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Disclaimer:   First, this story is copyrighted to the author as of 4/22/99. This story is an uber story of sorts with characters resembling Xena and Gabrielle in personality only. If I've infringed on Xena and Gabrielle, then let me say that those two belong to MCA. However, Rowan and Jessie belong to me.

Sex/Violence:   There are two women falling in love in this story. And there is a good deal of violence, both of the domestic and street variety. Please be aware of this before reading the story. I don't want you reading if this is something that you can't handle. Also, foul language seems to prevalent as well. I just want everyone to be aware of what they're reading before they start. No surprises.

Feedback:   I'd like it. A lot. Please, please, please, please, please, please, please let me know what you think! E-mail me at


By GabTBard

Chapter 1-6   Chapter 7-11  » Chapter 12-18 « Chapter 19-24


Chapter Twelve

The six hour drive to Minneapolis had gone by slowly. Jessie was anxious to get there. If O'Connor had any clue as to who Anne was then he would make sure to sell her quickly. She knew that her mother had gone through a hard time when Jessie was younger, but she hadn't really thought of her as a target. Looking over at Rowan who was snoring lightly in the seat, Jessie realized that Rowan would be a target too. Enemies of Jessie's would use her love for Rowan against her. Gritting her teeth, Jessie reached her hand out, resting it on Rowan's thigh. She needed the physical contact to keep her anger from exploding. Like a soothing balm, the mere contact with Rowan calmed Jessie's mind.

Seeing their exit, Jessie got onto the off ramp. She'd only been to O'Connor's twice, but she remembered the way. After another 20 minutes of driving she pulled up to the curb and put the car in Park. The clock in the car said 8:30. Twilight was starting to set, but the light was still enough to see clearly. Lights were just beginning to be turned on in the city. Soon, the entire town would be lit, shadows covering anything that wasn't illuminated.

Again, her gaze traveled to Rowan who was sleeping in the passenger seat. Her dark hair was out of place, her clothes looked rumpled from the car ride, but to Jessie, that didn't distract from the woman's beauty. She had once tried to pinpoint what made Rowan seem so beautiful. In truth, she had average features –– nothing that stood out. It had taken a long time for Jessie to realize that it wasn't Rowan's features that first hit you, it was her character. Like a spider web, Rowan's personality wound its way around you and drew you in. With many facets, Rowan could be bubbly and goofy one minute and then serious and concerned the next. She had the amazing ability to understand what you needed –– be it a joke or a shoulder to cry on –– before you even had the chance to tell her.

Deep in her own thoughts, Jessie didn't see Rowan slowly open her eyes. As she finally came back into focus, she realized that she had been caught staring. "Hi," she said almost shyly.

Her mouth quirking in a grin, Rowan found Jessie's hand with her own and gave it a squeeze. While Jessie thought that she might feel uncomfortable to be stared at, Rowan actually found that she liked seeing Jessie look at her that way. She liked it a lot. "What's up?"

Realizing that she was practically blushing, Jessie chided herself for giving into that moment. Not letting go of Rowan's hand, she took a deep breath. Rowan could see the stoic mask once again settle on Jessie's face.

"About two blocks up is a large building, painted white." She jerked her head in the direction to let Rowan know which one she was talking about. Waiting till Rowan got the building in site, she continued. "That's most likely where O'Connor took mom. We're going to have to wait till dark before we can do anything. We have probably two hours before the sun has completely set." She thought for a moment, deciding that she needed to explain something to Rowan before they attempted to get inside of the building. It was a building of horrors, not something Jessie wanted Rowan to see without being warned.

"There's a fast food restaurant, why don't we go and eat something." Getting out of the car, Jessie guided the other woman towards the brightly lit restaurant. This would give her a chance to warn Rowan of what went on at the warehouse.

After ordering and receiving their food they went to a table in the corner. Jessie scanned the room as she normally did. There was a time when her life depended on this routine check of her surroundings. It was a hard habit to break, especially when one's mother has been kidnapped and a friend killed within 24 hours. Something like that heightens the need to feel safe. Instead of finding danger, however, all she found in this surrounding was children with their mothers and sometimes fathers, eating as quickly as they could, never taking their eyes off the door to the outdoor playground. An inevitable feeling of guilt crept up on Jessie. These parents were ignorant of what was going on only a few blocks away. Her gaze swept to Rowan and the guilt increased.

Rowan. She may be a brilliant woman, but she still lacked some of the experience that would prepare her for this. The guilt was even more than that. Rowan had lost a lot of her youthful innocence since she had befriended Jessie. She tried to take it all in stride, but Jessie knew there were still things that bothered Rowan about the life Jessie had once led. This particular part of Jessie's former life was going to be especially difficult to share with Rowan. For five years, Jessie had kept things like this from Rowan, not wanting to see the disappointment in her best friend's eyes. It seemed now there was no more time to hide it.

Carefully watching Rowan as she finished her sandwich and attacked her fries with a vengeance, Jessie felt a little smile tug at her own lips. She enjoyed watching Rowan, seeing the vigor she brought to life. Sure, she wasn't a perfect roommate, but what she lacked in cleanliness, she made up for in life. Waiting until Rowan had finished her food, Jessie finally knew she couldn't wait any longer to tell her about what lay before them.

"I want....need for you to be aware of something before we go into that warehouse to get mom." She used this as a preamble, wanting to have Rowan's attention, and yet, at the same time, irrationally wishing Rowan would ignore her.

"I'm not going anywhere," Rowan said with a light smile. She saw her friend's eyes cloud over, unsure what was going to be said.

Bringing her arms up and resting her elbows on the table, Jessie stared at her hands, playing with a hangnail as she continued. "You know a lot about my past, about things that I've been involved in before." Peripherally, she saw Rowan's head bob in acknowledgement. Taking a deep breath, Jessie knew she had no where to go but forward with this. "There were a few things that I was involved in that I never told you about."

A numbness rippled through Rowan. In her mind, she always figured that Jessie wasn't telling her everything, but she usually dismissed it.

Jessie looked at her hands as she began. "Slavery was outlawed in the United States after the Civil War, over a hundred years ago." She looked up to see Rowan was nodding her head impatiently. She continued, "but in many countries, slavery has never stopped." She sipped her diet coke, her mouth suddenly dry. "There are individuals in America who make a lot of money selling children and women to other countries as slaves."

"Yeah, I saw a story on that on some news magazine show." Rowan squinted, trying to remember. "They said that most of them were sold to..." she struggled to find the word, "... well, pimps. The women would work as prostitutes, bringing in money for their owners." The last word left a bad taste in her mouth. "The fact that people could own other people is disgusting! How can people just sell other people like that? I don't understand it." Rowan's voice got louder as her vehemence rose. Her mind raced through different scenes, her anger growing at the idea.

Minutes passed as Rowan's anger grew. Jessie knew very well Rowan's propensity to freedom. As strong in her hate as in her love, Rowan was almost violently opposed to injustice of any kind. She had feared this reaction the most. It wasn't going to make this very easy.

"Rowan..." Jessie wasn't given the chance to explain as Rowan interrupted with a sudden question.

"What does that have to do with tonight?"

Taking a deep breath, Jessie started again. "Rowan, this isn't very easy for me." Looking at the other woman's large eyes, she knew she had to continue. "I just found out that you and I could have some kind of future together; something I've dreamed about for a long time. But it all could be taken away from me tonight."

Now Rowan's large eyes filled with tears as she began to realize what was at stake. She hadn't realized that her relationship with Jessie had anything to do with tonight.

"Don O'Connor is involved with selling women and children to Asian buyers." This was not a complete surprise to Rowan. She'd known that O'Connor was somehow involved with the sex trade, but, she wasn't prepared for what followed. "I used to work with him." Jessie had to look up, she had to see Rowan's initial reaction.

Rowan was usually one of those people whose emotions could be seen in their face. Her face mirrored her emotions. But, as Jessie gazed at Rowan, she saw not horror, shock, or disgust, she saw nothing.

While Rowan's skin was an ashen color, her facial expression was neutral. There was, however, a rigid quality to the way Rowan held her body. As her mind twisted to grasp some explanation, Rowan felt as though she was looking through the lens of a video camera. "No..." was whispered, barely vocal, seeming to have carried on the wind.

Arms aching to reach out and clasp Rowan to her, Jessie sat still as she watched tears cascade from Rowan's eyes.

"Yes." She couldn't pretend now that it wasn't true. If she and Rowan had any hope for a future, it had to be based on honesty. "I...I know you must hate me. Hell," she threw up her hands, "I hate myself." She then tried to do something that she had never done. She tried to explain why. "At the time, it was a natural progression from drug dealing. My...organization was exposed to so many tripped out women; it was easy to trick them. They'd do anything for their drug of choice." Jessie's voice had a neutral quality as she thought about why she'd gotten involved with slavery.

"It was another way to gain more power. That was all I wanted. I wanted to control everything."

Rowan's tears had stopped as Jessie spoke. She needed to understand, need to hear...something! She wasn't even sure what she needed. Anger clouded her thought, making it hard to comprehend what Jessie was saying.

