Rebecca stood in the ice cold water of the stream, scrubbing her skin raw. The blood had been long washed away but Rebecca could feel it still.
The cries of the man haunted her still as he pled for his life, but John Slotter would not hear any of it. He had held a gun to her throat and forced her to cut the man open, while he lived. Part of her hadn't cared. This man had assaulted Finn. Tried to force him…her, to have sexual relations. She had held a gun on him, and she would have shot him gladly, but Captain Slotter had stepped in.
Rebecca was relieved that Thomas was no longer alive to see what she'd become. To remove a man's heart while it still beat went against the oath to do no harm that Thomas had given her on his deathbed. The pleading in the man's eyes had nearly weakened her, but the gun against her throat forced her to continue.
"You murdered that man."
Morgan's cold accusing voice broke the silence and caused Rebecca to scream in fright.
"Morgan," she choked.
"You cut him open and took his heart while he was beggin'."
Rebecca had become used to the disappointed expression on Morgan's face, but remembering how badly 'he' had deceived her just made her angry.
"Captain Slotter forced me," she said defensively. "He would have shot me if I hadn't."
Morgan snorted. "He wouldn't have. He's been sniffin after you like a dog in heat and don't' think I didn't notice you lettin' him. He never would have shot you and you knew it. You wanted to cut him open."
Drawing on the strength Kat had convinced her she possessed, she gave up trying to protect her modesty and glared at the person who'd deceived her worse than anyone.
"I had a gun pointed at me," she repeated angrily. "And in case you've forgotten this was a man who tried to…to assault you."
"Yeah well that was my fight," Morgan said coldly.
"Yet you have no problem trying to dictate to me about what I do and how I behave."
"I was trying to protect you," Morgan argued. "Tryin' to save your soul."
"Maybe you should worry about your own soul," Rebecca pointed out. "You are the one pretending to be something you aren't. You let me believe you were a man. You kissed me as a man, not thinking I had a right to know the truth, yet you judge me?"
"That's different. Yes, maybe I should have told you, but at least I don't play God and I don't kill helpless people. You do it without so much as blinking. Hell Rebecca, don't you feel anything?
"Of course I do," Rebecca protested, her chest aching with the cruel words.
"No. I don't think you do," Morgan replied, hurt at Rebecca's dismissal after learning the truth and disgust at what she'd done, fueling her anger. "You aren't' capable of it. You're just as heartless as that bastard Slotter."
The words stung more than Rebecca would have imagined but before she could respond, a recognizable click sounded in the woods behind her. Startled, she turned to find Kat Loving standing there with her gun pointed at Morgan.
"Kat?" she whispered, thinking this would be a good time to attempt to grab her clothes, but she couldn't seem to move.
"You will take that back," Kat ordered Morgan coldly. She had ridden to Jamestown for supplies and to keep her promise to Rebecca and had been surprised to learn that Thomas Blithely had died nearly three weeks earlier. She had instantly tried to find Rebecca only to find out that she'd been spending time with Slotter. That made her skin crawl but not out of any anger toward Rebecca. She knew Slotter wanted something from Rebecca and Rebecca was far too trusting for her own good. It didn't take long for one of the whores to tell her what Rebecca had done to the bounty hunter and it enraged her to the point where had John Slotter crossed her path he would have had a bullet between the eyes without even a word spoken.
Fiona Briggs had been the one to tell Kat that she'd seen Rebecca go into the woods and with barely a nod of acknowledgement, Kat set off, instinctively knowing where she had gone. She had reached the clearing and froze when she saw Rebeca standing in the stream bare as the day she was born. She had seen Rebecca naked the day they had…Kat shook her head to clear it of that distracting thought, but seeing her now, the sun shining off of her perfect skin, Kat had thought she'd never seen perfection until that moment.
She stepped forward quietly, not wanting to frighten her but then she heard the voice coming from the woods and stopped, wondering what kind of man would intrude on a naked woman and not have the decency to apologize and leave.
