Till We Meet Again

by Laurie Ann

Silas and Jacob Brigger greeted Ella as she stopped her buggy in front of the ranch. Her beaming countenance told them her shopping trip to Red Fork went well. Eagerly willing to help, they were still curious to some of the attractive brunette's plans with Tanner. It surprised them when she had suddenly changed plans, wanting to keep the sharpshooter alive instead of killing him like it was discussed before.

Upon hearing Ella's woeful tale of Tanner's proposed deceptions, the Brigger's were willing to kill the tracker on sight. No one treated a sweet, innocent woman like Ella that way. When she came exhausted and hungry upon their homestead, she told of a man hunting her relentlessly, her only crime...daring to break up his gang of seven gunfighters. Of course they helped her hide from Tanner.

As more of Ella's story unfolded, the more the brothers urged her to get revenge. She resisted at first, saying Tanner had a hold over her beloved Chris Larabee, and acting rashly would cause him to hate her. In the month that followed, she found she was with child, finally forcing her to act. An elaborate plan was hatched, every detail accounted for.

As Silas continued with his brother and Ella through the house, he quelled his misgivings. He wasn't one for revenge like his other brothers, but this was a righteous plan. A liar like Tanner had to pay, and Ella and Larabee had to be reunited for the sake of the baby. Yet he couldn't understand why Ella wanted that tracker around, if he was so devious like she claimed.

"I found the exact shade of blue I was looking for," Ella told her escorts happily. "It made a very lovely shirt. All I need is Hiam to arrive and everything is set."

"Why is that bastard even breathing?" Jacob snarled, referring to Vin.

The wicked grin Ella flashed his older brother stopped Silas dead in his tracks. "Patience," she purred, gingerly wiping a gloved had across the side of Jacob's scruffy face.

The large Brigger smiled and opened the door to a room Ella had them working on. "The shelves are done like ya asked, Miss Ella," he said proudly. "What's that big crate in the middle? Saw them boys bring it in."

Her eyes glistening with excitement, the femme fatale nodded her head in the direction of the huge box. "Open it, Jacob." Draping the recently purchased suspenders and pants over a cushioned chair in the corner of the good sized room, she watched gleefully as the two brothers carefully undid the wooden boards surrounding the object. Sunlight from a cathedral styled window sparkled upon the glass the large piece contained, sending prisms throughout the room.

The delivery men had opened up one end for her to view before boarding it back up, but the entire picture was breathtaking. It was something fit for a king. A slight frown formed. A king yes, but a nothing like Vin? No, Chris would want this for him, and what Chris wanted, she would move heaven and earth to get it.

"Damn! This looks like...," Silas couldn't hide his alarm, but was silenced by a jab to his ribs by Jacob.

"It's for our guest," Ella explained. "If he's going to become a part of this family, he should have the best. I know Chris would insist upon it." She ran a hand over the beautifully carved mahogany rails. She smiled. Chris will love this room she made for Vin to stay in.

+ + + + + + +

Hiam Sabot slowly exited the carriage sent to pick him up from the Red Fork station. What was he doing here? Why couldn't he find the courage to shrug off Ella's threats and run as far as he could from her? He smiled bitterly. Truth be told, there was nowhere he could run. She would only find him like she had times before. The times before it was to pull a con, but never this. The murderess had changed the plan. Instead of a dead body, he now had a live victim. A victim he was sure would be innocent of any wrongdoing. He knew what a liar Ella was, and how warped her mind had become over time. If only she hadn't witnessed the murder he committed so many years ago....

Pulling his cape closer around him to ward off the mental chills that raced through his body, Hiam walked closer to the large house. He remembered hearing stories of Ella's mother going mad. Was the same curse being revisited on the daughter? Deep down he knew the truth, and it was that knowledge that would force him to do this deed. His own life depended on it.

The door before him opened, and Ella's smiling face came into view.

"Hello, Hiam," she said with syrupy sweetness. "Come in and get yourself settled. It'll be several more hours before midnight."

His face emotionless, Hiam entered inside. 'Welcome to Hell,' he thought ruefully.