"I regret that part of my life. All of it, really. But especially that." She could tell she was on the verge of losing Rowan. Taking a deep breath, Jessie decided to speak her heart. "I know you know I'm not that person anymore. You've told me that enough times. Where I once craved power, I now crave something else. I love you Rowan, and I don't want to lose you."

This time the indecision was clear on Rowan's face. How could Jessie, her Jessie, have been involved in that? In Rowan's mind, even killing couldn't compare to selling human beings like cattle.

Finally, unable to look at Jessie, she spoke quietly. "I need time. I need to think." She paused, gaining a far off look she continued almost to herself. "This is too much."

Nodding, Jessie sighed to herself. It would have been better if Rowan had yelled at her, she could handle that. But the silence and avoidance was something she couldn't do anything about.

"Shouldn't we be getting ready to go after your mom?" No matter how she felt, Rowan wasn't going to bail out now.

"I don't think you should go," Jessie said quietly.

Since she was looking at her hands, Jessie didn't see Rowan's head snap up, eyes flashing. "What? You can't trust me now? You don't want someone like me there to fuck it up?" Her voice got louder, causing everyone in the restaurant to turn and watch. Sliding out of the booth, Rowan put her hands on the table and leaned close until she was eye to eye with Jessie. "I'm not the one who lied. I'm not the one with the past. So, no matter what has just happened, you can trust me. Dammit, I am not some toy that you can shove aside when you think things are getting too tough! I'm going, with or without your consent!" She suddenly stood straight, turned, and marched out of the door.

The thoughts that ran through Jessie's head were so eclectic that she wasn't even sure how to take that. The remark about lying hurt her incredibly. She was sure that was Rowan's purpose in bringing it up. At the same time, watching Rowan take charge like that really did something to her mind. It was definitely a good sensation that coursed through her, swirling with the guilt, leaving chaos in its wake.

With an audible sigh, Jessie got up and grabbed their trays of trash. Dumping it in the nearest waste basket, she followed Rowan's route of departure.

Shit, she thought to herself as she trudged after Rowan's distant figure. My mother's being held by a slaver, and the woman I love hates me! She growled startling a man walking past her. He skirted past her as though she had something contagious. Up yours! Jessie telegraphed through the scowl she aimed in his direction.

Realigning her vision to where Rowan had been, Jessie was startled to find that she couldn't find the familiar figure of her friend. Walking faster, she just hoped that Rowan had gone to the car.


Chapter Thirteen

The chaotic grumble she usually called her thoughts helped dispel her anger. Rowan continued walking, letting her memory guide her towards Jessie's car. The anger hadn't come from the discovery of her friend's past. No, that had mostly hurt. The anger came from the fact that Jessie was willing to leave her behind. She doesn't need me. The thought hit Rowan hard, leaving her feeling as though her whole body had been pummeled.

Through this entire ordeal she had felt that Jessie needed her there. Now she realized he had been fooling herself. Jessie didn't need her anymore than she needed anyone. Hadn't Jessie said she loved her? Rowan's lips still tingled from the kisses they had shared. Loving didn't mean needing. So why was she having such a hard time with this? Why couldn't she just accept Jessie's love, why was this needing thing creating such a strong feeling of despair?

Rowan had forgotten that Jessie had the keys to the car. The rash anger from earlier rose. "Goddammit!" She yelled, kicking one of the front tires. People around her glanced her way, but kept their distance. Leaning on the front bumper of the car, she extracted her crumpled pack of Marlboro Lights from the pocket of her shirt. As she waited, she felt the anger dissipate. Taking a deep drag, she examined her anger, trying to find a reasonable answer for her quick temper. "It must be PMS," she muttered.

"I don't want you to go tonight because I don't want you to see what I was once a part of," Jessie's voice startled her. She didn't realize that the other woman had caught up to her. Jessie's voice was low and calm. "It isn't because I don't trust you."

"Oh." Rowan wasn't sure what to say. Jessie was trying to protect her. Why hadn't she realized that? Things were so strange now. Simple things had become complicated, and little things were being horrendously overrated. "Want a cig?" She extended the pack. It was a sort of peace offering.

Jessie knew that in that one offering Rowan was saying she was sorry she hadn't understood. They both knew they would need to have a serious talk in the near future. Their thoughts mirroring each other, they both were glad that they had something more pressing to take care of at the moment.

*   *   *   *   *

The building was quiet for the most part. Murmurs and hushed whispers could be heard from the room where the women were kept. Vamp hoped things would stay quiet tonight. It all depended on the guards. O'Connor had an honor code that was drilled into the heads of those who worked for him. None of the guards were allowed to mess around with the women. However, since the guards were your basic hired thugs, there were problems on occasion. Those that violated O'Connor's code were dealt with then disappeared. Most of the guards would take out their frustrations on the women. Since sexually abusing the women was out, they used other means to degrade the women.

If JB was coming tonight then they couldn't afford any mess–ups. Vamp made it her personal duty to make sure that everything would go as smoothly as possible. For months now Vamp had carried some generic sleeping pills. She often took one or two at night when the nightmares were especially bad. It hadn't been hard to ground the rest of them up while she was in the bathroom. Carefully, she slipped them in the pot of coffee that the guards shared through the night. While Jessie wasn't close enough for her to hear her thoughts, Vamp still got vague senses from Jessie, her mind very familiar with the feeling that was Jessie. Right now, she was sensing sorrow and defeat combined with exhilaration and victory. Typical of JB, Vamp thought to herself. Jessie always came across as a web of emotions, usually in constant conflict. It used to frustrate the young mind reader when she first met Jessie. It took many months of being with Jessie to understand that there was nothing to decipher. Jessie emotions were just that complex.

There were five guards on watch tonight, as well as the assortment of other men that hung around. All of them performed various tasks within the organization. Some of them were wanted for other crimes, so when not working they tended to stay inside. O'Connor was still around, Vamp could feel him. His thoughts were always strong. She wasn't worried about him though. Despite appearing tough, he didn't have much fight in him. His hired thugs did all of that, a dangerous thing when employees don't usually last all that long. In Vamp's mind, O'Connor was less of a threat if his guards were unable to perform their duties.

Crouching low, Vamp scurried across the room and through the door to the cages. She had to get down because any movement within the guard's sight range would arouse their suspicions. Not that she wasn't allowed into what was called "the pit," but just in case something went wrong tonight, she didn't want a guard telling O'Connor that he had seen her talking to the women.

The stench in the pit was overwhelming. The women's thoughts were more of a danger though. Overwhelming Vamp's own thoughts of disgust, the women's thoughts crowded her mind. Taking slow, deep breaths, Vamp eventually was able to shut out most of the other voices. Some were too strong to be silenced completely. Still kneeling, she made her way to where she had left the older woman earlier.

The woman was curled up in the corner, obviously trying to rest, but Vamp could hear her thoughts, and they weren't the jumbled thoughts of someone asleep. They were plans–plans on how to get out.

"You won't be able to get out," Vamp whispered. Realizing how hopeless this sounded, she tried to be helpful. After all, this was JB's mom. "At least not alone. Even with my help we wouldn't both make it." She tugged on her jean jacket pocket. "Smoke?" She offered.

"No thanks," Anne automatically replied.

"Too bad," Vamp took a cigarette out for herself and lit it in a smooth motion. She could still hear the thoughts of escape coming from Anne's mind. "Listen, I know what you're planning, but it ain't going to work! Someone's coming for us tonight, someone will help get you outta here, but until then, you have to lay low. Don't draw attention to yourself otherwise they'll make it hell for you."

Now Anne's thought turned toward what the girl was saying. Vamp could hear random repeats of "Should I trust her?" and "What does she mean?" It was an internal struggle that Vamp let the woman have.

"Okay, I'll wait. But I won't wait too long," she warned.

"Don't worry," Vamp replied as she ground out her cigarette. "If nothing happens tonight you can wage an all out war against Don'O'Connor for all I care." And with that, she scampered away, back towards the door she came from.

Anne watched her leave and then settled back into the corner. While her mind was racing, she desperately wanted to stop thinking and just lay down. There was no way she'd be able to sleep with all these thoughts rolling around in her head. Sighing, she settled in to wait.


Chapter Fourteen

Lack of sleep gave the scene before Rowan a dream–like quality. They had waited another hour before moving the car closer. Now they were within a hundred feet of their target. Target, huh? She almost giggled. She was starting to think like those cops on TV. Well, they almost were like cops. Sort of renegade cops, out to destroy evil. Looking at Jessie, she thought some more. Ah yes, the one with the dark past. Avenging her misdeeds by taking down her former partners.

"What are you thinking about?" Jessie asked.


"You have this silly smile on your face, what are ya thinking about?" Jessie didn't mention that it was a very cute smile, completely attractive.

Rowan felt a blush as she realized she'd let herself be distracted. "Nothing worth talking about. I guess my sleep deprived mind has decided to go on manual." She rubbed at her eyes with the palms of her hands.

