things have gone. Jai, I got respect, power, and more money than even you could have dreamed of back then. I’m set. I got dealings up north, over in Kansas, California, Texas, Mexico. You name it. You taught your baby brother well, Jai.”

“Yeah, that’s what I was afraid of.” she mumbled, her voice dejected, feeling like she had failed. “Why didn’t you stay with Carlos and Luna when I went in?” she asked, her voice soft.

“I didn’t want that, Jai. I wanted my own life. To see if I could do it. To prove it.”

“To who?” Jamie asked, hopping up onto the counter, her heels beating softly against the cabinets below.

“To you. To me. To God.”

“Oh, Johnny.” she whispered, running a hand through her hair.

“So you gonna tell me where you’re at?” came the soft, almost shy question.

“No. I love you, little bro, but I want nothing to do with your business. I’m through. I’ll get in touch with you soon.” Jamie hit the disconnect button on the phone, and stared at the receiver, trying to figure out just how she felt, what she thought. With a jolt, she realized that she felt numb. Untouchable. “Damnit, Johnny. Damn, damn.”

Jamie sat where she was for a moment, her mind processing what Johnny had told her. He was proud. She could hear it in his voice. He was proud of what he had accomplished in his big sister’s shadow. How could she possibly be mad at him? He knew nothing else. His own father had taught his kids that to get along in a life where the world owed you something, you just took it, not bothering with consequences, or who might get hurt. Their mother had tried to strip her kids of everything that they had learned, and she may have been successful if she hadn’t died when they had needed those lessons the most.

Jamie jumped down off the counter, and hung the phone back on the wall. She grabbed her beer and took a long swallow as she stared out the back window toward the stream that ran behind her cabin, the vivid, white moonlight shining its brilliance down to reflect in the water. She thought about Johnny’s connections outside of Colorado. He had said Texas. She wondered if he knew Hector; usually types in the business seemed to know each other no matter where they hid. She would bet money on Hector being in on the drug trade along with his gambling. How had the man gotten Cal to turn on Tyg? Jamie had never seen such a loyal bunch of workers in her life. She felt the same pull; work as hard as she could, do as much as she could, be as loyal as she could, to Tyg.

She sighed as she saw those green eyes flash before her mind’s eye once again. Those eyes had begun to haunt her. She wanted to somehow get back the friendship that they had begun to build before the carnival. Now she felt as if the rancher didn’t trust her. Not with her land, or as a worker, per se. No. Now Tyg didn’t trust her with her feelings, or her friendship. Some sort of a hidden line had been crossed. Jamie missed the easy silence that used to fill the space between them. Neither feeling the need to speak, just be as they went on with their day and their work. The life that radiated from Tyg’s eyes was incredible. She held the vitality of ten people inside that little body.

Jamie swallowed the rest of her beer, and decided not to think about it anymore that night. She was tired, and needed sleep.

<><><>

Tyg looked out the window that faced the southern pasture, watching as a group of cows that had wondered away from the main herd, munched on grass, intermittent moos flowing through the open window. Her eyes were narrowed, her arms crossed pensively across her chest as she stared through the scene before her and thought of the phone call she’d had that morning. Hector had been his normal charming self, making her skin crawl. She had never actually met the man face to face, only heard his smooth, sugar-covered voice over the wire.

“Well, Miss. McClure, I think I’ve made my position quite clear over these past few months, and I believe I have been more than patient with your family over the years. I see no room for any misunderstandings, do you?” he had not waited for an answer, though the likelihood of him receiving one was slim to none.

She could sense her grandfather watching her. She turned to look down into concerned green eyes, and plopped down into the chair next to his.

“So?” the old rancher asked, his gravelly voice gentle.

“He wants what’s his. A third by next Monday.” she ran shaking hands through long, blonde hair. “Granddaddy, we can’t afford to lose anymore land!” she jumped out of the chair again like a Jack-in-the-box, unable to stay still. Anger and worry coursed through her veins like a drug, making her edgy, irritable. Though, in truth, she’d been that way for a couple weeks, anyway.

The thought of the ranch going under because of that bastard turned her cold. A part of her hated her father for what he had done. She used to wonder what had happened to him when she’d been younger, and her father had disappeared. Larry McClure had thought that perhaps Hector had gotten wind of Clay’s deal with the authorities, and taken care of the rancher their own way. But now Tyg wondered if he had not just taken off rather than deal with the mess that he had created, and the scorn of his family. The McClure’s had worked hard over four generations to make the ranch what it was. Clay McClure’s cowardice was about to cost Tyg her livelihood, her love, her life. “How could daddy have done this?” she said, her voice quiet as if speaking to herself. That was not the first time she’d asked herself that, and certainly wouldn’t be the last.

“Don’t matter now, Little Tiger.” Larry McClure said, his eyes looking out into the pasture. For him it hurt, but he’d be dead soon, anyway. But he knew Tyg would never forgive herself if the ranch was lost. He didn’t think his granddaughter would ever bounce back from something like that.

He thought of the money he had managed to save over the past twenty years that Tyg had no idea about. He had planned on giving it to her once he’d died, a nest egg for her. It totaled more than ninety thousand. He thought about telling her then. Maybe she could use it to pay that bastard off, but changed his mind. He knew that Tyg, who he had instilled so much pride into, would never allow it. Never take it. To her it was her problem, and shook the thought form his mind. “So how’s that new hand doin’?” the older rancher was surprise to see Tyg’s beautiful face fall at the question. He thought they got on well. And from what he’d heard from Bobby, they got on very well.

“Fine, I guess.” she mumbled. “One of the hardest workers I ever saw.” she stared up at the moon, wondering what it would be like to just hop a ship, and stay there forever. “Why do ya ask?” the blonde asked absently.

“Oh, hell, just wonderin’.” the old rancher studied his granddaughter’s back. He knew something had gone down with the tall brunette, he just didn’t know what. Rosa had sent Marty up to bring him his lunch that day, and had let the cat out of the bag that the two were not as close, were actually distant. “I just noticed that Jamie been gettin’ a ride with the boys ta the house in the mornin’. Ain’t been but a week ‘er so she been doin’ that.” no answer. “Ya’ll have a fight, Tyg?”

“No.” she said quietly. “Not a fight.” she turned from the window, her hands running through her hair again. “I don’t understand her.” she said. “She won’t let nobody in, an it’s drivin’ me nuts.” Larry nodded and smiled, light dawning.

“Honey, she ain’t no Carol.” he said softly. Tyg stared at him, but said nothing. “This’in ain’t no grown woman lookin’ for some fun. Nah, she ain’t no Carol.”

“It’s drivin’ me crazy.” Tyg mumbled as she kissed her grandfather goodnight, and walked toward her room.

<><><>

Jamie sat atop the Arabian, closed her eyes, her face toward the sky. She had a strange feeling in her gut. Something was coming, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. The day was quickly darkening, the clouds above like iron. Blue eyes opened and studied them as they rolled in to form a solid sheet. The weather man had called for thunderstorms, and possibly hail, but this didn’t look like any thunderstorm she’d ever seen. She reached down and patted Aistriocht’s thick neck as the mare whinnied, and bobbed her head sharply.

“You feel it too, don’t’cha, girl?” the hand muttered, staring out over the fields. The animals all seemed to be restless, the horses bucking and running around the pens, mane’s flying through the air. Jamie clicked her tongue, and nudged the mare on. “Come on, girl. Let’s head on out.”

Horse and rider were one as they passed miles of fence and rail, and herds of cows, the air thick with the smell of nature and manure, and rain with a slight sulfuric hint.

Jamie guided Aistriocht off the property, and over open fields, her hair blowing back, the rising winds stinging her eyes, making them tear. The hand gripped the reigns tighter as she urged the mare on faster, her tank billowed out from her back like a balloon, the tail of the work shirt she wore over it flying out behind her.

The mare made short work up the familiar hill with the worn dirt tracks straddling a grassy band worn from the tires of old farm trucks. The Arabian crested the hill, and Jamie pulled on her reigns, slowing the mare. The valley was heavily shadowed with the dark skies. She wondered for a moment if she should maybe head back to the ranch so she wouldn’t get drenched once the storm started, but decided that she needed some time to herself, and her private little paradise was the place to do it.

Aistriocht made her way down the rocky embankment with ease, Jamie muttering soothing words to her as she went.

“Good girl.” she murmured. Aistriocht whickered in response. Horse and rider made their way down toward the stream that cut the valley in two. Jamie brought the Arabian to a slow gallop, running along the length of the water, her eyes scanning the beauty of the scene around her. The wind was beginning to come in cool gusts, the air around it heavy and hot. The building moisture could be felt in heavy waves on her skin. The mixture in temperatures was somewhat disconcerting.

Jamie looked up into the sky again, when her attention was grabbed by the sound of a far-off whinny of a horse. She slowed the mare, and looked toward the tall, thick stand of trees off to the south at the foot of a huge, rocky hill. She could just barely make out a lighter color against the dark green of the foliage. Squinting, she was surprised to see that it looked like Hazelnut. She clicked her tongue and Aistriocht headed in the direction.

Suddenly the wind picked up nearly ten-fold, the loud hissing filled Jamie’s ears, her eyes barely open as she tried to keep the flying dirt out of them. Then the hissing was overtaken by a loud rush of air, like a freight train. Jamie pushed her mare on hard toward the trees as realization dawned on her. She glanced back over her shoulder in time to see the clouds above swirling, start to dip, then pull back up again to start all over again.

Turning back toward the stand of trees she heard the horse whinny again, and a shout that was nearly cut off by the intense wind, and then Jamie saw a figure thrown from the golden horse that bucked, spooked by the weather, landing at the base a black oak. “Tyg,” Jamie breathed, jumping from Aistriocht’s back, and running over to the blonde who lay unmoving. Hazelnut stood near by, upset, rearing up. Jamie looked around frantically as the funnel began to dip again, getting lower, and closer. Just past the trees she spotted a deep overhang in the rock. She glanced down at Tyg’s unmoving figure again, and quickly picked the petite rancher up, and began to run toward the rocky haven. She knew she shouldn’t move the blonde, but there was no way she was going to leave her out in the open with a twister right at their heels.

Jamie was breathing hard, her body filled with fear and adrenaline as she reached the make-shift cave. She gently laid Tyg on the hard, dirt floor, and ran back out into the storm. She shielded her eyes with her hand as debris began to fly by in earnest, pieces of dead foliage, small limbs from trees that were still green, and not anchored very well. She searched for the horses, spying them running back toward the hill, out of the reach of the twister. The roar of the funnel was deafening. Relieved, the hand headed back toward the cave.

Tyg laid where she’d left her, and Jamie knelt down next to her. She studied the smaller woman’s face and head, looking for any injuries. Small cuts and scrapes littered the rancher’s face, but nothing severe that would need stitches. She assumed that the rancher had hit her head as she was out cold. A slight cut at the back of the head made Jamie a bit nervous, but the small flow of blood was slowing, the golden hair around it matted together with the sticky blood, dirt and a small twig. She carefully picked the stick out of Tyg’s hair, and tossed it aside. Jamie moved down Tyg’s body quickly, moving her arms and legs, feeling her torso and ribs, checking for anything broken. The rancher never moved or made a sound. Jamie laid her ear against the blonde’s heart, a steady beat made her let out the breath she didnt know she’d been holding.

Jamie sat next to Tyg, lifting the smaller woman’s upper body to lay in her lap so the blonde wouldn’t have to lay on the cold, hard dirt. She stared out of the opening of their haven and was horrified as she saw the small valley she had come to love being stripped by the devastation of the storm; trees were uprooted and thrown into the water that bubbled and churned as if it were being boiled. The sky was stained black by blowing dirt and foliage. Jamie felt a slight pang in her chest, and a stinging behind her eyes as she watched how Nature could scour and scar its own face. She was saddened, and was startled as she felt a soft touch against her cheek. She looked down to see green eyes staring back up at her.

“You’re crying.” Tyg whispered, running her finger over the salty tear that seeped from Jamie’s right eye. Jamie smiled and nodded. “Why?”

Jamie glanced back outside of the overhang, then looked back down at the rancher, leaning down slightly to be heard above the screaming wind. “It’s being destroyed.” she whispered back. “This is my private place to go when I want to think.” she explained softly. “It was so beautiful.”

“It will be ‘gain, Jamie.” Tyg followed the path of the tear down the hand’s cheek, ending at her chin. She caressed the skin there. She was so touched by the taller woman’s obvious attachment to the land. “I used ta come here as a girl. Still do.” Tyg dropped her hand to rest on her stomach. She closed her eyes for a moment as a sharp pain ripped through her head. She would have one hell of a goose egg come tomorrow.

“You okay?” Jamie asked, her voice thick with emotion. Tyg stared back up at her, surprised to see those blue eyes swimming. She smiled at the brunette and nodded, the movement so slight Jamie almost missed it. Tyg had been utterly shocked when the darkness had parted, and she had been looking up into the face of the woman who haunted her thoughts and played in her dreams. “Everyone’ll be worried about us.” Jamie said, a slight smile playing at the corners of her lips. Tyg returned the smile and again nodded.

“They’ll come searchin’.” the blonde said

“I’m sorry, Tyg.” Jamie said.

“For?”

The hand sighed and stared outside once more. The storm was calming some, the worst of it over, and moving on. “For lots of things.” she finally said, looking back down into emerald eyes. Their eyes met and held, so much being said through that look.

Jamie was sorry for hurting the blonde, confusing her. She knew now that she was drawn to Tyg. The very sound of her voice lifting the darkest of clouds from her day. When she had seen her bucked from Hazelnut’s back, Jamie’s heart had stopped in her chest. What if something happened to the rancher, and she never had a chance to tell her just how much she had changed her life? Made it better, fuller, richer. Tyg had given her a window of light to see through the darkness that she had known her whole life. That darkness that had enveloped her, and made her a part of it. Tyg made her want to be a better person, try that much harder, and hold all that mattered close. She just wished that she knew how. How to open herself and give what until recently she had no idea she even possessed.