+ + + + + + +

As they strode nonchalantly to the saloon, Chris watched the street warily for any sign of the troublesome brothers. He had sent Nathan to the clinic for some sleeping powder to drug the whiskey he would so freely give to anyone who came into the drinking establishment, and he knew for a certainty the Briggers would make an appearance. It was a wedding celebration, and they would drink what was offered. Looking as hard and tumble as they did, probably more than they should. When Ella's henchmen became drowsy and incapacitated, he would slip out the back of the building, riding hard to find Vin.

It was only a matter of time now.

I'm coming as soon as I can, Chris thought, hoping somehow Vin would know.

+ + + + + + +

Inside the room, Vin's head lifted as he felt a comforting presence, a sense of reassurance washing over him. Chris was on his way, he was as sure of that as anything.

Hurry, Cowboy.

The door burst open, Ella's strong perfume almost making the sharpshooter nauseous. The feeling of calm left immediately, replaced by revulsion and dread. What was she up to now?

"I've found your clothes," Ella said, remaining in the doorway. "I chose something close to what you wear, but the fabric is the finest you can find this side of Paris. It should last forever...."

Forever? Vin held his breath as she continued to stand in the doorway, her face going blank. A hard knot began to tighten even more in his stomach as Ella continued to stare. She stopped and rubbed her belly, smiling.

"Soon, my Angel, soon," she cooed to the baby.

Vin felt as if he had been hit with ice water. Angel? That was what she kept calling him.

Ella looked up, a condescending grin encompassing her broad mouth. "When the clock strikes midnight, it'll be time for us to become one happy family," she said hauntingly to her captive. "I'll be back in a few hours...."

As the door closed once more, Vin threw himself forward, all his strength used to pull himself free. Again and again he tried, each attempt yielding nothing like his many struggles before. Breathing hard from the exertion, the sharpshooter finally conceded, unable to even loosen his bonds.

Midnight.... Was that all the time he had left? Sinking his head into the back of the chair, he prayed for a miracle. He never expected much in his young life, but he was asking this more for Chris than for himself. He didn't need to guess what his murder at Ella's hands would do to his best friend.

+ + + + + + +

Chris fidgeted nervously inside the saloon, the urgency hitting him like a boulder. Vin's time was running out, and he was stuck here waiting. He fought the feeling of rage, trying to keep himself focused on the things at hand. Going off half cocked wouldn't get his best friend back.

Don't go acting like some trigger happy cowboy, Chris mentally admonished himself.

Cowboy... Chris' attention drifted to the corner of the bar and back to a time almost a year ago. He was sitting at that table, a bottle of whiskey perched in front of him. The gunman and six other men had just come back from defending an Indian village. The swinging doors of the saloon barely stirred him out of his thoughts but the throaty drawl of one man did.

"Hey Cowboy, join ya?"

Vin Tanner had just called him cowboy after it was established he detested being referred to as that. For some reason, he didn't mind it from Vin. Damn cocky tracker. Chris thought back to the rest of the conversation. How Vin wanted to leave the next day for Tascosa and clear his name. Of course he attempted to convince his young friend to wait, but Vin wouldn't, so he agreed to go. Except they ended up getting hired by Judge Travis before they could leave.

The memory faded with the noise of the saloon. Chris rested his elbows upon the bar, staring sadly at the table he and Vin spent many evenings talking or drinking at. He had to console himself with the knowledge that the brothers had consumed both bottles of the drugged whiskey. Nathan assured him it wouldn't be long.

And by all that held him clinging to hope, it wouldn't be.


Urging his horse to pick up speed, Chris raced to his shack. There was only one more thing he needed to help in his rescue attempt. Vin had made him a bow and some arrows, claiming the gunman's incessant need to shoot every critter who dared crossed his property was keeping the town awake. He allowed his mind to dwell on his first lesson in handling the weapon.

"Vin? How the hell do you expect me to shoot anything with this? The arrow won't go where I want it."

"Damn Larabee, ya can shoot a gun outta a man's hand, but ya can't aim a bow. Hell, ya 'bout shot me in the backside! Ya can't go shootin' it like yer in a gunfight."