It was all Jessie could do to keep from reaching out to Rowan. Her hands ached to caress her cheek, massage away the stress that obviously rested in her shoulders. Instead, she decided to say nothing, keeping her gaze on the structure that should have had all her attention.

"Seems pretty quiet over there," Rowan remarked to Jessie.

Jessie's eyes were darting around the perimeter of the building. Because the building wasn't very large, when they got closer, Rowan was able to see that although it didn't stand out from the others around it, there was an unusual amount of space around it. In the hour that they watched, they had seen only four, nondescript men leave the building. No one had entered. The only doors in or out of the building were in front and back.

Jessie knew without a doubt that O'Connor would have brought her mother here. This moment, standing outside of the last hurdle between her and her mother, was the first time she allowed her anger to build. She needed that anger to be able to do what she had to. If she found out that her mother had been harmed in any way, she would be sure to take out her vengeance on whoever tried to stop her. The emotions, the anger, caused Jessie to growl softly.

Rowan cautiously put her hand on Jessie's arm, hearing the growl and knowing that she was angry. It took Jessie's anger for Rowan to realize that Jessie's past couldn't dampen her love for her today.

Not saying anything, Rowan just wanted to let Jessie know that she was still there and that they were in this together. The muscles in Jessie's arm were tense and she could imagine that the rest of the woman's body was the same way. She decided that when this was all over she would give Jessie a full body massage. A delightful rush or warmth washed over Rowan, despite the circumstances.

Jessie felt the hand on her arm and let herself relax somewhat. She knew what Rowan was trying to show her and she really did value her. It made her desperately hope that she would never have to do without it.

The sun finally completed its sleepy descent, the rosy sky darkening until it only lightly blushed the dark sky, the moon casting its own rays of bluish light.

Jessie checked the gun tucked into the waist of her jeans once more. Loaded, the safety was off for efficiency. Satisfied with the gun she lifted her pant leg, revealing the knife holster around her shin. With ease she slipped the knife from its sheath, pleased with the smooth way it glided out.

Rowan watched quietly as Jessie went through this routine one more time. The weapons didn't make her feel more secure. In fact, they only reminded her that there was definite trouble ahead.

"Are you ready?" Jessie didn't look at Rowan as she asked, afraid that she'd ask the woman to stay behind again if she did.

"Yeah." There was quiet strength in Rowan's voice that surprised them both.

Nothing left to do or say, they both got out of Jessie's car. Jessie took the lead, walking surely toward the building, Rowan behind her, her smaller stride not nearly as confident.

The front door was solid and new, looking as though it had never been used. Jessie examined the handle and lock, deciding that it would probably be better to go in through this door than the more frequently used back door. Trying the handle, both women were shocked when it turned easily in Jessie's large hand. She glanced one more time back at Rowan, silently telling her all the things that one would tell your best friend before dying. On the off–the–wall chance that this was a set up, Jessie would be the first one shot, the first one down, hopefully giving Rowan enough time to get away. They had been over this plan. If anything were to happen to Jessie, Rowan would high tail it out of there, only coming back with Mike. Jessie didn't trust any other cop, knowing how deeply bribes infiltrated the police force. He would know who to deal with in Minneapolis. She felt more comfortable with that than sending Rowan to just anyone.

Taking a deep breath, Jessie started to slowly open the door. When the door was about halfway open, something from the other side of the door pulled it further open, causing Jessie to release the door handle in surprise. She stumbled back as the cross movement threw her off balance, grabbing for her gun as she moved. Whipping the gun around, she cocked the trigger and pointed at the opening.

Both Rowan and Jessie looked into the doorway, not able to see anything but darkness, and yet, the door stood open. A tinkling laugh that sounded like wind chimes came from the darkness. Jessie recognized the laugh instantly. "Vamp," she muttered under her breath.

Rowan, confused at the sudden hardness on Jessie's face, looked into the shadows of the open door. Two violet orbs became visible, a then a face appeared from the shadows.

"Took you long enough, thought I'd have to wait all night." It was a young woman who finally materialized from the darkness. Rowan's mouth hung open a bit, but no one was paying attention to her. Jessie was starring hard Vamp, her eyes forming dangerous slits. Staring right back at her, face forming a delighted smile, Vamp didn't budge even when Jessie stood nose to nose with her. "Come on, hurry up and get in here!"

"Jessie, what's going on?" Rowan could see that Jessie was angry, but this was a way for them to get in.

Taking notice of the other woman for the first time, Vamp motioned with her arm for both women to enter the building. Seeing that the dark–haired woman was still unsure, Vamp tried to reassure her. "Don't worry, I just surprised JB, that's all. She hates surprises. But, if you both don't get your butts in here soon there'll be an even more unpleasant surprise for all of us." She turned to Jessie, reading the skeptical thoughts running through the blonde's head. "Don't' worry JB, I'm not going to try anything." Reading that Jessie's concern was mostly for the other woman, she added, "Both of you are safe if you'll follow me."

Nodding, Jessie looked through the door before motioning for Rowan to go ahead of her. Following behind Rowan, Jessie kept an eye on Vamp, wanting to make sure that they weren't being led into a trick. There was a time when she would have trusted her, but it had been a long time ago, and people change the longer they've been on the streets.

"Distrustful as always, huh JB?" Vamp whispered as she continued to lead them through the shadows. She navigated without hesitation, even though Rowan couldn't even see her own feet. "Yeah, people around here change, but aren't you evidence of that?"

The question struck home with Jessie. Her life now was definitely a change from what it had been.

"Hypocritical lately?" Vamp stopped their procession and starred at Jessie. "Do you think you're the only one around here who can change? The only one who can see what's happening is wrong and that someone has to get out or die with their sins on their backs?" She got closer to Jessie, her head only coming up to the taller woman's chest. "Well, Miz High–And–Mighty, some of us see the wrongs everyday and some of us wake up one day and decide that if we don't do something to get ourselves out, we won't live. The life out here on the streets will suffocate us, killing us slowly, but killing us nonetheless." She seemed to run out of steam, breaking off suddenly, looking down.

Quietly, Jessie reached out and put a finger under the girl's chin, lifting it gently. "What are you doing here, Vamp?"

Rowan could only watch as Vamp suddenly flung herself at Jessie, grabbing her by the waist in a ferocious hug. Sobs racked her body as she clung to the tall women. Sliding to the floor, taking Vamp with her, Jessie held her as she cried, murmuring softly to her. As Vamp started to relax, Jessie lifted her golden eyes and looked at Rowan who silently watched the scene play out.

Feeling helpless as the girl cried for her lost youth, Jessie wanted to crawl into Rowan's arms and take shelter from the responsibility. Finally, Rowan's eyes met Jessie's and she gave her a lopsided grin.

Rowan watched the scene, unsure of everything she was seeing. The girl in Jessie's arms couldn't be any more than 16 years old. She'd never seen Jessie with someone that young, much less offering them comfort. A part of her felt jealous of the comfort Vamp was receiving from Jessie.

"Don't be jealous," Vamp mumbled into Jessie's arm. Jessie's strong arms still held her securely as her tears subsided.

"Huh?" Jessie gently pushed Vamp's dyed black hair out of her tear stained eyes.

"You're friend, she's jealous." Motioning with her head at Rowan, her mouth formed something of a grin.

"I am not!" Rowan said heatedly. Then she noticed the grins she was getting from both Vamp and Jessie. "Well, not really," she said less defensively this time.

Vamp looked at Rowan, then at Jessie. Moving out of Jessie's embrace, she stood up and approached Rowan, her hand held out in front of her. "I'm Vamp." She leaned into the handshake. In a stage whisper she said, "The whole jealousy thing? Turned JB on." Turning, she smirked at Jessie, who's mouth was pursed.

Rowan realized that there was something out of place here, how did Vamp know that, and how did Vamp know that Rowan was jealous in the first place? "How..."

Before Rowan could complete a phrase, the girl answered her. "I can do this mind reading thing." Turning to the still quiet Jessie, Vamp looked at her. "Not nice, I was going to answer your question. I'm here because this is where I've ended up for now. O'Connor isn't a saint, but I could be in worse situations. I help take care of the Pit in return for not being shipped outta here in a cage."

Jessie looked at Vamp, her eyebrows raised. "Why here? You could have gone lots of places for protection."

"After you left, I had a bit of trouble because people associated me with you." the girl shrugged. "I took the best offer of protection, and since there was only one, here I am."

A dozen questions ran through Rowan's head, her astonishment clear on her face as she tried to form some sort of order. Jessie put up a hand to stop her. "Questions later, I promise." Her tone was almost begging, not wanting to hurt Rowan's feelings. It all had to be very strange to her, but Rowan nodded her consent, understanding where their priorities lay.

"Vamp, how many men here tonight?" Quickly running a long hand through her hair, Jessie's voice was low as she spoke, not wanting to be heard outside of the dark hallway.

"Six guards and ten men who are just hanging out cause they have no where better to be." Vamp's prompt answer led both women to think that she must have known she'd need the information. "But, we'll only have to worry about the guards." She smirked as Jessie rose an eyebrow when she said 'we.'

"What did you do to the other ten?" As quiet and as serious as the other two, Rowan spoke up.

