The next day found Ezra toiling to wrap up the assignment expediently while Buck kept a very low profile. He cleared some of the brush by the back gate so that the Jaguar could get through and then he hiked down the road and found where it came out on the main county road. It was not in good condition but it was passable. He planned to sneak out after dark and make contact with Josiah. He figured the profiler would be getting worried by this time. He was going to pass on the diagram of the estate and the information about the back road.

Buck left after nine o’clock that night and Ezra had yet to return. He made contact with Josiah and even had the opportunity to have a drink with the oldest of Team 7. Josiah had been worried and had received a phone call from Chris asking for an update. He was forced to tell him that he had no clue how the two inside agents were faring. Buck was glad that Josiah could now give his old friend an update. Of course, Buck didn’t tell Josiah about either of the women except that they had met both of them. They were his problem and to a certain extent, Ezra’s, but none of the others needed to know about them at this point. At ten thirty, he said good bye to Josiah and made his way back to the estate. The drive down the back road was slow going but not a problem. At least one thing was going right for them.

When he walked in the house, he found Ezra laying on the couch, a cold towel over his eyes. Buck knew that Ezra got intense headaches while working undercover. It appeared he had a dousey tonight.

"Can I get you anything, Edward?" Buck said quietly as he stood over the prone agent.

"Unfortunately, no." Ezra sat up and they exchanged information about the progress of each other’s day. Buck went first and his news boosted the con man’s demeanor. When it was Ezra’s turn, he sighed heavily. "Taylor is leaving early in the morning, going abroad to set up his end of the deal. He stated in unequivocal terms that he expected us to remain as his "guests" until he returned. He approximated his time away at one week. I certainly hope he is correct. We are to relax and enjoy our time with his wife. Actually, his exact words were, "I will instruct Diana to do anything at all to keep the two of you comfortable." I don’t like it at all, Ben. He’s up to something and I believe he is trying to set you up. He has an amazingly strong dislike of you. On the other hand, he seems to enjoy my company. As you said, we are to go riding early tomorrow morning. I suggest we retire for the evening."

"At least, Ed, you can relax for a while. Maybe, we can even get in a shopping trip in Aspen one day. Taylor can’t refuse you that, can he?" Buck started to move away towards his bedroom. At least, he could dream of Diana. He was looking forward to the ride in the morning.

When Buck and Ezra arrived at the stable the next morning, they found both John and Diana waiting for them. Ezra had not expected Taylor to be there. He smiled at John and then said good morning to Diana. Buck stood quietly behind him.

"I wish I could ride with you but business calls. I will return as soon as I can, Edward. Diana, please show our guests a good time while I am gone. I’m sure that Mr. Williams is becoming quite bored with nothing to do. " He quickly kissed his wife’s cheek and then he turned cold eyes to Buck. He half smiled at the ladies man as if daring him to make a move on his wife. "Oh, by the way, Mr. Williams, you seem to have made quite an impression on my daughter. She couldn’t stop talking about you last night. I’m afraid I have overly indulged her whims through the years and she has become used to getting her way. Farewell, Edward. We will wrap up our negotiations when I return." He turned on his heel and left.

Buck stared after him. "Bastard!" he said quietly under his breath. He felt every muscle in his body start to relax as he turned to face the blonde beauty that stood waiting for him. He smiled warmly at her but he saw fear in her eyes. "It’s gonna be just fine, darlin’. Hey, which horse did you pick out for me?"

The three of them rode for an hour before stopping. They ate the croissants that Diana had packed and drank coffee. They chatted amiably and Ezra began to see what Buck had known all along. Diana Taylor was an absolutely amazing lady. She was intelligent, warm, and had a rarely tapped sense of humor. The three of them began the return trip in a relaxed friendly atmosphere.

"How come you aren’t riding your Sadie today, darlin’?" Buck asked casually. He was riding a rambunctious roan and most of the time it was taking a firm hand to keep the beast under control.

"The horse handler said she is a bit colicky today so he gave me Zanzibar. Fancy name for a horse, isn’t it.. I’ve ridden him before but he’s usually reserved for male guests. He needs a firm hand." She had been doing just fine so far. It was a beautiful day and she was having a glorious time. "By the way, Ben, Cybil took off this morning for places unknown. She does this every once in a while. You don’t have to hide from her now." She smiled knowingly at the handsome mustached man beside her.