"I told you I've never used on of these things before. Maybe you should get used to the sound of gunshots in the middle of the night or sleep sounder."

"Maybe ya should git used ta li'l' critters runnin' wild 'round yer property. Ya shot a hole in my canteen the last time ya shot at a prairie dog."

"That was an accident!"

"So was this. Beginnin' ta wonder 'bout yer aim, old timer.... Shootin' an arrow is like shootin' a gun...."

"Give me that damn arrow and I'll show you how good my aim is!"

"There's the Chris Larabee I know. Whatcha gonna shoot at?"

"Turn around smart mouth, this time I will hit your backside."

A smile touched Chris' lips. It was Vin's way of giving him a gift of friendship. This small token would prove invaluable in sneaking up to Ella's ranch. He could shoot any lookouts without making a sound.

As he dismounted and bounded into his home, Chris pulled out his pocket watch. Three hours wasted in town, waiting on the Briggers. Feigning a headache, the gunman had slipped into one of the back rooms of the saloon and slipped out a window. By morning, he should have secured Vin's release and be heading home.

A tight feeling clenched Chris's gut as he grabbed his weapon and exited. Despite Ella's assurances she wouldn't hurt his best friend, he couldn't dispel the trepidation that Vin was in mortal danger. Shaking his blonde head, the gunfighter remounted, steeling himself for whatever he found at Ella's. He couldn't allow any thoughts to control his emotions.

Galloping through the moonlight, Chris vowed he would make in time. Come Hell or highwater....he'd make it.

+ + + + + + +

Vin felt his body tighten as he heard the creak of his prison door. Was it midnight already? His eyes adjusting to the candlelight, he reluctantly gazed upon Ella's beaming countenance. It was the beginning of the end.

Dressed head to toe in an garment resembling a shroud, Ella's brown locks peeked out from under a deep red cape and cascaded loosely around her shoulders, the black candle in her hands casting her features in an fiendish light. Her dark eyes were wide and impassioned, telling her victim of his impending fate. Inside the doorway, the murderess stood transfixed, as if waiting for something.

Turning his head away, Vin forced the growing anxiety inside him to subside. Whatever happened, he was going to fight every step of the way, unwilling to concede even unto his dying breath.

A grandfather clock chimed downstairs, awaking Ella from her trance. With each stroke of the clock, she lit a candle until all twelve were ignited in the tiny shrine. Placing the black candle down on a shelf, she whipped off her cape in one swift motion, revealing a black gown, the neckline plunging to where a respectable lady shouldn't dare.

"Do you like my dress?" Ella asked. She frowned when she noticed her captive's turned head. He had missed her dramatic unveiling...on purpose. Grabbing the sides of Vin's face, she forced him to look at her. "I asked if you liked my dress," she repeated. "A woman doesn't like it when you ignore her."

Vin tore himself from her grasp, growling his answer of contempt. Before twisting away, he caught the glimmer of something sliver flashing in the candlelight, as it slid out of it's hiding place under the black fabric. He stilled, focusing on the object in Ella's hand.

"Oh, you like my knife better?" Ella lifted the dagger and gently ran the dull edge of the blade against the side of the tracker's face. "I'm glad. I chose it because of you. It'll be the instrument used to bond us forever."

Vin glared up at the femme fatale. He would never be connected to her in any form.

Ella only laughed, allowing the blade to caress Vin's face and neck, coming slowly to rest upon his chest. "It is time for us to become one, to share what only in blood can be forged." Stroking the wavy strands of the young man's hair in back, she laid her head down near his face. "I know you've lived with Indians, so I'm sure you've heard of a certain custom...."

She paused, feeling her prey's warm breath upon her face, his body tensing. He was definitely paying attention to her now.

"When a great warrior is killed, the one who slain him honors the brave's spirit by consuming his heart." A smile formed as Ella saw a bit of unease in Vin's eyes. "I've never understood that. How can he capture the spirit? The heart is dead, it is no longer beating. He's already gone. No, the blood must be coursing through his veins, his life, his strength in every drop. Don't you agree?"

