Disclaimer: these characters do not belong to me; I’ve just borrowed them to play for a while. No copyright infringement is intended, and any similarity to anyone else’s work is unintentional. And they are so fun to play with!
This has not been proof-read apart from spellchecker and all errors are mine.
As Always: Thanks to Mary Jane, Grobo, and Mel for their encouragement and interest.
OH! And of course to all those out there willing to share JML for a short time, THANK YOU!
Many thanks to Karen F. for her skill in beta and encouragement
We all live with the scars we choose,
They might hurt like hell but they all make us stronger,
If you want it you come and get it
but understand You take me as I am.....lyrics by Sugarland form: Take Me As I Am
A tension filled the air as Madrid rode into the small border town, a feeling he was not to unfamiliar with. This time the sight before him told him he was not the cause.
He had arrived in time to see the aftermath of the deadly confrontation. She stood stone cold above her latest victory. Her hair danced about in the light breeze as the sunlight glinted off the long dark locks. She stood tall and lean staring at the dead man, motionless and silent, as if awaiting for some new threat. Lizzie was a far cry from the girl he had met several years back. She had been the prettiest thing he had ever seen when they first met, but now, the naive girl in need of protection was gone and had been for sometime. At seventeen, she was breathtaking... and dangerous.
“Damn it Lizzie, what do ya think you’re doing?” he thought. It wasn’t a question on her right to kill, he was a gunfighter as well, he understood killing was just part of the game. He had just hoped for a more pleasant visit when he had left word for her to meet him.
Johnny knew she would be unapproachable for a short time. Only the large timber wolf moving toward her would be welcome. Strange how Lobo could calm her at a time like this. He was the only one. Saddened, Madrid turned toward the saloon. It wouldn’t be long before she sought it out in search of tequila to wash down the taste of death.
The few times their paths had crossed since learning of her survival, he had witnessed her discomfort at anyone crossing into her rather large "personal space". Entering that guarded area would throw her not into defensive mode, but an immediate offensive one. Anyone but him, but even then there was a limit set. Madrid was smart enough to not cross that limit, especially since it was shrinking, noticeably with each encounter. He had heard once that time healed all wounds. He wondered how much time it would take.
Her reputation had grown to legendary proportions in such a short time. Johnny was sure that the past contributed to the number of dead she left in her wake. She wasn’t known well for hiring her gun out though occasionally she did. The blood trail following her was filled with those that some how crossed her, seeking her reputation usually, or transgressed against what she considered weak: children and animals. Any action against the latter two enraged her instantly and she lashed out without forethought wreaking havoc to any standing in her way. A characteristic he was all too familiar with, and admired. No, he thought, all of those she killed had not been looking to try or cross her, they had just gotten to close That wasn’t to say that at some point they had probably deserved a bullet for some past discretion. Just that some might have walked away if given a chance. Liz Michael gave them none. She never started it, but she would make it impossible for them to walk away without losing face. As soon as they made a move she turned all her wrath and pain on them, transforming it into a lightning fast draw. A draw he never wanted to face. He knew he couldn’t pull the trigger. Secretly he hoped she couldn’t either.
Upon entering the saloon he saw a few men he recognized, but no one he considered a threat. Moving up to the bar he drew the attention of the man behind it. "Take a beer for now."
One of the women working came up to him. He winced inwardly. She was familiar. It dawned on him that he had rather intimate knowledge of her but couldn’t recall her name.
"Hello Johnny Madrid." She moved seductively toward him. "Been a while since you graced me with your presence."
Nodding his head in greeting, he waved her off. He was in no mood for her company. She however did not take the hint. Lizzie would be in a foul mood and she could be possessive when she was moody. Possessive? He sighed. If only she would take possession. He ordered another drink and waited.
He felt Lizzie's presence, just as the woman nuzzled up to him. "I truly hope I am not interrupting anything important, Madrid." The words rolled off her tongue like poison. She glared at the woman who moved away from Madrid immediately, openly afraid.
Johnny put on his most enticing smile as he turned to face her, "Now Lizzie, I’m only here to see one person, and only one." He met her gaze dead on. "That would be you, by the way." He could tell from the look on her face, she wasn’t convinced.
Liz Michael moved up to the bar beside him. Tension clung to her as her eyes danced about ,alert to every move in the room.
"So how have you been?" He observed her closely. To anyone else she would be a vision of radiant beauty, but he could see past it. She was tired, and he could tell something was bothering her and had been for some time. She needed a reprieve from whatever it was.
"I’m good. You know; same thing, different day." She eased up a bit. "I could use a drink though." She tossed several coins on the bar.