Kat had been shocked to the core to learn Morgan Finn was a woman, though she could understand why she was hiding it, but to court a woman, to seduce her without telling her such an important truth was despicable. Did Finn not expect to be discovered the moment her clothes came off?
Suddenly the thought of Rebecca sharing with Finn what she'd shared with Kat, made her see red but it was the hateful accusations about Rebecca's feelings that had her drawing her gun.
"You will take that back," she ordered, stepping behind the scrawny, would be man.
"This ain't no concern of yours," Morgan snapped, her eyes firmly on Rebecca.
"Rebecca Blithely is my business, and you will not insult her further."
"I speak only the truth. All I tried to do was love her and protect her, but she has no heart. She just takes them from…"
"Shut your mouth," Kat snarled, she'd seen the pain cross Rebecca's face and her fury doubled. "You don't know anything about her. If you don't have her heart, it's because you didn't earn it. If you haven't seen her feelings, it's because you don't deserve to."
"You don't know what she did," Morgan protested.
"I heard some pig tried to assault a woman and she stopped it," Kat said, finally figuring it out that this was the woman, "so whatever happened to him doesn't break my heart any, but I also heard Slotter didn't give her a choice either."
"That don't make what she did right. She offends God each time she…"
"Get the hell out of here right now," Kat ordered, sick of all the holier than thou hypocrites in these parts. "Get out before I offend God by putting a bullet between your eyes. You don't deserve her."
Morgan saw the fire in the woman's eyes and swallowed. "All I wanted was to love you," she told Rebecca sadly.
Rebecca, who was shivering wildly as the breeze hit her damp skin, shook her head. "No. All you wanted was to control me," she said. "I do wish you well Morgan and hope you find someone who will love you as you are."
Morgan nodded and then all but ran out of the woods.
The sound of movement in the water caught Kat's attention and she looked away from the retreating figure. She cursed herself and quickly shrugged out of her coat and rushed to Rebecca's side.
Rebecca was hurriedly slipping into her shift, hoping Kat had followed Morgan out of the woods. It was all too much. Morgan's cruelty, Kat's kindness, her inability to say anything in her own defense. She was trembling with her struggle not to weep and when she felt the sudden and unexpected weight of a coat on her shoulders, she almost screamed in fright. She spun around, only to be wrapped in Kat's protective arms.
"It's alright Rebecca," Kat whispered in her ear. "Finn was wrong."
"I do have feelings," Rebecca whimpered, "I do," and then the tears she'd held back from the moment her parents had left her at Bedlam, would no longer be contained and she began to cry. She cried tears for every pain, every indignity, every insult she'd endured. She cried for every second of loneliness she'd suffered her entire life.
Kat's heart hurt as the woman in her arms fell apart. She had known, even if nobody else did, that this woman felt deeply. She had seen her protectiveness when she had threatened Isabelle Slotter to save her. She had seen the despair when she had told Rebecca she was leaving to spare her girls more pain and she had seen her passion when she had sold herself to free Kat and her girls. As she stroked Rebecca's back and whispered soothing words into the distraught woman's ears, Kat found herself stunned to realize the only times Rebecca had expressed any true emotion involved Kat in some way and now this woman who had so many walls up it was surprising she was a gentle as she was, had lowered them all enough to release her tightly guarded tears in Kat's arms and a feeling Kat hadn't wanted to feel again pierced her heart.
"Oh Rebecca," she whispered. She pulled back and lifted Rebecca's face, looking into the wet, innocent eyes. She wiped the tears away and gently stroked the soft brown hair.
"I know you feel Rebecca and anyone who thinks you don't can go straight to hell," she said firmly. Her thumb stroked across lips she knew better than she'd ever expected to and all she knew was want. She wanted Rebecca Blithely in her life and by her side. She needed her strength, her intelligence and her honesty. She needed her faith and she needed her heart.
"Mrs. Loving…Kat, you came back?"
