Masked Desire

Queen of Swords

Marta/Tessa

Author: KJ

Disclaimer: Queen of Swords belongs to others, not me. Just borrowing characters for entertainment because there aren't enough stories for these two women.

Notes: At the time this show aired, I hadn't yet discovered shipping but I had immediately loved Tessa and Marta, I didn't really know why at the time but after seeing a clip of them on YouTube a little while ago, it all made sense and to my dismay I saw a severe lack of stories following up on the clear chemistry between them so here we are. Plus, I always wanted to see Marta be a bit of a bad ass.

I couldn't figure out how to type the Spanish words with their certain characteristics, so please forgive any language inconsistencies. I hope you like.

PART 1

"Colonel!"

Colonel Luis Montoya looked up from his papers with a calmness that sent fear through the young soldier.

"I assume this is important Sargent," he said dangerously.

"Yes Colonel," the young man swallowed. "It is the Queen of Swords."

Montoya cursed under his breadth at the mention of only woman he had ever hated. "Have you captured her then?" He said, barely containing his hope.

"No sir. Earlier today we were…questioning one of the peasants regarding cattle stolen from Don Villarreal. She interfered and my men engaged her. Unfortunately, she felled them all…"

"Incompetente!" Montoya snarled.

"Si, however, one of the men managed to pull her mask partially off as he fell unconscious. She was gone before I could lift my rifle, but she bore a marked resemblance to Seniorita Alvarado."

Montoya sat up straighter. "Are you certain?" He asked, expectantly.

"There was some distance between us and the glimpse was for only a moment, but I could think of no one else when I saw her."

Montoya sat back in his chair and scratched thoughtfully at his chin. He had long harbored suspicions that young Tessa wasn't completely as she seemed, but to believe that she was the woman who single handedly defeated every soldier under his command? It was almost too laughable to be believed.

"Seniorita Alvarado is an arrogant child, who's concerns are only for shopping and frivolity. She doesn't even care for the well-being of her own servants much less the law breaking peasants," he said only partially convinced.

"Many pretend to be that which they are not in order to hide," the Sargent replied.

"Very true," Montoya said, studying the young man before him. "You have done well," he commended. "I shall take what you told to me under advisement and speak to Seniorita Alvarado myself."

The young man saluted smartly and then left the Colonel's office as quickly as he could get manage.

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"Colonel Montoya, what…?"

"I need to see your mistress," he pushed his way past the woman who was almost as big a nuisance as her mistress.

"It is polite to wait to be invited in Colonel," Tessa said casually as approached the entry, fighting her fury at the way he treated Marta.

Montoya studied the beautiful young woman closely, noting the anger in her eyes on her servant's behalf. Whether she was indeed the Queen of Swords, there was more to her than she wanted him to believe. She portrayed herself as indifferent to anyone but herself, even her maid but suddenly, he began to wonder.

"I have some questions for you Seniorita," he said with the fake politeness that always made Tessa's skin crawl.

"Is that so?" she asked, not bothering to show him to the sitting room.

Montoya gritted his teeth at the woman's insolence but knew it would be worth it to see her expression.

"What I need to discuss with you is best discussed alone," he said glancing dismissively at Marta.

"She stays," Tessa said firmly.

Montoya narrowed his eyes. "Hm. The night of Dr. Helms party, when your servant declared she had so carelessly injured herself, you made it clear your only concern for her was her ability to wash your laundry, yet now you demand her presence for a private conversation. Curious is it not?"

"Not at all. I always like to have witnesses for these little conversations with you Colonel," she smiled sarcastically.

Montoya gritted his teeth. How he hated this woman and her smug, unladylike demeanor. "I heard a very interesting rumor today and based on your not so subtle protection of your servant, I begin to wonder."

Tessa frowned and looked at Marta, puzzled by the flicker of fear on her face which vanished as quickly as it has appeared.

"Forgive me Colonel but I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about," she replied breezily, fighting to bury her impatience beneath the façade of selfish disinterest she'd become so adept at.

"Perhaps," he said thoughtfully. "However the thought occurred to me that your servant's announcement of her clumsy accident came at a most opportune moment. You were, I believe to be examined next by Dr. Helm?"

Alarm shot through Tessa.

"I'm sure I don't know what you're implying," she said as innocently as she could manage.

"Hm." Montoya's suspicions grew.

"Why are you here Colonel?" Tessa asked bluntly, feeling decidedly like a mouse before the cat but refusing to show it.

"I'm here because today, the Queen of Swords once again interfered my business."

"I hardly see of what possible interest that could be to me," Tessa said negligently, though her heart was pounding in her ears as she suddenly recalled the moment the soldier had nearly pulled the mask from her face. She had thought she had recovered before she was seen but maybe she hadn't.

"One of my men managed to grab part of her mask and another caught a glimpse of her face," Montoya stated, his eyes studying Tessa intently, looking for any reaction and he found one. It was just one tiny flutter of the eyelashes that would have gone unnoticed by most, but he saw it.

"Is that right?"

"Si. Interestingly enough he said the woman looked remarkably like you."

Tessa ignored the conversational tone of the little man's voice. She saw the predatory gleam of anticipation in his eyes and refused to so much as flinch.

"That is indeed interesting Colonel," she replied just as calmly. "I have heard it said that everyone has someone who looks like them. Or perhaps your soldier merely suffers from poor eyesight."

"Or perhaps you have been deceiving us all," Montoya spat, finally losing his temper.

"That's impossible. Seniorita Alvarez has been here all day," Marta spoke up coldly, fear for Tessa nearly stealing her breath.

"The words of a peasant don't interest me in the slightest," Montoya replied, not even looking at the servant.

"You don't speak to her like that," Tessa spoke up, not caring if it made the obnoxious Colonel even more suspicious. She would no longer tolerate his speaking to the proud woman who meant so much to Tessa as if she were mud under his boots.