"What makes you think I was hiding from her?" He said lightly. He was wearing a light blue button down shirt and tight fitting jeans. He knew he looked good in blue and like a peacock, he had wanted to show off for the fair lady today.

"Are you denying it, Benjamin? I didn’t see you at all yesterday. And I heard several times how you pushed her into the pond." Conspiratorially she stated, "When she returns maybe we could find a rose bush for your next move."

He laughed heartily, his face alight with humor. "Yeah, I guess that would work. I didn’t mean to be scarce yesterday, I just was trying to get rid of a pest. Let’s not talk about her right now, if that’s okay with you. It would ruin this perfect day."

"All right." She turned to look at Ezra who was about twenty feet behind them. He was gazing around him with a contented smile on his face. "Edward seems very nice. I can see why the two of you get along so well. He does have a wicked sense of humor."

"Sometimes too wicked. He loves to pull pranks." He stopped himself just in time. He had been about to tell her some of the pranks he had pulled on Chris and Vin. That wouldn’t do but he was so at ease around her, he wanted to share everything with her. It amazed him every time he saw her the way he wanted to open his soul to her and share his entire life with her. He wondered how he had survived without her.

They rounded a bend in the trail and it grew narrow. Diana moved in front with Buck close behind her. Ezra had caught up to them and was only five feet behind Buck’s horse. Buck turned to say something to his friend when he heard Diana scream. Buck turned back to see the large black gelding bolting down the trail, his reins on the ground. Diana was holding onto the saddle horn, having no control over the galloping steed. Buck heeled his horse and raced after her.

Both horses now ran dead out, headed for a copse of aspen trees. Buck and his roan were gaining ground as he was urging the horse to run at top speed. Zanzibar was running out of fear of something but Buck hadn’t noticed what had frightened the horse. Buck could tell the horse was beginning to tire but it wasn’t about to stop before entering the tight grouping of trees. As he pulled along side the lathered gelding, he leaned as far as he could to the right. He kicked his roan one more time and the horse finally pulled ahead of the black gelding. Buck stretched as far as he dared, holding on to his own saddle horn. His fingers found their mark and he pulled on the single rein. The gelding’s head came to the left as he pulled on the rein and he could tell the horse would slow.

Buck pulled on his own reins, letting go of the horn as he did so. He straightened up as they reached the tree line. The roan tossed his head and sank his teeth down hard on the bit in his mouth. He didn’t like being ridden so hard and he was about to let the man on his back know it. The horse zigged slightly to his left and as Buck came up in the saddle, the low branch caught his head. At the same instant, his knee contacted the trunk of the aspen. Back he went, falling over the horse’s rump, and landing hard against the ground and roots. He had a death grip on the one rein of Diana’s horse and he held that grip as he lost consciousness.

Ezra and his horse were right behind the racing duo and he pulled his horse to a ground breaking halt. The horse went down on his haunches and straightened his front legs to break himself. Ezra was off his horse and running toward Buck. His friend was being pulled across the ground by Zanzibar’s rein. At last, with the dead weight of a body pulling his head hard to the left, the black gelding stopped. Diana was shaken up but otherwise, perfectly all right. She was still gripping tightly to the horn and trembling. She had seen Buck fall but at the moment, she couldn’t seem to get her body to move.


She heard the curse and finally turned her head back to where Ezra now knelt beside Buck. She saw blood covering the tall man’s face and she watched as the debonair man pulled his friend into his lap. She thought she heard him call his friend Buck but surely she must have misunderstood. He must have said something about ducking the branch. She got down from her gelding and ran the few steps to where her new love lay.

Ezra had regained his composure and with it, his persona of Edward Smith. He held Buck’s unconscious body in his arms. He could see the chest rise and fall as his friend took his ragged breaths. There appeared to be a large cut right at the hairline and the swelling had already begun. Blood flowed freely from the cut and ran down Buck’s forehead and around his eyes. It was a gory scene but Ezra knew that head wounds often bled more severely than the wound actually was. He hadn’t yet searched Buck’s body for other injuries.

"Ben," he said loudly, hoping that Buck would hear his voice and understand that he was Ben Williams and not Buck Wilmington as he awoke. "Ben, its Edward, can you hear me?"

Buck’s eyelids fluttered and his eyes slowly opened. "Ez?" It was barely a whisper and Ezra prayed that the now kneeling Diana had not heard the name correctly.