Tyg seemed to be able to read all this as the softest smiles curved her lips, bringing Jamie’s angel back again. The brunette brought her hand to Tyg’s cheek, feeling the softness that she had wanted to touch for so long. She smiled as sensitive fingertips ran over the skin, memorizing the texture and planes. Tyg closed her eyes for just a moment as wave after wave rushed through her body, heading straight for her heart. Green eyes opened again and soaked up the light and feeling that shone from eyes the color of the calmest ocean. The blonde reached up a hand, and curled it around Jamie’s neck, pulling gently. The face she had come to adore got closer until their quickened breaths were shared. Tyg closed her eyes as soft lips touched her own, feather light. She let out a small sigh as she pulled Jamie further, their lips meeting again.

Jamie felt the lips beneath hers open, and she welcomed the invitation, opening hers in turn, her tongue slipping between needing lips, and into the warm, wet, mouth of the beautiful blonde. Jamie heard a small moan escape Tyg’s throat, and pulled the rancher closer to her, cradling her in strong, protective arms. The heat of the smaller body against her own was intoxicating, and she was already addicted.

She sighed as she felt fingers slip into her hair, gently rubbing her scalp, sending tingling sensations through her body. She held the smaller woman even tighter as the kiss deepened, a slow exploration of each other, neither in a hurry for it to end. Tyg brought a hand down, work-roughened fingers tracing the lines of Jamie’s face, caressing her cheek, and moving down over her chin to rest on the side of the hand’s neck.

Jamie pulled back slowly, kissing the tip of the rancher’s nose as she stared down into her face. With her thumb she gently smoothed across full lips, still moist from the kiss. Tyg stared up into azure eyes, lost in the sensations that still lingered throughout her body. She found herself being pulled into a tight, embrace, her face buried in the warmth of Jamie’s neck. She inhaled all the smells that were the taller woman; cotton, sweat, and the musky smell of her skin.

Jamie relished the feel of the blonde, so close to her that she could nearly hear her heart beating. She wondered if the beats would be as erratic as her own. She had no idea why she had allowed Tyg to pull her into the kiss, but she closed her eyes as she remembered how it had felt. So soft, so irresistible, like it truly were a drug. Jamie knew now that she had tasted the fruit that she had forbidden herself to try, she would not be able to stay away. She sighed deeply. So be it.

Tyg felt Jamie pull away, and looked up at her to see what was wrong when she saw the brunette’s eyes fixed on something outside of the cave, then she, too heard it. Aistriocht stood outside the overhand, her front hoof digging into the ground, snorting impatiently. The hand chuckled lightly.

“Ya taught her well.” Tyg smiled, and started to stand, but stopped, a wave of nausea and dizziness washing through her.

“You okay?” Jamie asked, her voice filled with concern as she helped the smaller woman sit back on the ground. Tyg nodded.

“Yeah. Jus’ a little dizzy is all.”

“Come on.” Jamie stood, helping the blonde to her feet, her arm around her waist. “We need to get you back to the ranch. Think you’ll be okay to ride?”

“Yeah.”

Jamie helped Tyg up onto the Arabian’s back, then climbed up behind her, wrapping a protective arm around Tyg’s waist, the other holding the reigns as Aistriocht headed out of the devastation that once was a beautiful, peaceful valley. She looked around at all the downed trees, those still standing were naked and warped. Much of the natural vegetation had been uprooted and lay scattered, much floating in the water, turning and swirling in the light wind that still blew. Jamie held on a little tighter to the blonde, and urged the mare on.

Tyg rested back against the strong body behind her, her vision beginning to blur and darken from the raging ache in her head. She wondered is she didn’t have a concussion from the fall she’d taken. It wasn’t like she hadn’t had concussions before, but they were never fun, and always different. Her thoughts began to turn to her ranch, and she was terrified to think of what she’d find once they got back. LaGrange hadn’t had a good twister run through it in a few years. The storm had been unexpected, but not surprising. This was the time of year, and certainly the place for them.

The black Arabian made her way quickly to the Triple M, and as they entered under the arched gate, Tyg’s eyes widened, and tears sprang up to make her green eyes sparkle. Off to the left in the southern pasture the fence was nearly completely gone for a half a mile stretch, the twisted boards nowhere to be seen. About ten head of cattle laid around, some in very unnatural positions as they had been tossed around, or battered with flying debris. The barn to the right was roofless, but still stood, though the camper shell from one of the pick-ups laid against the side, nearly blocking the door. Green eyes flicked to the northern field to see that it had been virtually untouched.

Jamie rode on toward the main house, her heart beating, afraid of what they’d find, and who they’d find. She felt Tyg tense, and the hand that covered her own tighten. They could see the house up ahead. It did not look too damaged. The porch on the south side of the house was gone, splintered bits of wood sticking out of the side of the wall like broken bones. The front door flew open, and Bobby ran out, followed closely by Marty and BJ.

“Tyg! Jamie! Where ya’ll been?” the boys ran to the mare, and helped Tyg down when Jamie pulled her to a stop. “When Nut returned but you didn’t we got real scared.”

“We was down in the valley.” Tyg answered, her voice low, unsteady. Bobby pulled the small blonde into a fierce hug, followed by the other boys and Rosa who had made her way down the stairs of the porch. Jamie watched the familiar scene, then was surprised when she felt herself tugged by the tail of her work shirt, and several arms flung around her. She had never felt so accepted before. So cared for. She was startled to realize that she also cared for these people; very deeply. They were her family now, and she would do anything to protect them, and make sure they stayed safe.

<><><>
Jamie stood out on the front porch that remained attached. The boys and her had gone over the land with a fine-toothed comb to see what damage had been reeked on the ranch the day before. They had lost about two dozen head of cattle, and around three horses. Not bad considering, but it hurt all the same. Many of the buildings had been demolished, including two of the hand’s cabins, though Jamie’s had been spared by the grace of god. The one right next to it was nothing more than a pile of wood and ruble. She was, however, going to have to replace a few shingles. No one had been seriously hurt, and the main house had barely been touched. They had been extremely lucky.

Jamie paced back and forth, her hands in her front pockets, a piece of hay between her teeth, rolled back and forth with her tongue. The night before Dr. Burns had been called in to check out Tyg. The taller woman was worried about the rancher, knowing a good concussion when she saw one. The blonde refused to admit defeat, but ultimately she had had to succumb to the doctor’s powerful drugs to alleviate the headache, and Rosa had to wake her every hour throughout the night until some of the swelling had gone down.

Jamie thought back to the first days when her mother had started to get sick. She had been so tired all the time, and had no appetite. She’d been so weak. Candy Madden had the same stubborn streak that Tyg had. Never admitting that she felt bad, and never slowing down, always working, trying to support her small family of three. The doctor had told her to quit one of her two jobs, but she had refused. Saying that she’d work until her dying day. How prophetic.

Jamie stopped pacing and stared out into the yard. She glanced up at the sky, her eyes squinting into the sun’s rays. Her mother had loved the sun. On the rare day that she had a day off, Candy would pack up her and Johnny, and they’d head to Carter Lake which was just about an hour outside of Denver. They would stay all day, swimming, splashing each other while Candy laid on the shore and tanned herself until she would turn black. A smile spread across Jamie’s lips as she thought of those days. Life had been hard, but simple. Only one goal in mind; to survive and stay together. How had everything gone so wrong?

The day had started off normal enough, but at lunch the boys had started talking about the storm, and past storms, and it had been a unanimous decision to call it a day, and everyone rest from the scare the previous day. Most of the hands had gone off to town, or to neighboring ranches and farms to see if anyone needed help putting buildings back up, or looking for lost animals. Jamie had stayed, wanting to be alone, to reflect, and to stick around if Tyg needed her. She thought of the time they’d spent together in that cave during the storm. What had it meant? Jamie sighed as she realized just how much it had meant to her. Did Tyg feel the same way? She was sure deep down that the little blonde did. She had never experienced that kind of connection with someone before. it had almost been like she and Tyg were meant for each other, that they had been born for that moment. Such a feeling of peace filled the tall woman. She leaned against the pole on the railing, her arms crossed over her chest, and stared out into the expanse of the bright day before her. It was amazing to think that just yesterday the sky had been black and menacing, a storm of enormous magnitude on its way. Yet now the only evidence of it was the destruction that was scattered throughout the yard. Such a shame.

“You still here?” Jamie turned to see Rosa standing in the open doorway. She smiled and nodded at the older woman. “Ain’t it a cryin’ shame.” she muttered as she walked out onto the porch, the screen closing behind her with a slam that echoed through the quiet afternoon. “I wanna thank ya for what you did for that little pistol yesterday, Jamie.” she said, laying a hand on the taller woman’s shoulder. Jamie glanced down into the intense brown eyes of the house keeper. “We was so worried about you two.”

“Yeah. That storm kind of took us by surprise.” Jamie said, her smile sheepish.

“Did ya’ll ride out there together?” Rosa stood next to the brunette, her hands wrapped in a dish towel she held. Jamie shook her head, ran her hand through long, dark hair.

“Nah. I went out there to be alone. I didn’t know she was there.” the older woman nodded, staring out into the yard, the bright mid-day sun making her squint.

“Yeah, Tyg heads out there quite a bit.”

“How’s she doing?”

“Well,” the house keeper said with a sigh. “The doc said she’ll be back on her feet in a few days. She just needs some rest right now. Ya should go up in see her.” Jamie met twinkling dark eyes. “She was askin’ for ya earlier, ya know.” Rosa gave Jamie one more meaningful look, then turned and walked back into the house. Jamie stared after her for a moment, then back out into the yard. With a sigh she headed for the screen door.

The old stairs once again squeaked under Jamie’s boots as she made her way up to the second floor. Dr. Burns passed her on his way down with a smile and tip of his hat. She smiled back, and took the last few steps two at a time until she stood on the dark landing at the top, the long, dim hall stretching before her. She listened to see if she could hear if Tyg was alone, or if she were sleeping. She heard nothing except the occasional coughing of Larry McClure at the end of the hall. Taking quiet steps, she reached Tyg’s partially closed door, and peeked her head in to see the blonde laying on her back, her head facing the window, breathing slow and even. Jamie debated on whether she should go, not wanting to wake her. Instead she decided to watch the rancher for a moment, make sure she was really okay. Quietly she pushed the door open a bit more to allow her to walk through, hoping that it wouldn’t squeak.

Jamie looked around the room as she silently pushed the door closed behind her, leaving it open just enough so that it didn’t click shut. Tyg’s clothes from the day before were folded neatly on top of her hope chest under the window, her hat sitting atop the pile. The taller woman smiled fondly at the dusty, worn hat. She knew how attached Tyg was to it, but she needed a new one. Her eyes darted back to the still form lying in the middle of the bed, seemingly swallowed by the many pillows that laid around her as well as the soft, thick quilt that was tucked under her hips, and stopped just under her breasts where her hand rested, gently rising and falling with each breath she took. Jamie noticed how the dark blonde lashes rested against pale cheeks, the small worry line that sometimes rested between emerald eyes was gone, the skin smooth from the peace of sleep. She was beautiful. The slightest curve of those full lips that she remembered so well from the previous day in the cave. She saw the small scrapes on one cheek, and a large bruise on the other.

Jamie couldn’t resist pushing a bit of hair from the rancher’s forehead, tucking the long strands behind an ear with her fingertips. Her finger’s grazed Tyg’s cheek bone, feeling the hard bone, yet soft plane of her skin. She found herself leaning down, gently placing a soft kiss to Tyg’s temple which made the smaller woman stir, and emerald eyes opened, her head turning to look up into the face that she had longed to see all day. Tyg smiled weakly.

“Howdy.” she whispered. Jamie smiled back.

“Hey. How are you?”

“Fine.” Tyg reached her hand up and covered Jamie’s fingers that had stilled on her cheek, brought her hand down to chapped lips, kissed the palm. Jamie sat on the edge of the bed. “Doc says I can get up tomorrow. Thank god. Tired of layin’ round here all day.” Jamie smiled.

“Just think of it as a mini vacation.”

“I ain’t had a vacation since I was a kid.” Tyg whispered, a small smile playing across her lips.

“See? Maybe somebody’s trying to tell you something.” Jamie smiled in turn, then her smile faltered as she stared into sleepy, glazed eyes. “About yesterday, in the cave-“

“No.” Tyg raised a hand and placed two fingers over the brunette’s lips, shook her head. “Don’t ruin it with words, honey, and don’t ya dare apologize.” Jamie nodded, kissing Tyg’s fingers before taking the rancher’s hand in her own, setting their clasped fingers in her lap.

“Okay.” she said, her soft voice barely reaching the blonde’s ears. Tyg squeezed the taller woman’s fingers and smiled. “I better go.” Jamie said, standing from the bed, running her free hand through her hair. A wave of disappointment washed through the rancher, but she nodded and released Jamie’s hand.

<><><>

Like magic, overnight the skies went from iron gray to Texas blue. Tyg was out of bed, and was working a few hours a day trying to get the ranch back in order after so much of it had been devastated by the storm. She felt dizzy on and off, but was determined to get back to normal as quick as possible. The boys swarmed around her, wanting to help her do this, help her do that. She was about to give indefinite vacations to all of her hands.

“Tyg, ya shouldn’t be doin’ that, now.” Bobby said, his dark brows drawn as he ran over to the rancher who was trying to hitch the baler to the tractor. She turned to him, hands on hips, green eyes fixed into a glare. Bobby backed off a step, hands up in a conciliatory gesture of peace. “Now, I’m jus’ worried ’bout ya. Don’t go tearin’ my head off.”

“If ya’ll don’t lay off, I’m gonna tear inta ya’ll like a goddamn tiger!” she exclaimed, her head filled with cotton for a moment as her blood pressure rose. She hid the dizziness, fixing those emerald eyes on him in intimidation mode to cover. “I’m not a child.”

“Okay, okay. Jus’ tryin’ ta help ya, boss lady.” the hand grabbed his greasy baseball cap from sweaty hair, then replaced it farther back on his forehead. Then his eyes darted off toward the northern pasture. “Who’s that?” he asked, gesturing with his bristly chin. Tyg turned and looked over her shoulder to see two men walking around near the fence. The two men were dressed impeccably, and it was obvious that they did not belong on a ranch. Their expensive, tailor cut suits were of a fine quality, shiny beneath the blinding mid-day sun. Dark glasses hid their expressions as they seemed to be scoping the land, one holding a tape measure in a well manicured hand.