"My apologies," Montoya sneered. "I wasn't aware that you were interested in the sensibilities of a mere maid."

Tessa desperately wished she had her whip. Instead she just pushed passed the Colonel and headed to the front door.

"Your soldier was mistaken. I am not the Queen of Swords nor do I have any interest in being her. As Marta stated, I was here all day and I'm offended by your insinuations. Good day Colonel."

Montoya hesitated. He was not the type of man to be ordered around by a woman, but he realized that a strategic retreat now would allow him to set the trap that would ultimately result in her downfall.

"Very well. I must admit that I find the idea of you being the kind of woman who could defeat my best men, dubious at best, but I had to ask. I'm sure you understand," he bowed with a faux politeness that made Tessa sick.

"Oh I understand," Tessa replied. When Montoya left it was all she could do not to slam the door behind him.

"I despise that man," she muttered and began to pace the foyer, hoping to rid herself of the anger and the panic that was warring inside of her.

"Tessa, you have got to be more careful," Marta said urgently. "How could you let someone see you?"

"I didn't plan it Marta," she snapped.

"I know," Marta replied softly. "I'm sorry. I just…I'm afraid for you," she admitted, placing a hand on Tessa's arm. "You don't know how much I…" Marta froze as she realized what she'd been about to say.

Tessa again saw the frightened look in Marta's face and she was puzzled by it, but there was a part of her that felt something else. Something close to hope at the words that she had left unspoken.

"How much you what?" Tessa replied quietly.

Marta swallowed and then offered a shaky smile. "How much I worry," she lied.

Tessa swallowed her disappointment and waved off Marta's concerns, too lost in the fear that she had been seen to hear the sorrow in the older woman's voice.

"I can handle Colonel Montoya, Marta," she replied negligently.

"I know you can usually Tessa, but someone saw you this time. I think you should put the Queen away for a while," Marta insisted.

"What?" Tessa looked at Marta in surprise. "That's not going to happen Marta. I will not let that little dictator think he won."

"So your pride is more important than your life?" Marta retorted, growing angry at Tessa's continued disregard for her own safety not to mention Marta's own feelings.

"Yes Marta," she retorted. "in this case it is. If I'm not out there helping these people, who will? Am I just supposed to stay inside and cower in fear while Montoya and Grisham continue to abuse them?"

"You are acting like an arrogant child," Marta accused. "The people of Santa Helena are not as helpless as you believe. They have been fending for themselves since before you arrived here."

Tessa flinched at the sharp tone. She knew Marta was right but having this woman talk to her like a child was inexplicably mortifying.

"You are my maid Marta, not my mother," she snapped and then instantly regretted it when she saw the flash of pain on the beautiful face.

"Marta, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean that," she said urgently, stepping toward the woman who meant so much to her and not surprised when Marta pulled away.

Marta held her head high, refusing to show just how much Tessa had hurt her. "Do what you will, Seniorita Alvarado," she said numbly, "you always do, regardless of how it effects other people. However, the next time you are injured, go visit Dr. Helm. I will no longer sit by and help you kill yourself," she turned and walked away leaving Tessa watching her sadly.

"I'm sorry," she whispered even knowing she wouldn't hear her.

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"Grisham, my office, now."

Marcus Grisham jumped to his feet almost spilling his wine over his lover Vera Hidalgo. He despised his employer but he feared him more.

"Another time my dear," he bowed, kissing Vera's hand, hating Montoya even more for disrupting his plans for an afternoon in bed with the beautiful blonde.

"Must you go?" Vera pouted, batting her brown eyes at young lover.

"Duty calls my love," he smiled, forcing himself not to lose himself in her beautiful eyes. Sighing, he turned and followed Montoya into his office, not surprised to find the small man pacing.

"Yes Colonel?" He said abruptly.

"I heard a report earlier today that Tessa Alvarado is the Queen of Swords," Montoya answered just as bluntly.

Grisham barked out a surprised laugh. "You're joking."

"Does it look like I'm joking?"

Grisham snorted. "Tessa Alvarado is a mouse, granted a ridiculously seductive mouse, but she's far too concerned with gossip and her own pursuits to care about the village peasants and too delicate to fight a rug much less a full platoon."

"That is what I thought," Montoya agreed casually. "However, the man who said he saw her face seemed quite certain."

There isn't a man in your army that isn't an idiot, Grisham thought but wisely kept that to himself. "So then why didn't you parade her through town in irons?" he asked instead.

"Because, my simple minded American," Montoya drawled sarcastically. "Tessa Alvarado is quite popular here and I have to make certain before I accuse a woman of her station of such crimes."

"I assume you have a plan?" Grisham drawled, barely hiding his sarcasm.

"That I do Captain," Montoya smirked. "That I do."

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Part 2

"And the Captain told me himself that Montoya believes Tessa is the Queen of Swords. Can you believe it?" Vera Hidalgo giggled.

"I can," Marta replied, less than amused. "The Colonel was here just yesterday with his ridiculous accusations."

"I don't think he really believes it either, but the Queen has him so aggravated I think he would arrest his own mother if he had even a hint of evidence."

Marta nodded. "You would think with the bandits repeatedly stealing cattle from the Don's and every other shipment that comes to Santa Helena, he would have more important things to worry about."

"Oh he has a plan for that," Vera smiled happily. "I have it on good authority that in two days, the night of the Ramirez ball, there's supposed to be a supply shipment bringing payroll for the soldiers as well as a shipment of new guns. Almost every soldier in town will be assigned to guard it."

"That seems a bit extreme. I would think if they wanted to capture these bandits, they would make it appear less secure."

"They don't want to catch them. They plan to kill them," Vera replied.

"Kill them? These bandits aren't murderers. They should be given a trial and prison," Marta protested.

"I agree," Vera said. She may give the appearance of being shallow and self-centered, but she despised injustice as much as anyone. She simply didn't have the courage to fight against it.