"Yes Ben, it’s Ed. Ben, how are you feeling?" Ezra still held him and he could feel Buck stiffen slightly at the name.

"My head hurts, Ed, how do you think I feel?" Buck said softly. He felt the strong arms around him and he knew for the moment he was safe. Had he said something wrong before he fully regained consciousness? He hoped not, for both of their sakes.

"Ben, are you okay?" Diana reached out to stroke the bloody hair at his forehead. Ezra noted the worry in her eyes and knew that she felt the same love for Buck as he knew Buck felt for her.

Buck turned his head and through the red haze of blood he saw his angel looking at him with love in her eyes. He smiled wanly at her and then grimaced as pain washed over him In a wave. "Don’t worry, Sweetheart, I’ll be just fine. Are you okay?" He remembered the horse bolting and heading for the trees.

"I’m fine, thanks to you. You saved my life, Ben." She smiled at him and gently laid her palm against his cheek.

Buck moved ever so slowly into the caress and he cherished it for a minute before he turned his head slightly and looked into Ezra’s worried face. "My knee is throbbing. How bad is it?"

"Haven’t looked at it yet. Try to lie still," he ordered as he lay Buck gently onto the ground and then moved down his body to where the jeans were torn and bloody. He pulled the material away as gently s he could but he still heard Buck hiss in pain. What he could see was swollen flesh and a laceration that ran horizontally across the knee. He didn’t know how much damage had been done but he was sure there was some. "Don’t think you’ll be up and dancing soon, my friend. We need to get you to a hospital. Do you think you can sit up?"

"Yeah. Help me up."

Ezra slowly pulled on the hand he extended and Buck made it to a sitting position. Buck’s head hung low and blood dripped onto the ground. He tried to raise his head but the world spun crazily and his stomach threatened to loose its contents so he stopped and lowered it again.

"Diana, give me your belt. Ben, just hold on." Ezra pulled a clean handkerchief out of his pocket and pressed it against the cut on Buck’s forehead. He took the cloth belt Diana handed him and secured the cotton cloth securely around Buck’s head. "We need to get you up and onto my horse, Ben. Do you think you can hold on to me while we make the trip back to the estate?"

Buck’s head swam dizzily and he was slow to answer. His words were slurred when he did answer. "I’ll sure try, Pard."

"As soon as we reach the main trail, I’ll call Dr. Bennigan. John has him on retainer. He’ll meet us at the mansion." Diana sat on the ground beside Buck and held his hand, her thumb gently caressing the back of his hand in a nervous gesture.

"Okay. Ben, let us lift you and try not to put any pressure on your left leg. Diana, hold him until I get the horse in position." Ezra arose and went to retrieve his mare. She had been standing nearby, quietly munching on the sweat grass that grew near the tree line. He eased up on her and grabbed both reins and then he led her to where Buck sat leaning against Diana. He knelt beside Buck on the left and motioned for Diana to kneel beside his right side. They each took an arm and placed it over their shoulders. "On three, Ben, we’re going to stand and bring you with us. I know it will hurt but we can’t stop. You need a doctor. All right, Diana, one two, three." They both got to their feet, pulling Buck up with them. He cried out with the pain the movement caused but they didn’t stop until he had his right foot under him, relieving some of the pressure on their shoulders.

"Ben, try to hold on to the saddle horn." Ezra felt Buck ease his arm from around the smaller man’s shoulder and grab almost blindly with his hand to find a handle on the saddle. Once he did, he moved his other arm from around Diana and with it, found the saddle horn. He held on to the saddle tightly as Ezra let go of the hold he had on Buck’s belt. Buck felt him move behind him and he knew that Ezra was going to boost him up. He had to try to get his right leg over the horse.

"Hold on a minute, Ed. Let me catch my breath. Just boost my ass and I’ll get the leg over." He took four deep breaths and then reassuringly, he said, "No funny business back there. Let’s do it."

Diana held the injured leg gently and Ezra pushed with all his might to lift Buck’s one hundred and eighty-five pounds. Buck strained with his arms and finally was able to swing his right leg over the rump of the mare as she moved nervously under him. As Ezra let go and Diana moved his left leg to the side of the horse, the excruciating pain washed through him, threatening to cast him into the black oblivion again. He fought it, taking in deep gulps of air. His face had gone ash white and his hands shook on the back of the saddle.

Ezra carefully put his foot in the stirrup and maneuvered his leg clumsily over the neck of the horse. He reached forward and took the reins from Diana. "Can you get the other two horses?"