"Of course I did," Kat smiled softly. "I told you I would."
"People tell me a lot of things."
Kat sighed. "I know, but I hope you've figured out that I'm not like most folks."
"No you aren't," Rebecca mused, though the feel of Kat's hands in her hair, the closeness of her body were clouding her mind. "You fascinate me," she blurted.
Kat fought a grin, not wanting the vulnerable woman to think she was laughing at her. "Is that right?"
"Yes. You are so fierce with most people but you are so gentle with your girls and with me. You are the only person I've ever known who makes me feel like I matter."
The casual way she said it, brought tears to Kat's eyes and she pulled the doctor close, relieved when tentative arms finally slid around her waist.
"You do matter Rebecca. You matter to me. More than you will ever know."
And like that, the peculiar yearning filled Rebecca but this was so much stronger. It urged her to turn her head and place her lips against Kat's neck and she did. The skin was soft and smooth and then she had to taste. Remembering Kat's own actions, she gingerly flicked her tongue out. She had no idea skin had a taste, but Kat's did. It was undefinable, but she craved another taste. This time she licked a slow trail up the length of Kat's throat and feeling the moan beneath her tongue stirred a fire inside.
"I don't understand this feeling that tasting you, touching you causes inside of me," she whispered in Kat's ear, "but I need more of it."
This time it was Kat's turn to whimper at the innocently spoken words. God help her if Rebecca Blithely ever deliberately set out to seduce her. She turned her head and captured Rebecca's lips before they had her legs giving out beneath her.
She kissed Rebecca with every ounce of want and desire she felt, that Rebecca deserved to experience. It was slow and it grew deeper with every little moan Rebecca uttered. Her tongue slid effortlessly against Rebecca's, mimicking the way she had once moved against her body. And as had apparently become habit, Rebecca's strong doctor's fingers delved into her hair and clenched tightly in a way that was far more pleasure than pain and she was lost. She gently lowered Rebecca to the soft leaf covered ground and proceeded to show Rebecca just how very much she mattered to Kat.
Kat moaned and her eyes opened as she came fully awake. She was briefly confused as saw trees overhead and that the sun was going down. Then she felt it. Sweet, hot pressure across her belly. She looked down and gasped to see Rebecca's light brown hair draped across her chest as she pressed hot kisses across her skin.
Kat's head fell back as she lost herself in sensations she'd never felt. Jeremiah had been a wonderful lover, but Rebecca's inexperienced but enthusiastic explorations set her on fire. There was no stubble to scratch her skin, just soft lips and the smoothness of her cheek as she paused to rub it against Kat's stomach as if she were a kitten. It was clear to her that Rebecca was unaware Kat was awake and was most likely contemplating and analyzing her every action and each of Kat's reactions and it was as arousing as it was amusing.
When kisses became little licks, Kat's back arched off the ground and she grabbed at Rebecca's hair, not sure if she wanted to make her stop or keep her in place.
"Oh you're awake."
Kat's eyes opened and she met the curious brown ones and she couldn't help but laugh, even as she reached out to brush soft curls out of the beautiful face.
"I am now." Her smile faded as Rebecca looked away with a worried expression.
"Hey, what's wrong?"
"I'm sorry," Rebecca muttered and to Kat's horror, she sounded if she might cry again.
Kat placed a finger under Rebecca's chin and pulled her sad eyes up to hers. "For what?"
"I molested you while you were sleeping. I…I assaulted you."
If Rebecca hadn't looked so sad and remorseful, Kat would have laughed out loud at that. Instead she cupped her cheek, letting her thumb stroke her face gently.
"No Rebecca, you didn't."
"But, I…I kissed you without your consent."
"Rebecca, after what we just shared, nothing you do, whether I'm awake or not, will offend me. In fact, If I woke up that way every morning, I would probably wouldn't be as irritable."
"You aren't irritable," Rebecca insisted, unwilling to let anyone insult Kat. Even Kat herself.