The barkeep hurriedly poured a shot of tequila and placed it in front of her. She drank it in one shot and reached for the bottle in his hand before he could put it down. She glanced about the room, finding what she was looking for she moved toward it. Those in her path fearing her testy mood parted, giving her a wide birth as she made her way through. Johnny and the wolf were following closely. His ability to be in such close proximity had sparked more than a few rumors in the past, but unfortunately, that was all they were.
"Well, I am here Maddie, what is it that was so pertinent that we meet? Get it said and you can go on with the "lady" at the bar." She wasn’t giving an inch.
"If you must know she and I have met before, but I told you …Oh never mind." She was exasperating. He took a small package from his pocket and tossed it to her.
"What is it?" she asked curiously, staring at it.
"Open it and find out." Happily, he noticed she was slowly drawing herself out of that dark place she retreated to inside.
She looked at him hesitantly, almost suspiciously, and then she opened it. A small silver chain fell out. She stared at it for a moment. Johnny picked it up and without thinking reached for her hand to place the bracelet on her wrist. She tensed at the touch, he continued, pretending not to notice.
"It’s not much and I don’t know the exact date but…I know your birthday is close." He smiled. He could feel the tension draining some and to his surprise she had not moved her hand.
"I had almost forgotten with the goings on here lately." She laughed nervously as she reached to pat the huge furry head that suddenly loomed on the table.
Better to change the subject, he thought. He looked at the wolf that had moved between them. "You still lookin’ out for her old boy?" he said, An image of the small feeble cub being nursed back from the brink by Lizzie flashed through his mind. Hard to believe that the half dead runt of a pup had transformed into the huge monstrous demon that protected her. "Lobo’s gotten even bigger I see."
"Well he ought to be. He eats enough for two," she laughed, allowing the tension to slide away. "Staying in town for the night?"
"Oh, I was thinking about it, are you?"
"Nope. You know me I am more comfortable out there." She motioned absently. "’Sides people aren’t too easy with letting him stay in a room with me. Afraid he might eat the other guests." She laughed haughtily. "Like he would attack without reason...or my say so." Pouring another shot, she continued. "Set up camp a few miles out of town. Oh by the way, saw your friend Isham a month or so back."
"When you last saw him, was he still walkin‘?" he asked cautiously. It was an honest question; he knew she wasn’t fond of Isham.
Rolling her eyes and smiling she laughed. "Now Madrid, you of all people know I am not as bad as they say?"
"I know you don’t like him…know what I saw when I rode in today too." He hadn’t meant to slip with the last part but it was too late. The damage was done. He shuddered at the chill from the look in her eyes. "Didn't mean it like that."
It didn’t work. She immediately withdrew from the present, back into that dark place that made her so dangerous.
Lobo was already on his feet, guard hairs along his spine standing on end, as she rose from the table. "Keep the bottle. Maybe your friend over there would like a drink." Turning abruptly, she headed to the door.
Johnny watched her exit, hoping she would turn around, or at the very least slow down. She didn’t. The sound of the stallion thundering out of town reached him. He leaned back in his chair and poured himself another drink. He needed to think of a way to repair the damage. He glanced up and saw the woman from earlier making her way toward him. The look he shot her stopped her in her tracks; it was his turn to be in a foul mood. Johnny contemplated the situation for thirty minutes or so and finally left. He could live with just being a friend, but having no contact at all, that wasn’t an option as far as he could see. He mounted up and rode in the direction he had heard her go; it wouldn’t too difficult to track her down even in the fading light. She had been angry enough to not give a damn and the trail she left was clear. It also meant she would be alert and dangerous to any who approached, including him.
It took the better part of an hour before he found the first clue he was close. He caught site of the ghostly form of Lobo drifting silently toward him from the shadows. Catching his scent the wolf turned, fading back into the night as quietly as he had appeared. Johnny called to him and he reappeared. After a moment he turned and stopped as if waiting. Madrid urged his mount to follow. A few minutes later he saw the glow of the fire, at that point the wolf vanished. Hesitantly, he headed into the camp. He heard her stallion snort at his approach as Lobo suddenly reappeared pacing just inside the firelight, both animals were edgy and guarded. She was in a very dangerous mood and as usual the menagerie that accompanied her mirrored it.
"Done so soon?" she asked without looking from the piece of leather she was intently working.
"I came here to see you." He had certainly done it this time. "I told you I didn’t mean it. I know you wouldn’t have done it without reason."
"So look and go."
"You’d feel awful guilty if I left in this darkness and got bush whacked."
"And I should care why?"
"Listen, seriously, I am sorry. It was a careless remark that should not have even crossed my mind. I know…"
"The point is it did, Madrid," she huffed. "And by the way...he called me out."