The sharpshooter glowered at her, wishing he could drown out her voice, banish her hands from touching any part of him as he tried not to imagine what her sick images were suggesting.

"It is time, my Angel, for us to unite," Ella purred into Vin's ear.

Vin arched his body as he felt the tip of the blade dig in where Ella had scratched him earlier, the pressure increasing upon the wound. He felt the knife painfully inch deeper into his flesh, awaiting the final push that would burst through his heart. Suddenly the pressure stopped, the touch of soft lips enclosing around the gash. Crying out in disgust, the tracker slammed his back into the chair, wrestling against his bonds.

Warm blood greeted her mouth as Ella began to suck upon the laceration, her being swelling with intensity and domination. She could feel her captive's beating heart, his pulse quickening with each taste she took, his hard fought breaths as he tried furtively to free himself. She wanted him to struggle, to fight her, to have as much energy as possible coursing through his veins. His instinct for survival, his love for life, his fear, his hate, all were surfacing at once in a battle for existence, an existence that would soon be transferred to another.

After several minutes, Ella lifted her head, her mouth covered in blood. Noting her victim's eyes were closed, she took the knife and sliced the fingertip of her index finger, placing the hand behind her back. Depositing the knife on a nearby shelf, she took her other hand and pulled down Vin's gag, tracing a finger over his lips.

"I'm all done, Angel," she said in a soothing voice. "It wasn't so bad was it?"

Vin looked up and glared at her. "Go ta Hell, ya bitch," he muttered. The brunette only smiled, her bloody face making the tracker almost ill.

"I'll be in total Heaven...with Chris," Ella cooed, pinching Vin's nose closed. The lack of air forced her captive to breath through his mouth, permitting her to thrust the cut finger between his teeth.

Vin wrested his head in every direction he could to dislodge her finger, but she fought him, keeping the bleeding extremity inserted. Even when he bit down, she refused to pull out, instead, encouraging him to draw more blood. Instantly he stopped, staring at her in absolute horror, the taste of her blood filling his mouth.

Before her prey could spew the blood back out, she took out her finger and shoved her other hand under Vin's chin, pushing his head upwards against the back of the chair, forcing his mouth to clamp shut. Ella continued her hold on the prisoner and smeared her bloody finger tip over his lips, pressing her own blood covered ones down upon them.

Chris! Vin thought desperately as he fought off Ella. It was the only thing he could think of to combat the unreality of his situation. This couldn't be happening.... Who in their right mind would do something like this? A chill raced down his spine as he steadied his labored breathing. Where did this woman find her strength? Would she stop at this despicable act, or would there be more?

Wrapping her bleeding finger in a gauze bandage she had stashed in the room, Ella then daintily wiped at her mouth with a handkerchief, laughing softly. Her young guest was in store for more surprises...the ritual had only begun.

As if the blood was burning his flesh, Vin repeatedly rubbed his mouth across his shoulder, wiping away any trace of it. If only he could rub it from his mind. She had forced him to taste her blood, and in her sick state of mind, had bonded them together. The metallic flavor of the liquid turned his stomach as he fought to keep his wits about him. He had faced many fears, even the fear of the gallows, but none as horrid as this woman.

Pleased, Ella turned back to Vin, placing gauze upon the bleeding wound on his chest. "I don't want you bleeding to death right now," she said sweetly, taking a lick at some blood trickling down under the cloth. A laugh escaped as her victim tried to jerk his body away from her touch. "I'm only trying to help."

"Keep yer murderin' hands off me," he said in a threatening tone, as Ella attempted to wipe at his mouth.

"Murder?" Ella feigned surprise. "Who did I murder?"

"Try a lil' boy and his mama," Vin spat out angrily. "Not ta mention tryin' ta wipe out me'n the others."

"You and your friends were a mistake," Ella offered, "but Sarah and Adam had to die, they were a burden to Chris...."

"A burden?" Vin asked, disturbed. "Ya damn near killed Chris! And ya say you love him?"