“What the?” Tyg took a step closer, then had a nagging feeling in her gut. She snapped her mouth shut, jaw muscles working as she held back her temper and walked toward Bobby’s Chevy that was parked just off to the side of the field road. She yanked open the old, squeaky door, and pulled the shot gun free of the back window rack, and the small .38 from the glove compartment, sticking it in her short’s waistband.

“Whoa, Tyg!” Bobby exclaimed, placing a hand on the barrel. “What ‘er ya doin’, girl?” he hissed. The blonde yanked the gun away from the hand, and headed toward the two intruders.

“Excuse me.” she said as she neared them. The one with the tape measure continued to measure the depth of the half-empty ditch, the other one glanced over at the rancher, then looked back down at his partner. “I said, excuse me.” Tyg stood within ten yards of the two.

“Yes?” the one with the tape measure said, his voice filled with irritation at being interrupted. The other one watched the two, arms crossed over his large chest.

“Ya’ll are on my land. Wanna get off.” she held the gun between arm and hip, one hand on the trigger, the other holding the barrel. The two men glanced down at the long gun, then at each other, a small smile playing at the corner of their mouths.

“Listen, little lady. We’re kinda busy here, so you wanna go play somewhere else?”

“I don’t think so.” Tyg cocked the shot gun, the smiles dripping right off the men’s faces. “I think ya’ll should find somewhere else to measure before ya’ll ‘er measurin’ six feet down for trespassin’.”

“This is gonna be my boss’ land here soon enough, so we were sent out to get it ready. Hope ya’ll don’t mind having a casino for neighbors.” he said, a smirk tipping the corner of his mouth.

“Ya got ta the count a three.” Tyg reached down and grabbed the hand gun, and pointed it at the ground. “One,” she pulled back the hammer with her thumb. The two men stared at her, the one with the tape measure stood from where he had been stooping on the ground. “Two,” Tyg raised her hand, pointing it somewhere near the men. They glanced at each other, then back at the small woman. “Three.” a blast tore through the still afternoon air, the tape measure flying from the man’s hand with a sharp bang that echoed through the still air of the hot afternoon. He stared down at his hand in disbelief, a slight trail of black where the powder had singed his skin.

“Crazy bitch!”

“Ya’ll don’t want me ta count ta four. That’ll get kinda messy. Now get out!” with one last, long look, the two men headed off toward their Caddy that was parked along the fence. They got in the large, black car, and roared off toward the main road of the property. Tyg turned toward Bobby, her face deathly pale, hands shaking, and dropped the gun to the ground with a muffled plop.

Jamie watched as the man jumped, not expecting Tyg to actually shoot. She had been just as surprised. She had been about to run over from her place on top of the barn, fixing the roof, but then saw that the feisty blonde could take care of herself. She sat back on her haunches, and scratched her chin, thinking. There had to be some way to stop Hector. She was sure that was who those monkeys were working for. She knew the look, the poise, the bravado of the illegal dealings. She had an idea. Somehow she would get rid of Hector for good. Tyg would not lose one more inch of land to that shark if it was the last thing she ever did.
Part 7

Jamie pulled on her riding gloves as the bike idled between her legs. She looked out at the yard as the early morning darkness covered everything in shadow. It was a cool morning which she was grateful for. Any reprieve from the afternoon summer sun was a relief. She pulled the helmet on, and put the bike in gear, roaring down the main road, headed for the arched gate.

The hand thought of her conversation with Larry McClure the day before, as she turned left on the deserted, dirt road that would lead her toward LaGrange, and end up an hour later in Austin at Austin International Airport. Jamie had gone upstairs after supper to talk to the old rancher, not wanting to tell Tyg what she was thinking of doing. She knew that the feisty little blonde would never allow it, and would never allow Jamie to take such a risk.

“Come on in, Jamie.” Larry McClure had said with a cough-filled smile. The brunette had walked into the old man’s room, her hat held in nervous hands as she walked to his card table where a nearly dead game of solitaire was spread out. “Have a seat.” he mumbled absently as youthful green eyes scanned the neat rows of cards, looking for that one hidden break that would win the game. Finally after nearly five minutes, the old rancher sighed heavily and gathered the deck in large, gnarled hands. He looked over at Jamie who sat in the chair in the corner, long legs stretched out, one booted foot crossed over the other. “What’cha doin’ clear over there? I ain’t talkin’ to ya sittin’ in Oklahoma.” Jamie chuckled and moved the chair closer to the table. “So what’s on yer mind?”

Jamie sat forward, legs spread, hat dangling off her fingers between them, gently swaying back and forth.

“Well, I think I have a way of getting Hector off of Tyg’s butt.” she said, her eyes hard, full of business. Larry McClure sat back in his chair looking at her under a heavy brow and hooded eyes.

“How’s that?”

“Well, if you don’t mind, I’d really rather keep you out of it, Mr. McClure. But I do have some connections.” the rancher looked deeply into Jamie’s eyes, his squinting as he contemplated her, almost as if he were sizing her up. He let out a slow breath and nodded, a small smile curling up his lips.

“Okay.” he said simply. “So what’d’ya need, Jamie?”

“A day or two.”

“Ya’ve got it.” Jamie smiled and stood, plopping her hat back on her head. “Oh, an Jamie?” she looked down at the old man. “Good work with my granddaughter the other day.” Jamie stared, feeling her stomach flop with the rancher’s secret smile. She only nodded, and walked out of the room.

Jamie stared ahead at the long road before her, that long stretch of highway. The plane was supposed to land at eight-thirty a.m. She knew she’d be there in plenty of time, but her nerves made her nearly want to turn the bike around, and ride back to the comfort and known world of the Triple M. And Tyg. She pushed the throttle, and held on as the scenery sped by, the early, intense rays of the rising sun painting everything golden, the cactus in the wild fields with bleached tips. The sky above was turning from ochroid to a deep blue with puffy white clouds floating overhead.

Jamie took the day for what it was worth, clearing her mind of what was to come, and the favor she would have to ask. She was not one to beg, but sometimes certain things in life were worth more then pride.

The Austin airport was small for the size of the city, but large enough to get lost in. Jamie looked around until she saw a ticket desk, and studied the map until she found the gate she needed, and headed in that direction.

The plane was not due in for another forty-five minutes, so Jamie decided to grab a cup of coffee at the near-by cafe. She found a small, round table at the back of the place, and sipped her black coffee out of the paper cup with the plastic lid. She sighed as the steaming brew warmed her insides. She wondered what Tyg would think when she found out that the hand was gone. Would she be angry? Jamie knew that Larry McClure would keep his word and not say anything about it. The brunette knew that that would be the risk she’d have to take, facing the wrath of the rancher. But it was for Tyg’s own good, whether she realized that or not.

Jamie glanced around and saw that the small shop was nearly empty save for the young girl behind the counter reading a magazine. She remembered about ten years ago when she had flown into Austin, ready to do business. She had met Kyle Stockard in the very coffee shop she sat in, just three tables down. It wasn’t to be a long stay in Texas. In fact, she had been set to fly out four hours later.

Stockard had been a small man who loved clothes, always dressed in the most popular styles. Never one to lose face with his enemies or allies by looking bad, like he wasn’t in absolute control of every situation, which he generally had been. Until he’d met Jamie Madden.

Over several phone conversations they had come to decide that Jamie would fly down to Austin, where Stockard’s headquarters had been, and make a price. Kyle Stockard had a truckload of black market guns and ammunition that he was itching to get rid of, the authorities already staking him out. So, Jamie had agreed to buy. She had plans to then re-sale for twice their value to a small time, yet wealthy, Mexican gang led by a man named Juan Muñez. Kyle and Jamie had sat at the table for hours, the tall woman missing her initial flight back home, but no agreement was ever reached. She had caught a later flight, and two days later Kyle Stockard had mysteriously disappeared, and Jamie had a hundred thousand dollars in her pocket, and a Mexican gang was very happy, and very armed.

Jamie downed the last of her coffee, and walked to the counter to order another. She thought of the last seven years, and realized that she had no right to complain, or bemoan the lost time. Truth be told, she deserved to be in prison for the rest of her life. And, if she weren’t careful with what she had planned, that could easily happen.

She plopped down in her seat at her table, and absently stirred the thin straw around the steaming brew as she thought. She had the crippled lives of so many on her conscience. So much to atone for. The words that Stormy had once told her echoed through her mind.

“The world forgives who it wants to. The rest of us are fucked.”

Jamie was surprised as she realized just how much Tyg reminded her of Stormy. She wasn’t sure why that had never occurred to her before. Maybe she didn’t want to equate Tyg with such memories. Tyg was almost like the part of Stormy that had been missing; her compassion, love and caring, her kindness. They both had the fighting spirit, and stubborn nature. They even somewhat looked alike, too. What Stormy could have been if her cards had been dealt differently, and she hadn’t been abandoned by an abusive father, and crack addicted mother. She sighed. Well, at least Stormy was at peace. She hoped.

The brunette glanced up at the clock above the register and saw that the plane would be landing in five minutes. With a deep sigh, she stood, pitched her half-empty cup into the trash, and walked over to the waiting area. She leaned back against the wall, her hands buried in the pockets of her jeans, one leg crossed over the other, and waited.

The huge 737 hit the ground, skidding slightly, then made its way down the landing strip until it turned into the port of gate 17B. Jamie pushed away from the wall, and walked over to the large window that looked out over the runway area, and watched as the door to the plane was opened, and the passengers could disembark into the connecting tunnel. She turned back to the gate doorway, and watched as people of every walk of life and race entered the airport, some quickly walking away toward the baggage claim, others looking around the crowded area for their loved ones. Then Jamie spotted a tall man with dark hair. Her heart skipped a beat as she realized that that good looking man was the boy she had last seen. Blue eyes, so familiar to hers, were looking around until they landed on her. A slight smile spread across a darkly tanned face, the slightest hint of white teeth showing between full lips. Jamie smiled back, making Johnny’s smile grow wider. The brunette found herself wrapped in an enormous hug, her head leaning against a strong shoulder. For that moment everything seemed to click into place, and she felt whole.

“I’ve missed you, Jai.” came a low voice, husky from emotion held in check. Jamie tightened her arms in answer until she slowly pulled away, looking up into the handsome face of her brother.

“You grew up.” she said, eyeing his lean, six-two frame dressed in well fitted black pants with expensive Gucci shoes, and a light-weight tucked silk tee.

“So did you.” he said, running a fingertip over the slightest hint of lines near the corner of Jamie’s eyes. She grinned and smacked his hand away.

“Thanks for coming. Do we need to pick up your luggage?”

“Got it.” Johnny grinned, holding up a large duffel for her to see. Jamie nodded toward the door, and began to walk away. Johnny followed as Jamie led them to her bike in the large parking lot.

“Hot damn. It’s been a while since I saw this beast.” he ran his hand down the tank. “Carlos would never allow me to ride her.” Jamie grinned and nodded as she tossed the helmet at him. He caught it, and stared down at its dark, shiny finish. “You know,” he said, his voice quiet, almost reverent “I used to go in that old garage of theirs and sit on her. Not doing a thing, or touching nothin’. Just sit.” he raised wide, sad eyes at her. That face was the one she remembered. Jamie quirked one side of her mouth up, and grabbed him by his shirt, crushing him with a hug. Johnny squeezed his sister close, the one person in all the world who he loved above all else. “I’m sorry, Jai. So sorry.” he whispered into the warm skin of her neck. “I never meant for you to end up there. Never.”

“I know, little bro, I know. It’s okay.” she whispered back, caressing his thick, dark hair as she gently swayed back and forth, just like she used to do when they were young, and she had to once again sooth a crying little brother.

Johnny pulled away, and smiled brightly down at his big sister. The sadness had melted from his eyes, and he looked younger, rejuvenated, as if hearing Jamie’s words of forgiveness had lifted an immense weight from his shoulders.

“So what’s this you need help on?”
<><><>
Jamie tapped her fingers on the teller’s counter waiting for the woman to return with the money. She glanced around the small branch of the bank with its potted ferns, boring music, and green and blue color scheme. A woman sitting at a desk in the corner was starting at her. Jamie met the woman’s gaze, and brown eyes quickly looked away. She hated to be stared at. She turned back to the teller desk and saw that the lady had returned, and was counting.

“Okay, Miss. Madden.” the brunette put her hand out as the older woman counted the exact amount out into her palm, then placed the wad in a large envelope. “Will there be anything else we can do for you today?”

“I think you’ve done quite enough for one day.” Jamie grinned, and walked out of the bank. Jamie tucked the envelope into her jacket, and climbed onto the Harley, starting it up with a roar.

She stared out at the day as she rode through town, heading toward the motel where Johnny was waiting for her. She thought of the plan they had conjured as she passed by the slow business of the small, serene town. She had grown quite fond of LaGrange. Its simplicity she craved.

She wondered why a vulture like Hector would want anything to do with such simple people. Surly LaGrange was not a very lucrative part of his business?

She stopped at a red light, and glanced over to see a small shop on the corner of High street. A motorcycle dealer. Hmm. She squinted as she read the small lettering on the glass front: Collector? Wanting to sell? Talk to Fred! The only dealer worth talking to in Texas! Jamie turned back to see the light turn green, and gunned the bike.

The parking lot was nearly full as vacationers were beginning to come to Texas in droves, stopping in the state, or just for the night on their way to some other exotic, far away place. She pulled the bike up to room 401, and killed the engine, kicking the stand down.

“Hey, Jai. What’s up?”

Jamie glanced over at her brother who wore only a towel around his hips, another towel around his shoulders. She grinned at the mass of disheveled hair on his head. She stripped out of her black leather jacket, and tossed it on the table by the door, plopping down into one of the chairs on either side.

“Got it. Only took an hour, too.” she said, running fingers through sweat-damp hair. Johnny sat on the bed and grabbed a comb from his bag. He nodded.

“Pretty good. How much were you able to get?” he began to run the black ACE through thick hair, grimacing as he hit a tangle.

“Seventy. Hope it’s enough for that son of a bitch.”

“Hell, Jai. You know it ain’t going to be. He’s going to want more. I’d say at least a hundred.” Jamie drew her brows. “I would. Wouldn’t you?”