Madrid turned to his horse, this was going nowhere. “Listen, I’m the last person to question…Hell I’ll see ya around.” He started mount then a thought occurred, he loosened the girth on the saddle and tossed it on the ground.
His actions threw her. ¿"Qué usted está haciendo? Enciéndase de nuevo a ciudad. ¡Estoy seguro que la parte posterior de la muchacha allí le acogería con satisfacción detrás con los brazos abiertos, pero no soy agradable aquí!" ("What are you doing? Go on back to town. I’m sure that gal back there would welcome you back with open arms, but you aren’t welcome here!)
"Madre Dios! No estoy interesado en su o cualquier cosa que ella tiene que ofrecer. ¡Estoy aquí visitar a un amigo! Like I said before that would be you." He moved the saddle to the opposite side of the fire, removed the bedroll and spread it out. He straightened and turned to look at her. "You wanna tell me what’s eating you? I know something wrong, let me help." (I am not interested in her or anything she has to offer. I am here to visit a friend!)
Ignoring him, she continued at her task. She was sure he couldn’t understand. The nightmares had been more frequent, interrupting her sleep for weeks now. "Nothing you can do," she stated, calmer now. She looked up as he lay down, resting his head on the saddle. "You’re not really planning on staying there are you?"
"Why not?" He looked around him, smiled. "Appears to me you been here a while. Must be a nice spot." He put his hat down over his face and relaxed.
"Fine!" She stood up, grabbed the leather bag and stomped down the bank to the stream below. Once by the water she turned to the wolf that followed and whispered, "Protéjame." Undressing, she slipped into the water. A short time later she was standing on the bank, refreshed. Dressed in the leather tunic she preferred to sleep in, she headed back to the camp. She settled herself down on the fur she used as bed roll and watched him sleep for a while. Absently toying with the chain on her wrist. Why wouldn’t he just leave? Thoughts rambled through her mind as she fought the need for sleep. She dreaded sleep but exhaustion finally overcame her fear.
Johnny wasn’t sure what had roused him. He looked about. Everything seemed the same. He looked over at Liz Michael, curled up in her sleeping fur. Lobo was sitting by her, staring. He lay back down, rolled over to return to his sleep. He heard the low whimper and rolled over to see what was wrong. The wolf was still by her but Johnny realized he had been nuzzling her, as if attempting to wake her. Before he turned away Johnny heard the sound again. It wasn’t the wolf, it was her. He sat up and watched a few moments as she began to toss about restlessly. It dawned on him that while he had all but wiped the memory of that day from his mind, she couldn’t. The animal was dead and she was alive, that was all that mattered to him. His feelings hadn’t changed, if anything they had become stronger with each encounter. He knew it had changed her though, and not all for the good, but he understood why, at least he thought he did. She had become larger than life showing strength that few could match.
Madre Dios! If you needed an avenging angel, why did you have to pick mine?
Johnny’s thoughts were interrupted as her whimpers became cries for help. With tears welling in his eyes, he went to her, shocked that Lobo allowed him to approach. He knelt by her, gently touched her shoulder, to waken her. She jumped at the touch. The wild look in her eyes tore at him even as fear took hold as he stared at the gun aimed at him.
At first she was groggy. Liz Michael wasn’t sure where she was but she was well aware she wasn’t alone. Well honed reflexes were all that kept the gun from going off as she registered who it was by her. She began trembling violently, she had almost killed him. Instinctively Madrid reached for her as she dropped the gun but she shrunk back, the dream still too vivid in her mind.
"Damn, are you trying to get yourself killed, Maddie?"
"You were dreamin‘, it woke me." His voice was soft and calm. "It didn’t sound like a pleasant one either." That’s understatement, he thought, seeing the haunted look in her eyes. "You wanna talk about it? I mean…How long has this been going on?"
Silent moments passed. "Just by looking at you I can tell this isn’t the first time. You're stressing on…Lizzie it’s written all over your face…YOU can’t go on like this."
"Hush Madrid, it isn’t any of your business…."
"The Hell it isn’t. You almost shot me!"
His words were daggers searching out her soul. "I am so sorry Maddie," she said, fighting back the tears. They were a weakness she wouldn’t allow. "You have to know I would never..." She stood up and put more distance between them. She looked about and reached for the leather bag she had taken with her earlier. Yelling a command to the wolf, she ran down to the stream again. She was feeling dirty in some way; she needed to somehow wash the past away once again.