"Nothing really, they're just taking naps right about now. Didn't want it to be too hard for you to get your mother back." She looked at Jessie, no longer smirking. "She's okay JB, I promise."

A quick nod signaled that Jessie had heard her and appreciated it. "What about O'Connor?"

"He's gone, not sure when he'll be back," then looking a little chagrinned, Vamp focused her eyes on her feet. "I couldn't do anything about him without it looking suspicious."

Ruffling the girl's dark hair, Jessie reassured her. "You already did a helluva lot, kid." Glancing at Rowan, she gave her a questioning look. When she received a nod in return, Jessie spoke again. "I guess there's nothing to do but to go in."

She turned toward the other end of the hall, signaling for the other two to get behind her. Walking softly but firmly, she moved toward the door that would lead them into the main room of the building. A tug at her shirt stopped her as she came to the door.

"Let me go in first. I'll accidentally leave the door open so that you can see into the room without being spotted. Then, I'll just wait for you." Vamp moved passed Jessie and grabbed the door handle.

"Be careful," Although her tone was gruff, both Vamp and Rowan knew enough to understand the concern behind the words.

With a salute and a smile, Vamp turned the handle and waited until Jessie moved back some before entering the room.


Chapter Fifteen

As Jessie's eyes adjusted to the light in the other room she could see three guards sitting around, guns carefully laid at their sides. On the wall across from where Jessie stood was another door. She couldn't see the two adjoining walls, but she was sure there had to be at least one other door. As she gazed into the lit room, she felt Rowan move up until she was standing directly behind her. The sweet smell of Rowan's perfume wafted through the air that marked her movement, teasing Jessie's nose. Turning slightly so that she could see the outline of Rowan's form, Jessie leaned down to whisper into her ear.

"I'm going to go in and take care of these three guys. Stay back here till I say, okay?" She felt Rowan nod, noticing that she was close enough to embrace the woman. Her arms ached to touch the smaller woman, to hold in tightly and never let go. Her lifeline was being threatened. If that line was snapped, she was desperately afraid of what would happen to her. However, she didn't want to force the woman to make a choice she wasn't ready to make. Taking a deep breath and one more look at Rowan, she turned back around and moved forward.

With her gun going before her, Jessie eased out of the space left by the open door, not noticed by the three men. Cocking the gun, she waited as all three heads turned in her direction.

"No one moves, no one says anything, got it?" She purred, her eyes narrowing. Waiting till the men gave some sort of recognition to her orders, she spoke again. "One at a time I want each of you to slide your weapons away from you." She nodded her head at the furthest man, her eyes never letting any of them leave her line of vision. Repeating the motion twice, she was satisfied that none of the men could reach their weapons without Jessie being able to shoot them.

Vamp appeared from the door across the room, rope in her hands. Her eyebrows coming up, she silently consulted Jessie before moving to tied up the man closest to her. Bringing his arms around behind him, she tied them securely in back, before moving to tie his feet together. She went from man to man, tying each one in the same manner until all three were bound.

Both Jessie and Vamp were silent as they did this. No need to speak since they understood each other very well, Vamp able to read Jessie's directions from her mind, and Jessie able to read the expressions on Vamp's face.

After the third man was finally tied, Jessie slowly backed up to the door that she had entered by. Slightly moving her head, she focused on Rowan. "You can come in now." She moved back to her position, her gun never wavering. Almost smiling when she saw Vamp grab a role of tape, Jessie how marveled at easy it was to communicate with Vamp.

"It would be easier if you kept your mind on one thing," Vamp's light voice called to Jessie, giving her a knowing smile.

Watching Rowan emerge from the doorway, Jessie felt her mouth tugging in an answering smile. "I can't help it," she muttered.

The men no longer being a threat, Jessie moved and picked up the three guns now laying in the middle of the floor. Two hand guns and an automatic rifle. O'Connor must not have expected trouble.

"The other three have rifles too JB."

That explained why these three were sitting around. They were the backups. Rowan moved closer to Jessie, curiously looking around the room. It was nothing like the warehouse in Chicago. This room was softly lit with lamps, the floor carpeted and couches placed at various locations against walls. A 36 inch RCA TV sat on a stand in one corner, and there was a bookshelf on another wall, lined with books of various sizes. A large desk sat in one corner, papers neatly stacked on it. A table sat with a coffee maker happily percolating. It wasn't at all what she expected.

"O'Connor's not your usual type," Vamp supplied, moving to stand closer to Rowan. The girl didn't know why, but there was something about Rowan that made her feel safe. Sort of like JB, only a bit different. It left her with a need to get to know the woman and a want to impress her. "There's a kitchen through that door," she pointed at a doorway on one of the walls that they hadn't been able to see while concealed in the hallway. "O'Connor has an office here too, off the kitchen. This is sort of the general room where the guys can hang out. I sleep in another room in the hallway you just came through." This time she pointed back from where they had just come.

"You sleep here?" This was no place for a kid to be living. Rowan was surprised the men tolerated her hanging around.

Shrugging, Vamp responded to her unasked question. "They don't bother me, I don't bother them. 'Sides, who do you think does the cleaning around here?"

Jessie broke the conversation, handing Rowan one of the hand guns she had picked up. "Carry this, okay?" Rowan gladly took it, the weight of the gun taking the edge off the unknown. She watched as Jessie held out the two other guns to Vamp. The teenager picked the rifle. Jessie let one eyebrow drift up, but didn't say anything.

"Are the other three in the Pit?" She asked as she tucked the other hand gun into the back of jeans with the gun already there.

"Yeah, probably trying to get the women worked up so that they can punish them."

With a growl, Jessie let her anger grow. She knew how the system went. The guards couldn't touch the women or children unless they misbehaved in some way. So they would purposefully taunt the women until one of them finally lashed out. A red wave overwhelmed her, her blood pumping harder through her veins. "You two wait here for a minute." She started towards the door that would take them into the heart of the operation.


Jessie saw the first guard before he saw her. Moving so quickly that he didn't see her move, she brought her gun up, shooting him first in the shoulder of the arm that held his gun, and then again in the opposite thigh. His groan of pain aroused the other two guards, and before they could shoot, Jessie took aim again. Disabling both of them, she continued into the room. That was too easy, she thought.

The shooting stirred up the women in the cages. They were glad to see their tormenters fall, but then again, they didn't know what was in store for them next.

Jessie took a minute to look around. The only noise came from the three men writhing on the floor. There were about sixty cages in the Pit, most containing two people, packed tightly into the cages' limited space. Most of the women were very young, still girls really. There were a handful of young kids as well, and all were looking at this tall, gun–carrying, blonde. Understanding their concern, Jessie tried to use non–threatening body language to show that she wasn't there to harm them. These captives didn't know if Jessie was a demon or a savior. She quickly looked for her mother, but didn't see her.

It was a hard decision to make–whether to find her mother or to prepare Rowan before she had the chance to see the Pit for herself. Her heart won out as she retraced her footsteps. Going through first the heavy door that led out to of the Pit, and then through the door into the main room, her first sight was of Rowan standing there, gun pointing at the door. When she saw it was Jessie coming through the sound proof door, her arms dropped, hanging loosely at her sides.

"What the fuck happened?" She yelled as she charged Jessie, throwing her arms around the startled blonde. Jessie's arms went around Rowan without thought, accepting and returning the fierce embrace.

Pulling away suddenly, Rowan looked at Jessie, anger flashing in her eyes, but her arms never left their place around the other woman's slim waist.

"I didn't know what was going on! You could've been hurt for all I knew!" Her voice rose in a combination of anger and relief. Vamp had disappeared after Jessie had gone through the thick door. She had explained that the whole Pit was sound proof, keeping noises from slipping out, revealing the room's purpose. Her heart pounding in her throat, Rowan watched Jessie go through the door leading to the small hallway that ended in the door to the Pit. The door closed behind Jessie, leaving Rowan to wait until the door opened again.

Time crept by, and it seemed like hours before the door opened again. In the seconds it took for the door to fully open, Rowan was on an emotional roller coaster; so many what ifs. What if Jessie was dead? What if she was injured and she couldn't get to her? What if she never saw Jessie again and never got to tell her how she felt?

Eventually, it seemed the door finally opened all the way and a familiar figure walked through.

Now as Rowan looked at Jessie's beautiful face she fought the urge to throw her down and kiss her, touch her, try to convey all her worries. She physically willed her body to stay still, but her mind made it difficult as it summoned erotic images to the forefront.

A brief smile formed on Jessie's lips, Rowan's concern telling her a great deal. "Sorry," was said as she brought her hand slowly to Rowan's face. Her long fingers gently caressed the soft skin on the woman's cheeks. "Listen, we need to go in there and find mom. But..." she hesitated, not sure how to prepare the gentle woman for the site of the pit.

"I'll be okay," Rowan reassured her, seeming to reading Jessie's mind. "Let's just get in there and get it done." Her shoulders straightened in a quiet display of strength that Jessie admired.

They moved apart, just as Vamp appeared at another doorway. She held up a set of keys. Throwing them to Jessie, she spoke with the confidence of knowledge. "All the locks are the same. The long brass key is the one you want."