"I’ll get Zanzibar. Henry can come back up here for Beggar. Let’s just get Ben back down to the house." Quickly she turned to look up at Buck. She laid a gentle hand on his injured leg and soothingly she beseeched, "Hold on, Ben."

Buck wanted to reassure her but all his concentration was needed just to hold on to Ezra. He wrapped his arms around the con man’s middle and folded one hand into the other, gripping tightly. He laid his throbbing head against the back in front of him and closed his eyes, wishing the dark would subdue the headache he was suffering.

Ezra kneed the mare slightly and she moved slowly forward. He heard the moan of pain but he couldn’t stop. Diana moved ahead of him and his mare followed closely behind. It took them an hour to get back to the compound. As they entered through the front gates, several men came running to assist in getting the now unconscious man down from the mare’s back. Diana had called the doctor when the cellular tower was close enough and he was waiting for them. He directed the men as they carried Buck into the guest house and laid him gently on the bed in his room.

With Ezra’s help, they removed Buck’s clothes and got him tucked under the covers. The big man was still out but Ezra was hesitant to leave his side for fear of what might come out of his mouth. The doctor poked and prodded both his head and knee. He checked Buck’s back where it had contacted the ground and been drug across the wooded landscape. Finally, he stood up and announced to Ezra and a frantic Diana that Buck would be just fine with a little rest.

Doctor Bennigan looked at Ezra and said, "He should have his knee x-rayed. There may be some damage inside that will require surgery but for now, he just needs to stay off of it. He shouldn’t get up for at least three days. It’s a mild concussion, may cause vomiting and dizziness. He’ll have a whopper of a headache so give these to him when he needs some relief." He handed a bottle of Lortabs to Ezra. "Wake him every two or three hours and get him to talk to you. Watch him for signs of blood clots. If he gets worse, call me immediately. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll return tomorrow with some crutches for him to use. Don’t worry too much, Diana dear, he’ll be fine. Say hello to John for me."

"Thank you Darren. John will take care of the payment as always. We’ll see you tomorrow then." She walked the doctor to the front door. When she returned, she saw Edward Smith sitting by the head of his friend, whispering something in his ear. She knew the two men were best of friends but she saw something else, a real love that bonded these two together. She smiled. "Can I get you some supper, Edward?"

"That would be very nice of you, Mrs. Taylor. I want to stay with him until I know he’s lucid. He’s very important to me." He turned to push Buck’s hair back off the bandage the surrounded his forehead.

"I can see that, Edward. I’ll get the food and leave the two of you alone. He’s one of a kind, isn’t he?"

Ezra turned back to the blonde beauty beside him and smiled at her. "That he is, Diana, that he is."

The next twelve days were some of the most glorious of Buck’s life. Diana rarely left his side during the days. She nursed him back to health, at least as far as his head was concerned. His knee was another matter. It didn’t seem to improve at all even with Buck staying off of it, using the crutches or a wheelchair. He didn’t care though. Diana, Ezra, and he did all sorts of things. They went shopping in Aspen. They drove through the mountains, stopping at one of Diana’s favorite little restaurants for dinner. They sat by the pool playing Scrabble or Monopoly (of course, Ezra usually won). They taught Diana how to play cards, poker of course became her favorite. They invited the bodyguards to play with them, becoming friendly with the sullen men. They went to a play in Snowmass and then out to dinner afterwards.

Ezra had a good time too but watching Buck and Diana, he knew they would never be able to keep their budding love from John Taylor, whenever he decided to return. He was on edge most of the time. Buck’s knee was not improving and he knew the ladies man would require surgery. If they had to make a break for it, Buck wouldn’t be able to move quickly. He should think of something to remove him now from the compound but he hated to destroy his friend’s elation. He didn’t know how much longer Buck could restrain himself, not from physical contact, but from telling Diana the truth about who and what he was. Ezra was sure that Buck would keep his promise and not get physically intimate with the alluring blonde. He seemed to be handling that part of it very well. Living a lie, having to keep the truth from Mrs. Taylor, was becoming harder and harder for Buck to do. Every night Ezra could see him fighting with himself. He would sit and watch the mansion, asking Ezra over and over again if he thought that Diana would forgive him. Ezra tried as best he could to absolve the scoundrel from his guilty feelings. He would repeat the mantra, "It’s our job, Buck. It’s what we came here to do. People are counting on us to stop this monster. We are so close to the completion of our assignment. You know what you have to do, Buck." And then he would add, "She loves you and will understand. She is not a fool, my friend, she knows he is a monster and will forgive you for leading her on. Don’t give in to the guilt, Buck."