"I did it for him," Ella said defensively. "He never would have done it himself, so I eased his suffering by hiring someone to do it for him." With fury flaming in her eyes, she clutched the sides of the sharpshooter's face. "Don't you ever imply I don't love him! I have done whatever it took to make him happy! I've taken care of any woman who dared interfered in our destiny...."

A shudder ran through Vin as Ella's last sentence sunk in. Any woman? Had she killed others before and after Sarah?

"Yer only makin' him suffer by doin' this," Vin said, trying another approach. "He feels awful bad when people git hurt cause of him. Ya don't want him hurtin' do ya?"

Staring at her captive, Ella tilted her head as if absorbing his words. Her eyes took on a faraway look as she scanned her collection of Chris' former belongings. "It's like Daddy always said...discipline hurts."

"Discipline?" Vin uttered in a low breath.

Like a raging storm, Ella reached over and grabbed a handful of Vin's hair, yanking it so hard, the young man felt she would surely tear it out of his head. She pulled his head back, placing her face only inches from the tracker's.

"When Chris is bad, I have to punish him so he won't go astray," Ella snarled. "You're the one making him suffer! You keep making him do bad things....it's your fault! It was Sarah's fault for tricking Chris into marrying her! I had to discipline Chris because of her! And he was behaving...until you...."

Vin looked on in a mixture of contempt and disbelief. Words wouldn't phase her, she was too far gone.

A maniacal smile spread across the brunette's face as she released her grip and ran the hand down the side of Vin's face and chin. "Now it's your turn to be good. If you behave, Chris will behave. No one has to suffer. I know what to do now," she purred, the anger totally gone. Replacing the gag, Ella wrapped her arms around the resisting sharpshooter's neck. "I know you'll be a good boy."

A good boy? She couldn't possibly think that by doing that sick ritual he'd honestly do as she said? Vin looked away as he knew the answer. No, she wasn't done with his disciplining.


Hiam heard the faint tap on his guest room door. The Egyptian steadied his jumbled nerves as he opened the door.

"It went very well," Ella said with a grand sweep of her arm. "While my little trophy is wondering what will happen next, I want you to prepare for your part."

"I don't want to do this," Hiam found the courage to say. "He has done nothing."

"Nothing?" Ella's pleasant smile faded into a sneer. "He turned the only man I loved against me! If he had his way, Chris would never be with me or know his son!" She immediately calmed herself and patted Hiam's arm. "Besides, I'm not giving him the fate he truly deserves. He still gets to stay with Chris, even play an important role in my child's life. I'd say I'm being more than generous."

"How can you say that? He'll be...."

"You're the one who told me all those stories growing up," Ella interrupted. "The inspiration partly came from you."

Hiam sighed heavily. "They were only stories...fables from different cultures. None of them are true."

"Did you think that way when you killed...,oh, what was her name? Lila?" The femme fatale smirked when she saw Hiam fidget under her gaze. "The great love of your life spurned you, and in a fit of rage and passion you killed her, enshrining her in a glass coffin to worship for all time."

"I was bitter, drinking heavily. I wasn't in my right mind," Hiam tried to explain. "When I had agreed to this, I thought you had all ready killed him, and was only to dissect his body. After doing that, I would never see you again."

Ella shrugged. "I changed my mind. When I read that dime store novel about Chris and his little group, I knew I couldn't go through with my original plans. Vin's death would have fueled Chris to avoid me. This way Chris gets his precious tracker and I control them both."

"It will never work," Hiam said in a final protest. He regretted his words when Ella turned to him, a feral look in her brown eyes.

"You will do as I say or you'll be as dead as your Lila!" Ella threatened vehemently. "I have two willing and able men downstairs who would tear you into pieces. This tracker has wronged me and all I ask is for an old family friend to help me get what I have needed for years!" A coy smile graced her face as she ran a finger down the lapel of Hiam's jacket. "I remember my father finding you many rewarding jobs as an embalmer during the war."

"How do I know that you'll honor your end of the deal, and let me live in peace?" The Egyptian asked. "Are you going to change your mind again?"

Ella smirked. "I give you my word, Hiam, that this is the last and final time you will ever see my face. If my plans succeed, I will be satisfied with my life."

