by Judi Milling


Ezra and Buck searched but to no avail. It was late when they got back into town, deciding they would go out again at first light. The next morning, and there was still no Jenny, the men prepared to ride out. Nathan said he would stay and watch for Vin and the rest and let them know what had happened. Just as they mounted, they saw three riders. It was Vin, Chris, and JD. As they pulled up, Chris noted that Ezra and Buck were getting ready to ride out. "Going for a morning ride, fellas." Vin had already bounded down from his horse, wanting to see Jenny.

"Ezra, Buck," JD was elated. "We caught that guy, easy as pie, and dropped him off at the jail he escaped from. He was pissed. The man didn't even have a gun and left tracks, that even I could follow."

Chris noting the two's concerned faces, held his hand up. "What really brings you too out this early in the morning on your horses?"

Vin had already gone inside the saloon, and was coming out. "Where's Jenny?" The look on Ezra and Buck's faces, made Vin stop dead in his tracks. "What's happened." Ezra and Buck told them all they knew. Vin bounded up on his horse. "We've gotta find her, and find her now. I have a feeling Jason is involved and he won't be satisfied till he's taken her totally or kill her. Let's ride."

Tracks weren't easy to find. They searched in all directions. Vin was almost to a frantic point. He needed to calm down, concentrate. Isn't that what he had told Jenny. Concentration could mean life or death. And if he didn't concentrate more, then it could mean her death. Chris saw his friend's anguish, and rode over to him. "Vin, we won't give up till we find her. None of us will give up. Let's keep looking."

Vin had not realized how much he wanted that friendship they offered. He had been alone for so long, that he had never felt a need for it. Now, these men, offered all they had, and the woman possessed his spirit. Just then, Vin noticed three sets of tracks. One set, heavier than the rest. "Looks like I might have found something. Prints awful heavy. Could mean two people ridin' one horse. Looks to be several days old. At least it's a start." And the seven men followed the tracks.

Near the evening hours, just as it was getting dark, Vin and the rest could see in the distance, several old buildings. Looked like it might have been a farm at one time. Smoke was coming out of the house. Several horses were in the paddock. No one was about. Vin pulled out his glass to get a closer look. The tracks that they had been following led to the farm. Vin saw no one. They decided they would check it out as soon as it turned dark, just in case.

As darkness spread, Jason sat by the fire, smiling. Jenny was breaking, giving in to her desires. He had seen and felt her body weakening under his expert hands. Each time he came back, her body responded more and more. She was getting close, so close to beg him not to stop. Then that would be when she would willingly come to him.

After darkness settled in, Vin and the others, crept down to the buildings There was no movement outside. They thought they would check the barn first, but was not prepared for what they saw. Chris was the first to go in, followed by Vin and Ezra, then the rest. What they saw sickened them. There was Jenny, wrists tied together, suspended from the rafters. Only her toes touched the ground. Her head hung down, hair covering her face and down her back. Chris automatically took his long coat off and went up to her. Vin stopped dead in his tracks. Pain first filled the young man's face then anger, intense anger.

In a few strides, he was over to her, supporting her body, while Chris covered her. Nathan took one of his knives out and cut the rope. Chris and Nathan didn't know who was more dangerous right now, Jason or Vin. Seeing Vin's face brought up real concern for their friend. Jenny was at least alive and when she felt the strong arms around her, she started to fight, fight with all her might until she heard his voice. "Jenny, Jenny, it's me, Vin. God what has that bastard done to you."

"Vin, you're not here, you're in my dreams. Please don't leave me. Don't let me wake up." Just then Jenny focused more on the man that held her. She was not dreaming. It was Vin. That's when the sobbing started.

Vin tried to quiet her as quickly as possible. "You're still not out of danger. Hold on." Ezra had approached them. Vin lifted her into Ezra's arms, still covered with Chris' coat. "Take her, and get her outta here. I'm gonna find him and then I'm gonna kill him."

Chris put his hand on his friends' shoulder. "We need to have a plan, Vin. We all want to kill him for this, but that's not going to make it right. We need to take care of this legally."