“Shit.” she breathed, and stood to start pacing.

“I can lend-“

“No!” Jamie turned on her little brother with fiery eyes. “No. I will handle this. You’re involved enough as it is.” she began to pace again, and stopped as she spotted something outside. The gleam of the sun off the chrome on her bike was almost blinding. She rubbed her chin in thought, then turned away.

“Jai, I know you don’t approve of what I’m doing. So why are you doing this?” Johnny asked, tossing the comb onto the comforter, and headed back to the bathroom to get dressed. Jamie stared at that black comb for a moment, trying to think of why indeed. Finally with a sigh, she spoke.

“Johnny, as you know, I’ve done things in my life that I am not proud of. I think the only good thing that I did in the first twenty years of my life was bring you up to be the kind, compassionate, caring man you are today. If only I had not influenced you the way I did.” Jamie lowered her head and stared down at the worn, brown carpet at her feet. She felt a hand on her back, and looked up into blue eyes.

“Please don’t say that, Jai. I chose this. Not you.” he said quietly. Jamie nodded.

“I wish I could think that, too, little bro.” she smiled sadly. “But all the same, no matter what I think of what you’re doing, and no matter how much I wish to whoever listens to this kind of stuff that you weren’t, I need your help now. I need the power of your influence, little bro. To back me up.” Johnny Madden stared into his sister’s eyes for a moment, then a large, bright smile spread across his features.

“Is she really worth that much, Jai?”

“Yes.” Jamie said simply. “She is.”
<><><>
The drive to Hector’s place was quiet, both brother and sister getting into the mode of business. The Lexus Jamie had rented was sleek and black, the windows tinted dark giving the car a foreboding look. Just the impression they wanted to make.

The previous night Johnny had talked to Hector’s second in command, Dennis, and they had worked out a schedule. The boss was under the impression that the Madden’s wanted to do business with him, so he had readily agreed to meet with them. However, it had to be at his spread. His security blanket.

Johnny pulled the car around the circular drive, and stopped, a well-dressed man stepping off the large front stoop and opened Jamie’s door for her, looking the tall brunette up and down as he stepped aside for her to get out. She wore a black, well tailored pant suit that she had picked up in Austin after getting her brother from the airport. The suit showed off her incredible body, long legs, trim waist, and her slightly rounded hips. She was any man’s dream with black, shining hair down and lose to sweep around her shoulders. Her intense blue eyes were in stark contrast to the dark colors making them seem to glow. She felt like an imposter, like she was trying to reclaim a character she had created and thrown away a long time ago.

She stepped from the car and smiled at the man, then looked over to Johnny who wore a dark gray Armani. Together they made a striking pair.

“Mr. Alvarez is waiting.” the man said as he indicated the tall, double front door with his hand. Johnny walked around the car, and led the way. Jamie raised her head, proud, invincibility oozing from every pore. As she passed, the man took a slight step back. Inwardly she grinned. She had missed such power.

The inside of the house was just as grand as the outside. High, vaulted ceilings, fine, rich woodwork, shiny marble flooring in the foyer with Hector’s monogram in the center of the floor.

“Welcome.” a woman said to their left. They turned to see a young woman with blonde hair piled high atop her head, dressed in a blue skirt and cream silk blouse. “Follow me.” she said with a smile. Jamie glanced briefly at her brother who raised a brow, then turned to follow the woman. She felt herself begin to change, almost a metamorphosis into the Jamie of the past. Confident, cocky, and won’t take any shit. Her breathing slowed, a wave of energy filling her slowly, starting at the soles of her feet, and working its way up to turn her eyes from the color of the sky to ice.

They were led down a long hall with expensive art lining the walls, most looked to be originals, then suddenly stopped at an open doorway.

“Mr. Alvarez will be with you shortly.” the pretty blonde said, beckoning that they should enter, then closed the heavy wooden door behind them. Johnny sat automatically in one of the twin leather chairs that faced the massive, ornately carved desk that sat near the back wall of the huge office. Jamie preferred to stand, knowing that her height often intimidated men into caving. She had always used her looks to their most potential, building what she had had in as short of time as she had. She looked over at Johnny and saw he had watched and learned well. He sat upright, one ankle crossed over a knee, one hand casually placed over it. He was striking, reminding her somewhat of Dylan McDermott in his presence and the way he held himself. How could she not be proud in some way?

“Well, I’m sorry to have kept you.”

Jamie’s attention was drawn to a deep, smooth voice behind her at the door. She turned to see a man of medium height, but impeccable appearance staring at her from the open door to the hall. He wore his salt and pepper hair slicked back with a slight wave in the back. His dark, nearly black, eyes were sharp, and alert. His expensive Brada suit was well tailored, and black, his silver and black tie tied to perfection. He was dashing. Jamie knew good taste when she saw it.

“Would either of you care for a drink?” he asked as he walked over to a panel in the wall, pushing a button to send a hideaway bar slowly unfolding from the wall. Jamie was impressed. Why hadn’t she ever thought of that in her office? She shook her head to clear it. Hector poured himself a small glass of scotch, and glanced over his shoulder at his two guests.

“No thank you.” Jamie said, her voice full, rich, and serious. Johnny held up two fingers and shook his head.

“Well, down to business then, shall we?” the gambler turned a winning smile on the Madden’s. He walked around the massive desk, and took a seat, adjusting his trousers as he sat, sipping from his drink, keeping watchful eyes on Jamie the entire time. “Well, Miss Madden. I must say, this is a real pleasure.” he gave the brunette a winning smile. “You’ve been out of circulation for awhile, I hear.” the hand nodded, crossing her arms over her chest, her cleavage pushing up ever so slightly, though Hector did not miss the motion. “What kind of time did you do?”

“Seven years.” Jamie said with the hint of a smile.

“Then I salute you.” Alvarez said, raising his tumbler before sipping. His eyes turned to Johnny. “And you, my boy, must be glad to have big sister back, eh?”

Johnny grinned, and glanced back at Jamie. “Well, we kept things going.”

“So I hear. It’s been said that your little baby brother is the one to be reckoned with now, Miss Madden-“

“Call me Jamie.” the brunette said, taking a step closer, and sitting on the edge of the desk. Alvarez stared at the long leg that dangled over the side, swinging slowly back and forth.

“Jamie.” he corrected with a slow spreading smile.

“Johnny has exceeded every expectation I ever had, and then some.” Jamie looked to her brother with a wide, toothy smile that faltered for just a moment as she looked into his eyes. Johnny looked away, unable to take seeing that flash of disappointment. Jamie turned her attention back to Hector. “Well, as pleasant as this walk down memory lane has been, this is not why we’re here, now is it?” she purred, giving the older man a dazzling smile.

“You are right.” Hector sat up from his reclined position, and placed his hands upon the desktop, looking from one to the other. “What can I do for you?”

Johnny looked to Jamie, waiting for her to state her conditions. This was her deal, and he’d let her do what she did best.

“Well,” Jamie stood and ran a hand through thick, dark hair. “I hear that you have some interests in a small ranch just outside of LaGrange.” she began, resting a hand on the edge of the desk, and pinning Hector with piecing blue eyes. Hector’s smile was easy, casual.

“Yes. I have interest in many small and not so small ranches in that area. So?”

“So, I believe that by the time my brother and I leave here today you will have interest in one less ranch.” Jamie said just as casually. She ran her fingertips over the smooth finish of the polished wood, looking at her reflection in its dark surface. Jamie stood and began to stroll around the large office, fingering pictures hanging on the wall, running her hand over a small sculpture that stood on a pedestal in the corner near the window. Hector followed her progress with slightly narrowed eyes. “Of course we’ll make it worth your while.” she continued, picking up a large table book of photography filled with black and whites. She glanced at the gambler to gauge his reaction.

“Why should I give a damn?” he asked, his voice slow, calculating, not wanting to evoke Jamie’s legendary temper. Also, not to lose a possible good fish on the line.

Jamie chuckled lightly and turned back toward Hector. “Because you don’t want to make me mad now, do you?” Hector met Jamie’s steely gaze, and felt a small shiver pass through him. He knew of the fate of many who opposed Jamie and Johnny Madden. He had known Kyle Stockard, who had been a close business acquaintance.

“Well, that waits to be seen. What is this ranch that has caught your fancy, Jamie?”

“The McClure place.” she said simply, fingering an antique pistol that sat upon a side table near the sofa in the back of the room. She fingered the trigger absently as her eyes bore into Hector’s. Hector knew that look, and swallowed. He flinched at the mention of the McClure place. He had been holding out on that deal for too many years to let it go now. He knew a good bit of land when he saw one, and Clay McClure had been such an easy pawn with his penchant for gambling. Such a shame he’d had to disappear with such a young daughter at home. He sat up a bit more in his chair, and played with his large, gold pinky ring, twisting and turning it. Jamie noted the action and grinned internally. She had him where she wanted him. God, she had missed this.

“I’m afraid the McClure place is not an option.” he said, after clearing his throat. He shook off his fear, and gave Jamie a winning smile, which she returned. She walked over to the older man, pistol still in hand. She knew his type, and had come prepared.

“Does this still work?” she asked casually, glancing down at the gun as if she had never seen one before. Hector swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing.

“I don’t think that’s the point, here. What is your interest in that worthless ranch, anyway?” he asked, trying to direct the conversation back to a more comfortable level.

“You know, I’ve always loved guns.” Jamie reached into her pocket and withdrew a single bullet, just right to fit an old six-shooter. She loosened the bolt and rolled the chamber barrel out.

“Listen, this is ridiculous-“ Hector cut himself off as Jamie slid the one bullet into a chamber, and slammed it shut, spinning the barrel with a simple flick of her finger.

“Now, where were we?” she asked, as she walked toward the desk once more, playing with the pistol all the while. “Now, what was your question? What is my interest in that worthless ranch? Well, we all have odd interests, don’t we?” she walked around the desk until she stood next to his large, leather chair. Hector turned until he faced her, and looked up into the beautiful face of the brunette. He knew she was playing with him, but did not dare risk calling her bluff. “So, Mr. Alvarez, or can I call you Hector? I think we shouldn’t waste any precious time squabbling about why or when or how. Why don’t you just be smart, and make me an offer.” she leaned over the chair, resting her free hand on the arm, the other bringing the pistol up to lightly glide down the older man’s face, tracing his lips with the tip of the barrel. Hector glanced down at the cold steel, then back up to Jamie’s eyes. The barrel proceeded down over his chin, down the short length of his neck to trace the lines of his expensive, silk tie, and down to hop over jacket buttons, and finally settling in his crotch. He swallowed again as he felt her press the weapon against him, mixing the pleasure of the pressure with the fear of knowing just what was causing that pressure. “So what do you say?” Jamie asked, her mouth a breath away from his.

“You can have it for two.” he said, his deep voice breathy. Jamie smiled, pressing the barrel a bit more.

“Tell you what. You give it to me for one, and you can have both of your little friends.” she tapped his crotch to emphasize her point. Hector closed his eyes and swallowed.

“Okay. One hundred grand.”

“Good boy.” Jamie stood, pulling the pistol with her. She smiled down at the sweating man. “You’re a smart man, Hector. I’ll be by tomorrow, say around noon?”

Hector took a couple deep breaths, and a long sip from his scotch. His composure back, he smiled and nodded.

“Yes. Noon is fine.”

“Wonderful.” Jamie smiled brightly, and turned toward the door followed by Johnny. Jamie placed the pistol back in its place.

“By the way, Jamie,” the brunette stopped and turned toward the old gambler with a raised brow. “That pistol doesn’t work anymore.”

“Well, then I guess it’s a good thing that was a blank I loaded into it.” she smiled, and headed out into the hall.

The black Lexus wove through the light mid-day traffic easily. Johnny glanced over at his sister as Jamie sat silent, staring out the windshield as if in a trance. They had left Alvarez’s place ten minutes before, and were headed toward the motel. He had never seen her pull off such an elaborate stunt with such a dangerous man, and wasn’t sure what to think.

“You okay, Jai?” he asked, his quiet voice shattering the muffled silence of the plush car. Jamie nodded, but said nothing. “You pulled it off.”

“Yeah.” Jamie said quietly, her voice dead. She sighed deeply and turned to stare at the passing scenery, her stomach in knots. It had been so easy to slip right back into that way of thinking, acting. Too easy. She knew it was for a good cause, but still, what did that say about her? About how far she had come since going to prison seven years ago. How far had she come? Or had she at all?

“You did what you had to do, Jai.” Jamie glanced over at Johnny, always amazed at how he could read her. She smiled, and reached over to cover his hand that rested on the gear shift with her own, squeezing it slightly before releasing.

Jamie was glad to see the motel as it appeared just around the bend. She was dying to get out of the suit that helped to create the person she no longer was, and she had some business to take care of.

Dressed in a pair of jeans and a tank, Jamie grabbed her keys and helmet.

“Be back soon.” she said as she left the motel, leaving a confused Johnny behind. The brunette climbed onto the Harley, and ran her hands over the smoothness of the black tank, tracing the single word that meant so much to her, and whispering it with a breath,

“Saoire.” the freedom she had craved her whole life, and now finally had. But to what cost? Emerald green eyes flashed before her mind’s eye, and she smiled. For Tyg. She was doing this all for her, for the one person who had given her that freedom. It was worth it.
<><><>
Jamie stood near the large front windows of the store, staring in at the assortment of bikes and ORV’s. She could hear Fred behind her, mumbling to himself, his biker boots crunching the gravel beneath his feet.

“What does this mean? What language is that, anyway?” the hand turned at the sound of his deep, gravelly voice. He was pointing at the tank.

“Gaelic. Means freedom.” she said, her voice dull, lifeless. He nodded and grabbed his long, blonde beard that had streaks of gray running through it.

“She’s in unbelievably good shape. I’d swear she hadn’t been ridden in a good while.” Jamie chuckled to herself, and nodded. “She’s a real beauty, Jamie. How’s thirty-five sound?”

“Works for me.”

“Give ya ten for the helmet?”
<><><>
The inside of the cab smelled of stale cigarette smoke, and old food. Jamie sat on the slick, vinyl seat, feeling the large envelope in her back pocket. The cabby was a young woman with a baseball cap on that said The Saints Kick Ass. The girl kept glancing at the hand through the rear-view mirror.