Hiam sighed. Although he knew he had no choice but to accept her word on this, he knew he could not completely trust her. Ella's father had helped him during the Civil War, finding wealthy soldiers who were dead and families willing to pay to have their loved one embalmed and sent home for burial. But to willingly do this to another? Lila was an awful mistake, a drug induced fit of rage and jealousy. In normal circumstances he never would have harmed a hair on her head. Yet, he did kill her, thus dooming him to the whims of someone as vile as Ella Gaines. Grabbing his bag of tools, he followed Ella to the tiny shrine that held his specimen. He would swallow any regret and finally rid himself of the brunette's specter in his life, no matter the cost to another.

+ + + + + + +

The all too familiar sound of footsteps echoed in the hallway as Vin awaited Ella's arrival with aversion. Though he knew her views of their 'union' was an act of myths, it still haunted the him that he was forced to go through it. How could he escape? He glanced over to one of the shelves and focused on the razor he had seen Chris use time and again. Now it was one of Ella's mementoes, teasing him with the hope of release, but reminding him that he had to be free to reach it.

"What's wrong, Angel?" Ella's syrupy sweet voice reverberated in the shrine. With a mocking smile, she followed Vin's gaze and reached over to the razor, picking it up. "This was the razor Chris used the night of our party. You remember that party...? The one you ruined with your vicious tongue?" She opened the handle fully, the blade exposed and glistening in the candlelight. "It was supposed to be the moment Chris and I would announce to all our love for each other."

Vin fixed the brunette with a hard glare. He didn't feel the least bit guilty for telling Chris the truth about her.

"How close I came to slitting your throat with it." Ella strolled over to her captive, placing the blade near the beginning of his neck. "It's the least of what you deserve...destroying my perfect night." She removed the razor and kissed the spot instead, enjoying the small hiss emanating from Vin's throat.

A chuckle emerged as Ella placed the object back on the shelf. "You know, Angel, it was your little talk with Chris that drove me to the actions I took later." Her brown eyes looked intently at Vin while he digested her words. "The way Chris looked at me when you left, I knew I could lose him. I panicked and asked Handsome Jack to ambush you and your friends early in the morning before you rose." She stopped and leaned closer. "What would your friends think of you? Why, you almost got them killed."

She gave a hearty laugh when Vin gave her a deep growl coming from the depths of his being. "Don't worry. I won't tell them. I haven't even told Chris." Leaning in closer she whispered, "It'll be our little secret."

Staring at her with a smoldering hate in his eyes, Vin raised his chin up at her accusation. He was sure she had the gunfight planned ahead of time. It was all too neat. Lure them here, win Chris, and get rid of his friends in a gunfight with the enemy. She just didn't count on him and Chris finding out the truth.

Sighing, Ella leaned in near Vin's body, wrapping an arm around his neck. "Oh, let's not dwell in the past. I came in here specifically to talk about the future before my old family friend comes in. I wanted some time alone."

An old friend? Vin's eyes narrowed. So this friend was the one who was going to do the dirty work.

"We have bonded, but it's time for you and Chris' son to become one."

His eyes growing intense, Vin studied the vixen, trying to read what sinister plot she had in mind. The face before him was almost serene, as if all her cares were finally gone. He figured that didn't bode well for him.

"We'll be one happy family now," Ella cooed, rubbing her hand against her captive's face. "Chris will never leave me or the baby...because leaving us would be leaving you. You see? We'll be all connected in one perfect circle."

Smiling, Ella planted a small kiss on Vin's forehead. "There'll only be a small bit of discomfort, but then you'll feel nothing. Just remember the sacrifice you're about to make will bring Chris the happiness he deserves." She paused thoughtfully. "And I know you value Chris' happiness more than even your own life." The brunette straightened and walked away from the sharpshooter. With a small wave of her hand outside the door, she initiated the next phase of her plan.

Hiam entered inside the room, his eyes avoiding the penetrating blue ones he knew were gazing upon him. This one was so young.... He forced the pity aside, walking past the chair.