"Thanks," Jessie said as she found the right key. Vamp left again and Jessie didn't ask where she was going. "Ready?" She turned to Rowan. The smaller woman took a deep breath, letting it out as she shook her body, brown ringlets swaying.


Together they moved forward, Jessie taking the lead.

An audible gasp came from Rowan as they entered the room. Jessie resisted the desperate urge to turn around, grab Rowan to her, and shield her from the sight. She knew doing that would only move her further from Rowan. Rowan fiercely hated being protected, wanting to prove her strength in every possible way.

Taking deep breaths, Rowan tried not to let the smell of the pit overwhelm her. In a strange way it reminded her of when her mother used to make her eat peas even though she hated them. With one hand she would pinch her nose as her other hand used a spoon to quickly shovel peas into her mouth. Chewing and swallowing fast, she'd quickly take a drink before letting her nose go, trying to do everything she could to keep from tasting the putrid peas. Right now she breathed deeply through her mouth, afraid to allow the stale air into her nose, the same way she was afraid to taste those peas.

Trying to ignore the smell, Rowan tried to focus on her surroundings. Cages about waist high were placed against each other, stretching from one end of the wall to the other. It seemed as though a sea of faces were staring at Rowan, wide eyes watching her. Each face was different, reminding her that these were individuals, not a mass. It was overwhelming. Turning to Jessie, her eyebrows came together as she spoke. "Where's Anne?"

Before Jessie could tell her that she didn't know, a familiar voice called out from the mass of cages. "It took you two long enough! I've been here forever!"

Rowan yelled out "Anne!" at the same moment Jessie whispered "Mom!"

"That elegant woman is your mother?" A fourth voice caught the two women by surprise. The smooth, deep voice, obviously belonging to a male, came from behind the two women.

Before Jessie could turn around she felt something poking her in the back. It was the familiar feel of a gun muzzle. She froze before glancing at Rowan, seeing that the other woman was stilled as well.

"Drop your gun lady," a grizzly voice hissed somewhere near her ear, moisture collecting on her skin from the heat of his mouth.

Holding her hands in clear sight, she slowly lowered her body, bending her knees until she could place the gun on the ground. Then, just as slowly, she straightened.

Out of the corner of her eye, Jessie watched as Rowan was disarmed as well, but with brute force. The huge man behind her friend used a meaty hand to force Rowan to drop the gun by clenching her shoulder in a tight grasp. Jessie tried to turn when she heard Rowan gasp, but felt the muzzle against her back jammed hard into her ribs.

"Now, now JB, no heroics, please." Jessie had recognized the smooth voice the first time she heard it. Yet another voice from the past had invaded her peaceful living.

"I'd never think of doing something you're incapable of, O'Connor." She smiled insincerely as the tall form of Don O'Connor walked into frame. His hair had more gray in it now than the last time she saw him, but his eyes hadn't faded at all. The brilliant blue still held hypnotic qualities that she had once found fascinating.

"Such a mouth on you. Fortunately," he snapped his fingers, " I have something that will shut you up." Two men came from the sea of cages dragging something behind them. Anne was visible from between the two men as they got closer. She was fighting against their hold, but her efforts didn't slow them in the least. O'Connor moved between them, slowly looking at Jessie, willing her to react, to give him the excuse he needed to act out.

Jessie didn't react, but the shorter woman next to her did. "Anne!" Rowan tried to twist away from the man still holding her. It only took a nod of O'Connor's head and the man behind Rowan raised his gun, clearly intending to hit the woman with it. He hesitated, waiting for the final consent of the man who paid him for his muscle.

No! Jessie's mind screamed, but she knew she couldn't react. It would only give O'Connor the motive he needed to hurt those that were close to her. Instead, she turned her eyes on O'Connor, staring at him, her eyes cool, her gaze not inviting. "What do you want?"

The man gave a short laugh, his hand fluttering to his chest in mock surprise. "Why JB, I think I could ask the same of you. I'm the one who walked into MY warehouse and found you and your friend here, half my men tied up and the other half shot, left to bleed to death. So, the question is, my friend, what do YOU want?" His lip curled in a bit of a sneer as he focused on Jessie.

Her face remained impassive as she quickly thought. "I was thinking about joining you again in business," she emphasized, knowing well his willingness to sleep with anyone who came into his life. "I wanted to check your security before I made any decisions." She nodded at Anne who had stopped struggling. "She was a bug I planted to see your business from the inside out." She stopped, focusing her gaze on her sleeve shoulder, pretending to pick at something on it. "Let me say, I'm rather disappointed in the obvious decline of your business standards."

White eyebrows came together as the man glared at Jessie. This wasn't the way it was supposed to happen. He was supposed to make her angry, not the other way around. Feeling rather mean, O'Connor nodded his head at the man standing behind Rowan, and the man brought the butt of his gun on Rowan's temple. With a soft moan, Rowan crumpled to the ground face first.

Jessie had to will her body to stay still, but it was almost out of her control. Her eyes narrowed, and her body collected the angry energy, waiting for the chance to let it burst forth. "You shouldn't have done that," she purred, her voice deep and velvety as anger coursed through her.

O'Connor looked at the woman laying on the floor, her chest rising in deep breaths, looking almost as though she were asleep. He felt a pleasant calm, no longer angry with Jessie. "My dear JB, if you are going to become a new business partner, then I suggest you follow MY orders." He moved closer until he was almost touching her. His eyes bored into her as he whispered. "And you had better not undermine my authority in my own place of business again."

Backing off slowly, he continued to look at Jessie. It was amazing to him to see her now and at this time. She had once been almost a daughter figure to the older man, containing all the qualities he would expect a daughter of his to posess. "You know, I had heard that you were dead."

"Greatly exaggerated."

"Obviously. You've been out of sight for a long time, why return now?" He didn't give her a chance to respond before he continued. "There were rumors that you had just gotten out of the underworld business, that you had wanted to find some sort of recognized existence." He started to pace as he talked, not really even looking at her as he ruminated. "I had always wondered which rumors were true and which weren't. Then, one day I find this beauty," he nodded his head in Anne's direction, " and the next thing I know, my warehouse is under attack by a woman I once considered a friend." He clacked his tongue against his teeth as he thought. "Too bad you would have never succeeded in getting your mother back."

This time the pause was enough for Jessie to reply. "Why?"

O'Connor's laugh was condescending and almost sinister. "Because my dear, you are a woman. A woman of great resources, yes, but a woman nonetheless. I will not be taken down by any female, let me assure you." He stopped pacing at looked at Jessie. "Let me take a shot at this. You did indeed leave the sordid drug lord business and found a life for yourself somewhere else. A life where you even have friends," he gestured toward Rowan's limp form on the ground. "Mommy dearest somehow gets into some trouble, and you, the devoted daughter, rush out to rescue her." He started pacing again. "But, you were wrong when you thought you'd be able to get her away from me without being caught." He laughed again, walking towards Anne, his eyes glazed over. "Why do you think I have no qualms about selling women into slavery? Because they are inferior, they are meant to serve." He stood in front of Anne for a minute, studying her face, seeing her look of hatred. Grabbing her by her mane of faded blonde hair, he yanked hard, bringing her to her knees. "And now your dear mother is going to show us all how a woman is meant to serve." He began to unzip his pants.

It was now or never. The men were all watching O'Connor, grins on their faces. Jessie put her weight on her front foot and pivoted bringing her weight around so that she could kick out her back leg, catching the man who had unarmed her by surprise. Her foot clipped him under the jaw, sending his head snapping back. Continuing the momentum, Jessie bent at her knee and twisted her body so that she could grab the gun she had laid on the floor and roll away. As she rolled, she sent a bullet into the leg of the man who had hit Rowan, causing him to fall and lose his own gun. She aimed at O'Connor, but in the split second before she could pull the trigger, the sound of another gun being fired stopped her. She watched, trying to figure out where the gun shot had come from and where it had been aimed.

The men in the pit were all taking cover, O'Connor the only one left in the open. Staring at the form of the man in front of her mother, Jessie watched as he started to sway and stumble, falling first to one knee, and then hitting the floor. He seemed to try to stand up again, but each time he fell back to the ground, gravity seemingly pulling him down until eventually he stopped moving all together.

A figure near the door of the pit stood, having been down on one knee. A gun in hand, Vamp looked at O'Connor's body without a trace of remorse. "Cock sucker," she said vehemently before she looked around her.

"What the fuck?" Jessie whispered to herself. She saw Anne rise and charge to where Rowan lay unmoving on the ground. Her eyes once again trailed to look at Vamp, the girl she had known for a very long time, having practically raised her. Vamp's black eyes were starring right back at Jessie. When their eyes locked, Vamp tilted her head in question. The rest of the men? Jessie thought and saw Vamp nod her head in return. I go left, you go right? Again, another nod.