She had been down there for quite some time, he didn’t want to intrude, but his gut feeling was something was wrong. Cautiously he made his way down the stream bank. He saw her in the middle of the stream scrubbing her exposed skin. He saw too the droplets of blood swelling on the abrasions caused from her harsh scrubbing. He had seen the occasional abrasions in various stages of healing in the past, but had never questioned their cause. Johnny had even accepted the increasing irritability she displayed to those around her over the past year. Oh. he had been suspicious but had dismissed them as just his imagination. Thinking back the only time she seemed even half at peace had been while they had been hired out... as soon as it was over she had disappeared. Running back up the bank he grabbed her sleeping fur. He returned, wading out and in one movement placed it over her. Wrapping his arms around her he dragged her back to the bank. She was struggling for freedom from his hold. He simply held on tighter. Johnny feared he might be making things worse but refused to let go.
"Mi amor I am so sorry. I should have known." The fight drained out as she began to sob uncontrollably. How had things gotten so bad and why hadn’t he been more observant of the signs?
She stepped away from him after a time and he let her. Walking over to the tunic she had discarded, she knelt and picked it up. Her eyes narrowed as she stared at him. "Oh yeah." He turned his back to her and she slipped the tunic over head and allowed the fur to drop to the ground.
"I wish you would’ve said something. Maybe I …"
"How? What exactly do you think you could do for me? Please tell me!" She refused to look him in the eye. She struck out in anger again. "No answer Madrid? You couldn’t help then and you can’t help now." Her greatest shame was still hidden, a secret she would never share. "You don’t know everything...and you never will." Her voice trailed off with a touch of ice.
Damn, he thought, if she would just allow herself to heal. He shook his head, how could she? What about him, he had left her there, abandoned her because he hadn’t been strong enough to face her probable death.
She interrupted his thoughts talking more to herself than him. "How? How can them girls let men do things like that to them? I just don’t understand it. How can they like all that pain?"
Johnny started at her statement; it had never occurred to him that she associated pain and intimacy so closely. He was fairly disgusted to think that in her mind what he and anyone else…she had been brutally beaten and raped…of course she would believe the same thing was what happened behind closed doors. It sickened him to think what, in her mind, his desire for Lizzie meant. Johnny was dumbfounded. She didn’t, couldn’t, grasp the difference. Carefully, he moved closer to her. This topic wasn’t one mixed company broached, but…" It’s not like what you’re thinking. What happened to you …it’s not the same." He suspected what was coming next and he dreaded it with a passion.
"What do you mean?"
He was uncomfortable. He had learned to avoid any female attention when she was close by; he certainly wasn’t ready to talk about sex, not with her. "Well, it's just not …well painful…well the first time for a girl I guess there is a lil’ pain but…" God this is torture, he thought and the discomfort told in his voice "…if done right it don’t matter… that’s all. Let's change the subject please."
"Sorry I ‘m not trying to upset you. I just thought maybe if I understood more…Maddie, I need the nightmares to stop." She stepped closer, too close in his opinion. Here in the moonlight she glowed. He had longed to hold her from the first time he laid eyes on her.
"You're not dumb or naive, you know the basics." He was getting irritated and he knew why. She was so close, that proximity was bringing forth to many feelings and memories at once. If only he had acted on his feelings rather than deny them before anything had happened. He should have taken her away that night and never have waited till morning. It should’ve been him not that beast that lay rotting in a grave somewhere. The man's actions had caused so much death, now Johnny knew his inaction had been at fault too.
"Oh yes! I know the basics, remember I lived through them." Her reply dripped with sarcasm. "What I don’t know is why you think it's any different."
"Lizzie, I don’t know how to tell you or what you're asking…. IT JUST IS! I can’t explain it. At this point I doubt anyone could."
"You can’t or won’t explain it?"
"CAN’T!" he blurted out truthfully. He was becoming so flustered he wasn’t sure he knew the difference himself, at least not in words.
Liz Michael watched him a moment, attempting to read him after hearing the uncertainty in his tone. She had taken such care to hide the depth of her feelings from him. She turned and walked away, staring out into the darkness for some time. Finally she turned and looked him in the eyes. She drew in a deep breath and swallowed against the rising fear. "Maddie, can you show me then?"
His insides twisted, long lost emotions roared. It felt like his heart would pound out of his chest. Show her? He was definitely willing but, he wasn’t so sure she was ready. They had both been wounded that day but he had only just discovered how deep her wounds ran. His answer took all the will he could muster. "No. I can’t."
Lowering her head she turned from him. Of course he would refuse her, how could she expect him to be willing to …he had seen. "I’m sorry I shouldn’t have asked. Maddie, I just thought maybe…I understand why you wouldn’t want me…really I do…I don‘t blame you…I mean I know why you left ……" Her voice was full of all the shame and guilt she had felt these years past.