The lanky agent would nod and then stare again at the window where his love slept, unaware that her world was about to come to a crashing halt. He silently prayed that she would understand and forgive him. He prayed that she wouldn’t get injured in the bust and that she would willingly leave with him and love him as he wanted to love her, with all his heart, body, and soul.

Two weeks after he had left, John Taylor returned to his estate and wife. He looked well rested but gave no explanation as to where he had spent his time. He greeted Edward like a long lost brother and thanked him for staying and taking care of his wife. He kissed his wife’s cheek and wrapped a possessive arm around her waist. He then turned to Buck, who was still sitting on his lounge chair by the pool.

"I heard that you had been injured and that Dr. Bennigan had been out to care for you. I also heard that my lovely wife took very good care of you, Mr. Williams. In a few days, my business with your boss will be concluded, and I trust you will leave my home as you found it." He smiled at Buck and then turned, his wife still held against his side and walked back toward the mansion. He swiveled his head back to smile at Ezra and declared, "My wife and I have two weeks of amore to make up for. I will see you in the morning, my friend. We will conclude our negotiations then. Good night, Mr. Williams."

Buck simmered but remained seated. He hated John Taylor more than he had ever hated anyone in his life. His jaw clenched tightly and his hands almost tore the canvas seat cushion. He would be here to arrest John Taylor and he would let him know that he would no longer rule the life of the most wonderful woman in the world. Buck glared at the back of the retreating man and then spat on the ground. He never said a word and it scared Ezra down to his bones. He had never seen Buck this way. The man wanted blood! Ezra had to get him away from here.

The evening and night were long and filled with tension. Ezra tried to talk Buck into leaving and Buck constantly refused. Ezra feared for his friend’s life. John Taylor was playing a game with Ben Williams and when he was done, he would eliminate his victim. Ezra was as sure of that as he was that Buck was in love.

The next morning, Ezra had breakfast with Taylor and then he disappeared into the mansion. Buck moved about the estate grounds, anxiety pumping through him with every step he took. He couldn’t sit still. He wanted to know all the details of Ezra’s plan and he wanted the raid to commence. He wanted Taylor dead and buried and he wanted his gorgeous Diana by his side.

Finally, after dinner, Ezra returned to the lavish guest house. He found Buck, in the dark, laying on the couch. He knew the man was not asleep. He turned on a light and sat down in the over stuffed beside the couch.

"The raid will take place in four days. Right here. I told John that I will need to depart his company for three days to establish the movement of the missiles and get them to the docks of San Francisco harbor. Once they get there and are accounted for, he and I will make the exchange of money. At that time, Mr. Larabee and our other compatriots will be in place to effect the arrest of Mr. Taylor and his henchmen. You will leave with me in the morning."

"The hell I will. I’m staying right here. I am not going to leave Diana or Taylor alone for three days." Buck didn’t take the arm he had flung across his eyes down. He was determined to protect his love and keep her monster of a husband in sight so that he did not escape.

"You cannot stay, Buck. He will execute you while I am gone. I am almost certain of it. He tires of the game he was playing with you. He tossed his wife out as bait on a hook and you swallowed it deep. He is now ready to reel you in and fillet you. The two of us will leave tomorrow morning, end of discussion." Ezra stood over the lanky agent.

"I’m not leaving, Ez." This was too important to him. He dropped the false persona. He needed his friend, Ezra Standish, to understand his motives for staying. He sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the sofa. "If I go back to Denver with you, Chris will see me on crutches and will make me go to the hospital. Both you and I know that I need surgery on my knee. I will not be included in the arrest. I NEED to be here when they slap handcuffs on that bastard, Ez. And you know it. DON’T take this away from me, Pard. I’m begging you, and you know I don’t beg for nothin’. DON’T make me leave." The look on his face was one of sincerity, anxiety, and beseechment.

Ezra looked intently at Buck. He was so torn but in the end, friendship won out over common sense and the rules of the job. He knew he should insist that Buck return to Denver with him. He knew that Chris Larabee would skin him alive for leaving Buck alone in the devil’s den. He knew Buck would be in danger the whole time he was gone. But he also knew that Buck was right. Chris would never let him return to be a part of the raid. Chris wouldn’t understand Buck’s all encompassing need to be here when the arrest was made.