They moved around the room, finding the men still behind various cages. The four men were easy to round up and disarm, their fearless leader laying dead on the cold floor. One man couldn't have moved anyway. A cage occupant had taken advantage of his distraction and wrapped her hands around his neck. Her cage–mate grabbed the gun from the startled man and held it to his temple. Jessie rescued the man before they could kill him, but the puddle underneath of him was evident of his fear.

Once again with rope and tape, Vamp and Jessie swiftly bound the men. After that was complete, Jessie finally felt that she was able to go to Rowan's side. The woman was cradled in Anne's lap, still unconscious. Anne watched her daughter approach and carefully slid Rowan's head off her lap. She stood to her full height, which came no where near her daughter's.

"Stay with her, I'll help Vamp get the women out." Anne didn't leave room for Jessie to protest, not that she had any intention of doing so.

Jessie bent down and carefully put one arm under Rowan's knees and the other under her neck. With a confident ease she lifted the smaller woman from the floor, cradling her slack body against her own.


Chapter Sixteen

They now had two sets of keys having picked the second one off O'Connor's body. Going in opposite directions, it didn't take long for Vamp and Anne to unlock all the cages, letting the doors swing open and allowing their occupants free. Soon the cages were emptied and the prisoners stood around seeing the cages from the outside of the first time. Some went up to their bound tormentors and delivered some blows of their own. But most just filed out of the door, wanting to finally get away from the stench of the building.

Jessie didn't notice the crowd of women in the main room. Her eyes and attention were focused on the still form of Rowan which she laid out on one of the soft couches. One of the women went in search of some ice and found the kitchen with Vamp's help. She brought pack a bag of ice, quietly handing it to Jessie.

Smoothing away Rowan's hair, Jessie applied the bag to the small gash in Rowan's forehead. The area was already fiercely bruised, standing out in angry contrast to Rowan's pale skin. But the woman's heartbeat was strong, calming Jessie's own and soothing her fears.

Anne came in and laid her hand on her daughter's shoulder, not saying anything. Jessie just continued to stare at Rowan. Forgetting that Vamp was there, Jessie used her thoughts to talk to Rowan. To tell her things she had never told anyone before, things she hadn't been able to say before.

Eyelids fluttered, catching Jessie's attention. She figured that she had imagined it until she saw them flutter again. "Rowan?" She said gently, taking the other woman's hand.

Finally eyelids opened completely, revealing Rowan's beautiful eyes. She blinked a few times to erase the dryness and then her eyes focused on the concerned face leaning over her. "Jessie..." she murmured, bringing her other hand up and cupping Jessie's cheek. "Are we dead?"

Laughing loudly, Jessie squeezed her hand tightly. "Nope, we won! O'Connor's dead, the women are all out." Cheers erupted behind her as the women announced their presence.

Looking over Jessie's shoulder, Rowan broke out in a grin. "Yup, they sure are!"

"Rowan, JB, I don't mean to break up your fun, but we do have a problem." Vamp appeared again, her face holding a slight frown.

"What is it?" Jessie didn't let go of Rowan's hand as she turned to face Vamp.

"I looked for him, but he's not here. That could mean trouble," she seemed to almost be speaking to herself, as through trying to figure out why he was missing. Finally catching the questioning looks and thoughts, she spoke more clearly. "Luis, O'Connor's right hand man. He's gone. I know he came in with O'Connor, but I don't know where he is now." She looked at Jessie. "Yes, I think he's trouble. He started out as a henchman for O'Connor, but he's risen in ranks since then. When O'Connor retired, it was obvious that Luis was going to get to run the business."

Jessie looked at her friend still spread out on the couch. "How're you feeling?" Concerned laced her voice as she spoke.

"I have a headache that would down Hercules, but other than that, I'll live. Guess we have to leave, huh?" She slowly lifted herself up, swinging her feet around and setting them on the ground. "Let's go."

Looking around the now crowded room, Jessie was unsure what she could do with the women and children. Going to Vamp, she asked, "Where's the nearest cop shop?"

"Two, maybe three blocks."

"Good, give these girls directions and tell them to haul ass until they get there."

"What about..." Vamp didn't get the chance to finish.

"You're coming with us. I won't let you down this time, I promise." Jessie put an arm around her shoulder and hugged her tightly to her. Vamp returned the hug with two arms, holding on tightly to Jessie. Pulling away after a few seconds, Jessie gently pushed her towards the cluster of women. "See to them and then come and find me, okay?"

"Yes sir!" Vamp saluted her before approaching the group of women.

"Smart ass," Jessie mumbled.

"I learned from the best!" Vamp sing–songed back.

With a good natured growl, Jessie turned to her mother and Rowan.

"So, what's the plan now?" Rowan looked up from her seat on the couch, catching a flash of concern in Jessie's face. "I'm fine Jess, just tell me what you want us to do."

Nodding, Jessie prepared to tell them her plan. "I have a bad feeling about this Luis guy. I vaguely remember somebody by that name back from my time here. He wasn't a nice guy, but considering how far he's climbed since I left, I'll assume that he's a fairly smart guy. If I were him and someone had just ruined my chance at a successful future, I'd be pretty pissed. Once Vamp's ready we'll head back out to the car and take off. I'll need Vamp and mom to watch for anyone following us. Any sign of that whatsoever and we will be taking a small detour. Got it?" Both women nodded in return. Jessie had been afraid of scaring them unnecessarily, but she saw now that she couldn't do this alone.

Vamp came up behind Jessie and spoke for all of them. "You can count on us, JB."

*   *   *   *   *

Rather than heading back to Madison on State Route 494, Jessie got on 35 and headed South. At one point she had a cabin near the Mississippi River on the Minnesota side. It was a good place to recoup if she ran into problems that got her hurt. Once she had been shot in shoulder, the bullet tearing through tendons and muscle, but not hitting the bone. A few hundred dollars down and promises for more had gotten the cute nurse in the hospital to come and stay with her at the cabin to help with her physical therapy. Yeah, it was therapy alright, but probably not the kind condoned by doctors.

"A nurse, huh?" Vamp giggled in the back seat. Both Anne and Rowan looked at the girl, then looked at Jessie.

"I don't think I want to know." Anne muttered, turning back around to watch behind them.

"Vamp, cut it out!" Jessie hissed. She had a feeling that Rowan wouldn't take too kindly to that particular story.

"Hey, I can't control your thoughts!"

"Yeah, but you don't have to broadcast them to everyone!"

"So, are we going to the cabin?" Vamp changed the subject, knowing that pushing Jessie too far was an unwise thing to do.

"Yeah, if it's still there. I haven't checked on it in a couple of years, I'm not sure what we'll find."

"Wait, what cabin is this?" Anne looked at her daughter, waiting a response.

"I own a bit of land on the Mississippi, about 20 minutes from Lake City."

"Never heard of it," Rowan spoke up.

"Well, it's a smaller town near the river. Anyway, there's a cabin there and basically a private beach. The cabin doesn't have running water, but with the lake so close it's easy to go without." She stared at the road ahead of them, silent for a minute. "Anyway, till we know whether or not Luis is following us, I figured we could camp out there. No one knows about that cabin but me, so I think it'll be safe enough. But, as I was saying, I haven't been there in probably six or seven years, so I'm not sure what the condition of the house will be, but I own it and the land anyway."

"Wildlife, here we come," Vamp said sarcastically.


Chapter Seventeen

"That bitch!" He muttered to himself over and over again. He had been hanging behind when O'Connor got shot. It was completely stupid for O'Connor to let his emotions control him like that. He shouldn't have turned his back on that bitch JB. After his boss went down, he hid in the broom closet until everyone left. Sneaking out of the building, he reached his car just as the four women were taking off. The engine of the 1983 Buick Skylark was brand new, Luis and his brothers having supped it up last summer. The car roared to life as he turned the key, and squealed out of the parking lot.

He'd been staying a decent distance from the bitch's car, biding his time. O'Connor may have been an idiot, but he wasn't as dumb, or so he thought. He'd kill her as soon as she was close enough. However, he'd have to wait till it was just the two of them. Then he'd restart the slavery business, taking those other three women with him as his first slaves. Maybe he would make them his personal slaves, doing only his bidding. Oh yeah, he liked the thought of that.

He was lucky the roads were busy today, allowing him to be in a separate lane from JB, but still keep her in view. It surprised him when she singled that she was going to be getting off at exit 59. But he stayed with them, getting off 35 and getting onto 60. He wasn't going to let that bitch go without showing her what he thought of her. Yeah, he'd heard stories of JB, but they didn't scare him anymore. He'd still been a thug when she'd left Chicago, no one she'd remember. But he remembered her. Since she'd been gone he'd made quite a name for himself. That's what it was really, his reputation against hers.

Luis wasn't willing to let her win.

*   *   *   *   *

When they got to Lake City, Jessie stopped at a little grocery store off the side of the road. It promised tackle, beer, and food, in that order. Each person went off in their own direction to get what they thought was essential food items. Jessie came back with steaks and propane for the Coleman lanterns; Anne came back with pre–made salads and low fat dressing. When Rowan found them she was carrying two containers of Pringles, Oscar Meyer bologna, and a loaf of white bread. They finally found Vamp in the candy isle, her arms filled with things like Hostess Cupcakes, Gummy Worms, and Cinnaburst gum. Jessie finally narrowed her down to two sweet items and some lunch meat, in addition to the gum.