“You new ’round here? Don’t member seeing you before.”

“Yeah.” Jamie said absently.

“I’m Nic.”

“Jamie.”

The blonde cabby grinned at her, then began chewing her gum again.

Jamie walked into the motel room to find Johnny lounging around in a pair of shorts and a Rockies t-shirt. He glanced up at her as she dropped the motel key on the table and plopped down next to him.

“Where’s the bike?” he asked, watching as the cab backed out of the space, and drove out of the lot.

“Sold it.” Jamie muttered. She glanced over at the look of shock she expected to see on her brother’s face. “Had to. I was short on money for that asshole.”

“Jai, I would have given it to you. I know how much that bike meant to you.”

“Well, Johnny, I’ve learned that there are things in life far more important than a motorcycle.” Johnny looked into his sister’s eyes, searching for what he knew he’d find, the depth of truth to her words. Jamie never said anything she didn’t mean, and this was no exception.

“What’s her name, Jai? I’d like to meet her one day.” Jamie smiled, and smacked him on the arm.

“Her name is Tyg, but I don’t see that happening, little bro. Not the way things are right now, anyway.”

“Yeah.” Johnny turned sad eyes back to the television where Hard Copy was about to start. “I can’t just walk away, Jai. Too much at stake.”

“It’s your decision, Johnny. Only you can say what’s at stake. Until then, we won’t be in each other’s lives.”

“Is this an ultimatum, Jai?” he asked, turning fiery blue eyes on his sister. Jamie looked over at him, her expression calm.

“No. Just stating a fact.”

Johnny sat up, running long fingers through his hair that was still damp from his recent shower. He nodded, almost as if he had come to some sort of conclusion.

“Okay, Jai. Okay. You know where I’m at if you feel like dropping by sometime.”

“Yeah.” Jamie said with a sad sigh. Deep down she had known that Johnny was lost to her, but had hoped by some miracle he would chose his big sister over crime. Not to be.

The next morning Johnny had headed out, having an early flight back to Colorado Springs. The car was not due back until that afternoon, so Jamie drove out to Hector’s with one hundred thousand dollars bound into bundles of one thousand packed into a hard, metal case. She ditched the suit in favor of black jeans and a black tank. She looked no less stunning.

The blonde once again showed her to the large office from the day before, though this time Alvarez was ready and waiting.

“Jamie. Good afternoon. You’re right on time.” the older man said with a wide smile, setting off his light-weight summer suit.

“Always.” she said with a half-quirked grin. She walked straight to the desk, and plopped the case onto the desk top.

“Always one for business.” he smiled again. The smile was not returned.

“I warn you, Alvarez. If I get even one scent of any of your piss ants on this land, I will not hesitate to finish what I started yesterday.” she said in a deadly calm, her palms resting on the top of the case, leaning over the desk slightly. Hector glanced up into eyes made of ice, and nodded.

“You have my word, Jamie. A deal is a deal.”

“Let’s hope so.” Jamie said with a pleasant smile, and turned to walk out of the office, never looking back.

Jamie drove back to the motel, and arranged for the car rental dealership to pick the car up from there, and packed her one bag, wanting to walk around LaGrange before she headed back to the Tipple M.

She walked out into the bright late afternoon, and glanced around. The heart of the town was only a half mile to the east, so she headed in that direction, her bag slung over her shoulder, garment bag with her suit over her arm. She glanced down at the gray plastic, and suddenly bile rose in her throat. She looked to her right; at the side of the motel was a large, brown dumpster. She walked over to it, and tossed the thing in. She no longer needed it, and would never need it again. After all, what good was a suit on a ranch?
<><><>
The road was long and hazy from the heat, sky and dirt mingling in a liquid dance. Jamie watched as city quickly turned to farm to ranch.

“So, I saw ya’ll doin’ some business with Fred yesterday.” Butch Rodgers said. Jamie glanced over at the feed delivery man who she’d run into in town, and had offered her a ride out to the McClure place since he was already on his way. “Tel me ya didn’t go in git rid of that hog a yers.”

“Sure did.” she said with a slight grin.

“Ah, man!” he said, slamming the heel of his hand into the steering wheel. “Knew it. Woman ya shoulda tole me. I woulda bought her from ya if I knew ya was gettin’ rid a her.” Butch glanced over at the hand, scratched the three day old beard he had on his chin. Jamie chuckled at his dramatics. She like Butch. One of the purest souls she’d ever met.

“Well, I’ll keep that in mind, next time, Butch. It was kind of an unplanned thing.”

“Still a shame.” the driver said, stuffing a wad of Copenhagen in his left cheek.

The large diesel made its way down the bumpy road until the Triple M arch came into view, and passed carefully under it, the clearance no more than a few inches.

“They didn’t make no trucks this size when that thang was built.” Butch said with an annoyed sigh. Jamie chuckled, and felt a sense of peace flood her as they entered onto McClure property. Butch pulled the rig up to the old barn, and cut the engine with a sputtering groan. Jamie jumped out, grabbing her bag from the floor of the beast, and headed toward the hand’s cabins.
<><><>
Larry McClure sat on the newly fixed porch, his trusty cards on the patio table before him as he played another endless game of solitaire, determined to win at least one damn hand. His head snapped up as he heard the rumble of Butch’s feed truck. Hell, was it Tuesday already? Days flew by so fast anymore. He watched as the large, white rig pulled up to the barn, then was surprised to see a passenger hop down from the truck, and even more surprised to see that it was Jamie. He had begun to wonder if she hadn’t gone A-WOL on them. As he watched her tug her bag from the cab a thought occurred to him. A large smile began to spread across sun-dried lips.

“Hot damn.” he whispered. “She did it.”

“Well, look who found her way home.” Larry turned to see Rosa walk up to the table, her eyes on Jamie, her and holding a tall glass of lemonade.

“I was wonderin’.” the old rancher said, taking the offered glass, and downing a third in one swallow.

“Wonder if Tyg knows she’s back. Ain’t she been throwin’ a fit, though.” they chuckled as they thought of the threats the little spit fire had thrown at them both if they didn’t tell her what was going on.

“Nah. Doubt it.” the rancher watched as Butch opened up the back door to the trailer, and whistled for Bobby to help him unload. Rosa looked down into the old, leathery face she knew as well as her own.

“What you smilin’ about, old man? If I didn’t know better I’d say you got lucky in a dream, or somethin’.” the housekeeper took a step back, hands on her ample hips as Larry began to laugh outright. “What ain’t ya tellin’ me?”

McClure looked up into amused brown eyes, and smiled wide and proud.

“That girl got us home free. No more Hector and his damn threats.” he answered, happiness filling his old body. Now he felt as though he were complete, as if his life had come full circle. He knew his granddaughter would be okay, and so would the ranch. How could he ask for anything more?

“How do ya know that? Ya got a little birdy in your head tellin’ ya tales again?” the old man chuckled again, low and deep.

“Nah. I jus’ know, s’all.” Rosa followed the rancher’s slight gesture toward where Jamie had disappeared to, and looked back into smiling green eyes.

“That where she been? Runnin’ off like some tomcat in heat?”

“Can’t say fer sure.” the old rancher cut himself off as boots clanked across the wood planks of the porch. “Butch. How goes it?”

“Hey, old man. Good, real good.” the driver swiped his greasy baseball cap from sweaty brown hair, and wiped his forehead with his arm. “Damn hot one taday, hell yes ’tis.”

“Have a seat, Butch. I’ll get ya some lemonade.” Rosa patted the trucker on the shoulder, then disappeared around the corner of the house. Butch plopped into a chair next to the rancher, and flung an arm over the back, stared out into the yard.

“Ya’ll didn’t get hit too hard, huh?” he said, scratching his stubbled chin.

“Nah. Any felled buildin’s we done already got back up. Bad storm, but ain’t hit hard.” Larry McClure said, sipping from his glass as the ice was starting to melt. “Hate watery lemonade.” he muttered as he downed the whole thing.

“Ya’ll get up ta Dennison’s place?” Butch asked, taking the glass that Rosa offered him with a grateful smile.

“Nah. Heard ’bout it, though. Got plowed.”

Suddenly Butch sat up a bit straighter in his chair as a thought occurred to him.

“Ya know, I could strangle that hand a yours! She done gone an sold that hog a hers!” he exclaimed, tired eyes wide, the whites bloodshot from too many hours on the road. Larry McClure looked over at the man and nodded. He’d suspected as much.

“Well, each ta his own, old buddy.” he caught Rosa’s look of surprise. They all knew how much that bike meant to Jamie, but the rancher had the feeling she hadn’t had a choice. “Each ta his own. ‘M sure she had her reasons.”

The fifty pound bag of feed nearly slid of Tyg’s shoulder as she heard Butch mention Jamie and her Harley. Was she back? The blonde walked around the side of the house where she could see her grandfather, Rosa and Butch sitting around one of the tables, drinking lemonade and talking. Jamie had sold her Harley? Why? Was that reason she had taken off for three days without telling a soul? Though the rancher had the feeling that her granddaddy knew far more than he was willing to admit. She had been pissed at him and Rosa for days.

The small blonde carefully lowered the bag to the ground, and peeked around the side of the porch, listening.

“Did she tell ya’ll she was gonna do that, Larry?” Butch asked, running the cold glass over his forehead.

“Nope.” the old rancher said as he tipped his glass letting a half melted ice cube slide into his awaiting mouth.

“Hell, I saw her talkin’ to ol’ Fred Lott at his cycle shop, and just about dropped my jaw. Wonder what he gave ‘er fer it. Hell, I’d bet close ta forty grand. What she need that kind a money fer, anyhow?”

Tyg drew her brows, and ran a hand under her hair around the back of her neck, rubbed the sweat-soaked skin as she thought. What the hell was Jamie doing? Was she going somewhere? That’s a lot of money in one lump. She could feel her anger building once again. She wanted to march over to Jamie’s cabin right then and demand to know where the hell she had disappeared to for three days, and why the hell she was selling one of her most prized possessions. The blonde knew she wouldn’t have gotten rid of that bike for no good reason.
<><><>
Larry wiped his mouth with the napkin, and tossed it onto the card table next to his empty plate. Damn, that women sure knew how to make some good fried chicken. He downed the rest of his coffee followed by a loud belch.

“Ahhhh.”

“That’s real nice, granddaddy.” Larry turned in his chair to see Tyg standing near the door with a grin lighting up her face. He smiled and raised his eyebrows.

“My token of appreciation.” Tyg rolled her eyes, and walked into the room, pulling up a chair to the card table.

“Okay, old man. You’ve got some explaining to do. I’m not leaving here until you do, either. Got it?” the old rancher stared into the very serious face of his granddaughter. He’d known this would happen. Just a matter of time. All the same, he decided to play hard to get.

“What’cha talkin’ ’bout, girl?”

“No, no. Not gonna fly. You know damn well what I’m talkin’ about.” she grinned. Larry couldn’t help but grin back. She had him. She’d had him since the moment he’d laid eyes on her nearly twenty-seven years before.

“What’cha wanna know, tiger?” he said, his voice low and serious.

“Hell, ya can start with where the hell did Jamie disappear to.” the old rancher shrugged. “Granddaddy! Come on, now.”

“I don’t know. She ain’t tole me nothin’. She jus’ asked if she could have the time, and I said yup.” Tyg drew her brows, one hand running through blonde hair.

“Why she askin’ you?”

“Probly ’cause she knew you’d react like this, would be my guess.” Tyg flashed fiery green eyes at the older man.

“This just don’t make no sense.” she muttered, feeling like a pouting child.

“Listen, honey. Jamie came ta me a few days back and said she had a way a gettin’ rid a that bastard Hector. I gave ‘er my blessing, and off she went.” Tyg’s head snapped up as she stared at her grandfather, fear grabbing at her gut.

“Oh god. Ya don’t think she did anythin’ stupid, do ya?” Larry McClure shook his head, and placed his palm on the side of his granddaughter’s face.

“Nah, honey. She ain’t stupid. I’m sure she found some other way, an I’d be willin’ ta bet sellin’ that bike a hers had somethin’ ta do with it.”
<><><>
Tyg paced back and forth in her room, fists balled up at her sides as she tried to get her anger under control. How dare she! How dare she take the rancher’s problem into her own hands without asking first. This was Tyg’s mess to take care of, and Jamie had no right to interfere. The blonde knew that whatever the hand had done it was for all good intentions, but damnit!

Tyg stopped pacing and plopped down onto the softness of her bed, hands behind her head as she stared up at the dark ceiling of the late evening. She had left her grandfather’s room over an hour ago, but still could not straighten the whole thing out in her mind.

“Maybe I should go talk to her.” she muttered. “Nah. I’ll probably kill her.” she sighed loudly, running a hand through her hair again. She glanced out the window as the night breeze gently blew her curtains just a bit. Part of her wanted to run out there anyway just to see Jamie. If she were honest with herself she’d admit that part of her anger was that she had missed the brunette, and had yet to see her. Jamie had not come in for dinner. “Damn.” She wasn’t so sure how she felt about the fact that Jamie may have gotten rid of Tyg’s problem for her. How did that settle in her stomach? Mixed bitter/sweet. “Ta hell with it.”

Tyg jumped up from the bed, and slammed out of her room, headed downstairs, and out the front door. The night was hot and sticky as August was quickly on its way; the hottest, most uncomfortable month. Tyg ran her hands through wild hair again as she thought of what she wanted to say.

“Okay, Jamie, you shouldn’t have done that. No. Sound like a goddamn teacher or her mother.” she muttered to herself. “You had no right. This is my problem, and I had it all completely under control. Hell, but ya didn’t, you fool.” she admonished herself as she got closer to the cabins where some of the lights still burned in the windows. As did Jamie’s. “Ya shouldn’t have sold your bike for just me, Jamie.” she whispered as she climbed the few stairs to the small cabin. She stood at the doorstep for a moment before she raised her fist and pounded on the hard wood. She heard movement from inside, then a moment later the door opened, light spilling out into the night, blinding her for a moment. Jamie stood in the door in a pair of sweat shorts and a t-shirt. She looked down at the rancher, her eyes slightly widened in surprise, but said nothing. Tyg stared up at her, her heart pounding in her chest until she thought she’d faint. Getting her emotions back under control, Tyg let her anger take over.