"And what if they happen to escape? Montoya's soldiers have proven repeatedly that they can barely hit the side of a barn with their guns. What happens if these bandits get their hands on these guns?"

"I didn't even think of that. Perhaps these bandits will become murderers after all."

"And perhaps we will wind up with a civil war, where only Montoya wins," Marta added.

"Well I hate to say it but it will be a very short lived war. The poor people of this village simply have no chance against Montoya and the Don's, even if they do have guns and I'm afraid there is little the Queen of Swords can do this time. Grisham told me this plan is as much a trap for her as it is for these bandits."

Marta was surprised by the almost sympathetic comment from the blonde woman who seemed to go out of her way to appear vapid.

"I fear you're correct," she agreed, a knot forming in her stomach.

"Oh dear, I must be going," Vera said, the conversation already forgotten. "Please give Tessa my regards."

"Of course Senora," she said distractedly as the woman walked away. Instantly her thoughts turned toward the woman who would risk her life to prevent a blood bath, on either side, if she knew what was planned. Despite how badly Tessa's words had hurt her, Marta was suddenly more afraid for the careless woman than she'd ever been and she didn't need her tarot cards to know that if the Queen of Swords interfered with this business, she would die and that thought was unbearable.

Marta didn't know when exactly her feelings for Tessa had become something far deeper than what she was supposed to feel for her charge. It had happened so gradually over the years that it seemed to Marta it had always been there, but when she got to witness Tessa unleash the fire and the passion she was forced to hide behind a mask, something more than fondness burned inside of her. Tessa was wild and reckless with a beauty and fragility that belied her strength. And each time Tessa returned injured from one of her fights, Marta would mend the proud young woman, terrified that the next fight would be her last, while trying to ignore the softness of her skin and the warm brown eyes that were a mysterious and enchanting blend of innocence and danger.

Marta was not proud of her feelings or of the times she had wanted to silence Tessa's stubborn mouth with her own but she was a woman who didn't waste time with pointless denials or railing against things that simply were, so she carried her love for Tessa inside of her heart but never did it overshadow her worry and need to protect and that's what she would do now, no matter the cost and no matter the realization that the woman she loved only saw her as a maid.

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"Why do I have to attend another pointless ball?" Tessa grumbled as Marta helped her into her dress.

Marta simply shrugged. "I'm afraid that it is your lot in life to look beautiful and attend frivolous events just as it is mine to be a mere servant. I think I am the more fortunate," she finished as she draped a shawl over Tessa's shoulder. Against her will she found herself momentarily captivated by the beautiful expanse of skin exposed by the low cut gown.

Tessa looked into the mirror and her heart nearly stopped when she saw where Marta's eyes had fallen and the longing in her expression, but the words 'mere servant' kept playing over in her mind and Tessa knew there were more important things to be addressed. She turned and took Marta's hand.

"Marta, you have never been a servant to me," she said seriously. "I am so very sorry for what I said to you. You know I didn't mean it."

Oh how Marta longed to believe her. "You only spoke the truth," she replied, stepping away from the woman who was temptation and sin personified before she surrendered and forgot herself and her plans for the evening.

Tessa's heart felt as if it were breaking. For the last two days Marta had barely said two words to her, no matter how hard Tessa had tried to apologize and it hurt more than she had imagined. She hadn't realized just how much her day began with Marta's beautiful smile and how lost she felt without it.

"It's not the truth," she swore. "You are so many things to me Marta but a servant isn't one of them. You are the most important person in my life, please tell me you believe me."

"It doesn't matter," Marta said sadly. "I'll go have Luis bring the carriage."

"Marta wait, you aren't dressed yet," Tessa blurted, unwilling to let her leave this way.

"I'm not going with you this evening."

"What? Marta, you have to come," Tessa protested.

"Is that an order Senorita?" Marta returned coldly.

Tessa sighed in frustration. "No, but I can't go unattended, besides I…"

"I asked Maria to accompany you this evening. She is quite capable as a companion."

"I know she is, but I need you," Tessa insisted, her heart flipping as she realized just how true that sentence was and it had nothing to do with public appearances.

Marta trembled at that, but forced herself to remember why she was staying behind.

"No Tessa," she said sadly, "you don't. "Besides, I'm not feeling well."

Tessa frowned. "Marta, why didn't you say? Do you need to see Dr. Helm?"

"No. It's just a headache," Marta lied, unable to meet Tessa's probing gaze.

"Then I'll stay home and take care of you," Tessa offered sincerely.

"That's not necessary, it's just a headache. I plan on going to bed early."

Tessa wanted to argue. She wanted to shake the older woman and make her forgive her for her thoughtless words but she couldn't. Montoya would be at this ludicrous party and she knew he'd be looking for her.

"Are you sure?"

"Positive. I'll go tell Maria you're ready and then fetch Luis."

Tessa sighed and nodded, watching Marta leave. For the first time since she'd known her, Marta had her walls up. She was as attentive as always but there was coldness in all she did that had Tessa near tears, worried that she would never be forgiven.

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"So, Seniorita Alvarado made an appearance after all," Montoya commented quietly to Grisham as he watched the beautiful young woman mingle amongst the guests. "You assured me your…friend Senora Hidalgo would have revealed our plans to her by now."

"Perhaps she's more discreet than you believe her to be," Marcus muttered.

"She's a woman is she not?" Montoya replied indifferently. "No, it's far more likely she never got the opportunity. I suppose there is only one way to find out."

Montoya walked away without another word, leaving Marcus gritting his teeth and wondering how much longer he was willing to put up with the little man's arrogance.

"Tessa, how lovely you look this evening."

Tessa looked away from her host and smiled as her friend Vera approached followed closely by her husband. "Thank you Vera, as do you," she greeted, kissing the younger woman on each cheek.

"Excuse me ladies, I see someone I must speak with," Vera's husband Gaspar said pleasantly.