"What did you just say?" He moved quickly to her and raised her face to look in her eyes, "Madre Dios! “Don’t want you! Is that what you think? Where would you get that idea? I can’t because I don’t know if you're...I won't hurt you any more than you have been. See I lost something that day too…Something I can’t replace. Believe me I have tried Lizzie, I lost you. As for leaving that day…I wasn’t strong enough to watch you…he said it’d take a miracle for you to…God’s never given me too many of those." He kissed her forehead then held her, crushing her to his chest. "Querida, I have wanted you more than anything in my entire life."
He could sense her desire to flee but she held her ground, trembling at his proximity. Johnny smiled at her determination. Suddenly he was aware of a much more pressing problem. She was too close and his control was waning. Just one kiss to prove to her…then he would stop. He was vaguely aware of the wolf standing a few feet away; one wrong move would be dangerous. Not only would it destroy her, if she lashed out the wolf would be on him and he might not survive. He was becoming weary of just surviving, he wanted more. He raised her head again to face him, felt her stiffen as their lips met, but as the kiss progressed she relaxed. Giving in to it, for the first time answering the burning question he had never asked. He needed to push her away but couldn’t, he was lost in the feel of her against him. He pulled her in closer, molding her body to his. Rational thoughts giving way to the desire he had felt for so long. His lips trailed down her neck. He felt her start to pull away. Too fast. He chided himself quietly, as he returned to her lips. Tentatively he caressed her through the thin leather, reveled at her response as she leaned into it. He wanted the tunic off but was fearful to remove it. He felt a slight tug at the front of his shirt. He moaned outwardly at the velvety touch of her hands on his bare skin. He desperately needed to feel all of her flesh against his own. He looked her in the eyes; saw that the heat of the moment had taken overtaken her as well. There would be no stopping this now. The point of no return had been reached. Tossing any caution to the wind, he drew back from her slightly and hesitantly took the tunic in his hands and pulled it off. Trembling as he pulled her close once more, Johnny backed to the blanket on the ground and eased her to it, all the while never letting up on his caresses, kissing her deeply. He removed the rest of his clothing, the last barrier between him and the woman he had loved from afar for too long. He went slow, gently assuring that her desire was ready for each step in the dance he had waited for. Finally taking his angel en azul for himself and no other. The resulting ecstasy had been more than he expected. She had proven to not only be a giving lover but as full of passion as he. Never had he been quite so satisfied, but then emotion had never truly been a part of the equation. The wait had been worth it. "Querida, te quiero con todo mi corazón y alma," he whispered. The light of dawn streaked across the sky as he drifted off, holding to her tightly.
Her eyes fluttered open. It had been a long time since she had slept so soundly. Liz Michael felt completely refreshed and ready for the day. She moved his arm gently, not wanting to stir his sleep. She found the discarded tunic and put it on. She turned back and watched him sleep for a moment. Memories of the night floated through her thoughts, and she smiled. He was right, different, that was certainly the word for it. Any further retrospection was interrupted. She was famished. Looking about she found the few supplies she had retrieved from town and set about the task at hand.
He woke to the smell of coffee. Smile played at the corners of his mouth as images of the night crept through conscious thought. As he had feared, he had failed to hold back his true feelings, but so had Lizzie. Their love making had communicated far more than either had planned, so much so that…the thought gripped him…she might run. He sat up, looking about. There close by the fire’s warmth was a coffee pot and a pan of eggs. She was not in sight, where was…he heard a splashing of water in the stream below. Alarmed, he walked to the edge of the bank, fearful of seeing a repeat of the night before. She didn’t appear to be distressed; in fact she looked to be at ease even when she noticed him watching. Lobo raised his head, gazing intently at his approach then rested his head to his forepaws once again. Johnny continued down the embankment, suddenly eager for a repeat of last night's encounter, the food by the fire forgotten. She watched his approach bashfully. When he reached out and took her in his arms, he was not disappointed.
Later that day he watched as she busied herself about camp storing herbs she had been drying. From the first time he had seen her she seemed in perpetual motion. He tried to concentrate on her actions in an attempt to avoid troubling thoughts that kept trying to attract his attention. Failing, his thoughts drifted to complications ahead. She had been a weakness all along but now she really was his. Now the lone she wolf had a weakness as well. Separately their reputations were a temptation to any would be gunfighter but together? They not only made a desirable target but…
"Is something wrong?" she asked, interrupting his thoughts.
"No...I was just thinking."
"That you work too hard. You know, maybe you should take a rest and come sit here with me." He smiled, mischief sparkling in his blue eyes.
"A rest, uh?" She laughed and moved to where he was sitting. "Are you sure a rest is what’s on your mind Madrid?"
Reaching up and pulling her down to him, he laughed. "I assure you Miss Elpaso, I can be very restful." Eventually the real world would come barging in but for now he enjoyed the peace their seclusion offered.