"I know three kids who'd argue," Kat replied with a smile, but then she grew serious as she sat up, not even bothering to cover herself.
"Rebecca, I came back for you. I wanted to check on you and I heard your husband died."
"I tried to save him," Rebecca replied quietly. "I took his leg but it was too late and I failed."
"No Rebecca you didn't fail. He did," Kat assured her. "He was a doctor and knew what needed to be done but he wouldn't let you. You did everything you could."
"If only he trusted me the way you do," Rebecca couldn't help but look at the woman who'd changed her life, with a sense of awe.
"Oh sweetheart, you have to stop looking at me like that," Kat said shakily, "or we'll never leave this clearing."
Rebecca frowned, about to ask what she meant, but the look in her eyes answered the unspoken question and she blushed. "Sorry."
Kat shook her head but continued. "You remember what I said when I left right?"
"You said many things. You sometimes talk a lot."
Kat opened her mouth to protest but then she saw it. A gleam in Rebecca's eyes she'd never seen before and a lifting of her lips and her heart flipped. "Why Rebecca Blithely. Did you just make a joke?"
Rebecca shrugged shyly.
Kat promised herself to pursue that later but she wouldn't be distracted. "I said that once your husband had passed, I would come back for you. That I want you to come live with me. With us, far away from all the miners, the Slotter's, those who make you feel less than you are. Will you?"
"Of course I did," Kat said, almost hurt that she would doubt her word, but saddened that her life had made her so distrustful. "Will you come?"
Rebecca had thought of little else since Kat had left, wondering how it would be to be free from a husband who had never wanted her, free from fear of being sent back to the mental hospital and free from the insults and judgments or people who wanted to control her. As she had no basis for comparison she simply couldn't imagine it and she stopped trying.
"But what about my studies?" That was the one thing that kept Rebecca from immediately agreeing.
Kat was suddenly afraid Rebecca was going to say no and it physically hurt. "I'd never keep you from that. Ever," she said a little offended. "I know I don't have much to offer you in the way of teachin' or healin', but it's a home where you would feel safe and we would make sure you have all your books and I could find a way to get more."
"You won't protect me?"
"Everyone claims to want to protect me, but you don't."
Kat frowned. She knew she needed to answer that carefully. "Rebecca, I won't let anyone hurt you," she said slowly, "but I've seen you shoot and I've seen your temper. I know you can protect yourself. And me if it comes to it," she smiled.
The smile that crossed Rebecca's face told Kat that her answer meant more to Rebecca than anything else that had been said. If it had been anyone else but Rebecca Blithely she might have been confused by that.
"And will we continue to…" she paused searching for any word but the one that came to mind, not wanting to offend the woman she was with.
"Fornicate?" Kat answered with a grin, using Rebecca's own words to save her the obvious trouble she was having finding another.
"Well yes, but I was attempting to be less formal. It makes people uncomfortable."
"Never change anything about yourself to please other people Rebecca," Kat said seriously. "The way you talk is just fine with me."
And Rebecca felt an odd melting inside that always seemed to happen when Kat Loving spoke so. "You didn't answer my question."
This time it was Kat who was out of her element. "I…this is very strange for me," she began. I've never been attracted to a woman before and I don't expect I ever will again, but I have feelings for you Rebecca. Strong ones that I can't fight and don't really want to. And when we're together? Like this? She gestured between them, I can't…there's nothing that feels the way you do, so yes, if you are willing I'd like us to do this again and again."
"But this is frowned upon, everywhere. Even I, who'd already lain with a woman, when I found out the man who had kissed me was a woman I reacted badly."
"Of course you did, because Finn lied to you. Anyone would have been mad."
"When I was locked away in Bedlam, I heard rumors about other patients," Rebecca continued. "Women who were there because of unnatural relations with other women."
Just the thought of Rebecca locked in a mental hospital was enough to infuriate Kat, but knowing people were put there for who they loved was impossible to accept.