"Are you here alone?" Vera asked with a quiet shock, even though it was clear that if any woman would dare break propriety it was Tessa Alvarado.

"Of course not," Tessa smiled. "Marta, unfortunately wasn't feeling well so Maria is here with me tonight."

"Really? That is a shame. I do hope she feels better, but I did notice she seemed out of sorts when I stopped by to see you the other day."

"You did? She didn't tell me you came by," Tessa frowned. That wasn't like Marta who often bore the burden of passing on whatever gossip Vera had to share when Tessa wasn't available.

"Don't be angry with her. It was a meaningless visit, I assure you," Vera replied quickly.

"I'm not angry," Tessa assured her. Was she really that horrible to Marta that even outsiders saw it? The thought nearly made her sick.

"Oh good. I'm surprised the Colonel is here though."

Tessa blinked, wondering if she would ever get used to the blonde woman's ability to change topics in the blink of an eye.

"Why? He almost always shows up at these parties, if for no other reason than to spy on the Don's."

"Tessa," Vera giggled, amused as well as scandalized as always by her friend's forthrightness. "Didn't Marta tell you?"

"Tell me what?" A chill ran down Tessa's back.

Vera quickly pulled Tessa into a secluded part of the ballroom. "Montoya has laid a trap to catch the bandits that have been stealing everything that isn't fastened down as well as the Queen of Swords and it's to happen tonight."

Tessa frowned. "I don't…you told this to Marta?"

"Of course," Vera said, "though that's when I noticed how distracted she seemed. I truly hope she's not seriously ill."

Tessa's mind was reeling. Why on earth would Marta keep that from her? Was it because she knew that Tessa would be unable and unwilling to stay out of whatever plans Montoya had? Was it guilt for keeping secrets that kept Marta from accompanying her to the ball?

Suddenly a commotion broke out near the front entrance when a soldier rushed in and headed straight for Montoya and whispered something in his ear. When dark malevolent eyes met hers, Tessa's knees nearly collapsed as a horrible premonition washed over her but she stiffened her spine when Montoya made his way over to her.

"Seniorita Alvarado, may I prevail upon you for a moment of your time?" He asked, the smoothness of his voice belied by the fury in his eyes and suddenly felt a surge of confidence. Whatever had happened did not benefit the obnoxious Colonel and that could only be a good thing.

"Of course Colonel. Excuse me Vera," she smiled at the blatantly curious blonde before following Montoya to a deserted corner of the ballroom.

"I believe I owe you an apology," he said begrudgingly.

"For what?" Tessa asked, confused, though not disagreeing with him.

"For accusing you of being the traitorous Queen of Swords. I knew that it was a ridiculous idea, but my soldier was most certain in his identification and I had to follow up on it, you understand."

"I'm afraid not Colonel. You're saying you don't believe I am that Queen woman after all?"

Montoya sighed and grew, if possible, even more annoyed. "I'm saying that even if I did believe it, it has been made clear tonight that you could not be her. She was shot a short while ago while trying to assist bandits my men were attempting to stop from robbing a supply shipment. As I have seen you here tonight, it's quite obvious my man had been mistaken in what he saw."

Tessa had to fight to keep the shock from her face. "Shot? Was she killed?"

"No. I'm afraid she once more managed to escape, but she was gravely wounded and it will only be a matter of times before she is discovered or surrenders to her injuries."

Tessa had no idea what to think. There was another woman out there claiming to be the Queen of Swords. Why? And why was she helping bandits?

"That is good news indeed Colonel," Tessa smiled graciously even as her mind was spinning.

"Yes, well, I merely wished to apologize for my behavior the other day and assure you, I am convinced you are not the traitor."

Oh wonderful, Tessa thought sarcastically. "Thank you Colonel. I know you were merely doing your job."

Montoya's eyes narrowed as he wondered if he had been insulted or not. Finally, he offered a small bow.

¨Gracias, Seniorita," he replied coolly and then quickly left, Tessa smirking in amusement behind him.

Tessa returned to Vera who was vastly amused by Montoya's admission and once her husband returned Tessa decided that since Montoya was finally convinced she wasn't the Queen of Swords, she would give her regards to Don Ramirez and go home where she would once more be with Marta and ensure she was alright.

PART 3

She and Maria were sharing a laugh as they talked about some of the things they'd seen and heard that night, when the carriage jerked to a stop and the horses whinnied in surprise.

"Dios! ¨ Maria exclaimed in fright while Tessa wished she had her sword.

"It's alright Maria," she told her young companion kindly as she looked out the windows. "I'm sure it's nothing, I'll go check with Roberto."

"Oh please don't go out there," Maria pleaded. "It could be bandits and you could be hurt."

Tessa smiled. "We would have heard guns Maria," she soothed. "Also there are no horses surrounding us. Trust me. I'll be alright."

She cautiously left the carriage, her anxiety spiking when she saw man on horseback near Roberto.

"Is there a problem?" she asked boldly and the man turned and in the bright moonlight she could see it was the young son of one of Marta's friends.

"Tomas? What is it?" She asked stepping near the boy who slid off his horse.

Tomas looked nervously at Roberto. "I must speak to you privately," he said quietly.

Tessa grew more concerned about what he needed. He couldn't know that she was the Queen of Swords, so what could he need that was so secret? "It's alright," she assured him. She had no secrets from those in her household, including Roberto and Maria.

"It is Seniorita Marta. She was shot," he said bluntly, knowing there was no kinder way of telling her.

"Shot?" Tessa repeated, her heart clenching painfully in her chest. "How?"

"She was…well it is best you come see her. She found her way to my mother's house and we are caring for her, but she is…it's bad."

"Madre de Dios," she breathed.

"I know it will be difficult in your dress, but take my horse. She is faster than the carriage, ¨ Tomas offered.

"Thank you Tomas," Tessa said gratefully. "However I'm going to need you to show me where your house is. Roberto, you and Maria can return home for the evening."

