by Judi Milling


The morning faded into noon. Vin and Jenny had slept solidly for several hours. They couldn't seem to get enough of each other. Jenny had never imagined how much she had missed, while making love to Vin. He was a man of intense sexual appetite. Vin squeezed his eyes as the sun shinned brightly out the window. He couldn't believe it was morning. Hell, looking at the way the sun came just barely in the window, it looked more like close to noon.

Jenny was still asleep, with her back against him. He marveled at the beautiful body of the woman beside him. Jenny was exquisite. Her skin was so smooth. He turned over to get a better look at this beauty that slept peacefully next to him. She slept peacefully, a lot different than when he has burst into her room, thinking someone had been in there hurting her.

He stiffened when he looked over at her. Down her left side, starting to turn deep purple and blue, was a bruise forming. Below that, across her lower back going into her buttocks, were several deep scares. Instinctively, he put his hand out, lightly touching the bruise and scares. His mind whirled. She had been whipped at one time. The scars were old. Anger seeped into him. Who in the hell would do that to anyone. Nathan had the same kind of scars from the time he had been a slave. That weren't right either, but who would do that to a woman. She surely had gone through a lot of pain. And that bruise. Was that caused from her fall. Somehow he didn't believe her that night that she had fallen. The look on her face had been one of fear and pain both. He was going to get to the bottom of it, and right NOW!

Jenny was stirring, stretching, a smile on her face. Was it all a dream last night? A wonderful dream of the man with sparkling blue eyes. She turned over and facing her was Vin. No it hadn't been a dream. That man could make a woman forget anything. She looked into his eyes, and her smile faded. Alarmed, Jenny sat up and instantly pulled the sheet over her to cover up. "Vin, what's wrong. What did I do?" Jenny was frantic. Vin hadn't realized that he looked so stern, and his frown softened, and a smile replaced it. But the moment was gone

"I'm sorry I looked so serious." Vin brought his hand up and stroked her cheek, cupping her chin. "You were a naughty girl last night."

Jenny started laughing, picked up a pillow and hit him with it. "Sex maniac." She wrapped the sheet around her and got up.

As both were getting dressed, Vin turned her around to face him. She had made sure that he didn't see her back, or at least she thought so. "Jenny, last night you said that you fell. Is that how your back got bruised?"

"Yes, yes, that's how it happened." Jenny's eyes moved down, her hands pressed against his chest.

"Look me in the face, Jenny." Vin's hand lifted her chin so their eyes met. "You had the look of a caged wild animal last night. You didn't fall, did you?" Jenny's eyes look widely around, trying to escape the ultimate truth. She didn't want to drag anyone into this. But Vin held tight to her chin. She knew he wouldn't stop until he got the answer. "I also noticed your scars. My god Jenny, who did that to you?" Vin wasn't about to let her get away. He wanted her to share her pain with him, like they shared each other last night. He needed to protect her, wanted to protect her. Jenny looked at his eyes, pain filled, and decided it was time. Time to let go of all the pain she had grown up with, and still had to deal with. She had never found anyone that she could share that with, not even Luke, until now. This man of few words, a man of strength and gentleness, made her feel like she had a home, a safe home where she could be safe.

"Vin, could we go riding? I need to be out there, where there are no walls, no barriers."

Vin reluctantly let her go. He decided Jenny would tell him, in her own time. "I'll wait downstairs until your ready." And he walked out her door.

During the night, Buck had finally decided to go back to his room. He had a wonderful evening, and bounded up several stairs at a time. He had noticed the door to Vin's room was open, his boots still by his bed and shirt thrown across the chair. The bed had been messed up, but Vin was not in it. Buck wondered where the boy would go without his boots. Buck was the one who always lost his boots, most likely from hopping out windows. Then he noticed Jenny's door. It was closed but the wood had been splintered, like someone had broken into it. His concern rose and he started toward her door. The sounds he heard from the other side made him decide not to bother. It sounded like Vin was taking care of everything, the best way a man could take care of a woman. The next morning when Buck walked down the hall, he noticed Vin's door still open. He pulled the door shut and went on downstairs. A boyish grin came across his face and he whistled slightly. "Yeah, she finally got to him. Knew he wouldn't last. Saw it in his eyes."