"I've always wanted to try the stuff," she confessed when she read everyone's confusion.


It was dark by the time they reached the cabin, the headlights of the car providing the only light for them to see by. Jessie popped the trunk open and dug around till she found a Mag–Lite, using that to guide them toward the cabin. She was glad to see that only one window looked broken, and the door was still firmly shut. That was a good sign. Taking her key ring out she settled on one of the many keys hanging off it. Inserting it into the keyhole, she turned the key. It didn't move, so she asked for everyone to back up just a little because they were crowding her. They did, and she got a better grip on the old handle. Grunting with effort, she managed to make the key turn in the lock.

The door to the cabin needed oiling, Jessie noticed as the door swung open with a tremendous creak. She ushered everyone inside, the quiet reassuring her that it was okay.

"Here, take this." Jessie handed Rowan the Mag–Lite. "Shine it over here," she covered Rowan's hand with her own and pointed the light in the right direction. Unconsciously, she caressed the other woman's hand before she let go.

"Looks like a decent place, Jessie." Anne could only see what the light illuminated, but the cabin was surprisingly sparse and clean. A layer of dust was without a doubt covering everything, but that could easily be overlooked.

Taking the flashlight back from Rowan, Jessie went into the back of the cabin and came back with three Coleman lanterns. Once again handing the flashlight to Rowan, Jessie carefully filled the lanterns with propane and lit all three lanterns. Once the cabin was illuminated. Jessie headed toward the fireplace.

She knelt by the fireplace on the wall to the left of the front door. A stack of wood still sat on the hearth. With skill, she piled the wood in a triangle type shape. There wasn't any newspaper left, so she started looking around for paper that she could use to get the fire started. "Guys, look around for paper or something."

"Hey Rowan, bring a lantern over here!" Vamp's voice came from the far side of the room. Rowan found her with one of the lanterns. The girl was looking on a table of some sort, paper sitting on top. Vamp gave out a low whistle as she looked closer at the papers. "Jesus JB, you could have been in a lot of trouble!"

"Uh?" Everyone started toward Vamp and the table.

On top of the table were newspapers dating from 1985. One the cover of a copy of the Chicago Tribune was Jessie's face. The headline read "Female Suspect Denies Knowledge."

Jessie stood studying the papers. She had put that incident in the back of her mind, which explained why she forgot the papers were here. At one point in her life, she would clip out any articles that had to do with her, whether or not the journalist knew it. When she was laid up after getting shot, she had spread them all out on the table, memorized them, and then left them behind. Why, she didn't know. At the time she was beginning to have doubts about her career, but she wasn't willing to give up all the benefits of crime. She'd been laid up for eight months while her shoulder mended, and each day she read those articles, partly so she wouldn't forget who she was. She didn't want to get too comfortable.

Suddenly, Jessie grabbed all the papers, and bunched them together. "These will make good fire starters." Taking the newspaper over to the fireplace she began stuffing them in between the wood. Did Rowan read those? She wondered. Rowan knew a lot about her past and every day Jessie worried that one day Rowan would find out something that put her over the top, make her unable to stay with Jessie any longer. Granted, up until recently they'd only been living together as best friends, but the fact was that Jessie needed Rowan in her life, no matter what the capacity.

Finding a half used pack of matches sitting by the remanding firewood, Jessie pulled one out and slid it along the rough strip on back. Flame instantly danced from the match. Quickly, Jessie strategically touched pieces of newspaper with the match until mini–fires were burning all over the place. Eventually they would come together and form one large flame that would pop and sputter.

Anne and Vamp volunteered to go and find more firewood. They left taking the mag–lite with them.

Jessie stood and watched the flames move in a complicated rhythm that only flames could accomplish. The flames combined with the lanterns completely lit the room. From where she stood she could see the dust on the mantle of the fireplace. She imagined that the rest of the cabin looked the same way. Deep in thought, she almost jumped when she felt an arm around her waist. Looking down she saw Rowan's concerned face staring back at her.

"Hi," Rowan said quietly, studying Jessie's face with her eyes.

"Hey, how's your head?" A hint of a grin appeared on Jessie's face when she saw Rowan's grimace.

"Fine till your reminded me it was there!" Pretending to pout she didn't try to remove her arm from around Jessie's waist, and when she felt Jessie's arm go across her shoulders, she held on even tighter.

They looked at each other for a long time, the firelight dancing in their eyes.

Finally, with a sigh, Jessie noted that she'd better make dinner for them if they wanted to eat any time soon. "We'll need to get the steaks so that we can get them ready to put on the fire."

Together they went to the car and got the groceries. Finding the steaks that Jessie had gotten for dinner, Rowan was impressed with the size of the filets. Each one was thick around and through the middle. Her mouth started to water as Jessie put different seasonings on them. " already smells good! Where'd the seasonings come from?"

Jessie pointed to a cupboard above a counter in the cabin. "That's the kitchen area. " Pointing to what looked like a sink, she continued. "You can pump water there if you're really desperate, but the pipes are old so the water tastes funny. I kept non–perishable food stuff here in case I had an emergency."

The steaks properly seasoned, Jessie brought out a rack that fit over the fire. Carefully placing the steaks on the rack, she knelt near it waiting for them to cook.

Feeling useless, Rowan spoke up, "Jess, I need to do something to help around here."

"Well, you could get things ready to sleep tonight. In the back room over there is camping stuff. There should be enough sleeping bags for everyone and if there aren't enough pillows, I think there's some blow–up pillows around here somewhere."

"Kay, I can handle that."

As Jessie cooked the steaks Rowan took advantage of her permission to go around the little cabin. With the fire going, the whole place was very quaint. There were only three doorways leading off from the main room. One was a closet, and the other two were intended bedrooms, but Jessie used one for storage. The bedroom itself was small, a king size bed taking up most of the room. The only other furniture was a small chest of drawers and a night stand. Looking through the drawers, Rowan found sheets for the bed. Taking a quick whiff, she noticed that they had a faint musty smell, but overall seemed pretty clean. She quickly made the bed, finding a comforter wrapped in plastic in the closet.

After she was satisfied with that, she proceeded to the other room and started looking for sleeping bags. "Hey Rowan!" Vamp startled her, making her drop the pillow she'd been sniffing.

"Hey, find lots of wood?"

"No problem. Want some help?"

Together they discovered that there were only two sleeping bags in the room. "Jessie's in the bed, and two of us get sleeping bags, but that leaves one person out." Rowan knew she was willing to sleep with Jessie in the big bed, but she wasn't so sure that Jessie would agree to that.

"I don't think that'll be a problem," Vamp broke into her thoughts with a grin.

Once again startled, Rowan's mind went blank. "Huh?"

"Rowan, I can read thoughts, remember?"

The woman blushed as she realized what that meant.

"Hey don't worry, you're thoughts are nothing compared to JB's. She's in love with you, you know?"


"Yup, you're like a constant part of her thoughts. I've never seen her thoughts so divided like that."

"Divided how?" She wasn't sure she understood what Vamp meant.

"I mean, in one part she's thinking about how she'd like to be with you forever. Then, in another, she's scared to death that you'll leave her because of her past." Vamp's face scrunched up as she thought, putting to voice the thoughts that she'd picked up from the stoic woman.

Carrying the pillows and sleeping bags into the main room, Rowan spotted Jessie tending the fire. "Hey, we only have two sleeping bags here. Do you have another one stashed some place?"

Grinning, Jessie teased her a bit. "Oh, sure, as you can see I have lots of room to stash things around here!"

"Ha, ha. Look, I figured you could sleep in the bed. I put clean sheets on it and everything. But, since we're minus one sleeping bag, someone's got to find some other sleeping arrangements."

Jessie looked at the fire as she spoke softly. "You could share the bed with me."

Glancing at her friend, Rowan checked to see if she was serious. "Ah, sure, I think we can handle that."

Vamp started giggling, but quickly stopped when Rowan used a well placed elbow jab.

The front door slammed open from the outside. Anne stumbled in, her arms full of wood. "Someone take this before I fall!"

Reaching her first, Jessie easily transferred the wood from her mother's arms to her own. She was quick to carry the load to the fireplace, setting it on the hearth with the wood that Vamp had gotten.

"Phew, it's deceptively warm out there! With the breeze off the river, you expect it to be cooler, but instead it's just muggier." She fanned herself with her hand. Looking at her daughter, she continued. "How's a girl supposed to get clean around here?"

"The river, of course. Ever bath in the Mississippi, mom?" She grinned as the older woman squirmed at the idea. "Don't worry, it's much cleaner than it looks. Follow the path on the right of the cabin and it'll take you down to the river. It's sort of a private beach, trees blocking the sides. I've never run into anyone down there and at this time of night no one should see you."

With a loud sigh, Anne asked one more question. "I don't suppose you have any soap or anything?"

Moving to the cabinets, Jessie reached under the sink and produced a small box. "Catch," she said as she threw it in her mother's direction.