Roberto, always quiet, merely nodded. Tomas, helped Tessa onto the horse as gratefully as he could with her long skirts and then slid on behind her. Tessa raced off, fear causing her to push the poor horse harder than she normally would and ignoring the frightened grasp around her waist.

It took far longer than Tessa had wanted to reach the small home and she nearly unseated Tomas in her haste to dismount. She ran to the door and only barely just remembered to knock. Fortunately, the door opened almost as soon as she lifted her fist to the door.

"Seniorita Alvarado, you came."

"Senora Carmen, where is she?" Tessa looked past the small woman, desperately looking for signs of Marta.

"She is back in my bedroom," Carmen explained and led Tessa through the small house. "She will live, but she is in considerable pain right now."

"What happened?" Tessa asked, fear and worry nearly choking her.

"That is for her to tell you," Carmen replied simply.

Tessa reached the dimly lit bedroom and stumbled when she saw her Marta laying on the bed, her chest wrapped in bandages and whimpering in pain.

"Marta" she breathed and rushed toward the bed.

Carmen didn't know Tessa Alvarado well. Marta had always described her as kind hearted and generous and Carmen had known her friend respected her employer more than most, but from her experience, wealthy people were anything but kind, especially to their servants. Now, however, she watched the young woman kneel beside Marta's bed, tears on her face and she saw something else. Something that surprised her, yet warmed her heart. This was not a woman who employed Marta, this is a woman that truly cared for her and something told Carmen it was perhaps more than that.

"The bullet went through her shoulder," Carmen explained softly, "and I cleaned and stitched it as best as I could, but perhaps the doctor…"

"No," Marta groaned. "No doctor."

"Marta, please..." Tessa protested.

"I'm alright Tessa. It is just a shoulder wound. Do not bring the doctor. Please?"

Tessa sighed. "Alright Marta, for now."

"I will leave you alone," Carmen said, feeling as if her presence was barely noticed as it was.

"Marta how did this happen?" She ran her eyes over the older woman, finally noticing the familiar black trousers. Suddenly she remembered what Montoya had told her earlier and her heart stopped.

"Marta, what did you do?" She asked horrified.

"What I had to," Marta returned weakly.

"You dressed as the Queen of Swords and put yourself in danger. Why?"

"Senora Hidalgo told me that Montoya planned to set a trap to catch the bandits tonight as well as the Queen and I knew you would risk your safety to stop him but I was afraid," Marta shifted and then groaned as pain shot through her.

"Marta, please lay still," Tessa urged.

"Vera was wrong," she continued as if Tessa hadn't spoken. "It was all for you. Even the bandits that set out to rob the shipment were Montoya's men in disguise."

Tessa bit back her anger, not surprised by Montoya's deception. "It's alright," she whispered, willing the agitated woman to calm down before she hurt herself.

"I tried," Marta said, tears filling her eyes. "I tried to fight them, to protect you, but there were so many."

"Oh God Marta," Tessa lifted Marta's hand and placed a desperate kiss in her palm. "Marta, you didn't have to do this. I was trained with the sword and I've proven repeatedly that I can defeat Montoya's men. You should have let me…"

"Not this time," Marta argued weakly. "There were too many and they had new, faster guns from Spain. You would have died and I couldn't accept that. Even if I am just your servant."

Tessa choked back a sob at that and she lowered her head in shame. "Marta please, you know I don't feel that way about you."

"It doesn't matter. I failed."

"No!" Tessa interrupted anxiously. "You didn't fail Marta. Montoya was looking right at me when he was told that the Queen had been shot. He apologized for accusing me."

"Oh good," Marta smiled tiredly.

"Not good," Tessa argued. "What do you think he will do if he discovers you're injured? He'll know it was you and then he will arrest you."

"In his eyes I barely exist," Marta scoffed. "I could confess right at this moment and he wouldn't believe me."

"What if he does? Marta, how can I let you sacrifice yourself for me? For the things I've done? Don't you know how much you mean to me? When I heard you had been shot I…"

"It is my choice Tessa. I wanted to do this. I needed to do this to…" she froze and pressed her lips shut.

"Needed to what?" Tessa pushed. "Marta, you could have been killed? Why would you do this?"

"I wanted to show you," Marta went on as if Tessa hadn't spoken. She could feel the darkness threatening to take her again and she needed this said. "I wanted to show you that you are not the only one who will fight for the innocent and die for those she loves. I wanted to show you since I could not tell you, that I would do anything, sacrifice anything for you, even my life, because I…because I love you Tessa."

Tessa's heart lodged in her throat. Surely Marta couldn't mean what she thought. "I love you too, but…"

"No," Marta grimaced as she shifted once more. "I love you Tessa. As your father loved your mother. I know it's wrong and I know it must disgust you, but I do and…"

Tessa whimpered in a painful blend of happiness and pain as she dropped her lips to Marta's, cutting off the painful words. She kept the kiss light for fear of hurting her further, but she couldn't leave, letting Marta believing she was alone in her feelings.

"Oh Marta, I…," Tessa's heart stopped for a moment when she saw Marta's eyes were closed.

"Marta?" she whispered desperately, then to her relief she saw her bandaged chest rise and fall but she knew that Marta would not be speaking again for some time.

Tessa got to her feet and wiped the tears from her face. She took a deep breath and composed herself before returning to the small living room where Carmen and Tomas were sitting.

"I've prepared some tea if you'd like," Carmen offered.

"Thank you," Tessa smiled weakly, accepting a cup before sitting in the small battered chair across from the older woman.

"So you are the Queen of Swords are you not?" Carmen asked bluntly and Tessa choked on the tea she had just swallowed.

"Excuse me?"

Carmen just smiled. "When Marta appeared at my door dressed as the Queen and injured badly, I was not fooled for a moment. She is my very dear friend but I know her far too well to believe she is the woman who has given Colonel Montoya fits for so long. It was not difficult to realize she was covering for someone and that could only be you."