Over the next few days they opened up, telling bits of their past. Neither was willing to share specifics, leaving each to sort out the puzzle pieces on their own.
Madrid as usual remained fairly tight lipped. She didn’t press him; Liz Michael had already heard most of it from Isham as well as other mutual acquaintances. She was well aware that Madrid had been raised in the saloons and cantinas of the border towns by a mother who had a weakness for men and drink. Madrid had learned to fend for himself at an early age and his first kill had been the man who had murdered his mother. All anyone knew of his father was that Madrid hated him enough to want him dead. Poverty and circumstance had led him to live life by his gun. Thus Johnny Madrid had come to be. Secretly she was awed that he could have become the mannerly and principled man before her.
She too, had left out many specifics, names being at the top of the list. Johnny deduced that somewhere a wealthy family was looking for her. He was fairly sure that she was using her true name. He remembered hearing that a Miguel Elpaso had sought frantically for a missing daughter some years back. Suspicions were high that the Santiagos had had something to do with her disappearance. When he had asked, she had neither confirmed nor denied it. If indeed his suspicion was true, it did not bode well for Johnny. Elpaso wasn’t just wealthy, he was powerful and ruthless in wielding it. It seemed hard to believe that a man like Don Miguel would be so careless as to lose a daughter like Lizzie. Stranger things have happened, he thought, like the most beautiful woman he had met in his life becoming a gunfighter.
Her mother had been half Apache, born to a white woman who had been captured at one time. It explained the strength and resilience she displayed. The Apache even now battled armies on both sides of the border, holding their own with inferior weapons and manpower. The mother had been just one in a line her father’s infidelities; however the man had claimed this child for some unknown reason. He had taken her into his home to be raised by a resentful wife. Her mixed blood had not mattered to her father; it certainly meant nothing to Johnny.
An unwanted betrothal had been the catalyst that set in motion the events leading to her current status. Unfortunate as a legitimate betrothal would make marrying her difficult south of the border and here, at her age, even on the north side, she would need a father to sign off. No wealthy estancia owner would be welcoming a mestizo gunfighter to the family. In retrospect he figured that her family wouldn't really be a problem, with her infamy she was probably disowned. Marriage was his intention though, he wasn’t about to let her go. She had accepted his proposal once; the problem was Lizzie was not the same girl. She had on her own become larger than life. An oddity, a woman accepted as someone who had earned the right to live life as she saw fit. If there were any objections to her choices few were willing to voice them. Those that did speak out discovered that while Lizzie did believe they had the right to their own opinions, they needed to keep any negative opinion to themselves. Those that didn’t discovered just how deadly she was.
He was also aware he had failed her as well as himself, taking no precautions. It wasn’t that he didn’t want children in the future but now was out of the question. Rarely had he ever been so carried away that he wasn’t careful when bedding females but this one was different. He was in love with Lizzie, when she was close to him rational thought seemed miles away. She was not naïve; she had to realize that there was a possibility that he may have… He closed his eyes at the thought. Yet another weakness that would need protection . The fact that their reputations and past actions had made them targets was just something they would have to deal with. No one would find it easy to take them down together. Oh Lizzie he thought, the odds are stacked against us, but I…we have to try. His troubled thoughts led way to fitful dreams. Dreams that had no happy endings…
He woke with a start. Lobo was standing over him, alert, his attention divided between Madrid and the steep bank. As usual, Liz Michael was nowhere in sight. It had only taken a few days to familiarize with her routine, she would be bathing. A tension held in the air. As he rose to his feet the wolf slunk off through the underbrush as if stalking prey. He didn’t need the wolf to tell him danger was about; something just didn’t feel right. Hurriedly Johnny threw on his trousers and grabbed his gun. Steeling himself from the urge to rush to her, he moved stealthily to the stream bank and peered down. She was there defiantly confronting the two intruders as she silently treaded the water. A third man was moving up to the water cautiously from behind as she faced the other two. Madrid recognized him. He noted too that Liz Michael’s movements ever so slightly were bringing her closer to the rocks on one end; Johnny knew there would be a gun hidden in there.
Her voice was clear and without fear. "Boys, I’ll give you a chance to turn and walk away."
Laughing the taller man replied, "And if we don’t?"
"Oh, I’ll have to kill you I guess." Ice in her voice told Johnny that there was no guessing to it.
"Well now missy you don’t appear to be in no position to." Sarcasm dripped from second man’s voice.
"I wouldn’t be so sure of it." It was Johnny’s turn to make his intentions clear. "Next time you trip across a lady you might wanna make sure she don’t already have a previous claim." His voice was soft and calm. Then looking at the third man, "Frank you best hold still, shouldn’t be any doubt in your mind that I’ll kill ya." He was slightly relieved; they obviously didn’t know who she was at the moment.