“Why,” she demanded. “Why’d you do it, Jamie?”

“Because I had to.” the hand answered.

“That bike meant so much to you.” Tyg said, her throat constricting the slightest bit as she swallowed her relief in seeing the brunette safe and home.

“So do you.” Tyg stared up into eyes turned dark from the light shining behind Jamie’s tall form, and suddenly the need to feel Jamie, to know that she was really there was overwhelming, and almost made her anger dissipate. Almost.

“Don’t do that again, honey. I was worried.” the blonde said as she pushed Jamie into the cabin, kicking the door shut behind her. She pushed her with a hand to her chest, advancing on the retreating brunette. “Do you have any idea how pissed I am at you right now?” Jamie said nothing as she continued to back up across the main room until her back slammed up against the back wall next to the back door. Tyg was on her in a heartbeat, her body pressed to the taller woman’s, her hand flying up around Jamie’s neck to pull her down. “You shouldn’t have done that.” she whispered just before her mouth covered Jamie’s, unable to stop herself. Jamie pushed her away slightly.

“I had to.” she said, nearly breathless. Tyg found her mouth again, pushing into Jamie’s body, her fingers tangling in long, black hair.

“Why?” she breathed into the brunette’s mouth, pulling her deeper into the kiss.

“I did it for you.” Jamie answered, her own hands finding Tyg’s hips, and pulling the smaller body into her own. She could not fight what her own body had been craving for months.

“You could have been hurt.” Tyg moaned as Jamie’s mouth found her neck, a hot tongue playing along the length, gently sucking in the skin.

“You’re worth it.” Jamie said into the hollow of the blonde’s throat. Tyg pulled back from her, and stared into blue eyes turned dark from arousal. She placed a hand on either side of the brunette’s face, and stroked the soft skin with her thumb, feeling the speeding heartbeat in her temples before gliding down over hot skin to smooth over Jamie’s lips, feeling the moisture from their kiss gather onto its tip. Jamie’s lips opened, and she gently took the thumb into the dark, wet cave of her mouth. Tyg’s breath caught, and she could not take her eyes off of that pink tongue that snaked out, drawing the thumb further in. Finally able to look away, green met blue, and Jamie kissed the palm of Tyg’s hand, then took it in her own, and led the rancher back toward her bedroom.

Tyg couldn’t believe this was happening as she followed the hand past the kitchen table, and through the doorway into the darkened room beyond. Jamie did not turn on a light, but instead turned to see Tyg in the blue hue of moonlight that filled the space. She could see the rancher was breathing heavily, as was she. She could feel the blood pounding through her ears as she pulled the smaller woman to her, needing to feel the heat, the solid presence of what had become an internal obsession. Jamie wanted to slow it down, to savor this like a dying man finding a few more minutes to live.

Tyg stepped into the welcoming circle of Jamie’s arms, folding herself into the larger body for a moment, needing to just be held, know that it was Jamie who held her. Jamie stroked her hair with long, slow strokes, pushing stray hairs away from her forehead, caressing the skin of her face as she did. Jamie’s hand dropped down to Tyg’s neck, feeling the hot skin there, the smooth throat, and delicate bones. Tyg could feel her body beginning to respond, and she slid her hands over Jamie’s back, running her nails down the brunette’s spine, making her shiver. Tyg found the taller woman’s lips again, and began a slow exploration that was starting a slow fire that threatened to burn them both alive.

Jamie closed her eyes, and was surprised to hear a moan escape her throat as Tyg’s tender, yet entirely too passionate kiss, consumed her. Her hands wondered up to the rancher’s hair, and lost themselves in its thickness, pulling the smaller woman that much closer as the hand deepened the kiss. Tyg’s hands slid down Jamie’s back until they found the end of her t-shirt, and slipped underneath the thin material. The skin covering the strong back was smooth, hot to the touch, almost searing. She was filled with an overwhelming, almost desperate need to see and touch Jamie. She pulled the shirt up, Jamie lifting her arms so the shirt could slide over her head. Tyg stared at the incredible sight before her. Jamie stood naked from the waist up, her shoulders strong and tan from hard hours working on the ranch. She reached her hands out to run fingertips along the strong collarbone, shadow filling the hollow pocket, and running down to glide over smooth, full breasts, and at last fall upon dark, hard nipples. Jamie ran her hands along Tyg’s arms, pushing herself further into the rancher’s touch, finding her mouth again. She reached around and placed large hands on Tyg’s butt, pulling her body against her own. The rancher gladly gave in to the kiss, her hands cupping Jamie’s breasts, squeezing, running her thumbs over rigid peaks as the kiss turned from a gentle exploration to a hurried feast of heavy breathing, and searching tongues.

Tyg felt herself being pushed back until something hit at the back of her knees, and she fell onto the softness of the mattress behind her. Jamie was on top of her in a heartbeat, her hands pushing at Tyg’s shirt, wanting to touch what had haunted her for months. Tyg arched her neck as she felt a hot mouth on her neck, moving to her ear lobe, a teasing tongue driving her wild. Her fingers buried themselves into a mane of silk, pressing, needing more. Jamie’s hands struggled with Tyg’s bra, and finally got it unhooked, pulling it out from under the rancher, and tossing it to the floor with their shirts. Jamie moved from Tyg’s ear, kissing, and sucking down a searing neck, and licked her way across defined collarbones, breathing in the blonde’s scent as she buried her nose between soft breasts before kissing her way across to the soft swell, running her tongue around a hard nipple, tasting, sucking, gently running her teeth over the sensitive peak.

“Jamie,” Tyg breathed, cupping the back of her neck, guiding her where she needed her most. The hand moved to the other breast, caressing and teasing the other with fingers and palm. Still concentrating on Tyg’s breasts, Jamie reached down and unbuttoned the rancher’s jeans, sliding them down as far as she could before she moved away from the blonde and sat back on her knees. She looked down at the incredible creature who lay beneath her, eyes hooded by desire, fingers running up and down Jamie’s thighs as she waited for the brunette to make her next move. Jamie stood and removed Tyg’s jeans from short, but muscular legs, tossing them on the growing pile of clothing. She looked down and chuckled at the blonde’s purple underwear.

“Hanes Her Way. Gotta love ’em.” Tyg grinned.

Jamie pulled them off, inhaling the smell and heat that radiated off of the blonde. She bent over the prone form before her, spreading her fingers and running her hands up the bent thighs, spreading them so she could fit between. Tyg reached for her, pulling her to her for a kiss that shook them both to the core. Tyg used her tongue to tease, and bring the hand back for more, her hips beginning to rock gently on their own, a shiver passing through her as the soft material of Jamie’s shorts rubbed against her.

Jamie again pulled away, freeing herself from the last barrier, both moaning as skin laid upon skin. Jamie moaned again when she felt how wet Tyg already was. She kissed her lightly, then began to kiss and lick a trail down the blonde’s jaw, over her neck and to her breasts as her fingers caressed the skin of her stomach, dipping lightly into her belly button, her mouth following the path with lips, tongue and teeth until Tyg’s intoxicating wetness met the tip of her tongue, taking in the tangy liquid. Tyg chuckled as Jamie teased the thatch of dark gold hair with her nose, finally parting swollen lips with her tongue, licking up the full length of Tyg’s sex, the blonde lifted her hips with the action, sucking in a deep breath as her hands shot down to grab Jamie’s shoulders, and then entwine her fingers into her hair that tickled the insides of her thighs.

Tyg stared up into the dark ceiling, her mind whirling as she felt the incredible sensations of Jamie’s tongue play across her most sensitive areas, sucking her in, nipping so gently that only pleasure could be felt. A wave of sensation shot up her spine as Jamie took her into her mouth, running her flattened tongue over and over until she could not keep her body still, her thighs pressing in on the sides of Jamie’s head only to relax again as Jamie pressed further, taking more of her in, drinking more of her juices, the only sounds in the dark room Tyg’s moans and increased breathing and Jamie’s sucking mouth. She could feel herself rising higher, about to fall, Jamie the only person in the world who could break her fall.

Jamie could feel the slickness on her cheeks, and dribbling down her chin as she held Tyg tighter, her arms wrapped around writhing thighs, fingers squeezing the soft skin of Tyg’s legs, soothing her and exciting her at the same time. She could feel Tyg’s climax coming, her own body responding in kind. She spread the blonde’s legs a bit wider as she attacked the sensitive bundle with zeal, taking the woman she loved as far as she could possibly go, surrounding her in a blanket of warmth and softness to show her just how much she loved her, how much she needed her, and how much she wanted her.

Tyg felt her stomach muscles constrict as her body was wracked with pleasure, waves sweeping through her like the torrents of the most turbulent ocean, all wrapped in the blue of her lover’s eyes. Blindly she reached down until she felt the center of her world. She pulled Jamie up to lay on top of her, finding the hand’s mouth, desperate to complete the bond, to seal their connection with a kiss.

Jamie supported herself on her elbows, smoothing sweat-soaked hair back from Tyg’s face as they kissed, softly, gently, slowly. No one in any hurry

“I love you.” Tyg whispered against full lips. Jamie pulled away slightly, stared down into emerald eyes made slate from the night. She smiled, bending to gently lay a kiss on Tyg’s forehead.

“I love you, too.”

Jamie rolled onto her side, pulling Tyg to her, back to front. Tyg protested when Jamie pulled her close, her cheek against the rancher’s.

“Just let me hold you, Tyg. That’s all I want.” she whispered. Tyg settled in against her, bringing the brunette’s long arm around her, holding it tight against her heart, and closed her eyes.
Part 8
Old, tired green eyes opened followed by the slight wrinkling of the nose, and raising of the upper lip in a grimace. Larry McClure sat up in his large bed, one hand held over his chest as he struggled for a breath. He looked around the dark room, trying to figure out what had woken him in the first place, then the pain shot through him again, starting in his chest and shooting down through his left arm.

“Argh.” he stammered as he threw the sheet off of him, swung his legs over the bed to rest on the chilled hardwood floor. The old rancher ran large hands over his face, and through nearly all gray hair. He took several deep breaths as the pain shot through him once more. “Damn chili gave me heartburn.” he muttered as he laid back down, and closed his eyes. Too early to get up.
<><><>
Rosa glanced over at the clock. The boys would be in soon. She wondered if Jamie would decide to drag her butt in finally and regale them with her tales of heroism. She chuckled to herself as she held the lid of the carafe closed so she could pour the old man’s coffee. That one was definitely a mystery. Sure had Tyg all tied up in knots. The housekeeper had heard Tyg walk down the hall the night before, and at the pace she used, she was sure the blonde had gone for either a late night ride with Hazelnut, or one of her runs. Either way, she knew the girl had been able to burn off all that excess energy.
Rosa piled everything onto the tray to bring up to Larry; a stack of golden pancakes with a tiny pitcher of heated maple syrup, a plate of eggs, done over-easy just like he liked them, and three links of sausage, three slabs of bacon, and a side of Texas toast. Tyg sure came by her appetite honestly. The housekeeper placed the mug of steaming black coffee on one corner, a tall glass of orange juice on the other and heaved it up to head upstairs.

Rosa walked down the dark hall, and balanced the tray on a knee as she opened the door to old man McClure’s room. Try as she might, she could never be mad at him; she loved that old goat. He had been like a father to her.

She was surprised to see that the room was still dark, and the rancher was still in bed. Usually by this time he had himself up and dressed, and was either playing one of his endless games of cards, or staring out over the early morning.

“Larry?” she asked, a pang of concern passing through her. She set the tray on the card table, and hurried over to the large bed where the still form of her boss of more than a quarter century laid on his side. She placed her hand on his shoulder, shaking him slightly. “Larry?” she asked again, leaning over to see just past an ear, to the leathery skin of his face. “Larry?” she asked again, her voice raising half a pitch as worry really began to grip her gut. “Lar-“

“What, woman? I ain’t deaf, ya know.” the old rancher half turned to glance over his shoulder at Rosa’s surprised face. The housekeeper blew out a deep breath ad smacked him on the arm.

“Damn you, old man! You just about scared the holy water outta me!” she helped him turn over onto his back, and sit up.

“Sorry.”

“Why ain’t you up yet, lazy bones?” she grabbed his jeans off the floor where he’d tossed them the night before, and threw them onto the bed before digging a clean shirt out of the drawer in the dresser across the room. “Here. Get dressed.”

“Sorry, Rosa. Ain’t feelin’ too good this mornin’, s’all.” the old rancher yanked his sleep shirt over his head and pulled the clean one on. Rosa helped him stand, then turned away as he pulled on the jeans, then she helped him to the bathroom in the room, organizing his plates on the card table as he did his business.

“Why? You gettin’ sick, or what?” she asked, loud enough to be heard in the other room.

“Hell if I know. Just got heartburn, I think.”

“Well, I ain’t feelin’ too sorry for ya. I tole ya not to eat that chili, old man.” she set the napkin and silverware next to the plate and gathered the tray and ever present dish towel under a fleshy arm. The door opened, and Rosa wrinkled her nose. “Damn! I’d say you had heartburn or somethin’.” she walked to the door and stopped. “You sure you okay?”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine.” the old man said sitting at the table with the wave of his hand.

“Well, you need anything, you holler.”

Rosa left the room and walked down the few feet to Tyg’s door, hand raised, poised to rap on the girl’s door with her knuckles, but decided not to. Let her sleep. She’d had a rough couple of days.
<><><>
Emerald eyes opened to see the orange-pink light of early morning flowing through the open windows on a breath of cool breeze. Tyg felt heat along her back, and curled up under her bent legs, and smiled as last night dawned into her sleep-fuzzy brain. She sighed deeply, pulling the forearm that she held closer around her waist, a large hand opening to spread long fingers across her hip. The blonde smiled when she heard a soft sigh behind her, feeling the warm puff of air that followed against the back of her neck. Jamie. She had never felt so comfortable, so at peace, so at home, in her whole life as she felt in Jamie’s arms. She remembered feeling a soft touch at the swell of her breast, and had opened her eyes to see it still in the deep of night, and met soft lips and exploring hands. Tyg’s body tingled all over again as she once again felt the brunette’s hands slide down her body, caressing her, and finally slipping through curls to bathe in a spring of pleasure, then she cried out softly as she was suddenly filled.
Tyg turned over to her back, taking Jamie’s hand in hers, and kissing the palm as she stared into the beautiful face, so at peace in her sleep. She smiled as she could still smell herself on soft fingertips. Jamie’s dark lashes were closed, her lips pursed ever so slightly. Tyg ran a finger over those lips, and up a high, chiseled cheekbone. Dark brows drew together a second before blue eyes opened, leaving the rancher speechless with their incredible color and depth. The hand smiled, the tiniest lines appearing around the corners of her eyes.