Ezra closed his eyes and cursed at the words that came out of his mouth. "Okay, Buck. Against my better judgment, I will confront Mr. Larabee without you. Please, keep a low profile. Stay in the house if you have to but don’t go near Diana, Taylor or anyone else. I will return in three days and if you are injured or mortally wounded, I will, myself, kill you. Do you understand?"


Ezra shook his lowered head and walked into the master bedroom like he was taking the green mile. He knew deep in his heart that he was wrong but he couldn’t turn the man down. Buck was right. Ezra had never seen the man beg for anything, it wasn’t in him. Ezra undressed and lay down on the bed. He had spent time with John Taylor and he knew the man eating shark that loomed beneath the cool exterior. Buck hadn’t seen the cold murdering bastard order an execution over the phone like he was ordering a pizza. Buck hadn’t seen the way Taylor belittled his wife, tearing her to pieces with his sharp tongue. Ezra had been with Taylor enough to know that the man was bereft of any conscience. The man knew no rules, was governed by no morals. And he thought of Buck as a bug, something to pluck the wings off of and then watch as the insect died slowly, ever so slowly.

Ezra left the next morning. Buck stood in the driveway, watching him pull away. Minutes later, after Buck had returned to the solitude of the guest house, a car pulled into the drive. The graceful raven haired woman got out. Greeted by her loving father, she walked arm and arm with John Taylor into the house.

Buck stood in the shower, the hot water soothing his tense muscles. He had been under the water for fifteen minutes now and he still didn’t feel better. He ached deep inside, knowing that his beloved Diana was in the mansion with Taylor and there was nothing he could do for her. He wanted so very much to take her in his arms and run away from the devil and his spawn. He wanted to run in the sunshine with Diana, forgetting the past and looking forward to the future. The future. He had always dreamed of finding the right woman to share his life, having a home, children, maybe even a dog. Now, that woman was just two hundred yards away and he couldn’t go to her. He slammed his fists against the tiled wall and cursed the Gods that watched over them all.

He was too preoccupied to hear the door open. He didn’t see the shadow that fell on the glass door of the shower. He didn’t see the lecherous sneer that came over the face of the woman as she watched the well built man scrub his body with soap. She licked her lips and loosened the belt that held her dress in overlapping folds. She let the dress drop to the floor and she stood, caressing herself, burning with desire as she scrutinized his body. As he shut off the water and turned to the door, she stepped forward, her breathe coming in deep, aroused, gasps.

Buck looked up and saw her standing before him, her perfect body moving ever so slightly with her arousal. Without thinking, his body responded to the scene before him. She noticed immediately and she smiled, moving forward to caress his wet body. Her hand reached for him and he stepped backwards, slapping at her hand. He felt the pain slice through his knee and he winced.

She laughed at his pitiful attempt to dissuade her. "Look at yourself, Stud. You want me as much as I want you! Why are you playing the rape victim here? You’re no virgin, Ben, and neither am I so what the hell is the fuss about? I want you and believe me, you’re going to beg for more when we’re done." With that she slithered forward. She touched his wet chest and his body trembled, much to his disgust.

"I want you out of here now, you bitch! I want nothing to do with you. Why can’t you go play with one of your other toys?" Buck grabbed her hand and threw it away from his body.

Cybil bit her bottom lip. Her gaze was riveted below his waist. She wanted him, not just because her daddy didn’t want her anywhere near him, but for the pleasure that he could give her. One more time, she moved towards him.

Buck had been raised to never ever hit a woman. They were to be protected, cherished, and admired. But the woman before him was not worthy of his admiration. She was a spoiled rotten rich girl who was used to getting anything she wanted. Well, she wasn’t getting her way tonight. As her hands came up to touch his chest, he grabbed her by the wrists and forcibly flung her away from him. She landed with a thud on the plush carpet of the bathroom floor. She sat there, stunned, her face changing from astonished white to livid crimson. He turned his back on her and quickly grabbed one of the large plush bath towels and wrapped it around himself before facing her again.

"NOBODY does that to me! NOBODY!" She pulled herself up and stood before him, her chest heaving with fervent rage. "You will pay dearly for this…this insult, Mr. Williams. Mark my words, you haven’t heard the last of me, you bastard!" She turned and marched out of the bathroom. He heard the back door slam and his body trembled with relief and adrenalin.