"Madrid? Is that you?" Frank turned to look at him, "Well Johnny Madrid, been a long time. Umm, had no idea she was spoken for."
"She is and even if she weren’t she asked you nicely to go away. You should have listened." Before he could say anything else she had moved to the shallows and walked up to him naked, without the slightest hint of shame. He felt torn between the jealousy of them staring at her and pride that it was his. "Woman would you get dressed please?" he tossed the buckskin tunic to her. It wouldn’t cover much but it was the only thing in sight.
"Sure." She laughed as she pulled it over her head. "You want me to call Lobo off? He’s about to take that tall one down," she stated without concern. The fact that in a few moments the wolf would be tearing the man’s throat out didn’t bother her in the least.
"Yeah, if you don’t mind." In the tenderness of last few days he had forgotten just how bloodthirsty she could be.
"Lobo, a mí." The wolf knocked the man he had been stalking off balance in his rush to obey. Liz Michael laughed as the tall man came out of the water sputtering. "I’m hungry…They best have their own grub Madrid, I’m not handing out free meals to them." She headed up to camp. He shook his head. It wouldn’t take long before they knew who he had laid claim on.
"Got yourself a handsome lookin’ catch there," said one of the other two. "I’d be more protective of it."
Johnny made his way over to the rocks she had been moving toward. "Oh she handles herself rather well. Trust me, it wasn’t her that needed protecting." He picked up the gun he knew would be hiding there. "You boys were the ones in danger. Had she gotten any closer…I wouldn‘t have been able to stop her." Nope, there was no use in hiding it, they would know who she was once they really looked at her.
She was dressed in her usual garb as they strolled into the camp, Frank’s face lightened in recognition, he looked at Johnny. "I remember you. You‘re…" his voice trailed off at the unspoken warning in Johnny’s eyes.
She let out a shrill whistle then turned to face them, reaching for the gun belt and started to fasten it. The stallion thundered up to her obediently.
“She survived?” he said quietly to Madrid. Johnny had no time to answer.
"I know who she is too…" said the taller of the three. Staring with a worried look on his face, he continued, ."Didn’t recognize you Elpaso."
She looked up, glaring at the intruders. "That was apparent."
Frank's jaw dropped. He had seen Johnny’s gal in blue from long ago, not the gunfighter he had heard so much about. "She’s …." He looked at Madrid who nodded in confirmation.
She didn’t hide her irritation at all. They had intruded on her world and she was definitely unhappy. One of them even seemed to be a friend of his! Well what was new, she didn’t care for most of Madrid’s friends she had met in the past. She only tolerated them because they were just that, his. They would just entangle him in a range war or some other hair brained scheme. Didn’t he know if you lay with dogs you get up with fleas? She looked at Lobo and chuckled as she patted the huge head. Wolves were different, she thought, they make you more cunning. Tossing him a chunk of jerked meat, she began saddling Victory.
"You going somewhere?" It was a dumb question and Madrid wasn’t sure he wanted an answer.
"Told you I’m hungry. So I am going to town to do something about it." She paused and looked at Madrid over her shoulder. "You coming?"
Madrid didn’t reply, he just grabbed his tack and moved to his tethered mount. She was in a foul mood and he thought he understood why. The outside world had found them. A world that had torn them apart before and might do so again. Frank and his companions went for their horses as well. When he was sure they were out of earshot he moved to her as she reached up preparing to mount. He reached out to turn her around, then his heart sank as he felt her tense at the touch. "Are you ok? I mean what I can do to make…"
"There’s nothing anyone can do Johnny. We made our choices. When it’s all said and done we have to decide what scars we choose to bear…and live with them." She kissed him on the cheek. "I am guessing it's time to see what we can live with....or without." She turned away and mounted her horse.
Johnny didn’t like the last part. He had lived without before and didn’t like the idea of going back to it. She was ready to run, he could feel it. There had to be a way to bond her to him. He gazed up at her, his eyes trailed to the flat abdomen the vest did little to hide. He had worried a few days earlier that his seed had taken root but now…it could be his answer. A bond to keep them inseparable.
It was well after noon when they rode in to town. They ate and drank as the time passed. Johnny kept Liz Michael close by him, carefully avoiding any unwelcome advances by the other women there. He could tell she was troubled and didn’t want her to have any doubts. He had the one he wanted. Hell, he had the one a lot of men wanted. He wanted her to himself, but not here. Any outward affection of more than the usual friendliness they had shown in the past would loose the tightly coiled spring by his side, he imagined he would have better luck catching a handful of wind than Lizzie. He waited as the hour drew late and while attentions were elsewhere he leaned in and whispered to her, "Let’s go." He guided her to the doors and they stepped out in the night. The inn wasn’t far, in the cantina there were far to many prying eyes, he gently pulled her in its direction.