“Hi.” she whispered.

“Howdy.” Tyg smiled back. She ran her hand through the hair at the brunette’s temples, combing it back from her face, tucking it behind an ear. Jamie kept her eyes on green the entire time, so lost in her own emotions that she could not imagine her life without the rancher now. Last night Tyg had planted something within her that was embedded forever in her heart. Even if she were to leave the ranch at that moment, never to return, she was changed. She lacked the words to say to Tyg, so she said nothing, instead hoping that the blonde could read everything in her eyes.

Tyg turned to her side, facing Jamie, their legs entwined. Jamie’s hand began to caress Tyg’s hip, moving up to her waist to settle in the soft curves there. Neither felt the need to say anything. Words could only serve to destroy the perfect peace that filled each. Besides, nothing could be said that hadn’t already been said through touching and being touched; skin being the parchment, hands the quill. For the first time in her life, Jamie did not feel scared or alone, and Tyg saw someone before her that she could lean on, depend on, and knew would love her as much as she loved. It was exhilarating and calming all at the same time.
<><><>
The truck idled quietly in the circular drive as he sat. And thought. How could this happen? He’d given up one job for another, now he had neither. This was not how it was supposed to go down! Well, nothing usually does, a little voice in his brain chirped. No! The truck shook slightly as the heel of his hand met the steering wheel, a dull thud filling the cab for a moment. He took a deep breath and looked around the immaculate grounds, knowing he wouldn’t have a chance there. So instead he looked out toward the main road, a white car passing going to some unknown place. Probably a good job that paid really good. Fresh anger filled him.
“Bastards.” he snarled, tapping impatient fingers on the dash just beyond the wheel. He glanced down at the envelope on the seat next to him with his “final pay”. He hadn’t even bothered to count it.

“Final pay, my ass.” he breathed as he put the old Ford in gear, and drove off the grounds. He had an idea.
<><><>

“Well, do you think maybe we should get out of bed before Rosa comes looking for you?” Jamie asked with a grin, holding the bundle that laid half on top of her closer, wild blonde hair under her chin, a wisp flying up to tickle her nose. The blonde hair nodded, and the hand chuckled. She waited a few minutes, but when the rancher made no effort to move, she squeezed a bit harder. “Like, today?” again a nod, but nothing else. “Come on, lazy. Let’s get up.”
“Don’t wanna.” Jamie found herself with even more of Tyg’s body holding her down, but could not bring herself to move out from under her. Truth be told, she was perfectly content and comfortable acting as a human pillow, but her bladder and stomach had other ideas. She was quiet for a moment as she took in the bed that was utterly destroyed, blankets and sheets hanging off everywhere, the bare mattress showing at the foot of the bed. She inhaled the smell of sweat and sex that permeated the air.

“Okay. If I give you a kiss will you get up?”

“No.” was mumbled into the skin of Jamie’s neck.

“If I tickle you?”

“No.”

“Hmm.” Jamie thought for a moment, then a grin spread across her features. “How about if I get you the biggest, most succulent breakfast there is?” a blonde head popped up, and Jamie found herself looking into smiling green eyes.

“Okay.”

“You’re terrible.” Jamie chuckled, running her knuckles along Tyg’s neck.

“Yes, but I’m hungry, too.” Tyg leaned in and kissed Jamie sweetly on the lips, then slowly pulled herself up to straddle the brunette, looking down at her with hands resting on the mattress on either side of the hand’s shoulders. “So are you going to make me this biggest, most succulent breakfast?” Jamie chuckled deep in her throat, an almost evil sound. Tyg raised dark gold brows in question.

“You don’t want me to do that.” the brunette said with a lop-sided grin.

“Oh? And why’s that?”

“Because my cooking might kill you, and-“ before Jamie could finish, Tyg was off and running toward the kitchen. A few seconds later,

“Honey, you ain’t got any food in here!” was yelled back. Jamie chuckled.

“And because I don’t have any food.” she finished quietly. She glanced over to see a very naked Tyg standing in the doorway of the bedroom with arms crossed her over chest, an accusing look on her beautiful face. “What?” Jamie asked, placing her hands behind her head with a guilty grin.

“What, nothin’. You tryin’ to starve yourself, honey?” the blonde walked over to the bed and looked down at her lover, hands on her hips. Jamie looked up at the mother hen and shrugged again. She sat up, whipping long legs over the side of the bed, pulling the rancher in between and wrapped her arms around Tyg’s waist. Tyg sighed and pulled Jamie in so her cheek rested against the blonde’s stomach. “We gotta change that.” Tyg closed her eyes and sighed as she gently stroked Jamie’s long, dark hair.
<><><>
Rosa stared at the two empty chairs; one at the head of the table, the other to the left of it. When neither Jamie or Tyg had showed up for breakfast, she had had a pretty good idea what happened, and couldn’t keep the smile from her lips. The boys seemed to pick up on it, too, as no one had asked a single question, but looked at each other with twinkling eyes, and silent nods.
The housekeeper made one more round of food before she started to kick the boys out, grabbing Marty by his arm. He looked at the older woman with dark, guilty eyes.

“Don’t think you’re gettin’ away, ’cause you ain’t.” the hand sighed, and waved to his buddies as they all marched out the door.

“Dish duty again?” the boy asked, walking over to the table and beginning to gather plates and glasses.

“Not yet. Gotta feelin’ I’m gonna be feedin’ two hungry gals.” Rosa winked at a smiling Marty over her shoulder.

“Do ya really think that’s what done happened?” the boy asked with wide-eyed wonder.

“I sure hope so. At least one person in this house should be happy.” she grumbled as she began to beat a half dozen eggs. “Tell ya what, boy, why don’t ya go on out an see if Bobby has anythin’ for ya to do today.”

“Later!” Marty yelled over his shoulder as he pushed a chair out of his way. The older woman shook her head as she pulled a whisk out from her utensil jar.

“Kids.”
<><><>
The back road behind the ranch near the stream was a good thing. Good place to do this. No one really knew about it except for maybe that bitch and her old man of a grandfather. No one knew that place like her did. No one could work on machines; fixing them, or otherwise. That stupid kid was never supposed to get on that damn baler. That was usually Tyg’s job. Oh well. Into every war is thrown some casualties.
The old Ford bobbed its way up the less than dirt road, the large farm house finally coming into view, the horse corral off to the left a good pace. He pulled the truck to a stop for a moment, trying to decide what to do. With a grin he put the vehicle in gear, and pulled up to the front of the place. He knew that all the boys and that bitch would be gone by now, out in the field, humpin’ cows, or whatever. Now in the house was that old bitch and the old man. Perfect.
<><><>
Rosa whistled an old Mexican tune she remembered from her childhood that her mother used to sing to her. Humming quietly, she grabbed the egg timer, and set it for fifteen minutes. She was surprised that the girls still hadn’t shown up yet. She knew in her gut that everything was okay, so she didn’t bother heading to Jamie’s place. They deserved their privacy. She smiled as she pictured the two of them. So different, yet so much the same. Where one ended, the other picked right up. The housekeeper thought back to one night not long ago when Tyg had come in from another hard day, and had plopped down on her stool, cold beer in hand.

“What’s goin’ through that pretty head of yours, child?” she had asked to which Tyg had answered with only a sigh. “Don’t you sigh at me. Tell me what’s goin’ on.” Tyg took a swig of her beer and stared up at the older woman who was kneading dough for the morning biscuits.

“Hell, I’m just tired of wonderin’, is all. Ain’t worth it.”

The next morning Jamie had disappeared. Rosa chuckled when she heard the back door open. She grinned.

“About time you two got your lazy asses outta bed. Ya’d think ya’ll were rabbits, or somethin’.” the hairs on the back of Rosa’s neck stood on end as she heard heavy footsteps coming down the hall. Her gut clenched tight.

“I ain’t no rabbit, but I’ll sure as hell skin ya like one you make one sound.”

The older woman shivered at the deep voice, and the hot, bitter breath that tickled the little hairs at the back of her neck. She felt something poke her in the shoulder, then a sharp pain to the top of her head, and all went dark.
<><><>
Jamie stood in front of the steamy mirror, wiping a hand across it’s smooth surface. She picked up the brush from the bathroom counter, and ran it through the thick, wet strands, tugging through the tangles.
“Ya about ready, baby?” Tyg asked, wrapping her arms around the brunette from behind, watching the hand’s reflection over her shoulder. Jamie nodded.

“Yup.” Jamie grabbed the hand that rested on her hip, and kissed the palm before she tossed the brush to the counter, and turned in Tyg’s embrace to smile down at her lover who still had wet hair, too.

“Let’s go get some breakfast.” the blonde whispered against the taller woman’s lips.

The day was beautiful and bright, the full blast of summer heat had not quite hit yet at eight-thirty in the morning. Tyg and Jamie walked down the main path from the hand’s cabins. Tyg reached out and grabbed the brunette’s hand, smiling at the raised brow. They walked on in silence, basking in the stillness of the day. As they got closer to the main house, Jamie could feel Tyg’s whole body change. She glanced over at the rancher to see her staring at the house, green eyes turned hard. Jamie followed her gaze to see an old green Ford parked in the drive, and turned back to the blonde just in time to have her hand dropped back to her side as the rancher began to run toward the house. Not sure what was going on, the brunette followed, her longer legs quickly catching up.

Tyg could hear her heart pounding in her ears as she neared the house. She had the worst feeling assail her gut. She flew up the few stairs of the porch, and nearly ripped the screen door from its hinges. Her mind seemed to cut off, and everything became like tunnel vision, only seeing what lay ahead of her, her thoughts strictly on her family.

Jamie nearly plowed into the blonde who had stopped short just inside the door. Tyg looked toward the stairs, then headed through the hall to the kitchen instead. A small gasp escaped the rancher’s throat as she ran into the room to find Rosa laying on the ground on her side, one arm partially covering her face. Tyg knelt next to the housekeeper, dread running through her gut giving her a bitter taste in her mouth.

Jamie stood in the doorway, not sure what she should do. She could feel anger building inside her like water bubbling from a geyser.

“Rosa.” Tyg breathed, turning the large woman over onto her back, and feeling for a pulse at her throat. The blonde closed her eyes with a sigh of relief when she felt the steady beat. She was just knocked out. The rancher smoothed the salt and peppery hair away from the housekeeper’s face, and drew her hand back to see her fingertips covered in blood. “I’m so sorry, Rosa.” she whispered. She looked up at Jamie who watched with her arms crossed pensively over her chest. She looked like she was about to explode.

“Who did this?” Jamie demanded, her voice low, dangerous. Tyg opened her mouth to answer when overhead they heard a loud thud.

“Granddaddy!” Tyg jumped up and followed Jamie out of the kitchen up the stairs where the hand took them three at a time, her long legs carrying her down the hall in a second, barging through the closed door of Larry McClure’s room to see the old man on the ground, kneeling on one knee, a hand raised to protect himself from another blow, his other hand clutching his shirt at his chest. He couldn’t breath, and was gasping for air.

Jamie saw the back of the man standing over the old rancher, a small hand gun in his right hand, the weapon pointed point-blank at McClure’s forehead. Without a thought she spun around and gave him a roundhouse to the ribs. The gun flew from the man’s hand, and he was nearly knocked to the floor. He turned to face his attacker.

“Cal.” Jamie growled as she prepared for his rage as he charged her, grabbing her around the middle and knocking them both into a wall. Jamie was stunned for a moment as the air was knocked from her lungs, but she knew there was no way she could let the bastard get the upper hand. He would kill her. She had seen that look in his dark eyes, and knew it well. He was on a suicide mission. Vengeance, or die trying.

Tyg ran into the room.

“Granddaddy!” she cried as she saw the old rancher collapsed near his chair, his breathing labored, his face as pale as she’d ever seen it. “Oh, god.” she breathed, and ran over to him, moving him out of the way of the fight that was moving around the room. The blonde gathered her grandfather in her arms, cradling his head to her breast as she prayed Jamie would be okay as she battled what looked like a lion in captivity too long. She knew Cal was dangerous; he was a big man, and she wasn’t sure if Jamie could stop him.

Jamie closed her eyes a second before she saw the fist coming. Stars flashed behind her lids, her head rocking on her neck like a jack-in-the-box on its spring. The hand had made a terrible mistake though, as he stood with his legs wide for better balance and power behind his throw. Jamie used his own hand pinning her against the wall as leverage as she raised her leg, and kneed the bastard as hard as she could Cal’s eyes flew open, and she was instantly released as he grabbed his damaged parts, a small cry escaping his lips. Jamie scooted out from the trap of him and the wall as she spotted the gun that had ended up near the bathroom door. She ran to get it when her ankle was caught, and down she went, hard enough to jar her teeth in her head.

“No ya don’t, ya bitch.” was growled behind her. She squirmed around to see Cal lying on his side, one large hand wrapped around her foot, beginning to pull her toward him. She turned back toward the gun, her arm reached out as far as she could, her fingers stretched, but not enough. “I ain’t gonna give ya a chance ta kill a second time.” he sneered. As she was dragged toward him, she drew her other leg back, and planted her shoe in his face. She heard the tell-tale crunch of his nose breaking, and a scream filled the room. Jamie was released, and scrambled to get the gun. She picked it up, and stood when she was slammed into the wall, an arm locked across her throat. “Gimmie that, ya cunt.” he hissed, grabbing for the gun. The struggle began again as Jamie sucked in shallow breaths as her air was steadily cut off.

“Cal!” Tyg cried out, terrified as she saw the veins popping out of Jamie’s neck and forehead from the strain and lack of oxygen.