Vin went back to his room, got the rest of his clothes and walked downstairs. Boy he needed a cup of coffee, and he was sure more hungrier this morning that he had ever been. Buck and Chris were stretched out at one of the tables, talking and grinning. They saw Vin coming down the stairs the same time Ezra came into the saloon. Ezra walked up to the boys, tipped his hat with a, "Gentlemen" and sat down. Vin got a coffee at the bar, and went over to the tables where his friends sat.

"Well, Vin, had a rough night?" came out of Buck's mouth and then a big grin.

Chris just smiled, shaking his head, "now Buck, leave the man alone. What he does is his own business."

"Well Chris, it might be better if the man would at least shut his door, then no one would know that he wasn't where he usually is."

Vin looked at both men, realizing that Buck had probably guessed what went on. Ezra looked confused until he saw all three men turn to see Jenny coming down the stairs. Vin cleared his throat. Jenny saw the guys and flashed a radiant smile. But her smile was only for Vin. Ezra looked from Jenny to Vin and back, and guessed there was more to the conversation that had actually been said. Ezra grinned that boyish grin, leaned forward, slapped Vin on the back, and said in a quiet tone, "Mr. Tanner, I hope you have not taken advantage of the lovely Miss McNeill. For it seems that the lady is extremely radiant."

Vin gave a sideways glance at the three men, shook his head, stood up and walked over to Jenny. "How about that ride now?" Jenny's smile faded and with a low "yes" she and Vin walked out the saloon.

Nothing was said as the two saddled their horses. Vin kept watching Jenny. When Jenny had come down the stairs that morning she had been radiant. But as soon as he had said something to her, her smiled left her face. How he wished he could bring that smile back. They rode out of town, still silent. Inwardly, Jenny was battling to figure out what or how to tell Vin the truth. Would he still feel the same towards her after she told him everything. Hell, she didn't even know how he felt. True, they constantly sent barbed remarks back and forth to each other, never really talking, or seeing each other, until last night. She was afraid that after she talked to Vin, he wouldn't want to repeat another night. Did she? If not, then she would live with the memories of their desire. "Vin, I, well. Damn. I don't know how to start, except at the beginning." Vin was silent. Jenny stumbled on her words as she started.

"My mama and papa were wonderful. We were always happy and mama would fuss at papa for spoiling me. He took me everywhere. Always hugging us both, and kissing mama all the time. On my 7th birthday, papa gave me a beautiful gold heart shaped locket. As he put it around my neck, he whispered to me that the gold heart was part of his heart, and that as long as I wore the necklace he would always be with me, whether he was actually there or not. I didn't know what he meant then, but I guess he was trying to tell me that he was dying. I had just turned 8 years old when he left us. Mama was beside herself. He had always taken care of everything. She didn't know what to do. She all but ignored me. But I don't blame her for that. She was still a young beautiful woman, strapped with a child and no money.

Then he came. A younger, very handsome man took interest in mama. I mean she was a beautiful woman and still full of life, too much life to stay a widow. This man swept her off her feet and married her. I was about 10 years old then. At first, life was pretty good. I missed papa, but this man seemed nice. He would hold me and kiss me and tell me he loved me. At night, he would come into my room to kiss me good night. He would rub my back and pat my backside. Several years went by and the kisses became more intense, and his hands rubbed all too familiar with my back.

One night, I had just turned 13, I heard noises in the living room. I got out of bed, and walked down the stairs. Jason, that was his name, Jason Baron. He and my mother were making love. But he had seen me come downstairs and kept looking at me. I was glued to my spot. I wanted to run and hide but my feet wouldn't move. I just stared at them both. His lips formed a smile, he narrowed his eyes, while he was still watching me. All of a sudden, his head lunged back, he moaned, and well, you know. I was so frightened, I ran upstairs, and I didn't know what else happened.

The next night at dinner, I sat there but wasn't hungry. I felt his eyes peering down at me. My head was bent down looking at my plate. I was too embarrassed to look up. Mama hadn't noticed anything, I guess. If she did, she never said so.

He leaned over and his fingers gingerly lifted my locket. "It's about time you dropped this stupid fairy tale of your wonderful father. I am your father now."