The tracker strained to look behind him, his anxiety rising as he watched the foreigner unpack his bag. Tubing, some sort of hand held pump, a glass jar, and a few other smaller objects caught Vin's attention. What the hell did that bitch have in store for him now? Shaking his head fiercely, he struggled to free himself.

"Would you like to know what is going to happen?" Ella asked. "This was done during the war. Hiam made a very nice business doing this. He embalmed soldiers for some of the nation's wealthiest families. I've seen his work myself." The vixen threw a knowing smirk in Hiam's direction. "That's why I asked him here. I wanted the best."

Muffled curses erupted from Vin as he glared at Ella viciously.

A malicious grin registered on Ella's face. "Angel, I think you might be viewing this wrong. Granted, using the pump he has will bleed you at an incredible rate, but that's nothing for you to fret over...."

Answering back with a muted yell, Vin twisted against his cloth bonds. He stilled when he saw Ella's gleeful expression. She was enjoying his battle for escape, her eyes glistening passionately as she slowly ran her tongue over the top of her lip. Repulsed, he looked away. It reminded him of a buzzard flying overhead, waiting for it's meal to finally die before it tore into the flesh.

"Blindfold him," Hiam requested forcefully.

"Why?" Ella asked, folding her arms across her chest.

"Does the boy have to be forced to witness it?" He frowned when the woman stood transfixed. Reaching inside his jacket's breast pocket, he pulled out a handkerchief and wrapped it around his victim's eyes.

Vin found himself grateful for the blindfold. At least he wouldn't have to watch Ella's pleasure at his murder, but it was an insignificant condolence. He would still feel every agonizing second.

Placing a hand upon the young tracker's arm, Hiam felt the muscles tighten underneath, the breathing coming faster as his specimen awaited the next move. A battle to do his job was the last thing he needed, and he had no doubts the man beside him would do just that. He sought to calm the dread he knew Vin was experiencing inside. "Do not panic.... This is not a true embalming. I am only going to take some blood, there will be nothing else done to you. Resistance would only cause unnecessary pain."

Hiam reached over for a pair of scissors, deliberately leaning in near Vin's chair, his voice barely above a whisper. "It is what she wants...struggle." That little remark would ensure cooperation. Anything Ella would want, the captive would rebel against.

Only some blood, nothing else done.... If this man was going to bleed him, he was going to take a large quantity of it. Fighting it would cause the blood to flow quicker, thus maybe killing him faster. Vin weighed his options. As much as the thought of what was going to happen distressed him, he knew he had to buy some precious time. Somewhere inside, he clung to the faint hope that Chris was on his way. The only question that remained was if he could stay alive long enough for his friend to reach him.

Taking a pair of scissors, Hiam cut the upper part of Vin's left sleeve from the shoulder of the shirt, letting the rest of the fabric drape over the bonds holding the tracker's elbow in place. He then went after the undershirt until bare skin greeted him.

His body taut, Vin felt the pressure of something being tied around his arm, followed by the painful sensation of flesh being cut. A ripe vein had been found. He tried to clear his mind from what was taking place around him, and had been succeeding, until he heard the hand held air pump whooshing in the quiet room. His body jumped as he felt a surge inside him, the smell of blood dominating his senses while he heard his life's fluid gush into the glass jar situated near the side of his chair. Alarm overran his caution as he realized how quickly the blood was flowing from him. Ignoring his natural instinct for survival, the sharpshooter quelled his demand for escape. To stay alive longer, he would have to stay calm.

"Excellent," Ella purred, rushing to the glass jar. "You may go to your room now Hiam. I will summon you later."

"Let me stop the flow of blood," Hiam inserted. "It will still come slowly unless I...."

"Go to your room," Ella said curtly. A smirk spread across her face as viewed her young prisoner. "He'll live."

"It must be done right. You specified you only wanted a small portion taken out at a time," Hiam persisted.

"Go!" The murderess snapped. Following her family acquaintance out the door, Ella called out for Silas' assistance and watched Hiam escorted to his room before having the youngest Brigger lock the door and remove the key. She wasn't totally sure of Hiam's complete cooperation. All she really needed him for was the final step, having seen enough to finish this procedure. Patting the key she dropped down in her bodice, she walked back to her secret room.