"Senora, I…"

"Do not be afraid Seniorita Alvarado. My son and I have great admiration for the Queen of Swords. She has saved many of our people and will forever have our loyalty. And, I know how much Marta cares for you. I would never do anything to betray her or one she cares about so much."

I love you Tessa.

Tessa's throat tightened as she once more heard Marta's soft but fervent declaration and she looked across at the woman and her son who watched her with nothing more than compassion and sighed.

"Yes, I am the Queen and Marta is hurt because of me." Tears fell once more as she realized just how much she had underestimated the proud gypsy.

"I do not know what happened tonight, but I do know that Marta's wounds are not your fault and to think otherwise diminishes what she risked for you." Carmen said gently.

Tessa sniffed. "It's just that she has sacrificed her whole life for me already. She spent it caring for me and she never got to live. And I let her."

Carmen laughed softly. "You don't know my people very well," she teased. "Gypsies are a very stubborn people. We never do what we don't want to do and Marta is more stubborn than most. If she has stayed with you, it is because it is what she wanted."

I love you Tessa.

Those four words kept repeating in her mind, each time sharper than the last.

"I still don't…" a thud and a cry came from the bedroom and Tessa was on her feet in a heartbeat.

"Marta!" she rushed to the woman who was slumped on the floor against the bed.

"I'm all right," Marta assured her, trying to get up.

Tessa gently wrapped her arm around the injured woman and helped her to feet and back into bed. It was only then that she got a full glimpse of Marta in the trousers that hugged her legs like second skin. She had no idea that Marta's legs were so very long. And then she finally noticed that most of Marta's stomach was exposed under the bandage wrapping her shoulder.

"Dios," she breathed as she allowed herself one long moment to marvel at the beautiful firm skin. It seemed almost sinful that Marta had been hiding such beauty under her plain and well buttoned dresses. She shook her head at the wildly inappropriate, not to mention startling thoughts and she promptly covered the distracting body with the blanket.

"What were you doing?" Tessa chided softly, sitting on the bed.

"I was feeling better and didn't want to displace Carmen any more than I already have."

"¡no seas ridículo!" Carmen replied, startling Tessa who'd forgotten the other woman was in the room. "You are fortunate that you did not pull open your wound."

"Please don't make such a fuss," Marta replied weakly.

"If you don't stay still, I will go get Dr. Helm," Tessa warned, desperately hoping Carmen had not noticed her fascination with Marta's figure.

"You are bossy," Marta muttered, but lay back against the pillows without further argument, drawing a smile from Tessa.

"Are you in much pain?" she asked worriedly as she reached out and stroked a lock of hair from Marta's beautiful eyes, entranced by how soft the dark curls were.

"No, mi amor." Marta replied groggily.

Tessa's heart fluttered at the endearment even as she doubted Marta was aware of what she was saying.

"I'm going to prepare an herbal tea for Marta that will ease her pain and help her sleep," Carmen interrupted. I will return soon."

Tessa nodded but kept her attention on the other woman.

"Better?" she asked.

"I'm fine Tessa. You should return home."

"Do you really think I would just leave you here?" Tessa asked, somewhat hurt that Marta could believe she meant so little to her.

"Tessa…"

"I'm not leaving you," Tessa interrupted firmly. "You are going to rest and then we are going to talk."

"I don't think that is a good idea," Marta looked away, knowing what Tessa wanted to speak about and already regretting her admission.

"This may surprise you, but I disagree," Tessa teased, relieved to see her beloved friend smile.

"That is no surprise," Marta retorted.

"Good then it's settled. Now Carmen is here with your tea."

"Tessa I'm fine," Marta argued.

"Please? For me?"

Marta saw the puppy eyes and sighed, never able to resist such a look. "Very well," she agreed reluctantly, wincing as she shifted to accept the cup. "You do not play fair," she added grumpily, sipping from the horrid brew .

"I know," Tessa replied proudly.

"You certainly have your hands full with this one Marta," Carmen chuckled,

"You don't tell me anything I don't already know," Marta sniffed.

Tessa laughed before a thought occurred to her. "Oh, I just realized you don't have anywhere to sleep tonight," she frowned.

"I can share with my son," Carmen shrugged.

"Senora Carmen, I can't let you do that," Tessa protested. "Do you have a wagon or horse?"

"Si. Of course."

"Then please, I would like for you both to stay at my hacienda tonight. It's not far from here. Just tell Maria I sent you and she will make sure you're taken care of."

"I do not accept charity," Carmen said stiffly.

"And I'm not offering it," Tessa responded quickly. "I would just feel better if you both had a comfortable place to stay tonight, besides Marta and I…." she froze as she realized what she had been about to say.

Carmen relaxed as she understood what the young woman hadn't said. She couldn't say she understood the feelings between her old friend and the young woman and that many, especially her own people, would condemn if not outright kill them for what they saw as an unnatural closeness, but what Carmen saw was a love as pure and as strong as what she and her husband Rogelio had shared. She also saw two very strong willed women who would battle even over this.

"Very well. Gracias, Seniorita Alvarado," she agreed.

"Please, call me Tessa."

"Tessa. Are you sure your people won't mind late night guests?"

"I'm certain, however Maria and Roberto are the only ones who know I am with Marta so please speak only to them. I trust my people completely but Colonel Montoya will look for any reason to come snooping around the house."

"I understand and we will be careful."

Tessa looked and was relieved to see Marta was now once more sound asleep.

"It's quite late, I can escort you," Tessa suggested, though the thought of leaving Marta alone for even the brief time it would take to lead Carmen and her son to the hacienda.

"No Tessa. My son is big and strong and very good with a rifle. We will be alright," Carmen assured her. "You should remain with Marta."

"If you're sure."