Just then, two shadows appeared. "Gentlemen, I don't believe we have met. My name is Jason Baron. And get your hands off of my daughter." Both men stepped into the light, rifles leveled at the seven men, and grins on their faces.

"Gentlemen, drop your guns, NOW!" Slowly all seven relieved themselves of their guns. Ezra was still holding Jenny, so JD took his guns off. "Now sir, if you would put my daughter down, I would appreciate it." Jenny was gently set down by Ezra, but reluctantly. After she got her footing, she turned toward Ezra in order to slip her arms through Chris' coat. "My darling, I don't think you need to cover yourself. I am sure these men have seen you before."

Jenny spun around with gleaming anger, just as Vin started to bolt forward, hatred in his eyes. Jenny yelled for Vin to stop, and Vin stopped dead in his tracks as one rifle leveled at his head.

Jason knew this man cared for Jenny just by the hate in his eyes. "Wanting a early grave, son? Don't worry, you all will see the great beyond soon, very soon. Well, let's see. I thought, my dear, that you had a man. You would have to have a young man. Like mother, like daughter." Looking straight at Vin, Jason sneered. "Yes, you look like a man my daughter would pick. Strong and rough. You my boy, will be the first to die."

Jenny saw the rage in Vin's face. She had to concentrate. Isn't that what Vin had told her. Then she remembered. Ezra had been trying to get the best view before extracting his derringer hidden in his coat sleeve. But he had been holding Jenny, and with his arm around her, he couldn't get in line to use it quickly. Two men would have to be taken down, and down fast so no one else would get hurt. Before Ezra realized what Jenny was doing, Jenny activated the trigger mechanism releasing the gun. She was so fast that he was caught off guard, forgetting he had showed it to her and how it worked. Jenny swung around and leveled the small derringer at Jason.

He was surprised at first, then he smiled. "Well, well, my little dove. Since when did you have enough courage to do anything like that. You were always a scared little thing, always running, always will run. Put it down."

Trying not to shake, Jenny held the gun fast. "Jason, you've hurt your last person. You can go to HELL." Deliberately and expertly, she pulled the trigger once, aiming at him, fired, then turned the gun on the other man and fired. Noise and smoke seemed to fill the air. Jenny didn't flinch, didn't move, didn't cry. With steeliness in her eyes and voice, "You'll take with you all you'll ever get from me, nothing, nothing at all."

With that Jason fell forwarded. Both men were left dead. Ezra pried the gun from her hand. All the men looked at her. She showed no fear, no pain. Vin came over to her, and she looked at his eyes. "I remembered what you told me. Concentrate. Concentration may save your life one day."

Jenny turned from Vin, not wanting to look at him again. Knowing that her body had responded to Jason's advances, she was ashamed. Looking up at Ezra, she said, "Ezra, please take me back to town," and walked to his horse. Ezra looked at his friend standing there, turned and walked behind Jenny. Jenny sat with Ezra on his horse, leaning back against her friend, her partner. His arms were strong and supportive around her. How could she ever face Vin, after what had happened. Her body had given her away and she had been violated. Her body had betrayed her and she couldn't face Vin with that knowledge, plus the other. She shook the thoughts from her mind and concentrated on what she would do next. The ride was done in silence.

After getting back to town, Ezra carried Jenny up to her room. "I need a bath. A hot bath." Jenny had almost pleadingly said to Ezra. Before long, he had filled the tub for her, with steaming hot water. Vin wanted to come up, but she had refused him. "Ezra, please stay." Ezra had thought better, but the pain in Jenny was so intense, he couldn't turn her down.

Turning his back while she discarded Chris's coat, she got into the tub. "Ezra, why is life so unfair? I've had so much pain in my life." She was speaking both to Ezra and herself, at the same time. Jenny kept scrubbing herself, until she was pink. "I can't seem to get myself clean enough." Ezra, slightly embarrassed with Jenny in the tub, said he understood. Time would ease the pain. Seeing Jenny struggle with the sponge on her back, he came over to her. They locked eyes, she handed him the sponge, and whispered a thank you. He started washing her back, as her tears spilled. His soothing hands and his friendship, filled her with some peace, enough to start her talking. "Ezra, how is it that people like you and me are always on the run. Running from love and running from life."