"Does that mean you don't want to be with me this way?" Kat asked, feeling a wave of disappointment.
"If I say no, will you take back your offer?"
"Of course not," Kat protested. "Whatever is between us doesn't change the fact that I like you and that I respect you. It doesn't change the fact that you deserve better than what you've had here."
Rebecca nodded. That was what she had hoped to hear, but one thing more concerned her. "And if we continue to have these encounters, what will your children say?"
Kat frowned. "Oh hell. I hadn't thought about that."
"Then that is our answer and in that case I'm afraid I won't be able to go with you," Rebecca sighed sadly.
"Wait, what? Why?" Kat protested.
"Because…I know its improper to admit, but I like these encounters. I like your kisses and your touches and I like waking up with you," Rebecca answered if it was the most obvious answer in the world.
Kat scratched her chin and studied Rebecca for a moment. This one woman confused her quicker than anything or anyone she'd ever met and she smiled as she admitted she wouldn't have it any other way.
"Okay, well I like those things too so…?"
"So, to live in the same tent or under the same roof with you and not be able to experience your touch, it would be far too difficult and I would do nothing to jeopardize your relationship with your children."
"They like you a lot," Kat assured her, "but not knowing how they'd react to this…we would have to be careful at first and try and hint around to see what they thought about it, but if they really don't like the idea of us…" Kat paused, as she remembered their reaction to finding out she was part Indian. How would they react to discovering she wanted to lay with a woman the way she did her husband? She wouldn't be able to bear it if they shunned her but she wasn't sure she could give Rebecca up even if they demanded it.
"I don't know what we'll do Rebecca," she blurted. "It hurts me to think that they would turn away from me because of who Io…because of my feelings for you," she corrected quickly, nowhere near ready to say that particular word. "All I know is that after losing my child and my husband, I deserve a little bit of happiness and you, my strange little doctor," she playfully poked at Rebecca's nose, grinning at the reflexive twitch, "you make me happy. And you sure as hell deserve to be happy for once too. Whatever they think, no matter what anyone thinks, we can...we will find a way to be together. If that's what you really want."
Rebecca studied Kat as intently as she had studied any textbook, so many feelings swimming inside of her that she couldn't name them all. "I've never known what it is to ask for what I want," she admitted hesitantly, "but I do know what it is to want. I want you Kat. I want to be with you, whatever that means and I want to share a bed with you again. I've found it to be an incredibly pleasant experience."
"God damn but you fascinate me," Kat chuckled, shaking her head. Unable to help herself, she reached out and pulled Rebecca into a kiss meant to express all she wasn't able to say with words.
"I think we should get dressed before we both develop pneumonia," Rebecca panted when they broke apart.
"I don't think that's possible. I'm too hot," she protested.
"Perhaps you're already developing a fever?" Rebecca said with concern.
Kat opened her mouth to tell her she was only joking, when she saw the tiny playful gleam appear once more and Kat hoped she would soon become used to seeing it. She smiled and placed her hand on Rebecca's face.
"At least I have you to take care of me if I do," she said teasingly.
"Always," Rebecca said sincerely.
Ignoring her desire to kiss Rebecca again just for that, she got to her feet and helped Rebecca to hers. "So? Will you come with me?" she asked as they dressed.
"Yes. Yes, I'll come with you," Rebecca agreed with a confident smile that warmed Kat's heart.
"Then let's get your things," Kat said grinning. "We've got one room built of the house already and the kids are sleeping in there which means we get to share the tent."
"That means we will be able to …"
Kat quickly covered Rebecca's lips with her fingers. If Rebecca finished that sentence, Kat wouldn't be accountable for her actions.
"Let's get the hell out of here and we can finish that thought later. At home."
"Home," Rebecca repeated with longing as she took Kat's hand and followed her through the woods and to her new future, for the first time not frightened by the unknown life that lay in front of her. As long as she had Kat Loving beside of her, she would never be frightened again.