Carmen paused and then decided Tessa needed a reassurance that only she could give. "Seniorita Tessa, it's very clear that you and Marta have a great deal to talk about and it is a conversation best done in private. All I ask is that you not hurt my friend. Marta is a strong woman with a beautiful heart and she has been a good friend to me. It is long past time she found someone who will love her the way she deserves to be loved and I would not like it if she were hurt in any way."

Tessa heard the warning but it was lost in the realization that Carmen knew. She knew there was more between Tessa and Marta than the world would accept and she didn't judge them. It gave her a hope she hadn't felt in some time and now she just had to make Marta see that her feelings were returned.

"I understand and am grateful for your protectiveness."

Carmen nodded and then left the two women alone, joy for the happiness that was in her friend's grasp warring with sorrow at knowing the struggle that lay ahead for both.

Part 4

Sighing, Tessa got to her feet and went to the small kitchen and prepared another cup of tea. As she waited, her thoughts swam through her mind. Marta, her loyal friend for so many years was in love with her. All the tender touches she'd offered while tending Tessa's injuries took on a whole new meaning and Tessa's own reactions; the shivers, the burning of her skin, the speed of her heart and the shortness of breath, she now understood that those things were her bodies way of recognizing what her mind did not.

Tessa had known she had feelings for Marta that were beyond friendship, but she hadn't been experienced enough to realize what they were, not until she had learned what Marta had done and how close she had come to dying, just to prove herself to Tessa. Tears stung Tessa's eyes as she briefly imagined her world without Marta in it. It was an image that nearly brought her to her knees and she shook her head to clear it and then suddenly she remembered the feel of her lips on Marta's and a much different image crossed her mind. An image of Marta's long, slender legs enhanced by tight black trousers and a firm expanse of firm copper skin that seemed to beg for Tessa's fingers. A sensation washed over her that was similar to what she'd felt when Marta touched her but so much stronger and despite her inexperience with such things, she knew it could be nothing but desire.

Suddenly the sound of hot water boiling over jolted her from her very heated thoughts and she quickly prepared her tea and returned to Marta's side, pulling the small chair close to the bed, prepared to wait for as long as it took.

Marta's eyes fluttered and then opened. Fear flashed through her when she didn't recognize where she was and she sat up, groaning as a sharp pain went through her. Suddenly everything came back to her and she wanted to weep in mortification. Had she really told Tessa, the woman she had been caring for most of her life, that she was in love with her?

She turned and was shocked to see Dona Tessa Alvarado, the most elegant, beautiful and proud woman in all of Santa Helena, curled up in a chair that was clearly too small for her and fast asleep. Her breath caught at the innocent beauty that was such a contradiction to the fierce fighter that lay beneath that soft, flawless skin. Tessa fought so many battles and worked so hard to maintain her two separate identities that Marta worried endlessly about her, but seeing her now, looking so peaceful stirred up her protective instincts but even more it made her heart melt and had her wanting nothing more than to pull Tessa from the uncomfortable chair and into her bed where she could hold her and kiss those beautiful defiant lips.

"Marta are you hurt?"

Marta jumped at the sleepy voice, feeling her cheeks warm at realizing Tessa had woken while she'd been fantasizing.

"I'm fine," she replied quickly.

"I heard you moan," Tessa shifted, moaning herself at the twinge in her back.

"I just sat up too quickly," Marta looked away, shame and embarrassment keeping her from meeting those probing eyes. "I truly do feel much better, much less pain. Carmen's herbal teas are legendary amongst our people for their healing power."

"I wouldn't dare to say you are minimizing your pain, as you always do," Tessa said with a half grin, "however I believe I should check your injury myself just to be sure."

The thought of Tessa's warm strong fingers on her skin kept her from protesting and she shifted on the bed, only wincing lightly at the pain.

Tessa got to her feet and immediately grabbed at her back, groaning at the stabbing pain.

"Are you alright?" Marta asked, brows furrowed in concern.

Tessa smiled warmly as she retrieved the water pitcher from the dresser and a wash rag. She sat on the bed and then realized that she was about see more of Marta than she'd ever imagined and her mouth went dry.

"Let's take care of you for now," she managed.

Taking a deep breath, she gingerly lowered the blanket that had been preserving Marta's modesty. She frowned as she saw the bandages, relieved that there was only a small sign of blood but once more horrified by how close she'd come to losing her beloved Marta.

"I still can't believe what you did," she said as she worked, no chastisement in her voice, only awe.

"It was foolish," Marta replied, afraid of repeating her earlier reasons and causing Tessa to leave in disgust.

"No Marta," Tessa said instantly, her hand reaching out to lift the stubborn chin, still surprised by the rare shyness in the outspoken woman's face.

"It was so brave," she admitted. "I always knew you were strong of spirit and heart and had the courage of a lion, but I still misjudged you. But Marta, to risk your life for me…."

"I failed you," Marta replied dejectedly.

"Oh no Marta," Tessa protested quickly. "You didn't fail. You made sure that Montoya will never suspect me again. You saved my life."

"You have done much more for me."

"It isn't a contest Marta. I…" Tessa paused as she finished removing the bandage and then her brain went blank as Marta's upper body was fully exposed to her. Never had she seen anything so beautiful in her life.

"Tessa?" Marta saw where Tessa's eyes had fallen and the look on her face had her closer to fainting than she had ever been.

"You are so beautiful Marta," Tessa said breathlessly, looking up and meeting eyes that shown nearly black in the early morning light shining through the thin curtains.

Marta felt her cheeks heart and she fought the urge not to look away. "Tessa," she repeated, not sure of what she wanted to say.

"You said you loved me," Tessa reminded her.

Marta swallowed. "I was in pain. You should forget what I said."

Tessa's heart fell and she was silent for a moment as she gently bathed the wound and then bandaged it, trying not to let her fingers linger too long on the tempting skin. Finally, she was finished and reluctantly pulled the blanket back over Marta.

"Is that what you want?" she finally asked. "Do you really want me to forget what you said?"