Snapping it out of the air, Anne "Humphed" triumphantly. "I may be getting older, but I still have it!" She opened the box and took out the new bar of soap. "Anyone else coming with me?"

As desperately as Rowan wanted a bath, she also wanted to be alone with Jessie. Vamp caught the thought and gave Rowan an impish smile. "I'm coming," the girl said, heading toward the door.

"Wait you two," Jessie moved about the 'kitchen' area and opened a drawer under the counter. She drew out two fluffy towels. "You might need these." She walked over and handed Anne the towels. "Please be careful," she said quietly, looking at her mother with a serious expression.

"We will. See you two in a bit," was Anne's response. She and Vamp headed out the front door, shutting it behind them.

Jessie wasn't too concerned about it. Vamp's ability to sense thoughts and read minds would keep anyone from sneaking up on them. Turning to Rowan, she spoke in a low tone. "We should probably wait until they get back before we put the steaks on. They might be awhile."

She headed toward the bedroom where she and Rowan would be sleeping. "Any trouble finding the sheets?"

"Nope. Figured you'd rather sleep in a bed if you could," Rowan's voice was right behind her.

Jessie turned around and found herself face to face with the women. Suddenly there was a lump in her throat. This is ridiculous! Jessie scolded herself. She'd never had any problems with nervousness before, why now?

Noticing Jessie's tensed muscles, Rowan shoved her gently toward the bed. "Lay down, you need a massage." It was a command, and Jessie found herself wanting to obey. She laid down on her stomach. "Take off your shirt." Another command and again Jessie obeyed without protest. As soon as she felt the other woman's hands on her back, she gave an involuntary sigh. Straddling Jessie's hips to be able to reach all of her back, Rowan's arms worked the tired muscles. "Feel good?" Her mouth was right next to Jessie's ear.

Jessie could feel herself heating at the feel of Rowan on top of her, electric shocks coursed through her body everytime the woman's hands touched her. It was difficult for her not to turn over, take the smaller woman in her arms, and kiss her.

Rowan concentrated on the wonderful feeling of being able to touch Jessie without worrying about the woman's reaction. She became so caught up in the feeling of Jessie's body that she didn't even realize she had begun to roll her hips against her. But Jessie did. When Rowan began to move her hips rhythmically against her, Jessie thought she was dreaming, but the rhythm was unmistakable.

When Rowan understood what she was doing, she stopped immediately, mortified. Jessie moaned in disappointment, turning her body underneath Rowan. Putting her hands on Rowan's hips, she encouraged the woman to continue her movements. Understanding what Jessie wanted her to do, Rowan again started to roll her hips against her. Meeting Rowan's hips with her own, Jessie meshed them together, their thrusts against each other becoming more frantic as they both reach the peak of their excitement. Sighing, Rowan allowed herself to fall forward against Jessie, laying her head on her shoulder, trying to catch her breath.

Before either of them could speak, they heard the sound of the front door opening. "Shit," Jessie mumbled as she reached for her shirt, lifting Rowan up at the same time. They both got to their feet, and Jessie took Rowan in her arms, and kissed her passionately, trying to let her know how she felt in that one kiss. Under her breath, just before she let go, she whispered, "We'll talk about this later, I promise."

Rowan watched as Jessie left the room, nodding her head. Yes, they most certainly would 'talk' about this later! As she walked out of the room she felt a bit light headed, dazed by all she was feeling and experiencing. The outside result was a huge grin on her face.


Chapter Eighteen

The steaks that Jessie made, with Rowan's help, were good. All four were hungry, Anne in particular relished the food. Rowan watched as Vamp did a lot of talking while they ate, telling funny stories about Jessie from her drug dealing days. She figured that Vamp glazed over some parts, but that was okay with her. Hearing the gory details of Jessie's past didn't really interest her. In fact, she wasn't surprised by much anymore. The bottom line was she didn't care about what Jessie had once been, she was happy with what Jessie was now. Vamp was making them all laugh with the comical side that Jessie always had but seldom showed. It was like seeing Vamp in a new light too. She was animated, a contrast to her dark hair, makeup, and nails.

As she finished her latest story, Vamp grinned over at Rowan. "So, you want to know about me, huh?" Her grin grew as Rowan blushed. "Hey, it's okay to be curious. Get comfy and I will spill all!"

The women shifted their bodies, trying to get comfortable on the sleeping bags. Laying down in sort of a circle facing Vamp, Rowan noticed that she was the only one without a pillow. Before she could complain, she felt herself being lifted and shifted. When she stopped moving she realized that she was now laying with her head in Jessie's lap. She looked up at the sparkling eyes of her friend. "Comfortable now?" Jessie asked softly, a knowing smile on her face.

Rowan grinned back, "Oh yeah, I could get used to this."

"Are you two done flirting now, or should we wait some more?" Vamp's usual sarcasm was in place. Rowan blushed and started to get up, but she felt a firm hand keep her in place.

"Yeah, we're done....for now." Jessie drawled out in a light tone causing Rowan's blush to deepen, but she made no attempt to leave her soft pillow.

"Okay then." She held up a hand as Rowan opened her mouth to ask a question. "Why don't I tell ya the story, and then you can ask questions?" The dark–haired woman nodded her consent. Vamp did have to smile at the picture of Jessie stroking Rowan's hair. It was just too cute.

"My father was an American who'd gone to Romania in the 60s as a missionary. He ended up falling in love with my mother, who was Romanian. If they wanted to marry, he'd have to become a Romanian citizen, and they'd have to live in Romania. They married and had 12 kids." Grabbing for the container of Pringles, Vamp tore off the lid and seal. Looking at the three faces starring at her, she held up the can. "Potatoes anyone?"

After they'd declined the offer, Vamp shrugged and stuffed a thick stack of chips into her mouth. Chewing for a minute, she waited till she swallowed to continue. "I was the last kid, kind of the 'oops' baby. Anyway, in my mom's family there was kind of a curse that each generation had. Well, it wasn't really a curse, I guess it could be called a blessing." Her face scrunched up as she thought. "Oh well, whatever you want to call it, it was passed down from generation to generation. The curse, as I call it, was the ability to read thoughts from people. So, each of my parents' 12 children were able to read minds."

"Were?" Anne echoed. She knew that Vamp's family was dead, but she hadn't realized just how many people that included.

"Yeah. My family didn't tell anyone else in their village about it cause it would be seen as witchcraft. That would have meant certain death."

"Vamp, when did you come to the US?" The question came from Rowan, who couldn't help but ask what was on her mind.

Glaring at the slight woman, Vamp answered. "I came here when I was six. I know about my family because," she interrupted Rowan's next question, "my brother told me several times and wrote it down for me so that I would always know where I came from. Can I finish now?"

Silently Rowan nodded.

"Most of my older brothers and sisters were into heeling. Doctors, midwives, Vets, whatever you call those people that doctor plants. It was easy for them because they could hear the thoughts of those they were attending. Yes, even animals."

"There is only one good thing that came from this curse. For whatever reason, those who had the curse had a really, really strong immune system. We rarely get sick, and even then, something that could kill anyone else is like a cold to us."

"So, as tends to happen in small villages where people are piss poor, an epidemic swept through the town, killing over half the village before it ran it's course. In just about every family at least one person died. All but my family. Those left in the village saw this and decided that my family must be unnatural. One by one they began to kill my family members."

"My father managed to get the two youngest children, me and my brother, out of the village. Friends of my parents put us in a boat. The boat came to America and my brother and I lived on the street until we found JB."

The girl paused and took a drink from her warm soda. Thoughts of sympathy came from Anne and Rowan. She could tell that they had no idea what to say or how to respond to the story.

"Guys, it happened. It wasn't good, but I've dealt." She shrugged. In her nine years in America she'd only told one other person. When she had told JB her story, the stoic woman had listened quietly but Vamp had felt the quiet rage that welled in the woman as she told her story. When she had finished, JB had taken her in her arms, held her for a brief moment, then released her saying "You're always welcome with me," and then got up and left.

"What happened to your brother?" Anne asked quietly.

Vamp's eyebrows came together as she remembered her brother. She opened her mouth to answer, when another voice did it for her.

"He died saving my life."

Vamp and Anne turned to look at Jessie, while Rowan moved her head so that she was starring up at the woman's face.

Taking a deep breath, Jessie tried to ignore the pain the memory brought her. "He and Vamp came to work with me. I...I couldn't let them go back on the street. Jake, he was a great kid, good head for business despite his age. He became sort of a personal assistant to me, helping me out. One night, I was coming back from a deal, and Jake met me at the door. All of a sudden, he sensed something and pushed me out of the way, taking a bullet that was meant for me." She got quiet as she finished, her eyes holding tears that she wouldn't let fall.

Rowan took the woman's hand in her own, softly moving her thumb over the back of it.

Jessie looked down at Rowan and saw something incredible there. Rather than seeing hatred or disgust, she saw love. A powerful, raw, needy love. Despite the pain she was feeling as she remembered losing Jake, Jessie felt herself respond to Rowan's love.

Continues in Chapter Nineteen

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