Buck slumped to the floor, his left knee still throbbing. He sat that way for close to an hour before he could get to his feet and find his crutches. He limped into the living room and plopped lifelessly onto the couch. It was dark outside and he hadn’t bothered to turn on a light. He prayed for oblivion to overtake him. He wished he had gone with Ezra, back to Denver and away from the evil that seemed to thrive on the estate. Then his mind returned to the blonde angel he had come to love with all his heart and he shivered. He had to keep her safe so that he could take her away from the unmitigating malevolence that surrounded them. He fell into a restless sleep, filled with nightmares of raven haired women, blonde angels, and exploding cars.

Buck awoke in the morning to hear birds chirping. He tried to convince himself that it had all been a dream last night but he couldn’t. He looked down at himself, still wrapped in a towel, and he knew the truth. He arose and went into one of the other bathrooms, took a quick hot shower and then got dressed. He couldn’t stay inside these four walls a minute longer so he hobbled with his crutches out of the house and down the path to the stables. He liked it here. It was quiet, normally no one around until late in the morning. He walked down the aisle that ran between stalls, patting each horse as he passed by. He came to Sadie’s stall and he stopped.

"Hey there, girl. How are you feeling today? I bet you miss Diana, don’t you. I know I do." He buried his face in the horse’s neck. He swung around quickly when he heard footsteps behind him. There stood the radiant woman who had stolen his heart.

They stood, ten feet apart, just gazing at each other. Finally, she looked away from him, scuffing her feet in the dirt of the stable. "I love you, Ben. I may never get a chance to tell you again but I wanted you to know. As much as I would like to, I can’t leave with you tomorrow when Edward and John conclude their business. My husband is too dangerous. He would hunt us down and kill you for sport. I couldn’t live with that, darling. Just know that my heart belongs to you, forever and ever." She stepped closer to him and touched his cheek ever so gently with her palm.

His promise to Ezra forgotten, burned out of him by the heat of her hand, he pulled her to him. Slowly, he lowered his mouth to hers. Gently, he kissed her, feeling her respond. The kiss grew more heated as she pressed herself against him. They were lost in each other and the flames would not be denied.

Her hands were on his shirt, frantically trying to unbutton it. Breathlessly, he separated from her and quickly looked around their surroundings. Dropping the crutches, he hobbled his way to an empty stall. Looking inside, he saw that it contained fresh hay. With one hand, he lifted the lock and opened the three quarters stall door. With the other hand, he took her hand and pulled her inside with him. Out of the view of others, they quickly dispatched their clothing. Once again they embraced, their kisses deepening, their hands roving all over each others body. As one, they fell into the hay and heatedly, they came together. They couldn’t get enough of each other and all their concentration was focused on one another. Neither noticed the footsteps outside the stall.

Cybil was still fuming over the rejection she had received last night. No man had ever refused her advances before. She seethed inside and swore to herself that Ben Williams would pay for his denial of her desires. She saw her step-mother leave the mansion and she knew that Diana would be going to meet Ben. She had seen the change in the blonde who shared her father’s house with her and there could only one reason for Diana’s radiance. She was in love. Discreetly, she followed the statuesque woman to the stable. She waited outside for her to continue on to the guest house but she didn’t come out of the stable. Carefully, she peered around the corner. She didn’t see Diana inside the stable but she did see a pair of crutches laying on the floor. Then her ears picked up the sound of rustling hay. She followed the sound and stood outside the stall where Buck had taken the woman he loved so much. As quietly as possible, Cybil opened the door and saw her step mother and the object of her desire and hatred fall together in the thick soft hay. She watched as they came together, her wrath rising until she saw only a violent red haze. She closed the door and stood, her back against the rough wood. Her heart was pounding, her body rigid with the rage that consumed her. She willed herself to calm down even as she heard the soft moans of passion on the other side of the door. Ben Williams had rejected her in favor of Diana! Cybil vowed once again that he would pay for rejecting her. And this time, she knew exactly what the cost would be.