Jenny sighed and softly said to Ezra. "Ezra, would you make love to me. Please. I need to get that filth off of me. I need a friend. I need you."

Ezra stopped. "You don't need me Jenny. As much as the offer is very tempting, there is a man downstairs who would move heaven and earth for you. Give him a chance."

To Ezra, Jenny looked like a hurt and scared animal. God she was breathtaking. It was all he could do to turn his head. Jenny realizing what she had asked, was embarrassed that she had said this to her friend. With a "I'm sorry Ezra." She eased herself farther down in the tub, hugging her knees, and leaning forward.

"Ezra, I'm 45 years old. Vin is what, 30, 35? I'm too old for him. And besides, would he move heaven and earth if he found out, found out I'm going to have his baby?"

Ezra's eyes widened, then a small smile replaced the shocked look on his face. He moved around to face Jenny. His hand went up to her chin, with such tenderness. "I might be wrong, but I don't think so. Mr. Tanner would still move heaven and earth, just for you and his child."

"Ezra, I can't take the chance of him turning his back on me. He's a loner. A man who wants no ties. I know that. I knew that when I fell in love with him. That's why I'm leaving.

Ezra was struck dumb. "You should really consider what you are about to do. Is it fair to judge Mr. Tanner before you really give him a chance. I know I would be delighted if it had been a union between you and me, and that it produced a child. Jenny, don't judge him too quickly."

"Ezra, I'm telling you this as a friend. A good friend. I'll do what I have to do." Jenny still hugged her knees, falling silent.

Ezra sensed the need in her to be alone, turned around and walked towards the door. "Jenny, think about it seriously. You have a chance here, don't fool yourself into believing he doesn't care. Gamble on your heart." With that he walked out the door.

Seeing Ezra come down the stairs, Vin jumped up. All men were concerned. Ezra looked at his friend, noting the pain in his eyes. "Jenny is fine. She's a survivor." He looked at Vin, noting a concern in his friend's eyes. "Mr. Tanner, she'll need time and love, my friend." With that, Vin went upstairs.

Vin knocked on Jenny's door. "Please go away."

Vin could barely hear her. "Jenny, I'm coming in." A "NO" formed on her lips, but Vin was in before she could get it out.

"Please Vin, I don't want to see you." Jenny was almost in tears.

"Jenny, you can't shut me out. He's dead so don't let him keep us apart." Vin walked behind the tub. She was still hugging her knees in the water. Her mind had wandered again, so she failed to notice Vin stripping his clothes off. Only when she felt him slide into the tub behind her, did she stiffen and cry out.

"No Vin, please, no, I can't, you don't know what went on, please." Vin settled in the tub and pulled her back to him, wrapping his arms around her, tightly, whispering to her to let him take the pain away. She slowly calmed, not knowing if it was him or the fact that she was so tired. Tired of running in the dark. Her eyes closed, but not to go to sleep. He could always calm her fears through his strength. They both just laid back in the tub, neither saying a word.

After a few minutes, Vin realized that he had something in his pocket for her. In all the things that went on he had forgotten it. He had seen it in town when he dropped the prisoner off. Knowing how Jenny might feel, he had bought it. It was a lot of money, but she was worth every penny. He had always been careful about money, not buying anything that wasn't useful. But this, this could work wonders. He leaned back to where he had put his coat and pulled out a small package. Unwrapping it, the light caught it's shine.

As he reached over her head, Jenny opened her eyes. She saw a small gold heart, hanging from a gold chain. As Vin hooked it behind her neck, the little gold heart fell lightly between her breasts. A locket. A locket just like the one her father had given her so long ago. "I thought it would make you smile, Jenny." Vin's voice was husky and low. She fingered the heart and turned her head so he could kiss her. And he did, long and deeply. She would wait a little while longer. She still had time before the baby would start showing. Wait and see if she should stay. Wait and see if the baby would bind them or tear them apart.