"Two rooms," the innkeeper said sleepily.
"No, just one," Johnny answered.
"Now see here, this is a respectable place!" The innkeeper was looking at Liz Michael with a bit of contempt.
"And we are respectable people. I’ll thank you not to look at my wife like that," Johnny replied quickly before she reacted to the man. The look of disbelief on her face was priceless but he was thankful she regained her composure so as not to give them away.
"Wife? Um, I am sorry it just looked like well…“ the man looked suspiciously at the low slung guns on both his potential guests. “You realize what it appeared to …well I thought she was…and you were…"
"Looks can be deceiving," he said as he signed his name, just a name he never used.
"You’ll be in room five, just up the stairs and part way down the hall" He looked down at the ledger "…Mr. Lancer."
They entered the room and she turned. "Where’d you come up with that name? You know I met a man by that…" She didn’t get to finish her tale of a man she had met searching for his son. It was all she could do to gasp for air so overwhelmed by the hunger in his kiss. Johnny was sure of one thing, Lizzie was in love with him yet he could still feel her drifting away. He had feeling she was keeping something from him but he couldn't quite figure it out. They both had secrets they weren't ready to share. A child, now that scared him, however he decided it was the lesser of two evils. He was certain that if she were to conceive then she would fight against what ever it was that seemed to be pulling her from him. Earlier fears turned to hope, as he took her in his arms and made love to her. Relishing each moment. Finally completely spent Johnny Madrid Lancer drifted off to sleep with his angel in his arms, unaware that fate had trampled his plan long before he had set it in motion.
It was still early when she awoke. She listened to the heart beat in the chest her head lay on. As darkness battled daylight, she battled inside herself. She made her decision. Her time here had drawn to an end, she was expected at the Apache village where her mother’s father lived. She had gathered the herbs she was after and they were ready. There was so much more she needed to learn and it wasn’t everyday a medicine man was willing to teach a girl his secrets, but in his vision he had seen the spirit of the wolf being guided by the puma, one born to lead and teach, a balance of power and wisdom*. He had accepted her as not just a female but a healer who knew how to make war. Liz Michael wanted to take him with her but she wasn’t so sure Madrid would fit in. Other than herself she could offer Madrid nothing else and truth be known she wasn't sure that would be enough. He deserved so much more. There was also the Apache to think about. It had taken some time for them to accept her presence, even with her grandfather being a chief. They might not be so receptive of Johnny. The thought of saying goodbye didn’t sit well and she wasn’t sure she could say it. The reality was she had things yet to do and saying goodbye was the only choice she had. She silently slipped out of bed. Quietly she dressed and went in search of pen and paper.
The crumpling of the folded note roused him. He looked at the offending paper, refusing to open it. He grabbed for his clothes and dressed and almost ran to the livery. Victory was gone. Johnny saddled his mount and headed out toward the world they had shared for what seemed only moments now. The camp was empty, showing very few signs that it had been inhabited only the day before. Madrid rode in circles in search of some sign of her trail. He had known it would be a futile endeavor, she had seemingly just vanished. He pulled the note from his pocket staring at it. Unable to open it he replaced it. He wasn’t about to let her say goodbye. Liz Michael would be back he was sure of it, even if he hadn’t read the words she had so carefully put to paper. She would be back. Some how Lizzie always showed up when he needed her most.
Johnny Madrid would be waiting…
According to native American legend the wolf and coyote taught the first healer his path.
The cougar stands for power, leadership, and swiftness. The wolf is the teacher of new ideas and wisdom. It shows intense loyalty with a balance of independence
Only one who is meant for great things would be lead by both.
Native American totems for these two are as follows:
*Native American astrology of the 2 signs:
Wolf people -The wolf is graceful, has initiative, and loves freedom. Wolf people are generally very trusting, and generous with deep feelings towards their loved ones. Their ultimate goal is to find and keep love in their life. Wolf Soul is one who understands the depth of connection with another, be it mate, friend or family member. These individuals will tend to be monogamous in nature. If a mate is not found that shares this same sense of loyalty, then Wolf Totem will choose to live as a solitary wolf yet will still have deep and abiding bonds with friends and/or family.
The cougar is swift, graceful, spontaneous, and determined. Cougar people make great leaders and are courageous, ambitious and determined to succeed. They want to find purpose in life and to dominate what they do best.
Wolf Soul is one who understands the depth of connection with another, be it mate, friend or family member. These individuals will tend to be monogamous in nature. If a mate is not found that shares this same sense of loyalty, then Wolf Totem will choose to live as a solitary wolf yet will still have deep and abiding bonds with friends and/or family