With that he yanked the necklace off my neck. I begged for it back but he refused. I couldn't stand it anymore. I jumped up from the table spilling my milk, and looked at him with eyes that could kill. He laughed, then anger spread across his face. He slapped me so hard that I fell. He grabbed me by the arm and dragged me to my room. My mother was sitting there, wringing her hands, but not saying a word. He dragged me into my room, slammed the door and turned me around to face him.

"I'm going to teach you a lesson you won't forget."

"I'll never forget his evil look." He tore my clothes off. He slid his belt off, turned me around and started to whip me. He kept whipping harder and harder till I thought I would die. Sweat rolled down him. He stopped and came over to me and wrapped his arms around me. He kept telling me that I needed to learn to behave and love him the way he loved me. He would show me how much he loved me. I was hurt, the pain was awful, and I was scared. I couldn't move." Just then Jenny started to cry. Vin reached over to grab her hand. Jenny pulled it away. "I'm sorry. Can we stop? I need to walk."

Vin and Jenny had found a fairly secluded place. Once off their horses, Jenny had brought her tears under control. Vin's anger at the man who could do this to a child was immeasurable. Jenny took a couple of breaths and continued. Red coloring replaced the golden glow of her skin caused by her embarrassment. Jenny went on to tell Vin all the things that Jason had done to her. Jenny was almost in tears. "The cuts on my back slowly mended but stayed fresh in my mind."

One night on the way to my bed, he stopped me in the hallway and whispered to me that he would be coming to my room. He said it was going to be a night that I would remember. It was time I learned to be a woman and he wanted to teach me. I ran to my room, grabbed what clothes I could carry and sneaked out the window, never looking back. After that, I went from town to town, singing. My voice was good then too, and that's the only way I wanted to survive. The ladies I met in the saloons protected me because they liked me. They taught me so much about how men are and what they want. I learned how to manipulate men to do things for me and give nothing in return. Never wanting anything from them. Never getting close enough to love. That was over 30 years ago."

Jenny turned to look at Vin, deep anger marked those beautiful blue eyes. Pain shot through her, knowing Vin was disgusted with her. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she turned to go back to Cody. Vin grabbed her arm, turned her around, and pulled her to him. His arms went around her, and when she looked into his eyes, he leaned down to kiss her. It wasn't a kiss of lust, pity, or even hate. It was a kiss that enveloped her entire being. A kiss that gathered her up and held her tightly, to protect her, and love her. The kiss lingered, until they both broke apart.

Jenny gathered her wits again. "But that's not all Vin. Over the years, I never went back to see how mama was. I had someone check on her at one time, and found out that she had died. She's been dead now for 20 years." Jenny wrestled with herself on telling Vin the rest. But if Jason was to be stopped, then she would have to trust Vin. She couldn't do it alone. And she was tired of running. Running from Jason and the nightmares. And she knew he would have to confide in the other men.

"The other night when I came into the saloon and I said I had fallen, well, that's not true. When I went for a walk, I was roughly pulled into the alley way. It was Jason. God, I don't know how he found me, after all these years. I guess it was my dumb luck. But the bruise was caused when he slammed me against the wall. I couldn't yell, couldn't escape. He had me pinned. He, he kept touching me all over. I was getting sick. My mind went back to when I was 13. When his hand went up my dress, my knee just came up automatically and slammed into him. He buckled and I ran. I couldn't say anything to any of you. I was ashamed. Just like when I was a kid."

Jenny just stood there, waiting for some kind of a word from Vin. Muscles twitched in his cheeks. Anger filled his eyes. Very controlled, Vin looked at Jenny, "That son of a bitch. If he ever touches you again, when I find him, there won't be anything left of him for buzzards to worry about." Jenny leaned against Vin. Both arms circled around his back. They just stood there for a while.

"Please Vin, be careful. He is evil. I see the evil in my nightmares. I don't want to loose you too, like I lost papa. When I lost him, I lost the most precious thing in the world, and that was my heart. I'm too tired to fight again or run. I don't have the strength." As Jenny spoke, she could feel Vin's heartbeat. Vin kissed the top of her head, hugging her closer.

His voice was deep and raspy. "Don't worry, I've survived a lot of things. With the help of the rest of the guys, we'll get him. We'll get him." With that Jenny and Vin mounted their horses and rode back to town, not realizing they were being watched.