“Shut up, bitch! Yer next.” he said, baring blood-stained teeth as he applied even more pressure. Jamie twisted her arm until she was able to get the gun free, and raised her arm, cocking back the hammer. Cal grinned as he saw her. He wiped the blood that gushed from his nose away from his mouth with his free arm before he grabbed Jamie’s gun hand. Jamie closed her eyes as she felt her hand being nearly broken as Cal put pressure on it to turn the gun on her. She opened her eyes and glanced over at Tyg as things were beginning to get fuzzy and gray. The blonde stared back with desperate, pleading eyes. The hand summoned up every last ounce of strength she had in her body, and began to push back against Cal’s hand until the gun was nearly in his chest. He put even more into it until finally Jamie was looking down the barrel of the gun. She could hear Tyg crying in the background. This was not how it was supposed to happen. She couldn’t leave Tyg like this. Not like this. The world was steadily becoming darker, fading into some strange tunnel where sound and light didn’t exist…..

PING!!! Thunk.

Jamie felt the pressure suddenly let up on her throat, and with a rush of blood, her vision began to slowly clear, and sounds were erupting throughout the room, almost deafening as she clutched her throat, and opened her eyes to no longer see Cal standing in front of her, but Rosa. Jamie quickly glanced down, and saw the hand laying on the floor in a heap, eyes open wide in shocked pain, blood gushing from his fatal head wound. The cast iron frying pan that Rosa still held in her hand had crushed his skull, killing him instantly. Jamie looked up again to meet the older woman’s dark eyes, and they both let out a long, slow breath, and a slight smile of relief and thanks.

“No!” Jamie’s aching head snapped over to where Tyg sat on the floor with Larry McClure in her arms, his face drawn and pale, mischievous green eyes closed. Forever. “Oh, granddaddy. No.” she cried into his hair as she held him close, rocking his still body in her arms. “I love you.”

Rosa and Jamie hurried over to the rancher, Rosa whispering soft words into Tyg’s hair as she held her close.

“Let ’em go, baby.” she cooed, trying to hold her own tears back. Jamie stood, stunned as blood trickled down the side of her head, down her cheek. She brought her hand up to rub her neck when she was nearly bowled over by the small blonde. She pulled Tyg close, breathing in her scent, the scent of life. The rancher cried in her arms, her sobs rocking them both. Jamie buried her face in Tyg’s hair, her own eyes filling, but the tears refused to fall. Now was Tyg’s time to grieve.

The back door of the station wagon closed with a loud bang of finality, the word CORONER stenciled in white against the dark blue of the car. Jamie watched from the porch as another wagon door was closed, then those of the ambulance, Rosa’s voice filling the early afternoon air.

“I’m fine, you fool. Let me outta here!”

The brunette smiled as the paramedic knocked on the closed door of the van, bright lights and sirens whooping to life, threatening to split the hand’s skull. She took a deep sigh, resting her forearms against the wood railing.

“Hey.” she turned to see Tyg standing next to her, thumbs hooked into the back pockets of her shorts.

“Hey.” Jamie said quietly. She stood and faced the blonde. “Listen, Tyg. About what Cal said, about me-“ Tyg covered the brunette’s lips with two fingers.

“Shhh. Another time.” she whispered. “Hold me.”

Jamie smiled as she took the precious bundle into her arms, never more grateful for anything in her entire life. She took a deep sigh as she stroked Tyg’s hair, smoothing it down the rancher’s back.
One year later
Jamie paced around the large room, waiting. She hated to wait, but that was the way it was. She glanced often at the bathroom door in their bedroom, waiting for Tyg to come out.

“Aren’t you done yet?” she asked, for the seventh time in an hour.

“Nope.” came the standard reply. The brunette threw her hands up in exasperation. She could not believe Tyg was making her go. She hated these things. She stopped pacing as she stared at a picture from last spring of them together. That had been the most nerve wracking day of her life, but the happiest. She smiled and remembered how beautiful Tyg had looked in a white sun dress, her bare shoulders and arms bronze and strong. So beautiful. Jamie herself had worn a white, light weight summer pant suit. She had felt ridiculous, but knew she looked good, and that was what Tyg had asked her to wear. Who was she to deny the feisty blonde anything?

Jamie looked down at her left hand, caressing the gold band that had not left her finger since that day, and would never leave it.

“Okay. Ready.” Jamie turned to see her lover and life partner standing at her side, as she always had. Jamie smiled. Tyg was stunning in a long summer dress that was light green with tiny dark green flowers sprinkled all over it, that reached to just below her knees. Her shoulders and arms were bare with the thin straps, and sandals covered her feet. Her hair was long and free, shiny from the recent washing and endless brushing.

“You look beautiful, baby.” she said as she tenderly kissed the rancher, pulling her close for a quick, but tight hug. “I think we should just stay here.” her hand wondered down to cover Tyg’s butt. “We could-“

“No, no. You ain’t gettin’ outta this, Jamie. You promised.” Tyg looked up at Jamie with pouting lips and pleading eyes. With a sigh Jamie gave her a quick kiss, and led them out of the bedroom.

They walked out of the main house hand in hand, and headed for the old Chevy parked out front.

“Oh!” Tyg turned to Jamie, eyes wide. “I nearly forgot. Marty is gonna ride on over with us. He’s over at the barn fixing that wall rail that came lose again. Would ya go’n get him, honey? I need to run inside for a sec.”

“Sure.” Jamie tossed the keys to Tyg. “Pick us up over there when you’re done.” Tyg nodded with a smile, headed back into the house.

Jamie whistled softly as she looked around the ranch in the late June evening. The day was cool, and pleasantly breezy. Perfect weather for a carnival. Things had been so peaceful in the last year. Jamie had never thought she’d find such happiness with such a simple life, but then she had to chuckle. Life with Tyg was never simple. The little blonde kept her on her toes, and things were never dull. She loved Tyg with her whole heart. She thought of the short list of people in her life that she had loved. The majority of that list lived at that very location. Rosa had become the mother that the brunette had lost so young, and Marty her friend, and confidante. Then her thoughts turned to Johnny. She had talked to him a few times, the last being just before he was sentenced. She sighed, knowing it would be a matter of time. Twenty years was a long time. Maybe they’d go and see him sometime during the year. Tyg always wanted to see Colorado anyway.

Jamie saw the barn just ahead, and craned her neck to see if the kid was still on the roof, or had finished already. She walked to the side and saw his ladder leaning against the side of the building, but no Marty.

“Hey, Marty?” she called out. “You done yet?” no answer. She drew her brows and walked around the side of the old structure, but no luck. Maybe he went inside to put his tools up. The old barn had become a make-shift tool shed. She walked to the two heavy double doors, and pulled them open with a grunt, and stood frozen. Jamie’s jaw dropped, and she ran a nervous hand through her hair. Her 1980 FXB Sturgis.

Jamie felt someone walk up behind her, warm body heat pressed to her back as two arms encircled her. “Surprise.” Tyg whispered into her ear. Jamie pulled away, and turned to stare down into smiling eyes filled with love. Jamie glanced back over her shoulder, then back to Tyg. Finally remembering to breath, a slow sigh escaped her lips. The brunette could feel her eyes beginning to well. “Go.” Tyg said, running her thumb under one of Jamie’s eyes to catch the liquid that was just about to fall. Jamie turned back to the barn, and stared at the bike, so regal and powerful with its chrome polished to a blinding shine, its black tank gleaming. She walked into the hot barn, running her hand tentatively over the handlebars, slightly squeezing the break. She choked up again when she saw the gold lettering, and ran her fingers over it: saoire. Freedom. She continued down the length of the Harley, touching everything as if it were all a dream and would disappear in an instant. She felt Tyg enter the barn, standing just behind her. The brunette climbed onto the seat, straddling the monster, kicking up the stand so it was balanced between her legs. She looked over every inch as she felt its familiar weight that she had missed.

Tyg watched in wonder as Jamie looked over the bike with a child’s awe. She knew then that any doubts or uncertainty she had had about getting the bike had been completely unfounded. She just wished Fred and Butch could see the result of all their hard work in locating an exact model of Jamie’s beloved Harley.

“Ya know, ya’ll still owe me a ride.” Tyg said quietly. Jamie looked up from her new toy, and met twinkling green eyes.

“That I do.” she said with a lop-sided grin. She reached out a hand which Tyg gladly took, and helped her onto the bike behind her. Jamie turned in the seat, and cupped Tyg’s chin, bringing her face to her own. “I love you.” she whispered, and kissed her lover, pulling Tyg in deep, slow, filled with love. Jamie pulled back to see Tyg still sitting there with her eyes closed.

“Wow.” the blonde breathed, and slowly emerald eyes opened. “Let’s go.” she smiled, and wrapped her arms tightly around Jamie’s waist, holding close, feeling Jamie’s body heat fill her.
<><><>
The lights all began to come on as night began to fall in earnest, swarms of people filling the mid-way, playing games at the booths, talking, laughing, eating, most drinking. Kids of every age ran around with big things of cotton candy all over their hands and faces, begging to go on the Ferris Wheel just once more.
Tyg and Jamie strolled through the madness hand in hand. Jamie still could not get over what Tyg had done for her. She had made a vow that someday she would get her bike back, but was pretty sure that someday would be years into the future when they were able to get the ranch back to its former glory before Hector had started to take land. It was a long road, but one that Jamie would happily travel.

Just up ahead they saw Rosa surrounded by the hands. Jamie spotted Marty and gave him the evil eye for ditching her when she could have most used his back up. He and Tyg had come up with the whole scheme to get Jamie to the barn. He grinned at her and shrugged his shoulders, but then took a step behind Rosa.

The group walked on to play tossing games where Jamie was able to win a huge stuffed Tigger for Tyg who was beside herself. The blonde walked beside the hand with her new furry friend in one hand, and a large vanilla cone in the other. She could feel the excitement flowing off her lover in waves. Jamie had been so surprised, and that was not an easy thing to do. It had been worth it. Fred and Butch had known right away what Tyg was looking for, and had set out for months to find it, and once they had, it had needed some repair work, and the paint job. The day Tyg and Marty had gone to pick it up at Fred’s store, Tyg had been stunned. If she hadn’t known better, she would think she was staring at Jamie’s original Harley. It was beautiful. The price tag had been steep, but with the money her grandfather had left her in his will, it had been more than worth it.

Tyg thought of the last year. Jamie had opened up so much, and had told Tyg everything about her parents, her brother, and her past. It had mattered little to the rancher except for bringing them closer. Jamie’s honesty, and Tyg’s unconditional love had wrangled her the best prize of all; Jamie’s trust and love.

The blonde was pulled from her reverie when she heard music start up in the distance. A wide grin spread across her face as she turned to look up at Jamie who was already scowling.

“Please?” she begged. Jamie shook her head. “Oh, baby, come on! For me?” Jamie was done for. She could never resist that look.

“Okay.” Tyg jumped excitedly, and kissed Jamie’s cheek.

“Thank ya, baby.”

Jamie led the group toward the music, and the familiar raised dance floor with the sexy red head and her band belting out an old Lori Morgan tune. Tyg saw an abandoned spot, and quickly walked over to the massive tree, her huge Tigger held close as she pushed through the crowd, Jamie following. Tyg stopped and turned to the crowd, her feet not able to stay still with the excitement of the loud music, and whooping of the dancers. Jamie looked around, then turned to Tyg.

“I’m going to go get a beer.” she said above the noise, pointing to a beer stand fifteen feet away. Tyg nodded, and turned back to the music.

“Where’d she go?” Marty asked as he and Rosa and Bobby stepped up next to the blonde.

“Ta get a beer.” she said, setting Tigger down next to the massive trunk of the tree, and grabbing Marty’s hand, beginning to two step with him in place. Rosa laughed as she watched the blonde try to teach the completely uncoordinated hand how to dance. She drew her brows and looked around when she realized that the song was nearly over, and Jamie had not returned. Tyg seemed to think the same thing as she held on to Marty’s hand, but began to look around through the crowd. The Lori Morgan song came to an end and was met by loud shouts and applause.

“Thank you!” Tanya’s deep, sultry voice said over the speakers. “Thanks so much. Okay, ya’ll. Got a special one for ya.” the crowd grew silent in anticipation as the strands for the song began. A smiled tugged at Tyg’s lips and heart as she recognized the sweet, tinkling piano. “Crazy. Crazy for feelin’, so lonely. And I’m crazy, crazy for feelin’ so blue,”

Tyg glanced up at the dance floor as she saw people beginning to part, and Jamie stood at the top of the stairs, looking until she found her feisty little blonde. She smiled down at Tyg, and reached her hand and her heart out. Tyg felt the sting of tears at the back of her eyes, and swallowed the emotion down. She felt a hand on her arm, and turned to see Marty smiling down at her. He nodded toward the raised platform, and began to walk through what seemed a pathway of smiling faces leading up to Jamie. Tyg took each step slowly until Marty delivered Tyg’s hand safely to Jamie’s.

“You’re forgiven.” Jamie growled at the hand, then winked. The kid smiled shyly, and left, walking back to Rosa and Bobby who watched breathlessly.

Jamie led the rancher to the center of the dance floor, stopping them and grabbing one of Tyg’s smaller hands in her own, and placing her other hand at the base of the blonde’s back, drawing her close. Tyg stared up into the most beautiful eyes she had ever seen, the eyes that kept her safe, the eyes that loved her fully. The eyes that she loved with her soul, trusted with her heart.

Jamie felt a hand slide around her shoulder to rest at the base, Tyg’s thumb on the side of her neck, the other resting comfortably inside her own. Their bodies fit perfectly together, no one else existing, the world around them ceased to be. Only the two of them. Forever.

Marty glanced over at Rosa and saw she was struggling to keep her emotions under control, and reached into his pocket to hand her his handkerchief. The housekeeper took the white cloth, and blotted her eyes as she felt the first of many tears begin to fall. The hand looked back up onto the stage and saw the way Jamie and Tyg looked at each other. He had never seen anything like it in his entire life. It was so beautiful, so moving. He turned back to Rosa and grabbed the hanky just as she was about to blow her nose, and wiped his own eyes.

Jamie moved them around the dance floor that was only for them, the words and melody of the music filling her ears as Tyg filled her eyes and her heart. Together they would make a life, and together they would heal old wounds with new beginnings. Forever.

The End

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