Marta closed her eyes, trying to fight the tears that threatened. "I think it would be best."

"Well I don't," Tessa said firmly. "Marta, I know how closely you guard your heart and yet you offer it to me? How can I possibly pretend I didn't hear it?"

"I don't want your pity Tessa," Marta muttered. "I will leave Santa Helena before I…"

"I sort of wish you'd let me finish," Tessa interrupted with a twitch of her lips that grew into a full smile at Marta's resulting pout.

"Thank you," she continued. "Marta, there's something you don't understand. You see, after you told me you loved me, you rudely fell asleep and never gave me a chance to respond."

"I didn't…"

"Ah!" Tessa interrupted. "Marta, if you had stayed awake, you would have heard me tell you that I was surprised," she quickly placed her fingers over Marta's parted lips, knowing she was about to speak again. She tried very hard not to notice just how soft her lips were.

"I was surprised because you never gave any signs that you felt that way and I was surprised because I never thought my own feelings would ever be returned." She waited for Marta's reaction and wasn't disappointed at the shock that crossed her face.

Marta's heart was fluttering so wildly in her chest she feared it would give out. She slowly covered Tessa's hand over her mouth and removed the distracting fingers.

"Your feelings?" she whispered.

Tessa's heart broke a little at the almost childlike confusion and hope on her face. "Marta. I've had these feelings for you for so long. I never really understood completely what they were but I knew they were more than friendship. I knew that every time you touched me, even if it was just tending an injury or helping me dress, I felt this heat inside of me that nearly overwhelmed me and I would wonder what it would be like to have you touch me because you wanted to, not because you had to. I knew that every time you looked at me with those big eyes and worried for me all I wanted was to hold you until you felt better and every time you smiled that beautiful smile, I wanted to…" she paused, embarrassment threatening to still her tongue, but she needed to do this and Marta needed to hear it. "Every time you smiled, I wanted to find out what your lips tasted like."

"Dios," Marta breathed, her breath catching in her chest as she saw a look in Tessa's eyes that she'd never seen before. "You never said,"

It was Tessa's turn to look away in embarrassment. "Of course not. I never thought you would see me as anything other than a child, no matter how I tried to show you that I wasn't."

"Tessa, I haven't seen you as a child in some time," Marta replied with a smirk, even as her heart pounded in her ears.

Tessa considered several things she could say to that as she lost herself in the most expressive eyes she'd ever seen, and discarded them all. She was a woman of action after all.

"I'm very glad to hear that," she whispered before lifting her hands to Marta's face and leaning in and kissing her the way she'd wanted to for so long.

Marta jumped at the first touch of Tessa's lips against hers and then instantly melted into surrender. Tessa's lips were uncertain and inexperienced but so incredibly soft and enthusiastic. Marta had never even considered the option of loving another woman before, but she had known passion in her younger days and that in no way compared to what Tessa's innocent kiss was doing to her. Though it was difficult, she kept her hands at her side and let Tessa set the pace while she savored each thrilling sensation until a warm soft tongue flicked out against her lips and then she couldn't hold back a little whimper.

Tessa pulled back instantly.

"Marta? Did I hurt you?"

Marta reached out and caressed Tessa's sweet face. "No mi amore."

Tessa's eyes slid shut and she rubbed her cheek into Marta's hand. "I love you Marta. I want…I need you. You are everything to me and there is nothing in the world I want more than to be with you and for you to be with me for the rest of our lives."

Marta's eyes teared up at the heartfelt words. "Oh Tessa. That is such a beautiful image, but what we feel…we will never be allowed to…"

"Marta, you know me better than anyone. Have I ever let what I'm allowed or not allowed to do stop me from doing exactly what I want?"

Marta couldn't help but laugh. "Despite my best efforts to the contrary, no you have not."

"And you are not exactly one to follow the rules either," Tessa retorted, slightly offended.

"Then we are perfect together, yes?" Marta smiled happily, a true contentment filling her for the first time.

"Absolutely," Tessa agreed, reaching out to brush a curl from Marta's eyes. "However I need you to promise me something."

And just like that Marta's happiness faded to be replaced by a hint of anger, suspecting Tessa was about to relegate her back to the role of helpless female. "And that would be?"

Tessa saw the look on Marta's face and quickly reached out to take Marta's hand in reassurance. "I'm not going to ask you to stay behind," she assured her. "I just want you to promise me that if you want to fight with me, you will let me train you with the sword."

"Really?" Marta didn't even try to hide her surprise.

"Yes really," Tessa smiled. "Marta, I have never, never seen you as a servant or a helpless woman. I just never knew you would want to do…what I do."

Marta shrugged shyly. "I never knew I wanted to, but I must admit, I found it rather exciting. Well, until this," she gestured at her shoulder.

Tessa reached out and ran her finger around the bandage, noting the softness of Marta's skin but dwelling on how close Marta had come to death.

"If Montoya's men had been even slightly better with their guns, you would be dead," she said numbly, a lump sticking in her throat. "Dios Marta, I could have lost you," she choked out and instantly Marta's hand was back on her face.

"It is alright Tessa. I'm fine."

Tessa shook her head to clear it. Marta was alive. She'd survived an encounter with a dozen men and was even stronger for it.

"You are this time and I know it's because you are a very smart and capable woman, but you need to know how to fight as well and I want to train you."

Marta knew when to pick her battles and she knew Tessa was right. "Very well, mi corazón," she agreed. "Now, however, if it isn't too much trouble, I would prefer it you would kiss me again."

Tessa's face lit up like a child's at Christmas. "Of course, senorita," she snapped off a salute, laughing at the glare she received.

"Te amo Marta," she said seriously as she cupped Marta's face.

"Te amo my Tessa," Marta replied and then pushed forward to capture Tessa's lips, ignoring the tinge of pain in her shoulder as she fully expressed all that had been in her heart for so long.

The END