She pushed herself away from the stall door and moved with a stiff resolution toward the mansion. As she walked past the pool, she spied the man who would make her desire for revenge possible. A cold smile crept across her features as she made her way to the pool deck and the dark man who lay in one of the overstuffed lounge chairs. He wore a Speedo swim suit and sunglasses. Cybil had often found release with Simon when her father forbid her to leave the estate grounds. He would do nicely. She gently slid a hand down his sweaty chest and bent to whisper in his ear. The burly bodyguard turned his face to her and she kissed him, Her tongue lingering seductively against his. Cybil pulled away from his attempt at an embrace and crooked her finger, beckoning him. He jumped to his feet and threw his sunglasses on the chair. He followed her like a pet dog into the pool cabana. She laughed aloud as Simon quickly bared himself and started to undress her. When she had mercifully finished with him, she purred in his ear, " I have something I want you to do for me, Baby."

Diana lay nestled in the crook of Buck’s arm. Both were sweaty and breathless but completely satiated. She had never in her life been made love to so passionately and she was fulfilled in every way imaginable. She stroked the hair on his chest and felt his heart still pounding against her palm. She leaned forward and kissed his chest, a huge smile indicating her enjoyment. She looked in his eyes and saw sorrow and regret reflected where she had thought to see love and elation. She drew herself up and looked again into her lover’s face. She hadn’t been mistaken.

"Is something wrong, Sweetheart? Did I do something you didn’t like?" She beseeched nervously of him. She had so wanted their first and only time to be as exhilarating for him as it had been for her.

He came up on his elbow and reached out his hand to stroke her cheek. He knew she needed reassurance and he smiled, passion filling his eyes. "Oh, Darlin’, you were magnificent. I’ve never enjoyed a woman more. You are so beautiful, Diana, and I love you with all my heart." He stopped and made a fateful decision. He could no longer keep the truth from her. He hated deceiving the woman of his dreams. "Honey, I have something I need to tell you."

She shook her head. "No, I don’t want to know, Ben. Let’s just leave it alone. I love you and I don’t want to hear that you’re married. Please, don’t tell me."

Softly, he whispered, "I’m not married, Darlin’. I swear. But you have to know the truth. I can’t have you believing a lie one second more."

She shook her head fiercely. "No," she implored him.

"Diana, I’m a federal agent. I came here with my partner to bring down your husband. He’s an dangerous, murdering, arms dealer and he needs to face justice. Please forgive me for lying to you but I couldn’t risk Ezra’s life. Tomorrow, we are planning to raid the compound and arrest John Taylor. I want you to leave in the morning and not come back here until late tomorrow night. I don’t want you caught in the middle of this, do you understand, Diana?"

She was staring blankly at him, her face devoid of emotion. "I don’t …Who are you?"

Buck gulped back the bile that rose in his throat at her reaction. "My name is Buck Wilmington and I’m with the ATF."

She stood on shaky legs. Tears sprung from her eyes and she wiped at them with the back of her hand. "Did you make up everything, Ben? I fell in love with a gentle, caring, man and now I find out that it was all a lie? I don’t even know Buck Wilmington! How do I know you’re not still lying to me?"

"I may have gone by a false name, Diana, but believe me, my love for you was real, is real. I want to marry you as soon as you can get a divorce from the monster you married. If nothing else, believe that I love you!"

"No, I don’t know who you are. You lied to me! I have to think about this. I need air.’ She started to open the stall door and he quickly reached out to stop her.

"Diana, please, I’m sorry, I didn’t want to lie to you. I know I should have told you sooner but I couldn’t risk Ezra life. My name might have been a lie but I fell deeply and irrefutably in love with you. That is the truth."

She grabbed her clothes and turning her back on him, she dressed. With her hand on the door, she whispered, "Don’t follow me." With that, she was out the door.

Oh God, what had he done? Everything was falling apart. He lay back on the hay, feeling his lose, his guilt, his betrayal. He had let his boss and oldest friend down by failing in the assignment. He had betrayed Ezra’s trust and broken a promise that could potentially cost Ezra his life. He had lied to the only woman he had ever truly loved and now he had nothing. He was alone and the weight of the truth drove the very breath from his lungs. Why did this happen? What kind of beautiful mess had he gotten himself into? Silently he cursed the gods who had brought an angel into his life and then had jerked her away from him, leaving him lost and afraid for the first time that he could remember.

Eventually, he got to his feet and hobbled back to the guest house. He flopped down on the couch in the living room, his breath hitching at the throbbing pain that sliced through his knee. He concentrated on the pain for it took his focus away from Diana for a few minutes. But it didn’t last and once again, the beautiful face of his beloved came back to him. Once again he saw the look of hurt and disillusionment on her face. A lone tear ran silently down his cheek.


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