"Where were we, Angel?" Ella asked Vin, hoping to get a rise out of the suddenly still tracker. She had wanted him to fight for his life, his strength and essence embodied in his blood as it flowed from him. Leave it to Tanner to deny her this tiny bit of pleasure, but she knew other ways to get a reaction out of him.

Despite his efforts, Vin's body pulled tight at Ella's caressing touch as she undid the blindfold. The sound of an increased dripping greeted the sharpshooter's ears. Dammit! His blood was coming quicker due to the straining. Forcing his body to relax, he eyed the vixen with a cold glare.

The brunette walked over to the shelves, and took a wine glass down. "Chris drank out of this glass the night our child was conceived," Ella said wistfully, twirling the glass around in her fingers as she remembered back to the night of passion. "It is the perfect cup for his child to become one with you."

Vin could only stare in consternation as she poured some of his blood from the jar into the glass, raising it to her lips, and then taking a drink. The deliberate smack of her lips caused his stomach to churn in disgust. How could a human being do something so wicked like this?

Licking at her bloody mouth, Ella grinned and placed the rim of the glass on the exposed part of Vin's bottom lip. "Did you know that what the mother drinks, so does the baby?"

Blue eyes became enlarged as he realized her plan. His blood was being drained so she could pass it on to the child? What the hell kind of mother would do that to an innocent baby?

Seeing the look of incredulity in Vin's face, Ella took another sip of the blood. "Remember that little story about the Indian warrior? About the heart? The heart doesn't beat without the blood. So that makes the blood more important doesn't it?"

A cold numbness began to creep into Vin's body at her words. By drinking his blood, she was hoping the baby would become...him. He glanced over at the jar, unsettled by how much of the red liquid was in it. No wonder he felt so weak.

Ella emptied the last bit of blood from the cup, grabbing the jar for more to replace it. Her glass filled to the brim, she rose and headed for the door. "I'm going to leave you just a bit, Angel, but I won't be far from you spiritually. You and Chris' son will be joining together at the alter I placed inside your wagon. And with the bond you and I now have, it will be complete."

His wagon? Forgetting his perilous situation, Vin lunged at the woman as far as his bonds would let him, his rage and abhorrence coming to the forefront. She was going to abase him even further by doing this despicable act in the midst of all he held dear in this world.

Suddenly Vin's strength left him as his blood dripped faster through the tubing and into the jar. This outburst was the last thing he needed to do! Damn that woman to Hell!

"My my...we still have quite a bit of fight left in us," Ella feigned a frown. "We'll have to see about settling you down some." Picking up the air pump, she forced the handle up and down with deliberate speed, her efforts rewarded by the arched body and soft groan of her guest. Blood spilled furiously into the jar, filling rapidly. Only then did the murderess stop.

The sharpshooter's body laid limply in the chair, any bit of stamina gone. Tipping his head to his side, he stared at the jar with horror, the amount of blood in it similar to a loss from a life threatening wound. The cold numbness he felt moments ago intensified as an icy chill took over his limbs, causing an uncontrollable trembling. He had seen this happen to others before...he was going into shock.

Lifting Vin's lowered chin with her fingertips, Ella beamed. "See Angel, you're resting all ready. Don't fight it. Chris will now be totally devoted to me and his son like he is you. The two of you will always be together...through the children we'll have."

Retrieving her wine glass, Ella blew Vin a kiss as she left the tiny shrine. "I'll bring you a blanket when I come back. You look cold."

In his last act of defiance, Vin grumbled a curse through his gag as he heard his tormentor depart. Blood was still trickling slowly into the jar, spilling out the sides of the full container. At this rate, it was only a small matter of time before it was all over, and he didn't have the strength to keep fighting. Thanks to Ella, his blood loss was now at a dangerous level. No longer able to keep his eyes open, the tracker drew in one deep breath before allowing his heavy eyelids to close. It was out of his hands now.

If'n I don't make it, Cowboy, it's been one hell of a ride, Vin thought to his best friend before exhaustion overtook him.


Comments to: lasteinj@roadrunner.com